Sunday 29 October 2023

Death of the Kommandeur - Maj. Helmut Fuhrhop I./KG 6 (Junkers Ju 188 E)


Above; I./KG 6 Ju 188 E medium bombers were based in Chièvres, south of Brussels for the Steinbock raids over England during the first quarter of 1944.

Just after mid-day on the afternoon of 29 February 1944 (1944 was a leap year) two Junkers Ju 188 Es took off from Melsbroek, north of Brussels, and headed for Dreux, 50 miles east of Paris. They were part of a force scheduled to fly another 'Steinbock' bombing mission over southern England later that day which was transferring to Dreux in small groups. One of the Ju 188s (coded '3E+AB') was flown by the Kommandeur of I./KG 6, Maj Helmut Fuhrhop. An Eastern Front veteran with KG 51, Fuhrhop was an experienced career aviator and RK-holder credited with sinking at least 30,000 GRT of shipping in 250 missions. He had also flown over one hundred sorties at the controls of a Legion Condor K 88 He 111 (Taghon p.49) and was an obsessive athlete who made his crews run around the airfield almost daily! (Taghon, p.166) At the controls of the second machine was Uffz. Wilhelm Mayer of 1. Staffel. Both machines carried five aircrew and a handful of groundcrew, while Fuhrhop had his two dogs, Chica and Ciro, on board. Meanwhile, seven Hawker Typhoon Mk.1b aircraft of 609 Squadron were getting airborne from Manston (Kent) to carry out a fighter sweep in the sector Le Culot-Florennes-Cambrai across Belgium/northern France. Led by Sqn Ldr Johnny Wells the group comprised, in addition to the Englishman, one Australian, one Canadian and four Belgian pilots. They had already strafed barges and tugs when they sighted the two Ju 188s flying south-west past Cambrai at about 1,000 ft. One of the Belgian pilots flying that day, Fg. Off. Charles Demoulin, later recalled; 
 “..We were at 150 ft and had our hands full keeping station in the flurries of snow that alternated moments of zero visibility with sudden clear breaks. Suddenly, two shadows loomed out of the gloom, flitting across our heading, just feet above us, to then rapidly disappear to our left into skeins of broken cloud. But not quick enough to prevent me from identifying them. They were Ju 188s, night fighters (sic!) and medium bombers.."

“ All three of us (the two other Typhoon pilots were Flt Lt Lawrence Smith and Fg. Off. Georges Jaspis) banked into a sharp turn at the same time and at some risk of collision since the other Typhoons did likewise. The chase was on ('C'est l'hallali'!). Throttles wide open and engine screaming we went flat out after the Ju 188s and within a matter of moments come across them in a clear patch of sky.

“In front of me, a multi-coloured ribbon streamed towards my Typhoon and I could see the gunner of the second bomber bracketing my Typhoon with tracer. A little right rudder to correct and the turret fell silent as the body of the gunner slumped in his seat. At that moment the gunner of the first Junkers opened up - his rounds flashed just past my cockpit. Left rudder and gun-button depressed I rapidly shifted target - there were flashes on the grey fuselage and an explosion and the port engine of the Junkers burst into flames. ”

Below; I./KG 6 Ju 188 E "3E+KL" on a transfer flight - these machines were seen only rarely in the air during daylight hours during 1944, usually during transfer flights..

The combat was a slaughter and both bombers were sent down in flames. Meyer crashed at Bohain-en-Vermandois while Fuhrhop’s aeroplane came down three miles further south at Seboncourt, some 20 miles south-east of Cambrai. Everybody on board was killed, including Fuhrhop's long-time observer Ofw. Alfred Schuber.  According to one account, Fuhrhop's wrist watch was stopped at 13:13. The Adjutant of I./KG 6, Oblt. Roters, identified the recovered bodies wrapped in parachutes the following day laid out in a nearby monastery. Fuhrhop's wife and her sister attended the funeral in Mons. Fuhrhop's replacement as Kommandeur I./KG 6 was Hptm. and RK-holder Hans Thurner.

Below; Fuhrhop's widow and her sister in black at the Kommandeur's funeral. To the right in the front row  are, from the left, the Kommodore, Maj. Hermann Hogeback, the Kommandeur II./KG 6, Hptm. Hans Mader and  Fuhrhop's successor, Hptm. Hans Thurner..

Extracted and adapted from Peter Taghon's superb 328-page large-format French-language history " La Kampfgeschwader 6"  published by Lela Presse. Published in June 2021, an 18-page PDF extract of Peter's book is available on the publisher's web site here

Saturday 28 October 2023

..somewhere in the East - archive photo scan (4)


Panje ponies and cart on a muddy field in the vicinity of a Feldflugplatz field strip. Click on the image to view large. Below, a closer view of the Arado on the right of the photo.

..and a view of the 'original' photo....

Saturday 21 October 2023

Paris, Buc or Le Bourget , summer 1941, Fw 190 'Fronterprobung' flight tests in II./JG 26 Otto Behrens - archive photo scan (4)


Above; Göring and staff examine the Fw 190 A-1 'brown 4' probably in Buc, Paris during August 1941. Göring - in pale blue uniform - is visible next to the port wing MG.

A fantastic contribution from Peter K. (Larry) who has forwarded photos from his grandfather's album - Peter's grandfather was (Oblt. later  Maj.) Otto Behrens, the man largely credited with getting the early teething problems wrung out of the Fw 190 and thus getting it into service. The unit charged with the introduction into Luftwaffe service of Kurt Tank's new BMW-radial engined fighter was an 'Erprobungskommando' (test detachment) under Behrens which started its work in Rechlin and then moved to Paris during 1941 to carry out operational trials (Fronterprobung). 

While the Behrens family who own the album are not entirely sure of the date and location of these images, one member of the General Staff who features on them - 'Hajo' Herrmann- recalls in his memoir (see chapter 8) that in July 1941 he was transferred to Paris and during that summer accompanied Göring to visit the latest 'innovations' on the airfield at Buc, 18 kms south-west of Paris (see third photo below, Herrmann at second left). 

Karl Borris (TO II./JG 26) writes that II./JG 26 moved to Le Bourget in August 1941 to convert onto the Fw 190 A-1 (Rodeike, 'Jagdflugzeug 190' p28) The Fliegerstabsingenieur (Technical Officer of JG 26) Ernst Battmer describes Otto Behrens was the man largely responsible for getting the Fw 190 into service - " praise is too high for his work" (Rodeike 'Jagdflugzeug 190' p33). The period of 'Fronterprobung' or operational testing in Paris was a disaster due to the constant engine over-heating issues - " die Fronterprobung wuchs sich zu einer Katastrophe aus.." Practically every flight ended up with some sort of engine damage and very often the engine over-heated just taxying out, causing any test flight to be scrubbed. ('..der Motor wurde bereits sauer beim Warmlaufen oder beim Rollen zum Start und die Maschine mit Kolbenfressern blieb stehen..') It was Behrens who forced through the changes required as Focke Wulf claimed that the BMW engine 'tauge nichts' (literally, was not worth a damn..) while BMW stressed that Fw had not allowed for enough cooling air flow to the big radial in the original design of the aircraft. The lack of cooperation between the two companies forced Behrens to knock heads together - probably not too onerous a task with the head of the Luftwaffe taking a keen interest in the new fighter. Rechlin had already test flown the Fw 190 against all leading Allied fighter aircraft then in service ..and it had not out-performed Messerschmitt's Friedrich in comparison testing. (see link below)

Above; far right alongside Göring at Buc airfield was the corpulent commander of Luftflotte 3 Sperrle. 

Following the death of Schneider in December 1941 Behrens resumed his former position as 6./JG 26 Staffelkapitän. During 1942 he transferred to the Kommando der Erprobungsstellen der Luftwaffe based in Rechlin. Here he was promoted to Hauptmann on 1 January 1943 and to Major on 1 June 1944. He ended the war as Kommandeur der Erprobungsstelle Rechlin.

He later went to Argentina - with Tank and Galland - and flew as test pilot in Tank's Ta 183 derivative the Pulqui. He was killed on 9 October 1952 in a crash while testing the Pulqui.

Otto Behrens (facing camera) with Göring during August 1941 (probably) at Buc airfield, Paris

Also on this blog;

Friday 20 October 2023

"..a flight from Larissa (Greece) to Salonika " , April 1941 - archive photo scan (3)


..the inscription on the back of this image reads " ..a flight from Larissa (Greece) to Salonika.. " (Thessaloniki, Greece)..

A yellow-cowled Henschel 126 comes in to land, II./JG 77 Emils in the foreground (note emblem forward of the cockpit on 'white 3'). Both Emils appear to have white wingtips and yellow rudder and cowl..

Another image from the same negative strip, so date and location is spring 1941 somewhere in Greece. Nearest the camera "TD+MS" appears to be a rare Klemm Kl 31. Note the Siemens radial. The Kl 31 was the first German four-seater touring monoplane and appeared in 1933.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Kurt Ubben, Kommandeur III./JG 77 - photo archive scan (2)


Kurt Ubben first saw combat with II./186, the so-called Träger or 'carrier' Gruppe established in November 1938 as a carrier fighter unit to equip Germany’s first aircraft carrier, the “Graf Zeppelin”. The 4.Staffel mustered with the Ju 87 Stuka while Staffeln 5 and 6 received the Bf 109. The unit first saw action in Poland and then in Norway.

This is his G-6 trop seen in Foggia, southern Italy, during the late spring of 1943 displaying small command chevrons just forward of the fuselage cross and the III./JG 77 wolf's head emblem with 'Wander-Zirkus' inscription.

Thanks to Del for the 'post-scan' photo-processing and image enhancement.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

He 115 in Reval fitted with ice skids


having recently acquired a 'proper' scanner (Epson V330) thanks to a friend, I'm experimenting with some 'test' scans. This may be the first in a new series of regular (daily?) archive photo scans. 

.." mit dieser He-115 flogen wir nach Montierung von Eiskufen in Reval Seenoteeinsatz.. ..after our He 115 was fitted with steel skids for operations from ice (and snow) in Reval (former name of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia) we flew air-sea rescue missions from there .."

Posted above is only a 'screen-shot' of the scan which is otherwise nearly 3 Mb in size. Click on the image to get a larger view. Below, a view of the original photo, which is no more than a couple of inches sq. Very small. But scanning at high res and 200% I'm starting to get some decent results. Thanks Del & Paul for recommendations on the Epson scanner settings!

Tuesday 10 October 2023

JG 77 in Italy, September/October 1943 and the Macchi C 205 in JG 77 service - were there any aces ?


On 3 September 1943, the soldiers of the British XIII Corps mounted amphibious landings on the Italian 'boot' and 'invaded' the Italian mainland. Calabria was only lightly defended and Reggio airfield was quickly captured. This first landing in continental Europe took place in a country seemingly still allied with the Reich. But, since Mussolini's removal from power the new Italian government had been secretly negotiating with the Allies to change sides. The German High Command was not fooled by the friendly protestations of Marshal Badoglio, the new strongman of the Italian regime and were preparing to take control of the country in the event of an Italian U-turn. The location where the Duce was being held had already been identified and plans were being made for his release. This occurred on 12 September - Skorzeny's Gran Sasso 'coup de main'. On this same afternoon of 3 September I./JG 77 and IV./JG 3 intercepted an unescorted formation of B-24s over the sea near the Tremiti islands. Eight bombers were claimed by I./JG 77 (only three were confirmed). Eight B-24s were claimed by JG 3. Nine Liberators from the 98th BG were reported lost over Italy, most likely victims of these clashes.

On 6 September, Uffz Willi Wiemer's 'yellow 4' ( 3./ JG 77) was shot down by a P-38 of the 14th FG escorting Liberators. 7./JG 77 (in Sardinia) also suffered the loss of Lt. Hans Rund, whose G-6 'white 7' exploded in flight. Ofw Eduard Isken who had carried out a test flight in this machine shortly beforehand suspected sabotage. On the 7th, I/JG 77 suffered two serious injuries in a battle with P-38s escorting B-17s. Oblt Gerhard Strasen, Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 77 was shot down in 'yellow 10'. He reported;

"..Our unit was scattered around Foggia and it was from there that we were airborne to intercept the Viermots and their P-38 escorts. On that day, I was acting Kommandeur as Burkhardt was unavailable. In combat with P-38s north of Naples, a bullet went through my leg and I had to parachute out. On the ground, an Army Feldwebel loaded me into a vehicle and took me to a hospital. I was then transferred by medical train to Stuttgart where an amputation was planned. I was categorically opposed to this and was able to save my leg. I was granted a long period of convalescence, during which I got married. I rejoined JG 77 around May 1944 when the unit was fighting in northern Italy..."

In addition to Strasen, another wounded pilot from 3./JG 77 had to bail out, Lt Werner Behrendt. To replace Strasen, Lt Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert left II./JG 77 and became Staffelführer of 3./JG 77.

On 8 September, I./JG 77 and IV./JG 3 carried out their usual missions (reconnaissance and Alarmstart 'scrambles'). In the late afternoon a large fleet was spotted near Naples. But  at 5.00 pm, the Italian surrender was announced by the allied radio, surprising both Italians and to a lesser extent, the Germans. The Italian royal family, still near Rome, had to flee. Many Italian officers did not know what to choose: loyalty to their government or to the German ally. Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring quickly gave the order to neutralise the former ally - Unternehmen 'Achse'. Everywhere, German soldiers disarmed Italian units, which often fell apart and huge amounts of matériel was captured. An Italian naval battlegroup was already at sea - according to some to counter the Allied landings then about to take place at Salerno - but with the news of the 'volte-face', now attempting to make for Malta to surrender to the British. Attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Asinara by 'Fritz X' guided missile carrying Do 217s of KG 100 on 9 September, the Roma, one of the most powerful warships then at sea in the Mediterranean, was struck, split in two and sunk. More than 1,250 men perished.

The US Fifth Army landed at Salerno on 9 September in another huge amphibious operation. I./JG 77 and IV./JG 3 toting Werfer rocket grenade launchers flew strafing sorties over the Salerno landing zones - Fw. Horst Schlick of 1./JG 77 was hit by flak and managed to bail out, coming down unharmed near a main road into Naples. Elsewhere most of III./JG 77 flew out of Sardinia and landed on the Corsican airfield of Ghisonaccia. The Germans immediately disarmed the Italian troops present on this air base and took possession of weapons and equipment. Three days later, the men of "Ubben’s travelling circus" transferred to Casabianda still in Corsica. From there, the Bf 109s flew escort sorties for the ships and transport aircraft (Me 323 and Ju 52 Transporter) evacuating the German troops to the Italian mainland.

On 25 September the G-6 Gustavs of III./JG 77 were in Pise-Metato while using the airfield of Fiano to protect the industrial sector of Bologna. Uffz Karl-Heinz Böttner flew little during this period because he was sent to the Erholungsheim (relaxation and care centre) in Bad Wiessee following malaria attacks. Also there at the same time was his Kapitän Emil Omert who was recuperating following his injury sustained in Sicily.

On 20 October, III./JG 77 recorded a total of thirty-two Bf 109 G-6 fighters on strength. Returning to Metato, Uffz Böttner took part in various interceptions of American bombers pounding German positions in northern Italy. On 23 October, around Rome, the rudder of his G-6 was seriously damaged by defensive fire from B-17 Fortresses, but the young pilot was able to return to his aerodrome without too much trouble. (photo below) III./JG 77 was sent to Romania a short while later, I./JG 4 returning from this theatre to take their place in Italy.

The detachment of III./JG 77 in Pisa was also implicated by the Italian 'change-of-sides' on 8 September. Lt. Wolfgang Ernst, Stk of 9./JG 77 remembered;

" I was with a few pilots at Pisa airfield at the time. Our Schwarm was carrying out combined manoeuvres with the Italian navy. We flew over the ships all day long, and we were often invited dine in the evening in full dress. The food was excellent and the wine plentiful. It was all very pleasant. On the morning of the 9th, following the Italian U-turn, I decided to join the Gruppe now in Corsica. We took off and flew over the Italian fleet as it set sail to surrender to the Allies. We strafed some ships, which saddened us: only the day before we had been friends. Later we shot down a small Italian liaison plane over the mainland -flying due south, it was deserting towards the territory held by the Anglo-Saxons..."

Meanwhile II./JG 77 was put to work to disarm their former allies. A transfer to northern Italy had been planned since mid-August.  Overtaken by events the Gruppe had already given up its Gustavs.  Small groups of ground personnel were sent all over Italy to take control of the airfields; as for the pilots, they ferried the captured machines to northern Italy. It was at this point that the decision was taken to re-equip II./JG 77 with some of the captured Italian Macchi Veltro fighters. 

Technicians from the Gruppe were sent to Varese to study the Macchi Veltro. Equipped with a Daimler Benz DB 605 engine, this aircraft seemed adaptable to German standards as mechanic Karl Holland reported;

"..The engines, Daimler-Benz 601s built under licence, posed no major problems. The work of the mechanics was even easier because the amount of room reserved for the engine, auxiliary fittings, oil and coolant circuits was larger than on the Bf 109. As far as armament was concerned, the usual MGs were used, as well as heavy machine guns of a calibre close to 12 mm. No cannon. The pilots found the Macchis lighter but slower than the Bf 109s..."

The C.205 was used briefly by II./JG 77 from late September 1943 to the end of the year before the Gruppe reverted back to the Bf 109 G-6. The war diary of the Stab/JG 77 commented on 21.Nov. 1943 ;

" The machine is fast, and flies well, but has a tendency to lose speed in a sharp curve, and it is easy to get into a spin. Another aspect is the Italian radio. Despite transmitting clearly, the pilots can barely understand what is being said. Finally, refueling and reloading ammunition is very complicated, so restoring operational readiness takes a long time..."

The Kommodore's memories are more categoric; 

 "My JG 77 rarely used captured aircraft, apart from the Mc-205 flown by II./JG 77. It was a vicious machine that easily got into a spin which could be very difficult to get out of. It was used in combat and there were a few victories. (Maj. Johannes Steinhoff, Geschwaderstab JG 77).

Were there any German Macchi aces ? A reply to this question (answer/research) by Georg Morrison

" You may be thinking of Oblt. Joachim Deicke, who led the 6./JG 77. His aircraft, "gelbe 1" was a Macchi C.205, WNr.92212. BUT, none of his 18 claims (over 661 missions) were made using a Macchi. Three pilots had died in crashes, usually "pilot error." Uffz. Rudolf Funke was shot down on 1 December 1943 by a P-38 (C.205 "gelbe 4", WNr.92218), but was safe. Another C.205 was damaged in this combat. The last loss of 1943 was on Christmas Eve, engine fire on WNr.92224.

 Another potential candidate for JG 77 ace on the Macchi could have been Lt. Franz Hrdlicka, who led 5./JG 77. He made his 37th claim on 9.November 1943, which was likely in a C.205 - he posed for a photo, seated on the cockpit edge of a dark-finished example..". 

Recommended reading ;

The Luftwaffe in Italy 1943-45 published by Lela Presse, 98 page A-4 softback, some 200 photos/artworks. Only 13 euros. Available from the website. Eight-page PDF extract here