Die Deutsche Wochenschau Nr.712, 26 April 1944 - combat footage over the Reich from German wartime newsreel
The Wochenschau cinema newsreel Nr. 712, presented to German cinema audiences on 26 April 1944 splices together all sorts of 'combat footage' much of it 'rehashed'. In this piece I have 'captured' the best stills from this reportage some of which was filmed during April 1944 at Salzwedel, home to the Fw 190s of the Sturmstaffel and the Bf 109s of IV./JG 3. The film as shown in cinemas appears to focus for at least some of its footage on the US 8th Air Force raid of 11 April 1944. IV./JG 3 was one of the most successful units flying in the Reichsverteidigungduring the first half of 1944 and 11 April 1944 was to be their 'best' day defending the Reich prior to the formation of the Sturmgruppen. Otto Bach of JG 1and his Geschwaderkommodore Oesau are also interviewed prominently. I have captioned these images using the original German commentary and references such as the as-yet untranslated Gruppehistory of IV./JG 3 by Jochen Prien....
The film sequence opens with footage of German monitoring and listening posts tracking a US Air Force bomber incursion. The commentary mentions that German fighters often scramble to oppose as many as 600 bombers - on 11 April 1944 the US 8th Air Force dispatched over 900 bombers to aircraft factories in central Germany, a huge force that was screened by over 800 fighter escorts. On the German side some 18 day fighter Gruppen were sent up to counter the incursion. The scene switches to Salzwedel where the Fw 190s of the Sturmstaffel and the Bf 109s of IV./JG 3 are quickly scrambled...a line up of Sturmstaffel 1 FW 190s at Salzwedel (above right)
Above, a technician shows the PK reporter one of the gun cams - a BSK 16 (Leica) - fitted into the wing of the FW 190. Here he is seen closing it up....before installing it in the wing via the undercarriage well. Gun cameras were not in widespread use in the Luftwaffe fighter force during 1944 and were generally not used in the confirmation of victory claims..
"Einsatz Alarm!' IV./JG 3 is scrambled at 10:05 - pilots are seen running out to their Bf 109s, clambering into the cockpit and being strapped in..Note the extremely small frontal area of the windshield. In the next image the 'erste Wart' slams the canopy shut. Note the underwing MG 151 cannon in this view of 'Yellow 1', a typical IV./JG 3 'Kanonenboot'. Bf 109s of IV./JG 3 get airborne and roar low over the camera man. They have been ordered to form up with units of the 1. and 3. Jagddivision in a large Gefechtsverband or battle formation..
Also scrambled at 10:05, the FW 190s launch into their take off runs. It is just possible to make out the white/black/white rear fuselage bands worn by the aircraft of the Sturmstaffel. The Sturmstaffel had been established in late 1943. Its volunteer pilots undertook to bring down at least one four engined bomber on every mission, even if they had to ram it. To allow the pilots to get close enough to the heavily defended bombers, their FW 190s were fitted with extra armour plating around the cockpit area - bolt-on 5 mm armour plates or "Panzer Platten" - and 30 mm armoured glass panels were scabbed onto the canopy. Additional Panzerglas was added to the windshield quarter-panels. The outboard 20 mm wing guns were replaced by MK 108 30 mm cannon. Although the results gained by Sturmstaffel 1 were not spectacular, they were enough to spur the formation of three Sturmgruppen
Angriff ...attack. Kampf über den Wolken..combat above the clouds..
The defenders close on a bomber Pulk between Braunschweig and Halberstadt. Boring in from astern to close range the sky is quickly filled with exploding machines, pieces of debris and parachutes of baled out airmen. With their emphasis on attacking the bombers at all costs, German fighters used M-Geschoss explosive shells - gun camera footage shows the type of explosions when they hit.
Above; "...Rückkehr der deutschen Staffeln.." much back-slapping and hand-shaking as the successful fighter pilots are welcomed home. JG 3 alone claimed some 34 Ab-und-Herausschüsse on 11 April 1944, of which 16 were attributed to IV./JG 3 in this first engagement. Returning home to Salzwedel a second 'Alarmstart!' was ordered at 12:40 - IV./JG 3 reported a further eight victories, clashing with 1 BD four-engine bombers south of Rostock.
..Lt. Dieter Zink (above) of the Stab IV./JG 3 has returned with two victories.. Here he is seen after climbing down from the machine usually flown by the Kommandeur.. He usually flew as Kommandeur Friedrich-Karl Müller's wingman and followed him when Müller moved to the Geschwaderstab JG 3 in mid-April 1944.
On page 141 of Prien's 'Chronik' Zink explained why he was flying Mueller's machine that day;
'..one day a team of PK reporters arrived on the airfield and explained that they were there to film some footage for the Wochenschau. A special camera was mounted in Major Müller's machine- our normal gun camera was not adequate for this purpose. The person in charge of the PK-Trupp explained to the Major exactly what sort of pictures he wanted .." now Herr Major you have to do this and then you should do that..and so on and so forth ". He got short shrift from the Major - Müller told him in no uncertain terms that as Kommandeur he didn't have to anything at all. To cut a long story short the Kommandeur then ordered me to take his aircraft and get the necessary footage...'
..Sturmstaffel pilots seen leaving their dispersal . The Fw 190 A-7 has been fitted with armoured canopy 'blinkers' and is wearing the white/black/white defence of the Reich fuselage bands.. Fw. Gerhard Marburg of the Sturmstaffel seen being congratulated on his return (below)
..Above, Lt. Karl-Dieter Hecker, an 11./ JG 3 pilot who had been with IV. Gruppe since its establishment in June 1943. He was wounded in combat on three occasions and survived the war. He was StaKa of 15. Staffel from late 1944. He achieved six victories and successfully baled out on four occasions. Here he is seen just after returning his first victory on 11 April, a B-17..Another successful IV./JG 3 pilot that day was Lt. Willi Unger who likewise returned his first victory and went on to become one of the leading four-engine bomber 'killers'..
..the camera lingers on more IV./JG 3 personalities - above, Hptm. Wilhem Moritz, who would be appointed Kommandeur from mid-April charged with converting IV./JG 3 to the Sturm close-in armoured assault role - Sturmstaffel 1 was disbanded at around the same - a core of its pilots went on to II.(Sturm)/JG 4 established a few months later..
..and Gruppenkommandeur Friedrich-Karl Müller (above) - who did not fly the sortie on 11 April - seen here in discussion with Walther Dahl..Müller was about to be appointed Kommodore of JG 3 after only a few short weeks in charge of IV./JG 3, replacing Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke..In the event German day fighters had enjoyed one of their most successful days on 11 April 1944.