Werner Mölders - Early Life & Career:
Born March 18, 1913 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Werner Mölders was the son of Viktor and Annemarie Mölders. A teacher by trade, Mölders' father was killed in action on March 2, 1915, while serving with the King's 145th Infantry Regiment during World War I. Widowed, his mother moved the family to Brandenburg to live with her parents. While there, Mölders became close with Chaplain Erich Klawitter who instilled firm Catholic beliefs in the young boy. Educated at the Saldria-Gymnasium, Mölders became an avid competitive rower.
Graduating in 1931, he elected to pursue a military career and joined the II./2 Infantry Regiment on April 1. Serving as a cadet, he attended the Military School Dresden the following year. Promoted to ensign, Mölders saw brief service with various infantry and pioneer units within the Reichswehr. Possessing an interest in aviation, he applied for flight training and was initially rejected. Persistent, Mölders re-applied and was accepted. Ordered to Cottbus, he began flying lessons on February 1, 1934. The following month, he received a promotion to lieutenant and was transferred to the newly-established Luftwaffe.
Success in Spain:
Though plagued by air sickness during the early stages of training, Mölders overcame this issue and graduated at the top of his class. In early 1935, he moved through combat flying and fighter school before receiving his pilot's badge on May 21. The following March, he took part in the remilitarization of the Rhineland. Promoted to oberleutnant in April 1936, Mölders was given command of the fighter training squadron of the 2nd Group of Jagdgeschwader 134. Serving under World War I ace Major Theo Osterkamp, Mölders refined his flying skills and learned about advanced tactics.
Later that year, Mölders volunteered for service in the Condor Legion. Traveling to Spain, the Legion flew in support of Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. While there, Mölders initially flew older Heinkel He 51s before transitioning to the new Messerschmitt Bf 109. Assigned to Oberleutnant Adolf Galland's 3rd squadron of Jagdgruppe 88, he took command of the unit in May 1938. Scoring his first kill on July 15, 1938, Mölders went on to down 14 (15 claimed) Republican aircraft, becoming the Legion's leading ace before returning to Germany in December.
Now a captain, Mölders received the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds for his efforts and saw duty as Inspector of Fighters. In this position, he worked to improve the Luftwaffe's fighter tactics. While in Spain, Mölders and his compatriots had perfected the "finger four" formation which improved visibility and mutual defense for a Schwarm (four aircraft flight). In addition, he refined the cross-over turn which allowed a Schwarm to quickly change direction. Departing this post in March 1939, Mölders received command of 1.Jagdgeschwader 133 (later 53)
World War II Begins:
With the beginning of World War II on September 1, Mölders' squadron was assigned to the Western Front. Crashing on September 8, he was out of action for several days before returning to flying. On September 20, Mölders scored his first victory of the conflict downing a French P-36 Hawk. Six days later, he left the squadron to form III.Gruppe/JG 53. Through the fall, Mölders continued to run up his tally and became one of the first German pilots to down a Hawker Hurricane. With the opening of the Battle of France in May 1940, his total stood at nine.
Battle of France:
As German troops surged through the Low Countries and into France, Mölders continued to score kills despite being shot down on May 14. Returning to duty, he reached 20 kills on May 27 and received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Bested again on June 5, Mölders was taken prisoner by the French and treated harshly. Liberated three weeks later after the Fall of France, he was promoted to major and given command of Jagdgeschwader 51. Known as "Vati" (Daddy) to his men for his paternalistic treatment of them, Mölders flew his first mission with JG 51 on July 28.
Battle of Britain:
In the course of this sortie splinters hit his leg wounding him. Grounded while he healed, Mölders returned to flying on August 7 despite not being medically cleared. Leading his men during the Battle of Britain, he reached 40 kills on September 20 after downing a Supermarine Spitfire. This feat earned him a second Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Continuing operations around the English Channel and northern France, Mölders achieved his 50th kill on October 21. For this he received a promotion to oberstleutnant.
After a few weeks of rest, JG 53 returned to action in early 1941. Reaching 60 kills on February 26, Mölders total stood at 68 when his unit was withdrawn from the front to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. Commencing operations on June 22, Mölders' total began to skyrocket. Downing four Soviet aircraft on the first day, he later passed Manfred von Richthofen's all-time total of 80 on June 30 when he shot down five Soviet bombers. On July 15, Mölders broke 100 kills after downing two aircraft. For this achievement he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.
Promoted to oberst on July 20 in recognition of his achievement, Mölders immediately was withdrawn from the front and banned from further combat. At the time of this order, his kill total stood at 101 for World War II and 115 overall. On August 7, 1941, Mölders received an appointment as Inspector General of Fighters with responsibility for developing fighter tactics and improving operations. Returning to the Eastern Front, he established his headquarters at Chaplinka. Touring airfields at the front, he frequently accompanied units on "training" missions. During the course of these missions, he may have downed as many as 30 additional Soviet aircraft. As Mölders was officially banned from combat flying, none of these kills were officially recognized.
On November 22, 1941, Mölders boarded a Heinkel He 111 to fly from the Crimea to Berlin in order to attend the funeral of Ernst Udet. Encountering severe weather, the aircraft attempted to land at Breslau (Wroclaw), but crashed on approach. Among the killed in the incident was Mölders. Six days later, Mölders was given a full state funeral in Berlin with his coffin placed at the Imperial Air Ministry. Eulogized by Hermann Göring, Mölders was buried at the Invalidenfriedhof near Udet and von Richthofen.