Major Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer
Germany's Top-Scoring Night Fighter of World War II
The loss of LANCASTER ME 683 EM-W 21/22 June 1944

207 Squadron Royal Air Force Association visit to Meeuwen-Gruitrode, Belgium

At approximately, 0130hrs on 22 June 1944, south west of the village of Meeuwen, Flying Officer Corless of 207 Squadron RAF and his crew in Lancaster ME683 EM-W became involved in an air combat with Major Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer of Geschwader NJG4 based at St Trond.

When Schnaufer took off from Saint-Trond on the night of 21/22 June 1944 he had eighty confirmed kills to his name. When he landed his score had increased by four. Flying north from Saint-Trond towards the incoming bomber stream, Schnaufer destroyed his first victim at 0125h. The 44 Squadron Lancaster crashed at Valkenswaaard, south of Eindhoven just over the Dutch border.

Following the stream south, and back over Belgian territory, he shot down his second, Lancaster ME683 of 207 Squadron, at 0130h in the skies above Meeuwen-Gruitrode.

His third, another 44 Squadron Lancaster, was at 0136h at Opoeteren, only about seven miles away.

Then after a break of twenty-eight minutes, he attacked and destroyed his fourth near Hamont, this being a 630 Squadron Lancaster from East Kirkby.

The Schnaufer crew

L-R: Willem Gunsler, Schnaufer and Fritz Rumpelhardt

That Schnaufer was the most successful night fighter pilot of World War two is indisputable. From his first operational victory on June 1 1942 to his final one on March 7 1945 he and his crew shot down a confirmed total of 121 British bombers by night. Whether he was the best night fighter is open to debate. Other Germans achieved very high scores but then lost their life before they could fulfil their potential.

Almost as remarkable as Schnaufer's achievements in destroying enemy bombers is the fact that in the course of many aerial combats from which his victims came he was never once shot down, never had to make a crash landing or take to his parachute, nor were he or members of his crew ever injured, other than superficially. No doubt luck played its part, but there can be little doubt that Schnaufer's skill as a pilot and tactician contributed greatly to his apparent immunity. [editor - many other Experten like Schnaufer were shot down a number of times in amassing their kills or had to bale out for other reasons such as aircraft damage or engine failure, just as did the Allied day and night fighter pilots over their own territory]

Bf 110G in full right fighting trim. Note the SN-2 radar aerial, nose armament, long range auxiliary tanks, flame dampers and armoured glass.

The end of the war saw Heinz Schnaufer as the Commanding Officer of a Nightfighter Geschwader, NJG4, with the rank of Major. He was just 23 years of age, and he was the youngest German officer to have reached such a position of responsibilities.

After the war in Europe was over Schnaufer returned home to take over the reigns of the flagging family wine-distribution business. Schnaufer brought to bear the same energy, the same organisational and leadership qualities he had demonstrated during the war, and by 1950 the firm was prospering. Tragedy struck in July that same year when Heinz Schnaufer was on a wine-buying visit to Southern France. The car he was driving was in collision with a lorry emerging from a side road. Schnaufer was driving in an open car and the lorry was carrying gas cylinders. One or more of the gas cylinders fell off the lorry and struck Schnaufer on the back of the head, injuring him so severely that he died in hospital the next day. He was 28 years of age.

source: Kevin Mapley