SITE MENU / Heading Content

MARTIN PEGG
LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45

Table 4. Schlachtflieger strengths June '44 - Jan. '45

Luftflotte5164
June '442070100390total 580
end June '4401553750total 530
Jan. '45030390200total 620

As a result of Rudel's achievements with the cannon-carrying Ju87G, a special 10 (Panzer) Staffel was added to St.G St.G 2, St.G 3 and St.G 77. Each Panzer Staffel consisted of twelve Ju87Gs with Flak 18 cannon, hut four aircraft carrying bombs were needed to suppress the defensive fire from flak batteries. Operating over the vast open battlefields which afforded the tanks little natural cover, the anti-tank aircraft were of great value to the Germans and greatly feared by the Russians. Tank commanders sometimes fitted smoke canisters to their tanks to simulate knocked out vehicles, but the experienced tank-busters knew that a genuinely disabled lank burned with bright flames. Although many unit commanders considered the Ju87 was still adequate for their operational needs, it was clear that the machine would not last forever. However, conversion of the Stukaverbände to the Fw190 had been delayed by the requirements of the fighter units and by the end of August 1943 only the Stabsstaffel and part of Sch.G 1, themselves restricted by a shortage of 20 mm ammunition and tyres, were flying the type. Replacement pilots were urgently needed to make good the losses suffered during 'Zitadelle', but after the retreat from Stalingrad petrol shortages had restricted flying hours in the training schools, and a two-month course was now spread over five months. The most pressing need, however, was to reform the Stuka and Schlachtflieger command structures. Until October 1943 the Stukas were directed in the field by the Air Officer for Bombers and the Schlachtflieger by the Air Officer for Fighters. Operational control by these two independent bodies, endeavouring to control units in the Mediterranean and on several sectors of the Eastern Front, was hopelessly split, and there existed a real need to unite both arms under one independent command.

Major Friedrich Lang, Gruppenkommandeur III/SG 1, returns from a sortie over the Vitebsk area, early 1944; in March the Gruppe moved to Vilna for Fw190 conversion. Note streaked snow camouflage on the Ju87D-5; the Major's rank patches on the flying suit; and the general use of peaked field-caps by Luftwaffe officers at this stage of the war. (Bundesarchiv)

This was finally realised when Generaloberst Günter Korten succeeded Jeschoneck as Chief of Air Staff and, on 5 October, all dive-bomber, ground-attack and fast bomber Gruppen were redesignated and reformed into new Schlachtgruppen (see Table 2) under the first Waffengeneral der Schlachtflieger, Oberst Dr. Kupfer. At last, more attention was given to the lessons learned at the front and the need for innovation was more keenly appreciated, particularly with regard to the anti-tank units which had to cope with the evergrowing menace of Russian armour.

On 7 October 1943 Kupfer brought the Störkampfstaffeln and other sundry units already engaged in night bombing of the Russian lines under his control and reorganised them into Nachtschlachtgruppen, or Night Ground Attack Groups. Employing such obsolete types as the Ar66, Go145, He46 and He50, the original Störkampfstaffeln went into action in October 1942 during the Stalingrad campaign. Operating from Gradina airfield as far as 36 miles into the Soviet rear areas against troop concentrations, artillery positions and supply and rail depots, the first unit met with considerable success, and three months later more than 200 of these harrassing bombers were in service with Luftflotten 1, 4 and 6. In July 1943, when many of Luftflotte 1's units were transferred to take part in 'Zitadelle', the Storkampfstaffeln saw considerable action in support of ground forces south of Lake Lagoda and made highly successful attacks on rail installations, airfields and Soviet partisans.

In November Kupfer was killed in a flying accident and his replacement, Oberst Hitschold, set in motion plans already laid down to modernise the Schlachtverbände with large-scale conversion to the Fw190. II/SG 2 and II/SG 77 immediately received 20 Fw190s; but with the exception of 4/SG 5, which converted in January 1944, no further progress was made until III/SG 1 began converting in March. The gunners who, in addition to keeping watch for enemy fighters, had also helped locate and identify targets, were sorely missed by the pilots, especially unit commanders, for the efficient reforming of the formation when leaving the target particularly depended on the gunner's attention.

Table 5. Dive-bomber and ground-attack aircraft losses, 1.9.39-31.12.44

1.9.39-9.5.4061
10.5.40-1.7.40147
1.7.40-1.4.41263
1.4.41-28.6.41160
29.6.41-30.6.42769
1.7.42-31.12.42452
1.1.43-1.7.43718
1.7.43-31.12.431195
1.1.44-31.3.44542
1.4.44-30.5.44679
1.6.44-31.8.441345
1.9.44-31.12.441056
TOTAL7387

Ju87D-5 of SG 1 silhouetted against a sky marked by the contrails of Russian fighters; note anti-personnel bomb containers under wings, and, in the distance over the starboard wing, two escort fighters. According to Major Lang of III/SG 1, enemy fighters did not make many appearances during this period - late October 1943: 'We always came through unscathed when we had a brush with them. They did not present too great a menace provided the formation stayed together.' (James V. Crow)

Junkers Ju87s which became available from the converting Schlachtgruppen were passed to the Nachtschlachtgruppen, the type serving with NSGr. 1, 2, 4, 8, 9 and 10, whilst NSGr, 3 and 5 were equipped with the Ar66 and Go145. NSGr. 7 operated the Hs126 and Fiat CR 42, while the Estonian volunteer unit NSGr.1l formed on He50s and NSGr. 12's Latvian volunteers were equipped with the Ar66. Apart from the original aircrew of the redesignated Störkampfstaffeln, pilots in the Germanmanned units consisted of Fw190 pilots unsuitable for the Schlachtgruppen, instructors and, later, pilots from disbanded bomber units. During the autumn battles in Southern Russia the Naehtschlachtgruppen were in action nightly against troop concentrations and transport behind the lines. The Russian practice of moving road transport at night, with headlights on, rendered such targets easily detectable and particularly good results were achieved on this sector of the front. A number of Nachtschlachtgruppen also flew on anti-partisan operations behind the lines. The Ju87s of Maj. Bruckner's NSGr.30 sometimes towed troop-filled gliders into areas of particular activity, and in January 1944 supported ground operations around Tuzla in Eastern Bosnia. At Banja-Luka, in Croatia, Maj, Blaich's NSGr. 7 was similarly employed against partisans by day and also operated over the Russian lines at night.

THE LAST ROUNDS

The reverses suffered by the Germans over the entire Eastern Front during the winter of 1943/44 seriously over-extended their forces. Symptomatically, the Hs129s of IV (Fz)/SG 9 were rushed from one part of the Southern Front to another as the situation demanded, attacking targets of opportunity and breaking up concentrations of tanks. Serviceability had improved so that some 70% of the units' 50-60 aircraft were kept operational, but during intensely cold periods the MK 103 cannon under the fuselage iced up and refused to function. When heavy rainstorms turned the landing grounds into muddy lakes, only the broad-tyred Ju87s and lighter Hs123s could take off and were in constant action against Russian advances near Odessa. The Schlachtflieger were well aware of the fact that the situation on the ground depended on their efforts and took off whenever possible to slow the pace of the advances and give the hard pressed German troops time to consolidate intermediate defence positions.

There then followed a short lull in the fighting as the Russians prepared for their summer offensive. Soviet forces were observed building up, but petrol shortages had begun to cause the first serious curtailment of operations with the result that concentrations of motor transport and tanks were no longer attacked during preparations for an offensive. Nevertheless, vital bridges behind the lines over which the Russians were transporting supplies were frequently attacked despite the concentrations of AA guns. One such mission occurred on 6 June when the Focke-Wulfs of 6/SG 77, escorted by the similarly-equipped 9/SG 10, took off for the third time in two days to bomb a railway bridge south of Lvov and discovered it protected by no less than sixteen Russian flak batteries!

Hptm. Bauer (RK, EL 16.10.44), Gruppenkommandeur of I/SG 2 'Immelmann', returns from his 1000th sortie on 6 April 1944 to the traditional celebration. He is seen here with his First Mechanic, Uffz. Hageböcker, in' lucky' chimney-sweep's costume. (Hans Obert)

The main effort of the Russian offensive opened at the end of June 1944 against Army Group Centre. A simultaneous outburst of partisan activity almost destroyed German communications with the result that Army Group Centre was torn apart. In Finland, I/SG 5 had fully converted to the Fw190G-1. The Gruppenkommandeur, Maj. Martin Möbus (RK-EL) was killed in a car accident and his replacement, Maj. Fritz Schröter (RK 24.9.42) had barely arrived when the Soviet offensive erupted on the Northern Front. I/SG 5 proved remarkably effective against Soviet columns as the surprised Finnish/German forces fell back to new defensive positions, while at night the Ar66s and Ju87s of NSGr.8 harrassed the Russians. Some experts with first-hand knowledge of events at this time, including the General der Schlachtflieger, have slated that had there been sufficient petrol to have flown maximum sorties, then the Schlachtflieger could have prevented the last disastrous Russian advance which followed the opening of their offensive. Despite the fact that Gen. Guderian, who recognised the value of aircraft against tanks, had succeeded in obtaining an increased allocation of fuel for the ground-attack units, petrol still had to be very carefully controlled and sorties were only laid on after the Russian offensive began. Table 3 shows how the Schlachtverbände were re-distributed to meet the Russian offensive on the north and central fronts.

Among the units opposing the Russian advances into Poland was Ritterkreuzträger Oblt. Gunther Ludikeit's 8/SG 77, which frequently Hew with the Hungarian dive-bomber unit 102/1. As many German fighter units had been transferred to meet the Allied invasion in the West, Russian fighters became more aggressive and during June and July the mixed formation was often intercepted by Soviet Airacobras. By August, when the Yak-3s of the French-manned Normandie-Niemen Regiment appeared on this sector of the Central Front, both 102/1 and the entire SG 77 had converted to the Fw190 but, unused to their new machines, the German and Hungarian crews were no match for the confident Frenchmen. On one occasion, however, when the Russian fighters were tied up before Warsaw and the flak regiment allocated to give cover could not cope with the German aircraft, the Schlachtflieger made constant attacks on Soviet detachments as they crossed the Vistula. Taking advantage of the wooded, concealed approach to the river, single machines and flights of aircraft swept low to drop bomb containers (which the Russians nicknamed 'Frogs' because of the rapid series of explosions which followed their release) with considerable effect.

By the end of September, Russian advances had isolated Army Group North in the Kurland Peninsula. Night attacks were carried out by the Estonian NSGr. 11 but during September and October a number of the unit's He50 and Fokker C-VE aircraft, each carrying up to four fugitives, flew out to surrender in neutral Sweden and, owing to a lack of fuel and spares, the unit was disbanded shortly afterwards. The Focke-Wulfs of III/SG 3 and Go145s of NSGr. 3 continued to support the blockaded army units until mid-April, 1945, when they flew out to surrender in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. By January 1945 the Russians had penetrated Hungary up to the Czechoslovak border, and the fuel shortage had now become so accute that the Schlachtverbände were practically confined to trying to stop Russian armoured spearheads which had already broken through and were roaming behind the German lines. The reduction in sorties also reduced the effectiveness of two new weapons employed at this time: the SD 4 HL bomb and the rocket projectile.

Influenced by the ideas of the 'camouflage fanatic', Oskar Dinort, subsequent commanders of the 'Immelmann Geschwader' encouraged quite exotic schemes. Here. Fw190F-8 aircraft of SG 2 are prepared for a sortie in Hungary, 1945 - note anti-personnel bomb containers, and 'scribble' snow camouflage over the grey splinter scheme. (Hans Obert)

The SD 4 HL (HL = Hollow Charge) was a 4 kg development of the SD 2 anti-personnel bomb and had first been introduced during the Soviet summer offensive. Packed into containers holding 78 bombs, the SD 4 HL's hollow charge ensured adequate penetration of the more thinly armoured top surfaces of tanks and also had a fragmentation, or shrapnel, effect for use against supporting infantry. The chances of achieving a direct or near hit was far more favourable than with the earlier high explosive bomb and it was found that hits within a radius of 26.6 yards were still close enough to set fire to the tank's fuel or ammunition.

Although the Russians had made use of their RS 82 rocket as early as 1941, the Germans considered them to be inaccurate, short-ranged and lacking in penetration. This, and the apparently successful use of cannon, actually retarded German appreciation of rockets as tank-busting weapons and it was not until spring 1944 that experiments with the Army's Panzerschreck began at Udetfeld under the direction of Maj. Eggars. A total of twelve Panzerschreck rockets were fitted under the Fw190 and were fired off from the very close range of 150-600 feet. Although one hit was sufficient to set a tank on fire, the rockets were inaccurate and, on average, it required three aircraft firing full loads to ensure a hit. The advantage, however, was that tanks no longer had to be attacked from behind. The Panzerschreck was first used operationally in Russia during October 1944, and in December the improved Panzerblitz I was fitted, this having adequate penetrating power from ranges of 300-900 feet. It was planned to equip three specially trained anti-tank Staffeln with rocket firing Fw190s in every Schlachtgeschwader, and Table 4 includes information showing the progress made in this direction up until 20 April 1945.

The Ju87G tank-busier, with two BK 3,7 Flak 18 cannon, proved extremely effective in its specialised role on the Russian Front. (Author's collection)

By the end of January 1945 Soviet troops held a solid front along the Oder, less than 40 miles from Berlin, and the Schlachtflieger were flung in especially at the important crossing points of Stettin, Kustrin, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder and south of Guben. Intensely cold weather and blizzards hampered operations. Snow blown into the mechanism of the Ju87's anti-tank cannon froze hard as soon as the aircraft were airborne; if the cannon fired at all, they would often jam after only a few rounds. Similar difficulties befell Oblt. Gebhard Weber's 10 (Pz)/SG 9 which, together with 14 (Pz)/SG 9 was operating with a few Hs129-3s fitted with the enormous 75 mm BK 7,5 cannon under the fuselage. Although this aircraft had the extraordinary advantage of being able to destroy tanks with each direct hit, only a few rounds could be fired during the run in to the target due to the slow rate of fire.

Nearly all the crossing points over the Oder were powerfully protected by flak and fighters, but at Kustrin the Russians found themselves temporarily beyond the range of fighter cover and without anti aircraft support. On 2 February large formations of Focke-Wulfs began to bomb and strafe Russian troops manhandling lorries and anti-tank guns over the frozen river. The following day, however, the anti-aircraft regiment arrived and in the face of mounting losses, attacks by large formations were discontinued. Nevertheless, their appearance over the battlefield still had a profound effect on the morale of German troops and the unexpected arrival of the Schlachtverbände could still turn an otherwise hopeless situation into a local victory. East of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, a flight from the 'Immelmann' Geschwader repeatedly attacked Soviet tanks which had surrounded a small German force. The German soldiers, who had given themselves up for lost, now enthusiastically pursued the fleeing tanks regardless of their own safety. Such incidents encouraged soldiers and Schlachtflieger alike to continue the hopeless struggle.

Groundcrew guide an immaculately finished Fw190F-8 onto the runway; Hungary, early 1945. Note the yellow 'V'-marking applied to the port wing undersurface, and the wheel covers removed to prevent snow packing around the wheels. (Hans Obert)

The Schlachtverbände lost its greatest number of pilots during this final phase of the war (Table 5) as they vainly tried to stem the flood of Soviet armour. Many of the pilots lost were highly decorated unit commanders. Hptm. Werner Hoffman (RK), Staffelkapitän of 1/SG 1 was shot down on 2 February near Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and a week later Maj. Horst Kaubisch (RK, EL 27.6.44) was shot down during an air battle near Berlin whilst leading the Stabsstaffel of I/SG 1; 3/SG I lost its commander, Hptm. Johann Schalanda (RK, EL 24.10.44) on 26 March, and on 30 April Hptm. Andreas Kuffner (RK, EL 27.12.44) was shot down and killed over Suite airfield near Schwerin whilst leading a Staffel of SG 2. Just a week before the surrender Maj. Helmut Viedebannt, the Geschwaderkommodore of SG 10, crashed near Wusterhausen during an attempt to drop a supply container to Berlin; and Oblt. August Lambert, (RK 14.5.44) leading 8/SG 77, was shot down on 17 April when American fighters surprised the unit as it was taking off from Kamenz airfield.

In these last contused weeks, even the Schlachtflieger's two training and replacement Geschwader, SG 151 and SG 152, were made fully operational but even the bitterest defensive efforts could not hold back the enormously strong Russian forces. The Schlachtverbände were still hunting tanks in support of isolated pockets of resistance when the news of the final collapse came through. Units were released, the aircrew being allowed to fly to the airfield nearest their home. Many formations were in territory to be occupied by the Russians and those with fuel continued to fight their way out to surrender to the Western Allies. The 'Immelmann' Geschwader was almost certainly the last ground attack unit to surrender when Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel, its brilliant Kommodore, led a small formation of three Ju87s and four Fw190s to deliberately crash-land on the US-held airfield at Kitzingen on 8 May. For these pilots, and others who had succeeded in surrendering in the West, the war was over; but for many air and ground crews isolated in Soviet territory a further battle, for survival in Russian prison camps, was yet in store.

The extraordinary Hans-Ulrich Rudel, finally credited with the destruction of 519 Soviet armoured vehicles, a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 landing craft and nine aerial kills' , apart from many miscellaneous ground targets. Seen here as Kommodore of SG 2, Obstlt. Rudel (left) wears the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. He is planning a sortie during the winter of 1944-45 with Fw. Böiling and Uffz. Maldinger. (Author's collection)

***

Junkers Ju87B-2, Ju87D-5

All-metal two-seat single-engined dive-bomber with fixed undercarriage. Prototype Ju87V-1 first Hew 17 September 1935; Ju 87A-1 entered squadron service with I/St.G 162 in spring 1937; first saw action over Teruel, Spain, late December 1937. Total production of all marks A-D in excess of 5,700; approximately 240 Ju87Ds rebuilt to Ju87G standard. Iu87D-5 details in parentheses in Ju87B-2 specification as follows:

Wing span 45 ft 3⅓ in (49 ft 2½ in) Length 3ft ft 1 in (37 ft 8¾ in) Height 12 ft 9½ in (12 ft 9½ in) Wing area 343.36 sq ft (362.6 sq ft) Weigh loaded 9,370 lb (14,553 lb) Armament 2×7.9 mm MG 17 in wings, 1×7.9 mm MG 15 in rear cockpit (2×20 mm MG 151/20 cannon, 2×7.9 mm MG 81) Max. bomb load 1,540 (3,968 lb) Powerplant One Junkers Jumo 211 Da; 1,100 hp (one Jumo 211J-1; 1,400 hp) Max. speed 237 mph at 13,124 ft (255 mph at 12,600 ft) Max. dive speed 404 mph (404 mph) Ceiling 26.248 ft (15,520 ft) Range 370 miles (954 miles) Crew 2 (2).

Focke-Wu1f Fw190F-8

All-metal single-seat radial engined monoplane with retractable undercarriage. Fw190F and G series were specialised armoured ground-attack versions of the successful Fw190A fighter. The long-range Fw190G entered service in N. Africa with II/Sch.G 2 in November 1942; production was terminated in February 1944 in favour of the F series, which entered service in the spring of 1943.

Wing span 34 ft 5½ in Length 29 ft 4¾ in Height 12 ft 11½ in Wing area 198,98 sq ft Weight loaded 9,750 lb Armament 2×20 mm MG 151 cannon in wings, 2×13 mm MG 13 machine guns in fuselage nose Standard bomb load 991 lb Powerplant One BMW 801D-2; 1,700 hp Max. speed 408 mph at 19,686 ft Ceiling 37,403 ft Normal range 500 miles.

Fine view of a Ju87G of 10(Pz)/SG 2; the Staffel was led by Lt. Anton Koral, awarded the Knight's Cross on 12 March 1945, who was credited by the war's end with 704 sorties and 99 Soviet AFVs destroyed. (Author's collection)

(⇚ + ctrl) PREVIOUS PAGE ◄► NEXT PAGE (ctrl + ⇛)

We have much more interesting information on this site.
Click MENU to check it out!

cartalana.com© 2011-2020 mailto: koshka@cartalana.org

Google+