Then in March 1944 would come one of his most profitable nights. After being appointed Gruppenkommanduer of IV./NJG 1 he shot down five aircraft on the 25th of May to take his tally up to 74 planes.
What’s even more remarkable about the early hours of that day is that Schnaufer shot them all down in a 15 minute period of utter carnage. The pilot managed to dispatch five bombers – and astonishing rate of one every three minutes.
One of the main things that puts Schnaufer’s skill into perspective is the consistency of his kills and the clusters in which he achieved them. Around one month later, the 22nd of June, the pilot dispatched another four of his enemy over the course of 40 minutes.
As the Allied ground troops advanced further over the continent, the German airforce was pushed back towards – and eventually into – their native land. And so it was that by September 1944 IV./NJG 1 was based in Dortmund and Dusseldorf.
At the tender age of 22 years old, Schnaufer was appointed Kommodore of NJG 4 on the 4th of November 1944 and by the end of 1944, he had killed 106 enemy bombers.
And then came his greatest ever success and the one that stands head and shoulders above all of his other accomplishments in the skies of battle. The day was the 21st of February 1945. The victims were all four-engined RAF bombers. There were nine kills – seven in 19 minutes. They were all Lancasters.
Schnaufer began that day by putting down the first two between 1:53 and 1:58 in the morning. He then waited the rest of the day before taking to the air once more in the evening.
The pilot began his 19 minutes of carnage by picking out an Allied plane at 20:44. The next victim came at 20:48, the next at 20:51. Schnaufer was taking them down like clockwork. By 21:03 he had left the smoking ruins of seven aircraft behind.
His final act of the war would be to claim three more bombers on the 8th of March 1945 to bring his final tally up to 121. After this, he was banned from flying any more combat missions in order to test if the Dornier Do 335 would be suitable for night fighting use.
However, the Germans couldn’t keep the pilot from the skies and he flew once more on the 9th of April 1945. After chasing a Lancaster for 79 minutes he abandoned his efforts and landed back as Faßberg Air
After the war was over, Schnaufer was taken prisoner by the British and he took over the family’s decimated wine business upon his release. The tail fin belonging to his plane, with the kill icons representing all 121 victories, was sold at auction for £90,000.
Though the politics of the regime which drove him to war were unforgivable, the incredible skill of this individual pilot must be acknowledged. War drives individuals to do incredible things, and though we may loathe their politics, their place in history cannot be denied.