Credited with 35 confirmed victories, 24-year old Hauptmann Eduard Tratt was the highest scoring Zerstörer pilot in World War II – his death signaled the end of the Luftwaffe’s ability to use the heavily armed twin-engine Me 110G and Me 410s effectively against the increasing American bombing operations against Germany.
Beginning in 1939, Tratt flew the Me 110 heavy fighter with I./ZG 1 during the invasions of Poland and France and was credited with shooting down three Hawker Hurricane fighters over Dunkirk on Jun. 1, 1940. During the next ten weeks of Channel battles, he downed another ten RAF aircraft before being wounded on Aug. 12.
As explained by Douglas C. Dildy in his book “Big Week” 1944, Operation Argument and the breaking of the Jagdwaffe, with the Zerstörer’s failure as an escort fighter in the Battle of Britain, it was re-roled principally as a ground-attack fighter-bomber and Tratt flew it with great success in the invasion of Russia, during which he was credited with shooting down nine Soviet aircraft and destroying another 17 on the ground, along with 24 tanks and 312 vehicles. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross) on Apr. 12, 1942.
After recovering from wounds a fourth time, he commanded Erprobungskommando 25, testing the new Me 410A-2 Hornisse (Hornet) in the heavy bomber interceptor role and shooting down two B-17s in May/June 1943. Consequently, he was given command of the newly resurrected II./ZG 26, flying the Me 410 from Hildesheim in central Germany.
More than eager to take on the USAAF’s equivalent heavy fighter – the P-38 – he was also credited with shooting down four Lightnings. His final victory was claimed against one of the retiring 1st Bomb Division Fortresses during the first day of “Big Week,” (Operation Argument) on Feb. 20, 1944.
On Feb.22, Tratt and his gunner Oberfeldwebel Gillert were reported to have “single-handedly attacked B-17s of the 91st BG” attempting to bomb Oschersleben and their Me 410B-1/U2 may have been damaged by return fire from a 401st BS Fortress. The main attack, however, was to the south where 99 B-17s were bombing Aschersleben, Bernburg, and Halberstadt. These were escorted by 46 P-51s from the 354th FG.
Five minutes after joining the 40th CBW, Captain Robert J. Brooks’ 356th FS sighted an estimated 16 Me 110Gs (ZG 26) approaching from 11 o’clock at 23,000ft, escorted by a high cover squadron of Me 109Gs. The two formations clashed and a swirling dogfight began, spiraling downwards. All eight of Major Johann Kogler’s III./ZG 26 Zerstörers were lost, along with two from I. Gruppe, four aircrewmen being killed and five wounded. The Me 109G units lost four fighters but no pilots.
As the following image shows, south of the main battle between the Mustangs and Zerstörers, Captain Jack T. Bradley (CO 353rd FS) and his wingman, Lieutenant Wah Kau Kong, shot down Tratt’s Me 410B over the Harz Mountains north of Nordhausen, killing him and his gunner. Immediately afterwards, Kong’s P-51B was hit hard by cannon fire from an Me 110G and exploded in mid-air.
“Big Week” 1944, Operation Argument and the breaking of the Jagdwaffe is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Graham Turner via Osprey and Unknown
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