Germany – Third Reich: The stunning and complete Luftwaffe FW-190 ground attack pilot's Eastern Front 1944 'posthumous' Knights Cross of the Iron Cross and 1943 German Cross in Gold winners document grouping awarded to Feldwebel Klaus Riebicke, an FW-190 ground attack pilot who survived 592 missions on the Eastern Front before being killed in action attacking the Tsalesetsyki railroad station, south of Lemburg, near the Dniester bridge on 6th June 1944. Riebicke had prevously gained his Iron Cross 2nd Class for Operation Typhoon - the advance on Moscow, and the Iron Cross 1st Class for the Moscow counterattacks over that first grim winter. One of only two known surviving Knights Cross award document grouping's when combined with the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pendant for 400 missions for Air to Ground Support Fighters and Reconnaissance Aircraft. Riebicke saw action during many of the key battles of the war against the Soviet Union, including during the advance on Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad when his unit is noted as having dive-bombed Red Army troops on the banks of the Volga on 13th September 1942, the day of the first major German attempt to capture the city in which they came remarkably close to doing so, and also on 12th July 1943 at the Battle for the village of Prokhorovka during Operational Citadel - The Battle for Kursk, at which took place the largest recorded Tank-on-Tank engagement in history.
The Pilots Badge issued in Berlin on 29.4.1941 as a Gefreiter. Signed by Kastner-Kirdorf as Generalleutnant and Chief of the Luftwaffe Personnel Office.
The Iron Cross 2nd Class issued in the field on 27.11.1941 as a Gefreiter. Signed by Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen as General Der Flieger, Commander of the 8th Air Corps.
von Richthofen was awarded the Knights Cross on 17.5.1940 as Generalmajor and Commander of the 8th Air Corps. He received the 26th Oakleaves on 17.7.1941 as General der Flieger and Commander of the 8th Air Corps.
The Iron Cross 1st Class issued in the field on 26.1.1942 as a Gefreiter. Signed by Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen as General Der Flieger. Commander of the 8th Air Corps.
The Eastern Front Medal issued on 10.7.1942 as an Obergefreiter. Signed by a Captain and Company Commander.
The Eastern Front Medal issued on 17.9.1942 as an Unteroffizier. Signed by a Major and Group Commander.
The Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pendant (for Schlachtflieger und Zerstorer) issued as a Feldwebel, 7./Schlachtgeschwader 1 on 27.8.1943. Signed by a Major and Squadron Commander.
The German Cross in Gold issued by HQ on 14.11.1943 as a Feldwebel. Signed by Goring as Reichsmarschall and Commander of the Luftwaffe.
Goring amongst numerous German and Foreign awards received the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 30.9.1939 and was the only recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross on 19.8.1940. The latter for the Luftwaffe’s roll in the successful campaign in France during 1940 and the only such award issued.
Preliminary Certificate for the award of the Knights Cross issued as a Feldwebel by the High Command of the Luftwaffe on 26.10.1944. Signed by Loerzer as Generaloberst and Head of the Air Force Personnel Office and Head of Personnel Armaments and the National Socialist Command of the Air Force.
Loerzer was awarded the Knights Cross on 29.5.1940 as Generalleutnant and Commanding of Officer of the 2nd Air Corps.
Wehrpass, issued 10.10.39 at Berlin-Wilmersdorf, confirming dates of all awards and postings.
Klaus Riebicke was born in Berlin on 20th May 1922, the son of Otto and Margarethe. Initially joining the Luftwaffe on 23rd November 1939 as part of 2nd Battery, Flak Artillerie Regiment 71 in Schweidnitz. He then transferred into the 2nd Flieger Kompanie at Saale on 8th January 1940, without with whom he remained until the end of July, therefore ensuring that he saw no active service in the campaign in France and the low countries in May and June 1940. He would then train at the Pilots School in Stettin between August 1940 and May 1941, before a six week period at the Fighter Pilots Preschool until 15th June 1941. Finishing his training at Pilots school 120 until 31st July 1941.
Transferring to II/ (Schlacht)/Lehrgeschwader 2 on 1st August 1941, Riebicke would see service initially on the northern sector of the Eastern Front, especially around Lake Ladoga in August, before the unit was moved back on to the central sector where it served in a ground-support role during the fighting around Bryansk and Vyazma as well as on the advance towards Kalinin during Operation Typhoon, the Wehrmacht’s major attack on Moscow that began in the first few days of October 1941. It would appear that Riebicke’s Iron Cross 2nd Class issued to him on 27th November 1941 was for his part in his role in the fighting before Moscow.
Riebicke’s Iron Cross 1st Class was issued to him on 26th January 1942 and is almost certainly related to his part in the fighting in the area around Moscow just before and during the major Soviet counterattacks in the region that took place beginning on 5th December 1941. At the time of the receipt of this award, Riebicke had just transferred to Schlachtgeschwader 1 with whom he would remain for the following 3 months as the unit formed up and went through training.
Once Schlachtgeschwader 1 reached the front it participated Operation Blau, the Axis summer offensive of 1942 in southern Russia. The wing was a major participant in the Battle of Stalingrad, being particularly active on the 13th September the first major attack into the city where it caused particularly heavy casualties along the river bank as the Red Army feverishly sought to send reinforcements across the Volga to save the city on a day where Soviet fighter activity was notable and on which Josef Menapace the commanding officer of 7. Staffel/Schlachtgeschwader 1, and a Knights Cross winner was shot down but survived.
The fighting around Stalingrad in the air was fiercely contested, just as it was on the ground, with the Soviets particularly in the early part of the battle sending in fighter units on a consistent basis to try and gain or maintain air superiority.
By early November 1942, 5. Staffel had been withdrawn from the Stalingrad area and was sent to North Africa, however Riebicke appears to have transferred out of the area and remained in Poland possibly for training or even just a rest during the severe weather of the winter months. By mid-January, Riebicke had returned to the front and had joined 4. Staffel. The Wing had abandoned the airfield of Millerovo and started to retreat westwards all the while attacking the Soviet spearheads. The unit was afforded no rest and fought in the ferocious air battles over the Kuban Peninsula in the early months of 1943.
Schlachtgeschwader 1 took part in the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, as support for ground troops on the southern shoulder of the bulge, including at the Battle of Prokhorovka on 12th July, probably the decisive day of the operation, where the German spearheads engaged in a ferocious tank battle with the counter-attacking Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, which although ended in a tactical victory for the Germans would lead to a loss of momentum and ultimately strategic defeat. The unit was pulled out of the line for a period in autumn 1943 and was engaged in fighting the Soviet spearheads advancing on Kiev and across the Dnieper. Soviet aviation losses had decreased from a 4 to 1 to 1.5 to 1 by the end of 1943, and losses amongst Luftwaffe pilots increased dramatically through the period. A number of highly decorated pilots from the wing were killed by the end of the year.
In March 1944 Riebicke spent a month with 1. Staffel/Schlachtgeschwader 152 which was subsequently to transfer personnel into Schlachtgeschwader 77, which remained on the Eastern Front flying FW-190s.
It was finally with 9. Staffel/ Schlachtgeschwader 10 that Riebicke’s illustrious and long flying career came to an end, when on 6th June 1944 he was involved in an attack on the Tsalesetsyki railroad station, south of Lemburg, near the Dniester bridge. He was shot down over the target, probably receiving a direct hit from one of the 16 Flak units defending the target. By this point Reinicke had completed 592 missions as an assault pilot, an exceptionally high number for someone in a ground-attack role who would have been highly exposed to ground fire as well as the usual Flak fire.
Reinicke would go on to receive a posthumous award of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 6th October 1944 in recognition of his combat record as a ground-attack pilot, and of his 592 sorties.