The Heinkel He 219 in service with the Luftwaffe
As mentioned above, the He 219’s combat debut took place on the night of 11th/12th June 1943, when Maj. Werner Streib shot down five RAF heavy bombers, and subsequently wrote off the He 219 V9, G9+FB. To replace the loss, the Heinkel company delivered two more prototypes to I./NJG 1, the He 219 V10 and the V12.
On the night of 25th/26th July 1943, Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank, the Gruppenkommandeur of I./NJG 1, shot down two bombers (a Lancaster at 00:56 hrs, 10 km southeast of Nijmegen, and at 01:30 hrs a Wellington, near Cülemburg) while flying one of the He 219s.
The same pilot, again flying a He 219, scored another victory on the night of 23rd/24th August 1943. This time, at 23:40 hrs, a Lancaster fell to his guns southeast of Emmen.
On the night of 30th/31st August 1943, the He 219 V12 and a Bf 110 G-4 of 3./NJG 1 scrambled from Venlo to challenge another British incursion. The Bf 110 G-4 was flown by Oblt. Heinz Strüning, while the He 219 V12 was flown by Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank. Oblt. Strüning intercepted and shot down three Halifax bombers in quick succession (the first at 03:20 hrs, 20 km west of Mönchengladbach, another at 03:45 hrs again west of Mönchengladbach, and one more at 03:50 hrs 60 km southwest of Mönchengladbach). In an overlapping action, at 03:18 hrs, Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank bagged a Stirling over Mönchengladbach, then at 03:30 hrs a Wellington over Rickelrath. This time, however, the bomber’s rear gunner spotted the assailant and hit the He 219 in the fuselage and one engine. Hptm. Frank shut off the stricken engine to avoid a fire and pressed on. Five minutes later, at 03:35 hrs he knocked down a Lancaster over Brüggen and easily landed on one engine at Venlo.
The same two pilots took the He 219s into action on the night of 5th/6th September 1943. At 00:15 hrs Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank, flying the He 219 V12, shot down a Lancaster northwest of Pirmasens. Oblt. Strüning, who flew the He 219 V10, was less fortunate. During his attack on a four-engined bomber the deflection he laid off proved too wide, and his first salvo fell off the mark. At the same instant the quadruple machine guns of the British tail gunner opened up. A hail of bullets raked the He 219 from nose to tail. Strüning instinctively zoomed up to spoil the gunner’s aim, but another burst tore into the Heinkel’s cockpit through the floor, shooting off the fuel selector valve. Shortly afterwards both engines, starved of fuel, spluttered and froze motionless. The crew resolved to bail out. As soon as they had jettisoned the canopy, it turned out that their seat ejection system was inoperable. Strüning pulled up to give his radio operator a chance to get out of the cockpit, and moments later he himself tumbled over the side, colliding with the aircraft’s antenna and stabilizer. He was badly bruised and suffered some broken ribs, but he managed to pull the ripcord in time and land safely. His radio operator, Ofw. Willi Bleier, was killed; his body was found a few days later.
On the night of 27th/28th September 1943 an aerial armada of 678 RAF bombers struck off for Hanover. Among the defenders was the Kommandeur of I./NJG 1, Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank, at the controls of He 219 A-03, W.Nr. 190 053, coded G9+CB. Some 25 km northwest of Celle, as he was overtaking a Messerschmitt Bf 110 G-4 of Geschwaderstab NJG 1, the two machines collided, with disastrous results. They crashed five km south of Bergen. Hptm. Frank managed to eject from the cockpit and his parachute deployed correctly, but he was already dead. He had neglected to pull out the leads that connected his helmet to his onboard radio before pulling the ejection lever. The electrical cable twisted around his neck and crushed his larynx. Ofw. Erich Gotter, Frank’s radio operator, was thrown out of the cockpit before he could activate his ejection seat. He failed to open his parachute and fell to his death. The entire crew of the Bf 110 G-4, coded G9+DA – Hptm. Friedrich, Oblt. Gerber and Ogfr. Weißke – also perished.
I./NJG 1 was put under the command of Hptm. Manfred Meurer, a recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. At that time the Gruppe had seven He 219 A-0s on strength, only two of which were usually serviceable. On the night of 18th/19th October 1943, Hptm. Meurer scored his first victory at the controls of a He 219. While fighting off a bombing raid aimed at Hanover he shot down a Lancaster over Erichshagen at 20:05 hrs for his 57th victory.
On 20th October 1943 another aircraft was lost. It was He 219 A-04, W.Nr. 190 054, coded G9+CB of Geschwaderstab NJG 1. That night the weather was marginal, with squalls of freezing rain. At 21:30 hrs the pilot, Lt. Walter Schön, reported contact with some four-engined bombers, but moments later his aircraft’s echo disappeared from the ground radars. The next morning locals from the village of Storbeck near Stendhal came across the wreck. The aircraft had slammed vertically into the ground at high speed, leaving a crater three meters deep and eight metres wide. Shortly afterwards the bodies of the two crewmembers (Lt. Walter Schön and radio operator Uffz. Georg Marzotke) were found along with their ejector seats - some two kilometres away from the crash site.