Stuka Hunters

Autor: Miroslav Šnajdr 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 42.954

Operation Overlord

If Allied fighters believed that D-Day would bring them opportunities to increase their score, most were left disappointed. In aerial engagements, fortune smiled perhaps only on the jockeys of the Mustangs. A significant advantage of the P-51 fighters was their long combat range. The Mustangs could escort American heavy bombers into the heart of Germany, over Berlin, and long-range operations on the invasion front posed not the slightest problem for their pilots. They left the protection of the bridgehead to their less fortunate RAF colleagues, whose Spitfires did not have such freedom of action because of their short range. While the British, Canadian, Polish, Czechoslovakian or French pilots, ensconced in the cockpits of the Spits in the mix, searched in vain over the Normandy coast for their opponents, the Mustang jockeys allowed their machines to spill the enemy's blood.


Junkers Ju 87 D-3 "CE+VJ" W.Nr.1035 crash from I./SG 103 at Met, April 1944

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The Allied fighters scored a total of 30 kills and one probable kill that day. Only six of these fell to RAF pilots and the rest to American 8th Air Force fighters operating further from the invasion area, in the Chartres and Rouen areas. Of this number, pilots piloting Mustangs scored nineteen sure and one true kill. Nearly two-thirds of them were shot down by the Americans while hunting Stukas, Junkers Ju 87s.

Stukas in France

In the first half of World War II, the Ju 87 Junkers became one of the symbols of the blitzkrieg victories of the German Wehrmacht (defensive power). The distinctively shaped aircraft dive-bombed moving enemy columns, concentrations of troops and equipment, as well as against ships. They wreaked death and destruction and spread panic. At first, the stukas operated almost unimpeded by Allied defences. The air over Poland, western Europe, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the vast eastern front was initially dominated by fighter Messerschmitt Bf 109, and Ju 87 crews rarely (with the honourable exception of the Battle of Britain) had to worry about enemy fighters at all.

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the situation was quite different. The glory of dive-bombers had long since faded. The strong Allied air defences and the power of the Allied fighter air force had seen to that. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe command had abandoned dive tactics and the services began using Ju 87 Junkers as combat aircraft. From 18 October 1943, the previous dive-bomber squadrons (Sturzkampfgeschwader) were designated as battle squadrons (Schlachtgeschwader). Ju 87s were gradually supplemented and replaced by combat versions of the famous Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter aircraft.

 


Among the Einsatzstaffel II/SG 103 aircraft hit by American Mustangs on 6 June 1944 was also a prototype Ju 87 V3

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In France, where they had contributed so significantly to the German victory in May and June 1940, the Luftwaffe used Ju 87 Junkers only as trainers in the spring of 1944. The only operational training battle group, II./SG 103, stationed at Metz-Frescaty airfield in northeastern France, had them in status there (the town of Metz and part of Lorraine were, however, at that time annexed directly to the Reich along with Alsace after the French defeat in 1940). It consisted of three squadrons (4th /SG 103, 5th /SG 103 and 6th /SG 103) and was led by Gruppenkommandeur Hptm. Horst Schnuchel. Gruppe II./SG 103 had a number of versions of Ju 87 Junkers. The oldest example in use was the third prototype, the Ju 87 V3, which first flew in 1936 and was originally used for testing and then for demonstration purposes. The first production version, the Ju 87 A (Anton), was also in service. Their production ran from 1936 to 1938. This version was first deployed during the Spanish Civil War and was withdrawn from the front line by the German Air Force before the outbreak of World War II. Of course, the versions were produced without pro-medium before or during the outbreak of the world conflict. In addition to the usual Ju 87 B (Bertha) or Ju 87 D (Dora), the II./SG 103 also had the rather exceptional Ju 87 C (Cäsar). They were based on the Ju 87 B version, but were originally intended for deck duty from the never-completed German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin.


A fighter aircraft P-51B Mustang from the armament of the 354th FS, 355th FG, summer 1944

Although the Ju 87 IIs/SG 103s were used for training, the German command also planned for their combat use if the expected invasion was launched. The most valuable personnel, represented by instructors and the most highly trained students, were to form the so-called Einsatzstaffel (fighting squadron), according to the Luftwaffe's established practice.

Einsatzstaffel

As soon as the commencement of the enemy landings in Normandy became known, the formation of the Einsatzstaffel did indeed take place at Metz-Frescaty. It took over the armament of retired Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers of various versions, including the oldest. These slow and inefficient aircraft could not, of course, appear over Normandy under the enemy's complete air supremacy by day. They were expected to be deployed for night action against ships and especially invasion beaches in much the same way that the Stukas were deployed against the Western Allies on the Italian battlefield. That is to say, in nighttime jamming attacks, in which the already obsolete machines could do their bit.


P-51B serial number 43-6431 from the armament of the 354th FS (355th FG).

Metz-Frescaty, however, was too far from the invasion area. Therefore, the Einsatzstaffel should have first flown closer to the Normandy battlefield, to Le Mans airfield. From there, its crews were then to attack the ships and invasion beaches in the British sector off Caen before the morning of 7 June. During combat operations, Einsatzstaffel was to fall under the command of Fliegerkorps II (2nd Air Corps) Luftflotte 3. The Ju 87 Junkers took off for the flyover in the evening, still in daylight. And this was a fatal mistake, as the Germans failed to take into account the aggressive operations of Allied fighters, especially the American P-51 Mustangs, far over the French interior.

Fatal Encounter

The judgment of Einsatzstaffel was fulfilled on the evening of June 6, 1944, during a flyover to Le Mans. Faced with the harsh reality, the German airmen were positioned in the Voves area, about 24 km southeast of Chartres. A cluster of dots suddenly appeared in the sky, quickly taking on the appearance of the most dangerous of the enemy's "hunting dogs". They were North American P-51 Mustang fighters. Their jockeys quickly sensed a great opportunity and pounced on the Stukas without mercy. The air was thick with fire spewed from the Mustangs' 12.7mm wing machine guns.


The older versions of the Ju 87 Junkers were used for training long after their retirement from operational service. Ju 87 A-1 StVS 1, September 1941

 

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The Ju 87 Junkers formation was first encountered by P-51Bs from the 355th Fighter Group under the command of Lt. Cdr. Gerald Dix. The group had only been using the Mustangs in combat since March 9, 1944 - before that, its pilots had been piloting the massive Republic P-47D Thunderbolt machines. It was stationed at Steeple Morden airfield in England. Fighters from the group's two squadrons, the 354th and 357th Fighter Squadrons, swooped down on slow enemy aircraft. The difference in speed was enormous. To the pilots of the American fighters, the enemy planes seemed to be literally standing still in the air. The half-inch wing machine guns of the sleek Mustangs began to spit fire. The German formation broke up. Some of the Stukas were hit and went down burning. Pilots of others hurriedly tried to land in any suitable spot in the open.

The pilots of the 505th FS Mustangs of the 339th FG, a group based at Fowlmere and only deployed from 30 April 1944, also intervened in the hunt. They too contributed a little to the mill to the suffering of the slow and virtually defenceless Stukas.


Velitel 339th FG Col. J. B. Henry in front of his Mustang

According to the Americans, the encounter took place not long before 11 p.m. in the Chartres-Orléans-Janville area. The Mustang pilots scored 12 kills (sometimes reported as 11), as well as one Ju 87 likely shot down and six damaged. At the same time, the Americans lost three P-51s during the action. The shoot-downs mostly involved the characteristic USAAF pilots of the time: young, aggressive, well-trained, but relatively inexperienced in combat. Most of them also did not achieve a significant number of kills during their operational time in European skies. The greatest individual successes in this fight were fired by 2/Lt P. J. McMahon and Capt F. W. Kelley for the 339th FG. Both sent down two German Ju 87s each. Another pilot of the same group, 1/Lt L.B. Fuller, scored one certain, one probable kill and one damage. Only two pilots, both members of the 355th FG, became participants in the fight, or rather execution. Capt. Bert W. Marshall, Jr. opened his combat account on June 6 by shooting down one Ju 87 and subsequently scored seven kills. He was a complete newcomer with no combat experience, having joined the 355th Fighter Group only four days earlier, and had so far flown only in the U.S. 1/Lt Norman J. Fortier, who also sent down one Stuka, then totaled a score of 5.83 kills. At the time of the engagement, on the other hand, he represented a fairly seasoned pilot in combat. He had been with the 355th Fighter Group since its arrival in Britain in July 1943, initially flying Thunderbolts. The Stuka he sent down at 20.45 represented his fourth solo kill.

Results

Although the Americans somewhat overstated their success in terms of kills, they nevertheless virtually wiped out the Einsatzstaffel. Five Ju 87 Junkers were shot down, and four others made emergency landings in the countryside (another source states four machines were shot down and five damaged). The crew of one dive bomber was killed and the other was declared missing. The lost aircraft included, among others, one Ju 87 A and two Ju 87 C. Also hit was a Ju 87 V3 prototype involved in the action, whose pilot succumbed to severe injuries soon after the emergency landing. It was an Oblt. Max Group, an experienced 35-year-old pilot and probably the Staffelkapitäna of the combat squadron. Eleven other German crew members, pilots and gunners were injured. Those airmen who escaped the inferno unleashed by the Mustangs were badly shaken indeed.


Ju 87A-1 W.Nr.004 from StVS 1 May 1942. The aircraft served a year later with I/StG 101

On the evening of 6 June, perhaps only a single Junkers Ju 87 reached Le Mans. The Einsatzstaffel never recovered from the blow. It is not known to have actually taken part in any action against the Allied beachhead. The British intercepted and decoded, using the Ultra system, a single radio message, most likely concerning this unit. This was when Fligerkorps II reported on 8 June to the units under its control, stating that "I Gruppe SG 103 at Le Mans is withdrawn from operations". As I./SG 103 was at that time in remote Biblis, the report was most likely about Gruppe II./SG 103.

Resources
Carlsen, S., Meyer, M. - Die Flugzeugführer - Ausbildung der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1935-45, Band 2, VDM, Zweibrücken Ciel de Guerre No.1, Jour J, L'aviation en action, TMA Paris
Cornil, P., Roba, J. L. - Normandie, juin 1944, La premiére semaine (6-12 juin), Batailles Aériennes
no 28, Sarl Lella Presee, Boulogne-sur-Mer 2004
Foreman, J. - Over The Beaches, The Air War Over Normandy and Europe 1st-30th June 1944, Air Research Publ., Surrey 1994

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