LUFTWAFFE GROUND ATTACK UNITS 1939-45
Junkers Ju87B-l of 6/St.G 77 operating in the Balkans, spring 1941, under control of Geschwader Kommodore of St.G 3, in support of German Second Army, The standard splinter scheme of shades 70 and 71 is badly weathered; and note areas under wings where factory call-sign has been overpainted. The Geschwader code S2 appears on the left of the fuselage crosses, followed by the individual letter A and the 6 Staffel code P. In this case the yellow of the A is the code-colour of the third Staffel in each three-Staffel Gruppe, while the yellow band and wingtips are a theatre marking. The individual letter is repeated above and below the wingtips. The Staffel emblem of 6 Staffel, a bull on a shield of yellow with an upper area in Gruppe code-colour (red, for II Gruppe) appears on both sides below the windscreen, while an individual aircraft name 'Anton Der Zweite' - 'Anton the Second' appears in white on the port cowling only. The propeller blades and spinner are dark green, shade 71, but the spinner has been given a white tip at unit level.
FOCKE-WULF Fw190F-8 of II/SG 2 'Immelmann', February 1945
Focke-Wulf Fw109F-8 flown by Gruppe Adjutant of II/SG 2 'Immelmann' in Hungary, February 1945. The two-tone grey scheme in shades 74 and 75 is overpainted with streaks of winter white camouflage. The cowling ring is in shade 74, and the yellow under-pan and fuselage ring are the usual Russian Front theatre marking. The red '2' is the individual aircraft marking; the chevron on fuselage sides and port wing indicates Gruppe Adjutant. The black and white spiral motif was a very common spinner marking in the latter half of the war; propeller blades would have been in green, shade 70. Note bottom section of wheel covers removed: and RLM-Grau bomb container ETC 250.
Selection of unit emblems: (A) 7/St.G 77, both sides of Ju87 (B) 4 (Pz)/Sch.G 1, both sides of Hs129B-2/R2 (C) Störkampfstattel 6 (D) Personal marking on Ju52/3m transport of General der Schlachtflieger, left only (E) 4/St.G 77, both sides of Ju87 (F) 5 (Schlacht)/LG 2, both sides Hs123 (G) 7/St.G 1, both sides of Ju87
Kfz 2/40 Light car, used as squadron hack by 3/SG 1, Russia, winter 1943-44
Oberleuinant Stuka pilot, St.G 2 'Immelmann', 1941. He wears normal service dress with peaked cap; the collar of the tunic and the seams of the cap are piped stiver, indicating officer rank, and the cap has silver cords for the same reason, and silver woven badges. The silver epaulettes, with one gold pip indicating rank, are backed with yellow, indicating aircrew; the silver-piped collar patches are the same colour, and bear the two stylised wings and single oak spray of Oberleutnant. A unit cuffband on the right sleeve bears the title Geschwader Immelmann. The Luftwaffe eagle is worn in silver on the right breast: and the Ritterkreuz hangs from its ribbon at the throat. On the left breast are the gold mission clasp, the Iron Cross 1st Class, the pilot's qualification badge in silver, and a black wound badge. The ribbon of the Iron Cross 2nd Class is worn in the buttonhole, and the German Cross is worn on the right breast.
Unteroflizier, 1942, in normal service dress at the front. He wears the fly-fronted flight blouse' much favoured by Luftwaffe personnel as an informal service dress, with sidecap, service dress trousers, and marching boots. The silver braid round collar and epaulettes, and the single wing on the collar patch, indicate Unteroflizier rank. The red piping to the epaulette and collar, and the red backing of the patch, indicate, in this case, armourer branch; and an armourer's trade badge of crossed rifles is worn on the left forearm. He wears a Luftwaffe long service medal ribbon in blue, with miniature eagle, and the War Merit Cross with Swords - black edged white and red, with bronze crossed swords. The ubiquitous Luftwaffe eagle, in white thread, appears on the right breast.
Table 1. Re-designations, 1.5.1939
|I II & III/St.G 161 (code 15 +), became I, II & III/St.G 2 originally I, II & III/St.G 162 (code 21 +)|
|I, II & III/St.G 165 (code 52 +) became I & II/St.G 77 & III/St.G 51|
|I/St.G 167 (code 71 +) became I/St.G 1|
|I/St.G 168 (code 81 +) became I/St.G 76|
The battle to encircle Stalingrad left the Russians in a strong position to advance, and aerial anti-tank defence became vital in areas of weak resistance or where unfavourable terrain or bad roads prevented German ground defences from engaging tanks which had broken through. The timely arrival of the Schlachtflieger often reversed an otherwise hopeless situation and there developed a strong bond of cameraderie between the German soldiers and the Schlachtflieger. An example occurred on 2 January, when some Schlachtjlieger on a 'free hunt' around Woroschovvgrad-Millerwo noticed Russian tanks and infantry attacking a small group of German troops enclosed in the village of Antonowka. After a number of tanks had been destroyed by the aircraft the remaining tanks and infantry fled, but one of the pilots was shot down and, after a lucky emergency landing, managed to stagger across to the relieved German troops:
'Wounded men, dressed only in makeshift bandages, dragged themselves over to give him their hand in thanks. The leader of the troops, an old Oberst, wanted to offer him something but the whole group did not have a single cigarette between them.'
Blurred but rare photograph of a Stuka 'scramble'. White-painted Ju87D-3s, almost certainly from St.G 2 'Immelmann', take off from a Russian airstrip, winter 1942-45. The staggered line abreast formation avoids the clouds of loose snow blown up by each aircraft blinding the next pilot. The Bf109s in the foreground are probably from JG 52. (Author's collection)
Table 2. Re-organisations, October 1943
|St.G 1 became SG 1|
|St.G 2* became SG 2|
|St.G 3 became SG 3|
|II/Sch.G 2 becamt I/SG 4|
|II/SKG 10 became II/SG 4|
|I/Sch.G 2 became III/SG 4|
|I/SLG 5 became I/SG 5|
|Führcr der Pz. Jäger became Stab IV(Pz)/SG 9|
|4 & 8/Sch.G 1 became 10 & 11(Pz)/SG 9|
|4 & 8/Sch.G 2 became 12 & 13(Pz)/SG 9|
|Pz. Jäger Staffel/JG51 became 14(Pz)/SG 9|
|III/SKG 10 became I/SG 10|
|IV/SKG 10 became II/SG 10|
|St.G 77* became SG 77|
|*The Fw190-equipped Staffeln of I/Sch.G 1 probably integrated with II/SG 2, and those of II/Sch.G 1 with II/SG 77, Luftwaffe Order of Battle, 20.10.41 mentions Ju87 units 'II/St.G 2 (Pz)' and 'II/St.G 77 (Pz)' in addition to Fw190 units II/SG 2 and II/SG 77|
Before spring thaws brought movement on the ground to a standstill, Russian attacks and German counter-attacks resulted in the front forming a large bulge of Russian territory around Kursk. The German effort to seal off this bulge under the code name Operation 'Zitadelle' was to be their last large-scale offensive in the East. Stuka and Sehlachiverbände collected in the area included St.G 1 under Obstlt. Pressler (RK 7.2.42, EL 28.1.43); Oberst Dr. Kupfer's St.G 2; St.G 77 under Obstlt. Helmut Bruck (RK, EL 21.2.43); III/St.G 3; and the Hungarian dive-bomber unit 102/1 - all equipped with the Ju87D - and the Fw190s of Hitschold's Sch.G 1. In addition, the Hs129s of 4 and 8/Sch.G 1, together with 4 and 8/Sch.G 2 (newly arrived from the Mediterranean) were operating under the command of Hptm. Bruno Meyer (RK) and the first Ju87Gs were in service with special anti-tank units attached to St.G 1 and St.G 2.
These anti-tank units had been formed from an experimental unit (Versuchskommando für Panzerbekampfung) sent to the Eastern Front during the previous February. From mid-1942 the Russians had begun to deploy increasingly large tank units with excellently armoured equipment, and with most tank factories located beyond the range of German bombers it was necessary to destroy the tanks under exceedingly heavy fire and with consequent heavy losses on the battlefield. Large calibre high-explosive bombs were effective only if they exploded within twelve feet of the target and immediately above ground, for penetration into the ground channelled the blast upwards instead of sideways. Smaller bombs were under development which could be scattered over concentrations of tanks; but in 1943 the 37 mm BK 3, 7 Flak 18 cannon seemed to be the best anti-tank weapon available, and this was experimentally installed, either singly or in pairs, beneath the Bf110, Ju88P and Ju87D. Both the Bf110 and Ju88 proved not only unwieldy in the air but extremely vulnerable to ground fire, and the folly of operating these types in the anti-tank role is well illustrated by the experience of the bomber Gruppe HI/KG 1 which, operating the Ju88P on the Eastern Front in April 1943, was completely wiped out.
Hptm. Kurt Lau of the 'Immelmann Geschwader', awarded the Knight's Cross on 6 April 1944 while with I/SG 2. He force-landed behind Russian lines in 1945 and was posted missing. (Hans Obert)
Although speed and manoeuvrability were both drastically affected, the Flak 18-equipped Ju87 conversion seemed to be the most promising, but the experimental unit arriving in the Crimea during the spring of 1943 initially met with little success. Often the cannon were removed and replaced by bomb-racks; but a few officers realised the potential of the new weapons and, as operational trials continued, new tactics were slowly evolved.
'Zitadelle' opened at 0300 hours on 5 July 1943. Unit commanders had been informed that the breakthrough of the relatively weak German troops depended on the effect of the first air attacks and every aircrew was urged to do its best. At first light III/St.G 1 under Maj. Lang (RK 23.11.41, EL 30.11.42, S 4.7.44) attacked gun emplacements on the fringe of a wood while other Ju87 units struck at Soviet communications and supply routes and blasted breaches in the enemy defences. The Hs129 units were directed mainly against enemy tanks, and the Fw190s flew in at 2,100 feet to drop SD 1 and SD 2 bomb containers which, opening a few feet above the ground, scattered large numbers of 'splinter' bombs among the enemy positions. As Russian fighter attacks were warded off by German fighters the greatest menace to the dive-bombers was the flak, while Fw190 and Hs129 units had to brave a hail of fire from Russian soldiers who blazed away at the low-flying aircraft with rifles and machine-guns. Concentrations of Russian armour provided ideal targets for Hptm. Rudel's lone Ju87G, and by the end of the first day he had singlehandedly destroyed twelve tanks. As a result of this sudden success the aircraft of the experimental unit were called up from the Crimea and placed under Rudel's command.
Summer 1942: 7/St.G 1 over the northern sector of the Russian Front. In May 1943 the Staffel, led by Hptm. Stoll-Berberich, transferred to Schatalowka West for unofficial Fw190 conversion, but this 'private' course had to be called off by order of higher authority. (Author's collection)
On 6 July almost 850 Stuka sorties were mounted, and in one attack on the 7th, 64 Soviet tanks were hit and set on fire. The four Hs129 Staffeln under Hptm. Bruno Meyer had only recently returned from Germany where they had been fitted with the MK 103 30 mm cannon. This possessed greater penetrating power than the earlier MK 101 and, operating in relays, the four Staffeln carried out an hour-long attack against a Guards Tank Brigade intent on making a flank attack against German troops. As the Henschels attacked the armour, Maj. Alfred Druschel led his Fw190s in to scatter 'splinter' bomb containers over the infantry and mobile flak guns. More than 50 tanks were destroyed and the Russian attack was completely broken.
Table 3. Major Units
|Stukageschwader 1 (code A5 +)|
|I and II/St.G 1 formed May 1939; III/St.G 1 formed from 4/Träger Gruppe 186. July 1940. I Gruppe re-designated II/St.G 3 in N. Africa, March 1942. Second formation II Gruppe, May 1942. Re-designated SG 1, October 1943. Ju87B and R. May 1939 and April 1940, Ju87D, February 1942 - May 1943; Ju87G with 10 Staffel from October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G. Fw190. May 1941 - May 1945 except 10 Staffel, re-designated 2 (Pz)/SG 9 in January 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 3 and 6 Staffeln and Panzerschreck Fw190F-8 with 8 Staffel by 20.4.45.*|
|Stukageschwader 2 'Immelmann' (code T6 +)|
|Formed May 1939. II Gruppe re-designated III/St.G 3, early 1942, N. Africa. Second formation II Gruppe, mid-1942. Redesignated SG 2, October 1943. Ju87B and R. May 1939 and 1940 - January 1942; Ju87D, January 1942 - October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G, Fw190, October 1943 - May 1945. Rocket-firing Fw190F-8 with 9 Staffel by 20.4.45.*|
|Stukageschwader J (code S7 +)|
|I/St.G 3 formed July 1940, II and III Gruppen formed N. Africa May 1942. Re-designated SG 3, October 1943. Ju87B and R, July 1940 - mid 1942; Ju87D, mid 1942 - June 1944; mixed Ju87D, Fw 190, June-August 1944; Fw190, August 1944 - May 1945. Ju87G with 10 Staffel, October 1943 - December 1944; redesignated 3(Pz)/SG 9 with Fw190, January 1945. Rocket-firing Fw 190F-8 with 6 Staffel by 20.4.45.*|
|Formed October 1943 - see Table 2. Fw 190 October 1943 - May 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 7, 8 and 9 Staffeln by 20.4.45.*|
|IV (Stuka)/Lehrgeschwader 1 (code LI +)|
|Formed 1938; re-designated I/St.G 5, February 1942. Ju87B, 1938 - June 1941; Ju87R, June 1941 - February 1942.|
|Stukageschwader 5 (code J9 +)|
|Formed February 1942; re-designated SG 5, October 1943; re-designated III/KG 200, November 1944. Ju87R, February 1942 - March 1943; Ju87D, March 1943 - January 1944; mixed Ju87D, Fw190, January-June 1944; Fw190, June 1944 - May 1945.|
|IV(Pz)/SG 9 formed October 1943 - see Table 2. I(Pz)/SG 9 formed January 1945 from 12(Pz)/SG 9, 10(Pz)/SG 1 and 10(Pz)/SG 3. Hs129, October 1943 - January 1945; mixed Hs129, Fw190, Ju87, January-May 1945. Panzerblitz Fw190F-8 with 1, 3 and 13 Staffeln by 20.4.45*|
|I and II Gruppen formed October 1943 - see Table 2. Fw190, October 1943 - May 1945.|
|Stukageschwader 51 (code 6G +)|
|III Gruppe formed May 1939; re-designated II/St.G 1, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, May 1939 - July 1940.|
|Stukageschwader 76 (code F1 +)|
|1 Gruppe formed May 1939; re-designated III/St.G 77, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, May 1939 - July 1940.|
|Stukageschwader 77 (code S2 +)|
|I and II Gruppen formed May 1939; III Gruppe formed - see above - July 1940; re-designated SG 77, October 1943. Ju87B, May 1939 - March 1942; Ju87D, March 1942 - October 1943; mixed Ju87D and G, Fw190, October 1943 - September 1944; Fw190, September 1944 - May 1945, except 10 Staffel, which flew Ju87G October 1943 - May 1945. Rocket-firing Fw190F-8 with 5. (Panzerschreck) and 9 (Panzerblitz) Staffeln by 20.4.45.*|
|Schtachtgeschwader I (Sch.G 1)|
|I and II Gruppen formed January 1942; re-designated, as in Table 2, October 1943. Mixed Hs123, Bf109E, Hs129, Fw190, January 1942 - October 1943.|
|Schtachtgeschwader 2 (Sch.G 2)|
|I and II Gruppen formed September 1942, N. Africa, from III/ZG 1; re-designated, as in Table 2, October 1943. Mixed Bf109E, Hs129, Fw190, September 1942 - October 1943.|
|4/Träger Gruppe 186 (later I/St.G 186)|
|Formed December 1938; re-designated III/St.G 1, 6 July 1940. Ju87B, December 1938 - July 1940.|
|II(Schlacht)/Lehrgeschwader 2 (code L2 +)|
|Formed September 1938; re-designated II/Sch.G 1, January 1942. Hs123, September 1938 - June 1940; mixed Hs123, Bf109E, June 1940 - January 1942.|
|* Based on gem. OKL/Lw. Org.-Stab/2 Abt.v.20.4.45, which also shows 13./SG 151 with Panzerblitz Fw190F-8.|
The electro-pneumatically operated 75 mm PaK 40 cannon fitted to a Ju88P-1 for anti-tank operations, late 1943. A small test batch became operational under the Führer der Panzerjéger with Panzerjéger-Staffel 92, but although the cannon was effective the aircraft lacked manoeuvrability. Earlier attempts by III/KG 1 to operate 75 mm cannon-equipped Ju88s independently resulted in the unit's destruction. (Author's collection)
In spite of such local successes, however, the German troops were too weak to achieve a breakthrough and their advance ground to a halt. On 11 July the Russians launched a counter-attack around Orel; Stuka, ground-attack and anti-tank aircraft concentrated to meet the threat, (lew up to six sorties a day in this viciously contested area, and succeeded in preventing the encirclement of their own troops - but 'Zitadelle' had failed. Moreover, the Kursk battles had cost the Stuka and Schlachtflieger many of their most experienced and most highly decorated unit commanders including Horst Schiller (RK April 44), Kommandeur of I/St.G 3; Hptm. Kurt-Albert Pape (RK), Staffelkapitän of 3/St.G 1; Haptm. Bernd Wutka (RK 30.11.42), Staffelkapitän of 9/St.G 2; Hptm. Rudolf Blumental, Staffelkapitän of 9/St.G 77; Oblt. Willi Horner (RK), Staffelkapitän of 7/St.G 2, and Hptm, Walter Krauss (RK, EL 3.1.44) Kommandeur of III/St.G 2.
Following up on their counter-attack at Kursk, the Russians launched a series of blows along the entire Central and Southern Front from Smolensk to Rostov. The Stuka and Schlachtverhände were constantly in the thick of the fighting, being transferred from one part of the front to another as the situation demanded. During September and October, the Schlachtflieger destroyed vast quantities of tanks, a number of bridges and other material in a vain attempt to slow the Russian advance around Apostolovo, Zaporozhje and Melitopol. After the first snowfall in the Kiev area, reconnaissance photos showed an apparently heavy concentration of tanks and artillery but no tracks on the ground. St.G 77 mounted a small, exploratory raid, during which the showers of splintered wood thrown into the air by the bomb blasts revealed that the vehicles were dummies.
The Russian flak had now grown so intense that dive-bomber attacks over the battlefield were little short of suicidal, and many units now flew the Ju87D-5, a version intended primarily for the ground-attack role, and which differed from earlier versions in having longer wings and two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon. Major Lang, whose III/St.G 1 had recently returned to the front after conversion to the D-5, describes the situation on the Central Front at this time:
Interesting air-to-air photo, believed to show Major Theodore Nordmann (RK, EL, S), Kommodore of St.G 3, leading Ju87D-5s over the northern sector of the Russian
Front in May 1944, shortly before the Geschwader Stab converted onto Fw190s. Note SD 2 antipersonnel bomb containers. White stripes on the wheel spats are thought to indicate Geschwader Stab, and Nordmann's machine additionally bears the letter 'A' on the front of each spat. (James V. Crow)
'Black men' bomb up the Ju87D-3 flown by Lt. Gerhard Bannacher of I/SG 1; Russian Front, late 1943. (James V. Crow)
'We operated from Orsha against targets in the Vitebsk area as well as along the Smolensk highway where battles were raging. Both battle areas stood out black against the snow-covered surrounding terrain. The flashes of the field guns and antiaircraft guns could be clearly seen, even during daylight. However, the targets were difficult to discern on the soil which was ploughed over by bombs and shells. The gun flashes were often the only, if most reliable, sign of the enemy's presence. When nearing the target you had to memorise these points, for the Russians immediately ceased firing when we approached, knowing lull well that their fire gave them away to us. Only the AA guns continued firing. When making low-level air-to-ground strafing attacks - usually only one pass over the target because of the furious antiaircraft defences - and when pulling out of the dive to get away low on the deck, we always became painfully aware of the fact that our troops were greatly inferior in number to the Russians. Looking up and waving us a greeting, our soldiers stood in their trenches, alas with many long metres between them. South of Vitebsk the ratio between our forces and the Russian forces was up to 20 to 1.
Co-operation with our escort fighters was improved by adopting direct R/T communications. However, after two or three sorties had been undertaken we abandoned this practice for we preferred radio silence to the chatter of our fighter escort. Co-operation was good even without this radio contact since we never penetrated farther into enemy territory than his gun positions. The Red Falcons hardly left their own territory and losses suffered by the Gruppe were only due to anti-aircraft fire.'