Sunday, 27 September 2009

Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen

Aviation Elite Units No. 20
Review by Neil Page

During the spring and summer of 1944 the USAAF daylight strategic bomber offensive over Germany was at its height. The Luftwaffe was forced to evaluate any number of desperate solutions as it sought to counter the massed fleets of B-17 Fortresses and B-24 Liberators pulverizing cities and industry throughout the Reich. In late 1943 Major Günther von Kornatzki -a former Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG52 during the Battle of Britain and married to one of Göring's secretaries- dreamt up the concept of the Sturm fighter. Dare-devil young volunteer Luftwaffe fighter pilots were organised into elite bomber destroyer units (see my article Sturmgruppen 1944-Bomber Destroyers in SAM, March 2001) The Sturmgruppen were to carry out stunning offensive actions in large battle formations flying heavily armed and armoured variants of the latest Focke Wulf 190 fighters. Their mass attacks were flown to within close-range to make certain of a ‘kill’ and their 3 cm cannon were deadly - just a handful of shells was enough to start a fire in a B-17 or B-24. On a number of occasions the Fw 190s of the Sturmgruppen did great execution among the bomber formations – the thirty or so B-24s of the 445th BG shot down on 27 September 1944 representing something of a macabre record during the air war. Fortunately for the US bomber crews, the slow and unwieldy Fw 190s –laden with armor protection for their pilots and encumbered with their heavy cannon– were no match for an omnipresent and massively numerically superior fighter escort and by late 1944 the original Sturm concept –to meet mass with mass– was no longer tenable.
This is another Osprey ‘potboiler’ from John Weal. As usual it is a nice read and constitutes a good introduction to the subject. Yet while I have a certain amount of time for Weal’s skills as a writer, the amount of research behind this volume appears cursory – although sources are admittedly hard to come by. After all – and in fairness - the Lorant/Goyat history of JG 300 published by Eagle Editions – appearing at the same time as Weal’s volume - was some twenty years in the research and writing. As far as Weal's text is concerned the treatment here is adequate; the mission summaries are curtailed and concentrate rather too much on losses with little information on victories or even the bomb group the Sturm units came up against. The story lacks first person accounts to bring the text to life and unfortunately repeats many of the old myths that have grown up around these units – von Kornatzki did not interview volunteers for the Sturmstaffel in his Berlin office. There is reasonable photo content –but no new pictures and a number of inaccurate captions and misidentifications. That is not Oskar Bösch sitting on the wing of his A-6 on P34 – but both Mombeek and Rodeike got that one wrong too. My main criticism is reserved for Weal’s artwork- there are a number of errors eg the well-known ‘schwarze 8’ of Willi Maximowitz (IV./JG 3) did not have a red/yellow spinner, it was black/yellow. Blue 13 does not have the white fuselage band with black wavy line- that was ‘black 13’. The JG 4 emblems are poorly drawn. Gefreiter Wagner’s ‘Weiße 11’ did not have outboard Mk 108's; they were 2cm weapons, the white 11 is incorrect. The profile of Gustav Salffner’s ‘white 6’ is incorrect and the machine did not have outboard Mk 108's either but 2cm weapons. Walter Loos did not serve in IV. (Sturm)/JG 3 but flew the Bf 109G-6 with the Br 21cm rocket launchers in the old IV./JG 3.
The text is inadequate beyond September 1944. The Sturmgruppen had virtually ceased to exist by November 1944, except for II.(Sturm)/JG 300. The story of how this unit – in concert with JG 301- lost ninety fighters over Berlin on 14 January 1945 is incomplete here and there is no information on JG 300’s deployment along the Oder front during February 1945- the Russians closing in fast from the East ensured that combating 8th AF bomber formations was no longer a priority. The last sorties against the bombers were in fact flown on 2 March 1945 and the story of the Sturmgruppen ends there to all intents and purposes… The closing chapter ‘From Sturm to Ramm’ deals with the Sonderkommando Elbe mission of 7 April 1945 - which was not flown by the Sturmgruppen. It was a suicide mission of light, unarmed Bf 109s flown by pilots of little or any combat experience - the antithesis of the Sturm concept. In conclusion, I find it difficult to recommend this wholeheartedly – however it is virtually the only work in English providing an overview of the history of these units and as such should be welcomed.

More Sturmgruppen links here

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