Monday, 21 August 2017

Robert Jung 3./JG 300 "Auf verlorenem Posten" - the story of a young fighter pilot in the Defence of the Reich

Robert Jung was an enthusiastic 17-year old young glider pilot when he was accepted for fighter pilot training in the Luftwaffe during 1942. After attending the Luftkriegsschule (War College) and then being accepted for Jagdfliegerausbildung (fighter pilot training) he was posted in August 1944 as a youthful  Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier (officer candidate) to the leading 'all-weather' Reich Defence Geschwader JG 300 "..inständig hoffend nicht zu spät zu kommen " - eager to arrive at the front before it was too late. Although he had been instrument-trained, perhaps fortunately for Jung wilde Sau operations were by now a distant memory for the pilots of JG 300. But just twenty fours later his youthful illusions about life in a front-line fighter unit had been shattered - the war was irretrievably lost and while the sense of duty remained, every sortie was a fight for survival against hopeless odds. Jung recalls that the JG 300 pilots invariably "..prayed for clouds.." (page 19). The historian of JG 300, Jean-Yves Lorant recalled Jung as a very amiable man but with a somewhat fallible memory;

".. He visited me in Paris in 1993. His recollections of life in I./JG 300 were very fragmentary. I even had to identify for him some of the various instruments that can be seen in the Bf 109 cockpit photo in his book. He also failed to recognise his Staffel comrade Bert Wendler in the 3. Staffel photos that I was able to show him such was his memory. Although in the end I did put the two of them back in contact. Jung knew his memory was poor and that was why I was asked to compile the brief history of JG 300 that appears in his book of war-time recollections that he self-published in 1993. His replies to my questions were on occasion rather disconcerting. The book itself is probably not really worth reading as history - Jung changed some names and left others, fortunately..."

13 September 1944 was a day of huge American aerial activity over Germany - well over 1,000 US bombers and hundreds of fighters were launched at various targets. It was 10:35 when the green flare signalling the order to take off rose into the sky over the airfield at Esperstedt. The Messerschmitt 109s of I./JG 300 took off behind the Bf 109 G 14/AS “double chevron” of Ritterkreuzträger Hptm. Gerd Stamp. Barely twenty aircraft, the last of Stamp’s machines that were combat ready. This small formation was vectored over the Halle-Leipzig sector where combat was engaged at about 11:40 with a small force of 357th FG Mustangs. At about 12:15 the Bf 109s of I./JG 300 closed on several boxes of B-17s between Eisenach and Coburg. Oblt. Manfred Dieterle, Kapitän of 2. Staffel, saw several strikes impact against a B-17 which veered out of formation trailing a thick plume of black smoke in its wake. At 12:50, Dieterle landed back at Esperstedt in his “Red 7”. After Gfr. Hans Dahmen (2. Staffel) and Fhr. Otto Leisner (1. Staffel) had each claimed a Boeing destroyed, the German pilots once again clashed with Mustangs of the 357th FG, now joined by P-51s of the 55th FG. After his Schwarm had been scattered, Jung's G-14 was chased by four Mustangs. In the dogfight that followed, one of the P 51s flew in front of him - a short burst from his three guns resulted only in the jamming of the engine-mounted cannon. Managing to get into a good position for a second time, Robert Jung unleashed a burst from his cowl machine guns and saw his rounds explode against a P-51’s wing, which appeared to catch fire. The Mustang rolled slowly inverted and went down vertically. Despite the proximity of the ground, Jung did not have time to observe his victim crash. He himself had taken hits fired by one of his pursuers and had to attempt a dead stick landing, putting his “Yellow 3” down gear up in a field. The Bf 109 G 14/AS flipped over as it struck the ground. The concussed pilot was pulled clear of the aircraft and transported to the nearest hospital. If a victory claim was filed, then it was not confirmed.

What happened to Jung subsequently is unclear, as is the date of his return to the unit. It appears that his next sortie may not have been flown until March 1945. We know for certain that he flew on 24 March 1945 -  the Allies mounted the vast 'Varsity' operation to cross the Rhine on this date. Jung was shot down for a second time - but the landing site he gives, after bailing out, is some 120 km from the catastrophic combats that took place that day which saw I./JG 300 set upon by 353rd FG P-51s near Göttingen. Jung's 3.Staffel comrade and ace Mustang-Töter Fw Alfred Büthe was shot down and killed. Büthe managed to bail out  - in agony, his legs riddled with rounds fired by pursuing Mustangs - but died of his injuries later that day in hospital. His comrade Ofw Hans Fenten looked on helplessly as he lay in the next bed...

The aerial encounters of 24 March 1945 were some of the last to pit JG 300 against fighters of the 8th Air Force. As bomber interception missions progressively tailed off in favour of ground attack sorties, the pilots of JG 300 would clash with increasing frequency with the tactical air forces — 9th Air Force, 1st Tactical Air Force (P) and 2nd Tactical Air Force — which were supporting the advancing Allied ground armies

For the historian of JG 300, Jean-Yves Lorant, "..Jung's book is still of interest for its sense of 'atmosphere' and 'feeling'. A shame his memory was so poor - had other veterans recalled as little then there is no way that I could have contemplated writing a history of JG 300! According to Bert Wendler who was very reliable and had a detailed Flugbuch and memories of his 3. Staffel comrades, Jung flew no more than a handful of sorties 7 or 8 at the most. Unfortunately I do not have any photos of Jung  - he never did lend me the only photo he had of himself in Lederkombi as a Fj-Uffz in I./JG 300. Maybe he thought he wouldn't get it back or maybe he simply forgot to send it to me - whatever, I didn't press the matter. His wife told me she thought he had never got the original back from the camera/photo-shop that was supposed to be making copies. By the way the cover of his book was a composition painted by Richard Goyat depicting a I./JG 300 G-10 being pursued by a 357th FG P-51 on 14 January 1945..note the blue/white/blue fuselage bands introduced in JG 300 in late December 1944. Post-war he enjoyed a successful business career, eventually founding his own marketing company which he sold in 1988 .."