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MARTIN PEGG
LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45

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)

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