Karl Heinz Schnell
Karl-Heinz Schnell (10 January 1915 – 13 March 2013) was a Luftwaffe ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. For the fighter pilots, it was a quantifiable measure of skill and success. Schnell was credited with 72 aerial victories in over 500 combat missions.
10 January 1915|
13 March 2013 (aged 98)|
|Allegiance||Nazi Germany (to 1945)|
|Years of service||1936–45|
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 August 1941Deutsches Kreuz in Gold on 10 October 1942
At the start of the war, Lieutenant Karl-Heinz ‘Bubi’ Schnell was assigned to I./JG 71, an independent fighter-group. When this unit was flagged for absorption into Jagdgeschwader 51 (the 51st Fighter Wing) on 1 November 1939 he was transferred to the newly formed 3./JG 20 - itself part of an independent fighter-group, but also seconded to JG 51.
Through the opening of the campaign in the west, in May 1940, I./JG 20 met very little aerial opposition covering the advance into Holland and then Belgium. Instead, all attention was focused on the dramatic breakthrough to the south. Indeed, it was only on the day the unit transferred to airfields at Ghent, on 29 September, against the Allied evacuation at Dunkirk, that Schnell got his first victory - an RAF Spitfire. The rest of the French campaign was very quiet - a second victory on 11 June - as JG 51 pushed west down the French coast. But as most other fighter units were sent home to rest before the expected battles with the RAF, JG 51 (and I./JG 20) was left on overwatch on the English Channel. Far from being a quiet respite, it yielded three further victories for Schnell over the next weeks.
A period of leave followed over July and August. During his absence, on 4 July, I./JG 20 was officially renamed III./JG 51 (merely reflecting the reality of operations in the field). His own unit was renamed 9./JG 51 and upon his return, as the battle neared its climax, he quickly set about making up for lost time, doubling his score to eight in the next busy fortnight as well as earning a promotion to Oberleutnant. On 1 October he was appointed Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) replacing Arnold Lignitz (himself promoted to command III./JG 54).
After that, it was obvious that the battle could not be won, and operations therefore wound down. Schnell only scored a solitary victory (on 25 October) in the next nine months on the Channel front, until his unit was finally withdrawn to the Reich in May 1941. It was only a short lay-over though, until transferred to airbases east of Warsaw for the upcomingOperation Barbarossa - the invasion of Russia.
Although he missed out on the opening day’s carnage, Schnell quickly made up for it on 24 June, downing seven bombers in 3 missions (including four in four minutes) when JG 51 in total claimed 82 victories. By the time JG 51 became the first Geschwader to claim 1000 victories in the war, on 30 June, Schnell’s own tally had risen to 22.
Schnell soon became one of the leading scorers in III./JG 51, reaching 31 by the end of July. In recognition of this, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross on 1 August, becoming the fourth in his Gruppe to be so honoured. When JG 51’s collective total reached 2000 victories on 7 September with the Battle of Smolensk raging (doubling in less than ten weeks), Schnell’s personal score had risen to 38. Over the rest of the year, as the weather worsened, his unit fought in the major encirclement of Kiev and then in the abortive attack on Moscow.
Schnell was fortunate to be spared the bitter Russian winter when he was seconded on temporary assignment (as many experienced pilots were) as commander of the newly established 5./JFS 5 – a fighter-pilot training unit – from October 1941 to the end of April 1942. He was recalled to JG 51 to take command of the 5th Squadron on 23 May, succeeding Hans Strelow, a 68-victory ace who had been shot down behind enemy lines.
Although II./JG 51 covered a very stable part of the front (it stayed based in Bryansk from January to August 1942), there were still sporadic periods of intense air activity, as the Soviets staged offensives to distract and draw off support from their collapsing southern front. Schnell continued to score; he claimed seven in one day (5 July) to take him to 52 victories. A further six (or five) victories on 2 August took his score to 58 victories.
Soon after on 8 August, now as a Hauptmann (captain), he was promoted to command his former unit, III./JG 51, succeeding the long-serving Richard Leppla, his commander since November 1940, who had been severely injured. Based at Dugino, directly west of Moscow, he was straight away into the frantic battles for air superiority over the Rzhev salient. Forced to bail out twice in the month, he later noted:
“As I was swinging down in my parachute in a wonderful stillness, I thought of those at home. Back home, my parents calmly had their Sunday morning coffee by that time.” 
Now also burdened with the administrative duties of command, combat opportunities were more limited after his 65th victory in late September. During his tenure, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold (on 10 October 1942) and also oversaw the unit’s transition onto the new Fw190A fighter in November.
On 17 January 1943, in a tragic take-off accident, JG 51’s Kommodore Karl-Gottfried Nordmann’s plane collided with that of I./JG 51 Kommandeur Rudolf Busch, killing the latter. So traumatized was Nordmann by the incident that he refused to fly combat missions again, and Schnell unofficially took over leading the Geschwader in the air. This gave him the opportunity to pick up another half-dozen victories over the next few months, as the German Army finally withdrew from in front of Moscow to straighten the front line.
A lull finally fell over the central front in June 1943. Because of either niggling wounds or his increasingly outspoken criticism of the High Command’s running of the campaign on 23 June Karl-Heinz was transferred back to the Reich (now on 72 victories) to command another pilot-training unit: I./JG 106. But barely a fortnight later, he was again transferred, this time to the Mediterranean theatre to take temporary command of II./JG 53 in the absence of regular Kommandeur Gerhard Michalski, and which had just been pulled out from the invasion of Sicily. In his two-month stay he scored no victories, but supervised the unit’s retreat from the toe of Italy, past Naples and Rome, onto Lucca in Tuscany, as the Western Allies prepared to storm ashore onto mainland Europe.
On 24 September 1943, with Michalski’s return, Schnell was recalled to I./JG 106. Although promoted to major on 1 October, he remained “in exile" for the next year. This probably saved his life, unlike so many of his contemporaries left in the meat-grinder that was the last year of the war. He was given command of the JG 102 training unit in August 1944 until it was nominally disbanded on 15 March 1945. By then he was already in hospital nursing his ongoing injuries. Schnell was finally drawn back to a front-line unit, answering Johannes Steinhoff’s call to join Adolf Galland’s band of elite ‘malcontents’ in JV 44. There he served as Platzausbau officer (in charge of airfield infrastructure) until the end of the war. One of his last duties, on 4 May 1945, was being dispatched by his CO, Heinz Bär, from their last airbase in Salzburg, Austria, to the nearby American forces to get their surrender instructions.
Karl-Heinz Schnell flew over 500 missions and is credited with 72 air victories. Of these, 9 were scored on the Western Front and the remaining 62 were over Russia.
|No||Date||Time||Unit & Airfield||Gruppe Kommandeur||Location / Planquad||Claimed Aircraft||Source / Comments|
|1||29 May 1940||19:15||3./JG 20 – Ghent-St Denis||Hptm Hannes Trautloft||NE of Calais||Spitfire||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|2||11 June 1940||19:35||3./JG 20 – Estrées-lès-Crécy||Hptm Hannes Trautloft||S of Rouen||Beaufort||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|3||28 June 1940||19:20||3./JG 20 – St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Hannes Trautloft||10 km W of Calais||Hurricane||C.2036/II, Prien & Bock|
|4||30 June 1940||12:50||3./JG 20 – St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Hannes Trautloft||S of St Omer||Blenheim||C.2036/II, Prien & Bock|
|5||24 August 1940||9:40||9./JG 51 – St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Hannes Trautloft||?||Curtiss P-36 ?||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|6||28 August 1940||18:10||9./JG 51 – St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Walter Oesau||Canterbury : 6000m||Hurricane||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|7||4 September 1940||14:24||9./JG 51 – St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Walter Oesau||S of London||Spitfire||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|8||4 September 1940||14:25||9./JG 51 - St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Walter Oesau||S of London||Hurricane||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|9||25 October 1940||13:15||9./JG 51 - St. Omer-Nord||Hptm Walter Oesau||?||Hurricane||OKL, Prien & Bock|
|10||24 June 1941||10:58||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 64|
|11||24 June 1941||14:00||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 68|
|12||24 June 1941||14:00||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 69|
|13||24 June 1941||17:51||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 79|
|14||24 June 1941||17:52||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 81|
|15||24 June 1941||17:53||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 82|
|16||24 June 1941||17:53||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 83|
|17||26 June 1941||10:55||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||Belorussia ?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 87|
|18||26 June 1941||15:50||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||SE of Wygonowskie See||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 88|
|19||29 June 1941||17:50||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||SB-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 90|
|20||30 June 1941||14:28||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 92|
|21||30 June 1941||18:55||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 96|
|22||30 June 1941||19:00||9./JG 51 - Halaszi||Hptm Richard Leppla||5 km NE of Bobruisk||DB-3||Prien & Bock|
|23||2 July 1941||14:50||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 97|
|24||5 July 1941||15:22||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 98|
|25||5 July 1941||15:23||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 99|
|26||11 July 1941||6:25||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 101|
|27||11 July 1941||14:07||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 102|
|28||11 July 1941||19:20||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 104|
|29||13 July 1941||16:45||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||I-16||C.2036/II AnerkNr 103|
|30||13 July 1941||16:55||9./JG 51 - Stara Bychow||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||I-16||Prien & Bock|
|unc.||28 July 1941||?||9./JG 51 - Smolensk||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||Prien & Bock|
|31||29 July 1941||18:10||9./JG 51 - Smolensk||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||DB-3||C.2036/II AnerkNr 108|
|32||9 August 1941||13:05||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 110|
|33||9 August 1941||13:05||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 111|
|34||9 August 1941||13:07||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 171|
|35||9 August 1941||13:09||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 172|
|36||11 August 1941||7:45||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||Prien & Bock|
|37||13 August 1941||17:08||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Il-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 399|
|38||7 September 1941||12:25||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||Pe-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 160|
|39||7 September 1941||17:40||9./JG 51 - Schatalovka||Hptm Richard Leppla||?||I-16||C.2036/II AnerkNr 161|
|?||28 May 1942||9:35||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Richard Leppla||N of Roslavl : 800m||Il-2||C.2036/II AnerkNr 101|
|?||2 July 1942||17:50||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||36 212 : treetop||Il-2||C.2025/I AnerkNr ASM|
|46||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|47||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|48||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|49||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|50||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|51||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|52||5 July 1942||?||5./JG 51 - Bryansk||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||?||?|
|53||2 August 1942||13:15||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 554 : 300m||Il-2||C.2025/I|
|54||2 August 1942||13:20||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 552 : 300m||Il-2||C.2025/I|
|55||2 August 1942||13:25||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 542 : 300m||Il-2||C.2025/I|
|56||2 August 1942||15:10||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 553 : 500m||Il-2||C.2025/I AnerkNr 445|
|57||2 August 1942||16:37||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 581 : 500m||Il-2||C.2025/I|
|58||3 August 1942||12:35||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 554 : 400m||Il-2||C.2025/I AnerkNr 450|
|59||8 August 1942||18:24||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||47 524 : 2000m||Pe-2||C.2025/I AnerkNr 389|
|60||22 August 1942||16:01||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||54 434 : 400m||Pe-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 407|
|61||22 August 1942||18:35||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||54 421 : treetop||Il-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 410|
|62||22 August 1942||18:35||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||54 421||Il-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 456|
|63||23 August 1942||17:31||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||54 414 : treetop||Il-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 419|
|64||5 September 1942||17:03||5./JG 51 – Orel-Nord||Hptm Hartmann Grasser||SE of Styschupka||Il-2||C.2032/II AnerkNr 475|
|65||26 September 1942||12:25||III./JG 51 – Dugino||Maj Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||47 521 : 2000m||LaGG-3||C.2032/II AnerkNr 127|
|66||29 January 1943||10:20||III./JG 51 – Orel||Maj Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 451 : 100m||Il-2||C.2035/I AnerkNr 134|
|67||29 January 1943||10:22||III./JG 51 – Orel||Maj Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 451 : 100m||Il-2||C.2035/I AnerkNr 135|
|68||29 January 1943||10:25||III./JG 51 – Orel||Maj Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 451 : 100m||Il-2||C.2035/I AnerkNr 137|
|69||6 February 1943||13:25||III./JG 51 – Orel||ObtLt Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 624 : 50m||Il-2||C.2035/I AnerkNr 134|
|70||24 February 1943||10:25||III./JG 51 – Dugino||ObtLt Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||44 434 : 200m||Il-2||C.2035/I AnerkNr 140|
|71||9 March 1943||8:12||III./JG 51 – Dugino||ObtLt Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 294 : 3000m||LaGG-3||C.2032/II AnerkNr 141|
|72||13 May 1943||5:10||III./JG 51 – Dugino||ObtLt Karl-Gottfried Nordmann||63 223 : 1200m||LaGG-3||C.2032/II AnerkNr 142|
- "SCHNELL, Karl-Heinz". World War 2 Awards. 10 October 1942. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
- "Schnell". Leisure Galleries. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 - 1945". Ritterkreuz. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "Pilot Profile - Karl-Heinz Schnell". World naval ships. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
- Weal 2006, pg. 90.
- Bergström, Dikov, Antipov 2006, pg109.
- Weal 2006, pg. 60.
- Luftwaffe Officer Career Summaries website.
- Bergström, Dikov, Antipov 2006, pg113.
- Bergström, Dikov, Antipov 2006, p. 121.
- Weal 2006, p. 90.
- Forsyth, pg. 26.
- Weal 2006, pg. 90.
- Luftwaffe Officer Career Summaries website.
- Forsyth, pg. 63.
- Forsyth, pp. 119-120.
- Luftwaffe Air Units: Single–Engined Fighters website.
- Aces of the Luftwaffe website.
- Worldnavalships.com website.
- Bergström, Christer; Dikov, Andrey; Antipov, Vlad (2006). Black Cross, Red Star Vol 3 Eagle Editions Ltd ISBN 0-9761034-4-3
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- “Ciel de Gloire”. JG51 http://www.cieldegloire.com/jg_051.php . Retrieved 24 November 2011.
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Oblt Arnold Lignitz
| Squadron Leader of 9./JG 51
1 October 1940 – 2 November 1941
Oblt Gottfried Schlitzer
| Squadron Leader of 5./JFS 5
3 November 1941 – 26 April 1942
Ltn Hans Strelow
| Squadron Leader of 5./JG 51
23 May 1942 – 8 August 1942
Ltn Ralph Furch
Hptm Richard Leppla
| Group Commander of III./JG 51
25 September 1942 – 18 June 1943
Hptm Fritz Losigkeit
Maj Hans Mihlan
| Group Commander of I./JG 106
23 June 1943 – 9 July 1943
Hptm Friedrich Kerkmann
Hptm Gerhard Michalski
| Group Commander of II./JG 53
10 July 1943 – 28 September 1943
Hptm Gerhard Michalski
Hptm Friedrich Kerkmann
| Group Commander of I./JG 106
29 September 1943 – 31 July 1944
Hptm Max Buchholz
Obstlt Jürgen Roth
| Group Commander of I./JG 102
1 August 1944 – 15 March 1945
none: unit disbanded