Wednesday, 8 September 2010

JG301's black day in the Defence of the Reich - 26 November 1944- Willi Reschke newspaper article 2004

Heute vor 60 Jahren tobte über dem Deister eine der gewaltigsten Luftschlachten des Zweiten Weltkriegs / Erinnerungen
Quelle: Neue Deister Zeitung (NDZ) vom 26.November 2004 / Von Dr. Petra Hartmann

"Here we are.." The 82 year old gazed out over the meadow in the vicinity of Nettelrede. Clear blue skies above - the landscape has changed somewhat since the huge airbattle that raged overhead sixty years ago to the day. " Over there is where Josef Löffler crashed ", recalls Willi Reschke referring to that day. 26 November 1944 - Jagdflieger Reschke recounted events as if they had happened yesterday. One of the biggest air battles of WWII.

„Wir hatten gar nicht damit gerechnet - we were not expecting to have to get airborne that day. There was thick fog hanging over the airfield - visibility was nil." But then suddenly the order to take off came through at 11:40. Reschke, and with him thirty nine of his comrades at the controls of their machines, climbed for altitude...

By the autumn of 1944, JG 301, like other former Wilde Sau night fighting Geschwader had long since converted to the daylight fighter role. Its Gruppen were organised in 'heavy' and 'light' wings, with units to provide high cover and units to combat the bombers. Unlike the majority of the pilots airborne on 26 November 1944 Reschke had at least acquired some combat experience. The young Nachwuchs of the unit such as Unteroffizier Siegfreid Baer were flying only their second or third mission.

On Sunday 26 November 1944 the storm front that had been stationary over central north Germany for much of the previous week was clearing. Fortresses of the 1st Bomb Division and Liberators of the 2nd set out to raid the Misburg hydrogenation plants near Hannover, the Hydrierwerk Miesburg, partially destroyed only a few weeks previously. The Fortresses led the raid, followed by Squadrons of B-24s from the 389th, 445th and 491st Bomb Groups, an armada of over one thousand bombers. High and Low Squadrons all jockeying to remain in tight defensive formation. Several B-24s aborted and timings began to go awry which was bad news for the 491st flying 'tail-end charlie' . Over the North Sea the 389th and the 445th turned late, spreading the Divisions over an area stretching for forty miles instead of twenty and effectively rendering the escort ineffectual. The B-24s were on their own for some 30 minutes to Misburg. Reschke continues;

.." that morning had been like other recent mornings for the pilots of the III Gruppe in Stendal - dickes QBI or very poor visibility - even the birds were on foot and it wasn't long before the pilots had settled down to games of chess and skat. But weather conditions were improving and gradually communication between the operations room and Central Fighter control at Döberitz became more intense. Games were soon put aside as pilots moved to readiness . Everyone was gripped by mission fever. There was a hive of activity around the planes as the 'black men' helped their pilots into the machines. The order to scramble was not long in coming. At around 11h40 all three Gruppen took off setting course to the west. The enemy was heading directly towards us. None of the pilots knew that they were about to face the biggest air battle in the short history of the Geschwader..."

Reschke continued to gaze out over the field where his comrade had died. He was probably remembering in his mind former comrades ; Werner Raygrotzky, Kurt Gabler or Fritz Brinkmann, all of whom died near Eimbeckhausen. He was probably recalling Siegfried Baer, who was brought down near Holtensen, or Anton Schmidt, who's machine was hit over Völksen. There was still something of the fascination for aerial combat in the voice of the old man who had shot down some twenty four-engine bombers and seven fighters, who was himself shot down eight times in 53 combat sorties, who had ended the war with the rank of Feldwebel and who was a holder ofthe Ritterkreuz - his own personal combat record.

" The further west we headed the better the weather became, " he recalled. " Over Braunschweig the first American bomber Pulks were sighted. The first contact with the enemy was over Gifhorn. Misburg, Hannover, Altenbeken, Bückeburg and Stadthagen were being attacked. In total 1137 American B-24 and B-17 bombers had got airborne in England, escorted by 732 fighters ". Yet the first contact found Reschke and his comrades alone in the sky with a Pulk of forty bombers - no escorts in sight.

All three Gruppen of JG 301 converged on the bombers as the lead elements were approaching Hannover. Visibility was good and the contrails from the bomber streams stretched out into the far distance.
".. Zusatzbehälter ab ! .." - jettison drop tanks !

The following is extracted from the official 8th AF report.

"… As the two Liberator Groups left the IP and headed for the target of Misburg, with the squadron of 9/10 enemy a/c in trail, the escort fighters atacked a large concentration of 190's and 109's east of the I.P….. The middle squadron (491st), of the second group released its bombs early.......
Instead of staying in the column this squadron went ? toward the R.P.? point, leaving a gap between the first and the third squadrons…. (Jerry), probably spotted this opening, and if on signal, the heavy flak stopped abruptly. Just after the isolated third squadron released it's bombs and turned toward the I.P. 50-70 109's and 190's launched a company front attack in mass of 7-10 abreast. Some fighters hit from 5 o'clock, others from 7 o'clock. The entire squadron of 9 B-24's were shot down…... Enemy aircraft went after the middle squadron catching it just before the rallying point. They attacked singly from 4 o'clock high and low and from 8 o'clock high and low. Enemy fighters broke off early when gunners opened fire at long range, but resumed their attacks to within 100 yards if they were not fired on…."

Six of the ten B-24's in this squadron were lost. Research indicates that this is the squadron that Siegfried Baer attacked.
As the Geschwader pressed home attacks on the bomber formation, the escort having let its screen be penetrated, made frantic efforts to intercept. The ensuing combats were some of the most intense in the history of home defence or Reichsverteidigung.

Reschke stated, " They could make mistakes as well you know. I shot down one bomber. But as we'd seen so often before, radio communications between the bombers and their escorts brought the P-51s to the battle from all directions. A few of our fighters were still able to press home their attacks on the bombers but as the battle progressed pilots of JG 301 were left fighting for their lives against the escorts. Our losses were so heavy that this was to be our blackest day in the history of our Geschwader. Just in the Hildesheim sector alone some forty of our pilots were killed or wounded. "

Staffelkapitän of 5./JG 301 Oberleutnant Alfred Vollert flying Fw 190 A-9 'weiße 1' was killed in combat, shot down over Rethen as he was pursuing a B-24. Siegfried Baer was also shot down and killed, possibly shot down by 339th FG P-51's while attacking the 491st BG south east or so of Hannover around Peine. Plotting the demise of Baer and his Staffelkapitän and their crash locations reveals that they fell along the B-24's route. This tends to confirm that Siegfried Baer attacked the B-24's in a pass and possibly scored hits if not an Abschüß and in so doing was hit by the devastating fire of the B-24 boxes crashing to his death. Eye witnesses on the ground reported that each attacking Focke Wulf was set upon by several P-51's after diving through the Pulks. The bomber escorts had a tremendous tactical advantage and their numerical superiority was overwhelming.

JG 301 did have some notable success. Oberfeldwebel Hans Müller of 2. Staffel claimed three B-24 Liberators shot down. Jupp Keil in 10 Staffel claimed two B-24s. 12 Staffel suffered no losses at all but were comparatively experienced. As I./JG 302 12 Staffel had flown escort missions with IV./JG3 back in July.

The first part of the official account quoted above concerns the 491st BG. The 445th lost 5 bombers. Again quoting from the 8th AF report..
"… In a ? from this battle, some aircraft made single attacks on the lead squadron at this same group shorlty before the R.P. But this squadron which was in tight formation and only 20 seconds behind the Group(445th) ahead, suffered no losses……The low squadron of the preceding group (445th) however, lost 5 of it's 11 bombers to a series of single attacks, apparently made by some of the same fighters. Here again the enemy aircraft hit from 4 and 8 o'clock high and low, making numerous belly attacks. Enemy fighters which made individual attacks frequently broke away to the side without losing altitude, pulled ahead of the bomber formation, then turned to make a new attack, flying across the bombers path without attempting a pursuit curve..".

In total some forty bombers were lost that day along with eleven P-51s. Over 40 JG 301 pilots were either killed or wounded on 26 November 1944 alone, more than a third of JG 301's pilot complement, a terrible blood-letting in defence of the homeland….

JG 301 would be unable to make good its enormous losses in trained pilots. Siegfried Baer is buried in the cemetery at Holtensen near Hannover. ( see below )

Baer flew a Fw 190A9/R-11 with 5./JG 301 'weiße 2' WNr 206085. Built in Focke Wulf's Cottbus plant, Gruppen of JG 301 receiving the first A-9s off the Cottbus production line in September 1944. In the absence of any period pictures the accompanying model photo shows Baer's 'white 2' with the yellow & red Rumpfbände of JG301 and a II Gruppe bar. The R-11 Rüstzustand was a 'bad weather' package featuring the PKS 12 autopilot and heated canopy glass. The A-9 featured the Schiebehaube blown canopy and an up-rated BMW 801 TU/TS engine with wide-bladed wooden prop, although these could also appear on the A-8. The A-9 variant in JG 301 service was equipped with two 2cm Kanonen and two 13mm MGs with the outer wing cannon perhaps only fitted in the schwere Staffeln.

It would almost certainly have been equipped with the standard ETC 501 Zusatztank carrier fitting. Pilots in the Reichsverteidigung had long complained of the absurdity of hauling 250kg reserve fuel tanks and their bulky carrier fittings around when flying missions to close to their home bases.

Competition model and display by Wayne Little