Wednesday 29 August 2018

notes on the 'cult of the fighter ace'; the example of JG 53 - by Jochen Prien

Doyen of Jagdwaffe unit histories Jochen Prien took the trouble to respond to a recent blog post on the 'cult of the fighter ace' in the Luftwaffe. The following is reproduced here with Jochen's permission.

" ..I have read your latest post dealing with the Luftwaffe’s policy of 'acedom' and over-claiming. This is of course an intricate topic that cannot possibly be dealt with in-depth in the blog format.Yet there are several statements that I would strongly object to. I have dealt with this in the unit history of JG 1/11, Vol. 1, p 621 pp, which still stands to this day. There are actually two issues – one is the Luftwaffe’s policy to elevate successful pilots to leading positions in the fighter units, making the number of claims the most important factor, and the other the question of the accuracy of the number of claims and the phenomenon of over-claiming. Both topics are of course related to each other. I can only touch the various aspects here in a very short way as a comprehensive comment would result in a book of its own.

The phenomenon of over-claiming is inevitable given the particular circumstances of aerial battles; it is less pronounced when the number of a/c involved in aerial combat is small, but it will be substantial when great numbers of a/c are involved in combat. This is clearly born out by the claims made by the Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen over the Reich in 1944, when the claims filed – and confirmed - far exceeded the actual US losses.  However the majority of the claims were made in good faith – when a Gruppe of 30 or more Fw 190s opened fire on a B-17 or B-24 box simultaneously and the pilots saw comparatively large numbers of bombers explode or go down in flames it was only natural that many or most of the pilots thought that they had actually downed one of the bombers. This obviously resulted in substantial - albeit unintentional - over-claiming. There was a time – way back in the sixties/seventies of the last century – when the general attitude in German Luftwaffe history publications, fueled by experts like Toliver / Constable and the like, had it that the German system of claims verification and confirmation was perfect and the claims confirmed proven beyond doubt, whereas the USAAF and the RAF claims were confirmed independent of facts and vastly exaggerated, this being epitomized by the truly ridiculous 185 claims made by the RAF on 15 September 1940 and the constantly vastly inflated claims by the US bomber units. You can see this nonsense even today in some publications.

In fact Luftwaffe fighter claims were always prone to over-claiming. This was not pronounced during the Phoney War and the Western Campaign, but it was very much the case during the Battle of Britain when the fighting took place mostly over enemy territory or over the sea where the Claims Commission could not touch and count the wrecks. This applied in particular to the ZG claims but also to those of several fighter units. In 1941 and 1942 the claims made by JG 2 were greatly exaggerated with a high proportion of them made over the sea. If you want to tackle the issue of over-claiming you will find that this was not a phenomenon to be found in a consistent form in the fighter units; to the contrary the issue has to be addressed individually for every single unit. There were JGs that were prone to allow over-claiming whereas others tried to be as correct as possible with the claims they filed. Notorious over-claimers were for instance JGs 2 and 5 as well as all Sturmgruppen.

In your blog post you portray JG 53 as a unit with particularly high numbers of claims in the 1941 Campaign in the East. However the numbers of claims made by the Gruppen of this Geschwader between 22 June and 30 September 1941 do not stand out in any way compared with those of the other JGs deployed in the East – those claims in said period were as follows;

I./JG 3 – 273, II./JG 3 – 411, III./JG 3 – 367
I./JG 51 – 252, II./JG 51 – 321, III./JG 51 – 308, IV./JG 51 – 468
II./JG 52 – 248, III./JG 52 – 216
I./JG 54 – 212, II./JG 54 – 395, III./JG 54 – 223
II./JG 77 – 211 and III./JG 77 – 374..

Therefore it is simply not the case that the achievements of III./JG 53 have "become legendary" or that the claims made by III./JG 53 were the result of "a benevolent attitude of the higher echelons" nor was JG 53 the home of a particular bunch of "daredevils". The statement that HGr. Mitte had "abdicated its authority to adjudicate in the claims confirmation process" is wholly inaccurate as the Army Command organisation HGr. Mitte had nothing to do with the confirmation of Luftwaffe fighter claims. This was exclusively a Luftwaffe issue. By the same token there is little 'hard' evidence for the various general allegations that over-claiming was enhanced by the Luftwaffe hierarchy and propaganda services and to which false claims this should apply. As for the actual losses of the Russian Air Force – I have yet to see anything like a comprehensive presentation based on complete official documents that would reflect the true losses incurred in the fight against the Luftwaffe. I therefore refrain from commenting on this issue. However I can see no basis at all for reducing the claims of the Luftwaffe fighters to anything like 20 %. You can see from my publications – in particular Vol. 10 and 13 – that I explicitly point at the discrepancies between Luftwaffe claims and allied losses where possible; both in the aerial battles over the Reich and in France the Luftwaffe constantly over-claimed. Another question is to what extent over-claiming was made intentionally. There can be no dobt that this happened, as is evidenced by the often quoted Experten-Schwarm of 4./JG 27. There were certainly many other examples, a wide field....

...A few more remarks concerning JG 53 as they relate to your blog post: Herbert Kaminski was not shot down in aerial combat on 24 July 1942 but was severely injured in a landing accident owing to engine failure; he was by the way a Gruppenkommandeur not appointed by virtue of the number of his claims – 5 by the time he became GrKdr. of I./JG 53 – but for other exploits. This was not uncommon in JG 53 – for instance Lt. Alfred Hammer from 6./JG 53 was awarded the EK I without a single claim in the summer of 1942 only because of his successful escort sorties for air transport units to and from North Africa. (see below) Günther von Maltzahn made it a point that the successful execution of a task was more important than filing a claim for an e/ac shot down. I./JG 53 was quite active over Stalingrad in August and September 1942. The three pilots mentioned in your blog post – Peissert, Hagedorn and Zellot – all met their death in the fighting over Stalingrad in early September 1942 and not at some later point in time in the East. As for the claims made by I./JG 53 in Russia in the summer of 1942 – one thing would be to reliably name the true number of Russian losses to compare them with German claims, which so far has not been achieved, and the other would be to prove and show tangible facts that the German verification system was sloppy and eager to produce 'heroes' for the Propaganda. None of this has been presented so far, instead there is only the unfounded assertion that as little as 20 % of German claims were justified to come near the actual results. The magnanimous comment that the claims made must not necessarily have been the result of wilful falsification doesn’t make it any better – why over-claim on a 5 : 1 ratio in good faith ? To conclude - an opinion piece certainly, but I would respectfully suggest that you refrain from this sort of omniscient loud-speaker comment made from the safe distance of over 75 years and based on sources that are still far from complete...."

Jochen Prien

Alfred Hammer was born in Karlsruhe on 3 July 1921 and after gaining his Abitur joined the Luftwaffe, completing officer and pilot training at LKS 4 in Fürstenfeldbruck. After Jagdfliegerschule Werneuchen he was posted as Oberfähnrich to the Ergänzungsgruppe JG 53 in La Rochelle, France. In November 1941, Lt. Hammer moved with II./JG 53 to the Mediterranean theatre and subsequently flew some 280 sorties from Comiso, Sicily. On 14 May 1942, Hammer crash-landed his damaged Bf 109 F-4 (W.Nr. 7553) at Comiso following aerial combat over Malta with RAF Spitfires. Hammer recorded his first victory on 25 October during his 271st combat mission, claiming a Spitfire over Malta. Following several months off the flight roster with jaundice, Hammer recorded his second victory during operations over Tunisia on 4 March 1943, claiming 2/Lt Harry Gasaway's 82nd FG P-38 shot down on his 299th combat mission. During the final evacuation of Tunisia, Hammer flew out four of JG 53's ground crew in his Bf 109. On 10 July 1943, now operating from bases in Sicily, Hammer shot down a Spitfire for his sixth victory. However, he then suffered engine failure in his Bf 109 G-6 (W.Nr. 183 98) “White 14 + -“ and made a forced landing southwest of Gerbini. Leutnant Hammer was appointed Staffelkapitän of 6./JG 53 on 28 July 1943. On 20 August, II. and III./JG 53 were scrambled to intercept a formation of four-engine bombers with a strong fighter escort raiding Capua in Italy. In the subsequent combat, 14 USAAF P-38 twin-engine fighters were claimed by JG 53 pilots, including one by Hammer for his seventh victory. From Italy, where he had acquired the nickname 'Martello' (Italian for 'hammer'), 'Alfredo' moved to Vienna-Seyring and was promoted to Oberleutnant operating in the Reichsverteidigung. On 7 January 1944 II./JG 53 were scrambled to counter a large formation of bombers raiding Vienna.

At an altitude of 8,000m they intercepted 20 to 25 P-38 Lightnings. In the ensuing combat, which drifted south and ended at low-level over northern Yugoslavia, II./JG 53 claimed 15 P-38s shot down, including one by Hammer as his 10th victory. On 24 February, Hammer was wounded by defensive fire from USAAF four-engine bombers raiding the Steyr works at Linz. He was forced to land at Linz due to blood loss from his wounds and was hospitalised at Wels. Hammer was again wounded on 13 June 1944, operating over the Invasion front, in aerial combat with USAAF B-24 four-engine bombers and their P-51 fighter escort near Vannes in France. He baled out near Gail.
In late 1944 Hammer was promoted to Hauptmann and was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of IV./JG 53 based at Echterdingen. He led the unit until the end of the war, flying his last sortie on 20 April 1945, for a total of 463 sorties and 26 confirmed victories. He was decorated with the Frontflugspange in Gold, the Ehrenpokal and the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold. Postwar he returned to Karlsruhe and trained as a teacher and administrator, entering local government as a civil servant in 1957 (Landesbildstelle Baden in Karlsruhe). He retired in 1984 and passed away on 23 December 1997.

(additional information via Jägerblatt 1/1998)

Tuesday 21 August 2018

JG 5 Reichsverteidigung Staffelkapitän Lt. Paul Weitzberg KIA 2 November 1944

I recently came across two surprising comments on two different threads concerning JG 5 on the TOCH forum;

firstly; that Peter Schmoll's latest book 'Me 109 Production und Einsatz' 'erroneously' depicts a Gustav in JG 5 markings overflying a German town as the jacket illustration, and, secondly, that three JG 5 pilots were KIA over Holland on 15 August 1944 including Lt. Paul Weitzberg of II./JG 5  (thread here)

 Established in January 1942, II./JG 5 was a successful Gruppe in the Eismeer Geschwader fighting in the Far North. Among several ace pilots that had flown with this unit were Major Horst Carganico, Major Heinrich Ehrler, Ofw. Rudolf Müller and Oblt. Hans Döbrich…

However, with an 'invasion' of the Continent looming and the Reich being pounded almost daily by huge bombing raids, the Gruppe -along with I./JG 5 - transferred in late May 1944 from the Artic Circle to southern Germany. Here they re-equipped with new Bf 109 G-6 fighters. In June 1944, both Gruppen were sent to France to oppose the Allied landings in Normandy, I./JG 5 flying out of Herzogenaurach during 6 June. II./JG 5 was still in Gardelegen re-equipping and did not fly to France until mid-June.  (cf. Jochen Prien, JfV 13/III)

Elements of Hptm. Theo Weißenberger's I./JG 5 arrived on the 'Invasion' Front at Montdidier in the vicinity of the French capital on 6 June while Weißenberger himself and the rest of his Gruppe clashed with P-47s coming into Montdidier on 7 June. I./JG 5 also saw combat over Beauvais that same day and in total Weißenberger claimed five victories. He filed a further three claims the following day. In the Bundesarchiv image below he is seen on 8 June 1944 being interviewed by a Kriegsberichter. In the background, left, is Oblt. Lothar Gerlach, Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 5. Weißenberger went on to return his 199th and 200th victories on 25 July and with some 25 victories was easily the most successful Jagdwaffe pilot over Normandy - although a number of his 'invasion victories' cannot be confirmed from Allied records.

Eichenlaubträger Hauptmann Weißenberger, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Jagdgeschwader bei einer Nachbesprechung. Prop.-Kp. Lw.KBZ 15 Film-Nr.: 8279/10 Bildberichter: Schödl 4.10.44

Both Gruppen of JG 5 fell back to the Reich in late July. II./JG 5 occupied a number of airfields through this period, moving from Herzogenaurach, Salzwedel, Werl, Sachau and Rheinsdorf before finally arriving at Finsterwalde. During August 1944 combat over the Reich was particularly murderous for II./JG 5 - some seventeen II./JG 5 pilots were killed in combat with  four-engine bombers, one of the bleakest months in the unit's history. However Lt. Paul Weitzberg was not one of them.. in the image below taken during August 1944 Lt. Paul Weitzberg, Stk. 5./JG 5 was photographed in front of the Me 109 G-6 "gelbe 1" assigned to his friend Staffelkapitän 4./JG 5 Oblt. Günther Schwanecke...

16 October 1944 was the last day the unit fought under the designation "II./JG 5"- two pilots were killed, a single pilot was wounded and no less than sixteen aircraft were lost. Four days later an order emanating from Luftflotte Reich re-designated II./JG 5 as IV./JG 4. The Gruppe, still at Finsterwalde, was organised as follows;

 IV./JG 4 (ex-II./JG 5): Hptm. Franz Wienhusen,

13./JG 4 (ex-5./JG 5): Lt. Paul Weitzberg,
14./JG 4 (ex-6./JG 5): Lt. Ernst Scheufele,
15./JG 4 (ex-4./JG 5): Oblt. Lothar Wolff,
16./JG 4 (ex-8./JG 5): Oblt. Hans Schleef.

Staffelkapitän of 5./JG 5 since 1942, Hptm. Franz Wienhusen had spent several months at Lamsdorf in Upper Silesia as an instructor before being appointed to command II./JG 5 in September 1944. He had achieved around twelve victories in air combat.

 Lt. Paul Weitzberg had been posted to 4./JG 5 when the unit was still in Norway during 1943 before succeeding Hptm. Franz Wienhusen at the head of 5. Staffel during the spring of 1944. Among his pilots was the experienced Ofw. Hermann Holtkötter who had flown for a long period with I./JG 5 prior to moving to 5./JG 5.

 Leutnant Ernst Scheufele had joined 12./JG 5 as early as 1 July 1942 and had seen almost constant front line action ever since. Posted to II./JG 5 on 1 October 1943, he had been appointed to command 6./JG 5 on 15 March 1944 - his experience and length of service meant that he was regularly called upon to replace the Kommandeur in the air. Scheufele had tallied eighteen victories, including a Thunderbolt and a number of four-engine bombers. Among his pilots were Fw. Erhardt Mecke and Uffz. Berthold Klaus, both of whom had achieved around ten victories.

 Oblt. Lothar Wolff was an experienced Zerstörer pilot. Gruppenadjudant in IV./KG 40 since 1943, he had fought most notably in the bloody clashes over Normandy before undergoing a single-engine fighter conversion course.Officially he had tallied four victories - two Wellingtons, one B-17 and a single B-24- which he had achieved at the controls of a Ju 88. He had been posted to II./JG 5 at Finsterwalde just in time to undergo his baptism of fire at the controls of a Bf 109 during the bitter battles of 16 October. Among his experienced pilots was Uffz. Hubert Schubert.

 Oblt. Hans Schleef was one of the seven Ritterkreuzträger to serve with JG 4. He had received the award on 9 May 1942 for the 41 victories he had achieved while serving with 7./JG 3- during this period he had been shot down behind the front but had managed to return to German lines some four days later. Schleef had subsequently been appointed to command 8./JG 5 on 21 July 44. At the time IV/JG 4 was stood up, he had downed some 97 enemy aircraft.

"... Finsterwalde - 2 November 1944. Weather conditions were poor. The cloud ceiling was at 800 metres. The Gruppe was put on thirty-minute readiness. After about an hour's waiting an 'Alarmstart' was suddenly ordered - the signal flare shot up from the operations building - scramble! The four machines of our Staffel were led off by our Kapitän, Lt. Weitzberg - heading due west. We hadn't been in the air for very long - no more than about fifteen minutes - when we came across the first Pulk of bombers at around 4,000 metres altitude. I waded in to set up for a head on attack on a box of six B-17 G Fortresses, squeezing off the first bursts from about 400 metres. It was then that I realised that I was all on my own and could only imagine that my comrades had been caught up in a tussle with Mustangs somewhere behind me. As I hurtled in towards the bombers I now bore the brunt of their defensive fire - a number of hits slammed into my 109 - in particular the oil tank was perforated and great gobs of the viscous liquid coated the canopy severely restricting my forward vision. Thick bitter smoke seeped into the cockpit and then suddenly flames erupted from the engine cowl and the engine seized. I quickly jettisoned the canopy, which flew free. I tore off my flying helmet and prepared to jump. At this point I noticed that the chute which lay in the seat-pan appeared to have been damaged which made me think twice about bailing out- I elected to try and glide down for a crash landing. Pointing the nose down into the cloud layer I soon had ground visibility and headed for a field running alongside a village. By now flames were whipping around the cockpit but I successfully guided the 109 down for an emergency landing and managed to scramble clear of the blazing machine. I ran clear in the direction of the village. Suddenly I heard a shout behind me - "Halt- stehen bleiben!". A bicycle-mounted police man had a pistol trained on me - as I was covered in oil and my face was charred by second degree burns I suppose he may have taken me for a black American. My life jacket also concealed the rank insignia on my uniform. I was marched into the village at gun-point - my eyes had closed up with the burns - before I managed to persuade my 'captor' that I was in fact a German pilot - I was then taken to hospital in Dessau .."
(Uffz. Friedrich Zenk, 13./JG 4)

Four IV./JG 4 pilots were shot down and killed during this sortie on 2 November 1944 - among their number was the Kapitän of 13. Staffel, Lt. Paul Weitzberg. Weitzberg fell to a Mustang while he was lining up to come in for an emergency landing at Zerbst.

Just six Bf 109s of IV./JG 4 managed to return to Finsterwalde. Both here and at Welzow, there was deep dismay at the outcome - each of the Gruppen had lost a Staffelkapitän. Hptm. Erich Jugel would be succceeeded by Oblt. Werner Vorberg, while Lt. Paul Weitzberg was briefly replaced by his friend Oblt. Günther Schwanecke until the latter was posted to a Gruppenführer training course. Lt. Josef Kunz was appointed Kapitän of 13. Staffel on 10 November. He had recently completed the Verbandsführerlehrgang - formation leaders training course - at Königsberg/Neumark and had been a member of III./JG 5 since the Gruppe had been set up in June 1942.

- Note the account of the sortie flown on 2 November is a translated extract from Erik Mombeek's "Storming the bombers" Volume II  (translation by this blog author). More info here
- Image of Weitzberg via Peter Neuwerth and his excellent site devoted to JG 5 and JG 7 here
- Jochen Prien's Jagdfliegerverbände series including the latest tome, Teil 13/ III, is available via here

Thursday 16 August 2018

Messerschmitt Bf 109 G with DB 605 A Engine from MMP, Chandos Publications KG 76 Arado Luftwaffe Jet bombers on the Western Front

There is an excellent video presentation of this latest MMP publication " Messerschmitt Bf 109 G with DB 605 A Engine " on the MMP website (see below) and initial impressions were very good. Unfortunately now that I have the book in my hands I have to say that I'm a little disappointed. Firstly though the book certainly appears to represent good value for money - amazon resellers are offering this at under £9! And the page count is incorrect in the amazon blurb - it is actually 150 A-4 pages. Contents are organised around a description of each variant of the Gustav, a few pages of (rather washed-out) photos and scale plans - up to page 68. From page 68 to 142 the book features colour airframe photos from museum examples with additional detail views extracted from the various type handbooks. However the layout is rather haphazard and the captions are pretty poor, comprising at most a sentence or two. In addition the 'featured' airframes have all been seen many times before, while the photo content is curiously slanted towards Axis operators of the Gustav -rather than Luftwaffe - and the reproduction of the handful of pages of profile artworks is very dark. The 'old' Squadron Signal Walkaround Bf 109 G is a rather better book than this one, but can be a little hard to find. Overall though, recommended with some reservations.

And via email from Rich Carrick, news of a new publishing company specialising in Luftwaffe subjects;

" Taking my cue from such established and successful publishers as Classic Publications, Monogram, Schiffer, JaPo and Trojca, my aim with Chandos Publications is to produce high-quality titles that you will be proud to own. They can be used both as stand-alone history books, and as primary references to help ensure an accurate model build. The initial focus will be on World War Two Luftwaffe subjects, although I am also hoping to explore other areas of military history. For this, and future projects, I have employed the services of the original Classic Publications team of Robert Forsyth, Eddie J. Creek, Arthur Bentley and Mark Nelson. Our first book will be a completely re-worked, expanded and up-dated edition of Martin Pegg’s seminal 1997 work Hs 129 Panzerjäger!, originally published by Classic. Following the debut release, keep an eye out for a fascinating title covering late-war Luftwaffe operations using the Arado Ar 234. I hope that these two books will be the first of many in our planned ‘Luftwaffe Library’ series..." Rich Carrick

The Chandos Publications website is here

Interview on this blog with Eddie Creek

Interview on this blog with Robert Forsyth

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Skies above the Reich GMT Games -1,000 th post on the Luftwaffe blog

Skies Above the Reich is a solitaire game depicting a Staffel of Bf 109s struggling to deter and destroy the relentless daylight raids over Germany during World War Two. The player’s individual aircraft, each represented by a stickered block, must confront the mighty “combat box” formation of the United States Army Air Force, a deadly terrain of B-17 Flying Fortresses. The game is a broad strokes depiction that presents the arc of the desperate air war. Stretching from late 1942 to early 1945, Skies Above the Reich follows that trajectory in a series of missions strung together to make a campaign. Each mission will take a half hour or more to play, while a campaign can last anywhere between 6 to 60 missions.

GMT games site and game play resources here

youtube reviewer blastpop plays the game here. A single click to view

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Legion Condor Henschel Hs.123 A-1 Wappen Teufel-VJ/88, Fernaufklärer 3 (f) Ju 88 beim Tanken, Cockpit nach Notlandung - ebay photo find #261

on offer here

on offer here

Oblt. Johannes Naumann..leading ace of JG 6 ?

Above; Vitry-en-Artois 1943

Naumann joined JG 26 in 1938 and was a long-time Staffelkapitän of 6./JG 26. He was badly injured on 23 June 1944, shot down by anti-aircraft fire south-west of Caen. Awarded the RK on 9 November 1944 as Kommandeur II./JG 6 - insgesamt 34 Luftsiege im Westen - 34 victories in the West including 7 bombers in around 350 combat missions. Ended the war with JG 7.

His 1st victory, a Spitfire (n.b.) off Folkestone on 12 August 1940. A 2nd, a Spitfire 10 km SE of Southend on 3 September 1940. A 3rd, a Hurricane W of Boulogne on 21 June 1941. A 4th, a Spitfire on 3 July 1941, no location. His 5th, a Spitfire on 21 August, 1941, no location. His 10th victory, a Spitfire northeast of Rue on 13 February, 1943. Another victory, B-17 # 41-24399 "Man O War" of 91st BG, 323BS, flown by 2/Lt Keene C. Mc Cammon on 30 July 1943. Eight were KIA, 2 POW. On 26 July 1943 he shot down a twin engine Boston III RAF No. 88 Sqdn as Stfkpt 6./JG 26.

Appointed Kommandeur II./JG 26 from March 1944. He was shot down on 23 June 1944 by British anti-aircraft fire and had to bale out but both his legs struck the rear of his FW 190 A-8, WNr. 730425, "black 30" resulting in severe injuries. He had at least 27 victories with JG 26. He was replaced by Hptm Emil Lang. He returned to combat operations as Kommandeur II./JG 6 and returned a double victory on 12 September 1944; both P-38s in the Düren-Zülpich area. A P-38 E of Cologne on 4 October 1944. He led II/JG-6 on the Volkel airfield raid on 1 January 1945. Deceased 22 March, 2010 Fürstenfelbruck (P. Bastin).