On his nineteenth sortie, Hartmann scored his first victory. He continued to score steadily, although his career nearly came to a sudden end when he was shot down and captured after his ninetieth victory. He managed to escape and eventually return to German lines. Hartmann continued to run up his score, and he was awarded the Knight's Cross in October 1943 after 150 victories. By August 1944, he had doubled his total. He was awarded every order of the Knight's Cross—Oak Leaves, Swords, and eventually Diamonds, Germany's highest military award.
Known as the "Black Devil of the Ukraine" by his Soviet opponents in recognition of his skill and the paint scheme of his aircraft, Hartmann scored his 352nd and last victory on 8 May 1945. He surrendered his fighter group to a U.S. Army unit but was handed over to the Soviets. Tried and convicted as a war criminal, Hartmann was imprisoned until his repatriation in late 1955.
Hartmann joined the new Federal Republic of Germany air force in 1956 and was appointed commander of the newly formed JG71 Richthofen. He retired in 1970 as a colonel. In retirement, Hartmann remained active in German civilian aviation, operating flight schools and participating in fly-ins, sometimes with other World War II aces. Erich Hartmann died on 19 September 1993 at Weil im Schönbuch.
M. R. Pierce
Hartmann, Ursula. German Fighter Ace Erich Hartmann: The Life Story of the World's Highest Scoring Ace. West Chester, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1992.; Toliver, Raymond F., and Trevor J. Constable. Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe. Fallbrook, CA: Aero, 1977.; Toliver, Raymond F., and Trevor J. Constable. The Blond Knight of Germany. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Aero Books, 1985.