This is a story about a famed German ace who was lost after a legendary dogfight with no trace of his whereabouts. Then, 24 years later, an incredible story of how he could eventually be found still in the cockpit of his fighter.
Heinrich Bathurst was one of the many deadly pilots that flew for the German Luftwaffe in World War II. There are a couple of things, however, that separated this German ace from many others.
For starters, he was a baker late into his teenage years in Austria before the war came to his country. But more relevant to this story, he was actually one of those German pilots to had a great deal of success against the British and American forces.
Impressive Kill Tally
Like many other greats, he started his career fighting in the East. Here, he quickly saw success, downing nearly 50 enemy aircraft in his first two years in the air. In 1943, he was moved to the western front of the war.
Most of the greatest German aces fought almost exclusively against the Soviets. In fact, many of the great pilots who would come to face the deadly Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Mustangs of the western front would not see this same level of success. Their average lifespan is also much shorter.
But this isn’t the case for Bathurst. Moving to the western front, his tally actually took off, and he is one of the few German pilots who had a pretty impressive kill tally very quickly.
Success as a German Ace
In the summer of 1942, in the Mediterranean theater, he increased his victories by 73 by the end of the year, adding 24 kills to his total. 14 of these would be American P-38 Lightings which were certainly not an easy adversary for a German pilot.
His success would continue at the turn of 1944 as he and the rest of his group were assigned to participate in the defense of the Reich. By mid-December 1944, Bathhurst had increased his kill ratio to 98 and was anxiously hoping to soon reach the coveted 100 kills. But fate had other plans.
On the 23rd of December 1944, Bathurst and the rest of his flight took off to intercept a raid near Bonn, Germany. On this mission, he spotted American P-47 Thunderbolts going after friendly German fighters.
Bathurst engaged the Allied aircraft, and would quickly destroy one of the P-47s that was on the tail of his ally for his 99th kill. This, however, would be his last. Shortly after, Bathurst disappeared, likely being shot down by one of the American P-47s.
After that day, there was never a record of a crash scene and he would go on missing for the next 24 years.
In 1968, a small group would make a discovery that would finally put to rest Bathurst’s fate. Bathurst’s fighter was discovered buried deep in the soft ground in a wooden area in Germany. Not only was the aircraft discovered, but the remains of Bathurst himself inside the cockpit of his beloved Messerschmitt.
This was confirmed after the wedding ring of this German ace still inside his glove in the cockpit, engraved with the name of his wife, Marga. Bathurst, with his name cleared, would eventually be buried in Germany. At the time he was shot down, he was only 29 years old.