Friday, 12 August 2011

were Luftwaffe pilots sanctioned to bale out to avoid the P-51s in the air battles over Germany?

  In a post over on, Jay Stout author of  'The Men Who Killed the Luftwaffe' mentions that from the details given in USAF encounter reports, Luftwaffe pilots, once cornered, often abandoned their fighters even before they were fired on. Late in the war this certainly was not a bad idea from a practical perspective as it was much easier to produce a new aircraft than it was to produce a new pilot. But was this practice officially sanctioned or encouraged by the Luftwaffe leadership? From the history of JG 300, the leading Geschwader in the defence of the Reich, there is some insight into this practice, although only detailed specifically in relation to one sortie during 1945.

On 2 March 1945 a powerful American 8th Air Force formation of some 1,232 four-engine bombers protected by 723 fighters headed for fuel plants and tank factories at Böhlen, Magdeburg and Ruhland. The Gruppen of JG 300 were airborne from Borkheide, Löbnitz, Jüterbog and Reinsdorf between 09:05 and 09:40.  Over the target area weather conditions forced some 660 Fortresses of the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions to divert to their secondary targets, Chemnitz and Dresden. Shortly after 10:00, east of Dessau, numerous German fighters were sighted converging to mount an attack on the B-17s of the 3rd Air Division. The 42 Mustangs of the 353rd FG, escorting the two leading groups of the 3rd AD, were able to fend off some of the Bf 109s but were unable to prevent II./JG 300 from closing with the bombers. Led by Ofw. Rudi Zwesken, the Sturmjäger flew a massed formation pass against two boxes of B-17s at 7,000 meters altitude between Wittenberg and Jüterbog. Unhindered by enemy fighters, the 31 Focke-Wulf 190 A-8s and A-9s closed on the Boeings with a slight height advantage, peeling away under the bombers following their firing passes, some of them having exhausted their munitions. Three B-17s were shot down, three more were eventually listed as missing.

Ofw. Rudi Zwesken, Verbandsführer 6. Staffel, knocked down two Boeing B-17s in less than five minutes. He lined-up on a third but broke off after exhausting his munitions. Over the radio he instructed his wingmen to avoid combat with American fighters. Although no more than hearsay, at this stage of the war  Zwesken followed one golden rule during this late war period which he often repeated to his young comrades  - “better to be a live parachutist than a dead pilot”. On this sortie he followed his own advice. As he saw Mustangs slide in behind his fighter, he baled out of his Fw 190 A-8 before the P-51s had the chance to open fire and plummeted several thousand metres before pulling the ripcord. Two of his 6. Staffel pilots took similar action. Abandoning a still intact fighter aircraft a year previously would have rendered its pilot liable to an immediate court martial charge. But during the last months of the war in the Defence of the Reich the circumstances behind a bale-out no longer warranted any form of investigation. Thus Ofw. Rudi Zwesken, Uffz. Erich Weisbrod and Fw. Ewald Preiß (6. Staffel) did not have to explain away their actions. And of course in Zwesken's case there were practical considerations - he had no ammo left after flying a firing pass against three B-17s, claiming two of them shot down. In fact this sortie would see the last II./JG 300 victories achieved against 8th Air Force four-engine bombers.

Below; Fw 190s of 6. and 7. Staffeln at Löbnitz in early 1945. Note the blue/white/blue Reichsverteidigung or Reich's defence bands which appeared on II./JG 300 Fw 190s during December 1944. An analysis of wrecks retrieved in Czechoslovakia indicates that the blue/white/blue bands were adopted between the raids of 14 and 21 December 1944.