Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Duel under the Stars - The Story of Wilhelm Johnen

Wilhelm "Wim" Johnen was born on 9 October 1921 in Homberg, near Duisburg. As soon as he turned 18 Johnen joined the Luftwaffe, already sporting a glider pilot license. Accepted as an officer cadet, the future-Experte began his training at Pardubitz (Czechoslovakia), with Fliegerausbildungsregiment 32. After infantry training  - a common feature for the early war training programms - Johnen spent several months practising on single-engined trainers, and qualified for his license on 21 September 1940. He was subsequently sent to Zeltweg, where C-Schule prepared pilots for operations on twin-engined aircrafts; there he flew He 111s and Do 17s and even Ju-52s. He then received Zerstorer training, finally graduating as a Leutnant.
On 18 May 1941 Johnen volounteered for the Nachtjagd; many Zerstorer pilots joined the newly-formed branch of the Luftwaffe, aware of the fact that the Bf-110 was at that time totally outclassed by single-engined fighters and unsuited for daylight operations. After six intense weeks of night fighting training, Johnen was transferred to 3./NJG 1, together with his gunner Gefreiter Albrecht Risop.
The pair flew his first operational mission on 11 July 1941 during which they intercepted a Wellington: Johnen positioned for the attack, but a moment before pulling the trigger, the bomber turned sharply to its right and disappeared. For that night, Johnen it was all they could see;i n his very first mission, Johnen had been showed with all the difficulties of night operations. The first victory came 8 months later, when on 28 March 1942 Johnen and Risop downed a Wellington west of Wesel. The bomber is thought to be Wellington X3589 KO-F from No. 115 Squadron.
A few minutes after their succesfull interception, Johnen sighted a four-engined aircraft; Gefreiter Risop was surprised:

"We've never seen that kind of bomber".

Gefreiter Risop's graveyard
It was infact one of the firsts Short Stirlings intercepted over Germany. The four-engined bomber was slow and had a poor ceiling perfomance, but had something the Wellington had not: a ventral gunner. Johnen positioned his Bf-110 for a beam attack, slowed down levelling his speed to the bomber's. At the very same moment he pulled the trigger, the Stirling's gunner did the same hitting the aircraft's cockpit and engines; Gefreiter Risop died instantly, Johnen fought desperatly to extricate himself from the burning Messerschmitt without success; already convinced he was going to die, Johnen was uncosciouscly expelled from the cockpit without realizing how it could have happen, opened his parachute and landed in a grass field. He passed out and woke up at the hospital, with a badly burned leg.

In early December 1942, 3./ NJG 1 was re-designated 5./NJG 5 and transferred to north-eastern Germany. In this geographical area RAF raids were rare, therefore the Staffel flew only a small number of mission and interceted few bombers. In May of 1943, the unit eventually relocated to the Ruhr area, and on the night of 21/22 Johnen scored his third and fourth kills, almost a year after the second one, downing a Wellington and a Halifax which took part in Bomber Command's raid on Krefeld. Three nights later, on the 25th, Johnen shot down a Halifax for his fifth confirmed victory, and was subsequently promoted to Oberleutnant on the first day of July. From that point Johnen started to score steadily, downing a Stirling and a Halifax on 24 August, and his first Lancaster on 1 September.

In November, Bomber Command's AOC Arthur "Bomber" Harris launched a prolonged series of night raids against the Reich's capital, in what is now famous as the "Air Battle of Berlin". Harris' belief was that this campaign would have cost Germany the war, however the whole matter was a costly failure for the Bomber Command, which lost 1,047 bombers and over 7,000 aircrew from November 1943-March 1944.
Johnen's Bf-110 G-4 at Dubendorf
Oberleutenant Johned shot down 7 Lancasters in January, 3 of which on the 27th, followed by other three on 15 February, elevating his score to 18. This series of successes led to his promotion as Staffelkapitan of 6./NJG 5, and in early April 1944 his unit moved to Eastern France, close to the Ruhr region. On 28 April Johnen downed at 01.31 a Lancaster, part of a force of 322 heavy bombers sent to bomb Friedrichshafen. Continuing his patrol Johnen attacked a second four-engined bomber but was hit by return fire on his port engine. While attacking the bomber, he had strayed over the Swiss border; illuminated by searchllights and with his aircraft badly damaged Johnen was forced to land at the nearest available airfield, which turned out to be Zurich-Dubendorf.
Johnen and his crew - Oberfeldwebel Mahle and Leutnant Kamprath - were interned by Swiss authorities. The damaged nightfighter was equipped with a SN-2 "Naxos" radar set and "Schrage Musik" guns; the Germans were deeply worried about leaving a sophisticatedly equipped nightfighter in the hands of a foreign government, even if it was a neutral one. The Bf-110 was blown up three days later: some sources claim it was destroyed by Gestapo's secret agents, while others suggest it was destroyed under German supervision in exchange for 18 Bf-109 G-6 delivered to the Swiss at a favourable price. Johnen and his crew were repatriated less than a week later.
In the meantime, the crewmen's families had been arrested, since it was at first believed that the three had defected; with their comeback, their families were luckily released and the incident covered up.
Johnen aircraft's tail

In May, II./NJG 5 was redesignted III./NJG 6, with Johnen in charge of 8. Staffel. The unit moved to the Austro-Hungarian border, with the task of defending Budapest and Wien from allied bombers operating from Italian bases. In the span of three months, Johnen downed 14 enemy bombers - 7 Halifaxes, 4 Mitchells and 3 Wellingtons.
With his score now standing at 33, Johnen was promoted Hautpmann and awarded the Knight's Cross on 29 October. Despite his personal honours, the situation for Luftwaffe units in the area was dangerous: the Red Army was rapidly advancing through Hungary and Reich's Southern borders were threatened; the Gruppe was therefore forced to relocate within German territory, around Munich. Johnen was nominated Gruppenkommandeur of III./NJG 6 on February and on 15/16 March scored his last kill, shooting down a Lancaster over Wurzburg.
Johnen's Gruppe surrendered to American forces on 30 April, after having destroyed all his serviceable Messerschmitts. After a brief captivity, Johnen settled to Munich and attended university, achieving a engineering degree in construction. He worked for Willi Messerschmitt for a short time, and then started his own company. He also wrote his biography, "Duel under the Stars", one of the first English-written books about the Luftwaffe. Wilhelm Johnen died on 7 February 2002 at Uberlingen, at the age of 81.

Awards : Ehrenpokal (20 March 1943)
                Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (23 July 1944)
                Ritterkreuz (29 October 1944)

Friday, 25 March 2011

Hell over Piraeus

 In the early hours of 6 April 1941, the Wermacht launched Operation Marita: Panzer divisions crossed the Bulgarian-Greek border and invaded Greece at 5:30, the attack timed to coincide with the declaration of war issued to the Greek Government. Hitler's intention to subjugate the mediterranean country had been known since February, and a British Expeditioanry Force was sent to the country; when the invasion began, more troops were sent to Greece, diverted from North Africa. The vast majority of men and supplies were bound to the Piraeus harbour, 12 km southwest of Athens.

On the evening of that 6 April, a formation of twenty Junkers Ju 88s of III./KG 30 took off from Catania, Sicily,  to attack the Allied convoys. According to John Weal - Ju 88 Kampfgeschwader in North Africa and the Mediterranean, Osprey - , the bombers were armed with aerial mines, the raid aimed at blocking the harbour's entrance. 7. Staffel's machines were nevertheless loaded with two 250-kg bombs each; the Staffel was led by Haptmann Hajo Hermann, now best remembered as the inventor of the Wilde Sau tactics.

The bombers reached their target at 2100 hrs and released their mines; Hermann's Ju 88s continued their course towards the many ships packed in the harbour; among those ships was SS Clan Fraser, a 7,529 tons British cargo steamer. The recently-arrived vessel was loaded with 250 tons of TNT (from the original 350 tons 100 had already been unloaded). During the attack, she was hit by three direct hits, as well as more near misses: the ship consequently exploded and was lifted out from the water, the shock wave even shaking the Ju 88s 3000 ft above her.

SS Clan Fraser
From the initial blast a huge fire soon developed , spreading to other merchant ships in the harbour including another steamer loaded with ammunitions, SS City of Roubaix. The whole harbour turned into a hell of fire since men on the ground were unable to tow the two ships away for fear that they would hit a mine and block the port entrance; after an entire night had passed SS Clan Fraser finally exploded in a giant fireball in the early hours of 7 April, followed by the City of Roubaix a few minutes later. A chain of  terrible explosions started, shattering windows in Athens 12 km away (7 miles), and being heard up to 240 km (150 miles).
At the end of day, nine other merchantmen were destroyed and the entire port of Piraeus was devastated. Losses were the following:                                                                                   
  • SS Clan Fraser                                                                                                                           
  • SS City of Roubaix                                                      
  • SS Cyprian Prince
  • SS Patris
  • SS Surf
  • SS Viking
  • Alcyon (Greek)
  • Petalli (Greek)
  • Kyrapanagia (Greek)
  • Syriani (Greek)
  • Elpis (Greek)
  • Evoikos (Greek)
In addition, 50-60 small crafts and barges were destroyed. Even worse, damages to port installations were catastrophic; with a single attack the Mediterranean Fleet had lost the only adequatedly equipped port to be used as a base for supplies and reinforcements. Piraeus remained unavailable for ten days, during which other poor equipped ports such as Volos and Salamis were used.
Hauptmann Hajo Hermann, turned for home with the port engine of his bomber damaged by AA fire; the long flight back to Catania was quite risky so he decided to divert to the island of Rhodes. With a combination of courage, skills and luck, Hermann and his Staffel had delivered a devastating blow to the British Expeditionary Force. Less than three weeks later Commonwealth forces were forced to evacuate Greece in an Dunkirk-like rescue operation.

John Weal, Junkers Ju 88 Kampfgeschwader in North Africa and the Mediterranen. Osprey Publishing, 2009.
Stone and Stone War Diaries website.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Ernst Wilhelm Reinert

 Ernst Wilhelm Reinert was born on 2 February 1919 in Liderthal, near Koln. At the age of 13 the young Reinert joined the Deutschluftverband the German amateur flying club, and learned to fly. After having completed his school studies he joined the RAD ( Reichsarbaitdienst - German national work programm); he wanted to study as an engineer but was eventually accepted only as a technician in mechanics. His time at RAD completed, Reinert was sent to the Wermacht as an infantry soldier, but thanks to a friendly officer whom he knew from his time at the flyng club the future Jagdflieger managed to be trasferred to the Luftwaffe.

The young pilot underwent basic training at A/B Schule and was then transferred to Jagdgeschwader 77 in 1941, as an Unteroffizier. Initially detached to EJG 77, the Geschwader's training unit, based in Wien, Reinert was subsequently posted to 4./JG 77 and took part in the invasion of Crete.
After Crete' s fall, Luftwaffe units were transferred to the East in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Operation Barbarossa was launched on 22 June, and six weeks later, on 8 August, Reinert scored his first victory downing a Soviet I-16. A week later he shot down another enemy plane, and on 19 August  an I-16 for his third kill.
In September Reinert, flying as Rottenflieger for Hauptmann Heinrich Setz, was forced to land in a field due to engine malfunction. He actually never reached the field below him, since he hit high-tension cables and was lucky to escape unscathed.
Reinert started to score steadily, claiming three kills on 27 November and was promoted Feldwebel. On that particular mission Reinert attacked a formation of a dozen+ Soviet bombers, shooting down three but being badly shot up by return fire and flak. Chased by eneny fighters, he crash landed at 500 m from German lines., and was  was rescued by Waffen SS soldiers from the arriving Soviet infantry. His superior Oberst Roman Painczynk was less fortunate; he belly landed on enemy territory, and was never seen again.

During the harsch winter of 1941, II./JG 77 was sent back to Germany for rest and refit. On 7 February, with 24 kills to his belt, Reinert receive the Ehrepokal der Luftwaffe. During this time his unit re-equipped with the BF-109 F, and moved to Crimea in March 1942. The new theatre marked the start of a happy time for Reinert, who downed an I-153 on 17 March and other three the following day. On 1 May he was credited with three MiG-3s and awarded the German Cross in Gold on 18 May. Two days later Reinert claimed his 45th kill, and in three days reached 53.
On 1 July Reinert received the Knight's Cross. His happy time continued and on the 17th of the same month the young Jagdflieger topped the height of 79 kills. He was eventually wounded on 23 July following a clash with VVS fighters and hospitalized until September. His return to combat mission was nevertheless smooth, Reinert claiming 16 in two weeks and reaching 100 kills on 3 October, 1942. For his successes, Oberfeldwebel Reinert receive the Oak Leaves.
At the end of the year the Gruppe was transferred to Tunisia. Fighting against numerically superior USAAF and RAF units, Reinert scored 51 victories - 47 fighters, 3 Bostons and a single B-24 - more than any other pilot in the theatre. In many cases he claimed multiple kills in the same mission: five on 11 January and 1 April, six on 26 February. His last kill in Tunisia came on 6 May, a Spitfire; JG 77 then left Tunisia and relocated to Sicily.
Reinert enjoyed a brief license in Germany and came back to his unit when Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, was launched. Two P-40s were downed on 7 August and a Spitfire the following day. On the 9th, Reinert was forced to ditch his Bf 109 off Milazzo; he returned to his unit the following, having been declared missing in action. Reinert's Gruppe was moved to Central Italy in September, where the now Leutnant was nominated Staffelkapitan of 1./JG 77. At the end of the year his score had risen to 165.
Reinert contracted malaria and was then hospitalized; fully recovered for spring 1944, he was transeferred to  JG 27.  Assuming command of 1./JG 27 and shortly thereafter 14./JG 27, Reinert took part in Defence of The Reich operations. His Staffel was sent to Normandy in June, following the D-Day. Allied superiority was overwhelming and many Luftwaffe gruppen were almost entirely wiped out. Reinert nevertheless managed to claim one P-51, one P-47 and a Spitifre on 27 June, 2 and 3 July respectively. 14./JG 27 was sent back to Germany in August, having suffered terrible losses.

Reinert scored his last kills over the Reich in late 1944: two P-51 on 2 November and another on the 26th, followed by a Auster on 27 December. On 1 January Reinert was nominated Gruppenkommandeur of IV./JG 27, but operations were severly hampered by lack of fuel. At the end of the month Ernst Wilhelm Reinert was the 130th member of German Armed Forces to receive the Swords to the Knight's Cross. He was then promoted Hauptmann and transferred to JG 7, equipped with the revolutionary Me-262.
Reinert underwent conversion onto the new jet fighter, but never completed it. When the war ended in May, he still hadn't have the opportunity to fly combat mission with the Schwalbe.

After the war, Reinert joined studied at the university and got a degree in medicine. He eventually opened a ginecology clinic and married an opera singer. Ernst Wilhelm Reinert died at the age of 88 on 5 September 2007.

715 mission flown
174 victories
16 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground
10 armoured vehicles destroyed


Thursday, 17 March 2011

P-38 Lightnings early operations in the Solomons

In June/July 1942, the 39th FS of the 35th FG was pulled out from New Guinea, after having spent several difficult months fighting against Japanese forces. The squadron had flown througout that months P-39s, and had scored ten victories for the loss of ten Airacobras. Considering the Airacobra's inferiority against Japanese Zeros and Oscars, it was a good result, but it was also clear the a new fighter was necessary, an aircraft able to cope with Japanese fighters and to guarantee its pilots a machine to attack the enemy, rather than to defend themselves.

39th FS' members were therefore relieved when they knew to have been chosen for conversion onto the P-38 Lightning: their new mount promised to have all those qualities they were looking for: long range, speed, climbing ability and firepower. Japanese fighter units used to operate at altitude below 20,000 feet, a fact which would have enabled USAAF pilots to fully use their favoured tactics of diving at high speed onto the enemy, rather than give the Japanese the chance of a dogfight, where Zeros and Oscars had superior manoeuvrability.

1st Lt Robert Faurot
From 1942 to the end of the war, the P-38 enjoyed great success, despite the European theatre of operations was given priority in deliveries and spare parts: the number of squadrons equipped with the Lightning was, in fact, never more than 15 at any one time. Over 1800 Japanese fighters were claimed, and more than 100 pilots became aces with the twin-engined fighter.

The first ever P-38 victory was achieved in a rather strange way: in late November 1942 39th FS' Lightnings flew an offensive sortie against Lae, New Guinea. Lt Robert Faurot was leading a flight of four P-38 armed with 500-lb bombs. Once over Lae, pilots noticed a Zero taking off from the ground just above them. Lt Faurot immediately dove onto the enemy, but in his excitement forgot that with two bombs under his wings he was unable to dogfight; he released his 500-lb bombs and pulled away to avoid the explosion and prepared to engage the enemy from another angle. Unxpectedly, the bombs hit the water and exploded just as the Zero was passing over them. The fountains from the explosion hit the Japanese fighter, which crashed winged-over into the ocean.

On the last day of 1942, 39th FS celebrated its first ace, and first for the P-38. Lt Hoyt Eason shoot down three Zeros, to add to the pair he had claimed on the 27th over Dobodura.
On 1st March, 1943, Lightnings of the 39th FS took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea: the clash developped from the Japanese intention to reinforce the Lae garrison with a convoy carrying 7,000 Army soldiers. The force consisted of seven troopships, one cargo and eight destroyers, escorted by 30 Zeros. The fleet was attacked by a large number of American bombers, almost 200 according to some sources, covered by P-38 of the 39th FS. All eight transports were sunk, together with four destroyers, and the Lightnings shot down 15-20 Zeros. However, the unit did not escape unscathed; together with 2nd Lt Frederick Schifflett, two other pilots were lost: 1st Lt Robert Faurot, the man who scored the first P-38 victory in the Pacific, and 1st Lt Hoyt Eason, the first P-38 ace.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Count and fighter ace: Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn

This article has been written thanks to the precious information provided by Christine Harper, assistant archivist at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
She has been so kind to provide details about Maltzahn's life and made it possible to correct my initial mistakes. Many thanks to her.

Gunther von Maltzhan was born on 20 October 1910 in Wodarg, Pomerania. The von Maltzhans were members of the German aristocracy, and Gunther could boast the title of Freiherr (Count). The young Gunther was raised and educated in an atmosphere of patriotism, sense of honour and loyalty to the Kaiser.
Matzahn entered the cavalry in 1931 directly from Gymnasium, having already gotten his flight training at the commercial flying school in Schleissheim. He later received further training at the Braunschweig flying school.
In mid 1930s, with expansion programmes now openly set and carried out, von Maltzahn was integrated in the Luftwaffe as flying instructor. In 1937 von Maltzahn was posted to 6./JG 334 as Staffelkapitan, the unit was later renominated 6./ JG 53. The Geschwader, known as the "Pik As" was an elite unit led by Werner Molders, Luftwaffe's leading tactician.

Bf-109F of Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn, 46 kills depicted on the rudder.
In 1939, von Maltzahn was nominated Gruppenkommandeur of II./ JG 53. He led his Gruppe through the Polish campaign, Blitzkrieg in France and the Low Countries and the Battle of Britain.  On 9 October  1940 he was promoted Geschwaderkommodore of JG 53, and on 30 December, was awarded the Knight's Cross, not just for his 12 victories, but also for his tireless work in organizing and running the unit.
In 1941 JG 53 participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union, achieving astonishing successes against the unprepared Red Air Force. Von Maltzahn, now Major, reached 43 kills and on 24 July 1941 received the Oak Leaves, the 29th member of German Armed Forces awarded with such honour.
In September 1941, JG 53 was pulled out from frontline duties and relocated to Holland for rest and refit. The Geschwader was sent to Sicily in December and participated in the battles over Malta and the Mediterranean. Von Maltzahn reached 68 victories,  leaving JG 53 in October 1943, assuming a staff position at the Luftwaffenbefehlshabers Mitte (Luftwaffe Command of the Mediterranean), and later Jagdfliegerf├╝hrer Italien, (Chief of Operations in Italy). In February 1945 he was detached to 9 Fliegerdivision, where he remained until the end of the war.

After the war Maltzahn worked first in agriculture and then in the new West German Luftwaffe during the planning phase of the arm, before the Bundesluftwaffe was officially reated in 1956. He died in 1953, at the age of 43, suffering from an illness. It is not clear whether it was cancer or malaria.
Oberst Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn flew 497 missions and claimed 68 victories. He fought on the Western Front, Eastern Front and the Mediterranean.
  • 7 October 1939 - Iron Cross 2nd Class
  • 10 May 1940 - Iron Cross 1st Class
  • 30 December 1940 - Knight's Cross
  • 24 July 1941 - Oak Leaves
  • 23 March 1942 - Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe
  • 23 December 1942 - German Cross in Gold

Monday, 14 March 2011

Macchi C.202 first kills

During the summer of 1941, Italian fighter units started to receive the first examples of the new Macchi C. 202 fighter. Built around the DB 601 engine and designed with particular attention for aerodynamics - thank sto the company's experience in the Schneider Trophy -, the Folgore promised to give Italian pilots a new mount, able to fight on equal terms and even outclass RAF fighters, thanks to its top speed of 600 km/h (372 mph) and service ceiling of 11,500 m (37,730 ft).

The first fighter squadron to receive the aircraft was 97° Squadriglia. On 30 September, at around 14.00, Comiso airfield was attacked by five Hurricanes from No.185 Squadron. Three C.202s flown by Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Tenente Luigi Tessari and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore scrambled to intercept the intruders: in the ensuing dogfight, Frigerio shoot down Hurricane Z5265 flown by Pilot Officer Lintern, who bailed out 15 km south of Gozo. Sadly, Lintern was never seen again.
Jacopo Grigerio
After the battle, a Cant-Z.506 rescue seaplane started a searching mission escorted by the three C.202s. Off the Sicilian coast the flight ran into five Hurricanes of No. 185 Squadron escorting a Fulmar, both formations looking for Pilot Officer Lintern. A second dogfight developed, and the Fulmar was shot down by Tenente Tessari. The Fulmar's crew, Lieutenant Eyres and Sub Lieutenant Furlong bailed out and were picked up by a Swordfish seaplane. Tessari's plane was also damaged by fire from the Hurricanes.
The following day seven Macchis from 73° Squadriglia took off from Comiso; led by Maggiore Pluda, the fighters' task was to cover two reconaissance Macchi C.200. One fighter had to abort the mission, the others went on and midway between Sicily and Malta ecountered eight Hurricanes, again from No. 185 Squadron. The Macchis were at 8,000 m, in a fovourable position above the Hurricanes and dove on them. After the fist pass the RAF fighters scattered and broke off the engagements, returning to Malta; one aircraft was lost and one damaged; the downed pilot was Squadron Leader Peter "Boy" Mould. His victor was Tenente Bonfatti, who saw his opponent took on his parachute. Flying Officer Murch came back badly damaged. Capitano Ivaldi was also damaged and belly landed on the Sicilian beach of Pozzallo.
A search and rescue operations was carried out by Swordfish flights, but Mould was sadly never found.
Sqn Ldr Mould

Friday, 11 March 2011

Baby Blitz

 German newsreels footage about the 1944 Operation Steinbock, also called "Baby Blitz", a series of nocturnal raids over England in retaliation for 1943's RAF raid on Hamburg.


 Dietrich Peltz was born on 9 June, 1914 in Gera, Turingen. He achieved a private pilot licence at the age of 18, and joined the newly-born Luftwaffe in 1935, graduating as a Leutnant and being subsequently posted to StG 162 "Immelman." In this unit he flew Henschel Hs 123 before converting to Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers. Renominated StG 2 in 1939, the unit participated in the invasion of Poland, where Peltz flew 45 missions and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class. Following the end of the campaign the pilot was chosen for conversion onto the Ju 88 "Wunderbomber", and moved to II./KG 77 in the summer of 1940.

Now an Oberleutnant, Peltz flew both daily and night mission during the Battle of Britain. To escape RAF fighter's attacks, he created his own tactic consisting of flying into the clouds and then turning sharply to the opposite direction to trick the pursuing fighters - he was able to do it thanks to his high skills in blind flying.
After 70 missions over Britain -130 since the beginning of the war- Peltz was awarded the Knight's Cross on 14 October 1940.

Promoted Hauptmann and Gruppenkommandeur of II./KG 77, Peltz relocated to the eastern front for the incoming operation Barbarossa in the spring of 1941. The Gruppe was assigned to the Northern Sector, flying missions against the Leningrad-Moscow railway line, and participating in the siege of Leningrad. At the end of the year he was awarded the Oak Leaves, only the 46th member of Germany's Armed Forces to receive the decoration. 
In late 1941/early 1942, Peltz was given command of the Bomber Unit Commanders School in Foggia, Italy, training bomber commanders of all Luftwaffe Kampfgeschwader in the latest operational techniques, some of which he had created himself. At the age of 28, he was considered the leading expert in bombing operations.

Luftwaffe units soon became overstrechted in various theatre of operations, as a result Peltz training units was converted into a new Gruppe, I./KG 66. The new formation was tasked of implementing the new tactics created and tested in its training duties, attacking Allied convoys with guided bombs such as the Fritz X and the Henschel Hs 293.
Promoted Oberstleutenant, Pelzt and his unit attacked Allied shipping in the Arctic along the Murmansk route and in the Mediterranean following landings in North Africa and Sicily.
Peltz was then promoted Inspektor der Kampfflieger and given command of IX Fliegerkorps. The air corps consisted of KG 2, KG 6, II./KG 40, I. and II./SKG 210 plus a reconnaissance gruppe. On 23 July 1943 he received the Swords to the Knight's Cross.

In January 1944, at the age of 29, Dietrich Peltz was raised to the rank of General Major, and nominated Angriffuhrer fur England. Assuming command of bomber forces in Operation Steinbock, he carefully husbanded the small resources given to him and carried out the retaliatory attacks over England ordered by Hitler. The attacks were suspended in May after heavy losses and poor results. The Baby Blitz, as it was nicknamed, came almost four years after the 1940's Blitz; in 1944 RAF night defences were at their peak while Luftwaffe resources in the Western Front were overstretched - in some mission flying schools crews had to be use to reach operational numbers required.
In the Autumn of 1944 IX Fliegerkorps was disbanded, its pilots selected for conversion as fighter pilots while gunners were sent to infantry units. Peltz became the commander of II. Jagdkorps in the Ardennes.
At war's end, Peltz was briefly held by the British. After being released he became a businessman in Germany and Spain, continuing to fly in his freetime.
Dietrich Peltz died at the age of 87 in Munich on 10 August, 2001.

Iron Cross 2nd class, 15 September 1939.
Iron Cross 1st class, 22 May 1940.
Knight's Cross, 14 October 1940.
Oak Leaves, 31 December 1941.
Swords, 23 July 1943.
Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe
Combine Pilot-Observation badge in gold with  diamonds.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


 In late 1942, a new experimental unit was activated at Rechin test center. Named Versuchskommando fur Panzerbekampfung, the unit’s task was to evaluate the best aircraft/heavy weapons combinations to find a viable solutions for the Germans’ major threat on the Eastern Front: Soviet tanks and armours.

When Operation Barbarossa was launched, in June 1941, OKW planners were confident to subjugate the Red Army within the following winter; little priority was placed on development of anti-tank weapons. Ground troops soon find out for themselves that their anti-tank guns were almost ineffective against the sloped armour mounted on the T-34s and KV-1s. Their rounds simply couldn’t penetrate the tanks' protection. This problem became even more evident during the Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1942, when Soviet tank brigades smashed through German lines and penetrated deep inside their territory.

Versuchskommando fur Panzerbekampfung started its activity in Rechlin and then moved to the Bryansk troop training ground in Russia in the spring of 1943 for field trials. Months of trials had showed that the best way of knocking out tanks and armoured vehicles were heavy guns. MK 101 and MK 103 30mm guns were chosen as the main weapon for the Henschel Hs-129. The BordKanone BK 3.7 cm was chosen for the Ju-87. The weapon was a short barreled version of the obsolete 37mm Flak 18 anti-aircraft gun, with a twelve round magazine. Combat-proven Ju-87D were modified to  carry a gun under each wing. The version was given the reference letter G, and soon was nicknamed Kanonenvogel (cannon bird).

The first taste of Ju-87G future capabilities was showed not against tanks, but over water: in the early months of 1943, Army Group A was disengaging from the Caucasus attempting to reach the bulk of Wermacht’s forces in Ukraine. The only viable route was the Kuban peninsula. Trying to take advantage of the enemy’s precarious situation, the Soviets made all efforts to prevent the German from establishing a bridgehead and escape to Crimea. Army Group A’s divisions fought back and kept the route open, so the Red Army tried to infiltrate two divisions behind German lines by amphibious landings. The chosen area was the Gulf of Temryuk; soldiers were carried aboard small crafts and boats, each carrying 5-20 men.
These unusual targets proved to be the final test for the Kanonevogel’s potentialities, as the experimental anti-tank Kommando  - now with the great Hans-Ulrich Rudel within its ranks - prevented the Soviet divisions from landing and threatening Army Group A’s evacuation.
In John Weal’s book, Junkers Ju 87 Stukageschwader of the Russian Front, Rudel’s description of the event is reported:

“We are in the air every day from dawn until dusk, skimming above the water and the reeds in search of boats. In tackling them we do not need our special tungsten-cored anti-tank ammunition – any high-explosive rounds will suffice to smash the flimsy craft. Normal contact-fused Flak ammunition proves to be the most suitable. Anything we catch trying to cross the open stretches of water is as good as lost. I alone destroy 70 of these vessels in the space of a few days.”

John Weal, Junkers Ju 87 Stukageschwader of the Russian Front. Osprey publishing, 2008.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Heinz Junclaussen was born in Klein-Eschenbruch, East Prussia, on 7 March 1919. In July 1940 he completed his flight training and was posted to III./ StG 2 "Immelman",  equipped with Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers, spending the following months training with the unit's Erganzungstaffel.
Jungclaussen flew his first combat missions on the eastern front in late 1941/early 1942 as a Leutnant. In the following summer he was promoted Staffelkapitan of 6./StG 2, participating in Fall Blau, the great summer offensive in the southern sector aimed at conquering Stalingrad and the Caucasus' oilfields. Soon involved in the Stalingrad Battle, Junclaussen led a special units operating inside the beleaguered city. For his efforts, in early February 1943 he was promoted Oberleutnant and awarded the German Cross in Gold. Wounded in action in 14 February; Jungclaussen was hospitalized, returning to active duty in mid-1943. After completing 700 combat missions, he was awareded the Ritterkreutz on 9 October, 1943.

Beetween the end of 1943 and the early months on 1944 Heinz Jungclaussen topped the height of 1000 combat mission serving as Staffelkapitan of 1./StG 2. He was then pulled out from frontline duties to act as an instructor in Stuka and Schlacht flying schools, converting onto the Fw 190. He returned to combat as Staffelkapitan of 3./SG 4 on the Western Front, fighting against British and American armies. On 26 December 1944 he was shot down and killed by RAF fighters over Salzig, in the Rhine region.

During his career, Hauptmann Heinz Jungclaussen flew more than 1000 combat missions with the Ju-87  dive bomber and the Fw-190 Schlacht versions. Of this thousand missions, 800 were flown with his rear gunner Hans Krohn, a Knight's Cross holder too.

Monday, 7 March 2011


3 April 1940: up to this date the Spitfire had downed several Luftwaffe intruders without losses, but this situation was about to finish. . . 

On Wednesday the 3rd, a call came to RAF Catterick: a German Heinkel He 111 bomber was attacking fishing boats off Whytby. No. 41 Squadron was ordered to scramble one fighter to intercept the intruder. The task was given to Flight Lieutenant Edgar Norman Ryder. Ryder took off in Spitfire MK.I N3114 at 12.20. He gained altitude at headed to the coast, quickly reaching the damaged trawler Alaska;  when the pilot sighted the Heinkel, it was clear that the fishermen had mounted a spirited defense.
The bomber,  an He 111H-3 of KG 26 was flying 200 feet over the North Sea with one engine disabled; Ryder dove on the enemy and fired a four-second burst, noticing a couple of bangs on his fighter from the Heinkel’s gunners. Pulling away, the pilot saw smoke and flames erupting form the bomber. He then turned and prepared for a second attack, but the Henkel rapidly lost height and ditched, the five-man crew quickly escaping from the floating aircraft.
Ryder circled above the survivors and headed home. Only at this point he noticed that the cockpit’s temperature was rather “hot”. A quick glance at the instrument panel told him that the oil temperature was rising. The enemy’s return fire had obviously been more accurate than what he had thought. Thick smoke soon filled the cockpit and the temperature became intolerably hot; the pilot called his base reporting being on fire and was told to reach the coast, but the young Lieutenant knew to have little choice but to ditch. He choose to do it near the trawler he had rescued, and as soon as he opened up his canopy, the engine seized up and stopped. The Spitfire hit the water at sixty-five miles per hour, with waves  six-seven feet high. The fighter dug its nose hitting the water and came to a vertical position with its tail up, rapidly sinking.

The Spitfire had been show down in combat for the first time. 

Ryder tried to escape from the wreck but the front panel of the open cockpit hood caught on his parachute pack. The pilot was trapped with his aircraft slipping below the waves. Ryder struggled to extricate himself, pulling desperately until finally succeeding in its aim. By the time he reached the surface his lungs were almost empty and he was physically exhausted. Ryder’s problems were not finished: the high waves rolled over him and everytime he tried to breath he could barely grasp air before the water submerged him again and again. He then tried to release his parachute pack to enhance his movements, but the move had an opposite effect: its thick clothes, satured with water, were keeping him afloat and without it he could not keep his head above the water. Ryder started to sink, and just as he was slipping out of his consciousness, the trawler approached and grabbed him with a boathook, saving him at the very last moment.
After recovering the pilot, Skipper Watkinson and his two sons – one of them the man who damaged the Heinkel with the boat's Lewis gun – turned to the German crewmen, picking them up from the water. The Alaska then headed to Hartlepool, reaching its destination after a six-hour journey.

Flight Lieutenant Ryder was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his victory. 
The Germans, Oberstlt Hefele, Lt. Behnisch, Lt. Kempe, Uffz Weber and Uffz Bachle, became POW.

John Grehan. Britain at War. Issue 36, April 2010. p. 60.
Winston Ramsey. The Blitz Then and Now, Volume 1. Battle of Britain prints International, London, 1987.