Beasts of the East

Focke-wulf Fw 190 on the Eastern Front

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS -

When the Luft­waffe’s fighter force set out in sup­port of the Ger­man in­va­sion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, it did so al­most ex­clu­sively fly­ing the Messer­schmitt Bf 109F. A quick vic­tor y failed to ma­te­ri­alise, how­ever, and a year later the rugged and pow­er­ful Fw 190 was badly needed in the east…

Soviet forces were caught com­pletely off guard and off bal­ance at the be­gin­ning of Hitler’s Op­er­a­tion Bar­barossa and paid a heavy price for it. Three Ger­man army groups, North, Cen­tre and South, and their Luft­waffe sup­port punched through Soviet de­fences with ease – an­ni­hi­lat­ing the en­emy for­ma­tions in their way – and drove east. Op­pos­ing the Ger­man Bf 109Fs were large num­bers of ob­so­lete fighters, such as Po­likar­pov I-15 bi­planes and the I-16, which had been in­tro­duced in 1934. Ad­vanced Soviet fighters had en­tered pro­duc­tion, such as the MIG-3, LAGG-3 and Yak-1, but they were only avail­able in small num­bers and few pi­lots had been trained to fly them. Soviet pi­lots in gen­eral were in­ex­pe­ri­enced, poorly trained and had not been ex­pect­ing an in­va­sion. In fact, when Ger­man ground attack air­craft reached Soviet for­ward air bases, they of­ten found the air­craft lined up in neat rows – and de­stroyed them one af­ter the next on the ground. Those that did get air­borne of­ten had no ra­dios and no fire con­trol. As such, they were slaugh­tered by the Luft­waffe’s highly trained and well co­or­di­nated fighter forces. By the sum­mer of 1942, the pic­ture had changed dramatically. The ad­vanced fighters were be­ing churned out in huge num­bers by the Soviet industrial ma­chine and by the sum­mer’s end they had been joined by an­other, per­haps the best yet – the Lav­ochkin La-5, es­sen­tially the LAGG-3 with a much more pow­er­ful en­gine. The heav­ily ar­moured Ilyushin Il-2 Stur­movik ground-attack air­craft had also been in­tro­duced and was ap­pear­ing in wor­ry­ingly large for­ma­tions over the front line to attack Ger­man in­fantry and ar­mour. They were given var­i­ous nick­names by the Luft­waffe, in­clud­ing ‘ze­menters’ or ‘ce­menters’ be­cause they were so tough it was as though they were made out of ce­ment. Fear­ing the col­lapse of their ally in the east, the west­ern pow­ers had also sent over hun­dreds of air­craft to bol­ster the Soviet ef­fort. The Luft­waffe on the ‘Ost­front’ there­fore found it­self fight­ing Su­per­ma­rine Spit­fires, Hawker Hur­ri­canes, Bell P-39 Aira­co­bras and Cur­tiss P-40s. It was in­evitable, with the West­ern Front prov­ing com­par­a­tively qui­eter and with ad­e­quate num­bers now be­ing pro­duced, that the Fw 190 would be in­tro­duced in the east. The first unit to re­ceive it was I./JG 51, which was with­drawn from its base in Orel, 200 miles south­west of Moscow, to Königs­berg, East Prus­sia, at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust 1942. By the time a swift pro­gramme of train­ing had been com­pleted it was equipped with one Fw 190A-1, 10 A-2s and 32 A-3s. Be­fore the month was out, JG 51 had be­gun mov­ing back to Rus­sia with its new charges, now based at Ljuban, near Len­ingrad, and the whole of I./JG 51 was in place by Septem­ber 6. De­liv­er­ies of the new Fw 190A-4 to the front be­gan in Oc­to­ber 1942, just as the first La-5s were reach­ing Soviet air force units. II./JG 51 was with­drawn to East Prus­sia on Oc­to­ber 7 so that it too could begin

con­vert­ing to the Fw 190 but with train­ing still un­der way most of the Gruppe was sud­denly trans­ferred to the Mediter­ranean. Only 6./JG 51 re­mained be­hind to com­plete its con­ver­sion. Novem­ber 12 saw III./JG 51 also be­ing moved back to East Prus­sia to begin work­ing up on the Fw 190. While all this had been go­ing on, Soviet forces had been grind­ing down their Ger­man op­po­nents at Stal­in­grad and by Novem­ber 22 the Ger­man 6th Army was com­pletely sur­rounded and cut off within the dev­as­tated ru­ins of the city. The Sovi­ets now marched north with the in­ten­tion of wip­ing out Army Group Cen­tre. Ger­man air forces in the area were I. and III./JG 51 with their new Fw 190s, plus IV./JG 51 and II./JG 3 with their Messer­schmitt Bf 109s. The Luft­waffe’s key ob­jec­tive was to pre­vent Soviet bombers and ground-attack air­craft from weak­en­ing Army Group Cen­tre still fur­ther – the first test of the Fw 190 in a ma­jor op­er­a­tion on the Eastern Front. The Rus­sians de­ployed their usual large for­ma­tions of Stur­moviks on De­cem­ber 4, 1942, and both the Stab­staffel and I. Gruppe of JG 51 flew to in­ter­cept them. It was a re­sound­ing suc­cess, with 31 Il-2s de­stroyed. The joint high­est scor­ing Ger­man pi­lots were the unit com­man­der, Haupt­mann Hein­rich ‘Gaudi’ Krafft, Ober­leut­nant Ed­win Thiel and Ober­leut­nant Heinz Lange, who each shot down five. Just 10 days later, on De­cem­ber 14, the Rus­sians had their re­venge on ‘Gaudi’ Krafft. His Fw 190A-3 ‘Black <<’ was hit by flak near Kurk­ina and he crash-landed. It has been sug­gested that Krafft sur­vived only to be stripped naked, apart from his Knight’s Cross, and beaten about the head by Soviet sol­diers un­til he died. A unit of Panzer Gre­nadier Reg­i­ment 25 cer­tainly re­cov­ered his body from the crash scene but the source of the ‘mur­dered’ story has never been ver­i­fied. The same month, an­other Eastern Front Gruppe was re-equipped with the Fw 190 – I./JG 54, the Grün­hertz or ‘Green Hearts’. It was with­drawn to East Prus­sia and be­gan train­ing on the A-4, this be­ing com­pleted by Jan­uary 1943. It was just in time for the new Fw 190s to be used against Stur­moviks that were sup­port­ing an at­tempt to re­lieve the be­sieged Soviet forces in Len­ingrad. It was now de­cided that the highly ex­pe­ri­enced Fw 190 pi­lots of JG 26 would begin trans­fer­ring from France to the Eastern Front. I./JG 26 led by Ma­jor Jo­hannes Seifert and 7./JG 26 were the first to go and they were re­placed in France by III./JG 54, which was still fly­ing Bf 109s. Ar­riv­ing at its new base at Riel­b­itzi in north­ern Rus­sia on Fe­bru­ary 15, 1943, JG 26 had been re-equipped with the new Fw 190A5. It was now a part of Luft­flotte 1, pro­vid­ing sup­port and air cover for Army Group North. Its pi­lots soon found that bat­tling the Rus­sians was very dif­fer­ent from fight­ing the RAF over West­ern Europe. The Sovi­ets gen­er­ally flew at lower al­ti­tudes so most bat­tles against them tended to be be­low 10,000ft. In ad­di­tion, the much larger ar­eas and dis­tances in­volved meant that smaller for­ma­tions of Fw 190s had to be used. The stan­dard com­bat for­ma­tion was a Sch­warm of four or just a Rotte of two. The cer­tainty of safe haven in bases any­where in tem­per­ate France, and even the abil­ity to bail out and be rel­a­tively sure of land­ing among friends, was re­placed with the wor­ry­ing un­cer­tainty of fly­ing over not only hos­tile ter­rain but also over a con­stantly mov­ing front line. It was of­ten dif­fi­cult for pi­lots, par­tic­u­larly those tr ying to land dam­aged ma­chines, to work out whether they were likely to be picked up by friends or enemies on the ground. One of I./JG 26’s first tasks in this harsh new en­vi­ron­ment was to op­er­ate in a fight­er­bomber ca­pac­ity against Rus­sian ground forces at­tempt­ing to crush the De­myansk salient – a pocket of Ger­man forces sur­rounded by the Red Army south of Len­ingrad. The salient had been formed dur­ing early 1942 but had lin­gered on for al­most a year, with the Rus­sians now close to victory. JG 26 mounted at­tacks ev­ery day, straf­ing sup­ply col­umns, and at­tack­ing ve­hi­cles wher­ever they could be found.

When the Ger­man army fi­nally aban­doned the salient, JG 26 flew in­ter­cep­tion mis­sions against Il-2s that were har­ry­ing the re­treat­ing Ger­man sol­diers. From Fe­bru­ary 18 to March 18, I./JG 26 de­stroyed 75 Soviet air­craft while los­ing only three Fw 190s in re­turn. Of the 75, 64 were claimed in a sin­gle day – March 7. Mean­while, JG 54 and 7./JG 26 had been em­broiled in ef­forts to pre­vent the Sovi­ets from lift­ing the siege of Len­ingrad, fly­ing daily pa­trols in an at­tempt to close a re­lief cor­ri­dor that had been es­tab­lished for the be­lea­guered city. Fur­ther south, JG 51 was be­ing stretched to help stave off a ma­jor new Rus­sian of­fen­sive that was threat­en­ing to over­whelm Army Group Cen­tre. On Fe­bru­ary 23 alone, the Gruppe de­stroyed 46 Rus­sian air­craft. The next day it went one bet­ter by destroying an­other 47. Just one Fw 190 was lost but more fol­lowed over the com­ing weeks as the Rus­sians con­tin­ued to press Army Group Cen­tre hard. IV./JG 51, led by Ma­jor Ru­dolf Resch, had with­drawn from the front line a month ear­lier to con­vert to the Fw 190 and by March all three Grup­pen of JG 51 were fly­ing the type and reg­u­larly fight­ing ex­pe­ri­enced Soviet front line fighter units fly­ing the lat­est types. Un­terof­fizier Ger­hard ‘Emmes’ Sch­warz, a pi­lot of 2./JG 51, wrote in his di­ary of an en­counter with one par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing Rus­sian pi­lot. He had set off at 9.30am on March 18 as wing­man to Leut­nant Joachim Bren­del. “In my air­craft I felt very su­pe­rior to the LAGG-3 which I was chas­ing. He was al­ready in a steep turn on his wing-tip. Although my turn was match­ing his, my con­trol stick had only moved a lit­tle. Then I thought I’d have some fun by slowly out-bank­ing the Ivan to shake his nerves. “If one could have traced our flight course, they would have seen we were fly­ing an el­lipse. I could see him in his cock­pit star­ing at me. ‘Boy, you’ve got long hair,’ I thought. I couldn’t see ex­actly but I thought the hair stuck out from un­der his hel­met. Nev­er­the­less, he flew quite smartly and banked cleanly. “Fi­nally, I got in the right po­si­tion with the crosshairs of my gun­sight a lit­tle in front, and I pressed the fir­ing but­tons. My tracer bul­lets hit the side of his en­gine, but my ammunition was now ex­hausted, ‘Empty!’ I thought. ‘Damn.’ “But black smoke be­gan to pour from his air­craft, so I stayed be­hind him. His en­gine must soon seize. We con­tin­ued to bank with me very close be­hind him. Then the smoke cleared and I saw the Rus­sian air­field about 5km away. I should have bro­ken off the ac­tion, but the devil was rid­ing with me. “I pulled closer to the Rus­sian, but he must have re­alised that I was no longer a dan­ger to him and he stopped bank­ing. With the ut­most shock I now re­alised that this Ivan was a rather pretty girl. I saluted her and her rather pale face nod­ded in re­turn. “I pointed to the air­field, but she did not un­der­stand and shook her head, lift­ing her shoul­ders en­quir­ingly. I low­ered my un­der­car­riage to show her that she could do the same and pointed again to the air­field. Now she un­der­stood, but she still looked at me doubt­fully. “I pointed to my guns and crossed my arms. This was the in­ter­na­tional sign that I had no more ammunition. We saluted each other and I pulled away as she be­gan her land­ing ap­proach.

OP­ER­A­TION CITADEL

Aerial com­bat largely ceased across the Eastern Front dur­ing early April as tor­ren­tial spring rains made fly­ing haz­ardous. On April 15, 1943, how­ever, Hitler or­dered the com­mence­ment of prepa­ra­tions for Op­er­a­tion

Citadel – a pin­cer move­ment to be car­ried out by Army Group Cen­tre and Army Group South to elim­i­nate a Soviet salient around Kursk. Stalin’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vices man­aged to find out about Citadel well be­fore­hand how­ever, by ob­tain­ing the de­tails from Ger­mans pris­on­ers un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion, and the Soviet air force was gal­vanised to pre­vent the blow from land­ing by car­ry­ing out a se­ries of strength-sap­ping raids and as­saults on the Luft­waffe. Large-scale bomb­ing raids were car­ried out on Ger­man-held air­fields be­tween May 6 and May 8. Citadel was sched­uled to begin on May 10 but heavy dam­age had been suf­fered it was de­cided that it should be post­poned un­til July while fresh re­in­force­ments were gath­ered. Dur­ing May, a new semi-au­ton­o­mous Fw 190-equipped fighter-bomber unit was formed in Fin­land, 14.(Jabo)/jg 5. Equipped with some­what out­dated A-2s and A-3s, its mission was to attack Soviet ship­ping along the Bar­ents Sea coast and pro­vide close sup­port for Ger­man and al­lied forces in the Lake Ladoga area. In ad­di­tion, 4a Es­cuadrilla ‘Azul’ de Caza, a unit made up of Span­ish vol­un­teers which had spent some time in France un­der­go­ing train­ing, re­turned to Rus­sia in May equipped with Fw 190A-2s. Dur­ing June, I./JG 26 be­gan re­turn­ing to France and JG 51 mounted a se­ries of strikes on large for­ma­tions of Il-2s while they were en route to bomb Ger­man air­fields, caus­ing heavy ca­su­al­ties for very few losses. By early July, the force pre­pared for Op­er­a­tion Citadel was still in­ad­e­quate but time was run­ning out and it was there­fore de­cided to press ahead with it. Pro­tect­ing the north­ern pin­cer as it swept down on to Kursk would be JG 51 and JG 54, both equipped with a mix­ture of Fw 190A-2s, A-3s, A-4s, A-5s and A-6s, plus some Bf 109s. From the south, the Bf 109Gs of JG 3 and JG 52, and the Fw 190A-5s and F-3s of Schl.g 1, would pro­vide the nec­es­sary air cover. The attack was due to begin at 3am on July 5, 1943, but as be­fore cap­tured Ger­man pris­on­ers gave away the date and time un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion and the Rus­sians launched a mas­sive ar­tillery bar­rage on Ger­man po­si­tions just as Citadel was about to begin. With the ground of­fen­sive stalled, JG 51 and JG 54 nev­er­the­less set off on fighter sweeps at 3.25am with the in­ten­tion of seek­ing out en­emy air­craft and destroying them be­fore they too could be brought into play on the front line. This proved to be a very ef­fec­tive op­er­a­tion, with dozens of Soviet fighters be­ing brought down. By the end of the day, 360 Soviet air­craft of all types were claimed de­stroyed, 159 of which had been re­port­edly brought down by units us­ing the Fw 190. In re­turn, Ger­man forces lost 98 air­craft. Just 12 of th­ese were Fw 190s, how­ever. The next day, 205 Soviet air­craft were claimed de­stroyed, 126 of which were by Fw 190s. On July 7, the third day of Citadel, the Fw 190 Grup­pen downed 71 Soviet air­craft, and on July 8 this to­tal dropped to 58. Fw 190 vic­to­ries over Soviet ma­chines rose again to 66 on July 9 – a very high rate of at­tri­tion for the Rus­sians – but they had now changed their tac­tics to avoid mak­ing a di­rect as­sault, pre­fer­ring in­stead to take a wide route around the Ger­man front line air de­fences and attack sup­ply col­umns and air­fields to the rear in­stead. On the ground, while large gains had been made on the first few days of Citadel, the ad­vance had reached a vir­tual stand­still by July 10. The Rus­sians had pre­pared ex­ten­sive for­ti­fi­ca­tions around Kursk and the Ger­man tank armies were be­gin­ning to run out of fuel. The Luft­waffe too was experiencing fuel short­age which meant that Il-2s were in­creas­ingly able to strike at Ger­man front line units un­op­posed. As Ger­man strength bled away, the Rus­sians only be­came stronger, as ever more sup­plies and re­serves were moved up to the front. Ger­man ar­mour losses had reached a stag­ger­ing 50% by the end of the eighth day, July 12, and the Fw 190s of JG 51 and JG 54 were en­gaged in bit­ter bat­tles over­head against Mig-3s, Yak-1s and La-5s as more Il-2s slipped through and de­stroyed Ger­man sup­plies to the rear. Still, the Luft­waffe poured re­in­force­ments into its own front line units and on July 13 the Fw 190 units claimed 174 en­emy air­craft de­stroyed. That night, Ger­man forces be­gan a retreat at sev­eral points along the front. By July 15, 10 days into Op­er­a­tion Citadel, JG 51 alone had lost 63 Fw 190s. Hitler of­fi­cially can­celled Citadel on July 16 but there was no let up for the Luft­waffe as the attack be­came a retreat, with the vic­to­ri­ous Rus­sians pur­su­ing the bat­tered Ger­man sur­vivors west­wards. A fort­night af­ter the start of Citadel, IV./JG 51 had lost a full third of its pi­lots and ev­ery sin­gle one of its Fw 190s, be­ing re-equipped with Bf 109G-4s and G-6s in­stead, since th­ese were more read­ily avail­able. By the end of July, the Luft­waffe’s Fw 190 strength in the east had been more than halved across the board. JG 51 and JG 54 had claimed a to­tal of 1250 vic­to­ries for the month, which even ac­count­ing for in­ac­cu­ra­cies was sub­stan­tial – but it wasn’t enough. The Soviet air force was eas­ily able to make good th­ese losses and now out­num­bered the Luft­waffe in fighter strength by more than four to one.

Retreat from the east

Hav­ing been se­verely mauled by the ever grow­ing Soviet tank armies, the Ger­mans were forced to begin a gen­eral with­drawal dur­ing late Au­gust 1943. The Luft­waffe too had suf­fered losses of men and ma­chines that it was strug­gling to re­place. There were now sim­ply too many Soviet tanks in the field for I./schl.g 1’s Fw 190 fighter-bombers to cope with. The unit was ex­hausted from fly­ing con­stant sor­ties against ad­vanc­ing en­emy ground forces and by early Septem­ber it was be­ing used to try and stem the tide of Soviet tanks that were break­ing through around the Ukrainian cap­i­tal Kiev. The leader of 1./Schl.g 1, Haupt­mann Jo­hannes Mei­necke was shot down and killed by flak near Mutino on Septem­ber 4. II./SCHL.G 1 was car­ry­ing out sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions from Stal­ino, now known as Donetsk, in Ukraine but it too found that it just didn’t have enough air­craft to make any im­pres­sion on the huge tank for­ma­tions that were ap­pear­ing in com­bat against Ger­man ground forces try­ing to de­fend the city. Stal­ino fell in early Septem­ber. There was a lull in the of­fen­sive against Kiev dur­ing Oc­to­ber but on Novem­ber 3, 1943, the Sovi­ets launched an all-out sur­prise as­sault on the Ukrainian cap­i­tal. The de­fend­ers were over­whelmed by sheer weight of num­bers. The fight­ing around Kiev went on un­til late De­cem­ber when ex­tremely cold weather and ex­haus­tion on both sides brought a brief respite from fur­ther of­fen­sive ac­tion. It had been in­tended that ev­ery Junkers Ju 87 on the Eastern Front would be re­placed with a Fw 190 by the end of 1943 but there was a crit­i­cal short­age of Fw 190s due to the regular Amer­i­can and Bri­tish bomb­ing raids on pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties. Those air­craft that were man­u­fac­tured went straight to units charged with pro­tect­ing the Re­ich from the bombers. As a re­sult, the pon­der­ous and vul­ner­a­ble Stuka con­tin­ued in front line ser­vice. From north to south, the units equipped with the Fw 190 on the Eastern Front at the be­gin­ning of 1944 were 14.(Jabo)/jg 5 on the Finnish front, which had by now flown more than 1000 sor­ties and sunk 39,000 tons of ship­ping; 4./JG 54 with Luft­flotte 1 in north Rus­sia, which only had 10 Fw 190s re­main­ing. With Army Group Cen­tre and Luft­flotte 6 were the Stab, Stab­staffel, I. and III./JG 51 and the Stab of I./JG 54 plus the Span­ish Staffel 15./JG 51. On the south­ern por­tion of the front, in Luft­flotte 4, was II./JG 54, though not its 4. Staffel. There were also four re­cently es­tab­lished Sch­lacht­grup­pen, II./SG 2, I. and II./SG 10 and II./SG 77. While most of th­ese units had a mix­ture of Fw 190A-4s, A-5s and A6s, the lat­ter had Fw 190F-2s, F-3s and G-3s. Bad weather along the front meant very lit­tle fly­ing was pos­si­ble un­til Jan­uary 10, 1944. There were a hand­ful of skir­mishes with Il-2s, LAGG-3S and Aira­co­bras but it was the groun­dat­tack SG units that were the most ac­tive, with II./SG 2 fly­ing 42 sor­ties against Soviet ve­hi­cles and in­fantry po­si­tions on Jan­uary 12. The first sig­nif­i­cant of­fen­sive of the year be­gan on Jan­uary 14 when the Soviet 2nd As­sault Army tried yet again to raise the siege of Len­ingrad – which had been in con­tin­u­ous ef­fect for around 900 days by this point. Freez­ing tem­per­a­tures and poor visibility kept Fw 190s in the sec­tor grounded ini­tially, but the fol­low­ing day 6./JG 54 was able to tackle a flight of Petlyakov Pe-2 dive bombers and their La-5 es­corts en route to attack Ger­man ground forces. Then on Jan­uary 24, the Rus­sians launched a sur­prise of­fen­sive in Ukraine. Four days later, large ar­moured for­ma­tions had suc­cess­fully en­cir­cled 56,000 Ger­man sol­diers and their ve­hi­cles at Cherkassy – form­ing the ‘Kor­sunCherkassy pocket’. II./JG 54 was swiftly called upon to pre­vent Soviet air­craft from shoot­ing down the Junkers Ju 52 trans­ports be­ing used to air­lift sup­plies to the en­cir­cled armies. Then, on Jan­uary 30, the Sovi­ets over­ran Siver­skaya, which had served as JG 54’s base of op­er­a­tions for sev­eral months. By Fe­bru­ary 5, the Rus­sians had ad­vanced 200 miles west­wards but a Ger­man

coun­ter­at­tack was mounted, which then be­came a counter en­cir­clement on di­rect or­ders from Hitler. III Panzer Corps at­tacked north­wards to­wards the pocket but its ad­vance was halted by fuel short­ages and con­stant ha­rass­ment from Soviet forces on the evening of Fe­bru­ary 16. This so­lid­i­fied into a Soviet coun­ter­at­tack by the 5th Guards Tank Army, forc­ing III Panzer Corps onto the de­fen­sive – but it was just four miles from the pocket. The be­sieged force was told that it was now or never: it had to break out, start­ing at 11pm. That night, huge for­ma­tions of Il-2s hit the pocket with in­cen­di­aries and the Luft­waffe was un­able to chal­lenge them. Rock­ets and ar­tillery fire also poured in. Leav­ing be­hind 1450 wounded men who were un­able to walk, the sur­viv­ing Ger­mans formed three as­sault col­umns and marched into the night, mak­ing for the rel­a­tive safety of the III Panzer Corps’ po­si­tions, with bay­o­nets fixed. Within 30 min­utes, sev­eral bat­tal­ions and reg­i­ments had bro­ken through the en­cir­cling Rus­sian forces, reach­ing III Panzer Corps by 4.10am. The leader of forces in the pocket, Gen­eral Wil­helm Stem­mer­mann, re­mained be­hind with a rear­guard of 6500 men. When the Sovi­ets re­alised what was hap­pen­ing, they re­acted by em­ploy­ing over­whelm­ing force. The 20th Tank Corps brought in a brigade of new Joseph Stalin 2 heavy tanks. Th­ese, along with dozens of T34s, rolled into col­umns of un­pro­tected Ger­man sup­port, head­quar­ters and med­i­cal units that had been fol­low­ing the ini­tial wave of as­sault troops. It was a massacre that pro­ceeded with­out chal­lenge from the Luft­waffe. At the end of Fe­bru­ary, the short­age of Fw 190s was so crit­i­cal it was de­cided that JG 51 should con­vert to the Bf 109G-6, of which the sup­ply was still plen­ti­ful. This be­gan in April and had mostly been com­pleted by May. The only Fw 190s now re­main­ing on the Eastern Front were those em­ployed by JG 54 and the Sch­lacht­grup­pen, of which there were now five with the re­des­ig­na­tion of 14.(Jabo)/jg 5 as 4./SG 5. The lat­ter were in­creas­ingly called upon to act as fighters against Soviet bombers, rather than ground-attack air­craft, as the Ger­man front line be­gan to dis­in­te­grate un­der fresh of­fen­sives in March 1944. There was some respite for Ger­man ground forces in April when the spring thaws turned pre­vi­ously pass­able roads into muddy quag­mires but there was no break in hos­til­i­ties in the air, with JG 54 fly­ing sor­ties around the clock. The SGS were also hard­pressed. By the end of April, II./SG 2 had only three or four ser­vice­able Fw 190s. Help was com­ing how­ever. The newly formed III./SG 10 had just be­come op­er­a­tional in Poland with its first batch of Fw 190F-8s and on May 15, III./SG 3 was sent to Cze­choslo­vakia to begin con­ver­sion to the Fw 190F-8. It was trans­ferred to the Eastern Front, on the Rus­sian-lat­vian bor­der, on June 27. The ar­rival of the F-8 was thanks to a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Ger­man air­craft in­dus­try that negated the ef­fects of the con­stant Al­lied bomb­ing by dis­pers­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties far and wide across Ger­many. Hun­dreds more Fw 190s were now pour­ing off pro­duc­tion lines, end­ing the crip­pling short­ages seen on the Eastern Front and set­ting the stage for the fi­nal year of the Sec­ond World War.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

A pair of Fw 190A-5s from I./JG 54 in flight over Rus­sia bear­ing the Geschwader’s familiar grüne Herz or ‘green heart’ in­signia.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

One of the best pho­to­graphs in ex­is­tence of Fw 190s in ac­tive ser­vice on the Eastern Front, this im­age shows a trio of A-5s from 5./JG 54 be­ing read­ied for op­er­a­tions in north­ern Rus­sia. A Fw 190A-4 of 2./JG 54 on fi­nal ap­proach to a snowy air­field in Rus­sia. Left: A rare pho­to­graph from the same roll of film as the im­age on the op­po­site page shows the same two air­craft but with­out their fuse­lage num­bers – pre­sum­ably lost dur­ing colouri­sa­tion.

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Luft­waffe op­er­a­tions on the Eastern Front were fre­quently ham­pered by ap­palling weather con­di­tions. Here a cou­ple of Fw 190A-4s of I./JG 54 have been dug out of a snow drift at Krasnog­vardeysk prior to a mission. A Fw 190A-4 of I./JG51 at Dvo­evka Vyazma about 200km west of Moscow. An­other scene from JG 54’s base at Krasnog­vardeysk, where a Fw 190 has been cov­ered with a sheet to pre­vent the guns over its en­gine cowl­ing from ic­ing up.

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This Fw 190A-4 of I./JG 54 wears mot­tled win­ter cam­ou­flage. A Fw 190A-6 of 4./JG 54 un­der­goes ser­vic­ing at Im­mola, Fin­land, dur­ing the sum­mer of 1944. An un­usual sur­vivor, this early Fw 190A-3 is pic­tured in 1944 serv­ing with 1./JG 5 at Im­mola air­field in Ima­tra, south­ern Fin­land.

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From one ex­treme to an­other.with the win­ter snows a dis­tant mem­ory, the per­son­nel of 4./JG 54 sweat in the heat as they work on a Fw 190A-6 in July 1944. Four­teen Ju 87s fly over­head – the type still in ser­vice long af­ter it had been ear­marked for re­place­ment by the Fw 190.

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A pair of Fw 190F-8s from II./SG 77 on the Eastern Front in 1944.The air­craft clos­est to the cam­era shows clear spa­ces un­der its wings where the bomb racks have been re­moved. By this stage of the war, the Sch­lacht­grup­pen were fre­quently called upon to fly­ing fighter in­ter­cept mis­sions against Soviet bombers. Heav­ily weath­ered Fw 190s of an uniden­ti­fied Sch­lacht­gruppe on the Eastern Front. Fi­nal prepa­ra­tions are made to a Fw 190 of II./SG 2 prior to a mission in the spring of 1944.

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