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MARTIN PEGG
LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45

The electro-pneumatically operated 75 mm PaK 40 cannon fitted to a Ju88P-1 for anti-tank operations, late 1943. A small test batch became operational under the Führer der Panzerjéger with Panzerjéger-Staffel 92, but although the cannon was effective the aircraft lacked manoeuvrability. Earlier attempts by III/KG 1 to operate 75 mm cannon-equipped Ju88s independently resulted in the unit's destruction. (Author's collection)

In spite of such local successes, however, the German troops were too weak to achieve a breakthrough and their advance ground to a halt. On 11 July the Russians launched a counter-attack around Orel; Stuka, ground-attack and anti-tank aircraft concentrated to meet the threat, (lew up to six sorties a day in this viciously contested area, and succeeded in preventing the encirclement of their own troops - but 'Zitadelle' had failed. Moreover, the Kursk battles had cost the Stuka and Schlachtflieger many of their most experienced and most highly decorated unit commanders including Horst Schiller (RK April 44), Kommandeur of I/St.G 3; Hptm. Kurt-Albert Pape (RK), Staffelkapitän of 3/St.G 1; Haptm. Bernd Wutka (RK 30.11.42), Staffelkapitän of 9/St.G 2; Hptm. Rudolf Blumental, Staffelkapitän of 9/St.G 77; Oblt. Willi Horner (RK), Staffelkapitän of 7/St.G 2, and Hptm, Walter Krauss (RK, EL 3.1.44) Kommandeur of III/St.G 2.

Following up on their counter-attack at Kursk, the Russians launched a series of blows along the entire Central and Southern Front from Smolensk to Rostov. The Stuka and Schlachtverhände were constantly in the thick of the fighting, being transferred from one part of the front to another as the situation demanded. During September and October, the Schlachtflieger destroyed vast quantities of tanks, a number of bridges and other material in a vain attempt to slow the Russian advance around Apostolovo, Zaporozhje and Melitopol. After the first snowfall in the Kiev area, reconnaissance photos showed an apparently heavy concentration of tanks and artillery but no tracks on the ground. St.G 77 mounted a small, exploratory raid, during which the showers of splintered wood thrown into the air by the bomb blasts revealed that the vehicles were dummies.

The Russian flak had now grown so intense that dive-bomber attacks over the battlefield were little short of suicidal, and many units now flew the Ju87D-5, a version intended primarily for the ground-attack role, and which differed from earlier versions in having longer wings and two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon. Major Lang, whose III/St.G 1 had recently returned to the front after conversion to the D-5, describes the situation on the Central Front at this time:

Interesting air-to-air photo, believed to show Major Theodore Nordmann (RK, EL, S), Kommodore of St.G 3, leading Ju87D-5s over the northern sector of the Russian

Front in May 1944, shortly before the Geschwader Stab converted onto Fw190s. Note SD 2 antipersonnel bomb containers. White stripes on the wheel spats are thought to indicate Geschwader Stab, and Nordmann's machine additionally bears the letter 'A' on the front of each spat. (James V. Crow)

'Black men' bomb up the Ju87D-3 flown by Lt. Gerhard Bannacher of I/SG 1; Russian Front, late 1943. (James V. Crow)

'We operated from Orsha against targets in the Vitebsk area as well as along the Smolensk highway where battles were raging. Both battle areas stood out black against the snow-covered surrounding terrain. The flashes of the field guns and antiaircraft guns could be clearly seen, even during daylight. However, the targets were difficult to discern on the soil which was ploughed over by bombs and shells. The gun flashes were often the only, if most reliable, sign of the enemy's presence. When nearing the target you had to memorise these points, for the Russians immediately ceased firing when we approached, knowing lull well that their fire gave them away to us. Only the AA guns continued firing. When making low-level air-to-ground strafing attacks - usually only one pass over the target because of the furious antiaircraft defences - and when pulling out of the dive to get away low on the deck, we always became painfully aware of the fact that our troops were greatly inferior in number to the Russians. Looking up and waving us a greeting, our soldiers stood in their trenches, alas with many long metres between them. South of Vitebsk the ratio between our forces and the Russian forces was up to 20 to 1.

Co-operation with our escort fighters was improved by adopting direct R/T communications. However, after two or three sorties had been undertaken we abandoned this practice for we preferred radio silence to the chatter of our fighter escort. Co-operation was good even without this radio contact since we never penetrated farther into enemy territory than his gun positions. The Red Falcons hardly left their own territory and losses suffered by the Gruppe were only due to anti-aircraft fire.'

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.

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