A Fighter Group in Normandy

by John Schuelke

By early 1944, Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel, commanding Army Group B located in Normandy and the Pas de Calais, believed strongly that the forthcoming Allied invasion of France must be defeated on the beaches. Rommel knew the importance of air superiority, never having forgotten how the RAF harassed his Afrika Korps during the retreat in North Africa. He also knew that the enemy air forces supporting the invasion would be incomparably more powerful than those he had previously faced. In response to the invasion, the Luftwaffe planned to reinforce its French-based fighter units with home-defense Gruppen from Germany. The mission of these fighter units was to establish air superiority over the invasion beaches and protect the reserve forces being brought up for the decisive counter-attack. The role played by one of those fighter Gruppen is related here.

In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, 6 June 1944, the Allied invasion of German-occupied France began. The pre-planned Luftwaffe response to the invasion included the transfer of 19 day-fighter Gruppen to airfields near the battle front. II. Gruppe/JG 1 received the coded message: "Einsatz West-Einsatzort Flers" (Operations West-Operational Base Flers), during the morning at their airfield near Störmede, Germany. At 1625 hours thirty-two Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8s took off under the command of Oblt. Georg-Peter Eder, and headed for an intermediate fueling stopover at Montdidier, France.

II. Gruppe was a combat-proven day-fighter Gruppe and, until D-Day, had been assigned to the defense of Northern Germany. The Gruppe was previously known as I./JG 3 and had been in action since the war's inception, fighting over France, England and Russia. When it was transferred from the Eastern Front in September 1941, its pilots had already achieved 421 victories in the war. Its new assignment was the air defense of Holland which the Gruppe assumed on 13 December 1941 after fully re-equipping with the Messerschmitt Bf 109F-4. On 15 January 1942 I./JG 3 was redesignated as II./JG 1 and for the next two years defended Holland, France and Northern Germany against the incursions of the RAF and USAAF. In the spring of 1942, the Gruppe turned in its Bf 109F-4s and was fully operational with Fw 190A-2 and A-3 fighters by 12 May 1942.

By 1 January 1944, II. Gruppe was based at airfields in Northern Germany as a Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich) unit under Kommandeur Hptm. Walter Höckner who had 62 Abschüsse (kills) as of that date. Its component Staffeln were 4., 5. and 6./JG 1. The first five months of 1944 were a time of great successes and equally great trials for II. Gruppe. This period saw the transfer of three noted Experten into the Gruppe. Major Heinz Bär was assigned to 6./JG 1 on 21 January (179 Abschüsse over all fronts as of that date). Bär had previously served as Staffelkapitän and Gruppenkommandeur, being awarded the Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern (Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords), but his outspoken criticisms of the Luftwaffe's failings were not kindly received by Reichsmarschall Göring who transferred him to JG 1 as an ordinary pilot. Hptm. Höckner was transferred to JG 4 on 4 February and Hptm. Hermann Segatz (33 Abschüsse with JG 51, 26, and 5) took over as Kommandeur. Finally, on 15 March, Oblt. Georg-Peter Eder (33 Abschüsse by this date) was assigned as Staffelkapitän of 6./JG 1 after recovering from wounds suffered while serving with JG 2.

During the first five months of 1944 the Gruppe was led into combat by any one of four experienced formation commanders: Hptm. Segatz, Major Bär, Oblt. von Kirchmayr and Oblt. Eder. The unit suffered losses of 48 pilots killed, 23 wounded, and 158 aircraft destroyed in aerial combat while achieving 164 confirmed victories, 119 of which were USAAF four-engined bombers. Notable losses included its Kommandeur, Hptm. Segatz (KIA 8 March, 40 Abschüsse) and seven experienced Rottenführer and Schwarmführer: Uffz. Erich Negraszus (KIA 11 February, 3 Abschüsse), Fw. Heinz Fuchs (KIA 24 February, 11 Abschüsse), Uffz. Hans-Joachim Tünger (KIA 3 March, 4 Abschüsse), Fw. Heinz Kahl (KIA 12 May, 9 Abschüsse), Uffz. Helmut Stiegler (KIA 12 May, 6 Abschüsse), Uffz. Heinrich Weber (KIA 16 May, 3 Abschüsse), and Lt. Gunther Buchholz (KIA 31 May, 5 Abschüsse). The Gruppe's seven-hundreth victory, on 29 April 1944, was Oblt. von Kirchmayr's 15th Abschuss.

In the spring of 1944, the Reichsluftministerium (RLM) decided to reinforce the day-fighters engaged in the Reichsverteidigung with an additional Staffel transferred directly from Eastern Front units. 7./JG 51, a Bf 109G-6 equipped unit, was assigned to II. Gruppe in May from their airfield near Brest-Litovsk in Poland, with pilots arriving at Störmede after 29 May and hurriedly checking out in Focke-Wulfs. It was later renamed 8./JG 1 on 15 August 1944 when the four-Staffeln Gruppe became standard practice. 7./JG 51 was led by Ritterkreuzträger (Knight's Cross winner) Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weber with 136 confirmed Abschüsse in over 500 missions. Two other Experten were Lt. Friedrich Krakowitzer (23 Abschüsse by 1 June) and Ofhr. Günther Heckmann with 12 Abschüsse. Hptm. Weber was transferred to III./JG 1 on 3 June as Gruppenkommandeur, and Lt. Krakowitzer assumed command of the Staffel.

Major Bär had been reassigned as Kommodore of JG 3 on 21 May following 23 victories in his four months as a member of II. Gruppe. Bär had served as acting Kommandeur after the death of Hptm. Segatz and he was replaced by Oblt. Eder. By 1 June, in spite of the losses of Segatz, Bär and the previously listed pilots, II./JG 1's original three Staffeln still contained many combat-proven formation leaders (with their scores as of 1 June):

Oblt. Georg-Peter Eder49
Oblt. Rüdiger von Kirchmayr18
Lt. Otto Bach16
Lt. Hubert Swoboda9
Lt. Fritz Wegner4
Oblt. Eberhard Burath5
Ofw. Leo Schuhmacher15
Ofw. Reinhard Flecks13
Ofw. Kurt Brodbeck4
Ofw. Kurt Niedereicholz16
Ofw. Haninger11
Ofw. Georg Hutter14

The Gruppe also had many experienced noncom and enlisted pilots serving as small formation leaders (with their scores as of 1 June):

Uffz. Fritz Wurl3
Fw. Alfred Bindseil3
Uffz. Friz Milde2
Uffz. Josef Gold2
Uffz. Otto Stuckenbrock2
Uffz. Zinkl3
Uffz. Schneider2
Fw. Brunner2
Fw. Schulz4
Flieger Georg Blech5
Uffz. Erwin Steeb1
Ofhr. Rudolf Kaltenhäuser1
Uffz. Christian Knoblauch1
Uffz. Mertens1
Fw. Rudolf Lehmann1
Gefr. Walter Gehr1
Uffz. Golinger1
Uffz. Strosetski1

Up until the Allied landings, 1944 had seen great sacrifices by II. Gruppe's flying personnel that amounted to one hundred percent of their roster strength, but it was still well led and highly motivated. Over half of the unit's pilots had achieved victories while flying in defense of their homeland. The pilots winging their way to France the afternoon of 6 June were a confident lot who well understood the implications of the impending struggle.

By late afternoon of 6 June the unit's thirty-two Focke-Wulfs had all successfully landed, but refuelling took longer than anticipated and they were forced to remain overnight. After a dawn take-off the next morning they were informed that their intended airfield had been bombed and they were diverted to Le Mans, actually landing on the automobile race track there. During this flight the Staffeln flew independently and 7./JG 51 was attacked by Mustangs at 300 meters altitude in the area of Le Mans and was forced to form a defensive circle. Lt. Johann Brünnler left the circle and attacked the Allied formation, quickly being shot down and fatally crashing near Châteaudun. The chaotic landing grounds at Le Mans were milling with German fighters as both I./JG 1 and II./JG 53 had flown in previously, approximately 100 Fw 190s and Bf 109s being based there. II. Gruppe flew three sorties during the day, at 0500, 1300 and 1700 hours, with a total of thirty Focke-Wulfs patrolling the immediate vicinity. No enemy contact was made, but four aircraft were lost due to landing accidents or technical problems without any pilot injuries. 7./JG 51's previous Kapitän, Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weber, the new Kommandeur of III./JG 1, was shot down and killed by Mustangs on the morning of his first sortie in the West.

Le Mans airfield was an important Luftwaffe bomb dump stocked with quantities of 250 kg. bombs. Although neither I. nor II./JG 1 had received any training as fighter-bombers, both Gruppen were assigned the Jabo (Jagd-Bomber) role on June 8th. The pilots of the two air defense units were to read a text on Jabo tactics and were sent off on missions that same day. II. Gruppe started off on its first fighter-bomber mission at 1100 hours with twenty-five Focke-Wulfs against the Allied armada off the Normandy coast. They were not intercepted, and other than the many flak hits received from the defending ships, all aircraft returned safely. No hits were claimed. Bad weather on 9 June kept most German and Allied air units grounded, but II. Gruppe did manage one Jabo mission with twenty aircraft off the coast. Again, they weren't intercepted and suffered no losses. That night, at approximately 0100 hours, Le Mans airfield was attacked by RAF four-engined bombers. II. Gruppe lost seven aircraft and five more damaged, even though they were dispersed 500 meters east of the airfield. These losses plus numerous bomb craters kept it grounded for the next six days. On 12 June, Oblt. von Kirchmayr was released from the hospital in Störmede after a bout of infectious yellow jaundice and allowed to fly back to his unit, but was attacked by Spitfires over Flers. He shot down one of the Spitfires, but the victory was never confirmed due to the lack of a witness. On the 15th, the Gruppe lost two more Focke-Wulfs during a bombing attack on Le Mans.

Operations resumed on 16 June when the Gruppe began transferring to Essay airfield near Alençon. However a few sorties were mustered late on the 15th. The Gruppe's first confirmed victory in Normandy came when Uffz. Günther Henschel of 7./JG 51 destroyed a Mustang at 2142 hours on the 15th north of Caen for his first victory. One Focke-Wulf was destroyed in this combat, but the pilot was uninjured and returned to his unit. During the transfer 7./JG 51, flying independently, was bounced by approximately twenty P-51s, probably from the USAAF's 354th Fighter Group, near Alençon. Three pilots were killed, Uffz. Günther Henschel, Uffz. Franz Zechner, and Fw. Helmuth Heidemann and one mechanic, Uffz. Herbert Redlich who was riding as a passenger. Two of the attackers were shot down, one each by Lt. Friedrich Krakowitzer (his 24th Abschuss) and Ofhr. Günther Heckmann (his 13th Abschuss). Two other aircraft were also lost during the transfer, but their pilots were uninjured. That evening Essay was attacked by USAAF B-24 Liberator bombers that rendered the airfield unusuable although II. Gruppe lost no further aircraft or personnel.

On June 18th, the much diminished Gruppe transferred to Semallé, several kilometers south-west of bomb-cratered Essay. It was a very small landing strip surrounded by tall trees on all sides, creating good camouflage for the aircraft, but landing problems for the less experienced pilots. There were no hangers on the field and no habitable buildings nearby, so the airmen were housed under canvas in the local cemetery. The pilots of 7./JG 51 considered the living conditions to be worse than they had experienced in Russia, but the field had not yet been discovered by the Allied air forces and so for a while escaped the attentions of their fighters and bombers. That night a vicious storm with high winds blew in from the northwest that caused much damage to Allied ships and the Mulberry artificial harbors and restricted operations for several days. On 19 June the Geschwader Kommodore decided to transfer the remaining serviceable aircraft of II. Gruppe to Lonrai to join I./JG 1, allowing the two Gruppen to combine their modest strength and operate together. On this day, Ofhr. Günther Heckmann was credited with a Mustang, his fourteenth victory, in unknown circumstances.

The bad weather continued on Tuesday, 20 June, but the combined Gruppen launched a single freie Jagd (free hunt) mission with 14 aircraft at 0830 hours into the Cotentin Peninsula where they encountered P-38J Lightnings of the 9th Air Force's 370th Fighter Group near Flers a half hour later. A vicious combat ensued with II. Gruppe losing three aircraft and two pilots. Fw. Richard Henner of 7./JG 51 was shot down and captured by Allied troops; Uffz. Hans Hermann of the same unit was also shot down, but was uninjured and managed to return to base; and Ofw. Kurt Brodbeck of 6. Staffel was killed in action. Oberfeldwebel Brodbeck had been one of the more successful pilots with 4 victories. II. Gruppe achieved no victories during the engagement, but I. Gruppe did claim five Lightnings for the loss of two of their own aircraft (both pilots returning to their unit). The Americans claimed three long-nose Fw 190D-9s definitely destroyed, one probable and three damaged, while actually losing three P-38s. It is interesting to note that the first operational sorties with the Fw 190D-9 weren't flown until early December 1944 by I./JG 26. Two other joint missions were flown that day without contact.

On June 21st, a low cloud ceiling hindered operations over Normandy, but Oblt. Eder, acting Kommandeur of II. Gruppe, shot down a P-47 Thunderbolt near Le Mans for his fiftieth Abschuss. II. Gruppe suffered no losses that day and transferred back to Semallé, by now fully operational, in the evening. The weather cleared the next day and II. Gruppe flew several missions against Allied fighter-bombers in the St. Lô area, losing no aircraft while claiming two enemy machines. Uffz. Erich Rahner of 7./JG 51 shot down a Thunderbolt for his first victory and Oblt. von Kirchmayr of 4. Staffel claimed a Spitfire though it wasn't confirmed. One pilot was lost, however, when Fw. Hans Knabben of 6. Staffel was shot down and captured in the St. Lô area while flying the morning mission with I. Gruppe. Fw Knabben, along with three other pilots of 4. and 6. Staffeln, had been ordered to Villacoublay on 18 June to collect four repaired Fw 190A-8s for delivery to II. Gruppe. By 21 June only two of the aircraft were serviceable and it was decided that Knabben and another pilot would fly them to I. Gruppe at Lonrai. The next morning Knabben flew his last mission while on temporary loan to 2. Staffel.

Nothing is known of II. Gruppe's operations on 23 or 24 June, but no victories or losses were reported for those days. Oblt. Eder was awarded the Ritterkreuz on the 24th and sent on leave prior to his transfer to II./JG 26 as Kommandeur. Oblt. von Kirchmayr became acting Kommandeur of II. Gruppe. At 1300 hours on Sunday, 25 June, Semallé was devastated by a low-level attack by Mustangs that destroyed 15 Focke-Wulfs. The few aircraft that were left were assigned to the pilots of 7./JG 51 and some new pilots from the other three Staffeln. That evening twenty pilots of II. Gruppe left by bus for Villacoublay-Süd, from whence they flew by transport to Köln-Ostheim for re-equipment and replenishment. The unit was essentially out of action for the next ten days.

On 26 June the remaining aircraft were transferred to Lonrai to bolster the strength of I. Gruppe. The joint Verband flew several missions out of Lonrai on 27 June, two of which resulted in victories for II. Gruppe pilots. At 0955 hours one Schwarm intercepted some Auster artillery observation aircraft being escorted by Spitfires. Two Austers were shot down, one by Ofhr. Aloysius Kaatz of 5. Staffel for his first Abschuss. At 1653 hours nine Focke-Wulfs flew air cover for the Wehrmacht in the vicinity of Caen that resulted in combat with Mustangs and Typhoons. Ofhr. Heckmann of 7./JG 51 claimed one Typhoon for his fifteenth victory. On June 28th, the remnants of II. Gruppe flew three joint missions with I. Gruppe, the first of which resulted in no enemy contact. The second was flown off at 1652 hours with ten aircraft in the vicinity of Caen and promptly ran into Canadian Spitfires of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. The Germans lost no aircraft and claimed three victories, one by Uffz. Rahner of 7./JG 51 for his second Abschuss. For the final mission of the day, the joint Gruppen put up six aircraft at 2125 and flew to the area of Flers where they met 401 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the ensuing combat, three Spitfires were claimed destroyed by I. Gruppe pilots, but Ofhr. Aloysius Kaatz of 5. Staffel was killed only two days after his first victory. The small Luftwaffe formation also lost two other Focke-Wulfs. The two Gruppen could only muster five serviceable machines on 29 June and these flew one mission at 1315 hours in the vicinity of Flers. The flight lost two aircraft in a combat with twenty Thunderbolts, one of the Fw 190A-8s flown by Uffz. Walter Ruffing of 7./JG 51 who was killed. One victory was claimed by Uffz. Waliczek of the same Staffel, this being his first.

Pilots of 7./JG 51 played prominent roles in two of the four joint missions flown the next day from Lonrai. At 1215 hours six Focke-Wulfs flew to Caen and engaged 2 TAF Spitfires and Mustangs, pilots of 7./JG 51 being credited with two victories. Lt. Krakowitzer shot down a Spitfire at 1249 hours, his 25th Abschuss, and Uffz. Maier claimed a Mustang at 1251 hours for his first victory. At 1930 one Schwarm from 7./JG 51 flew a freie Jagd mission to Alençon. They attacked and shot down two P-51s, one to Ofhr. Heckmann at 1945 hours for his sixteenth victory, and the other unconfirmed to Gefr. May. However, by the end of the day II. Gruppe was a spent force with no serviceable aircraft and only eight operational pilots. The paper strength of a four-Staffeln Gruppe was 68 pilots and aircraft (16 aircraft in each Staffel plus 4 more in the Gruppe Stabschwarm).

No operations were flown on 1 July, but that evening brand-new Fw 190A-8s began the trip back to Semallé from Köln (Cologne). The Gruppe had been completely re-equipped and many new pilots fresh from Ergänzungsgruppen (training units) were assigned. July 2nd and 3rd were quiet with no combat missions being flown, although three aircraft were lost in training accidents on the 3rd. The Gruppe had completed its return to Semallé by 4 July. One pilot, Ogefr. Friedel Pallas of 5. Staffel was fatally injured in a landing accident following a training flight from Semallé. The 4th also saw the return to combat of I. Gruppe with attached pilots of II. Gruppe. Eleven Focke-Wulfs took off from Lonrai at 1345 hours to fly a freie Jagd in the Coutances area where they were bounced by Thunderbolts of the 404th Fighter Group. Four pilots and their aircraft were quickly lost, three being from II. Gruppe; Gefr. Karl-Friedrich Ernst of 4. Staffel, Lt. Helmut Weissbrodt of 7./JG 51 and Lt. Friedrich Krakowitzer, the Kapitän of 7./JG 51 were all killed. Ofhr. Günther Heckmann was appointed to lead the remnants of 7./JG 51 as Staffelführer.

The following two weeks saw little combat activity as Oblt. von Kirchmayr and the remaining experienced pilots sought to transform their replacement Nachwuchs (new boys) into competent flyers with at least a chance of survival in the aerial maelstrom of Normandy. Neither Lonrai nor Semallé had an early warning system other than the human ear, and even training flights had be launched quickly when the skies overhead had cleared of Allied fighter-bombers. All the new aircraft were hidden under trees and days passed when flights scheduled for take off at 0800 hours had to wait until 2000 hours for the skies to clear so that the Focke-Wulfs could be quickly hauled out from their camouflaged bowers. July 5th and 6th saw no combat missions, but three Fw 190s were lost on 5 July in training accidents. Limited strength missions resumed on Friday, 7 July, when seven aircraft of II. Gruppe took off with Focke-Wulfs of I. Gruppe from Lonrai at 0905 hours on a freie Jagd mission to the battlefront. The German formation met 16-20 Thunderbolts and attacked, suffering no losses while gaining two victories. Ofhr. Heckmann of 7./JG 51 claimed his 17th Abschuss while Lt. Fritz Wegner of 5. Staffel got his fifth. There were no missions flown the next three days, but one aircraft was lost to a technical malfunction on the 8th. By 10 July, II. Gruppe was completely based at Semallé and engaged in training the new pilots. The commanding officers were:

II. GruppeGruppenkommandeur Oblt. von Kirchmayr
4. StaffelStaffelkapitän Lt. Voight
5. StaffelStaffelkapitän Lt. Fritz Wegner
6. StaffelStaffelkapitän Ofw. Reinhard Flecks
7./JG 51Staffelkapitän Fhjfw. Günther Heckmann

Little is known of any operations on 11 July, but one aircraft was lost in combat and another two to technical malfunctions on that day. No personnel were lost. The following day saw no enemy contact and no losses. July 13th was a cloudy day and II. Gruppe had only very limited enemy contact although one aircraft was lost with the pilot being uninjured in unknown circumstances. Also on that day the combat-ready elements of I. Gruppe were transferred to Semallé as Gruppenkommandeur Hptm. Hans Ehlers did not yet wish to commit his fledglings to combat.

The combined operational strength of the two Gruppen was low, but on the 14th JG 1's Gefechtsverband (combat formation) flew two freie Jagd missions from Semallé, one consisting of twelve aircraft at 1355 hours and another of six at 2021 hours. One of the experienced NCO pilots of 6. Staffel, Fw. Alfred Bindseil, claimed a victory on each of these missions, a Spitfire at 1440 hours near Caen and a Mustang at 2100 hours near Carentan for his 4th and 5th Abschüsse. II. Gruppe lost one Focke-Wulf although the pilot was uninjured. July 15th saw the combined Gruppen fly two missions with a total strength of only six aircraft without loss. The next day, there were three missions by the combined units from Semallé with a total strength of fourteen aircraft, losing two pilots and four aircraft with no victories claimed. The morning freie Jagd mission took off at 0740, engaged some American fighters and lost one pilot of I. Gruppe. Later in the afternoon, one Schwarm was scrambled at 2000 hours for airfield defense and engaged a formation of P-38s without success. At 2022 hours, another Schwarm flew as escort for a reconnaissance aircraft. This mission wasn't intercepted, but during one of the evening missions, Ofhr. Anton Iller from 6. Staffel crashed into the trees at Semallé while taking off and was killed. Two other Focke-Wulfs of II. Gruppe were lost during these missions, one due to enemy action and one from a technical malfunction, both pilots were uninjured. I. Gruppe stood down on 17 July for re-equipment in Germany, leaving II. Gruppe alone to fly missions from Semallé. The Gruppe flew only one freie Jagd mission on that day and gained one victory south-west of Caen. Ofhr. Kaltenhäuser of 6. Staffel shot down a P-47 at 1525 hours, his 2nd Abschuss. However two pilots were lost; Uffz. Rudolf Hoffmann of 5. Staffel was killed and Uffz. Josef Gold of 6. Staffel was wounded, but managed to parachute safely. Uffz. Gold was now out of the fighting and II. Gruppe had lost another experienced element leader with two confirmed victories.

Nothing is known of any activities on 18 and 19 July except that no victories or losses were recorded. On July 20th, the Gruppe was ordered to fly a full strength mission using all combat-ready aircraft. Approximately 30 Focke-Wulfs took off at 1230 hours led by Oblt. von Kirchmayr and climbed to 6000 meters (approx. 20,000 ft.) to patrol north-east of St. Lô. At 1300 hours the Gruppe was surprised from above by a mixed formation of Spitfires and Thunderbolts and decimated. Eight Fw 190s were shot down with five pilots killed and another captured. Several veteran pilots were among those lost. Lt. Helmut Proff, Uffz. Christian Knoblauch and Gefr. Walter Gehr of 4. Staffel were all killed. Lt. Christian Steven and Obfw. Alfred Bindseil of 6. Staffel were also killed and Uffz. Otto Stuckenbroch, also of 6. Staffel, was captured. When the P-47s attacked Stuckenbroch's "yellow 11" caught fire, but he was able to parachute over Allied lines seven kilometers northeast of St. Lô. Another two Focke-Wulfs were shot down, but their pilots escaped injury and returned to their unit. In exchange II. Gruppe was credited with three victories; Oblt. von Kirchmayr shot down two Spitfires, one at 1307 and another at 1335 for his 19th and 20th victories. Obfw Flecks of 6. Staffel shot down another Spitfire at 1305 for his 14th Abschuss. As the Gruppe flew back they were attacked again by a number of Spitfires. Ofhr. Rudolf Kaltenhäuser of 6. Staffel was shot down and severely injured in an emergency landing north of Alençon. He died of his wounds on 24 July. Finally, that evening, Gefr. Johannes Kamutzki of 7./JG 51 was shot down and killed while in combat with Spitfires during a transfer flight to Le Mans. July 20th was a black day for II. Gruppe with ten aircraft lost, seven pilots killed and another captured.

The following two days were stormy ones and no missions were flown. The stormy weather continued on 23 July, but II. Gruppe flew one evening mission west of St. Lô which resulted in another combat with Spitfires and Thunderbolts. This time no losses were suffered and two victories were gained. 4. Staffel's Lt. Swoboda shot down a P-47 at 2110 hours for his 10th Abschuss and Uffz. Gallbach shot down a Spitfire at 2125 hours for his first victory. On the return flight, Obfw. Schuhmacher observed that the aircraft flown by Uffz. Erich Rahner of 7./JG 51 was out of control at a low altitude. Schuhmacher radioed the the pilot to make a wheels-up emergency landing which resulted in the aircraft overturning. Schuhmacher immediately bellied-in alongside the severely injured Rahner and enlisted the aid of nearby soldiers and civilians to remove the canopy and save his comrade. Rahner was pulled from the Focke-Wulf and recovered after a three day coma in the hospital at Chartres. He had been rendered unconscious by fumes from a fuel leak. The storms abated on 24 July, but nothing is known of any operations on that date other than that no losses or victories were reported.

"Operation Cobra", the Allied break-out from the St. Lô area began on July 25th as the American First and Third Armies attacked towards the south. Elements of II. Gruppe flew one mission over the American assault, losing one pilot in combat with Mustangs. Gefr. Helmut Walter of 5. Staffel was killed near Chandai. There is no information on any operations on 26 July, except, as usual, no losses or victories occured. The 27th of July saw the loss of another experienced Rottenführer as Uffz. Fritz Milde of 5. Staffel fell during combat with Spitfires in the vicinity of Alençon. In the afternoon of the 28th II. Gruppe flew a single mission to the battlefront west of St. Lô, engaging an American fighter group and claimed one victory against no losses. Fw. Zinkl of 6. Staffel shot down a P-47 at 1720 hours for his fourth Abschuss. Bad weather hindered operations on the next day with II. Gruppe only flying one mission, a combined effort with I. Gruppe in the early evening. After taking off from Semallé, they were joined by 17 Fw 190s of I. Gruppe, its total strength, from Lonrai. The mixed Verband flew under the cloud deck in a northwesterly direction toward St. Lô and engaged some Thunderbolts. The Germans suffered no losses while destroying two American fighters, one of which was shot down by Obfw. Flecks of 6. Staffel at 1908 hours for his 15th Abschuss.

On 30 July the American spearheads reached the vicinity of Avranches, while in the air the Allied fighter-bombers flew unceasingly against German defensive positions. JG 1 was again tasked to attack the Allied Jabos and help relieve the pressure against the German 7th Army. At 1441 hours, ten to twelve Focke-Wulfs of II. Gruppe took off from Semallé and were joined by an equal number of aircraft from I. Gruppe at Lonrai. The Verband flew at 1000 meters (3300 ft.) in the direction of the front under the leadership of Lt. Gerhard Hanf of I. Gruppe. On this occasion, the German formation wasn't intercepted before reaching their own lines. They quickly spotted and bounced fifteeen to twenty Thunderbolts which were strafing ground targets. The combat lasted only a few minutes leaving the surviving Thunderbolts scattered and the Germans flying singly back to their own base. Six P-47s were confirmed destroyed, with three going to the pilots of II. Gruppe. Gefr. May of 7./JG 51 was credited with one at 1512 hours for his first Abschuss, while Obfw. Flecks of 6. Staffel shot down two, one at 1513 and another a minute later for his 16th and 17th victories. However the Germans did suffer the loss of two pilots, one being from II. Gruppe. Uffz. Wolfgang Boyé of 7./JG 51 was killed when he was shot down near Avranches. On 31 July a joint mission was again flown with I. Gruppe over the breakout, 16 machines of I. Gruppe taking off at 1217 hours and joining several aircraft of II. Gruppe. The German unit was intercepted almost immediately by a superior force of Thunderbolts. Three pilots were lost, all from I. Gruppe. Two victories were confirmed, one by II. Gruppe when Obfw. Flecks shot down a P-47 at 1235 hours for his 18th Abschuss. After the combat, parts of the German formation continued their mission, flying in a northeasterly direction from Alençon. A group of Spitfires was spotted and successfully attacked. Obfw. Flecks was credited with another victory, a Spitfire going down at 1255 hours for his 19th Abschuss, while Uffz. Fritz Wurl, also from 6. Staffel, claimed a Spitfire for his fourth Abschuss. Also on this date II. Gruppe finally received a new Kommandeur, Hptm. Hermann Staiger (58 Abschüsse to date), who was transferred from I./JG 26. Acting Kommandeur Oblt. von Kirchmayr was transferred to I./JG 11. He had 20 Abschüsse to his credit, all gained in two years operational flying with II./JG 1.

The first two days of August saw diminished activity that resulted in no claims, although the trees around Semallé claimed another pilot in a landing accident. Uffz. Fritz Wurl was killed the day after his fourth victory. By 3 August the Allies were getting dangerously close to Alençon and the Gruppen of JG 1 flew two joint armed reconnaissance missions to determine the extent of the Allied advance. No losses or victories were recorded, and that evening both Gruppen began transferring to Oysonville, just southwest of Paris. II. Gruppe did not mount any operations for the next three days as the ground crews struggled to reach Oysonville by road. During the night of August 6/7, 5. Panzerarmee attacked westward from Mortain with four panzer divisions in an effort to cut off the American Third Army from its supply base. All Jagdgruppen were ordered to fly air cover over the attacking German forces. The remnants of I. and II./JG 1 were to strafe American positions in the vicinity of Mortain while the Bf 109s of III./JG 1 were to provide top cover. Ground fog delayed this first Geschwader strength operation of the Normandy campaign until 1412 hours. After taking-off and forming up, the Geschwader headed towards Avranches. As they neared the French town, they were engaged by numerous Allied fighters and suffered the loss of six pilots killed and one wounded in exchange for no victories. II. Gruppe lost two pilots from 7./JG 51; Uffz. Friedrich Mai and Uffz. Hans Hermann were both shot down and killed in action by Spitfires near Mortain.

7./JG 51 had joined II. Gruppe with 15 pilots on strength at the end of May. During the first two months of the Normandy campaign twelve pilots had been killed, one captured and another severely wounded, leaving only Lt. Günther Heckmann still able to fly. The Staffel had given its all.

During the night of August 7/8th, the British and Canadians began a massive assault southwards from Caen to cut off and trap 5. Panzerarmee west of Falaise. The German high command called off their struggling counter-offensive at Mortain and began a withdrawal to the east. II. Gruppe flew no missions on either August 8th or 9th. The next day, it flew a limited strength mission over the area of Avranches led by the new Kommandeur, Hptm. Staiger. Spitfires were encountered, one of which fell to the guns of the Kommandeur for his 59th victory. Uffz. Wilhelm Wäschle of 4. Staffel was the only casualty. II. Gruppe then redeployed across the Seine some 130 kilometers east to Connantre on 11 August, losing three Focke-Wulfs to accidents in the process. The ground crews followed by road, but took two full days to arrive in the chaotic conditions.

The Staffeln were now at the end of their stength and flew no missions during the week they were at Connantre. On 15 August, the Allies invaded Southern France, and the Staffeln of II./JG were finally renumbered to conform to a four-Staffel Gruppe:

5. Staffel remained 5./JG 1Lt. Hubert Swoboda
6. Staffel remained 6./JG 1Lt. Fritz Wegner
4. Staffel was renumbered 7./JG 1Lt. Otto Bach
7./JG 51 was renumbered 8./JG 1Lt. Günther Heckmann

Finally, on 17 August, II. Gruppe bagan transferring back to Reinsehlen, Germany, for rest, replenishment, and re-equipment. Eleven non-operational Fw 190s had to be destroyed to prevent their capture, the final losses of the Normandy campaign for II. Gruppe.

In summation, the four Staffeln of II./JG 1 spent ten weeks in Normandy and suffered the following losses:

27 pilots killed (including 3 in accidents)
3 pilots captured
2 pilots seriously wounded

The Gruppe also lost 106 aircraft, including:

41 in aerial combat
31 on the ground to Allied attacks
34 in accidents or through abandonment

Confirmed victories numbered 32 with the following breakdown by Staffel:

Stab II./JG 14 Abschüsseno pilots lost
4./JG 12 Abschüsse5 pilots KIA
5./JG 11 Abschuss5 pilots KIA
6./JG 112 Abschüsse6 pilots KIA, 2 POW, and 1 wounded
7./JG 5113 Abschüsse11 pilots KIA, 1 POW, and 1 wounded

In ten weeks this veteran fighter unit had lost half its assigned pilots, twice its assigned aircraft strength, had been bombed and strafed repeatedly, changed airfield five times, and had been rendered ineffectual by the Allies. It would take the next three months for II. Gruppe to re-equip and train its new pilots. It wouldn't reengage in air combat until 26 November 1944, once again a Reichsverteidigung unit.


Dierich, Wolfgang. Die Vërbande der Luftwaffe 1935-1945; Stuttgart: Motorbuch, 1976
Foreman, John. Over the Beaches; Surrey: Air Research Publications, 1994
Messenger, Charles. The Chronological Atlas of World War Two; New York: Macmillan, 1989
Mombeek, Eric. Defending the Reich; Norwich: JAC Publications, 1992
Prien, Jochen and Rodeike, Peter. Jagdgeschwader 1 und 11, Teil 2; Eutin: struve-druck, 1993

An earlier version of this appeared in Luftwaffe Verband Journal 4, Oct. 95

Return to Axis Aerial Orders of Battle.