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JG 51 Mölders
|Size||Air Force Wing|
|Nickname(s)||Mölders (after Werner Mölders)|
|Decorations||references in the Wehrmachtbericht (6)|
Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51) was a Luftwaffe fighter wing of the Luftwaffe during World War II. JG 51's pilots won more awards than any other Jagdgeschwader, and flew combat from 1939 in all major theatres of war flying Bf 109s and then Fw 190s. Its members included Anton Hafner, Heinrich Hoffmann, Heinz Bär, Richard Leppla, Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, and Günther Schack.
World War II
Formed in August 1939, and commanded by 48-year-old World War I ace Theo Osterkamp, JG 51 was based in the early months of the war in the West, fighting in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain. From late June to mid July JG 51 was the only fighter Geschwader engaged continuously against the RAF. During the battle JG 51 lost 68 pilots, the highest casualty rate of the Luftwaffe fighter units engaged.
On 12 July 1940, JG 51 moved to Saint-Inglevert, Stab JG 51 was at Saint-Inglevert until November. Whilst based at the Mardyck airfield (near Dunkirk) in late 1940, the German ace Josef Priller was a Staffelkapitän with JG 51. Priller went on to score over 100 victories, the third highest among Luftwaffe day fighters on the Western Front, fighting solely against the Western Allies. Major Werner Mölders became the unit's commander in July 1940 and led the unit at the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
During Operation Barbarossa, JG 51 was positioned in the centre of the 4480 km-long front that stretched from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Its principal task was to support Panzer Group 2, which formed the right flank of Army Group Centre, advancing north east towards Moscow. Mölders became the first fighter pilot to reach 100 claims in July and in the same month JG 51's Heinz Bär reached 60 claims and was decorated with the Oak Leaves. A total of 500 Soviet claims was reached by 12 July 1941, although 6 pilots had been lost by JG 51 in the intervening 3 weeks since the offensive had started. By 10 July, the Geschwader was gathered on the pre-war complex of Soviet airfields around Bobruisk.
After Mölders' departure in September 1941 (and death later that year) the unit adopted his name as a title of honor in early 1942. Jagdgeschwader 51 Mölders remained on the centre sector of the Eastern Front throughout the rest of 1941. In the period 22 June - 5 December 1941 the unit destroyed 1,881 Soviet aircraft against 84 losses in aerial combat and a single aircraft on the ground.
General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's 8th Air Corps (Germany) was in charge of air support for the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre. In early January 1942, among the fighter units available to von Richthofen were II, III and IV/ JG 51. With the onset of the sub-zero winter conditions, the majority of JG 51's available aircraft were grounded.
In early 1942, Heinz Bär took command of IV. / JG 51. Most of early 1942 was spent in defensive missions against counter-attacks on Army Group Center's left flank. Its situation had by now stabilised after severe losses in personnel and material. After the Soviet Winter offensive, there followed a lull in operational intensity with April–June 1942 seeing little fighting in the air.
Night bomber attacks during June 1942 put a part of JG 51's aircraft out of commission on the airfields at Oryol, Bryansk and Dugino (west of Kursk). Soviet bomber and ground-attack operations in daylight against the same targets on 5 July proved far more costly. II. / JG 51 claimed some 46 Soviet aircraft shot down in return for two Bf 109 F-2s with severe battle damage. In August 1942, JG 51 suffered heavier losses than anything previously during the conflict; 101 Bf 109s were destroyed or written off from all causes during the month, with 17 pilots killed, missing, or hospitalized. Early in September 1942, I. / JG 51 were withdrawn to convert to the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
In November 1942, II. / JG 51 was transferred to the Mediterranean theatre under Hauptmann Hartmann Grasser, fighting over Tunisia, Sicily and Italy before leaving for Sardinia in April 1943. 3. JG 1 were also transferred in, and subordinated to II. Gruppe as 6. Staffel  While in Tunisia, Grasser claimed 12 victories to raise his total to 103, while Anton Hafner claimed a further 20. The Gruppe claimed 7 Spitfires on 27 November, and claimed some two dozen fighters in the first two weeks of December. Although II. / JG 51 would claim some 121 air victories, the far superior numbers of Desert Air Force and USAAF fighters meant their effect on the air and ground battles were gradually minimised and their losses increased.
By April the unit were stationed near Tunis as the superior numbers of the Allied armies further reduced the Axis perimeter. The unit handed over its remaining aircraft to JG 77 and left the continent on 19 April 1943. The unit had lost 26 pilots killed, almost a 100% loss rate since their arrival. In July, the unit flew intensively from Trapani against the invasion forces in Sicily, claiming 26 kills. In March 1944, the Gruppe moved eastwards into Yugoslavia and the Balkans in order to cover the Ploiești oil fields.
Later in 1943 II Gruppe was part of the German efforts to thwart the USAAF bomber offensive by 15th Air Force. It was stationed at various times in Hungary, Greece and Austria until late 1944. 6 B-17's were downed on 23 June 1944, and 5 B-24s were claimed the day after. 7 bombers were claimed without loss on 15 July. At this time 5. / JG 51 was detached to Crete to cover the Axis maritime supply routes.
During the offensive around the Kursk salient, I., III. and IV. / JG 51 were based at Orel with Luftflotte 6, flying alongside I. / JG 54 in support of Army Group Centre. These Gruppen were tasked with escorting Ju 88s, He 111s and Ju 87s—as well as defensive intercepts and offensive sweeps over the battle area. On 5 July 1943, the Soviets launched concentrated air attacks against the German airfields, and as all available Luftflotte 4 and 6 fighters scrambled, one of the largest air battles in history began.
Afterwards, the Geschwader converted back to the Bf 109G due to increased demand for the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 on other fronts. JG 51 was heavily involved defending the retreat following the Soviet Offensive of June 1944, operating with III. / JG 52 as the heavily outnumbered fighter cover. Hafner was killed on 17 October 1944, when his his Bf 109G hit a tree and crashed.
7. / JG 51 (equipped with Bf 109 G-6's) was attached to II. / JG 1 in May 1944 from Brest-Litovsk, with pilots arriving at Störmede late in May and hurriedly converting to the Fw 190. It joined II. Gruppe with 15 pilots on strength by the end of May 1944, but during the first two months of the Normandy campaign, the Staffel was decimated with twelve pilots killed, one taken POW and one severely wounded.
As Germany was losing the war, JG 51 retreated together with the rest of the Werhmacht and by May 1945 operated out of East Prussia.
Given below is a list of commanding officers of JG 51.
- Oberst Theo Osterkamp, 25 November 1939 – 23 July 1940
- Oberstleutnant Werner Mölders, 27 July 1940 – 19 July 1941
- Oberst Theo Osterkamp (acting), 28 July 1940 – 7 August 1940
- Oberstleutnant Friedrich Beckh, 19 July 1941 – 10 April 1942
- Major Günther Lützow (acting), September 1941 – 8 November 1941
- Oberstleutnant Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, 10 April 1942 – 30 March 1944
- Major Fritz Losigkeit, 1 April 1944 – 31 March 1945
- Major Heinz Lange, 2 April 1945 – 8 May 1945
- I./JG 51
- Hauptmann Hermann-Friedrich Joppien, 18 October 1940
- Hauptmann Josef Fözö, 3 May 1942
- Hauptmann Heinrich Krafft, 1 June 1942
- Major Erich Leie, 18 January 1943
- Hauptmann Günther Schack, 29 December 1944
- II./JG 51
- Hauptmann Josef Fözö, 21 February 1941
- Hauptmann Hartmann Grasser, September 1941
- Major Karl Rammelt, 6 June 1943
- Oberleutnant Otto Schultz, 24 December 1944
- III./JG 51
- Hauptmann Hannes Trautloft, 4 July 1940
- Hauptmann Walter Oesau, 25 August 1940
- Hauptmann Richard Leppla, 11 November 1940
- Hauptmann Karl Heinz Schnell, 8 August 1942
- Hauptmann Fritz Losigkeit, 26 June 1943
- Hauptmann Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber, 1 May 1944
- Hauptmann Joachim Brendel, 1 September 1944
- IV./JG 51
- Hauptmann Johannes Janke, 21 November 1940
- Major Friedrich Beckh, 1 March 1941
- Hauptmann Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, 20 July 1941
- Hauptmann Hans Knauth, 10 April 1942
- Major Rudolf Resch, 1 March 1943
- Major Hans Ekkehard Bob, 1 August 1943
- Major Heinz Lange, 9 May 1944
- Oberleutnant Günther Josten, 12 April 1945
- Major Heinz Lange, 29 April 1945
- "Saint-Inglevert" (in French). Old Anciens Aerodromes. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Bergström 2007, p. 116.
- Weal, 'JG 51' page 95
- Weal, 'JG 51'
- Aders & Held 1993, p.247–252.
- Aders, Gebhard & Held, Werner. Jagdgeschwader 51 'Mölders' Eine Chronik - Berichte - Erlebnisse - Dokumente. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag, 1993. ISBN 3-613-01045-3.
- Bergström, Christer. Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
- Weal, John. Jagdgeschwader 51 'Mölders' Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84603-045-5, 128 pages.