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Wilhelm Johnen

Wilhelm Johnen
Born 9 October 1921
Homberg at the Niederrhein, Germany
Died 7 February 2002 (2002-02-08) (aged 80)
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1940–1945
Rank Hauptmann
Unit NJG 1, NJG 5, NJG 6

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Wilhelm Johnen (9 October 1921 – 7 February 2002) was a highly decorated German night fighter pilot in World War II. Johnen is credited with 34 aerial victories claimed in 160 nocturnal and 22 day time combat missions.[Notes 1]


Johnen was born on 9 October 1921 in Homberg. In June 1941 Leutnant Johnen was posted to 3./NJG 1. He gained his first victory on 26/27 March 1942 when, with Bordfunker Gefreiter Risop, he claimed Wellington bomber X3589 'KO-F' of No. 115 Squadron, RAF. He then attacked a Short Stirling but his Bf 110 D-3 was hit by return fire, killing his Risop and wounding Johnen in the left leg. Johnen baled out and spent a sometime in hospital for burns and his wounded leg. By October, 3./NJG 1 was redesignated 1./NJG 5 and then in December again redesignated, this time to 5./NJG 5. Lt. Johnen claimed seven victories during 1943.

In January 1944 he added seven victories, including three Lancaster bombers on 27/28 January. He downed a further three Lancasters on 15/16 February. In March 1944 Johnen was made Staffelkapitän of 6./NJG 5.

On the night of 27/28 April, Johnen shot down a Lancaster four-engine bomber near Strasbourg in eastern France. He and his crew (Oberfeldwebel Mahle and Leutnant Kamprath) then made contact with another Lancaster over Lake Constance. Johnen attacked the Lancaster but his Bf 110 G-4 rwas badly hit and damaged, setting the port engine alight. Johnen was obliged to land the crippled Bf 110 at the Swiss airfield at Zürich-Dubendorf. Johnen and his crew were interned and repatriated some days later, parallel to much political manoeuvering, as Johnen's almost new Bf 110 G-4 (WNr. 740055) was equipped with the latest SN-2b airborne intercept radar, 'Lichtenstein' C-1 and oblique 20 mm cannon armament. Its landing intact in neutral territory was of major concern to the Germans, who wished details of its equipment to remain secret. In a deal between the German and Swiss authorities it was arranged that the Bf 110 would be destroyed, and in return the Swiss would be sold a number of Bf 109-Gs. The Bf 110 was duly destroyed on the night of 19 May 1944 and its crew repatriated.

Johnen was appointed Staffelkapitän of 8./NJG 6 in May 1944 and based in Hungary. In two months, Johnen added 11 victories, including four Soviet-flown Mitchell B-25 bombers. Oberleutnant Johnen was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in July for 33 victories.

In autumn 1944, Johnen was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of III./NJG 6, serving until the end of the war. On 15/16 March 1945 scored his last kill, a Lancaster over Wurzburg.

Johnen was credited with 34 victories in over 200 missions. All his victories were recorded at night. Included in his victory total are 24 four-engine bombers.

Post-war, Johnen attended university and gained an Engineering degree. In 1952 he worked with Professor Willy Messerschmitt before taking up construction engineering, successfully running his own business. He also wrote his biography, "Duel under the Stars", one of the first English language books about the Luftwaffe. Johnen died on 7 February 2002.




  • Johnen, Wilhelm (2009). Duell unter den Sternen—Tatsachenbericht eines deutschen Nachtjägers 1941–1945 (in German). Würzburg, Germany: Flechsig. ISBN 978-3-8035-0003-8.

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