Monday 15 August 2022

Teil 15/I 'Einsatz im Osten' - a new title in the Jagdfliegerverbände series - Prien/Bock/Balke/Stemmer


On 22 June 1941 the Jagdwaffe deployed some 20 fighter Gruppen in the East for Barbarossa, around 1000 aircraft more or less. This was a rather lower figure that the numbers of fighters deployed for the campaign in the West during 1940!  Barely three years later - and leading up to the massive Soviet  'Bagration' summer offensive - the Jagdwaffe had just 11 Gruppen and several 'independent' Staffeln available to cover the entirety of the Eastern Front -just over 300 serviceable fighters, some 75% of the total on strength in the East.  A 'Luftlagebericht Ost' dated January 2, 1944 put Soviet strength at 12,000 aircraft of which 4,500 were fighters. In fact the entire fighter arm of Luftflotte 6 in the middle sector of the Eastern Front, the Schwerpunkt of the 'Bagration' offensive, comprised the Stab/JG 51, I./JG 51 and several Staffeln, for a total of no more than 50-75 serviceable fighters. As at least one author/researcher has already pointed out, this was not necessarily the result of losses sustained or Soviet 'dominance' - even if the new 'Jak 9' and La 5 fighters arriving at the front to replace the MiG-1 and LaGG-3s were at least comparable to the Bf 109 G-6 or Fw 190. Entire Geschwader like JG 27, JG 3 and most of JG 77 had been moved to theatres in the West - Africa, the Mediterranean, the Defence of the Reich - because of the pressure being exerted by the Western Allies. Even the Geschwader left in the East during 1944 were not at full strength -  Staffeln went to the West as the military situation there worsened - 2./JG 51 under Oblt. Horst Haase was sent to join IV./JG 3 during May 1944 and  Staffeln from JG 51 and JG 77 went to join JG 1 and saw action in Normandy. Pilot strength in the East was further reduced as each Gruppe gave up a Staffel of pilots for the West in May 1944. III./JG 11 arrived in the East during June 1944 while II./JG 51 did not serve in the East until September.  Since the turn of the year the Luftflotten had been forced to deploy their meagre fighter resources piecemeal at 'crisis' points along the front, while the rapidity of the Soviet ground advance was such that those Gruppen present in the East were forced to fall back far to the West - as early as February 1944 in the southern area IV./JG 51 shifted to Orscha, followed in March by II./JG 54. From the same airfield I./JG 51 covered the left wing of HGr. Mitte as well as 16. Armee on the right wing of HGr. Nord. 

Below; from a PK photo series (Opitz) depicting G-6s of 3./JG 51,  'Brown 11' (WNr. 410 827) is being refuelled probably at Orscha in early 1944. (see pages 274 - 282 of Teil 15/I). Note yellow spinner.

Such was the dearth of Luftwaffe fighters on the Eastern Front that  a fighter training programme for the Schlacht Fw 190 pilots was implemented. 1./JG 51’s Günther Josten was seconded to Wilna, Latvia, on June 19 to train the pilots of II./SG 3 in the art of fighter combat. In his diary he described what happened on a training sortie flown a few days later on June 21, 1944 in collaboration with KG 1 Heinkel He 177s, part of a Luftwaffe long-range bomber force being assembled to strike at Soviet industry and production in the East:

“After an hour in the air a report came over the radio – 150 ‘furniture vans‘ (‘dicker Möbelwagen’ or ‘Viermots’) sighted 20km south of Warsaw heading east. The news left us dumbfounded. We were flying at 4600m altitude when suddenly we caught sight of the formation below us. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it. We overtook the formation and then turned around to attack them from head-on. I took my Schwarm directly through the bomber formation and brought effective fire to bear on two of the machines, one of which was left trailing a thick banner of smoke. By this stage we were running short of fuel and had to turn back for home..."

This was JG 51s first encounter with US 8th AF bombers and their P-51 escorts, the Americans en route to Poltava in the Ukraine on their first 'Frantic' shuttle mission -– from England.. I./JG 51 claimed two P-51s, one falling to the Staka 3./JG 51 Oblt. Walter Wever (his 37th)  while Uffz. Hans Stroinigg claimed the second P-51 along with a ‘Fortress II’ (his 11th). The following night Poltava and Pirjatin were raided by a force of IV. Fliegerkorps medium bombers and some 54 B-17s and 15 P-51s were destroyed on the ground.

The following day, June 22, the Soviet 'storm' 'Bagration' broke – four Soviet ‘Fronts’ launched against Army Group Centre initially aiming to re-take Minsk. The Gruppen of JG 51 found themselves in the direct line of the Soviet offensive in Orscha, Bobruisk and Mogilev and were forced to hastily fall back to the other side of the Polish border while claiming 33 victories without loss on June 23, including eight for Lt. Wilhelm Hübner in three sorties and five for his Staka Hptm.Edwin Thiel of the Stabsstaffel. Josten returned his 92nd and 93rd. 

German fighter defences  though were hopelessly inadequate. Some 140 'kills' were claimed during the period 22-30 June over the area of HGr. Mitte - while the Red Air Force flew  over 25,000 sorties! A German 'air situation report' dated July 1, 1944 estimated Soviet losses  for the four days from June 22-26 at just 0.8% of the aircraft committed. Front-line Soviet combat strength was now estimated to be 17,200 aircraft. So weak were the German forces that the entire front was broken through within a week and some 28 German divisions were destroyed. Eichenlaub holder Thiel (76 victories) was shot down and killed strafing a Soviet column on July 14 near Kobryn. The offensive ended in late August as the Russians were stopped at the Vistula river (Weichsel) on the East Prussian border and in front of Riga, Latvia. 

 This latest volume of Jochen Prien's mammoth history of the Luftwaffe fighter units, Part 15 Vol I reaches the Eastern Front 1944 - Operations in the East - 1 January to 31 December 1944. It is of course virtually impossible to 'review' these volumes - it will require months of careful reading to get the most out of history like this. (..the preceding paragraphs are based on data presented in the book)  Suffice to say that this is another 500-page tome from the Prien team filled with exceptionally detailed data from sources most of us are never likely to see and some 240 rare photographs. The major part of the text focuses on JG 51 (pages 211-493) - as there is no Geschwader 'history' as such -apart from the old Aders/Held title - most of this section is 'new'. The overview of the course of the ground fighting amounts to 25 pages - covered is the area of HGr. Süd in the first half of 1944 until the beginning of the Soviet summer offensive, ground operations by HGr. Mitte in the first half of 1944 until the beginning of the Soviet summer offensive and similarly in the area of HGr. Nord in the first half of 1944. The Soviet summer offensive against HGr. Mitte and the fighting on the northern section of the Eastern Front after the beginning of the Soviet summer offensive is also outlined, as is the fighting in the southeast - Romania and Hungary. This opening text section on the ground fighting is followed by an overview of the fighter units' operations in the East - 1 January to 31 December 1944, before the 'meat' of this volume - individual Gruppe histories for the period covered, starting with JG 5. Along with the usual loss/victory reports for the individual fighter Gruppen operating in the East through 1944, the operations of each are described through the Luftlagemeldungen (air situation reports), personal diary accounts (Josten, Schack) and log-book records. The so-called 'Startkladde' daily ops record for 7./JG 51 for the first five months of 1944 is published in full. Units covered in Teil 15/I are JG 5, III./ JG 11 (more over-sprayed Balken- and Hakenkreuze) and all four Gruppen + the Stab of JG 51. The Stabsstaffel JG 51 (190 Jabos) is covered over 45 pages.

Below;  seen left is Gruppenkommandeur III./JG 51 Hptm. Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber in front of G-6 'white 1' (WNr. 411 123) formerly on the strength of 7./JG 51 but transferred to the Gruppenstab when 7.Staffel was moved to West during May 1944. The Kommandeur himself was posted to the West in late August to take over I./JG 27  (partial caption info from Teil 15/I)

Below; seen in East Prussia/Lithuania is 'Black 1' flown by StaKa Lt. Anton Hafner 8./JG 51 during the summer of 1944 with tall tail, yellow spinner and rudder.

The publisher's website is

read our Luftwaffe blog interview with Jochen Prien here