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MARTIN PEGG
LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45

Meanwhile, the aircrew of II Schlacht)/LG 2 were still undergoing Jabo training at Boblingen. After the sturdy and stable Hs123, the pilots found difficulty in becoming accustomed to the narrow-track undercarriage and higher landing speeds of the Bf109E, and landing accidents were frequent. Operational training continued when the unit, with 33 Bf109E-4/Bs, moved to St. Omer in August 1940. On 6 September the unit, based at Calais-Marck, suffered its first combat loss on the new type when two aircraft were shot down during an attack against London.

With the German bombers switching to night attacks, Göring ordered that the Bf109s from one Staff el of every Jagdgeschwader be equipped with bomb racks. Although unpopular with the pilots, this instruction resulted in the immediate availability of over 200 Jabos which, flying in at up to 33,000 feet, posed a considerable interception problem for defending fighters. On 7 October an almost continuous stream of Jabos appeared over Kent, and sorties of varying intensity continued throughout the month. Overall, Jabo losses were low, but II (Schlacht)/LG 2 lost three Bf109Es on 29 October, including the machine flown by the Staffelkapitän of 5 Staffel, Oblt. Bern von Schenk.

Henschel Hs123As or II (Schlacht)/LG2 - note unusual use of individual aircraft number, in the fighter style. Early in the war these aircraft usually bore a four-character code beginning with the Geschwader cypher 'L2', while Hs123s of the later Schlachtgeschwader used an individual letter system. (James V. Crow)

The night bombing and daylight nuisance, or hit-and-run, sorties against London and various coastal towns in the south continued until early 1941, but the threat of invasion had passed and Luftwaffe forces on the Channel Front were gradually depleted as units were sent east for the invasion of Russia.

MEDITERRANEAN AND BALKAN OPERATIONS

In January 1941 the Stukas of I/St.G 1 and II/St.G 2, operating under Stab/St.G 3 with a total of 79 aircraft, arrived in Sicily to attack Allied convoys. Their first action took place on 10 January when a convoy from Alexandria was attacked and the carrier HMS Illustrious was severely damaged. A further attack was prevented by a shortage of suitable bombs but the next day twelve Ju87R-1s attacked and hit the crusisers HMS Gloucester and Southampton as they made their way back to Alexandria; Southampton was abandoned and sunk.

On 1 3 January, after reconnaissance aircraft had discovered HMS Illustrious in Valletta Harbour, Hptm. Hozzel's I/St.G 1 struggled into the air with special 2,200 lb bombs for the first in a series of determined attacks. Vicious anti-aircraft fire caused heavy losses, but the attacks continued for a week, during which, Hozzel recalls, 'We now lost our best crews. The leader of my 2 Staffel, a very hard chap, could not report to me for tears. He was the last of his Staffel; all his old chaps were lost'. The dive-bombers caused serious damage to the dockyard during these attacks, but although the carrier was hit repeatedly it eventually sailed via Alexandria to the USA for extensive repairs.

At about this time the Luftwaffe began its preparations for the invasion of the Balkans and by 5 April, Stab, I and III/St.G 2, I/St.G 3 and II (Schlacht)/LG 2 had assembled on Bulgarian airfields under VIII Fliegerkorps. Additional ground-attack forces were assembled in Austria under the Kommandeur of Stab./St.G 3 who controlled II/St.G 77 and a number of fighter Gruppen, while the Kommandeur of St.G 77, leading the Stab, I and III/St.G 77, also had a number of fighter and destroyer Gruppen under his command in Rumania for ground-attack duties.

On 6 April German and Italian forces attacked Yugoslavia. After completely destroying Prilep airfield, II (Schlacht)LG 2 attacked enemy columns and flew reconnaissance sorties in support of the attack on Skopje, crossing the border into Greece within two days. Heavy air attacks ensured German mastery of the air and St.G 77 heavily bombed Belgrade, while forces under Stab/St.G 3 attacked defences in the path of the German 2nd Army thrusting into Yugoslavia from Austria. By 14 April Yugoslavia had sued for peace. In Greece, Stukas from VIII Fliegerkorps harrassed retreating Allied troops and obliterated all resistance, while II (Schlacht)/LG 2 struck at positions near Servia. Although Gloster Gladiators destroyed a few of LG 2's Bf109s, the pace of the German advance eventually forced the RAF to withdraw to Crete, giving the Luftwaffe complete mastery in the air. Athens fell on 27 April and a parachute assault supported by VIII Fliegerkorps at Corinth allowed the Germans to fan out across the Peloponnese.

Already the Allies had begun to evacuate their troops to Crete, and once again the hard-worked II/LG 2 was in the spearhead of the attacks, bombing and strafing vessels in the Aegean Sea and Suda Bay. VIII Fliegerkorps then turned its attention to the invasion of Crete itself, Stukas and ground-attack fighters making heavy attacks on British defences. Fearful of a seaborne assault, the Allies sent a powerful force of warships to Crete and, in so doing, set the stage for one of the Stukas' most spectacular victories. Between 21 and 23 May the destroyers HMS Juno, Greyhound, Kashmir and Kelly were sunk, together with the cruiser HMS Gloucester. In an attempt to neutralise the Stukas' bases, a large force of warships set out from Alexandria but, as it sailed, it was spotted by patrolling aircraft of the Libyan-based II/St.G 2, During the attack which followed, the destroyer HMS Nubian was damaged and the carrier HMS Formidable so badly damaged that she had to be withdrawn from the area for repairs.

Ju87B-1s of the 10.Staffel of Hptm. von Brauchitsch's élite IV(Stuka)/LG 1 during the French campaign; the machine in the background is coded L1 + DU, the 'D' in the white of the first Staffel in the Gruppe. Note bomb lugs. (Author's collection)

Ju87B2s of an unidentified unit over France, 1940, (Author's collection)

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