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Nearly all the crossing points over the Oder were powerfully protected by flak and fighters, but at Kustrin the Russians found themselves temporarily beyond the range of fighter cover and without anti aircraft support. On 2 February large formations of Focke-Wulfs began to bomb and strafe Russian troops manhandling lorries and anti-tank guns over the frozen river. The following day, however, the anti-aircraft regiment arrived and in the face of mounting losses, attacks by large formations were discontinued. Nevertheless, their appearance over the battlefield still had a profound effect on the morale of German troops and the unexpected arrival of the Schlachtverbände could still turn an otherwise hopeless situation into a local victory. East of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, a flight from the 'Immelmann' Geschwader repeatedly attacked Soviet tanks which had surrounded a small German force. The German soldiers, who had given themselves up for lost, now enthusiastically pursued the fleeing tanks regardless of their own safety. Such incidents encouraged soldiers and Schlachtflieger alike to continue the hopeless struggle.

Groundcrew guide an immaculately finished Fw190F-8 onto the runway; Hungary, early 1945. Note the yellow 'V'-marking applied to the port wing undersurface, and the wheel covers removed to prevent snow packing around the wheels. (Hans Obert)

The Schlachtverbände lost its greatest number of pilots during this final phase of the war (Table 5) as they vainly tried to stem the flood of Soviet armour. Many of the pilots lost were highly decorated unit commanders. Hptm. Werner Hoffman (RK), Staffelkapitän of 1/SG 1 was shot down on 2 February near Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and a week later Maj. Horst Kaubisch (RK, EL 27.6.44) was shot down during an air battle near Berlin whilst leading the Stabsstaffel of I/SG 1; 3/SG I lost its commander, Hptm. Johann Schalanda (RK, EL 24.10.44) on 26 March, and on 30 April Hptm. Andreas Kuffner (RK, EL 27.12.44) was shot down and killed over Suite airfield near Schwerin whilst leading a Staffel of SG 2. Just a week before the surrender Maj. Helmut Viedebannt, the Geschwaderkommodore of SG 10, crashed near Wusterhausen during an attempt to drop a supply container to Berlin; and Oblt. August Lambert, (RK 14.5.44) leading 8/SG 77, was shot down on 17 April when American fighters surprised the unit as it was taking off from Kamenz airfield.

In these last contused weeks, even the Schlachtflieger's two training and replacement Geschwader, SG 151 and SG 152, were made fully operational but even the bitterest defensive efforts could not hold back the enormously strong Russian forces. The Schlachtverbände were still hunting tanks in support of isolated pockets of resistance when the news of the final collapse came through. Units were released, the aircrew being allowed to fly to the airfield nearest their home. Many formations were in territory to be occupied by the Russians and those with fuel continued to fight their way out to surrender to the Western Allies. The 'Immelmann' Geschwader was almost certainly the last ground attack unit to surrender when Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel, its brilliant Kommodore, led a small formation of three Ju87s and four Fw190s to deliberately crash-land on the US-held airfield at Kitzingen on 8 May. For these pilots, and others who had succeeded in surrendering in the West, the war was over; but for many air and ground crews isolated in Soviet territory a further battle, for survival in Russian prison camps, was yet in store.

The extraordinary Hans-Ulrich Rudel, finally credited with the destruction of 519 Soviet armoured vehicles, a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 landing craft and nine aerial kills' , apart from many miscellaneous ground targets. Seen here as Kommodore of SG 2, Obstlt. Rudel (left) wears the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. He is planning a sortie during the winter of 1944-45 with Fw. Böiling and Uffz. Maldinger. (Author's collection)


Junkers Ju87B-2, Ju87D-5

All-metal two-seat single-engined dive-bomber with fixed undercarriage. Prototype Ju87V-1 first Hew 17 September 1935; Ju 87A-1 entered squadron service with I/St.G 162 in spring 1937; first saw action over Teruel, Spain, late December 1937. Total production of all marks A-D in excess of 5,700; approximately 240 Ju87Ds rebuilt to Ju87G standard. Iu87D-5 details in parentheses in Ju87B-2 specification as follows:

Wing span 45 ft 3⅓ in (49 ft 2½ in) Length 3ft ft 1 in (37 ft 8¾ in) Height 12 ft 9½ in (12 ft 9½ in) Wing area 343.36 sq ft (362.6 sq ft) Weigh loaded 9,370 lb (14,553 lb) Armament 2×7.9 mm MG 17 in wings, 1×7.9 mm MG 15 in rear cockpit (2×20 mm MG 151/20 cannon, 2×7.9 mm MG 81) Max. bomb load 1,540 (3,968 lb) Powerplant One Junkers Jumo 211 Da; 1,100 hp (one Jumo 211J-1; 1,400 hp) Max. speed 237 mph at 13,124 ft (255 mph at 12,600 ft) Max. dive speed 404 mph (404 mph) Ceiling 26.248 ft (15,520 ft) Range 370 miles (954 miles) Crew 2 (2).

Focke-Wu1f Fw190F-8

All-metal single-seat radial engined monoplane with retractable undercarriage. Fw190F and G series were specialised armoured ground-attack versions of the successful Fw190A fighter. The long-range Fw190G entered service in N. Africa with II/Sch.G 2 in November 1942; production was terminated in February 1944 in favour of the F series, which entered service in the spring of 1943.

Wing span 34 ft 5½ in Length 29 ft 4¾ in Height 12 ft 11½ in Wing area 198,98 sq ft Weight loaded 9,750 lb Armament 2×20 mm MG 151 cannon in wings, 2×13 mm MG 13 machine guns in fuselage nose Standard bomb load 991 lb Powerplant One BMW 801D-2; 1,700 hp Max. speed 408 mph at 19,686 ft Ceiling 37,403 ft Normal range 500 miles.

Fine view of a Ju87G of 10(Pz)/SG 2; the Staffel was led by Lt. Anton Koral, awarded the Knight's Cross on 12 March 1945, who was credited by the war's end with 704 sorties and 99 Soviet AFVs destroyed. (Author's collection)

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