You Can’t Make It Up – Drinking With The Enemy

Johannes Steinhoff (15 September 1913 – 21 February 1994 – age 80) was one of Germany’s most well known aces to survive the war. He reached the rank of Colonel in the Luftwaffe in Nazi Germany and later became a Luftwaffe General in the Bundeswehr. He was a handsome man yet in one of his last flights during World War Two he suffered terribly disfiguring burns to his face.

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General Steinhoff is credited with shooting down 176 enemy planes. (Like all German pilots in World War Two who ran up huge “scores” in planes shot down. Steinhoff achieved most of these victories on the Eastern Front against the Russian air force whose pilots were badly trained and whose aircraft were much inferior to Germany’s. This changed as the war went on.)

Steinhoff himself was shot down twelve times. In the following, Steinhoff tells the story of shooting down an American pilot then getting knee walking drunk with the guy. (Having drinks with pilots one shot down on the Western front was practiced by both sides.)

Steinhoff: I was test-flying an Me-109 with my aide near our base at Foggia. This was before I had been exiled from Germany, during my first tour as Kommodore of JG.77. Well, we were attacked at low level by a flight of P-38 Lightnings, about 100 American fighters in all, but the two of us figured, why not attack? We turned into them, and I flew through their formation going in the opposite direction, getting good strikes on a couple of them. I poured a good burst into this P-38 and the pilot rolled over, and I saw him bail out. I had this on gun camera also.
Well, he was picked up and made a POW, and I invited him to my tent for a drink and dinner, as well as to spend the night. We drank some of the local wine … and drank and drank. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do with this guy?” Well, it was long after midnight, so I lay down in my tent and stretched my legs so I could reach his head. He woke up and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t run away, you have my word as an officer and a gentleman. Besides, you got me too drunk.” We slept, and he kept his word, and I never placed a guard on him. (Excerpted from an interview with Steinhoff which appeared in 1994 in World War Two magazine.)

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Steinhoff (2nd from right) as a Luftwaffe general circa 1958

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Johannes Steinhoff (right with dark glasses) Luftwaffe Generalleutnant, Inspekteur der Luftwaffe, Bundesrepublik Deutschland 

June 1969

(German Federal Archive)

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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