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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.

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