Fritz Emil Wolf, WWII Fighter Pilot

Fritz E. Wolf was born in Shawano, Wisconsin on February 8, 1916. He attended Shawano High School where he excelled in leadership, character and athletics. He graduated from High School in 1933. During that year he was on the football team that was conference champions and on the basketball team that went to the state playoffs.

After graduation, Fritz received a basketball scholarship from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Interestingly he never played a basketball game for the school. Instead he turned to football, becoming an all-conference fullback for three straight years. During that time Carroll only lost one game. In 1938 Fritz graduated from Carroll College with a degree in Business Administration. He had the opportunity to try out with the Green Bay Packers but missed the tryout due to an appendicitis attack. About this time Fritz realized that if he was ever going to learn to fly, now was the time.

In 1939, he enlisted in the United States Navy. Upon completion of flight training in 1940 he received his wings of gold and a commission as an Ensign. He was assigned to the USS Saratoga as a dive-bomber pilot. During his time at San Diego Naval Base, Fritz was picked as one of the fliers to perform in “Dive Bomber”, a picture portraying Uncle Sam’s dive-bomber pilots before the war. In the summer of 1941 Fritz resigned his commission to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) Flying Tigers. Like a lot of other pilots, he was looking for a little more excitement.

My father sailed in the first contingent of AVG pilots from San Francisco on July 6, 1941 aboard the Jaegersfontein. Fritz’s passport read agriculture student. The AVG arrived at Taungoo, Burma sometime in September of that year.

The first month after Fritz’s arrival was spent getting the P-40 aircraft ready for combat. The rest of the time was spent learning to fight the Japanese. This was accomplished through one-hour lectures given by Chennault and a lot of simulated dogfights. On December 20, 1941, Fritz took part in the first AVG action near Kunming, China. During that time Fritz shot down two Mitsubishi bombers. He assisted in downing a third before his ammunition ran out. During the month of February in 1942 somewhere near Rangoon, Burma, Fritz took part in a dog fight with 14 Japanese fighters. He was able to shot down one before he had to turn tail and run. This victory was confirmed but combats records were lost.

On April 8, 1942, near Loiwing, China, Fritz took part in another AVG action during which time he shot down two Japanese fighters. On April 17, 1942, near Magwee, China, Fritz was caught on the ground when the Japanese came over to bomb the airfield. This was the most terrifying time during his tour with the AVG. In Charlie Bond’s diary, he said about this raid that even Fritz Wolf was scared and Fritz is no baby.

It was also during this time that Fritz witnesses the tragic death of John Fauth. During his tour with the AVG, Fritz was subjected to a lot of Chinese illnesses. At one time they had a coffin already built for him just waiting for him to die. Because of his illnesses he spent a lot of time on the ground. He was called on to handle operations much of the time.

Chennault praised him for his administrative skills. Fritz Wolf was honorably discharged on July 4, 1942 from the AVG. He had logged 220 hours of combat flying in the skies over Burma and China fighting the Japanese. The Chinese Government awarded him the White Cloud Banner 6th Grade for heroism, China Air Force Wings 2 and 4 star and China War Memorial Decoration.

After returning to the United States for some well needed rest and fattening up (he lost around 40lbs in China) Fritz returned to the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant, senior grade. He was assigned as a fighter pilot instructor at Jacksonville Naval air Station in Florida. He was later transferred to Green Cove Springs, Florida to train with other replacement pilots that were preparing to be shipped overseas.

Fritz was the team’s section leader. After their training, Fritz’s team was sent to Great Lakes Navy Base for carrier qualifications. From there they were sent to Guam, arriving there just after Christmas of 1944. Fritz and his team came aboard the USS Hornet on January 8, 1945. Flying Grumman F6F Hellcats during his time in VF-11 (the Sun Downers) Fritz and the rest of the squadron struck Japanese targets in Hong Kong, Formosa, Hainan Island and French Indo China.

On one mission over Formosa, Fritz’s plane lost fuel pressure just after take off and he was forced to make a sea landing. After three hours floating around in the ocean he was finally picked up by a destroyer. He later said that being plucked out of the water was worst than drowning. When the Hornet reached Ulithi after conclusion of its South China Sea action in early February of 1945, Fritz was made CO of the newly formed VBF-3 squadron aboard the USS Yorktown.

While serving as skipper of VBF-3, his squadron would participate in strikes supporting the invasion of Iwo Jima. He also led the first historic naval carrier-based bombing attack against targets on mainland Japan. During this mission he officially shot down his fifth plane making him an ace. He was also awarded the DFC for his heroics. Fritz was later transferred to Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Brown Field, Chula Visa, California as executive Officer of the station. During this time he made application to the regular Navy but was turned down for health reasons. Fritz left the Navy in 1946 to work for the Wisconsin Aeronautics Commission. He stayed in the Naval Reserve, retiring in 1967 as a Commander.

For his service to his country during World War II Fritz E. Wolf received the following awards and decorations: Two Distinguish Flying Crosses, Air Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Award, WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal Three Stars, Philippine Liberation Medal One Star, American Defense Service Medal and American Campaign Medal in addition to the ones he received while serving with the American Volunteer Group.

After leaving active duty with the United States Navy in April of 1946, Fritz became the first paid employee of the new Wisconsin Aeronautics Commission. He recalled that his first job was to run education programs but preferred operations. He moved into the operations job when it became available. Fritz served in that capacity until September of 1967 when he was appointed Director of Aeronautics.

When the Aeronautics Commission merged with the newly formed Department of Transportation, Fritz was named Bureau Director. Fritz retired from state service in May of 1981 after 35 years of distinguished service making Wisconsin a leader in Aviation. Fritz had been the guiding force behind many of the innovative developments in the state during his tenure, many of them becoming models for programs around the nation. Fritz played a prominent role in helping fledging airport owners get started; laying out, developing rules and regulations for operation, selecting airport sites and helping obtain state and federal aids for airport development.

In 1946, Wisconsin had 32 publicly-owned airports. At the time of his retirement in 1981, Wisconsin had 384 public and private airports. Wisconsin during Fritz’s tenure also set the pace in safety development; tower marking, strobe lighting and a system of air marking for pilot’s visual reference. At this time Wisconsin had the best air marking system in the nation. Minimum standards were set for airport operations, equipment, lot and building sizes and qualifications for employees. “Flying Farmer” lights were developed and installed at general aviation airports in Wisconsin and the agency was gaining recognition as one of the top in the country. Fritz was responsible for implementing the first aviation weather report in the country. He was instrumental in the development of the National Association of State Aviation Officials publication “Preparation Guide for Minimum Requirements for Aeronautical Services”. He served as that organization’s president. Fritz felt that his biggest role was the development of the states airport system. Without his guidance the airport system in Wisconsin would not be what it is today. He said he’d like to think his selection as president of the National Association of State Aviation Officials and his 35 years of state service surpasses the lofty combat honors. In 1989, Fritz E. Wolf was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2006, the State of Wisconsin honored his contributions to aviation by renaming the State Aviation Facility at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, WI the “Fritz E. Wolf Aviation Center”. A fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to aviation.