Saturday, 19 August 2017

the aces of JG 52 and Bagration, the destruction of the Ostheer July-August 1944

During the summer of 1944 the Third Reich was enduring colossal setbacks on both East and West fronts. After barely eight weeks of hard fighting, the Normandy front had collapsed with the Allies closing the Falaise Pocket - three Abteilungen (120 machines) of the vaunted Tiger and King Tiger tanks lost among much other materiel. Furthermore the Eastern front was seriously and rapidly contracting. The Soviets' launched their first major summer offensive -codenamed Bagration after a Georgian Tsarist marshall, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars - shortly after D-Day and threatened the total annihilation of the Ostheer's Army Group Centre. Hitler believed the blow would fall further south and Ritter von Greim's Luftflotte 6 covering Ernst Busch's central sector had available only one hundred ground attack aircraft and one hundred or so fighters, the bulk of his forces being outmoded bomber types. The offensive was launched on 22 June and the skies above Army Group Centre were reportedly thick with wave after wave of VVS machines. During July Operation Bagration virtually wiped out the most formidable assemblage of German military might. In addition there was the failed assassination attempt on Hitler!

It has been suggested that Hartmann's exploits through the summer of 1944 were 'built-up' by German propaganda to counter the constant barrage of bad news from the fronts - both East and West. Hartmann had passed 250 victories in June over Romania and was fast approaching '300'.

"..I suspect that Hartmann (352) may have been pressured on the occasion of his 300th - 19 claims over 2 days with a Propaganda Kompanie (PK) unit at the scene - it was after all a totalitarian system with dire consequences for those who resisted; bloody purges were even then occurring within the military following the assassination attempt on Hitler. Hartmann may not have been the most reliable claimer, but I don't believe he was typically as bad as on 23-24 August 1944..."  quoted on the 12 o clock high forum here

On the German side cameramen and PK reporters were ever-present to record the exploits, not just of Hartmann, but of all the aces of JG 52, recording astounding feats of airmanship in the face of the Soviet aerial onslaught. So what of the other JG 52 aces during this period?  A quick overview follows;

Below; JG 52 Kommodore Habrak and the victorious Erich Hartmann celebrate his '300th' on or around 24 August 1944

Below; Gruppenkommandeur Batz gets airborne on the 24th August 1944 from the forward landing ground south of Warsaw, flying off behind (presumably) his wingman at the controls of 'Yellow 12' also of III./ JG 52. Batz claimed his 200th on 17 August 1944.

Below;  Hartmann unbuckles from the rather anonymous short-tailed G-6 Gustav 'White 1' in which he claimed his 300th on the afternoon of 24 August 1944 having roared low across the forward landing field at Warzin rocking his wings..war correspondents and cameramen captured the scene as Hartmann climbed down from the cockpit of 'Karaya Eins' - a ground crewman pushes forward to place a garland of evergreen around his neck...

Above; Oblt. Fritz Obleser (in leather jacket!), Staffelkapitän  of 8./ JG 52greets Hartmann on his successful return with the '300th' on the afternoon of 24 August 1944.

More on Hartmann's 300th on this blog here

These stills were captured from footage made available via the Agentur Karl Höffkes film archive AKH and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Karl Höffkes.

Oblt. Rudolf Trenkel Staffelkapitän of 2./ JG 52 returned his 100th on 14 July 1944, while July saw Hartmann's former wingman and his successor as Staffelkapitän Fhj.Fw Hans-Joachim Birkner (9./JG 52) progress his victory tally to 88.

Walter Wolfrum was seriously wounded in combat on 16 July, when he was shot down by Airacobras of the 9 IAP. (Cronauer "Flieger-Asse und Kanonenfutter" with Flugbuch repro stating 'combat with Airacobras' pages 158-161)

Another Karaya Staffel pilot, 80-victory ace Lt. Herbert Bachnick, crashed to his death in East Prussia on 7 August 1944, his 'Yellow 4' shot down by P-51s escorting B-17s airborne from the Ukranian field of Mirogod.

Leutnant Herbert Bachnick ( February 9, 1920 - August 7, 1944) joined JG 52 in December 42. He won his first three aerial victories on 5 July 1943 over Kursk. From there his victory tally increased rapidly and by late 1943 he was already returned 47 Fliegerabschüsse. In March 1944 he recorded  27 Russian aircraft downed, including 4 on 12 March (59-62), 5 on 15 March (63-67), and five more on 19 March (72-76) ! He was awarded the Knight's Cross des eisernen Kreuzes dated July 27, 1944 as Fahnenjunker-Feldwebel and Flugzeugführer in 9./JG 52 after 79 victories. On 7 August 1944 Bachnick tangled with USAAF P-51s claiming one. But his Bf 109 G-6 (W.Nr. 166 065) "Gelbe 4" was hit. He attempted an emergency landing but the plane hit a railway embankment near Myslowitz with fatal consequences. Herbert Bachnick was officially credited with 80 enemy planes in 373 combat missions . his tally included 41 IL-2 Sturmoviks. Medals and other awards received: Flugzeugführerabzeichen; Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse (August 6, 1943) and I.Klasse (7 September 1943); Frontflugspange für Jagdflieger in Gold; Ehrenpokale Luftwaffe für Besondere Leistungen im Luftkrieg (14 November 1943); and the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (February 5, 1944)

On 24 July Lublin fell and on 27 July Lemberg. The Kommandeur of I./ JG 52 Hptm. Alfred Borchers returned his 100th.

Elsewhere Lt. Franz Schall of 3./ JG 52 claimed his 100th on 31 August 1944 in his 'gelbe 13', having shot down eleven on 26 August (victories no. 83 to 93) and returned no less than thirteen (13!) on 31 August. These exploits saw him posted back to Germany to the Erprobungskommando Nowotny.

Lt. Anton Resch of 3./JG 52 returned seven victories on 26 August 1944 to take his score to 44.

Oblt. Otto Fönnekold (136 v) was killed..

The landmark 10,000th victory for the Geschwader was returned by the Kommandeur I./JG 52 Alfred Borchers on 2 September 1944, his 118th