The 300 Club
The 300 Club is THE most exclusive club in the world.
No amount of networking, wealth or smooth-talking will get you membership.
And did I mention it has only two members?
Their names are Erich Alfred Hartmann and Gerhard Barkhorn.
During WW2 they were elite fighter pilots with the Luftwaffe. And to-date they are the only fighter pilots in history who BOTH claimed more than 300 victories in aerial combat.
Erich Alfred Hartmann
Hartmann, nicknamed ‘Bubi’ (the kid) by the other pilots in his squadron, downed over 350 Allied and Soviet aircraft. He credited his victories to his successful ‘stalk and ambush’ technique.
He flew over 1,400 missions. And most of his kills were Soviet planes, claimed while stationed on the Eastern Front.
No wonder then that his Russian adversaries nicknamed him the ‘Black Devil.’
He claimed his last aerial victory on 8th May 1945, hours before the Second World War ended.
Along with the surviving members of his squadron, JG52, he surrendered to the U.S. Army. They immediately handed him over to the Russian Army to be tried for war crimes.
After spending many years in various Soviet prisons, Hartmann was released in 1955 and returned to Germany. There he continued his military career by joining the new German Air Force. After several years he retired from military life and became a civilian flight instructor.
Hartmann died in September 1993, aged 71.
Barkhorn joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 and his first combat mission was over Belgium during the Battle of France. He later took part in the Battle of Britain.
He flew the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190D and was part of the JG2 ‘Richthofen’ squadron.
He later transferred to the JG52 squadron and flew with his friend Hartmann.
In 1941 Barkhorn took part in Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of Russia. During combat missions across the Russian Front, he downed over 300 Russian planes.
Barkhorn scored his final victory in January 1945.
A few days after that he was assigned Wing Commander of JG6 Fighter Wing.
This was a unit of mainly rookie pilots and the squadron suffered heavy losses. It took its toll on Barkhorn who spent several months in hospital suffering from severe mental and physical stress.
In April of 1945 he was well enough to return to flying and was invited by Adolf Galland to join his elite squadron JV44.
Towards the end of April, he was flying a combat mission with the unit when he suffered engine failure. Distracted by trying to keep his Messerschmitt flying and return to his base, he failed to spot an enemy fighter and was attacked by an American P-51 Mustang.
Barkhorn crash landed but survived.
He was taken prison by the Allies and remained a prisoner until after the war ended. Following his release in September 1945, Barkhorn returned to Germany where he continued his military career with the German Air Force until he retired in 1976.
Having survived the trauma and aerial combat of WW2 – Hartmann was killed in 1983 in a road traffic accident, along with his wife.
Credits: Lonnie Ortega, Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-402-0265-03A / Pilz / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, ATAG.com, Pinterest.com/WWII