Best in the West
Fw 190 on the Western Front
After a series of encounters with the Luftwaffe’s new Fw 190s during the early part of 1942, the RAF took no chances when it was called upon to provide aerial cover for Allied seaborne landings at Dieppe on August 19. Forty-eight squadrons of Spitfires took part – but as the British pilots soon discovered, numerical superiority alone was not enough…
As Operation Barbarossa consumed more and more resources in the east and with America having joined the war against Germany, Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of a defensive line that would stretch right down the western coast of Europe – the Atlantic Wall. The order was given, Führer Directive Number 40, on March 23, 1942, and work began immediately – concentrated initially on the major ports closest to Britain, such as Cherbourg, Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk and Dieppe. Bunkers were hastily constructed, barbed wire was unrolled and concrete walls went up. Not far behind this new ‘front line’, the Luftwaffe’s primary fighter units in the west, JG 2 and JG 26, were stationed at bases across north-western France and Belgium and enjoyed a spring and early summer of wrecking havoc on the RAF. During this time the British engaged in Circus operations, coordinated bomber and fighter attacks on targets inside occupied Europe. These were intended to draw the Luftwaffe into combat in conditions unfavourable to them and to cause harassment that would waste German resources. Instead, they tended to result in Spitfires getting shot down in substantial numbers by German pilots flying Fw 190s. For example, Circus No. 178, on June 1, saw a group of eight Hurri-bombers – bomb equipped Hawker Hurricanes – being escorted to their target in Belgium by a total of 168 Spitfires. This large formation was naturally picked up on German radar and two Gruppen from JG 26 were scrambled to intercept them: I./JG 26 based at St Omer-arques and III./JG 26 at Wevelgem. When the Fw 190s caught up with the Spitfires off the coast near Ostende, they successfully ‘bounced’ them and shot down the wing commander plus eight of his pilots. Another five Spitfires were damaged in the melee. None of the Focke-wulfs was damaged. The following day, a group of 12 Spitfires from 403 Squadron was set upon by II./JG 26
Fw 190s led by Hauptmann Joachim Müncheberg. The Canadian unit executed a three-way split, only to find itself being attack from above by yet more German fighters. Eight of the Spitfires were destroyed to no German losses. This prompted the desperation that ended when a Fw 190 was captured by the British, as detailed on p34-39. By now, the new Spitfire IX was well on its way to operational service and this gave the RAF some measure of confidence that the Fw 190, though deadly, might finally meet its match. The first Spitfire IX versus Fw 190 encounter came on July 30 during Circus No. 200. Six RAF Douglas Bostons were sent, with a substantial fighter escort, to bomb JG 26’s base at Abbeville-drucat. During the operation, a single Fw 190 was successfully destroyed by Spitfire IX pilot Flight Lieutenant Donald Kingaby. Unfortunately for the British, 14 Spitfire Vs were also downed
Against this stark backdrop, the Allies had been planning their first foray, in force, on to the German-held Continent. Joseph Stalin, under extreme pressure from the German forces still ploughing ever deeper into Soviet territory, was desperate for the British and Americans to open up a second front in the west. Even a shift of resources back to France would have been more than welcome. In addition the Americans, dismayed by Britain’s apparent inaction, were chomping at the bit to see the British take a more aggressive attitude to the war by launching Operation Sledgehammer – an attack to gain a foothold on the French coast. What took place instead was Operation Jubilee, which involved attacking the strongly held port of Dieppe on August 19, 1942. Canadian troops, who had been kicking their heels in Britain for months, volunteered to take the lead and little preparation work was done. How hard could it be to roll 6000 troops and dozens of tanks on to a beach and drive up into the town? Overhead, the RAF had assembled a formidable force to support the landings. There were two squadrons of Hurri-bombers, six squadrons of Hurricane fighters, four squadrons of reconnaissance Mustang Mk.1s, five squadrons of Boston and Blenheim bombers, three squadrons of the new Hawker Typhoon, 42 Spitfire V squadrons, two with Spitfire VIS and four with Spitfire IXS. In addition, the Americans supplied recently arrived B-17s from the 97th Bomb Group to launch a diversionary raid. Operation Jubilee commenced at 5am but the first German fighters were not scrambled until 6.15am – four Fw 190s from 5./JG 26 based at Abbeville-drucat. Fighters from 1./JG 26 then took off five minutes later from St Omer-arques. Arriving over Dieppe, it was clear to the pilots that reinforcements were needed and the rest of I. Gruppe took off. The first aerial victory of the day was made by Oberfeldwebel Heinz Bierwirth, who shot down a Spitfire at 6.43am. By now, the second Jagdgeschwader in the area, JG 2, had joined the battle. Unteroffizier Kurt Epsiger of 1./JG 2 destroyed a Handley Page Hampden at 6.46am and then a Spitfire two minutes later. On the ground, the mainly Canadian infantry had landed on the exposed beaches around Dieppe and attempted to break through concrete walls and fortified positions – only to find that the Germans had carefully constructed them to eliminate any possible cover for attackers. Overlapping fields of fire from bunkers overlooking the beaches had a devastating effect and hundreds of Canadians were slaughtered – the survivors being rounded up and captured. Tanks landed on the stony beaches soon found that they were entirely unsuited to supporting tracked vehicles, which simply sank into them and became stuck. It was a disaster and the situation in the air was little better. A pair of Mustangs were shot down by Hauptmann Helmut-felix Bolz at 6.55am and 7.02am, and between then and 9am, another nine Spitfires were shot down for the loss of one Fw 190. James Edgar ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, then a squadron leader, flew Spitfire Vb EP215 ‘DWB’ during the Dieppe raid and had his first ‘duel’ with a Fw 190. He said: “I was leading the Auxiliary 610 Squadron (County of Chester), flying over Canadian troops who were taking part in the combined operation against Dieppe.
“At 10,000ft my squadron had been badly ‘bounced’ by a large number of 109s and 190s. In the ensuing dogfight I got in a long burst at a 190 which began to smoke. The wheels dropped and it fell away towards the sea. “Immediately afterwards, another large bunch of enemy aircraft came down on us from astern and the flanks. In the ensuing dogfight the squadron became split up and I found myself alone in a hostile sky. “The only thing to do was to get out as quickly as possible – the golden rule in those days was that there was no future in flying alone. But as I was making my way towards the coast, I spotted a solitary aircraft over the town. I eased towards it and recognised the enemy fighter as a 190. “I yawed my Spitfire to cover the blind spot behind me and to make certain that I was not about to be attacked. These movements attracted the attention of the enemy pilot. He snaked towards me almost head on. Then we both turned hard to the left and whirled round on opposite sides of what seemed to be an ever decreasing circle. “With wide-open throttles I held the Spitfire V in the tightest of vertical turns. I was greying out. Where was this German, who should, according to my reckoning, be filling the gunsight? I could not see him, and little wonder, for he was gaining on me – in another couple of turns he would have me within his sights. “My over-confidence of a few seconds before had already given way to irritation at losing my opponent. This was in turn replaced by a sickening apprehension as the 190 gained on my tail. I asked the Spitfire for all she had in the turn, but the enemy pilot hung behind like a leech – it could only be a question of time. “Stick over and well forward, I plunged into a near vertical dive. A dangerous manoeuvre, for the 190 was more stable and faster than my Spitfire at this sort of game. But I had decided on a possible means of escape. At ground level I pulled into another steep turn, and as I gauged the height and watched the rooftops flash by I caught a glimpse of the Dieppe promenade. Of stationary tanks. Of the white casino and a deserted beach. “But I had no time to admire the view. The 190 was still behind. A short distance offshore I could see one of our destroyers surrounded by a clutter of smaller ships. We had been carefully briefed not to fly below 4000ft over these destroyers – otherwise they would open fire at either friend or foe. “I rammed the throttle into the emergency position, broke off my turn, and – at sea level – headed straight for the destroyer. Flak and tracer came straight at me from the destroyer, and more, slower tracer from the 190 behind passed over the top of the cockpit. “At the last moment I pulled over the mast of the destroyer, then slammed the nose down hard and eased out a few feet above the sea. I broke hard to the left and searched for the 190. He was no longer with me. Either the flak from the destroyer had put him off or, better still, had shot him down. I made off at high speed for our own south coast.” Between around 8.30am and 9am most of the JG 2 and JG 26 Fw 190s had returned to their bases to refuel and rearm before returning to the fray. Between 9am, when a single Mustang was shot down, and 10.30am, another 19 Spitfires were shot down and a Bristol Blenheim. Then there was another lull. This was a timely moment for a force of 22 B-17s, escorted by Spitfires, to attack II./JG 26’s airfield at Abbeville-drucat. The raid lasted eight minutes, from 10.32am to 10.40am but caused little damage, except for three B-17s suffering hits. Just a single Spitfire was shot down at 11am, but then from 11.28am to 1.35pm a further 36 Spitfires and a Mustang were shot down. The action on the ground had ended by 2pm, with all remaining Allied forces either withdrawn, killed or captured. But in the air, from 2pm to the end of the day at 7.43pm, another 37 Spitfires and a Hurricane were claimed destroyed by the Germans. It was the Focke-wulf Fw 190’s finest hour – with dozens of British fighter aircraft downed for the loss of just a handful of Fw 190s. JG 2 lost eight pilots, killed or missing, and six were wounded. It claimed 67 enemy aircraft destroyed. JG 26 lost six pilots and claimed 38 victories.
Enter the Jabo
Two months before Dieppe, while all the fighter units of JG 2 and JG 26 had converted to the Fw 190, their respective fighter-bomb Staffeln, 10.(Jabo)/jg 2 and 10.(Jabo)/jg 26 still had their original Messerschmitt Bf 109F-4s. In late June, however, both began to work up on Fw 190A-2s and A-3s fitted with centreline racks to carry bombs. Operations
began swiftly, with bombing raids on shipping around the Isle of Wight in early July. Throughout the remainder of the month and into August, the two Jabo units carried out nuisance hit and run raids on targets both at sea and inland. In addition to shipping, the Jabos targeted factories along the south coast. By the time British fighters had been scrambled to intercept them they were already on their way back to France. Fighter escorts were sometimes provided for the bomb-armed Fw 190s but on most occasions they proved unnecessary. During four months of raids, JG 2’s Jabos suffered no losses. JG 26 lost just one pilot – an inexperienced flyer who, having attacked the airfield at Manston, went back for another go and was shot down in flames. He survived and was taken prisoner. The broad sweep of German attacks was narrowed down to targets in Kent and Sussex in October 1942 – those closest to the unit’s bases in France. The British attempted to counter the Jabo threat by positioning five squadrons of the fast and heavily armed new Hawker Typhoon on the south coast and lying in wait for the Fw 190s. This yielded some success and a pair of Typhoons from 486 Squadron successfully bounced two Jabos from 10./JG 26 shortly after they had attacked a church in Hastings, killing two civilians and injuring 16 others. One of the Fw 190s crashed into the sea and its pilot, Feldwebel Karl Niesel was killed. In his official report, the surviving pilot described that attack’s target as “a block of flats”. Meanwhile, Hitler ordered that more daylight raids should be carried out on Britain in retaliation for the RAF’S nightbombing offensive. Therefore, the Luftwaffe planned an all-out Vergeltungsangriff or ‘vengeance attack’ on a British city and picked Canterbury as their objective. Unfortunately, the Jabo units of JG 2 and JG 26 were the only bombers in France at the time and between them they could only muster 19 serviceable aircraft. As a result, they were joined by yet more Fw 190 fighter-bombers from III./ZG 2 and several dozen fighters from the other Staffeln of JG 2 and JG 26 were fitted with bomb racks, resulting in an attack force of 68 bombcarrying fighters. They were to be escorted to the target by 62 more Fw 190s while six carried out a diversionary raid elsewhere. After waiting for just the right weather conditions, this large force set off late on the afternoon of October 31 and arrived over Canterbury at around 5pm, flying fast and low. As soon as they were reported approaching the coast, barrage balloons were raised and a number of the German pilots dropped their bombs off target as a result. Nevertheless, 31 bombs hit the city and killed 32 people, as well as causing a significant amount of damage to buildings. Spitfires were scrambled but as before the Fw 190s quickly turned around and sped back to France once their munitions were expended. Only a single Fw 190 from II./JG 2 was caught and shot down, its pilot being taken prisoner. However, during the return flight Leutnant Paul Galland, brother of General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland, and his wingman became lost in low cloud nine miles from Calais. He then heard a distress call from another German pilot and after some searching spotted a Fw 190 flying very low and being chased by a Spitfire. He went to help but the Spitfire pilot saw him coming and pulled away into the clouds. Galland entered a turn and his Fw 190A-4 stalled. He was trying to recover when the Spitfire emerged from the clouds and fired on him. Bullets hammered into Galland’s machine and it went down in flames. His wingman then shot down the Spitfire, believed to have been from 91 Squadron. Attacks from British fighters weren’t all the Fw 190 pilots had to worry about though. American Boeing B-17FS from the Eighth Air Force’s Bomb Groups had begun a campaign of daylight bombing raids that would now continue until the end of the war and JG 2 and JG 26 were frequently sent up to intercept them. During the interception of a 32 bomber raid on October 2, the German fighter pilots encountered American fighter escorts for the first time – Spitfires from the US 4th Fighter Group and P-38 Lightnings from the 1st Fighter Group. During the ensuing skirmish, seven Fw 190s were shot down, compared to six Spitfires and a pair of P-38s. The odds were already evening and one of the Fw 190s was shot down by a gunner on board a B-17 – the first time this had happened. None of the bombers was shot down.
While the heavily armed Flying Fortresses lived up to their names, preventing the Germans from adopting the classic tactic of attacking from behind and below, the Luftwaffe sooner learned through experience the best ways of approaching the ‘Viermots’ – so called because they had four ‘vier’ motors ‘mot’. The leader of III./JG 2, Hauptmann Egon Mayer, came up with the strategy of a high speed head-on attack – first tried, successfully, on November 23, 1942. Four B-17s were destroyed for the loss of just a single Fw 190. Flying at enemy machines in such a way could be highly risky, however. One 2./JG 26 pilot, Feldwebel Fritz Ungar, recalled: “During an attack from behind we were under defensive fire from the bombers for too long, and at least three machine gun positions fired at us from each aircraft. “In addition, the escorting fighters had the task of keeping us away from the bombers. So, we had no option left but to attack from headon. Everything happened very quickly. Every second brought us 220m closer together. “And of course, we didn’t want to collide but pull away over the bombers. For this pulling up and over the bomber, one needed almost the whole last two seconds and 440m. Our guns were adjusted to this distance. “Therefore, we had two options: to fire too early at a distance of 600m or 500m or to pull up half a second late. A very dangerous business. We didn’t have one second to fire our guns. It is incredible, when one thinks of all the efforts we had to make for just one second. One thing was absolutely vital – aim very accurately.”
fast bombers in africa
Although the successes of the Jabo raids had been relatively insignificant, the Germans resolved to intensify them as 1942 drew to a close. It was decided that a new sort of unit should be established to specialise in these attacks – the Schnellkampfgeschwader or ‘fast bomber wing’. SKG 10 was to have three Gruppen, each comprising four Staffeln, compared to the more usual three. Since existing Fw 190 pilots were all needed elsewhere, SKG 10 would be manned by former Bf 110 pilots drawn from the Zerstörer Gruppen or ‘heavy fighter groups’. Meanwhile, the first Fw 190 unit had arrived in North Africa – III./ZG 2. Heavy losses inflicted by the British in the theatre had prompted Göring to promise that 40 of the new Focke-wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers would be transferred there to help. III./ZG 2 arrived in Tunisia, having flown there via Italy and Sicily, in early to midNovember and flew its first mission against Bône harbour, held by the Allies, on November 12 and numerous clashes with enemy ground forces and Spitfires ensued. Five days later, II./JG 2 began to join III./ZG 2 at Sidi Ahmed. Its pilots were soon battling P38 Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group and B-17s of the Twelfth Air Force. In December 1942, it was decided that III./ZG 2 would be renamed III./SKG 10 to become the third Gruppe of the new Geschwader, though it continued its bombing operations in North Africa – attacking Allied ground targets ranging from ships to tanks and motor vehicles and supporting German ground forces. In March of the following year, a third Fw 190-equipped unit moved to North Africa, II./SCHL.G 2. In April, III./SKG 10 was issued with the Fw 190A-5/U8, the predecessor of the Fw 190G, but was deeply unimpressed with it, regarding the twin under-wing 300 litre drop tanks as perilously vulnerable to ground fire. However, it then began to receive the Fw 190F predecessor, the A-5/U3S with added armour protection, and found that these were much better suited to the fighter-bomber role. Intense fighting followed, with hundreds of sorties being flown against advancing British forces but to no avail. All of the Luftwaffe’s surviving Fw 190s in North Africa were evacuated on May 8, 1943.
Night raid fiasco
Back in early 1943, with the pilots of the first two SKG 10 Gruppen still undergoing training and conversion from the Bf 110, JG 2 and JG 26 continued to face growing numbers of
American bombers flying missions against targets within occupied Europe. At the end of 1942 a typical raid comprised just over 30 B17s. Now this had doubled and B-24 Liberators had also begun to join in. The Jabos continued to attack the south of England and during one raid on London on January 20, a 500kg bomb dropped by a Fw 190 landed on Sandhurst School, killing 38 children and six teachers. Elsewhere, the raid resulted in the deaths of 26 more civilians with dozens injured. American bombers carried out their first daylight raid over Germany on January 27, with 64 B-17s and 27 B-24s attacking Wilhelmshaven. More raids followed. By now, SKG 10’s first two Gruppen had completed their training and their campaign of fighter-bomber raids on the south of England began on March 8, 1943, with the bombing of a trawler close to Eddystone Lighthouse. Hastings was hit again on March 11, followed by a raid on Ilford and Barking on March 12. These nuisance or ‘vengeance’ attacks continued throughout the month and into April. During training, it had been decided that SKG 10 should not only attack during daylight but during the night too. Therefore, on April 16, 1943, its pilots were ordered to attack England under cover of darkness. The pilots had received very little training in night and instrument flying and their aircraft had no special equipment fitted to enable successful navigation at night. It was a recipe for disaster. This became apparent even as the first wave took off. Two Fw 190A-5s collided in darkness at Abbeville, killing one pilot, and another three collided on takeoff at Poix, killing Oberleutnant Rudolf Trenn, the commander of 3./SKG 10. Those aircraft that managed to get airborne reached the south coast of England just before 11.30pm and there was another accident at 11.35pm when the leader of 2./SKG 10, Oberleutnant Kurt Klahn, flying too low, was forced to bail out near Staplehurst in Kent and was killed. At around the same time, the second wave, II./SKG 10, was taking off – eight aircraft each from 5./SKG 10 and 7./SKG 10 – and heading for London. Each carried a pair of underwing drop tanks and a single SC 250 bomb on a fuselage rack. Everything went according to plan initially, but as they flew over London, three of the pilots became lost and disorientated. Feldwebel Otto Bechtold was blinded by searchlights and decided to drop his bomb and head for home. Unfortunately, he found that he couldn’t work out where he was, let alone where home was. Flying back along the Thames estuary, he headed out to sea, attempting to get his bearings, then he spotted the north coast of Kent and assumed it was France. British flak opened fire on him but he assumed that this was simply a mistake, dropped a flare and switched on his aircraft’s navigation lights. Bemused, the British used searchlights to guide Bechtold to the RAF base at West Malling. He landed and was captured. The second pilot, Oberfeldwebel Otto Schultz managed to drop his bomb on a factory but then suddenly realised he was almost out of fuel. He flew around, looking for somewhere to land, when he spotted the lights at West Malling which had been switched on for Bechtold. As he approached, however, all the lights abruptly went off and he crashed into an orchard. He was badly injured but was found by a local man who gave him a drink – which he was still drinking when ambulances arrived. Finally, Leutnant Fritz Setzer of 5./SKG 10 also attempted to land at West Malling, having run out of fuel evading flak bursts. He too thought he was in France but when he realised his mistake he gunned his engine and attempted to escape. The gunner of an armoured car stationed at the airfield opened fire on him and hit his fuel tank – igniting what little of his fuel remained. The Fw 190 crashed and Setzer crawled out with his clothes on fire. British firefighters drove over in a tender and there was apparently a scuffle. Setzer broke free and ran around the back of the vehicle – straight into the arms of the station commander, Wing Commander Peter Townsend. Setzer finally surrendered and was taken to the base’s sick bay. This was not the end of the Fw 190 as a nocturnal raider or fighter however. It was to play a key role in Oberstleutnant Hans-joachim ‘Hajo’ Herrmann’s Wilde Sau operations, detailed elsewhere in this publication. While all this was going on in the west, the Fw 190 was also making a big impression on the Eastern Front – see pages 70-75.
Fw 190 A-2 WNR. 0120 235 DN + CO ‘Blue 4 +’ of either Jagdfliegerschule 2 or 4. Note the camouflaged hangar with a Bf 109 parked outside.
A rare air-to-air photograph of a Fw 190A-3 in flight over occupied France during 1942. Aircraft of 7./JG 2 at Théville.‘white 8’ was flown by Leutnant Jacob Augustin, who shot down six Supermarine Spitfires from June 3-17. He was killed on July 15, flying a different aircraft.‘white 8’ missed out on attacking the RAF fighters flying cover for the Dieppe raid on August 19, 1942, having suffered damage four days earlier. Fw 190s of 5./JG 2 at their base in France. During this stage of the war, Luftwaffe units could line up their aircraft without fear of attack.the D-day landings changed all that and roving Allied fighter-bombers forced German ground crews to disperse their unit’s Fw 190s into camouflaged and, ideally, hardened positions around the airfield.
While Spitfires were dropping like ninepins over Dieppe on August 19, 1942, Allied forces on the beaches around the port were in serious trouble.taken in the aftermath of the disastrous Operation Jubilee, this photo shows one of many Churchill tanks that became stuck in the loose shale and had to be abandoned while Canadian soldiers were being killed all around them.
Focke-wulf chief designer Kurt Tank, right, is pictured with Josef ‘Pips’ Priller of JG 26 in September 1942. Priller was the highest scoring German ace on the Western Front at the time and shot down the highest number of Spitfires of any pilot during the war – 68. Despite being responsible for some of Germany’s deadliest aircraft,tank worked hard to maintain his civilian status throughout the war, hence his dapper outfit. The Fw 190 caused the RAF serious problems during Operation Jubilee but the troops on the ground had their own problems. Here, dead Royal Regiment of Canada soldiers lie where they fell on Blue beach near Dieppe.trapped between the bunker and fortified sea wall, they were gunned down by MG 34 machine guns in a German bunker. Its firing slit is visible in the distance, just above the German soldier’s head to the left. The last glimpse a B-17 crew might have of a Fw 190 before it either zipped up over their aircraft, fired directly into it, or crashed into it head-on.this risky but initially successful style of attack was first used during November 1942.
The captured Fw 190A-4/U8 of Feldwebel Otto Bechtold after he became disorientated and landed it at West Malling in Kent. Warning notices have been scratched into the matt black night time camouflage paint. It is clear that the aircraft has no special adaptations for night flying. The Fw 190A-4 of I./JG 2, flown by Leutnant Horst Hannig, spring 1943. Hannig was a veteran of the Eastern Front who took command of JG 2 in early 1943. He scored eight victories with the unit, including one USAAF heavy bomber shot down on February 16, 1943. He was killed in action on May 15, 1943, by Squadron Leader J Charles of 611 Squadron, RAF.
A quartet of Fw 190A-4s prepare for takeoff from a temporary airfield in France during the summer of 1943.They are believed to belong to JG 26. The Fw 190A-4 ‘Black 12’ flown by Hauptmann Bruno Stolle, leader of 8./JG 26, in France during 1943.