Erich Loewenhardt was born in Breslau, Silesia a part of the German Empire on the 7th of April 1897, the son of a doctor. He received his education at a military school in Lichterfelde,. He was 17 years old when the First World War started in August 1914 and was assigned to the German Army’s Infantry Regiment Nr.141; he saw infantry action on the Eastern Front with them. Young Loewenhardt was wounded near Lodz, but remained on duty as Standard-Bearer for his regiment as it fought in the Battle of Tannenberg. As a reward for his courage, on the 2nd of October 1914, he was commisioned. On the 30th of October, he was both wounded and decorated with the Tron Cross Second Class. After convalescing he returned to his unit in the Carpathians. In May 1915, he received the Iron Cross First Class for saving the lives of five wounded men. Loewenhardt then transferred to the Alpine Corps serving on the Italian Front. However he fell ill and was invalided from service as unfit for duty.
After five months of recuperation, Loewenhardt volunteered for the Imperial German Army Air Service and qualified as an aerial observer. He then completed pilot training in 1916.Service in two-seater reconnaissance aircraft with Flieger – Abtielung ( Artillery ) ( Flier Detachment ( Artillery )) 265 followed. In early 1917 he underwent conversion training for fighters, he joined a fighter squadron equipped with Albatros fighters, Jagdstaffel 10, in March 1917. Jagdstaffel 10 was one of the four squadrons incorporated into Germany’s newly formed first fighter wing, which was commanded by the Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen. On the 24th of March 1917, Loewenhardt scored his first confirmed aerial victory, by destroying an enemy observation balloon over Recicourt.
On the 30th of July 1917, scapegoat teenage ace, Werner Voss transferred into Jagdstaffel 10 as its new Staffelfuhrer (Commanding Officer) Following Voss’ deadly tutelage, Loewenhardt became an aggressive skilled fighter whose score grew steadily as he flew Albatros and Pfalz aircraft. He survived a forced landing on the 20th of September with a minor wound, the following day he shot down his fifth victim.
He posted two more claims in October, one of which was confirmed. On the 6th of November, his aircraft’s lower wing was damaged during combat over Winkel Saint Eloi at 08:30 hrs, a dud anti-aircraft shell smashing his left wingtip without exploding. Loewenhardt pulled his aircraft out of the resulting spin at 15 metres altitude, wheels down and bounced into a tumbling wreck. He exited the wreckage, shaken but otherwise. On the 30th of November 1917, he closed out his year with his eighth confirmed victory. He was credited with four balloons and four aircraft.
Loewenhardt scored two more victories in January 1918, a balloon and a Bristol F2 Fighter. In March he added five more. on the 1st of April 1918, just before his 21st birthday, he was appointed Commander of Jagdstaffel 10, The next month Jasta 10 re-equipped with the new Fokker D.VII’s. Loewenhardt continued to score, on the 10th of May, he destroyed a observation balloon for his 20th victory and became eligible for the Pour le Merite. The next day he was awarded the Knights Cross with Swords of the House Order of Hohenzollern, he also received the Austro – Hungarian Empire’s Military Merit Cross, The Pour le Merite (Blue Max) came on the 31st of May 1918, by which time his tally had risen to 24 victories.
By now, Loewenhardt was locked in an ‘Ace Race’ with Ernst Udet and Lothar von Richtofen for the honour of being the top scoring ace of their fighter wing. The rivalry between Loewenhardt and the younger Richtofen was a friendly one, as they often flew as wingmen. Jasta 10 belonged to the Flying Circus, When the Wing Commander’s job spot came open on the 29th of June 1918, Oberleutnant Loewenhardt was tapped for temporary command of it. By then, his tally stood at 27. When he surrendered the command on the 6th of July, it had risen to 34. By the end of July his total had risen to 48; 9 balloons and 39 aircraft.
On the 8th of August 1918, the Allied Forces launched the war’s final offensive against the German forces. Thr British Royal Air Force led the assault, and Loewenhardt downed three of their aircraft, on the 9th he shot down two more. On the 10th, despite a badly sprained ankle, Loewenhardt launched his yellow painted Fokker D.VII on a mid-day sortie leading a patrol heavily weighted with rookie pilots. He encountered No.56 Squadron R.A.F. and shot down a Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a over Chaulnes, France at 12;15 hours for his 54th victory. In the aftermath of this combat, he collided with another German pilot, Leutnant Alfred Wenz from Jasta 11. Loewenhardt’s Fokker’s landing gear slammed the upper right wing on Wenz’s D,VII. Both of the pilot’s aircraft were equipped with parachutes, both pilot’s bailed out. Erich Loewenhardts ‘chute failed to open and he fell to his death. Loewenhardt;s final score was 54, $5 Aircraft and 9 Balloons. Loewenhardt was the third highest scoring German after Manfred von Richtofen and Ernst Udet, he was aged 21 at his demise.
(C) Damian Grange 2021