Jagdgeschwader 52

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Jagdgeschwader 52
JG 52 emblem.png
Active 1939 – 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Air Force
Type Fighter Aircraft
Role Air superiority
Size Air Force Wing
Decorations References in the Wehrmachtbericht (4)
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Hermann Graf (1.10.44–8.5.45)
Aircraft flown
Fighter Bf 109

Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52) (52nd Fighter Wing) of the Luftwaffe, is the most successful fighter-wing of all time, with a claimed total of more than 10,000 victories over enemy aircraft during World War II. It was the unit of the top three scoring Fighter aces of all time, Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn and Günther Rall. The unit flew exclusively with the various versions of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 throughout the war.

History[edit]

Western Front[edit]

Originally, JG 52 was involved in the air fighting during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain. Initially only a 2 Gruppe unit — most Jagdgeschwaders were three Gruppen (RAF Wings) units; each Gruppe consisted of 3 to 4 Staffeln(Squadrons) of 12-16 aircraft as well as the required ground support crew. JG 52's achievements during the offensives were rather unremarkable. By the end of 1940, the unit had amassed 177 claims, but had suffered high losses; 53 pilots killed or POW in the Battle of Britain alone.[1]

Eastern Front[edit]

It was only at the outset of Operation Barbarossa, when JG 52 was transferred to the east that the wing started to chalk up kills consistently. JG 52 was based mainly on the Southern, Ukrainian and Central fronts in Soviet Russia from 1941–1944, supporting Army Group South. The Geschwader's 500th victory was attained on 7 September 1941. Among those victories, 323 were attained on the Eastern Front.

Initially I./JG 52[2] was retained in the West, guarding the Northern European coast, while Hpt Woitke's II./JG 52 were seconded to JG 27, claiming 270 kills in the first few months of the offensive. III./JG 52 were the southern-most Gruppe on the whole Russian front, along the Black Sea coast, where action was limited at this time.

During 1941–1942, with the Luftwaffe constantly on the offensive against the vast numbers of the ill-equipped and poorly trained Soviet Air Force, conditions were perfect for the experienced well-equipped JG 52 fighter pilots to build up huge personal scores of aircraft shot down. In the period 22 June – 5 December 1941 the unit destroyed 881 Soviet aircraft, in return for 49 losses in aerial combat and five aircraft on the ground.[3]

By early 1942 the Geschwader (with JG 3) provided the fighter support along the vast Southern sector of the Eastern front. A measure of JG 52's success during 1942 was the fact that over 20 Ritterkreuz awards were made (with 7 'Oakleaves' awards) to its ace pilots in the year. On 8 May 1942, JG 52 scored its 1,500 kill. By 3 June it had reached 2,000.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G

The Caucasus and Stalingrad offensives[edit]

In mid-July 1942 the Gruppen commenced re-equipment with the new Bf 109 G Gustav, and the wing continued covering the armoured spearhead offensive deep into the Caucasus. I. Gruppe by this time had become a highly mobile 'fire brigade' formation, sent at short notice to areas where fighter cover was quickly and urgently required. Shuttling between areas ranging from the Kerch peninsula on the Black Sea to the Moscow front, I. /JG 52 was in constant action. The Gruppe's 700th claim was achieved in September 1942.

Although JG 52 were not directly involved in the final stages of the Battle of Stalingrad, III./JG 52 were used during the push towards the Caucasian oil fields in the south during August–September 1942, and II./JG 52 supported the attempted break-through by 4th Panzer Army in late 1942. During this time the 4,000 kill mark was reached on 10 December 1942.

The first half of 1943 saw action centred around the Strait of Kerch and the Crimea. By mid March II. and III. Gruppen had the vital task of protecting 17th Army's main line of retreat. On 20 April 1943, Hptm. Günther Rall scored the Geschwader's 5,000th victory.

The Kursk offensive[edit]

I. and III./JG 52 moved into the Ukraine in July 1943 in preparation for the massive Kursk offensive. As two of the eight fighter Gruppen involved, the offensive saw JG 52 pass the 6,000 mark in aircraft claimed shot down. Hauptmann Johannes Wiese of 2./JG 52[2] claimed 12 Soviet aircraft destroyed in one day, but the assertion that 7./JG 52's Walter Krupinski claimed 11 appears to be a misunderstanding.

By this time however, the new generation of advanced Soviet fighter aircraft (such as the Yak-9 or La-5 of the La-5FN version) and improved battle field tactics were taking an ever higher toll of the overworked veteran Luftwaffe pilots.

On the defensive[edit]

The withdrawal of JG 3 in August 1943 left JG 52 as the sole complete fighter Geschwader on the Eastern Front. Constantly on the move, JG 52 now operated from makeshift and temporary airstrips close to the rapidly contracting frontline, often in danger of being overrun by Russian armoured spearheads.

By November 1943, the loss of Kiev threatened the stability of the entire Southern sector front, the whole of JG 52 being brought together again to help bolster defences. By December 1943 JG 52 had reached 8,000 victories. Over the Uman region III./JG 52 claimed 50 victories in 60 days. III./JG 52 became its most successful Gruppe, claiming its 3,500 kill on 21 March 1944. By the end of the month III./JG 52 was based in Poland.

On 10 May 1944 the 9,000th claim was made, with the 10,000 mark passed on 2 September 1944 by Adolf Borchers. The last German troops left the Crimea in May 1944, II./JG 52 retiring from battle a week earlier. Artillery fire and constant air raids had caused steady aircraft losses. A retreat to Romania followed soon after. A new opponent appeared at this stage, with elements of the USAAF 15th Air Force bombing the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania. During JG 52's six-week defence, some 15 US aircraft were shot down, but by this time, attrition had reduced II./JG 52 to just nine operational fighters.

With the Normandy invasion underway, JG 52 were weakened by the removal of three Staffeln for service in the West. New 2, 4 and 7 Staffeln would be activated later in the year, with each JG 52 Gruppen now expanded to four Staffeln.

III./JG 52 were now seconded to the Central front, attached to elements of JG 51. By the spring of 1945, I. and III./JG 52 were stationed within Czechoslovakia, with II./JG 52 based in Austria. Although the units surrendered to the American forces at the end of the war, most of the I. and III. Gruppe personnel were controversially handed over the Soviet Army, resulting in several show trials for JG 52 officers and years of prolonged imprisonment for many officers and men.

Achievements[edit]

The vast majority of the Geschwader's victories were achieved against aircraft from the Red Air Force, although a few occurred against USAAF aircraft over Austria near the end of the war.

The final actual kill tally of JG 52 cannot accurately be assessed, as unit records from late 1944 to May 1945 were destroyed. Over 10,000 kills were certainly claimed, for some 678 pilots killed in action.

JG 52 produced some of the highest scoring aces of all time. Many of its pilots were imprisoned for up to ten years by the Soviets after the war had finished. Major Erich Hartmann (352 kills) was kept in Soviet captivity until his release in 1955.

Post war doubts[edit]

Post war, the phenomenal scores achieved by the Luftwaffe, particularly on the Russian Front by the likes of JG 52, were questioned by historians as to their validity. However, with the recent availability of Soviet military archives research indicates that most Jagdgeschwader claims in fact stand up to scrutiny far better than many other of the combatant nations in World War II.[4]

Whilst inevitably there was some degree of over-claiming (as happened in all air combat in World War II) JG 52 was the top scoring unit in a Luftwaffe fighter force that was outnumbered and therefore had plenty of targets (on all fronts). For the first half of the war at least they were also tactically superior to all of their opponents, and flew far more missions than most Allied pilots, (up to 1,000 operations) and were thus the most experienced veterans of all the combatant nations. Luftwaffe aircrew did not have rest periods, tours of operations or 'rotations' like Allied Air Forces- they flew until they were incapacitated, taken prisoner or were killed.

Foreign contingents[edit]

Croatian Air Force Legion trefoil insignia, formed from a defaced Luftwaffe Balkenkreuz[5]

JG 52 was also home to attachments from other Axis air forces' fighter arms. A Staffel (13(Slow.)/JG 52) of attached Slovak Air Force pilots claimed 215 air kills flying Bf-109G's during a tour of operations on the Eastern Front in 1943, while Croatian pilots, flying as part of the Croatian Air Force Legion, formed 15(Kroat.)/JG52, serving periodically with JG 52 between October 1941 and mid-1944, claiming over 300 kills in 5,000 missions.

Commanding officers[edit]

Kommodore[edit]

Gruppenkommandeure[edit]

I./JG 52[edit]

II./JG 52[edit]

III./JG 52[edit]

See also[edit]

Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II

References[edit]

  • Bergström, Christer (2007). Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
  • Christer Bergström, Graf & Grislawski: A Pair of Aces. Eagle Editions, 2003. ISBN 0-9721060-4-9
  • Christer Bergström, Black Cross/Red Star: The Air War over the Eastern front. Vol. 1, Pacifica Military History, 2000. Vol. 2, Pacifica Military History & Classic Publications, 2001. Vol. 3, Eagle Editions, 2006. ISBN 0-9761034-4-3
  • Niko Fast, Das Jagdgeschwader 52. Bensberger Buchverlag, Bergisch Gladbach, 1988-92.
  • John Weal (2004), Aviation Elite Units Jagdgeschwader 52 The Experten. Osprey Publishing Limited. ISBN 1-84176-786-7

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 'Battle of Britain-Then & Now', Ramsay
  2. ^ a b See Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II
  3. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 116.
  4. ^ "Combat Kill" by Hugh Morgan/Jurgen Seibel; PSL, 1997, and "The Luftwaffe Handbook" by Dr Alfred Price; Ian Allan Ltd, 1986
  5. ^ "History of 15./Jg 52". Retrieved 22 April 2011. 

External links[edit]