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These anti-tank units had been formed from an experimental unit (Versuchskommando für Panzerbekampfung) sent to the Eastern Front during the previous February. From mid-1942 the Russians had begun to deploy increasingly large tank units with excellently armoured equipment, and with most tank factories located beyond the range of German bombers it was necessary to destroy the tanks under exceedingly heavy fire and with consequent heavy losses on the battlefield. Large calibre high-explosive bombs were effective only if they exploded within twelve feet of the target and immediately above ground, for penetration into the ground channelled the blast upwards instead of sideways. Smaller bombs were under development which could be scattered over concentrations of tanks; but in 1943 the 37 mm BK 3, 7 Flak 18 cannon seemed to be the best anti-tank weapon available, and this was experimentally installed, either singly or in pairs, beneath the Bf110, Ju88P and Ju87D. Both the Bf110 and Ju88 proved not only unwieldy in the air but extremely vulnerable to ground fire, and the folly of operating these types in the anti-tank role is well illustrated by the experience of the bomber Gruppe HI/KG 1 which, operating the Ju88P on the Eastern Front in April 1943, was completely wiped out.

Hptm. Kurt Lau of the 'Immelmann Geschwader', awarded the Knight's Cross on 6 April 1944 while with I/SG 2. He force-landed behind Russian lines in 1945 and was posted missing. (Hans Obert)

Although speed and manoeuvrability were both drastically affected, the Flak 18-equipped Ju87 conversion seemed to be the most promising, but the experimental unit arriving in the Crimea during the spring of 1943 initially met with little success. Often the cannon were removed and replaced by bomb-racks; but a few officers realised the potential of the new weapons and, as operational trials continued, new tactics were slowly evolved.

'Zitadelle' opened at 0300 hours on 5 July 1943. Unit commanders had been informed that the breakthrough of the relatively weak German troops depended on the effect of the first air attacks and every aircrew was urged to do its best. At first light III/St.G 1 under Maj. Lang (RK 23.11.41, EL 30.11.42, S 4.7.44) attacked gun emplacements on the fringe of a wood while other Ju87 units struck at Soviet communications and supply routes and blasted breaches in the enemy defences. The Hs129 units were directed mainly against enemy tanks, and the Fw190s flew in at 2,100 feet to drop SD 1 and SD 2 bomb containers which, opening a few feet above the ground, scattered large numbers of 'splinter' bombs among the enemy positions. As Russian fighter attacks were warded off by German fighters the greatest menace to the dive-bombers was the flak, while Fw190 and Hs129 units had to brave a hail of fire from Russian soldiers who blazed away at the low-flying aircraft with rifles and machine-guns. Concentrations of Russian armour provided ideal targets for Hptm. Rudel's lone Ju87G, and by the end of the first day he had singlehandedly destroyed twelve tanks. As a result of this sudden success the aircraft of the experimental unit were called up from the Crimea and placed under Rudel's command.

Summer 1942: 7/St.G 1 over the northern sector of the Russian Front. In May 1943 the Staffel, led by Hptm. Stoll-Berberich, transferred to Schatalowka West for unofficial Fw190 conversion, but this 'private' course had to be called off by order of higher authority. (Author's collection)

On 6 July almost 850 Stuka sorties were mounted, and in one attack on the 7th, 64 Soviet tanks were hit and set on fire. The four Hs129 Staffeln under Hptm. Bruno Meyer had only recently returned from Germany where they had been fitted with the MK 103 30 mm cannon. This possessed greater penetrating power than the earlier MK 101 and, operating in relays, the four Staffeln carried out an hour-long attack against a Guards Tank Brigade intent on making a flank attack against German troops. As the Henschels attacked the armour, Maj. Alfred Druschel led his Fw190s in to scatter 'splinter' bomb containers over the infantry and mobile flak guns. More than 50 tanks were destroyed and the Russian attack was completely broken.

Table 3. Major Units

Stukageschwader 1 (code A5 +)
I and II/St.G 1 formed May 1939; III/St.G 1 formed from 4/Träger Gruppe 186. July 1940. I Gruppe re-designated II/St.G 3 in N. Africa, March 1942. Second formation II Gruppe, May 1942. Re-designated SG 1, October 1943. Ju87B and R. May 1939 and April 1940, Ju87D, February 1942 - May 1943; Ju87G with 10 Staffel from October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G. Fw190. May 1941 - May 1945 except 10 Staffel, re-designated 2 (Pz)/SG 9 in January 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 3 and 6 Staffeln and Panzerschreck Fw190F-8 with 8 Staffel by 20.4.45.*
Stukageschwader 2 'Immelmann' (code T6 +)
Formed May 1939. II Gruppe re-designated III/St.G 3, early 1942, N. Africa. Second formation II Gruppe, mid-1942. Redesignated SG 2, October 1943. Ju87B and R. May 1939 and 1940 - January 1942; Ju87D, January 1942 - October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G, Fw190, October 1943 - May 1945. Rocket-firing Fw190F-8 with 9 Staffel by 20.4.45.*
Stukageschwader J (code S7 +)
I/St.G 3 formed July 1940, II and III Gruppen formed N. Africa May 1942. Re-designated SG 3, October 1943. Ju87B and R, July 1940 - mid 1942; Ju87D, mid 1942 - June 1944; mixed Ju87D, Fw 190, June-August 1944; Fw190, August 1944 - May 1945. Ju87G with 10 Staffel, October 1943 - December 1944; redesignated 3(Pz)/SG 9 with Fw190, January 1945. Rocket-firing Fw 190F-8 with 6 Staffel by 20.4.45.*
Schtachtgeschwader 4
Formed October 1943 - see Table 2. Fw 190 October 1943 - May 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 7, 8 and 9 Staffeln by 20.4.45.*
IV (Stuka)/Lehrgeschwader 1 (code LI +)
Formed 1938; re-designated I/St.G 5, February 1942. Ju87B, 1938 - June 1941; Ju87R, June 1941 - February 1942.
Stukageschwader 5 (code J9 +)
Formed February 1942; re-designated SG 5, October 1943; re-designated III/KG 200, November 1944. Ju87R, February 1942 - March 1943; Ju87D, March 1943 - January 1944; mixed Ju87D, Fw190, January-June 1944; Fw190, June 1944 - May 1945.
Schlachtgeschwader 9
IV(Pz)/SG 9 formed October 1943 - see Table 2. I(Pz)/SG 9 formed January 1945 from 12(Pz)/SG 9, 10(Pz)/SG 1 and 10(Pz)/SG 3. Hs129, October 1943 - January 1945; mixed Hs129, Fw190, Ju87, January-May 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 1, 3 and 13 Staffeln by 20.4.45*
Schtachtgeschwader 10
I and II Gruppen formed October 1943 - see Table 2. Fw190, October 1943 - May 1945.
Stukageschwader 51 (code 6G +)
III Gruppe formed May 1939; re-designated II/St.G 1, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, May 1939 - July 1940.
Stukageschwader 76 (code F1 +)
1 Gruppe formed May 1939; re-designated III/St.G 77, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, May 1939 - July 1940.
Stukageschwader 77 (code S2 +)
I and II Gruppen formed May 1939; III Gruppe formed - see above - July 1940; re-designated SG 77, October 1943. Ju87B, May 1939 - March 1942; Ju87D, March 1942 - October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G, Fw190, October 1943 - September 1944; Fw190, September 1944 - May 1945, except 10 Staffel, which flew Ju87G October 1943 - May 1945. Rocket-firing Fw190F-8 with 5. (Panzerschreck) and 9 (Panzerblitz) Staffeln by 20.4.45.*
Schtachtgeschwader I (Sch.G 1)
I and II Gruppen formed January 1942; re-designated, as in Table 2, October 1943. Mixed Hs123, Bf109E, Hs129, Fw190, January 1942 - October 1943.
Schtachtgeschwader 2 (Sch.G 2)
I and II Gruppen formed September 1942, N. Africa, from III/ZG 1; re-designated, as in Table 2, October 1943. Mixed Bf109E, Hs129, Fw190, September 1942 - October 1943.
4/Träger Gruppe 186 (later I/St.G 186)
Formed December 1938; re-designated III/St.G 1, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, December 1938 - July 1940.
II(Schlacht)/Lehrgeschwader 2 (code L2 +)
Formed September 1938; re-designated II/Sch.G 1, January 1942. Hs123, September 1938 - June 1940; mixed Hs123, Bf109E, June 1940 - January 1942.
* Based on gem. OKL/Lw. Org.-Stab/2 Abt.v.20.4.45, which also shows 13./SG 151 with Panzerblitz Fw190F-8.
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