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MARTIN PEGG
LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45

Major Günther Tonne (wearing Ritterkreuz), the Kommodore of Schnellkarnpfgeschwader 10 from its formation, with pilots of I/SKG 10 on the Channel front in 1943. The Fw190A-4/U8 in the background bears the black triangle Gruppe marking ahead of the fuselage cross and a white individual letter aft: II Gruppe aircraft bore these markings reversed. (This system was also used on Hs129s of Sch.G 1 and Sch.G 2: and on the night-flying Ju87Ds of 'Gefechtsverbande Hallensleben' in the West, when the position of the triangle identified NSGr.l and 2). By mid-June 1941 only I/SKG 10 remained in France, the remainder of the unit being transferred south to oppose the Allied invasion of Sicily, Tonne died when the engine of his Fw 190 failed on take-of at Reggio on 15 July. (Hans Obert)

Front view of a yellow-nosed Hs129B-1/R2, showing the 30 mm MK 101 cannon beneath the fuselage. During the Soviet advance of November 1942 pilots of 8/Sch.G 1 often went into action without proper training for antitank cannon attacks, and losses were heavy. Shortly afterwards the Anti-Tank Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 51 was attached to II/Sch.G I with beneficial results. (Author's collection)

As the only ground-attack unit with operational experience in the West, SG 4 was taken off the Eastern Front in October and, in preparation for the German counter-attack in the Ardennes, went into training in radio-controlled bad-weather flying, this being seen as the only practical method of keeping down losses on daylight operations. However, the weather prior to the offensive was too bad even for this type of training and SG 4 was not only inexperienced in this type of sortie, but was still in the process of assembling at its designated airfields when the offensive opened on 16 December. In spite of Göring's promises to the General der Schlachtflieger that JG 2 would be specially devoted to escorting SG 4 during the offensive, this escort frequently did not materialise and SG 4 was therefore compelled to provide its own escort. Attacks were carried out in the Bastogne area and against Elsenborn airfield, but from the start losses were disproportionately high, chiefly from fighters.

On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe launched 'Bodenplatte', its all-out assault against Allied airfields in Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. All three Gruppen of SG 4 took part but only the Stabsstaffel and a few other aircraft made the rendezvous. Those aircraft which pressed on encountered heavy flak over the front line and four of III/SG 4's aircraft were shot down, including that flown by the Geschwader Kommodore Obstlt. Alfred Druschel. Thereafter, the whole unit was transferred to the East to meet the Russian January offensive.

In addition to the Nachtschlachtgruppen, a number of other specialised ground-attack units operated in the West during the final stages of the war. I./SG 5 was redesignated in November 1944 to form III/KG 200 and after night-flying training at Staaken the unit arrived at Twente in early February, joining Sonderstaffel Einhorn, an operational training unit formed to operate in the anti- shipping role with heavy calibre bombs, and Maj. Dahlmann's NSGr.20, the redesignated III/KG 51, which had itself been formed from the remnants of I/SKG 10 after heavy righting in Normandy.

During March, all three units mounted day and night sorties against bridges and suitable targets around the bridgeheads, principally at Nijmegen and Rernagen. Here they joined the Ju87s of Maj. Rohn's NSGr.2 which had been operating in Holland, Belgium and NW Germany with Hptm. Wilburg's NSGr.l under the joint designation 'Gefechtsverband Haltensleben'. Flying on nights of good visibility yet sufficient cloud cover, 'Gefechtsverband Hallensleben' concentrated its attacks in mid-March against Allied transport columns, easily visible by their headlights, in the Remagen bridgehead, and although a number of aircraft were lost to Allied flak and night fighters, overall operational losses were low. However, on 14 March NSGr.2 suffered a major setback when American P-47s discovered its well-hidden base at Lippe. A number of the Gruppe's aircraft were standing out in the open and the hour-long attack destroyed the airfield buildings, crews living quarters and fourteen aircraft, leaving Lippe virtually useless.

Formed from JG 27 and JG 53 personnel, 8/Sch.G 2 became operational on the Hs129 in February 1943 under Fliegerführer Tunis: this photo shows one of the unit's aircraft near Tripoli - note green-on-sand 'scribble' camouflage. By July 1943 the Staffel was in Russia, taking part in Operation 'Ziladelle' at Kursk. (Author's collection)

At Remagen, all possible methods of destroying the bridge were tried and eventually a number of NSGr.20's pilots who had lost everything in the war - their families and all their possessions - volunteered to crash their Focke-Wulfs onto the bridge with a bomb on board. However, this method was not practicable as with standard fusing the bomb only became live a certain time after being released. A new type of fuse was manufactured during the last weeks of the war, bin by that time even suicide missions could not alter the eventual outcome of hostilities and no such methods were ever employed.

LATER CAMPAIGNS IN THE EAST

On the Eastern Front, the first large assault against Stalingrad was launched in September 1942. Stukagruppen from St.G 1, St.G 2 and St.G 77 were heavily committed in attacks synchronised with ground operations and aircrews, forbidden to release their bombs until they had firmly established the exact position of their own troops, flew four or more sorties daily over the city. Russian fighter opposition to these raids was largely ineffective and was only pressed home when the formations met over the Russian-held part of the city. Flak caused the greatest number of casualties, but the anti-aircraft guns often used up all their ammunition during the Stukas' morning attacks as fresh supplies could only be brought up at night. Bridges over the Don carrying reinforcements were bombed to destruction by St.G 2, but they were soon replaced by pontoons, and after a short delay maximum traffic was again reinforcing the city.

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