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A Luftwaffe Fighter Ace With A Malta Connection
Stephen A. Petroni

Malta still commands a great deal of respect among German Luftwaffe veterans who flew sorties over the Island during W.W.II. It required great courage to penetrate Malta's aerial defense. Many raiders never returned home. The ferocity of the aerial battles and the anti-aircraft artillery barrage is still vivid in the memories of those who witnessed our islands' history in the making.

One Luftwaffe Pilot who flew sorties over Malta was Sergeant Heinrich Leschert of 3 Staffel, I/Jagdgeschwader 53 which was stationed in Sicily between December 1941 and May 1942. Indeed, Leschert's seventh kill of the war was a RAF Hurricane which he shot down over Malta on 5 March 1942.

I was fortunate to acquire some of Leschert's artifacts a few months ago and his 'Malta connection' immediately sent me along a research trail. The fact that I actually had his Soldbuch (paybook) made things much easier.

Heinrich Leschert was born on the 22 May 1914 in Karben. He enlisted on 10 January 1936 and appears to have participated in the Occupation of the Sudetenland as he was awarded the commemorative medal of the 1 October 1936.

Leschert transferred to 6th Company of Luftwaffe Flieger Ausbildungs Regiment 62 as an NCO Candidate on 14 November 1938. This was a training unit for flying personnel and was based in Quedlinburg. His personal number was 14115/1472 and his Soldbuch's number was 96. He was confirmed an Unteroffizier (NCO) on the 1 April 1939.

Leschert's obtained his flying license no. 50/39 and his Fliegerführerabzeichen (Pilot's Badge) on completing his course on the 21 September 1939. Between the 15 November 1939 and the 1 February 1940, Uffz. Leschert attended the Jagdfliegerschule in Werneuchen where he underwent fighter pilot training. At the end of that period, Leschert spent a month in Jagdstaffel 5 based in Merseburg. This was a 'transfer' unit until the new fighter pilot was assigned to his service unit.

Leschert's Soldbuch and Flugzeugführerschein (flying license, with his photo).

On the 27 February 1940, Uffz. Leschert joined the 3 Staffel of I/Jagdgeschwader 53, the"Pik-As" (Ace of Spades) fighter wing. One of Leschert's Staffel Officers was none other than Franz von Werra who, after the war, was immortalised through the novel and film "The One Who Got Away". This famous fighter unit was then serving in the Western sector.

On the 14 May 1940, while piloting a Messerschmitt Bf 109E, Leschert scored his first aerial victory at 19:33 hours when he shot down an RAF Wellington bomber over France. His Staffel shot down nine aircraft, bringing the total number of JG 53 victories to 43 on that single day. Shot-down aircraft included a mixture of Hurricanes, Blenheims, Battles and French Moranes. There were only two Wellington bombers shot down, one of which was Leschert's victim. Uffz. Leschert was awarded the Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross) 2nd Class. He also earned the Frontflugsspange für Jäger in Gold (operational flying clasp for fighter pilots in gold) having clocked up the required number of operational flights.

Following hospitalisation for a foot injury between 2 and 29 September 1940, Leschert was promoted to Feldwebel (Sergeant) on the 1 November 1940. He was once more admitted to hospital on the 24 March 1941 and released on the 4 April 1941 following treatment of a slight injury. He was awarded the Verwundetenabzeichen (Wound Badge) which, oddly enough, is described in his Soldbuch as being 'in bronze'. This is an error and the description can only be referring to the third class badge in black.

Leschert's Soldbuch: page 22 lists his awards while page 23 is a record of his leave
(Note Knights Cross & Oakleaves winner Tonne's signature at bottom right).

The Luftwaffe's Order of Battle for the opening of the Russian campaign in June 1941 listed JG 53 under the control of Luftflotte 2 commanded by Feldmarschall Kesselring, The Geschwader, now equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109F, flew into Russian territory from its base in Warsaw-Bielany.

Leschert scored his next two aerial victories within seven minutes of each other on the 6 July 1941. The first SB-2 was shot down at 17:32 hours while the second one was downed at 17:37 hours. The fourth victory followed soon when on the 18 July 1941 he shot down his fourth victim, a DB-3, at 12:03 hours. His fifth victory was recorded ten days later, an I-16 shot down at 13:10 hours. His sixth and final aerial victory in JG 53's first experience in Russia was the shooting down of an Il-2 at 14:45 hours on 3 August 1941. Feldwebel Leschert earned the Eisernes Kreuz 1 Klasse (Iron Cross 1st Class).

From July to November 1941 JG 53 was involved in sorties over Britain. The III Staffel was transferred to North Africa in December 1941 while the rest of JG 53 was eventually moved to Comiso in Sicily for operations against Malta which ended in May 1942. JG 53's operational record lists every victory scored over Malta during that period and the victor's name. It is thus possible to see some famous fighter pilots' names, such as von Maltzahn, Brändle, Schramm, Neuhoff, Stumpf, Wilcke, Michalski, Götz, all of whom reached or exceeded their thirtieth kill over our islands.

Almost 200 kills are recorded in JG 53's history during those five months, and the majority of victims appear to be Hurricanes and Spitfires. An Oberleutnant Belser is credited with shooting down a Gladiator at 13:45 hours on 19 January 1942, while a total of eight P 40s appear to have been shot down by other JG 53 fighter pilots.

Medal Group as awarded to Leschert (left to right, top to bottom): Fighter pilot clasp in gold; Medal for the return of the Sudetenland 1/10/38; Wound badge in black; Iron Cross 1st Class; Iron Cross 2nd Class; Pilot's badge.

On the 5 March 1942, Oberfeldwebel Leschert was credited with his seventh kill. His unit's records claim that at 12:10 hours he shot down a Hurricane North of Malta. In order to confirm Leschert's claim as well as to learn more about that aerial engagement, I consulted RAF Ta' Qali's Operations Record Book (ORB). The records for March 5 starts with a bombing raid on Ta' Qali airfield at 00:15 hours. More bombs were dropped at 01:00 hours.

The raid in which Leschert was involved as bomber escort materialised at 11:20 hours. "Bombs dropped on camp near underground hangers. 3 civilians belonging to A.M.D.W. injured. No damage except slightly to two impressed vehicles."

At 11:43 hours "8 Hurricanes intercepted 5 JU's and some ME's returning from raid. Hurricanes from Hal Far followed the Ta Kali formation. S/L Wells attacked 2 Ju's but saw no results and he himself was chased back by 2 ME's. P/Os Hall and Morrison-Jones also fired at 1st JU. Sgt. Boyd attacked the 3rd Ju and the engine caught fire and it disappeared in the distance in a slow shallow dive. He then got on the tail of the 4th Ju and again the starboard engine caught fire and finally he attacked the 5th JU but observed no results. He was then chased back by ME's. P/O Kidson did not return."

The engagement against '5 JU88's and 6 ME109's' is recorded in Sgt. J. L. Boyd's combat report for March 5th. "Led by Sqd/Ldr. Wells, formation attacked 5 JU88's after they had released bombs. E/A heading N.E. intercepted about 5 miles N.E. Grand Harbour, flying wide line astern. I attacked third JU88 in the line firing 6-8 sec. burst from stern quarter to astern 150 yards. Some return fire at first which stopped. Stbd. engine began pouring black smoke which grew in volume and continued. Machine slowed down considerably and began losing height in shallow dive. Strikes observed in fuselage."

"Attacked by ME109, broke to stbd. to evade, turned port again and attacked another passing JU88, 200 yards from astern. Stbd engine streamed black smoke, strikes observed all over, 3 sec. burst. Broke to stbd. again and turned to port as last JU88 was passing above. Pulled nose up and fired 3 sec. burst from abeam beneath allowing E/A to pass through bead 100 yards. Strikes observed underneath centre section. No other results visible. Another enemy fighter was shooting at me so took evasive action and broke off engagement. Several bullet holes through my port mainplane from return fire. As I attacked second E/A another Hurricane came up parallel on my stbd, and apparently continued attack as I broke away."

Daily Intelligence Summary No.253 prepared by Sqn. Ldr. A.W.Walker, senior intelligence officer, HQ RAF Mediterranean, reports 7 alerts on March 5th. Following are the first three:

"07:50 to 08:55 hours and 09:38 to 09:28 hours 5 and later 1 raider approached North East of Grand Harbour as if on search."
11:00 to 11:59 hours. 7 ME 109'S and JU 88's attacked TA KALI. 2 trucks were slightly damaged and 2 civilians slightly injured. A.A. fired."

"11:55 to 13:00 hours. 22 ME 109's and JU 88's dropped (bombs) near LAZARETTO in Sliema Creek and on Luqa where one Wellington was burnt out. At Sliema one house was damaged and at Gzira one civilian was killed and one injured. 8 Hurricanes intercepted and Sgt. Boyd 2 JU 88's setting the starboard engine of each on fire. A third JU 88 was attacked but no observation made. P/O Kidson is missing and a search is in progress. (?) A.A. damaged one JU 88 and the Navy damaged another."

The Hurricane which Leschert shot down North of Grand Harbour around noon was indeed the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Marcus William Terrence Kidson of 242 Squadron. Kidson's body was never recovered. His name is listed in the RAF Roll of Honour at the War Memorial which stands just outside Valletta.

On the 1 April 1942, Leschert was promoted to Oberfeldwebel (Senior NCO) and, towards the end of May 1942, JG 53 was transferred to the Russian Front. Victories soared. On the 23 June 1942 Leschert scored his eighth victory. Another 15 victories were recorded in just three months.

Leschert's 23rd kill was to be his last and the reason for his own death. He shot his last victim on 10 August 1942 at 17:25 hours. The Mig 3 he hit disintegrated, sending bits and pieces in Leschert's direction. His Bf 109G was hit and crashed before he had time to bail out. He was just 28 years when he lost his life in battle.

Heinrich Leschert was awarded the Ehrenpokal (Honour Goblet) on the 26 October 1942. As a posthumous award, it is not recorded in his Soldbuch.

Every member of the German Wehrmacht was issued with a Soldbuch and a Wehrpass (Military Pass). Both documents recorded the holder's personal details, however the latter contained more details and was kept by the CO.

Hence the Soldbuch was more of a personal document which was actually carried by the holder. As the information contained therein could be of interest to the enemy, the holder was instructed to destroy the document if capture was imminent. Pilots flying over enemy territory generally did not carry their Soldbuch.

This interesting document records every facet of Leschert's military life from the day he enlisted. All units served in are detailed as are days of leave, hospitalisation, issue of arms, equipment and clothing, and pays and allowances. Every entry is signed and stamped. One signature which features in Leschert's Soldbuch is that of the Staffel CO Oberleutnant Tonne, holder of the coveted Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub (Knight's Cross with Oakleaves). Not all Soldbuchs included a photo of the holder. Leschert's never had one. His photo is found in his Flugzeugführerschein (Pilot's license).


Tony Rogers London


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