Friday, 20 June 2014

Walter Dahl - his aircraft and his (inflated) claims - Defence of the Reich JG 300






While many writers on the Luftwaffe are perfectly happy to acknowledge that there was 'over-claiming' in air combat on both sides, I find it nonetheless irksome that these same writers continue to state both on the net and elsewhere that Walter Dahl achieved his (almost legendary) tally of 128 victories and that, 'with a total of 36 four-engine bombers to his credit, he was the second-leading Luftwaffe bomber Experte'. The Kracker 'archive' even cites Dahl as the leading Luftwaffe Mustang Experte. As far as I am concerned - and based on a close reading of Jean-Yves Lorant's in-depth history of JG 300 - his record simply doesn't bear any sort of detailed examination.  Time to put an end definitively to this old myth that is simply repeated over and over....

Walther Dahl joined the Luftwaffe in 1937, transferring from the Army. Upon completion of flight training, he became an instructor pilot in 1939 and was not posted to an operational unit until May 1941 when he transferred to the Geschwaderstab of JG 3, in time to participate in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. He transferred to II/JG 3 in July and by October had 17 victories. In December 1941, he was transferred to 4./JG 3 and went with that unit to Sicily, where he flew sorties in the air war over Malta, claiming two victories. In April 1942 he was transferred to the staff of General Adolf Galland, General der Jagdflieger, where he remained until being posted as Geschwader Adjutant with JG 3 on the Eastern Front in August; he shot down four Il-2 Sturmoviks on October 26, 1942, bringing his score to 37.

In July 1943 Dahl became Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 3, now based at Münster for defense against American daylight bombers. Dahl led III./JG 3 against the Schweinfurt/Regensburg raid on August 17, but was intercepted by Spitfires from 222 Squadron; five III./JG 3 Bf-109s were shot down and Dahl himself had to make a belly landing when his Bf 109 G-6 suffered engine failure. He shot down two four-engined bombers on September 6, 1943 and two more four-engine bombers and a P-38 on 23 February 1944.

I illustrated Dahl's Kanonenboot for a magazine article back in 2001. My profile below of this III./JG 3 machine is based on a series of photos presented in Prien and Stemmer's Messerschmitt 109 im Einsatz bei der III./Jagdgeschwader 3  The double chevron or Doppelwinkel is outlined in white although the III Gruppe bar is not. Later pictures in Prien's work show a small black 1 behind the chevrons and the Gruppe bar on a white fuselage band. The aircraft has a Verbandführer or formation leader's white rudder. Note the distinctive fuselage 'striped' mottle. Note the area of black from the exhaust along the wing root. Note also the aerial under the fuselage for the FuG 16Y direction finding equipment fitted to a handful of aircraft in each Gruppe (formation leaders) which allowed ground controllers to track and direct units in the air.







Above and below - from the chevron Winkel and Abschussbalken on the rudder the Bf 109 G-5/6  above also appears to be connected to Dahl  - this is Bf-109 G-5, W.Nr.27 112 of the Stab III./JG 3 apparently photographed during December 1943, probably at Bad Wörishofen. Note the very light finish, much lighter than the drop tank. The spinner is white with a black spiral. Note the 'double' bars of the last four victories - these are meant to represent B-17s, each surmounted with a US star, not quite visible in this image.



After being awarded the Ritterkreuz on March 11 for 67 victories, Dahl had been named Kommodore of JG z.b.V at the end of May 1944. This special purpose Geschwaderzur besonderen Verwendung  was effectively a Reichsverteidigung Operational Training Unit comprising simply of a Geschwaderstab tasked with bringing fighter Gruppen in the 7th Jagd division area of southern Germany up to speed with air defence tactics. ( eg conversion of I./JG 5 to the Höhengruppe high altitude cover role on the Bf 109 G-6/AS ). Then in June and following the initial successes achieved by the Sturmstaffel and its subsequent integration into IV./JG 3, Major Walther Dahl was appointed Kommodore of JG 300. His Stab or Staff Flight was based at Ansbach, along with IV./JG 3 from where the Sturm element of the Oscherleben battle took off on 7 July.

"... none of us who took part in the victory at Oschersleben will ever forget that day . With just ninety fighter aircraft we had taken on a bomber force of over 600. Wahnsinn....crazy ! The order to scramble had come through at 08.20 and taking off from Illesheim the formation had assembled over Ansbach ( Nuremburg ) before setting course to Leipzig ( south-west of Berlin ). Flying with me in the Geschwaderstab or Staff Flight were the 'alte Hasen', Fw Loos, Obw Löfgen and Fw Bohnenkamp. We were still climbing to our operational ceiling when we encountered heavy flak over Leipzig, four of the formation were hit. Erkennungssignal schiessen ! Firing off green flares I led the formation onto heading 270 before spotting the huge, steel snake approaching from the west ..Negus 1 an Koralle, habe Feindsichtung . I report in to Division. An incredible sight, 12 bomber Pulks. In my mind I am rehearsing our attack plan practised in the weeks following the Allied invasion of Normandy..... I wait for the signal from Division that must come through prior to launching an attack . Angriff frei ! .....Hptm Moritz's Sturmgruppe is off to my left and Gruppenkommandeur Hptm Peters and his II./JG 300, former nightfighters and flying instructors, old experienced pilots, are behind me. The Bf 109 escorts of Hptm Stamp's first Gruppe JG 300 are top cover , 'Holz-auge'... " Negus 1 an alle kleinen Brüder , wir greifen an ! dicht aufschliessen zum Sturmangriff . wir machen Pauke-Pauke ! The first flashes of fire appear from the bombers gun turrets. Only seconds now before all hell breaks loose. With hands clasped around the control column and throttle I concentrate on the approaching bomber in my gun sight .With engines screaming we pile into the formation......Twice we were able to form up for a Sturm attack as Stamp's escorts contine to hold off the enemy fighters.... flying back to Illesheim I know we have achieved a great success and we fly back over the field waggling our wings ! We have prevented huge loss of life among the civil population if not at some cost to ourselves. Both Gruppenkommandeure Peters and Stamp have been shot down and lightly wounded , baling out successfully .."

After the success of the Sturm tactic over Oschersleben, Dahl was tasked with converting this unit's II Gruppe to the Sturm mission as he relates in his memoir. He was to lead the premier Reich's defence Geschwader through some of the hardest battles of the air war over Germany during the summer and autumn of 1944.  He portrays himself in his biography  - an exaggerated post-war account entitled 'Rammjäger', - as an advocate of ramming. He reports that while training  he collided with a He 177 and brought it down, and thus acquired the nickname 'Ramm Dahl'. However Dahl - even by his own account - claimed just a single victory by 'ramming' as indicated in his book. Needless to say there is no actual 'evidence' for this 'downing'. II.(Sturm)/ JG 300 pilot Hubert Engst reports in an unpublished letter in my possession that he never saw any pilot carrying out a ramming attack. Although pilots volunteering to join a Sturmgruppe may have signed the Sturmgruppe affidavit, indicating an absolute moral commitment to bring down enemy bombers, by ramming if necessary, over the initial four months or so of the Sturmstaffel's and then IV./JG 3's existence there had been few rammings. There were hardly likely to have been any in JG 300 - least of all by Dahl. Hptm Wilhelm Moritz of IV.(Sturm)/ JG 3 considered the pilots signed declarations or Verpflichtungserklärungen " senseless and superfluous" and would quietly drop the practice soon after Sturmstaffel 1 had been integrated into IV./JG 3 in May 1944.

Despite his 'successes' during the summer of 1944 in the defence of the Reich, Dahl even by his own admission would become increasingly disillusioned in the face of overwhelming Allied aerial superiority;

..On the next morning, 15 September 1944, I flew to Rastenburg in East Prussia where I was met by an SS-Obersturmfuehrer of the Fuehrerbegleitschutz Kommando, Hitler's personal bodyguard. It took us some twenty minutes to pass the outer and then the inner checkpoints of the Wolfsschanze before I was shown into an ante-room. In the falling twilight I found myself staring out of the open window at the surrounding woods and the camouflaged barrack buildings. Suddenly I saw a dark form, bent over as if carrying a heavy weight, shuffling towards the bunker. It was Hitler ! He entered the room. His Adjutant, Oberst v. Below, made the introductions and invited me to make my report. The previous evening in the Stabsquartier Goering had instructed me to give a full and accurate report of the activities of my Geschwader. I was to hold nothing back. When I had finished Hitler took my hand and said ; 
".. I'm glad you're here in person. I've heard a lot about you and the battles fought by the brave pilots of your Geschwader - your Sturmgruppen have achieved decisive results and I am proud to have such pilots in the Luftwaffe.."
He gestured for me to take a seat and sat directly opposite me. He then came straight to the point - our last three missions of 11, 12 and 13 September, the real reason why I was here ..He asked me to describe each of them in detail, with particular emphasis on our 'black day' - 13 September..Here was a chance to broach a subject that was our greatest concern - the fact that the Me 262 was to be deployed as a bomber .."..the greatest danger for us in the air are the enemy fighters. Only the deployment of a very very fast fighter will give us the possibility to evade the enemy escort fighters and hit the bombers before they reach their targets".
I paused and waited for Hitler's reaction.
" you mean the Me 262. Tell me more..."
Three hours later our discussion came to an end. I was surprised by Hitler's grasp of technical details. And I had the distinct impression that my plea would not go unheeded.." 

 But unheeded it did go - barely one month later Dahl was dismissed from his command after a falling out with Herman Goering and threatened with an imminent courts martial - in 'Rammjäger' he described his refusal to order the inexperienced pilots of III./JG 300 to counter an American bombing raid in poor weather conditions. The events took place during an official visit by Goering to Jueterbog. Dahl was effectively grounded until the 'charges' were quietly dropped a few weeks later..

(below;  Dahl as Kommodore of JG 300 admiring the celebratory wreath applied to the spinner of his Fw 190A-8 "Blue 13" at Finsterwalde in late September 1944 following his 75th victory - a B-17 Flying Fortress shot down over Halle-Leipzig on the morning of 11 September 1944 )



Dahl was nonetheless appointed Inspector of Day Fighters in January 1945 and apparently continued to fly combat missions, although it is not clear with what unit. He was awarded the Eichenlaub in February 1945. This was for 92 victories. Apparently, and by his own account, he scored his 100th victory on 1 March 1945, barely two months before the end of the war. In March 1945 - again according to his own account - he transitioned to the Me-262 and flew under the command of Heinz Bär in III./ EJG 2. On March 27, he shot down two P-47s and on 26 April 1945 downed what in his words was his 128th and last victory, an anonymous and uncorroborated P-51!

Now by my reckoning that's some 25 unexplained victories in less than a month to his total! A careful reading of the JG 300 history indicates no evidence for the majority of his claims over the 100 figure and here at least the authors are careful not to cite the 128-victory total. This '128 victories' - always quoted for Dahl - simply appears out of no-where in his self-serving biography and yet, astonishingly, many continue to state both on the net and elsewhere that, 'with a total of 36 four-engine bombers to his credit, Walther Dahl was the second-leading Luftwaffe bomber Experte'.

Post-war, Dahl became involved with Hans Ulrich Rudel in neo-Nazi political activities and was one of the founders of the NDP in the 1960s. Faced with government opposition, he retired in the 1970s and died in 1985 aged 67. His biography as noted was a rather lurid account of his wartime experiences, possibly even compiled from notes by his wife according to the historian of JG 300. It has never been translated for a good reason - the figures quoted for bomber losses and German victories that appear throughout the book are easily discredited. The figure of 128 victories achieved by Dahl has stuck, as indicated, simply through endless repetition- a new and as yet unpublished manuscript dealing with 'bomber killers' for which I've read the synopsis and which includes a rare interview with Dahl, even repeats it. Likewise there is still no evidence of a JG 300 war diary sometime rumoured to be in Dahl's possesion...


Again the illustration above was published in a magazine in 2001. The profile depicts Dahls's 'standard' Fw 190 A-8 with no Sturmbock enhancements. That was a unique machine, described by Ernst Schroeder as an unwieldy 'dungheap', heavily armed both with two MG 151 20mm cannon, two 30 mm cannon and the upper cowl machine guns, where his 'standard' Fw 190 mounted four 20 mm MG 151s. Note the B-17 in cross-hairs insignia apparently only carried by Stabs machines of JG 300.