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JG 77 Herz As
|Size||Air Force Wing|
|Gordon Gollob (16 May 1942 - 1 October 1942), Johannes Steinhoff (1 April 1943 - 1 December 1944)|
Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77) Herz As ("Ace of Hearts") was a Luftwaffe fighter Geschwader (US "wing"/UK "group") during World War II. It served in all the German theaters of war, from Western Europe to the Eastern Front, and from the high north in Norway to the Mediterranean.
All three gruppen (US "groups"/UK "wings") within the Geschwader operated variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 109. However, II. Gruppe is notable as the only German unit entirely equipped, albeit only during November–December 1943, with the Macchi C.205, a highly regarded Italian fighter.
JG 77 was formed in May 1939 with I. and II. Gruppe. III./JG 77 was formed on 5 July 1940 in Trondheim from the II(J)./JG 186. I./ JG 77 was reorganized on 21 November 1940 into IV./JG 51 and a new I./JG 77 was established. In January 1942 I./JG 77 was transferred to I./JG 5 and a new I./JG 77 was created. In April 1942 1. Staffel was transferred to Romania and designated the defence unit for the Ploieşti oil fields at Mizil. (This staffel was redesignated 1./JG 4 in August 1942.)
Service in World War II
Poland, the West and the Balkans
I./JG 77 took part in the Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, while attached to Luftflotte 3. In April 1940 JG 77 took part in Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway. After the invasion of France, I. Gruppe supported 10th Air Corps (under Luftflotte 5) in operations against Britain from bases in Norway. While stationed in Norway and Denmark in 1940 II./JG 77 claimed some 79 victories, for 6 pilots killed, before leaving in November 1940 for defence duties in Brest. In May 1941 II. and III./JG 77 were used in support of the invasion of Greece and the paratroop assault on Crete.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Following the operations in Crete, JG 77 was withdrawn to Romania; III. Gruppe was converted to the new Bf 109F. As Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, started on 22 June 1941, II. and III. Gruppe plus Stab supported the advance East as part of Army Group South, while I. Gruppe served on the Finland front. The Jagdgeschwader scored quickly; Walter Hoeckner of 6./JG77 claimed 8 of 10 Tupolev SBs claimed on 25 June by III./JG 77 and on 26 June Oblt. Kurt Ubben shot down 4 SB. That same day Ofw. Reinhold Schmetzer claimed 5 SB shot down. In the period 22 June - 5 December 1941 the unit, and its attachment I.(J)/LG 2, destroyed 1,166 Soviet aircraft, in return for 52 losses in aerial combat and two aircraft on the ground.
Meantime in the Southern Ukraine sector of Mius were I./JG 77, commanded by Hptm. Herbert Ihlefeld. Of the 62 victories claimed by I./JG 77 in April 1942, (without losses) some 43 were claimed by Ihlefeld and his wingman, Oblt. Friedrich Geisshardt. On 22 April, Ihlefeld passed the 100-victory mark, while Geisshardt attained his 60th claim. Two days later Ihlefeld was awarded the 'Swords' to the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes and was promoted to the rank of Major. Shortly afterwards he was taken out of operations to be trained as a Geschwaderkommodore.
Hauptmann Gordon Gollob (86 kills) was sent from the Test Centre at Rechlin to take over as Geschwaderkommodore on 16 May 1942, and Hauptmann Heinrich 'Pritzl' Bär (91 victories) was transferred from IV./JG 51 as Gruppekommandeur to command I./JG 77. The total victory claims tally of Jagdgeschwader 77 by 19 May was 2,011.
The fighter units directed against Sevastopol - III./JG 3, plus II./JG 77 and the returned III./JG 77 - were led by Hptm.Gollob. When Sevastopol fell after a month's battle, the Germans had claimed 123 Soviet aircraft shot down against 30 of their own destroyed or severely damaged. During the summer of 1942, Bär and Gollob would dominate the air war over the Kerch area. Gollob became the first fighter pilot to claim 150 air victories in August 1942 and left JG 77 soon after, being replaced by Major Joachim Müncheberg from Jagdgeschwader 26.
Service in the Mediterranean
I. Gruppe, which was still based in Norway, was reorganized into I. Gruppe/JG 5 in January 1942, and the entire JG 77 (with a newly created I. Gruppe) was then transferred south to the Mediterranean area from June - December 1942.
JG 77 saw extensive action against the Desert Air Force fighter-bombers. Total Allied air superiority led to the various JG 77 bases in Tunisia coming under constant air attack, and a large number of Bf109's were written off on the ground. After claiming a further 23 kills, Maj. Müncheberg was killed in action with USAAF Spitfires on 23 March. It was as a tribute to Müncheberg that the red heart emblem was adopted as JG 77's badge. (Müncheberg had been Staffelkapitän of 7. JG 26 in 1940-41 who had first used the red heart motif.)
The experienced Oberstleutnant Johannes Steinhoff took over as Kommodore.
Even under increasingly difficult circumstances, the Geschwader did their utmost to protect the retreating Afrika Korps forces. Hpt. Bär claimed 61 victories during their African service (45 over Tunisia), while Oblt Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert of II./JG 77 claimed another 51 kills and I/JG 77's Oblt. Freytag claimed 19. By the 20 April 1943, JG 77 were the sole fighter presence in Northern Africa. The unit flew out on 8 May, withdrawing to Sicily, leaving most of their ground crews behind. The Wing had suffered heavy losses in the air and on the ground, while claiming 333 air kills in total in North Africa. While I. and II./JG 77 returned to Germany to re-equip, III./JG 77 remained in Italy, based at Foggia, north-east of Naples and flying sorties into Sardinia and Sicily. In mid June I./JG 77 flew into Sciacca on Sicily.
Italy and Germany
The Geschwader, as part of 2nd Air Corps, was then stationed in Italy and Sicily. During the rest of 1943 and 1944 JG 77 was stationed on the Southern Front, mainly in the Balkans, Sardinia and Italy, but also in Romania. On 24 April 1944 III./JG 77 intercepted USAAF heavy bombers raiding Ploieşti, losing Hpt. Emil Omert (70 kills) killed in action. By June 1944, just two gruppen of JG 77 were the sole air defense left in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean.
In 1945 JG 77 was relocated to Germany itself to help with the Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich). In the last months of the war part of JG 77 was employed against the Soviet Air Force in Silesia. In this area on 7 March 1945 Kommodore Major Erich Leie, a 118-kill ace, was killed in combat with Yak-9 fighters.
- Oberstleutnant Eitel Roediger von Manteuffel, 1 October 1939
- Major Bernhard Woldenga, 22 December 1940
- Major Gotthard Handrick, 23 June 1941
- Major Gordon M. Gollob, 16 May 1942
- Major Joachim Müncheberg, 1 October 1942
- Oberstleutnant Johannes Steinhoff, 1 April 1943
- Major Johannes Wiese, 1 December 1944
- Major Siegfried Freytag, 26 December 1944
- Major Erich Leie, 29 December 1944
- Major Siegfried Freytag, 7 March 1945
- Major Fritz Losigkeit, 1 April 1945
- Hauptmann Herbert Ihlefeld, 6 January 1942
- Major Heinz Bär, 11 May 1942
- Oberstleutnant Carl-August Schumacher, 1 May 1939
- Major Hilmer von Bülow-Bothkamp, 30 November 19391
- Major Anton Mader, 26 May 1941
- Major Siegfried Freytag, 13 March 1943
- Hauptmann Emil Omert, 29 January 1944
- Major Kurt Ubben, 5 September 1941
- Bergström 2007, p. 116.
- Bergström, Christer (2007). Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
- Prien, Jochen (1992). Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77—Teil 1—1934–1941 [History of Jagdgeschwader 77—Volume 1—1934–1941] (in German). Eutin, Germany: Struve-Druck. ISBN 978-3-923457-19-9.
- Prien, Jochen (1993). Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77—Teil 2—1941–1942 [History of Jagdgeschwader 77—Volume 2—1941–1942] (in German). Eutin, Germany: Struve-Druck. ISBN 978-3-923457-22-9.
- Prien, Jochen (1994). Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77—Teil 3—1942–1943 [History of Jagdgeschwader 77—Volume 3—1942–1943] (in German). Eutin, Germany: Struve-Druck. ISBN 978-3-923457-26-7.
- Prien, Jochen (1995). Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77—Teil 4—1944–1945 [History of Jagdgeschwader 77—Volume 4—1944–1945] (in German). Eutin, Germany: Struve-Druck. ISBN 978-3-923457-29-8.