The Second World War is full of stories of soldiers who distinguished themselves on the field of battle before dying tragically during one of their daring exploits. Walter Schuck was a rare case of a fighter ace who fought from the beginning of the war and survived its end. He was born on July 30th, 1920.
Walter Schuck was born in the town of Bexbach, which at the time was under British occupation. His father was a coal miner and he was unable to find job training, and so welcomed the introduction of compulsory military service in 1935 as it provided opportunity for career advancement. To avoid conscription into the infantry and because he had always dreamed of flying, he volunteered for the Luftwaffe at the age of 16. Schuck completed training in 1940 and saved his flying career, which had been troubled by a history of indiscipline, through a demonstration of his skill. He spent 1941 flying escort missions and being transferred from one position to the next and it was not until 1942 that he scored his first victory, over a Soviet plane. He soon scored four more and was awarded the Iron Cross. By June of 1944 he had claimed 100 kills and had been awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. In August he was made leader of a squadron, but was poor at enforcing discipline. His string of victories continued until 1945, only interrupted by a minor injury and a period of vacation following the wedding of one of his friends. He began flying the Me 262, the first jet fighter introduced into an air force on a large scale, and by April 10th he had 206 claimed victories. On that day, however, his plane was hit and he was forced to bale out. He received only minor injuries, but the war ended before he recovered. He lived a long life after the war, dying on March 27th, 2015, at the age of 94.
Walter Schuck’s survival was in of itself miraculous. In a war where the average lifespan of a German pilot was measured in months and even weeks, that he survived for years was very impressive. Further, he scored an astounding number of victories. While some of his numbers may have been exaggerated, he was clearly an extremely skilled pilot. While not as important as the generals or kings that I have discussed on this blog, Walter Schuck’s story is perhaps less common, and certainly happier, than many of the others.