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|Active||March 1945 – May 1945|
|Nickname(s)||Der Galland Zirkus (The Galland Circus)
Die Jet Experten (The Jet Aces)
The Flying Sanatorium
The Squadron of Experts
|Fighter Aircraft||Me 262|
|Engagements||Defense of the Reich|
|Fighter||Me 262, Fw 190|
Jagdverband 44 (JV 44) was a special fighter unit of top German fighter ace pilots in the Luftwaffe during the last months of World War II. The main aircraft used by the unit was the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. They were known by various nicknames, including "Der Galland-Zirkus" (The Galland Circus).
The commander of JV 44 was General Adolf Galland (104 victories) the former General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighter pilots) who had recently been sacked from his staff post by Hermann Göring for relentlessly criticizing the operational policies, strategic doctrine, and tactics mandated by the Luftwaffe High Command. It may have been hoped by Galland's superiors that his return to combat-flying in a front-line command would result in his death in action. Galland was charged with setting up a small Me 262 unit of staffel strength to demonstrate that the jet could be developed into the superior fighter it promised to be. The unit was to be independent of all other Luftwaffe commands, including division, corps or air fleets. Galland inspected a number of facilities, and eventually settled on Brandenburg-Briest airfield, west of Berlin for its initial base.
In late February, Galland discussed his personnel and logistical requirements with the Luftwaffe Chief of General Staff. The staff approved the establishment of JV 44, with its cadre of pilots provided through the normal channels, and ground personnel provided from 16 Staffel, JG 54. Col. Johannes Steinhoff was also recruited as Operations Officer, who had just been replaced as Kommodore of JG 7.
Galland also compiled a list of experienced pilots whom he considered to be competent enough to convert quickly to the Me 262. The list included some of the Jagdwaffe's most skilled and successful formation leaders. Thus JV 44 eventually comprised a core of highly experienced pilots chosen from Galland's former staff or otherwise recruited from units which had been disbanded or were being re-equipped. With an aircraft that could make devastating strikes on bombers and easily escape any Allied fighter, and would be flown by a collection of the Luftwaffe's top surviving aces, JV 44 performed with great success during its brief history, achieving a 4-to-1 kill ratio. However, it had relatively few operational jet planes available for any single sortie and was repeatedly forced to relocate due to the approach of Allied ground forces. At war's end the unit was disbanded and its brief history came to an end.
The Jet Experten
If measured by the accumulated victories of its pilots the Jagdverband 44 (literally "hunting formation") was the most elite fighter unit in the history of military aviation. The unit was established in February 1945 as a jet fighter squadron; many of its flying personnel were high-scoring aces or Experten—the unit's top five aces alone had more than 1,000 combined victories. Other Luftwaffe pilots joked that the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz) was part of standard uniform in the Jagdverband 44, because all of the pilots were such highly decorated fighter aces. The unit eventually comprised some fifty pilots and 25 Me 262 jets, although no more than six of the latter were operational at any one given time.
Early in the war, some efforts were made to convert the Me 262 fighter into a fast tactical bomber. Before D-Day this plan was supported by the High Command within the German government. In late 1944 German industry was struggling to produce enough Me 262's as fighters for defense against the constantly growing Allied bomber formations. The Me 262's superior speed (about 800–860 km/h or 500-550 mph) relative to piston-engined aircraft meant sorties could be scrambled quickly to defend factories and other targets throughout Germany.
Protection squadron - Die Würger-Staffel
Because of the greater length of runway it required, and the slow acceleration it had at low speeds, the Me 262 was especially vulnerable during take-off and landing. Galland thus established his own protection flight. Five Fw 190D-9s and D-11s were attached to JV44, the Platzschutzstaffel (Airfield protection squadron), headed by Leutnant Heinz Sachsenberg, to provide air cover for takeoffs and landings. Flights were to be undertaken in a two-aircraft Rotte up to altitudes of 500 metres, covering both the Me 262s taking off or landing and monitoring the surrounding skies for Allied fighters.
The Platzschutzstaffel flew the long-nosed 'Dora', Fw-190 D-9, or Fw-190 D-11 variant of the well-known Fw 190. These aircraft were painted bright red on their wings' undersurfaces with contrasting white stripes so that anti-aircraft batteries could distinguish them from Allied piston-engined aircraft, leading to their humorous postwar nickname of the Papagei Staffel (Parrot squadron). The Staffel was nicknamed "Die Würger-Staffel", a play on the common nickname for the BMW 801 radial-engined original A-version of the Fw 190, which was Würger or Butcher-bird.
By 14 March 1945 JV 44 had taken delivery of its first Me 262. JV 44's improvised training programme continued into late March. A Kette of 3 Me 262s led by Oberst Steinhoff mounted the first combat mission by JV 44 in late March, Steinoff claiming a Soviet Il-2 shot down.
General der Flieger Koller issued orders for JV44 to relocate to southern Germany in order to operate in the defence of the aircraft manufacturing plants and fuel and ammunition storage facilities in the area. Thus the unit was on the move constantly as the Allied ground forces advanced, including short stays at Munich-Riem, Salzburg-Maxglan, Ainring (Platzschutz) and Innsbruck, also allegedly using converted Reichsautobahn roadbeds serving as improvised highway strips in early 1945, eventually surrendering at the end of the war. Nearly all the aircraft were destroyed, including some deliberately blown up as Allied troops advanced. A number of aircraft however survived the war and were tested extensively by the United States.
Surviving records suggest the unit shot down approximately 47 Allied aircraft during April/May 1945. Oberstleutnant Heinz Bär was the unit top claimant with 16 kills, while Hauptmann Georg-Peter Eder claimed at least 12. Galland himself claimed 7 kills before being wounded in action.
On 26 April 1945 Adolf Galland was shot down and was wounded in the knee. Temporary command of the unit was then given to Bär. Whilst in hospital Galland devised a plan to prevent the JV 44 pilots and aircraft from falling into Russian hands or being accidentally destroyed by approaching Allied ground troops. He discharged himself from hospital and set up his headquarters in Tegernsee. Still in contact with Heinz Bär he obtained an Fi 156 "Storch" liaison plane.
On May 1 Galland drafted a note to forward to General Eisenhower requesting a special surrender be granted to JV 44. Two aides, Maj. Wilhelm Herget and Capt. Hugo Kessler, flew the Fi 156 across the lines, landing at Schleißheim. The two aides were interviewed regarding the possibility of this surrender. They returned to Galland with instructions on how the surrender would proceed, including handing over the remaining Me 262 aircraft into American hands. The significance of this is that the SS, if they had known of this offer by Galland, might have destroyed the aircraft and executed the associated personnel. Though the aides returned to Galland and he prepared a response, as the Fi 156 Storch returned over the American lines the aircraft was shot down by an American armored column near Schleißheim. Though Herget survived the crash Galland's response did not get to the Americans.
American troops advanced on the JV 44 base near Salzburg and shortly before surrendering, the remaining Me 262's were blown up by JV 44 personnel, grenades being inserted into the engine intakes. Some of the JV 44 Me 262s were earlier flown out to Innsbruck where they met JV 44 personnel under command of Oberst Hans Ekkehard Bob, who was ordered to prepare the Innsbruck airfield for operations.
Pilots attached to JV 44
- Forsyth, Robert (2008). Jagdverband 44 : Squadron of Experten. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84603-294-3. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- Research details of JV 44 The Redwulf- Squadron, Redwulf__1 - Klaus Bohnen- after Interviews with H.E. Bob and Franz Stigler
- Gemeinschaft der Jagdflieger