The Last Flight of Halifax JB837
25/26th May 1943
Walter EHLE

Walter Ehle

Rank Major 
Name Walter Ehle
Position Gruppenkommandeur
Nationality German
Service Luftwaffe
Unit Gruppe II, Nachtjagdgeschwader 1
Age 30
Service No.
Grave Originally buried in Brustem, transferred to the German Military Cemetery in Lommel after the war

Walter Ehle was born in Windhuk, German South West Africa, on 28th April 1913.

He joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 and experienced his first action as an Oberleutnant in JGr.88, part of the Condor Legion, during the Spanish Civil War. He was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords in June 1939. He joined 3./ZG1 at the start of World War II and took part in the Blitzgreig on Poland in September 1939.

His first night "kill" was a Wellington bomber on 21 July 1940 while with 3./NJG. He became Kommandeur of II./NJG1 in October 1940 with the rank of Hauptmann, and was awarded the German Cross of Gold in November 1942. Some time between his 15th night kill on 17th September 1942 and his 16th on 11th April 1943 he was promoted to Major.

He was awarded the Knights Cross on 29th August 1943.

In his Luftwaffe career, he was credited with 35 night kills and 4 day kills. 5 of the night kills were in the early hours of 26 May 1943.

Ehle was one of the longest serving Kommandeure and led II./NJG1 from October 1940 until 17 November 1943 when he was killed at Horpmaal (Horpmoel), near St. Trond airbase, Brustem, Belgium. He had taken off from Brustem at 18.52 in his Bf110 with his Bordfunker Ludwig Leidenbach and Bordschutze Heinz Derlitzki, but what happened next is the subject of some dispute.

Some reports state that as he was preparing to land the airfield lights for some reason went out; his aircraft crashed and he and his crew killed. According to amateur historian Christiaan Vanhee, the aircraft was returning to base at 20.20 when it developed technical problems and flew straight into the ground perpendicularly, 10km south of the airport in a field near the Horpmaal to Oreye road. An eyewitness, Mathei Maxime, lived only 150 metres from the crash site, and remembered a huge bang about 20.30 on the evening of Wednesday, 17 November. He and his neighbours rushed to the scene but were unable to approach closely because of the intense heat from the burning aircraft. He described the aircraft as being buried into the ground with its tail vertical.

Christiaan Vanhee excavated the crash site in 1994. He found the aircraft's guns, severely burned and damaged but still recognisable, and many 20mm cartridges. The cockpit was totally crushed, so when the German Bergungskommando unit retrieved the crew in 1943, the bodies must have been severely mutilated. The back of Heinz Derlitzki's watch was also found, together with remnants of Walter Ehle's parachute and boots. Distressingly, the boots still contained Walter Ehle's foot bones.

Walter Ehle's Funeral
The funeral ceremony for Major Walter Ehle, the Gruppenkommandeur of II./NJG1, and his crew, Ofw. Leidenbach (Bordfunker) and Uffz. Derlitzki (Bordschutze). A guard of honour flanks the graves, while three members of the unit present each of the crew's decorations on black cushions. The centre cushion carries the decorations of Major Ehle and is being held by Lt. Otto Fries. Both Hitler and Goering sent tribute ribbons, one of which can be seen on the far right.