In August 1943 Oberfeldwebel Helmut Benkendorff, a pilot in 5.Staffel / II.Gruppe / Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2), reached a significant milestone, completing his 500th combat mission. The photo shows Oberfeldwebel Benkendorff - "Mucki" to his friends - immediately after landing. With the flowers in hand, he receives the congratulations from the Staffelkapitän of 7./StG 1, Leutnant Willi Viertel (left), for the benefit of the photographers. The four wings on Benkendorff's left sleeve identify him as an Oberfeldwebel. Only a few days later, on 31 August 1943, Willi Viertel was shot down by ground fire while attacking enemy tanks near Glukhov. His aircraft (Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" D-3, Werknummer 2279) sustained a direct hit and crashed from a height of 300 meters. Viertel and his gunner, Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hippe, were both killed. Helmut Benkendorff was later promoted to the rank of Leutnant and on 26 March 1944 was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) after more than 600 feindflügen (combat missions). He would completed 666 feindflüge by the end of the war. This photo itself was taken by an unidentified Hauptmann of the Gruppenstab who was taken prisoner in southern Germany in May 1945. There American soldiers took from him several rolls of exposed, but undeveloped, film. The film was later developed by Kodak in the USA, and decades after that a collector discovered the collection by chance. The photographs were subsequently returned to Germany, albeit in poor condition. Another pictures from the same event: 1, 2, 3.
"Luftwaffe im Focus", Spezial No.1 - 2003