Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinrich Alexander Ludwig Peter Prinz zu.

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Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinrich Alexander Ludwig Peter Prinz zu, born 14-08-1916 in Copenhagen, Denmark, was a German of aristocratic descent the son of Gustav Alexander Prins zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (1880-1953) and Walburga Baroness von Friesen (1885-1970).

One of his famous ancestors was Ludwig Adolf Peter zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. His full name was Heinrich Alexander Ludwig Peter zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinrich being the nickname in memory of the great ancestor, Count Heinrich III. was preferred by Sayn. Heinrich’s older brother Ludwig (born 04,-05-1915; he died 09-01-1962 in Sayn) was later head of the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn family. Heinrich also had – in addition to Ludwig – another brother, Alexander Franz Leo, Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, who fell in 1945.

Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein’s parents moved to Switzerland for work in 1919. From 1926 Heinrich attended a boarding school in Neubeuert (Upper Bavaria). Due to his poor general condition, he went to a health resort in Davos, Switzerland, in 1927. From 1932 he attended a high school in Freiburg im Breisgau, where he passed the Abitur.

His father bought a plane for him when he showed his interest in flying. Heinrich was refused when he registered with the Luftwaffe , but he was accepted when he re-enrolled in 1940 after the Battle of Britain. He became a nightfighter flyer during World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. At the time of his death, he was the highest scoring night fighter pilot in Hermann Goering’s  (did you know) Luftwaffe and still the third highest by the end of World War II. Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein joined the cavalry of the German Wehrmacht in the spring of 1937. He was accepted for flight training and transferred to the emerging Luftwaffe. He initially served as an observer and later as pilot in Kampfgeschwader I  and Kampfgschwader 51.  With these units he fought in the Battle of France, Battle of Britain (see Bomber Arthur Harris) and  Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, before he transferred to the night fighter force. He claimed his first aerial victory on the night of 6/7 May 1942. By October 1942, he had accumulated 22 aerial victories for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 07-10-1942. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 31-08-1943, for 54 aerial victories.   The next day, 21-01-1944, Sayn-Wittgenstein, wireless operator Ostheimer and board mechanic Unteroffizier Kurt Matzuleit took off on a Zahme Sau, Tame Boar, Victor von Lossberg

  a combination of ground controlled and airborne radar, night fighter intercept mission flying the Ju 88 R4+XM

, which normally was assigned to the Technical Officer of NJG 2. At 22:00 contact with the first of five Lancasters was established and shot down which was observed to explode at 22:05. Between 22:10 and 22:15 the second Lancaster was shot down. Observers reported the third Lancaster exploded at approximately 22:30, followed shortly by number four, which hit the ground at 22:40. During the fifth and final attack, the four engine bomber was burning when their Ju 88 came under attack, presumably from British fighter escorts. In the attack, their left wing caught fire. Sayn-Wittgenstein ordered his crew to jump, and Friedrich Ostheimer and Kurt Matzuleit parachuted to safety from the damaged aircraft. Sayn-Wittgenstein’s body was found near the wreckage of the Ju 88 in a forest area belonging to the municipality of Lübars by Stendal the next day. His parachute was discovered unopened and it was assumed that he may have hit his head on the vertical stabiliser of his aircraft when trying to escape. The death certificate listed “closed fracture of the skull and facial bone” as his cause of death. He was posthumously awarded the 44th Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, by Adolf Hitler (did you know), on 23-01-1944 Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein had flown 320 combat missions, 150 of which as a bomber pilot or observer. At the time of his death he was credited with 83 nocturnal aerial victories, claimed in 320 combat missions, including 150 with bomber arm. His 83 aerial victories include 33 shot down on the Eastern Frontwith 83 aerial victories, with 23 of them claimed on the Eastern and 60 on the Western Front.

 On 25-01-1944, Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein death was announced in the Wehrmachtbericht, an information bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht, the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. The question who shot down Sayn-Wittgenstein is unanswered. Friedrich Ostheimer remained convinced that they were shot down by a long range intruder de Havilland Mosquito night fighter. However, no Mosquito pilot claimed an aerial victory that night. A closer analysis reveals that three Mosquito’s, two Serrate radar detectors   from No. 141 Squadron RAF  and one from No. 239 Squadron RAF , participated in the attacks on Magdeburg. Only one Mosquito had enemy contact: No. 141’s squadron Mosquito FII, DZ 303, piloted by Flight Sergeant Desmon Snape, he would crash, age 20, on 24-02-1944 with Flying Officer L. Fowler as his radar operator reported radar contact at 23.15 south of Brandenburg.

 Snape and Fowler.

Death and burial ground.


Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein got involved in a big air fight with four bombers on 21-01-1944, age 27. He first shot down two aircraft, after which a violent explosion in the left engine took place aboard his aircraft. Wittgenstein ordered the remaining crew members to leave the aircraft by parachute. Prince Heinrich himself would take down the two other bombers, after which he would try to land with the heavily damaged Ju-88 at the nearest airport.

Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein flew only to the two bombers and pulled them all down. On the way back, however, fire broke out in the gas tank of the left engine. Prince Heinrich’s plane exploded and broke in two. Nobody knows exactly how the explosion in the left engine could take place, but it is thought that German anti-aircraft gun mistakenly looked at Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein’s aircraft for an English plane and shot at him.

After three to four minutes of pursuit they encountered a Ju 88 with its position lights on. They attacked the Ju 88 and believed to have damaged it behind its cockpit, but they did not claim a victory. This encounter exactly matches the time and area in which Sayn-Wittgenstein was killed.   Heinrich here with Baroness Laja von Mayr-Melnhof at Glanegg. He was buried on 29-01-1944 in the Geschwader cemetery at the Deelen Air Base. His remains were re-interred in 1948 to Ysselsteyn German war cemetery between 30.000 other. He, age 27, is now resting next to Generalleutnant der Infanterie, Kommandeur der 526th Reserve-Division, Kurt Schmidt

, Generalmajor der Infanterie, Kommandeur der 376th Infanterie Regiment, Oskar von Hagen, Flyer aces Hauptmann, Captain of the 7th Squadron, August Geiger, Oberleutnant of 3./NJG1  Paul Gildner, his grave neighbour, Major,Kommandeur III./N.J.G. 1, Egmond Prinz zur Lippe Weissenfeld, Oberleutnant, Fliegerass, 24 victories, Helmut Woltersdorf, Oberleutnant, in the 26th JG, Air Fighter Squadron, Karl Willius.

Night fighter pilot Hauptmann Wilhelm Johnen  who died age 80, 07-02-2002, in Überlingen, commented on the arrival of Sayn-Wittgenstein at his unit: “… A madman, I thought, as I took my leave. Once outside I got into conversation with the Prince’s crew. Among other things they told me that their princely coachman had recently made his radio operator stand to attention in the plane and confined him to his quarters for three days because he (the radio operator) had lost his screen [radar contact with the enemy] during a mission.”

Herbert Kümmeritz Wittgenstein’s Funker (radar operator) recalled that Sayn-Wittgenstein often used his seniority and rank to ensure that he would get the best initial contact with the incoming bombers. He would often wait on the ground until the best contact was established. If another fighter had already engaged the enemy before Wittgentein arrived, the prince would announce on the radio “Hier Wittgenstein—geh weg!” (Wittgenstein here, clear off!).

Oberst Wolfgang Falck  felt that Sayn-Wittgenstein was not officer-material. Falck described him as: “…not the type to be a leader of a unit. He was not a teacher, educator or instructor. But he was an outstanding personality, magnificent fighter and great operational pilot. He had an astonishing sixth sense—an intuition that permitted him to see and even feel where other aircraft were. It was like a personal radar system. He was an excellent air-to-air shot.”

His mother, Princess Walburga, commented that: “… he was boundlessly disillusioned and boundlessly disappointed. In 1943 he contemplated the thought of shooting Hitler. It was only out of sense of honor and duty that Heinrich went on fighting, carried along by the ambition to overtake Major Helmut Lent

  in his score of enemy aircraft shot down”. In her memoirs, Tatiana von Metternich reported that Wittgenstein planned to kill Hitler after the ceremony at which he received his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in 1943. He said, “I am not married, I have no children—I am expendable. He will receive me personally. Who else among us can ever get as near to him?



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