Walter Krupinski, known as "Graf Punski" or "Count Punski" in the Jagdwaffe (fighter-pursuit force), was a swashbuckling fly-boy with a phenomenal record of 197 aerial victories. Krupinski not only never lost a wingman, but also had the ability to help beginners develop to their fullest potential. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 as a student in the 11th Flying Training Regiment. He first served with the Jagderganzungsgruppe JG 52, a combat replacement unit, flying the Messerschmitt Me 109 , in October 1940. By the end of 1941, he had earned the Iron Cross 1st class after his seventh victory and was awarded the German Cross in Gold and the Knight's Cross one year later after scoring over 53 aerial victories.
Krupinski taught the aerial art of closing with the enemy aircraft until "it filled the windscreen" before firing. It was during this time that the young Erich Hartmann was assigned as Krupinski's wingman. The young and overly enthusiastic Hartmann was seriously struggling in his first attempts at aerial combat, resulting in severe reprimands by the group commander. However, under Krupinski's expert tutelage, Hartmann mastered the art of aerial combat and went on to become the world's top-scoring fighter pilot with 352 victories. While still a first lieutenant, Krupinski was selected as Squadron Commander of 7./JG 52 in the spring 1943. On 5 July of the same year, he scored victories 80 to 90--11 in one day! He later transferred to the Reich Defense in the west with 1./JG 5 in the spring of 1944.
His unit's mission was to help halt the Allied strategic bombardment campaign against Germany. Krupinski continued to rack up aerial victories and was awarded Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross after his 177th victory. He was promoted to captain and became Group Commander of II./JG 11. Later, Krupinski became Group Commander of II./JG 26 Schlageter Group. In March 1945 he joined General Adolf Galland's famed Jagdverband 44 and flew Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters until the war's end. After logging a total of 1,100 combat missions, Krupinski was officially credited with 197 aerial victories. Krupinski was also wounded seven times in aerial combat and received the Verwundetenabzeichen in Gold (the German equivalent of the American Purple Heart).
A civilian after the war, Krupinski later joined the new Luftwaffe in 1952 and was promoted to major in 1955. He received jet flying training from the Royal Air Force and became the first commander of the Jagdbomber Geschwader (Fighter-Bomber Wing) 33. Krupinski flew various jet fighters in the German Air Force, but held dear the last aircraft he flew until his retirement, his beloved F-104G Starfighter. General Krupinski retired as Commander of the German Air Force Tactical Air Command in 1976.*
The final air battles over Germany occurred in the spring of 1945. While seriously outnumbered by large waves of Allied bombers and escorting fighters, Walter Krupinski and his cohorts continued their struggle with the aid of the world's first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. Krupinski was a member of Adolf Galland's famed Jagdverband 44, a special unit formed from the elite of the remaining Luftwaffe fighter pilots. JV 44 operated until 3 May 1945.