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Werner Mölders : biography

18 March 1913 - 22 November 1941

Werner Mölders (18 March 1913 – 22 November 1941) was a World War II German Luftwaffe pilot and the leading German fighter ace in the Spanish Civil War. Mölders became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 100 aerial victories—that is, 100 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft, and was highly decorated for his achievements. He was instrumental in the development of new fighter tactics which led to the finger-four formation. He died in an air crash in which he was a passenger.

Mölders joined the Luftwaffe in 1934 at the age of 21. In 1938, he volunteered for service in the Condor Legion, which supported General Francisco Franco's Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, and shot down 15 aircraft.Obermaier and Held 1996, p. 34. In World War II, he lost two wingmen in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, but shot down 53 enemy aircraft. With his tally standing at 68 victories, Mölders and his unit, the Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), were transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941 for the opening of Operation Barbarossa. By the end of 22 June 1941, the first day of Barbarossa, he had added another four victories to his tally and a week later, Mölders surpassed Manfred von Richthofen's 1918 record of 80 victories. By mid-July, he had 100.

Prevented from flying further combat missions for propaganda reasons, at the age of 28 Mölders was promoted to Oberst, and appointed Inspector General of Fighters. He was inspecting the Luftwaffe units in the Crimea when he was ordered to Berlin to attend the state funeral of Ernst Udet, the World War I flying ace. On the flight to Berlin, the Heinkel He 111 in which he was travelling as a passenger encountered a heavy thunderstorm during which one of the aircraft's engines failed. While attempting to land, the Heinkel crashed at Breslau, killing Mölders and two others.

The German Wehrmacht of the Third Reich and the Bundeswehr of the Federal Republic of Germany both honoured him by naming two fighter wings, a destroyer and barracks after him. However, in 1998, the German Parliament decided that members of the Condor Legion such as Mölders, should "no longer be honoured". Therefore, in 2005, the German Ministry of Defence decided to remove the name "Mölders" from the fighter wing still bearing his name.

Personal life and character

Mölders was well known for his strength of character. His men nicknamed him "Vati" (Daddy), in recognition of his paternal attitude toward them, and the care he took of their well-being. He was a devoutly religious individual who demanded that all Allied aviators captured by those under his command be treated civilly, and often would invite captured pilots to dine with him.Weal 2006, p. 120.

Mölders married Luise Baldauf, née Thurner, the widow of a friend who had been killed in active service, on 13 September 1941.Obermaier and Held 1996, p. 22. Erich Klawitter, Mölders' childhood mentor, performed the religious ceremony in Falkenstein, Taunus. Witnesses to the wedding included Leutnant Erwin Fleig and Oberleutnant Hartmann Grasser. The marriage produced a posthumous daughter, Verena.Obermaier and Held 1996, pp. 35, 180–182, 209.

Third Reich authorities disapproved of his choice of a Catholic marriage ceremony, performed by Klawitter. Klawitter had been barred from membership in the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Culture Chamber) and was considered politically unreliable after a 1936 breach of the Pulpit Law, a remnant of the 1870s Kulturkampf that among other religions barred Catholics from criticizing the state from the pulpit.Hagena 2008, p. 54.


Werner Mölders' old unit, Jagdgeschwader 51, was christened "Mölders" in his honour, on 22 November 1941, only hours after his death. Its members were entitled to wear the "Mölders" cuffband.Obermaier and Held 1996, p. 35. His death, however, was also put to other uses. Shortly after Mölders died, the British Intelligence agency dropped a flyer over Germany. The so-called Möldersbrief (Mölders-letter) was a copy of correspondence supposedly written by Mölders to the provost of Schwerin. In this letter, he expressed his strong belief in Catholicism and stated that, especially in the face of death, many supporters of National Socialism still find strength and courage with Catholicism.Hagena 2008, p. 67.

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