Saturday, February 5, 2011


Erbo von Kageneck was born on the 2th of April 1918, in the rhenische estate of his grandfather baron Clemens Schorlemer, Lieser. Erbo was just a pet name for his rather unusual first name. He was named after one of his ancestors, Arbogast, who was a knight of Xth century.

His father, Count (Graf) Karl von Kageneck, was a general in the imperial army, serving the Kaiser as an aide-de-camp .During the First World War, he was fell under canadian captivity and spent a quite comfortable time in a british detention camp for staff officers. While coming back from his reclusion, he was deeply hurt by his experience of communist revolution in germany.

His mother, born Maria von Schorlemer, was the daughter of already mentioned Clemens von Schorlemer, president of Rhineland and Minister of Agriculture of Prussia. She was a personal friend of Oskar and August-Wilhelm von Hohenzollern, sons of Wilhelm II.

Born as he was in such a milieu, Erbo was not bound to be a fanatical nazi. Though, he fully illustrates what Hermann Broch called a "sin by omission", that very silence german aristocracy kept on the deep nature of national socialism. I mean, while being fully faithful to christian and chivalric values, he became the spearhead, both practically (as a top class pilot) and ideologically (as a hero), of Hitler's purposes.

"Sicily" 1: Taken in May 1941 in Sicily. The "Men in Black" help Erbo to put on his lifejacket before a strike on Malta. Staffelkapitän 9/JG27

Erbo had a very difficult childhood and adolescence. Though obviosly clever and exceptionnaly gifted in sports, he was expelled from Bad Godesberg (an estate near Bonn), the school, ruled by Jesuits, where he had been sent like his older brothers.

Im april 1935, he entered the HilterJugend, and where he immediately took command of a Faehnlein. Considering the difficulties he had already met with the Jesuits, it can be easily said that the HJ parodoxically offered him freedom. There he had his first sucesses. At the time, he only hunted within the BDM, and, handsome as he was, it turned out to be quite an inequal fight... After having been warned a very last time, he was expelled from Bad Godesberg in Easter 1936, and sent to the Kaiser-Wilhelm highschool in Trier. Meanwhile, he escaped the grip of the HJ, since he was both forced to leave Bad Godesberg and forbidden political action by his father... Anyway, he did not behave better, and was severly punished by his father. After a rather concerning accident, he seemed to be cooled down. He also felt obviously ashamed of what he had done to this family. Then, he was gretaly impressed by the dizzling strength of the new Wehrmacht. It is very important to remember that for many aristocrats, the army, the feldgrau uniform, was a symbol of freedom and Ehre, especially in those times - the army was still rather independent from politics. In 1937, Erbo passed his Abitur more than successfully.

"Wilrich": Portrait of Erbo, drawn short before his death by G. Wilrich, and distributed as a postcard.
Two years later, he was promoted lieutenant of the Luftwaffe, most prestigious weapon at the time. He flew a Me 109. He was named to the IIIrd group of Jagdgeschwaeder 27 ( "Albert Leo Schlageter", a resistant to french occupation executed in 1923).

In 1939, he took part to the invasion of Poland. He was extremely disappointed by the total absence of the enemy, which airforce had been destroyed before beeing in flight.

So he waited impatienty for the next strike to come. On the 1Oth of May, as Germany attacked France, he was clearly exhilarated. Within the six weeks the war against France lasted, his squadron claimed 167 Abschüsse, 5 of which were Erbo's successes. At this point, he won his first star, and was promoted Oberleutnant. On the 13th of August, the number of successes of the squadron reached 320. He was then promoted commander of the 9th squadron of group III. At the end of August, he had 13 personal victories.

"Sicily" 2: Taken in May 1941 in Sicily. Staffelkapitän 9/JG27 - Sicilia, 1941
In April 1941, he was sent to the greek front, where he met the same type of problem than in Poland, that is to say: no fight in the air. In his letters to his parents, he severly criticised the british for what he considered as their cowardice - hadn't they abandonned their greek allies? He concluded: "Can another army be compared to ours?". Though, he still missed 6 victories in order to get the Ritterkreuz...

Oblt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck,
9/JG27 - Tschudowo/Russia
August, 1941
On the 2 th of May, 1941, the III/27 was sent to Gela, Sicily. There, his squadron met 2 italian squadrons and squadron 8 of JG26, under command of Joachim Müncheberg at that time, holder of oakleaves to his Ritterkreuz for his 42 Abschüsse (he was nicknamed the "King of Malta"), who Erbo had known from officer's school. At that time, he wrote: "Malta hampers the supplying of the AK, hence our mission: destruction of the air bases, elimination of the ennemy fight, destruction of all port equipement. It's only when we achieve this task, that we can aim to the african continent, today veiled in sandstorms..." In Malta, he shot two Hurricanes, hence increasing the total score of his victories. The letters to his parents got scarcier at that time, and contained less and less descritpions of airfights. Was it really that it had already become a routine?

Anyway, he missed the Ritterkreuz on the Mediterranean theater...

On June 22th, 1941, Erbo took part to Operation Babarossa. The content of his first letters from Russia clearly sounds like propaganda: "This blindness, this stupid stubbornness, seems to be a typical feature of these people from the East" or " It must be aknowledged that they fight 'til death, but I wonder whether it's for an idea or simply by mental ehaustion". Rapidly, he became less optimistic, as he understood he was not bound to be back home at the end of July, as he had boasted a couple of weeks before... On the 20th of august, he finally got the victories he lacked in order to complete his Ritterkreuz. But that very same day, he was shot down by a russian J18 above Lake Peipus, but he managed to land unwounded and not too fr behind enemy lines. Wolfram von Richthofen himself came to announce it. The next day, the new holder of the Ritterkreuz was credited of his 52th success. Werner Thaler wrote a full panegyric on Erbo for Das Reich weekly. On the 4th of October, the total amount of his successes reached 60.

On the 26th of October, Hitler himself decerned the oakleaves to the Ritterkreuz to Erbo, along with Gordon Gollob. There was no cocktail, but Göering had a champaign crate sent to Blumenscheidt, the family estate near Wittlich. On the photograph taken at the occasion, Erbo looks very doubtful. Was he disappointed by Hitler? Did he already know the war in Russia was lost? What is sure is that he was fed up with the Russians, and this "rotten country" that had planted the seeds of doubt in his mind, regarding the aim and the and of this war...

The III/27 was moved to the North African theater, since Goering had obtained one more group would be sent in order to rescue Rommel, currently retreating in Lybia. Eventually, his dream was fullfilled. He would endly see the "other continent". Before beeing moved to Lybia, the III/27 paused in Werneuchen, northeast of Berlin, in order to get equipped with new Me 109-F's. On November 22 th, Werner Mölders died in an plane crash, ant that was Erbo who was designated to hold Mölders decorations in front of the procession. He the obtained special permission from Goering to go visit his family in Blumenscheidt, flying his Messerchmitt. Goering had also invited him to Karinhall. While he was staying near Berlin, Goering had offered him to command the entire IIIrd group. But that meant remaining on earth, and beeing able to be in flight only as an "Einzelkämpfer". After three days of reflexion, he declined the offer...

"40Abschusse": Erbo is ovationed by his men on return from his 300th mission and 40th success.
The III/27 took off on December 6th, 1941. They reached the base of Tmimi, west of Tobruk, via Munich, northern Italy, the tyrrhenean coast and Sicily. Already two days later, the advance of the troops of Auchileck forced the III/27 to move to Martuba, 50 kilometers west. Though he was endly able to fight against valuable enemies, he complained about the poor conditions under which he was living: tents surrounded by a low wall of sand in order to isolate them a little bit from the desert wind that blew nonstop, enemy shells, chilly nights of december... He did not enjoy this nomadic life, forced as he was to break camp every ten days. He got his only an last victories, 66th an 67th, above African soil on the 14th of december.

In the afternoon of the 24th of december, 1941, Erbo took of for the last time. Alert burst, though the pilots were supposed to remain on the ground, have a short rest, and get prepared for the Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht... On Christmas Day 1941, the III/27 sat at El-Agheila. The ten pilots that took of encountered a huge concentration of Australian fighters, which they attacked. Erbo was shot from below, broke combat and managed to make an emergency landing in the desert, east of El-Agheila. His friend Erhard "Jacky" Braune who was amongst the pilots taking part to the mission, wrote: "I turned, around him, flying low. He lay on his plane's left wing, and pointed towards his stomach. (...) at this time, we ignored all of the gravity of his wounds". This was reported by Eduard Neumann, then commander of I/27.

"Muncheberg": Taken in Gela (Sicily), on May 24th, 1941. Erbo (third on the right) with italian and german pilots. He is on the edge of leaving for Germany. The man in the tan flyingsuit is Joachim Muncheberg.
Erbo died in Napoli on the 12th of January, 1942, before he could be transferred to Berlin, as arranged by his mother. He was already in a coma when he reached this hospital, overhanging the bay of Napoli. A tracing had hit one of his kidneys, and the chemicals had poisonned his organism. After he had been picked up in the desert by an italian patrol, he had been operated within the night by order of Kesselring. Then he was moved to Athens, to the central hospital of the Luftwaffe for the Mediterranean theater. The 39th holder of the Ritterkreuz, plus the golden barrette reserved to pilots above 500 mission, was given a very pompous funeral, and was cited as a hero in the whole german press.

In 1985, Erbo's brother, August, who was Panzerleutnant during the war, incidentally fell upon Clive Caldwell, the australian pilot who had shot down Erbo. This pilot, with 23 victories, was the most successful allied pilot in North Africa. He was nicknamed "the killer", due to his invention of a new technique, that consisted of atacking unseen, from below...

Source: August von Kageneck, Erbo, pilote de chasse, Perrin, Paris, 1999.
Summary and english translation: Mathieu Le Forestier

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