Major Erich Hartmann

This week it was again brought to my attention that there are two films about the life of Justin Bieber – documenting his rise to “stardom”,  his first performance at Madison Square Gardens, the effect he has on fans and his general lifestyle (Never say Never – 2011, Believe – 2013). This despite the fact that he has, in MY OPINION, done very little to deserve even a 40-minute documentary, so I have decided to make a series on people who I believe deserve a film made about their lives. Before 2013, my immediate go to on this topic would be Niki Lauda, however, the excellent film Rush has filled that need, so instead I would base a film on Erich Hartmann. For those who don’t recognise the name, this will be a brief overview on why his life not only deserves but would also make a good feature film. I would encourage anyone reading this to go and investigate deeper into his life.

Erich Hartmann was THE fighter pilot. The best. Ever. His score of 352 confirmed kills between 1942-45 is not even closely matched. The second highest scoring ace, Gerhard Barkhorn, had a count of 301, more than 50 less – this despite (and meaning no offense to Barkhorn’s abilities) Barkhorn beginning combat missions in 1940. Hartmann flew 1,404 missions and was never shot down – though he made 14 forced landings due to debris from victims hitting his aircraft. So firstly there is potential for a great air-war movie to be made, especially with Hartmann’s aggressive fighting style – getting as close to his opponents as possible before engaging, often fighting despite being heavily outnumbered. His service in WW2 is also littered by interesting non-combat experiences, such as when he and three other aces visited the Eagles Nest to be decorated by Hitler in 1944. They turned up drunk, and Hartmann proceeded to try on Adolph’s hat, which proved a couple of sizes too big. There is also a love story between Erich and his wife Ursula – who met in their teens, beginning a lifelong romance that survived many hardships – that could run alongside the action.

His relationship with his wife leads into the other film that can be made about Erich. It would start at the end of WW2 when 23yr old Hartmann was in charge of JG.52, rank equivalent of Lieutenant Colonel. Receiving an order from High Command for him to flee Czechoslovakia, where his unit was stranded, to Germany and surrender to the British, Hartmann disobeyed. Refusing to leave his unit, which now contained many refugees; Woman, Children and the Elderly that were either related to members of JG.52 or that had sought safety with the group, to oncoming Russian forces Hartmann stayed. This would lead, after he refused for years – despite threats and bribes – to work for the East German Airforce or return to West Germany as a soviet agent, to his being charged (in a Kangaroo court) of War Crimes and sentencing to 25 years of Hard Labour in 1951. This could lead to a very interesting character study of the boy-turned-man who inspired so many in the tepid conditions of the Gulags, causing the riot at Shakhty, striving to better the conditions of his countrymen around him and who was able to carry on because of his relationship with his Wife – to whom he wrote every day of the war and who indeed was still his and only his when he returned, 10 years after they were separated, in 1955.

Delving further into his life you find many examples of the man’s calibre

Hartmann having received his Knights Cross

. His calmness when it seemed that he (aged 5) and his younger brother had been separated from their mother – an  interesting individual in her own right – on the overcrowded Trans-Siberian railway whilst fleeing China in 1929. When he single-handedly stopped 14 fellow teenagers beating up his brother – in the process breaking down a barn door on his own. That he refused the massive celebration on his return to West Germany in 1955 in order to safeguard his fellows still in Russian custody.

So it is evident that Hartmann’s life is deserving of being made into a film. However, WE also deserve a film about Hartmann, for several reasons. Firstly, we need a good air-warfare film set in WW2. The most recent examples, Pearl Harbour, and Red Tails have been feeble at best and at worst offensive to the source material – indeed the best example is still the 1969 film Battle of Britain, despite several flaws – and it’s a shame because it is a fascinating topic and can be very engaging (Seriously just watch this clip Secondly, mainly because of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich, the treatment of German POWS in Russia has been criminally overlooked. Most were used as slave labor, and it was the leadership and courage of Hartmann and others like him(from all walks of life)that kept so many going in some of the worst conditions. And thirdly, despite some improvement, there is still a popular, though misguided, belief that all members of the German Military in WW2 were Nazi’s. Hartmann was never militaristic, indeed, he forced his parents to move him from a military school in his childhood, and stood up to anyone he believed to be wrong – famously he openly opposed Herman Goering’s use of inexperienced young pilots against the American bomber streams, a dangerous move even for a top ace. Furthermore, it was only his prolonged stay in Russia that stopped him pursuing the career in medicine he had sort before the war instead of going back to the profession he had mastered – Piloting.

Hartmann was a hero, whatever the trumped up charges of the Soviet Union claim otherwise. He was also a human who, I hope to have shown, lived a most extraordinary life – one much more deserving of a film than that which Justin Bieber has lived so far.


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