In the summer of 1940, as a 20 year old captain, Hannes Trautloft took command of JG 54. During the next three years this extraordinary fighter leader shaped the unit into one of the most successful combat fighter wings of World War II.
The Green Heart emblem of his home town Thuringischen, in the heart of Germany, became the groups symbol and the fighter pilots famous as Trautloft’s Green Heart Warriors. They carried their reputation throughout almost every European theatre.
After campaigning in the Balkans, the unit moved to the Russian Front, were it flew Me190s and Fw190s in the heavy fighting of the Northern Region. By the war-end no fewer than twenty Green Heart Aces had achieved more than 100 air victories, its pilots collecting 58 Knights Cross awards.
Nicolas Trudgian portrays a typical scene on the Eastern Front in 1943: IL-2 Stormovicks have attacked a German armoured division who have called for air support. JG 54 Green Hearts have quickly scrambled to the scene and have broken up the attack, downing several Russian aircraft during the encounter. In the foreground, Hannes Trautloft’s Fw190 hurtles out of Nicolas’s canvas towards us, as the Ace glances over his shoulder to see an unfortunate IL-2 moments before hitting the snow covered landscape a few feet below. Behind, two more Fw190’s give support while in the background the low-level aerial contest is furiously fought. The drama unfolds in a exquisitely painted landscape, the northern morning sun casting long shadows across the snow drifts.