Military Wiki
Helmut Mertens
Nickname Pitt
Born 11 November 1917
Died 17 January 1984(1984-01-17) (aged 66)
Place of birth Essen, Kingdom of Prussia
Place of death Usingen, Nazi Germany
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) Luftwaffe
Years of service 1937–1943
Rank Hauptmann
Unit LG 2, JG 3

World War II

  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
  • German Cross in Gold
  • Helmut Mertens (also known as "Pitt") (11 November 1917 – 17 January 1984) was a German fighter ace of World War II. He was born in Essen and served in the Luftwaffe as a career fighter pilot who served in the Battle of France, Battle of Britain, the invasion of Russia Operation Barbarossa and on the Western Front in the Defence of the Reich. His victory tally as a fighter pilot is reported as high as ninety-seven or as few as fifty-four aircraft confirmed shot down.


    Mertens was born on 11 November 1917 in Essen. He joined the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in 1937.[citation needed] By the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939, Mertens had been commissioned as leutnant and was a fighter pilot flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 with No. I (Jagd) Gruppe of Lehrgeschwader 2 LG 2. With this unit he participated in Operation Case Yellow during the Battle of France and on 19 May 1940, shot down a Royal Air Force Hurricane fighter his first combat victory. On 3 June 1940, he shot down a French Curtiss fighter his second victory. Mertens transferred to Jagdgeschwader 3 flying with their 9 Staffel (squadron) in the Battle of Britain. His unit provided escort cover for German bombers attacking England and on 26 October 1940, he shot down another Hurricane fighter.[1]

    Eastern Front

    During Operation Barbarossa, Mertens shot down DB-3 bomber on 26 June 1941, and then during July 1941 he shot down eleven more Soviet aircraft including three in a day on 16 July 1941.[2] He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. On 23 July 1941, he was appointed squadron commander of his squadron, 9 Staffel.[3] Mertens shot down seven more aircraft in August 1941, one more in September, and another in October 1941[4]

    In February 1942, Mertens transferred to the Staff of Jagdgeschwader 3 and was promoted oberleutnant before joining the staff of III Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 3. He was awarded the German Cross in gold on 27 May 1942, or 8 June 1942.[5] Between 6 April 1942, and 26 July 1942, he shot down fifteen more Russian aircraft, primarily Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 and Polikarpov I-153 fighters and Ilyushin DB-3 bombers, bringing his tally to forty confirmed victories.

    In late July 1942, Mertens was appointed to command the 1 Staffel (squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 3 and promptly shot down seven more Russian fighters and bombers during the next four weeks. A photograph in Luftwaffe Rudder Markings 1936-45 taken on 22 July 1942, in the Stalingrad sector shows him posing with the tail of his Bf 109 which is marked with forty-seven victory tabs.[6] He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 September 1942,[7] the recommendation at the time stated that he had achieved fifty victories in air combat.[8] His award is well documented.[9][10] Following this he was temporarily appointed Gruppenkommandeur (wing leader) of I Gruppe (comprising 1, 2 and 3 Staffel) of Jagdgeschwader 3 until November 1942.[11] Documentation concerning Mertens service in the next eight or nine months from the time of his award until July 1943 is scarce and no details of his actions as a fighter pilot are known.

    Western Front

    By July 1943 he was back in action flying with 1 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 3 on the Western Front flying in the Defence of the Reich against the daylight attacks on German home targets primarily by 8th USAAF formations. On 30 July 1943, he shot down a B-17Flying Fortress[12] and on 17 August 1943, another B-17 Flying Fortress.[13][14]

    On 23 September 1943, Mertens was appointed commander of 4 Staffel of Ergänzungsjagdgruppe Ost (Training Fighter Wing – East) to complete the operational training phase for young pilots arriving from fighter pilot school Jagdfliegerschule. He was promoted hauptmann on 1 October 1943, and on 8 January 1944, returned to fully operational duties when he was appointed to command the 7 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 3. On 20 Feb 1944, Mertens shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress and then made a ramming attack on a B-24 Liberator bomber.[15] In this attack his Bf 109 (marked White 1 + |) was wrecked, he was wounded, and bailed out. This was to be his last operational mission.[16]

    While recovering, Mertens was briefly appointed to command 1 Staffel of Ergänzungsjagdgruppe Ost (Training Fighter Wing – East) in April 1944 until he assumed temporary command of I Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 3[17] and then joined the staff of Adolf Galland General of Fighter pilots. From November 1944 Mertens held posts within Ergänzungsjagdgruppe Ost (Training Fighter Wing – East) and finally the operational training establishment of Jagdgeschwader 1.[18]

    At the end of the war he was credited with about 750 combat missions and fifty[19] or fifty-four confirmed air victories (ninety-seven according to some sources) and the sinking of a Russian gun boat. Obermaier records sixty victories in the East and between sixteen and twenty four-engined bombers shot down in the West.[20][21][22]

    See also




    1. Matthews & Foreman (2014), volume 3, page 860
    2. Matthews & Foreman (2014), volume 3, page 860
    3. deZeng and Stankey (2015), section L-R
    4. Matthews & Foreman (2014), volume 3, pages 860-861
    5. Scheibert (1984), p.299
    6. Ries (1991), p.81
    7. CIMilitaria - List of Knight's Cross holders
    8. Obermaier (1966), p.173
    9. Fellgiebel (2000), p.252
    10. [1][Das website – Helmut Mertens]
    11. deZeng and Stankey (2015), section L-R
    12. Ciel de Gloire website - Mertens 1943 victories detailed here
    13. Matthews & Foreman (2014), volume 3, pages 860-861
    14. Weal (2013), p.60
    15. Matthews and Foreman (2014), p.861
    16. TwelveOclockHigh - Aces forum - Helmut Mertens
    17. Weal (2006), p.87
    18. deZeng and Stankey (2015), section L-R
    19. Battle of Britain Art site - List of Mertens victories
    20. Obermaier (1966), p.173
    21. Matthews & Foreman (2014), volume 3, pages 860-861
    22. Spick (2011), listing of aces
    23. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001
    24. Horst Schiebert. P.297
    25. Fellgiebel (2000), p.252
    26. Obermaier (1966), p.173
    27. Scherzer (2007), main text listing
    28. Das website – Helmut Mertens