Walter Nowotny scored his first two victories on 19JUL41 against Soviet Polikarpov I-153s but was shot down by a third. He subsequently spent three days in a raft in the Gulf of Riga until he washed ashore in Latvia. Most of his subsequent victories came while flying the Fw 190 with JG 54. He became the first Luftwaffe pilot to be credited with 250 victories, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Nowotny was given command of a unit tasked with developing tactics for the new Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. The type had been rushed into service and suffered from several “bugs”. On 08NOV44 Nowotny claimed an American P-51 and B-24, but crashed in his Me 262, possibly due to an engine fire. He was 23 at the time.
Nowotny had a superstition and insisted on wearing his lucky “victory pants” whenever he flew, the same pants he had worn after his first victories and three days afloat in the raft in the Gulf of Riga. The only time he failed to wear them was on his last sortie when he was killed.