Monday, December 31, 2018


German aircraft designs were consistently among the most advanced and successful of the war. Of all the nations, Germany was the first to begin to make significant use of jet aircraft, although these nevertheless came too late in the war and in insufficient quantity to have a decisive effect on the course of the air war. The Luftwaffe (German air force) had a few advocates for the production of large four-engine bombers, most notably the prewar chief of staff general Walther Wever. However, with his death in April 1936, the idea of a strategic role for the Luftwaffe also died, and the German air force instead adopted the basic doctrine that bombers should be used tactically to support the ground troops directly by striking targets on or near the battlefield. By the time the war began, German bombers were used strategically to bomb civilian targets, especially London and other English cities during the Battle of Britain. However, because of prevailing Luftwaffe doctrine, Germany, unlike the United States and Great Britain, produced no significant four-engine bombers. Abortive plans were made for the “Amerika” bomber, a spectacular aircraft of intercontinental range, but nothing came of the project.

The Stuka. Perhaps the most infamous of Germany’s bombers was the single-engine Junkers Ju87, better known as the Stuka. Designed in the mid-1930s, the Stuka was a dive bomber, which deployed its 1,100-pound bomb load not from level flight but from low altitude, near the end of a sharp 80-degree dive. This ensured surgical accuracy of the strike. By 1942, it was even fitted with a single 4000-pound bomb, which was used against heavy tanks. After striking its target with bombs, the Stuka often circled around to strafe survivors with its three 7.9-mm machine guns. The aircraft was also fitted with sirens, so-called Jericho trumpets, which produced a truly terrifying scream during the high-speed dive. Thus, the weapon produced as much panic and terror as physical destruction.

Stukas were deployed with great effect in the invasion of Poland, the Battle of France, and the invasion of the Soviet Union. However, after these early operations, the 238-mile-per-hour, poorly maneuverable Stuka proved increasingly vulnerable to fighter attack and was reconfigured in 1942 as the Ju87G-1, a dedicated antitank aircraft.

The Ju87B-2, best known of the Stuka iterations, was powered by a single 1,200-horsepower Jumo 211 Da engine and had a wingspan of 45 feet 3 1/3 inches, a service ceiling of 26,250 feet, and a range of 490 miles. It could be configured to carry a maximum of four individual bombs. About 5,700 Stukas were completed before production ended in 1944.

Germany’s other significant bombers were twin-engine medium bombers and included the following.  

Heinkel He111H-3. Crewed by four or five, the Heinkel first flew in early 1939. It was powered by two Junkers Jumo 211D-2 V-12 engines, each making 1,200 horsepower for a top speed, empty, of 258 miles per hour. Range was 745 miles and service ceiling 25,590 feet. The plane’s wingspan was 74 feet 1 3/4 inches. It was heavily armed with 7.92-mm machine guns in the nose cap, in the dorsal position, in a ventral gondola, in waist windows, in a fixed forward-firing position, in the side of the nose (could be operated by the copilot), and in the tail. The plane also had a 20-mm cannon on a fixed mount in the front part of the ventral gondola. Bomb load was up to 4,410 pounds.

Junkers Ju88A-4. A very successful design, 14,676 were built in all versions. About 9,000 were configured as medium bombers. The rest were configured mostly as night fighters. The versatile aircraft was used throughout the war, beginning with operations in Poland in 1939 and against just about every enemy Germany fought. The Ju88A4 version was capable of operating as a level bomber, a dive bomber, and a torpedo bomber. Generally, the bomb load consisted of 10 50-pound bombs loaded internally with as many as four bombs of various types fixed to hard points under the wings. A pair of torpedoes could also be mounted under the wings. Wingspan was 65 feet 10 inches, and the plane was driven by a pair of 950-horsepower Junkers Jumo 211 F engines. Top speed was 292 miles per hour, ceiling 26,900 feet, and range 1,106 miles.

Dornier Do 217K/M. The Do 217 series of bombers became operational in March 1941 and represented a significant advance over the Do 17. In addition to serving as a level bomber, the Do 217 could be configured as a night fighter, a torpedo bomber, and a reconnaissance aircraft. By August 1943, the aircraft was also being used to carry anti-shipping missiles, and by September, it was delivering guided bombs against warships. Production reached 1,905 of all types, including some 1,366 level bombers. The Do 217K and M versions were crewed by four and powered by two 1,700-horsepower BMW 810D 14-cylinder radials (K) or two 1,750-horsepower Daimler-Benz DB603A inverted V12s (M). Top speed was 320 miles per hour, service ceiling 24,600 feet, and range 1,430 miles. Wingspan was 62 feet 4 inches, and, for the M version, armament consisted of four 7.92-mm and two 13-mm machine guns with a bomb load of 8,818 pounds; the K version added two underwing FX-1400 Fritz X radio-controlled bombs, two FX-1400 bombs, or two Hs 293 missiles.

Junkers Ju188E-1. Produced in reconnaissance (designated D) and bomber versions (designated E), the Ju188 series was crewed by five and first flew in 1940. About 1,100 were produced during the war. The Ju 188E was powered by two BMW 801G- 2 18-cylinder two-row radials, each producing 1,700 horsepower for a top speed of 310 miles per hour. Service ceiling was 31,510 feet, and range was 1,211 miles. Wingspan was 72 feet 2 inches. Typically, the aircraft was armed with a single 20-mm cannon in its nose and three 13-mm machine guns, one in a dorsal turret, one manually aimed from the rear dorsal position, and one manually aimed from the rear ventral position; in some configurations, twin 7.92-mm machine guns were substituted for the last position. Typical bomb load was 6,614 pounds loaded internally, or two 2,200- pound torpedoes under the wings.

Heinkel He177A-5. This was the largest bomber Germany actually deployed, with a wingspan of 103 feet 1 3/4 inches and a bomb load capacity of 13,228 pounds. It was powered by two massive 3,100-horsepower Daimler-Benz DB610 coupled engines. This design feature was an innovative attempt to reduce drag, but it created severe reliability problems that often resulted in engine fires. Fully three-quarters of the preproduction prototypes crashed; 1,146 were produced, and while the 3,100-mile range was badly needed by the Luftwaffe, the airplanes were not very effective as strategic bombers. They were used with moderate effectiveness in an antitank role. Top speed was 295 miles per hour and service ceiling 26,500 feet. Armament consisted of one 7.92-mm machine gun manually aimed in the nose, one 20-mm machine gun manually aimed in the forward ventral gondola, two 13-mm machine guns in a front dorsal turret, one in the aft dorsal turret, and one 20-mm cannon in the tail position.

Arado Ar234B-2. Of greater historical than practical significance was the Arado Ar234B-2, the world’s first jet bomber, which became operational at the end of November 1944, too late to have any impact on the course of the war. Powered by a pair of BMW 003A-1 jets, each developing 1,764 pounds of thrust, the Arado had a top speed of 461 miles per hour and could carry 4,409 pounds of bombs over a 1,000-mile range. Service ceiling was 32,810 feet. For defensive purposes, the Arado carried two 20-mm cannon. Only 210 were built.

German fighter designs were generally more successful and more innovative than its bomber designs. The two most important fighters were the Messerschmitt 109 series and the Focke-Wulf 190 series.  

Messerschmitt 109. The Messerschmitt 109 first flew in October 1935, powered by British Rolls- Royce Kestrel engines. The aircraft entered Luftwaffe service in spring 1937 and received its baptism of fire in the Spanish civil war. By the beginning of World War II, the aircraft existed in a number of variants, and 1,000 were deployed against Poland in September 1939. The 109 was superior to most other fighters at the outbreak of the war but was fairly evenly matched with the British Spitfire and Hurricane in the Battle of Britain. It did have one very significant advantage over these rivals, however. Its fuel injection system allowed for a constant fuel flow even in negative-g conditions, which meant that a pilot could dive or shear away much more quickly than his opponents. This added significantly to the plane’s survivability. Counterbalancing this advantage, however, was the 109’s limited range—a 300-mile operating radius for the 109G. This gave the fighter precious little combat time over relatively remote targets such as those in England.

Some 109 variants had a cannon placed in the hollowed-out nose cap. In early models, this created an unacceptable level of vibration, which, however, was eliminated in later versions. Additionally, most of the fighters were fitted with two wing-mounted cannons and two machine guns mounted on the top of the nose cone that were synchronized to fire through the propeller arc. The 109G, introduced in 1942, was powered by a Daimler- Benz DB605 1,475-horsepower engine to a top speed of 387 miles per hour at 23,000 feet. Wingspan was 32 feet 6 1/2 inches. The backbone of the Luftwaffe, some 30,000 109s were built before the end of the war.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Superior even to the formidable Messerschmitt 109 was the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, which made its first flight on June 1, 1939. It first saw action in the Battle of France in September 1941 and was markedly superior to the British Spitfire. Most Fw 190s were the A series, powered by a single BMW 801 2,100-horsepower radial engine. However, late in 1943, the D was deployed against U.S. bombers, powered by the Jumo 213 inline, liquid-cooled engine, which developed only 1,770 horsepower but had improved performance, producing a top speed of 426 miles per hour, 18 miles per hour faster than the A version. In all, some 20,000 Fw 190s of all types were built before the end of the war. Wingspan of the D type was 34 feet 5 1/3 inches, and armament consisted of two 20-mm wing-mounted cannon and two 13-mm machine guns in the nose. Range was 520 miles and service ceiling 40,000 feet.

Messerschmitt Bf 110. The twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 made its first flight in May 1936. With all-metal construction and a crew of three, the aircraft was powered by two Daimler Benz DB 601 engines, each making 1,100 horsepower and propelling the plane to a maximum speed of 336 miles per hour over a range of 680 miles. Wingspan was 53 feet 4 inches, and armament consisted of five machine guns and two 20-mm cannon. Formidable as all this seems, the aircraft performed poorly in the Battle of Britain. This prompted a redesign with the inclusion of radar, which transformed the Bf 110 into the Luftwaffe’s finest night fighter. In all, nearly 6,000 Bf 110s were produced before the end of the war. 

Jet and rocket-propelled fighters. Late in the war, in 1944, Germany introduced both jet- and rocket-propelled fighters. The Messerschmitt 163B was powered by a single Walter rocket motor developing 3,700 pounds of thrust and capable of reaching 590 miles per hour at 20,000 feet. Range, however, was extremely limited. Armed with two 30-mm cannon and 24 R4M rockets, the 163B had a wingspan of 30 feet 7 inches. Very few were produced. More significant, however, was the jet-powered Messerschmitt 262A, with two Junkers 004 jets, each making 1,980 pounds of thrust, mounted under the wings. Top speed was 540 miles per hour over a range of 420 miles. Armament was limited to four 30-mm cannon. The aircraft was designed primarily to attack Allied bombers, which it did very effectively. Had the aircraft been introduced earlier and in much greater numbers, its impact on the air war over Europe would have been profound.

Further reading: Brown, Eric. Wings of the Luftwaffe: Flying German Aircraft of the Second World War. Shrewsbury, U.K.: Airlife, 2001; Donald, David, ed. German Aircraft of World War II. Minneapolis: Motorbooks International, 1996; Griehl, Manfred. German Jets of World War II. London: Arms & Armour, 1989; Gunston, Bill. An Illustrated Guide to German, Italian and Japanese Fighters of World War II: Major Fighters and Attack Aircraft of the Axis Powers. London: Salamander Books, 1980; Gunston, Bill. World War II German Aircraft. London: Book Sales, 1985; Kay, Antony L., and J. R. Smith. German Aircraft of the Second World War. Annapolis, Md.: United States Naval Institute, 2002; Shepherd, Christopher. German Aircraft of World War II. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1975.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Dornier Night Fighters

Conversion of the Dornier Do 17Z bomber into a long-range intruder and heavy night fighter followed the Luftwaffe's realisation in 1940 that the RAF was beginning a determined, if rather haphazard, night bombing offensive against Germany. Thus, the experimental three-seat, twin-engine Do 17Z-7, code-named Kauz (Screech- Owl), was produced to trial the idea. The former bomb-aimer's position in the nose was replaced by a solid fairing accommodating three 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns and one 20mm MG 151 cannon. Flight-tests proved the modification would work in spite of the aircraft's size and nine Z-10 Kauz IIs followed, each with an armament of four MG 17s and two MG 151s. These were delivered to 2 Staffel of Nachtjagdgruppe 1 formed on June 28, 1940.

Often over looked during the Battle of Britain is the valiant attempts by the British RAF Bomber Command to counter the German Luftwaffe bombing with its own raids.   Suffering as heavily as the Germans, they switched to nighttime bombing as a way to avoid fighters.   Indeed, it was an accidental night bombing raid by the RAF bombers that saved England from defeat!   The Luftwaffe needed something to stop RAF bombers at night. They chose the Bf-109D, Me-110C, and Do-17Z's. This choice is a strong affirmation of the 17's potential as a nimble and fast fighter (passing over the Ju-88C for some reason), creating arguably the first custom built (rather then simple modification) night fighter!  These 'bombers' now became the test beds and foundation for all future night fighter designs; anything used by "Nachtjäger" squadrons was first tested on a 17Z or 215B-5.   The first 17Z-6 "Kazu" (Screech Owl) conversions ironically used an Ju-88c nose section, but was this was awkward and quickly changed to an original design, and renamed the 17Z-7.   There is a report of a Do-17P also being pressed into this roll. Still not satisfied with the performance, a new design built from experience with the early prototypes was created, resulting in the successful 17Z-10 "Kazu II". These were stripped of all excess weight and all but one defensive MG15, and then armed with 4x MG17 7.92mm machine guns and 2x MG/FF 20mm cannons and a first of its kind "Spanner-Anlage" Infrared searchlight and Detector (modern day FLIR).   The first 2 night fighter kills made by the new "Nachtjäger" force are credited to Do-17Z's shooting down 2 Wellingtons on 23 July 1940 (the day after NJG1's official creation).   After perfecting the designs with the 17Z's, the Luftwaffe then modified at least 20 of the faster 215's toward the end of 1940 (it is believed).   Airborne radar was not available until mid-1941, so the first non-radar equipped 215B-5 "Kazu III" could top 500kph (310mph), faster then most Ju-88's!   The leading night ace who flew 17's and 215's during this time was nicknamed "Dr. Night"; Ludwig Becker tallied 46 kills before he himself was shot down (in a ill planned daylight attack using Bf-110).   A 17Z-10 "Kazu II" was also used in developing airborne radar and the "Schrage Music" weapon system which was soon installed in 215B-5's, but that reduced its top speed to around 485kph.   The Do-17/215-night fighters served nearly two years before replaced by other aircraft types (Me-110, Ju-88c, Do-217, He-219).

17Z-6 = questionable if it was a night fighter, but whatever its use it was converted from a Z-3.
17Z-7 = Kauz I' 1 or 2 converted from Z-2.
17Z-10 = Kauz II' about 9 converted from Z-2; at least one had radar, possibly a Schrage Music testbed!
215B-5 = Kauz III' 20 converted from B-1 and B-4's; radar installed sometime later.
"Kauz" means "screech owl" in English.

The first 2 kills claimed by the Luftwaffe's newly formed Night Fighter squadron (NJG1) was made by Do-17Z-10's over a pair of Wellingtons.   It is important to note that NGJ1 did have Ju-88c's at their disposal, as well as Bf-109 and Bf-110's, so it is intriguing that the Do-17 was chosen as the lead platform for developing nightfighting hardware and tactics. Over time NJG1 continued to convert more Do-17's and then Do-215's, despite the fact its Ju-88c could have just have easily been chosen instead. In the latter half of 1940, the RAF's night bombing was making a mark so it was a priority project to counter this nuisance (note the accidental bombing of Berlin and Hitler's reaction), thus it is reasonable to assume they would use the best equipment to counter it, not "obsolete and surplus" Do-17's, a very interesting and telling fact on the performance of the type!   The first version, the 17Z-6, used the nose of a Ju-88c, but this marriage was not ideal, so a new nose was made, but used the same weapons.   The 17Z-7 was not satisfactory either, so an entirely new nose was made, with nearly double the armament of the 88c, the 17Z-10, and that was the arrangement used in all future versions.   A logical conclusion is that the 17 was far from out classed in 1940, and could still provide good service.

Fitted with the early FuG 202 Lichtenstein airborne radar and a Spanner infra-red searchlight, the third conversion was a Do 215B-5, named Kauz III. This was in use until mid-1942 when the larger, more powerful Do 217J-1 arrived with 4./NJG 1. The prototype of this fighter conversion of the Do 217E-2 bomber few in late-1941 and with a formidable armament of four 20mm and four 7.9mm guns, great hope rested on its arrival in service. Hope turned to despair when the crews experienced the type's poor maneuverability, insufficient power from the BMW 801 engines and that old problem which plagued a number of German designs, a weak undercarriage.

While Ju 88s and Bf 110s made up the bulk of the night-fighter force, Dornier persevered and with the J-1s relegated to training it delivered the Lichtenstein radar-equipped Do 217J-2 for service from early-1943. This proved marginally better but it was still too heavy and with the radar antenna cutting the speed down to less than an RAF Halifax bomber, it had limited success.

Another attempt was made with the Do 217N-1 which few on July 31, 1942. Re-engined with 1,750hp Daimler-Benz DB 603As it entered service late that year and showed much-improved performance. Additional to the nose armament, some aircraft received upward-firing cannon in the centre fuselage which allowed the German pilots to fly under the bomber and attack its unprotected belly, an arrangement also adopted for use in Bf 110s and Ju 88s.

With the new weaponry the Do 217N-2 entered service in spring 1943 but lasted less than a year before withdrawal from use. Production of all versions totalled 364.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Did Nazi Germany Actually Try to Make a Stealth Fighter?

Did Nazi Germany Actually Try to Make a Stealth Fighter?

Northrop Grumman revealed this year it is developing a second flying wing stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, to succeed its B-2 Spirit. However, it was a pair of German brothers in the service of Nazi Germany that developed the first jet-powered flying wing-which has been dubbed, debatably, "Hitler's stealth fighter."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


When the German decision was taken to attack Poland, it was with the firm knowledge that the Luftwaffe was even more ready for war in September 1939 than it had been a year earlier at the time of the Munich climb-down. The British and French bought a year’s grace for themselves by sacrificing the Czechoslovakian nation, but the Germans made better use of that time preparing for the final show-down than the Allies. The decision to make 1 September 1939 the deadline for the attack, even at the risk that Britain and France would, this time, honour their obligations to the Poles, meant that Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch’s long-term plans for the development of the Luftwaffe to its peak strength in 1942 had to be abandoned. Despite this fact, the kind of war that Adolf Hitler envisaged, limited but annihilating campaigns of short duration against each of his potential opponents in turn, was well within the grasp of the Luftwaffe as it then stood and, vis-à-vis the Allies, the Germans had several important advantages.

Firstly, they were ready; the Allies most certainly were not. The Luftwaffe had been placed on a full war footing early in 1939 and was primed for immediate action to an agreed plan. Secondly, the occupation of Czechoslovakia had given them additional facilities, airfields for training and aircraft factories like the Tatra works. Thirdly, they had the benefit of modern combat experience fed back from their Legion Condor contributions to the victory of General Franco’s forces in Spain. In particular, many of the theories of army cooperation and close air support were put to the practical test and invaluable lessons absorbed. Finally, the opponents had their own re-armament programmes in full swing, which meant that, even though Germany might be more ready in 1942 than in 1939, its opponents would have caught up, and the balance would not have been so favourable to the Luftwaffe at that later date.

Much criticised for failing to develop a long-range strategical bomber, the fact was that there was no outstanding requirement for such a weapon in order to achieve Germany’s military ambitions in 1939 so, although such a project was under active development, the short-term requirements of interdiction and back-area bombing in support of the Wehrmacht and its Panzer columns were paramount.

It was here that the dive-bomber arm came in. The subject of many post-war myths that refuse to die, in fact dive-bombing had been invented, used in combat action and carefully analysed and tested by the British, all in the period 1917–19. The Americans, usually credited with its introduction, came late to the concept, picking it up from the RAF in France and later making very small and limited use of it with their Marine Corps units in Haiti and Nicaragua. It was not until the late 1920s that the US Navy began to really take notice of its potential, and much later that they developed the ‘Helldiver’ concept, so often held up as the origins of the German Sturzkampf force.

In fact long before the much-hyped purchase of two Curtiss F8C-4 biplane aircraft from America by Generaloberst Ernst Udet, the Luftwaffe had been conducting its own dive-bombing trials at the secret-testing ground at Lipetz in the Soviet Union, and observing similar experiments conducted by the Swedish air force at Fröson. As early as 1933 test pilot Willi Neuenhofen had conducted a series of twenty-six dive-bombing tests with the Junkers K-47 monoplane fitted with bomb-racks, experimental two-ring eye-sight for vertical bombing, a direction gyro, air brakes, automatic recovery devices and other specialist equipment.

Indeed, the clandestine Luftwaffe had developed two generations of biplane dive-bombers, the Heinkel He 50, which went into commission with the first dive-bomber group, Gruppe I./162 on 1 April 1936, and the Henschel Hs 123, which entered service in 1937 with the St.Gr. 1./162 ‘Immelmann’. This was at the same time that the Junkers company were developing their own monoplane dive-bomber, the Junkers Ju 87, through its early design and test models, into the working ‘Anton’ series that was battle-tested in Spain and on to the ‘Bertha’ type, the B-1 version of which formed the main complement of the Stukagruppen with which Germany went to war.

There was no great consensus at the Technisches Amt of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) for the dive-bomber; in fact the higher echelons of the Luftwaffe were evenly divided into pro- and anti-dive-bomber camps. The basic requirements for Luftwaffe war operations were enumerated in the Air Field Manual of 1935. The number one priority was the securing and the maintaining of air superiority; everything else was subordinate to this. Once achieved, the second priority was spelt out as ‘action in support of the ground forces’. From this the Luftwaffe never wavered and it was in marked contrast to the air forces of Britain, the United States, France and Italy, to whom any hint of cooperation with the army, other than by aerial spotter aircraft, smacked of subservience to another service.

One of the major opponents of dive-bombing was Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen, who underwent conversion during the Spanish experiences and became the leading exponent of the dive-bomber with VIII. Fliegerkorps during the Polish, French, Balkan and Russian campaigns. Udet’s greatest contribution to the existence of the Sturzkampf was his immediate reversal of Richthofen’s cancellation of dive-bomber development when he succeeded him as head of the Development Branch in June 1936.

The basic theory of dive-bombing was of the utmost simplicity. Given that various factors of the speed of the aircraft in horizontal flight, wind strength, sighting difficulties at high altitudes, drift of the bomb in descent and so on, all added to the difficulties of achieving accuracy in the delivery of bombs, it was only common sense that any method of attack which eliminated most of these would naturally result in a higher rate of success. By aiming the whole aircraft at the target, holding it there while the eye-sight was lined up, descending to a low level before bomb release, and thus ensuring the trajectory of the descending missile followed much more closely the trajectory of the aiming carrier until within the last few minutes of its flight time, enormous accuracy was achieved by dive-bombing. In fact pre-war tests showed that a factor of more than ten to one was commonly achieved.

This being a perfectly reasonable factor, the adoption of dive-bombing was a logical step for any nation to adopt. What turned the British, Americans and Italians against the concept was a combination of several factors, differing in origin, but combining to make an almost pathological aversion to the use of the dive-bomber. Let us examine each in turn.

Firstly was the ingrained wishful thinking that the heavy bomber laying waste to opposing nations’ cities and populations would quickly win any war, alone and unaided, and make protracted land warfare and naval blockades, with their respective carnage and mass starvation, a thing of the past. The air weapon was relatively new and was embraced by the popular media of the day automatically as against old methods, which had led to such terrible casualty lists in World War I. If there was a short-cut then it was welcomed by the politicians, especially in the western democracies, ever shy of providing adequate defence if it meant loss of votes. The newly formed air forces, shrilly proclaiming their independence and fighting for survival in a period of shrinking budgets, insisted that the heavy bomber was the answer. People like Douhet in Italy, Trenchard in Britain and Mitchell in the United States had their dubious but loudly proclaimed theories endorsed by, for example, the British premier Baldwin, declaring that ‘the bomber would always get through’ as an excuse for not providing sufficient fighter defences. Independence was everything to these airmen and so the total commitment to aiding the army in land battles, the cardinal feature of the Luftwaffe, was utterly alien to them.

Secondly, and allied to the above thinking, the British and Americans had convinced themselves of two incorrect assumptions. One was that the new altitude bomb sights, like the Norden in America, would produce accurate hits from a great height. The USAAF declared that the new B-17s using this device would drop ‘a bomb in a pickle barrel’. The war that came soon showed that such heady assumptions were so much hogwash. The RAF bombing campaign of 1939–42, which the BBC daily declared was destroying German cities and their capacity to wage war, was a total failure, with some bombs being dropped as much as five miles from the target. So much for high accuracy. At sea results were even worse, with moving warships proving almost impossible to hit, let alone sink, by high-altitude bombing, despite incredible claims to the contrary. The German fleet sailed through the English Channel in 1942 and was to have been attacked by over 250 RAF bombers, half of which failed to even locate the ships in that narrow stretch of water, while the other half attacked both British and German ships indiscriminately without causing any damage. In the Mediterranean the same thing happened with the Italian high-level bombing and British fleets and convoys paraded up and down the length of that sea almost as they pleased, until the arrival of the German Stukas on the scene. At the Battle of Midway the B-17s were credited in the New York press with having destroyed the Japanese fleet, but failed to score a single hit, although they almost sank an American submarine which they claimed was a Japanese heavy cruiser.

The other factor that turned the west against dive-bombing was the claim that modern ‘high-speed’ monoplane aircraft were unable to dive-bomb at an angle of much more than 30 degrees. RAF experts said it was impossible, and relied on low-level attacks by Battles and Blenheims, which proved totally useless. This was a nonsense and by the end of the war such high-performance aircraft as Spitfires, Thunderbolts, Mustangs and Typhoons were all employed as dive-bombers. Finally, and here some elements of the Luftwaffe agreed, antiaircraft fire had reached such perfection that to dive below a certain level was tantamount to suicide and could not be contemplated. Again, the theory was sound, but in practice it required very steady nerves to stand at a gun while a line of dive-bombers was descending directly towards you. In practice, losses were small and the hits achieved by the dive-bomber were many.

If a two-crewed dive-bomber, cheap to produce and economical to run, adaptable and able to keep up with a moving front line, could hit the target ten times as often as a larger six-or seven-crewed heavy bomber from its fixed airfields and with enormous costs, it made a more viable weapon of war. So dive-bombing, rejected in the west, made for a cost-effective proposition to the new Luftwaffe.

Thus it was that, on the outbreak of war, the Junkers Ju 87 B-1 (commonly known outside Germany as the Stuka, an abbreviation of Sturzkampfflugzeug which in the Luftwaffe meant all aircraft of the dive-bomber type), equipped all eleven active German dive-bomber units, the III./St.G. 51 with Luftflotte 3, the I./St.G. 1, the I., II. and III./St.G. 2, the Stab, I., II. and III./St.G. 77, IV.(St)/LG. 1 and the 4.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186 all with Luftflotte 1.

There was a theoretical establishment strength of 319 dive-bombers, given the job of destroying vital objectives well behind the front lines, such as aircraft and tank factories, ammunition dumps, airfields and aircraft on the ground, military headquarters, key rail and marshalling yards to hamper the movement of enemy troop formations, bridges and viaducts, and so on. In fact these were much the same objectives given to all other bomber arms, but the Stukas had the vital asset of accuracy, being five or six times more likely to hit what they aimed at than any level bomber.

Added to these ‘back-area’ requirements, were the ‘targets of opportunity’ and true close-support roles, in which the dive-bombers would attack any enemy strongpoint or fortress, or concentrations of artillery, tanks or infantry that sought to make a stand against the Wehrmacht It was known that the morale of unseasoned troops cracked when confronted by dive-bombing, which is a very personal form of aerial attack, and this was later to be played upon with the introduction of wind-siren devices on both the Stuka and its bombs, which added to the natural howling scream of an aircraft in a steep dive.

It was not known just how effective the Stukas would be, and their outstanding successes in all these roles came as almost as big a surprise to its Luftwaffe advocates as it did to the stunned recipients of its visitations. Critics always state that the Stuka depended totally for its initial, and its continued, success, on the establishment of air superiority. This is perfectly true, but what they do not add, ever, is that this is a requirement for all bomber aircraft, not just dive-bombers. It was proved very quickly that Allied long-range types like the Vickers Wellington could no more operate without this requirement, than could the Stuka. The RAF soon switched to night bombing as it could not face daylight fighter interception any better than could the Junkers Ju 87. The huge Allied four-engined bombers of the later war period, like the Avro Lancaster and Boeing B-17 Fortress, designed to win the war unaided, proved just as vulnerable without air superiority as the Stuka was, and their losses were appallingly higher.

What the Stuka achieved, when it had air superiority, was the transformation of air and land warfare, with countries falling in days and weeks rather than after campaigns that lasted for years. Moreover, it was the combination of Stuka and Panzer that won these battles, the combined effect of both working in harmony far outweighing the impact of the individual components, and they proved a winning, and (in terms of lives) economical team. The conquest of Poland cost a mere thirty-one Stukas, most of these to AA fire. The Stuka’s inherent accuracy, already also tested in Spain, proved to be a potent weapon against warships also, and this task too was added to its growing agenda as the war developed.

The Norwegian campaign was a small-scale affair compared to Poland, but it again emphasised the versatility of the Stuka, now equipped with long-range fuel tanks. A small number of dive-bombers operating against fortresses, slow-moving Allied troop columns and, especially, against the Allied naval forces off the coast, proved decisive.

The invasion of the Low Countries and France in May 1940 brought to a triumphant conclusion all the lessons learnt in the earlier campaigns and it proved the absolute superiority of the mobile form of warfare perfected by the Germans and given the name of Blitzkrieg by the American press, over the static form as practised by the Allies, who, even with nine months’ warning, proved unable to cope with it. It was Poland on an even larger scale and the defeat of the Netherlands, Belgium and France was achieved within a six-week period for the loss of only 120 Stukas from all causes, which included thirteen shot down by naval gunfire over Dunkirk.

With the fall of France a different type of situation developed and the English Channel could not be taken at the charge like the river Meuse or the Aisne. However hard the Stukas might hit RAF airfields and installations in Kent and Hampshire, the immediate follow-up and over-running of the impacted targets could not be made by the Panzers; one half of the winning team was lacking. Airfields devastated by dive-bombing were therefore given ample time to recover, fighter squadrons could be rested out of Stuka range and rotated. On the occasions when their own fighter cover failed to give them adequate protection the Ju 87s naturally suffered severe losses. In the Battle of Britain a total of fifty-nine Stukas were lost (but not the ‘hundreds’ claimed by Winston Churchill and the British press) during the months of July and August. Yet morale remained high and there is no doubt that, had the Wehrmacht finally got ashore in Britain, the smooth-running team of Panzer and Stuka would have been just as effective against the remnants of the ill-equipped British army, however gallant, as they had been earlier against the fully prepared regulars.

It was not to be, but the Stuka story was far from over; indeed it had hardly begun. The aircraft that made the very first bombing attack of World War II was to go on fighting in the front line, by day and by night, until the very last day of that conflict.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Schlachtflieger Escort

Escort for Dive Bomber Formations (Stukaverbande).
Ju.87 dive bomber units were largely manned by fighter personnel when they were set up. They therefore took on a special character which was always more closely related to the fighter arm than to the bomber arm. Outmoded in performance, slow in level flight and also in dives, inadequately armed both from the front and rear, the Ju.87 soon had to quit the Battle of Britain and the anti-shipping war. When German air superiority in Africa was lost the Ju.87 could not be employed without heavy losses even in the presence of fighter cover. On the Eastern Front, use of the aircraft was possible until the end of the war, with the losses from Russian fighters being less than those from ground defenses. In some respects the Ju.87 was the counterpart of the Il-2 used by the Russians.

The most conspicuous weakness of the Ju.87 formations lay, however, in their impossibly low formation flying speed of about 250 km per hour. The operational altitude of the Stuka in the Battle of Britain was about 16,000 feet and lower. In Russia they flew at about 6500 feet. Pull-out altitudes were set according to targets and ground defenses. The minimum pull-out altitude was about 1900 feet. On the Eastern Front the Stukas almost always went over to ground attack tactics after their bombing dive.

The single basic difference in the conduct of escort for Stukas Gu.87’s) compared to ordinary bombers is the special need for protection during the dive and during the re-assembly after the pull-out.

In practice this was accomplished by a part of the close escort. This was best done by the escort cover arriving at the pull-out altitude shortly before the Stukas and patrolling there. This pull-out altitude must be determined in advance in the field order. In case it is altered, all elements must be notified by R/T. The other part of the close escort dives with the Stukas, but because of greater diving speed this escort must resort to turning to hold position. A special danger exists from the time of the pull-out until the re-closing of the Stuka formation. It is not possible in this period for the fighters to protect each individual Stuka. Therefore it is the Stukas’ responsibility to keep formation at least in Ketten (3s) and to get as quickly as possible into closed formation. When they had to dive through cloud, or when the pull-out altitude was clouded in, this coordination did not work and losses resulted.

Ju.88 Formations.
Influenced by the concepts of pre-war times, German medium bombers like the Ju.88 and Do.217, even the heavy bombers like the He.177, had to be fitted for dive bombing attacks. Greater accuracy was supposed to be obtained by this. The disadvantages of this requirement were, with the exception of dive bombing against shipping, so great that the concepts must be now regarded as false. For the fighter arm, however, it did mean an aggravation of the job of escorting, first because of the diving itself and second because of the weak defensive armament of the bombers. As early as the Battle of Britain, the Ju.88 formations gave up dive bombing and went over to high altitude level bombing. As long as dive attacks were conducted, the fighters flew escort according to the principles laid down. Because of the inferior maneuverability of the Ju.88 compared to the Stuka, the dive and pull-out of the Ju.88 formations were even more spread out and the re-assembly took more time than with the Ju.87’s. The Do.217 and the He.l77 were practically never employed by day on dive bombing missions.

Bär’s Comments on Escort Missions for Stukas.
One important fact for the escort of Stukas is that the Stuka is very slow and vulnerable, therefore, rendezvous with the escort must be carried out with great certainty. In Africa, where during most of the campaign the threat of enemy fighters behind the German lines was not great, the following method of rendezvous proved to be good: For example, the Stukas flew over the fighter field at 6000 feet at 1500 hours. The fighters were ready in their aircraft on cockpit alert (Sitzbereitschaft) at 1455 hours. As soon as the Stukas appeared over the field, the fighters got the order to start. The Stukas flew on to the front and the fighters caught up. In this way, rendezvous was both sure and economical as far as fighter fuel was concerned. This type of rendezvous is, however, only possible where enemy forces are not strong enough to flyover the front. At the target it was important that a portion of the fighter escort dive with the Stukas (or fighter-bombers, or ground attack aircraft) to cover their most vulnerable moment as they pulled out of the dive. Radio communication between the fighters and the bomb-carrying aircraft proved well worth while. Radio silence is extremely important, especially when other formations are sighted. It is easily possible that a false sighting of enemy fighters will take place and the bomb carrying aircraft will jettison their bombs unnecessarily. Only the most experienced pilots and formation leaders should be allowed to announce the approach of enemy aircraft.

For missions of tank-destroying aircraft it is often advisable during the attack for the fighter escort to shoot up A.A. installations in the vicinity, to remove this greatest danger for the tank-destroyers.

Escort for Ground Attack Units (Schlachtverbande or Schlachtfliegerverbande).
In Spain, ground attack missions at low level were flown exclusively without fighter cover. If fighter opposition developed, the He.51 formations were able to defend themselves. The Legion Kondor fighter Staffeln, however, often entered the front area at the same time as the ground attack Staffeln and gave indirect escort by flying fighter sweeps in the general area. For operations against enemy airfields farther to the rear, a common time of arrival over target was given both fighters and ground units. No case is known to Galland, however, where actual immediate fighter cover was furnished for ground attack units in Spain. In the Polish campaign ground attack units with the slow Henschel 123 bi-plane operated completely without fighter escort.

In the French Campaign, in 1940, similarly, no fighter escort was flown for ground attack units. Fighter units were regularly sent in to sweep clear the combat area for the ground attack formations. Only one ground attack (Schlachtflieger) unit existed at this time, III (Schlacht) Lehr Geschwader 2, which was attached to Fliegerkorps VIII (Richthofen’s tactical air force) and was equipped with the Henschel 123 bi-plane. After the campaign in France, this Gruppe re-equipped with the Me. 109 fighter-bomber and was in combat together with Kampfgruppe 210 in the Battle of Britain. The missions which these two Gruppen flew in the Battle of Britain were not ground attack missions, but fighter-bomber missions. They were, of course, flown under fighter cover, because of the strong RAF fighter defense.

The Campaign against Russia was begun in 1941 with the single ground attack Gruppe, II/(Schlacht) Lehr Geschwader 2, which at the time had variously three Staffeln of Me.109’s and one Staffel of Hs.123’s, or two of Me.109s and two of Hs.123’s. In any event, the Gruppe needed no fighter cover, furnishing its own cover with the Me.109s. One other Staffel of the Gruppe was at this time being equipped with the Henschel 129, which was used more and more. Later these Hs.129 Staffeln specialized as tank-destroyers with the MK 101 cannon.

The setting up of two more ground attack (Schlacht) Geschwader in early 1942, with Me.109’s and Me.110’s, brought new demands for fighter cover. In III (Schlacht) Lehr Geschwader 2, fighter cover was still furnished by the Gruppe itself. Even the tank-destroying Hs.129’s, attached to the newly created Schlacht Gruppen, were covered during missions by fighter aircraft, Me.109s and Me.110s.

It frequently occurred that for concentrated offensives twin-engine bombers, Stukas, and ground attack units operated in uninterrupted succession, in the same area, for example, where a break through had occurred. For this period of massed activity, the area concerned was covered by an air umbrella of all fighters available not being used for the immediate escort of the bombers and Stukas.

Later, some Henschel 129 tank-destroyer Staffeln were attached to fighter Geschwaders to provide a striking force with heavy fire power for use against Russian tank breakthroughs. Because of the lack of HS.129’s this experiment was stopped. In addition, in Summer 1943 an operational concentration of all the Hs.129 tank-destroyer units was attempted. The use of the tankdestroyers en masse resulted in several successes. During this period, fighter escort for the Hs. 129’s was furnished by a fighter Gruppe especially subordinated to the tank-destroyers for this purpose. This was one of the few cases in which a sub-ordination of fighters for such cooperation was successful. For this special purpose it was worthwhile.

Starting in 1943 the ground attack units (Schlachtverbande) converted to F.W.190’s. Right after this the Stuka Gruppen began their conversion from Ju.87’s to F.W.190s and became not only nominally but also actually ground attack units (Schlachtgruppen). Fighter cover was not provided for them, however, except in special cases. For the purpose of protecting these ground attack units from enemy fighters, the chief method employed was the sweeping clear of the battle area by regular fighter units. Only the few remaining Stuka units required an actual fighter escort. No further alterations or developments occurred until the end of the war.

Southern Front.
In Africa there were first one and later two ground attack units with F.W.190’s. Operations were only possible with a ratio of escort to escorted aircraft of 1:1. With increasing Allied air superiority in Tunis, Sicily, and Italy their operations became more and more difficult and losses heavier. A single Hs.129 tank-destroyer Staffel which was in the Southern theater could not be used operationally at all and was transferred to the Russian front.

In June 1944 one ground attack unit was used on the invasion front, and it required strong close escort. Allied air superiority soon made the use of ground attack units impossible. No operational order could be carried out on time, since the Allied fighter umbrella hung almost continually over the fighter bases. Assemblies and rendezvous in the air were knocked to pieces or never even allowed to start. At the latest, on the way to the target area the formations of ground attack aircraft and fighter escort were engaged in combat with numerically superior enemy forces. Under such an oppressive enemy air superiority every type of planned mission was brought to a halt. Only in those surprise missions like the attack on Allied airfields on 1st January 1945 could anything be accomplished by the personal initiative of the immediate formation leaders. In conjunction with the air superiority of the Allied fighters and their good fighting spirit and ability, the Allied radar and fighter control organization deserves special mention. They succeeded in grasping every German air operation immediately


As a result of the experience in World War I, fighter aircraft were, during the building up of the present fighter force, fitted to carry small caliber bombs (10kg. fragmentation). In regulations and in maneuvers, ground attacks by fighter formations in the combat area and against forward airfields were planned.

In Spain, fighter Staffeln with outmoded fighter aircraft specialized in ground attack missions, while the fighter units equipped with more modern aircraft, the Me.109, attacked only targets of opportunity. As a result of this experience, special ground attack formations called Schlachtflieger (Battle flyers) were formed in the Luftwaffe in 1938. It had been shown that special tactical and flying training was necessary if the most effective action possible for the immediate support of the army was to be effected. Moreover, the first series of the Me.109 were not equipped to carry bombs.

The Schlachtflieger units (ground attack units) now embarked on their own course of development, related to the fighters, having the same elementary fighter training as a basis and subject to the Inspectorate (both were at first under the General der Jagdflieger). In October 1943, however, the Schlachtflieger were rightly combined with the Stuka units to form an independent branch. This did not, however, alter the fact that from fall 1940, pure fighter units continually engaged in fighter bomber attacks paralleling those of the Schlachtflieger. These fighter bombers are called Jabos, a contraction of Jagdbomber - fighter bomber.

In the Polish Campaign and French Campaigns, German fighter units were not technically equipped to drop bombs, since the Me.109 was not fitted with bomb racks. Nevertheless a great many planned strafing attacks were carried out by fighter units and even more unplanned attacks on targets of opportunity. The frequent fast retreats of the enemy produced a mass of good targets. In addition, the destruction of the enemy air forces in the air was quickly effected in both campaigns, leaving more time for ground attacks by fighters.

Pre-requisites for effective cooperation with the Army are recognition of friendly front lines, knowledge of the intentions of the Army and its requirements for air support and the recognition of friendly troops; therefore the low level attacks by fighters can only be conducted in very clear situations. Operations right on the battle front and attacks against targets hard to recognize, especially in indistinct situations and during rapid situation changes, are to be flown only by the Schlachtflieger.

Targets especially suited for attacks by fighters are: road and rail movements, troop assemblies in defined areas, airfields and installations, river crossings and so forth. Especially important is the just and adequate rewarding of successful low level attacks with medals, promotions and so forth, in comparison to the often easier and cheaper air victories. This is important because otherwise the fighter will hunt air targets until the end of his aircraft’s endurance and will overlook the best opportunities for effective low level attacks.

Entirely new possibilities came in the Fall of 1940 with the bomb carrying fighter (Me.109 Jabo). Of necessity, this aircraft became, until the advent of the F.W.190, the standard ground attack aircraft for the Schlachtflieger. Fighter units now could carry out low level attacks as well as high altitude bombing.

Fighter Bomber Tactics During the Battle of Britain.
Fighter bombers had to be assigned fixed targets, geographically well defined and clearly visible. The state of training of fighter pilots permitted successes only against area targets (as distinguished from point targets). The fighter bomber attacks could be flown as high level attacks, dive bombing attacks, or as low level attacks with strafing after a high altitude bombing run.

Fighter bomber attacks during the Battle of Britain were conducted almost without exception as high altitude attacks. The approach to the target area took place almost at maximum operational altitude, about 22,000 feet. The formation used was the usual one for fighters, only a little more closed up and with less stepping up. The bomb-carrying fighters were surrounded with a fighter escort, set off higher and to the sides. The dropping of the bombs was carried through after a short dive losing about 3000 to 6000 feet in order to have some slight possibility of aiming. These attacks could only be used effectively against large area targets. Even against such targets the effect was only harrassing and not destructive in view of the low bomb load and the small bombs. Against area targets like airfields, low level attacks with bombing from 1000 to 1500 feet had to be employed.

In 1940 such attacks were flown mainly by two special Gruppen, II/(Schlacht) Lehr Geschwader 2 and Kampfgruppe 210. Often regular fighter Gruppen carrying bombs were put in formation with these special Gruppen, all covered with a close escort. Kampfgruppe 210 was a fast-bomber experimental group, which was supposed to be equipped with the Me.210, but which got Me.109s. The various twin-engine fighter units, called Zerstörer Geschwader, which had been unsuccessfully used in the Battle of Britain as long range fighters, were fortunately not equipped to drop bombs, although this change was discussed.

J.G.26 was delegated to cooperate with II/(S)LG 2 (Galland had himself been a Staffel CO in this latter unit in the Polish campaign). J.G.26 furnished cover for almost all the missions of this Gruppe (II/(S)LG2). In most cases the fighter-bombers flew together and in somewhat closer formation than the fighter escort, which was positioned to the right, left, and high rear. When the English fighters later concentrated only on the fighter-bomber, the trick was tried of dividing up the Gruppe of fighter-bombers among the three escort fighter Gruppen. It became harder to tell which of the Me.109 aircraft were carrying bombs. Area targets like London, cities and harbors, and smaller targets like oil depots and fighter airfields, were attacked in this manner. The approach took place usually at about 23,000 feet. Area targets were bombed from high altitudes after a shallow dive. Smaller targets were attacked from low levels after a long shallow dive begun from a great distance to gain speed. In such cases the cohesion of the fighter-bomber formations was easily lost and the escort job was thereby appreciably toughened. After bombs were away the fighter-bombers had sufficient speed for a get-away and didn’t need cover so badly. Fighters were thereby released to engage the RAF fighters. The losses of the fighter bombers were bearable.

The High Command of the GAF soon demanded more use of fighter-bombers, which previously had been undertaken by the fighter units themselves. Training for such missions was non-existent. Fighter pilots had little interest in fighter-bombing. It must also be noted that at this time they had behind them three months of intensive missions against England. When the weather had permitted, they had flown daily at least two and often three and four missions across the Channel.

The required modification of equipment was that one third of each Geschwader’s aircraft be used as fighter-bombers. In various Geschwader this order was carried out in one of two ways, either by converting one whole Gruppe to fighter-bombing, or by converting one Staffel in each of the three Gruppen to fighter-bombing. The second solution seemed to be the better. Its advantage was that no large fighter-bomber formations were created which would immediately have demanded fighter cover, and that each Gruppe continued to conduct itself purely as a fighter outfit and just inconspicuously carried bombs along. A disadvantage was the greater technical and maintenance effort and equipment which now had to be on three airfields instead of on one.

A few fighter-bomber missions were still flown against shipping in 1940 but had little success because of the inadequate training in bombing.

The fighter bomber attacks which figured in the last stage of the Battle of Britain were not terminated because of high losses, but because of the beginning of poor weather, which prevented the fighter bombers from seeing their targets. Moreover, the fighter bomber missions were not much liked by the fighters. Nevertheless there was, from this time on, an order from Hitler that all fighter aircraft must be manufactured and maintained in condition to drop bombs, and that pilots must be trained in bomb dropping. This order remained until the end of the war but fighter training for bomb dropping was naturally scanty.

Fighter Bomber Tactics in the West, 1941-42.
In the West in 1941 a Staffel of J.G.2 and in 1942 one of J.G.26 specialized in fighter bomber attacks. The Staffel of J.G.2 was especially successful against ships along the south coast of England and against harbors and coastal targets.

The special formations II/(S)LG2 and Kampfgruppe 210 were more in need of fighter-cover than the fighter-bomber formations. These special units had not mastered aerial fighter combat and were inexperienced in fighter warfare as it was in the Battle of Britain. In exhaustive conferences the conduct of missions between fighters and fighter-bombers was clarified and defined.

In 1941 and 1942 several fighter-bomber attacks in Staffel strength were flown without fighter cover, as pure surprise attacks, with some success against shipping targets. Most of these were by J.G.2 and were absolute surprise attacks. To avoid the English radar service the approach flight was made at sea level, a few meters above the waves, and absolute radio silence was observed. These formations only ran into English fighters over a convoy, or RAF patrols to intercept German fighter-bomber thrusts.

From this type of attack developed the so-called Revenge and Retaliation raids (ordered by Hitler and called by the RAF the Baedecker Raids, because they concentrated on English historical and artistic monuments as listed in the German Baedecker Tourist Guide Books). For this purpose, fighters were again converted to fighter-bombers. On some missions as many as 100 Jabos were sent over en masse. Conduct and planning of the missions were based on surprise and deception. Accordingly, the approach flight was made at low level up to the coast of England, when it was changed to medium altitude, and after bombing the return flight was made at a very low level. Usually only weak close fighter escort was sent along, while stronger fighter forces drew onto themselves the RAF fighters after a high approach flight. In every instance, the Germans successfully got to the target without being intercepted. On the return flight, however, they were usually cut off by RAF fighter standing patrols and engaged in combat. This caused a serious problem because the GAF fighter, the Me.109, had a limited range and short flying time. Losses of the fighter bombers were heavier from light A.A. than from RAF fighters.

These attacks were carried out partly at tree-top level, and for the rest at high altitudes with fighter escort, and with screening and feints by subsidiary fighter forces. In all cases, the much strengthened English fighter defense forced the GAF to take advantage of the element of surprise. The missions continued successfully with low to bearable losses.

Fighter-Bombers in Russia.
For the Russian campaign the special Schlachtflieger Geschwaders were available. Still, on many occasions fighters with bombs, and even more often fighters merely with guns, were used in low level attacks.

The necessity for technical alterations for bomb dropping as well as the necessity of supplying airfields with bombs resulted in the fighter units not being ready for fighter bomber operations at the desired moment. In the Winter of 1941/42, therefore, two Schlachtflieger Geschwader, each with one Gruppe of Me.110’s and two Gruppen of Me.l09’s were set up for the second offensive planned for early 1942. These Geschwader, together with the regular fighter Geschwader, carried through in 1942 a great number of successful low level attacks.

The Schlachtflieger units were partially equipped with a special ground attack aircraft, the Henschel 129. This aircraft, mounting the MK 101 with tungsten steel armor piercing ammunition, was used to equip special tank-destroyer Staffeln, set up in Fall 1942. The tank-destroyers operated either with a simple fighter escort or together with bomb carrying aircraft of the Schlacht Geschwader, who were supposed to keep down and neutralize ground defenses for the tank-destroyers.

The End of The Fighter-Bombers.
At the time of the invasion of Normandy, fighters were given the mission of taking part in the ground combat with a third of their force as fighter bombers or as RP firing aircraft. These types of missions were forced to stop fourteen days after the beginning of the invasion by the oppressive air superiority of the USAAF and RAF.

The last great effort, to throw in the fighter force for the decision on the ground, was made during the Ardennes offensive. The then current training of the fighter pilots was wholly concentrated on combat against heavy bombers and was thus completely inadequate for ground attack. Because of enemy numerical air superiority, augmented by the extremely concentrated A.A. which confronted the Jagdwaffe, the attempt failed.

The large ground attack mission against Allied fighter and other bases on 1st January 1945 was, in all details, a project and plan of the bomber man, Peltz. Despite careful preparation the planning was too complicated, and in many respects clearly demanded too much. The timing should have placed the attack at the beginning of the Ardennes offensive. The same massed use of air power would have, in any event, brought about a perceptible relieving of the Eastern Front, or led to the ‘Big Blow’ against bombers.