Kampfgeschwader 55

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Kampfgeschwader 55
KG55.jpg
Active 1934-1945
Country Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Luftwaffe
Type Bomber Squadron
Role Tactical and Direct Ground Support.
Size Air Force Wing
Nickname Greif
Engagements Polish Campaign
Battle of the Netherlands
Battle of Belgium
Battle of France
Battle of Britain
Eastern Front
Insignia
Identification
symbol
Geschwaderkennung
of G1

Kampfgeschwader 55 "Greif" (KG 55) (Battle Wing 55) was a Luftwaffe bomber unit during World War II. The unit was one of the most famous in the Luftwaffe. The Heinkel He111 medium bomber was the standard bomber for this unit from its conception through to the last days of the war.

History[edit]

On 1 April 1934 a unit called the Hanseatische Fliegerschule e. V. was formed, initially based at Fassberg. The Designation Kampfgeschwader 55 was made on 1 May 1939, with Stab, I., and II., Gruppen. The III. Gruppe was not created until December 1939. All of the pre-war aircraft were Heinkel He111 Langnasen.

War time service[edit]

Polish Campaign[edit]

1939 Assigned to Luftflotte 2 during the Polish invasion (Fall Weiss) the unit saw action for the first time. During the campaign KG 55 suffered one complete loss of aircraft and crew, in which an Oberleutnant Walter Fritz and his crew from 1./KG 55 were killed in action south west of L'vov.[1] Three other Heinkel's were forced to land due to enemy action, but the crews did not suffer any fatalities.

Battle of France[edit]

The end of the Phoney War on 10 May 1940 came with Operation Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), the invasion of France and the Low Countries. Stab./KG 55 began operations on 10 May in the Lorraine region of France which would include missions over Nancy, Toul and Epinal. In the first day of action the Geschwader did not suffer any casualties. On the 12 May Allied fighters shot down a Heinkel of 4./KG 55, whilst it was attacking railway targets North East of Reims, for the unit's first loss of the Battle. The next day, 13 May, cost KG 55 ten machines, six from Stab. and 4./KG 55. On that day alone the unit's losses had exceeded that of the Polish Campaign.[2] The losses suffered by KG 55 on 13 May were the worst of the battle. A further seven machines were damaged and forced to land throughout the remainder of the fighting, although only two machines and crews were completely lost. The first of these, a 9./KG 55 Heinkel, was flown by Unteroffizier Horst Mahnert. Whilst returning from a mission to bomb airfields in the Lyon area on 2 June 1940 it strayed into Swiss airspace and was shot down near Ursins by Capitaine Hans Thurnheer (in a Bf 109E).[3]

Battle of Britain[edit]

A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. No. 609 Squadron were based at Middle Wallop, Hampshire.

Having achieved a series of low cost victories in the first ten months of the war, the airmen of KG 55 were in confident mood heading into the Battle of Britain. The battle was to be one of attrition. Because of the nature of the campaign the aircrews, once downed over the British Isles, would be either killed or captured. The Luftwaffe was being asked to operate as a strategic airforce, something for which it had never been designed.

For KG 55 initial losses were light, losing seven aircraft in July 1940, but losses were to mount, and the Geschwader was to lose some of its most experienced crews. On 14 August 1940 He 111P G1 + AA was shot down near the Royal Naval Armament Depot at East Dean[4] in Hampshire[5] by Spitfires of No. 609 Squadron RAF, killing Geschwaderkommodore Oberst Alois Stoeckl.[6] He was replaced by Major Korte of I./KG 55.[7] Major Friedrich Kless took over command of I/KG 55.[7] On 27 August 1940 fighter units from Luftflotte 3 were redeployed[8] to assist Luftflotte 2 with their raids over London and the South East. That left KG 55 and the remaining forces of Luftflotte 3 without their own fighter cover. For a period of three weeks KG 55 were mainly assigned to night raids on aircraft production factories over England,[9] though there were some notable daylight raids on Bristol and Southampton, escorted by ZG 26[9] of Luftflotte 2, where cleverly disguised approaches helped the bombers get through.[10] On 25 September 1940 I./KG 55 took part in a raid on the Bristol Aircraft Factory at Filton. An error by RAF controllers enabled the bombers to bomb the target successfully, stopping production and causing some 350 casualties. RAF fighters engaged the He 111s on their return to base, downing four and one Bf 110 escort fighter.[11] On 30 September, the last day of heavy daylight raids by the Luftwaffe, KG 55's daylight attack on Yeovil was intercepted and successfully fought off.[12][13] Subsequently, KG 55 and other forces were deployed on The Blitz of British towns and cities.[14] KG 55 were guided to their night-time targets by the specialist pathfinders of Kampfgruppe 100 using radio direction finding equipment.[14]

Between 10 July and 31 October 1940 KG 55 lost 73 machines to enemy action, and a further eight were shot down during 1940 in night operations over Britain. The last Heinkel lost, piloted by Unteroffizier Bruno Zimmermann, was shot down by Pilot Officer J.G Benson and Sergeant P. Blain in a Defiant of No. 141 Squadron RAF over Sussex on 22 December 1940.[15]

KG55 known raids over England
(list currently incomplete)
Date Target
14 August 1940 Middle Wallop[4]
26 August 1940 Portsmouth.[9]
28 August 1940 Liverpool.[9]
15 September 1940 Portland.[16]
25 September 1940 Bristol.[16]
26 September 1940 Southampton.[16]
30 September 1940 Yeovil.[12]
13–14 November 1940 Birmingham.[12]
14–15 November 1940 Coventry.[12]
19–20 November 1940 Birmingham.[12]
3–4 January 1941 Manchester[17]
11-12, 13–14 January 1941 London[17]

The Channel Front[edit]

KG 55 continued operations over Britain into the summer of 1941. Subsequently it did not participate in the Balkans Campaigns of April/May 1941. The unit was to lose a further fifty one aircraft in missions over Britain, the last being forced to ditch in the English Channel after an attack by No. 66 Squadron RAF Spitfires. The pilot Eitel-Albert Barth and his crew were rescued by the 3-Seenothalbflottille based at L' Aberwrach. The last recorded fatality occurred the previous day when Feldwebel Lorenz Kempel and his crew were shot down and killed by Pilot Officer Pickering of No. 66 Squadron RAF, whilst carrying out a reconnaissance mission off Gurnard's Head, Cornwall.

By the time KG 55 had ceased its actions over Britain, it had flown 4,742 sorties over the British Isles. 3,300 were against shipping and harbours, 700 against industrial targets, 391 armed reconnaissance flights and 350 attacks against airfields between 24 June 1940 and 11 June 1941.[18]

Eastern Front[edit]

1941

KG 55's units began a last minute withdrawal to the Eastern borders of the Reich in preparation for Hitler's war on the Soviet Union. I. Gruppe, III. Gruppe and the Geschwaderstab moved from their respective bases to Zamość in Poland, while III Gruppe were located to Klemensow aerodrome south east of Lublin in Poland. On 8 March 1941 the Erganzungstaffel was formed into IV. Gruppe, but was deployed to Dijon in France and remained there until 4 May 1944. KG 55 was to provide air support for Army Group South attacking into the Ukraine in its drive toward the Caucasus and the Soviet oil fields.

The opening day of the campaign resulted in the loss of seven aircraft. The next day a 8./KG 55 Heinkel was shot down by flak over Luck, the crew bailed out but were later found by advancing German forces to have been shot in the head. Two of the men were found at the local Commissar's house. The Luftwaffe established air superiority after destroying and capturing over 4,000 Soviet aircraft in the first weeks of the invasion (this figure rose to 21,200 by December 1941).[19] Losses in the Kampfgruppen had also been heavy. The vast expanse of the front, the wear and tear of machines constantly advancing eastward took its toll. By August 1941 KG 4, KG 27, KG 53 and KG 55 were reduced to just 128 serviceable aircraft between them. The Geschwader played an instrumental role in the Battle of Kiev, in which the Wehrmacht effectively destroyed three Soviet Armies, killing or capturing 600,000 Red Army soldiers. I./KG 55 was credited with the destruction of 58 railway cars, 675 trucks and 22 tanks in this battle alone.[20]

1942

During the stalemate through the severe winter of 1941/42 the units of KG 55 were redeployed to rest in Western France, not to return until April 1942 (with the exception of IV. Gruppe). KG 55 once again was deployed to the Ukraine to support the 11th Army in the Crimea, and the 6th Army pushing eastward from the Charkow area into the Caucasus. During the night of the 23/24 August the unit took part in the 'maximum' effort attack on Stalingrad which destroyed the centre of the city; one Heinkel was lost.

Disaster struck the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, for on 18 November the Russians counter-attacked and cut off the 6th Army. Hermann Göring assured Hitler that 'his Luftwaffe' could airlift in supplies. Göring wrongly believed a Heinkel that could carry 2000 kg of explosives could as easily carry 2000 kg of cargo.[21] The Junkers Ju 52 and Heinkel 111's bore the brunt of Göring's supply plan. The Germans resisted fiercely but on 14 January 1943 Pitomnik airfield was captured by the Soviets and many supplies were then parachuted in. The last German elements surrendered on 2 February. KG 55 contributed only a small fraction of the meagre 90 tonnes of supplies the German 6. Armee received daily. Over 165 He 111's were lost over Stalingrad, KG 55's losses were 59.[22][23] The Geschwader flew in 3,296 tons of supplies including 1,541 tons of food and 768 tons of ammunition, and 1,110 tons of fuel. KG 55 also evacuated 9,028 wounded soldiers.[22]

KG 55 covered the retreat of the German forces until the spring and II./KG 55 celebrated their 10,000 mission on 11 May 1943.

1943

KG 55 supported German forces throughout 1943, and was heavily involved in Operation Citadel and continued to cover the retreat across Russia. As air superiority slipped away, losses in the bomber units began to climb. Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes holder Oberfeldwebel Willi Nemitz and Oberleutnant Herman Meyer of Stab II./KG 55 were killed in the space of three weeks in May 1943. Many of the Heinkels were modified to enable them to carry out low strike missions in the face of enemy air superiority. The specialist train-busting unit 14.(Eis)/KG 55 had its Heinkels fitted with an electric altimeter that enabled them to fly at tree top level over the railway tracks and began using the Ju 88C-6 aircraft in this role. The unit lost nine aircraft but flew over 5,000 missions before disbanding on 27 April 1945.

1944

The role of the unit in Russia continued much as in 1943. Most notable during this year was the completion of KG 55's 50,000th mission on 10 May 1944. With production of the Heinkel ceasing in 1944 the unit was being prepared to re-equip with ground attack versions of the FW 190. KG 55 was mostly disbanded in 1944 with only 14.(Eis)/KG 55 surviving into 1945.

Luftwaffe records reveal the unit had flown 54,272 combat sorties, dropped 60,938 tons of bombs, carried 7,514 tons of supplies, and lost 710 killed and 747 missing from 1 September 1939 to 1 October 1944.[22]

IV. Gruppe on the Western Front[edit]

1945

The unit was withdrawn from front line duty, and was assigned to training duties using mainly modified fighter aircraft.

The only active unit of the Geschwader was IV. Gruppe, which continued operations in the west from 1941-1945. IV. Gruppe would lose 50 aircraft in the west before the end of the war.

Commanding officers[edit]

Geschwaderkommodore[edit]

  • Major General Wilhelm Süssmann, 1 May 1939 - 6 March 1940
  • Oberst Alois Stoeckl 7 March 1940 - 14 August 1940 (KIA)
  • Oberstlt Hans Korte 15 August 1940 - 31 January 1941
  • Oberstlt Benno Kosch 1 February 1941 - 26 August 1942
  • Oberstlt Dr Ernst Kühl 27 August 1942 - 7 August 1943
  • Oberstlt Wilhelm Antrup 8 August 1943 - 1 October 1944[22]

Organisation[edit]

Stab. Gruppe

Formed 1 May 1939.Disbanded 9 April 1945.

I. Gruppe

Formed with 1./KG155, 2./KG55 and 3./KG55 1 May 1939.

II. Gruppe

Formed 1 May 1939 along with 4./KG55, 5./KG55 and 6./KG55

III. Gruppe

Formed on 1 December 1939 along with 7./KG55, 8./KG55 and 9./KG55.

IV. Gruppe

Formed on 1 April 1940. Reformed 1 August 1940 as Ergänzungsstaffel/KG55. On 1 March 1941 it was redesignated 10./KG55. Stab IV./KG55 was formed on 7 March 1941, followed by 11./KG55 on 21 March 1941 and 12./KG55 on 7 April 1941.

14. (Eis)/KG55

Unit formed 1 June 1943, disbanded 27 April 1945

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p. 8.
  2. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p.9.
  3. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p. 11.
  4. ^ a b Hough & Richards 1990, p. 165.
  5. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p. 18.
  6. ^ Bickers 1990, p. 124.
  7. ^ a b Bickers 1990, p. 119.
  8. ^ Bickers 1990, p. 131.
  9. ^ a b c d Shores 2002, p. 50.
  10. ^ Hough &Richards 1990, p. 295.
  11. ^ Goss 2000, pp. 161-162.
  12. ^ a b c d e Shores 2002, p. 55.
  13. ^ Hough & Richards 1990, p. 296.
  14. ^ a b Shores 2002, p. 57.
  15. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p. 89-92
  16. ^ a b c Shores 2002, p. 53.
  17. ^ a b de Zeng et al. 2007, p. 196.
  18. ^ de Zeng et al. 2007, p. 193.
  19. ^ Bergstrom 2007, p. 117.
  20. ^ Bergstrom 2007, p. 70.
  21. ^ Alan Clark and A.J.P Taylor 1974, p. 147.
  22. ^ a b c d de Zeng et al. Vol 1, 2007, p. 194.
  23. ^ Hall & Quinlan 2000, p. 65.
Bibliography
  • Bergstrom, Christer (2007). Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
  • Goss, Chris. (2000) The Luftwaffe Bombers' Battle of Britain, The inside story: July - October 1940.Crecy Publishing Ltd.Manchester. ISBN 0-947554-82-3
  • Hall and Quinlan (2000). KG55. Red Kite. ISBN 0-9538061-0-3.
  • Hooton, E.R (2007). Luftwaffe at War; Blitzkrieg in the West. London: Chervron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-85780-272-6.
  • Taylor, A.J.P. and Mayer, S.L., eds (1974). A History of World War Two. London: Octopus Books, . ISBN 0-7064-0399-1
  • Dierich, Wolfgang (2002). Kampfgeschwader 55 "Greif", Eine Chronik aus Dokumenten und Berichten 1937-1945. Motorbuch. ISBN 3-87943-340-2.
  • Richard Townshend Bickers (1990). The Battle of Britain. Salamander Books. ISBN 1-85613-025-8
  • Christopher Shores (2002). Great Air Battles of World War II. Grub Street. Previously published as Duel for the Sky by Blandford Press. ISBN 0-385-19917-1
  • Christopher Hough and Denis Richard (1990). The Battle of Britain - the Jubilee History. Guild Publishing. Previously published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1989. ISBN 0-340-42903-8