Tuesday, November 15, 2016
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
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.
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.
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 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.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
The Condor Legion and the Spanish Civil War
Among the many German aircraft designs that participated in the Legion Condor, and as part of other German involvement in the Spanish Civil War, a single Ju 87 A-0 (the V4 prototype) was allocated serial number 29-1 and was assigned to the VJ/88, the experimental Staffel of the Legion's fighter wing. The aircraft was secretly loaded onto the Spanish ship Usaramo and departed Hamburg harbour on the night of 1 August 1936, arriving in Cadiz five days later.
The only known information pertaining to its combat career in Spain is that it was piloted by Unteroffizier Herman Beuer, and took part in the Nationalist offensive against Bilbao in 1937. Presumably the aircraft was then secretly returned to Germany.
In January 1938, three Ju 87 As arrived. Several problems became evident - the spatted undercarriage sank into muddy airfield surfaces, and the spats were temporarily removed. In addition, the maximum 500 kg (1,100 lb.) bomb load could only be carried if the gunner vacated his seat, therefore the bomb load was restricted to 250 kg (550 lb.). These aircraft supported the Nationalist forces and carried out anti-shipping missions until they returned to Germany in October 1938.
The A-1s were replaced by five Ju 87 B-1s. With the war coming to an end, they found little to do and were used to support Heinkel He 111s attacking Republican positions. As with the Ju 87 A-0, the B-1s were returned discreetly to the Reich.
The experience of the Spanish Civil War proved invaluable - air and ground crews perfected their skills, and equipment was evaluated under combat conditions. Although no Ju 87s had been lost in Spain, however, the Ju 87 had not been tested against numerous and well-coordinated fighter opposition, and this lesson was to be learned later at great cost to the Stuka crews.
The Second World War
All Stuka units were moved to Germany's eastern border in preparation for the invasion of Poland. On the morning of August 15, 1939, during a mass formation dive bombing demonstration for high ranking commanders of the Luftwaffe at Neuhammer training grounds near Sagan, 13 Ju 87s and 26 crew members were lost when they crashed into the ground almost simultaneously. The planes dived through cloud, expecting to release their practice bombs and pull out of the dive once below the cloud ceiling, unaware that on that particular day the ceiling was too low and unexpected ground mist formed, leaving them no time to pull out of the dive.
On 1 September 1939, the Wehrmacht invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe records indicate a total force of 366 Ju 87 A and Bs were available for operations on 31 August 1939. At exactly 0426, a Kette ("chain" or flight of three) of Ju 87s of 3./StG 1 led by Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Bruno Dilly carried out the first bombing attack of the war. The aim was to destroy the Polish demolition charges wired to the Tczew bridges over the Vistula River. The Stukas attacked 11 minutes before the official German declaration of hostilities and hit the targets. However, the mission failed and the Poles destroyed the bridge before the Germans could reach it.
A Ju 87 achieved the first air victory during World War II on the morning of 1 September 1939, when Rottenführer Leutnant Frank Neubert of I./StG 2 "Immelmann" shot down a Polish PZL P.11c fighter while it was taking off from Balice airfield; its pilot, Captain Mieczysław Medwecki, was killed. The Luftwaffe had a few anti-shipping naval units such as 4.(St)/TrGr 186. This unit performed effectively, sinking the 1540-ton destroyer ORP Wicher and minelayer ORP Gryf of the Polish Navy (both moored in a harbour).
On one occasion, six Polish divisions trapped by encircling German forces were forced to surrender after a relentless four-day bombardment by StG 51, 76 and 77. Employed in this assault were 50 kg (110 lb.) fragmentation bombs, which caused appalling casualties to the Polish ground troops. Demoralized, the Poles surrendered. The Stukas also participated in the Battle of Bzura which resulted in the breaking of Polish resistance. The Sturzkampfgeschwader alone dropped 388 tonnes (428 tons) of bombs during this battle.
Once again, enemy air opposition was light, the Stukawaffe (Stuka force) losing just 31 aircraft during the campaign.
Operation Weserübung began on 9 April 1940 with the invasions of Norway and Denmark, Denmark capitulated within the day whilst Norway continued to resist with British and French help.
The campaign was not the classic Blitzkrieg of fast-moving armoured divisions supported by air-power as the mountainous terrain ruled out close Panzer/Stuka cooperation. Instead, the Germans relied on Fallschirmjäger (paratroops), airborne troops transported by Junkers Ju 52s and specialised ski troops. The strategic nature of the operation made the Stuka essential. The Ju 87s were given the role of ground attack and anti-shipping missions. The Stuka was to prove the most effective weapon in the Luftwaffe's armoury carrying out the latter task.
On 9 April, the first Stukas took off at 10:59 from occupied airfields to destroy Oscarsborg Fortress, after the loss of the German cruiser Blücher, which disrupted the amphibious landings in Oslo through Oslofjord. The 22 Ju 87s had helped suppress the Norwegian defenders during the ensuing Battle of Drøbak Sound, but the defenders did not surrender until after Oslo had been captured. As a result, the German naval operation failed. StG 1 caught the 735 ton Norwegian destroyer Æger off Stavanger and hit her in the engine room. Æger was run aground and scuttled. The Stukageschwader were now equipped with the new Ju 87 R, which differed from the Ju 87 B by having increased internal fuel capacity and two 300l underwing drop tanks for more range.
The Stukas, however, had numerous successes against Allied naval vessels. HMS Bittern was sunk on 30 April. The French large destroyer Bison was sunk along with HMS Afridi by Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 on 3 May 1940 during the evacuation from Namsos. Bison's forward magazine was hit, killing 108 of the crew. Afridi, which attempted to rescue Bison's survivors, was sunk with the loss of 63 sailors.
France and the Low Countries
The Stukawaffe had learned some lessons from the Polish and Norwegian campaigns. The failures of Poland and the Stukas of I.StG 1 to silence the Oscarborg fort ensured even more attention was paid to pin-point bombing during the Phoney War period. This was to pay off in the Western campaign. When Fall Gelb began on 10 May 1940, the Stuka helped swiftly neutralise the fortress of Eben Emael. The headquarters of the commander responsible for ordering the destruction of the bridges along the Albert Canal was stationed in the village of Lanaeken (14 km/ mi to the north). However, the Stuka demonstrated its accuracy when the small building was destroyed by four direct hits. As a result, only one of the three bridges was destroyed, allowing the German Army to rapidly advance.
The Sturzkampfgeschwader were also instrumental in achieving the breakthrough at the Battle of Sedan. The Stukawaffe flew 300 sorties against French positions, with StG 77 alone flying 201 individual missions. When resistance was organised, the Ju 87s were vulnerable. For example, on 12 May, near Sedan, six French Curtiss H-75s from Groupe de Chasse I/5 attacked a formation of Ju 87s, shooting down 11 out of 12 unescorted Ju 87s without loss.
The Luftwaffe benefited from excellent ground-to-air communications throughout the campaign. Radio equipped forward liaison officers could call upon the Stukas and direct them to attack enemy positions along the axis of advance. In some cases the Stukas responded in 10–20 minutes. Oberstleutnant Hans Seidemann (Richthofen's Chief of Staff) said that "never again was such a smoothly functioning system for discussing and planning joint operations achieved".
During the Battle of Dunkirk, many Allied ships were lost to Ju 87 attacks. The French destroyer Adroit was sunk on 21 May 1940, followed by the paddle steamer Crested Eagle on 28 May. The British destroyer HMS Grenade was sunk on 29 May and several other vessels damaged by Stuka attack. By 29 May, the Allies had lost 31 vessels sunk and 11 damaged.
In total, 89 merchantmen (of 126,518 grt) were lost, and the Royal Navy lost 29 of its 40 destroyers (8 sunk, 23 damaged and out of service). Allied air power was ineffective and disorganised, and as a result, Stuka losses were mainly due to ground fire. Some 120 machines, one-third of the Stuka force, were destroyed or damaged by all causes.
Battle of Britain
For the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe's Order of battle consisted of five Geschwader equipped with the Ju 87. Lehrgeschwader 2's IV.(St), Sturzkampfgeschwader 1's III. Gruppe and Sturzkampfgeschwader 2's III. Gruppe, Sturzkampfgeschwader 51 and Sturzkampfgeschwader 3's I. Gruppe were committed to the battle. As an anti-shipping weapon, the Ju 87 proved a potent weapon in the early stages. On 4 July 1940, StG 2 made a successful attack on a convoy in the English Channel, sinking four freighters: Britsum, Dallas City, Deucalion and Kolga. Six more were damaged. That afternoon, 33 Ju 87s delivered the single most deadly air assault on British territory in history, when 33 Ju 87s of III./StG 51, avoiding Royal Air Force (RAF) interception, sank the 5,500 ton anti-aircraft ship HMS Foylebank in Portland Harbour, killing 176 of its 298 crew. One of Foylebank's gunners, Leading Seaman John F. Mantle continued to fire on the Stukas as the ship sank. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for remaining at his post despite being mortally wounded. Mantle may have been responsible for the single Ju 87 lost during the raid.
During August, the Ju 87s also had some success. On 13 August the opening of the main German attacks on airfields took place. It was known to the Luftwaffe as Adlertag (Eagle Day) Messerschmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 26 were sent out in advance of the main strike and successfully drew off RAF fighters, allowing 86 Ju 87s of StG 1 to attack RAF Detling unhindered. The attack killed the station commander, destroyed 20 RAF aircraft on the ground and a great many of the airfield's many buildings. However, Detling was not an RAF Fighter Command station.
The Battle of Britain proved for the first time that the Junkers Ju 87 was vulnerable in hostile skies against well-organised and determined fighter opposition. The Ju 87, like other dive bombers, was slow and possessed inadequate defences. Furthermore, it could not be effectively protected by fighters because of its low speed, and the very low altitudes at which it ended its dive bomb attacks. The Stuka depended on air superiority, the very thing being contested over Britain. It was withdrawn from attacks on Britain in August after prohibitive losses, leaving the Luftwaffe without precision ground-attack aircraft.
Steady losses had occurred throughout their participation in the battle. On 18 August, known as the Hardest Day because both sides suffered heavy losses, the Stuka was withdrawn after 16 were destroyed and many others damaged. According to the Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe, 59 Stukas had been destroyed and 33 damaged to varying degrees in six weeks of operations. Over 20% of the total Stuka strength had been lost between 8 August and 18 August; and the myth of the Stuka shattered. The Ju 87s did succeed in sinking six warships, 14 merchant ships, badly damaging seven airfields and three radar stations, and destroying 49 British aircraft, mainly on the ground.
On 19 August, the units of VIII. Fliegerkorps moved up from their bases around Cherbourg-Octeville and concentrated in the Pas de Calais under Luftflotte 2, closer to the area of the proposed invasion of Britain. On 13 September, the Luftwaffe targeted airfields again, with a small number of Ju 87s crossing the coast at Selsey and heading for Tangmere. After a lull, anti-shipping operations attacks were resumed by some Ju 87 units from 1 November 1940, as part of the new winter tactic of enforcing a blockade. Over the next 10 days, seven merchant ships were sunk or damaged, mainly in the Thames Estuary, for the loss of four Ju 87s. On 14 November, 19 Stukas from III./St.G 1 with escort drawn from JG 26 and JG 51 went out against another convoy; as no targets were found over the estuary, the Stukas proceeded to attack Dover, their alternate target.
Bad weather resulted in a decline of anti-shipping operations, and before long the Ju 87 Gruppen began re-deploying to Poland, as part of the concealed build-up for Operation Barbarossa. By spring 1941, only St.G 1 with 30 Ju 87s remained facing the United Kingdom. Operations on a small scale continued throughout the winter months into March. Targets included ships at sea, the Thames estuary, the Chatham naval dockyard and Dover and night-bomber sorties made over the Channel. These attacks were resumed the following winter.