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The Geschwader Stab (headquarters staff) and I. Gruppe/JG 27 were formed in Handorf, Germany on 1 October 1939. The emblem of I Gruppe, featuring a map of Africa, originated with the Gruppenkommandeur in 1940, Hauptmann Helmut Riegel (killed in action 20 July 1940) who was born in German South-West Africa.
Western and Eastern Europe
JG 27 saw considerable action both during the Battle of France as part of VIII. Fliegerkorps, scoring heavily against Allied bombers during the crossing of the Meuse river. 285 claims for aircraft destroyed were made, Hauptmann Wilhelm Balthasar (of 1./JG 1, by July renamed 7./JG 27) becoming top scorer of the campaign with 24 air kills and 13 ground kills. Hauptmann Adolf Galland the Geschwader adjudant to Geschwaderkommodore Oberst Max Ibel, also made 14 claims during the campaign.
Based near Cherbourg for the Battle of Britain, JG 27 had a relatively inauspicious campaign, claiming 146 aircraft downed although losses of pilots were heavy with 83 Bf -109Es lost, and 58 killed, missing or POW by December 1940. In November JG 27 redeployed back to Germany for re-equipping and rest. From 24 September - 5 November, JG 27 was based at Saint-Inglevert, Pas-de-Calais.
In April 1941 the Geschwader briefly served in the Balkans, before (with the exception of I./JG 27) participating in the opening offensive against the Soviet Union on the central front in June 1941. On the first day of action Major Wolfgang Schellmann bailed out over Soviet territory when he collided with an I-153 Chayka fighter flown by a Lt. Kuzmin. Kuzmin was killed in the collision but Schellmann managed to bail out, but failed to make his way back to German lines and was captured and later executed by NKVD troops. In September a Spanish Air Force volunteer staffel was attached to JG 27, becoming 15.(span.)/JG 27. Recalled to Spain in January 1942, 460 missions were flown on the Eastern Front for 10 air kills claimed. In November the Gruppen were returned to Germany for re-fitting. After a short stint in the Eastern front the Jagdgeschwader 27 left for Africa.
I. Gruppe had been sent in April 1941 to Gazala, North Africa in order to support the Afrika Korps. Under the command of Eduard Neumann, it improved its combat performance, claiming its 100th victory of the war on 19 April.
In September, the group was joined by Hpt. Wolfgang Lippert’s II./JG 27, which had achieved 43 victories in a three-week stint on the Eastern Front. II. Gruppe was now equipped with the Bf109F-2/Trop . The arrival of II. Gruppe permitted I./JG 27 to rotate back to Germany, one Staffel at a time, to exchange its war-weary "Emils" (Bf 109Es) for brand new "Friedrichs" (109Fs). The whole process would take well over a month. With the arrival of III./JG 27 from Russia in late October, by December the whole of JG 27 was in North Africa. The Geschwader units on the Eastern Front had claimed over 270 aircraft during operations in 1941, for just 16 aircraft lost in air combat.
The Geschwader had an immediate impact on the campaign, which had up until then been dominated by the British Commonwealth's Desert Air Force. JG 27 now became synonymous with the Afrika Korps and the campaign in North Africa, providing Rommel's army with fighter protection for virtually the whole Western Desert campaign, from late 1941 until November 1942.
Fighting against the Desert Air Force's generally inferior Hawker Hurricanes and Curtiss P-40s, which were often flown by inexperienced and under-trained pilots, the Bf 109s inflicted heavy losses, although serviceability in the harsh conditions and chronic fuel shortages greatly reduced the effectiveness of the Geschwader. Leutnant Hans-Joachim Marseille and Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz were each awarded the Knight’s Cross on 22 February (for 50 and 44 victories respectively). A month later, on 23 March, III./JG 27 sent a small detachment to Kastelli, Crete. Named Jagdkommando Kreta it would be strengthened as the Greek island grew in strategic importance during the following months. The following day, March 24, 1942, Leutnant Korner shot down a Douglas Boston, the 1,000th victory for the Geschwader. On 5 May, a fourth Staffel was added to III.Gruppe: 10.(Jabo)/JG 27. Jabo or Jagdbomber was the German term for fighter-bombers. Two weeks later, on 20 May, Oberleutnant Gustav Rodel took command of II./JG 27 and three days later claimed two of 12 the P-40s shot down by his Gruppe, taking his score to 41. With the start of Afrika Korps offensive, on 26 May, JG 27's fighters were called to play a decisive role during the Battle of Gazala. Marseille showed again his prowess on 3 June, near Bir Hakeim, in a combat against P-40s of No. 5 Squadron SAAF: he was credited with six kills in little more than 10 minutes. With a score now of 75, he was awarded the Oak Leaves three days later. The other top-scoring pilot, Schulz, recently promoted to Oberleutnant, claimed his 51st claim (an Hurricane of No. 274 Squadron) on 17 June 1942 but was himself shot down and killed soon afterwards.
On 7 August, a Schwarm from 5./JG 27, led by Oberfeldwebel Emil Clade, chanced upon a Bristol Bombay transport of No. 216 Squadron RAF. The Bombay was carrying a special passenger: Lt Gen William Gott, who had been appointed Commander of the British 8th Army only hours previously. Clade’s first pass forced the lumbering Bombay to crash-land. All but one of those remaining inside, including Gott, were killed when Unteroffizier Schneider carried out a strafing run. Gott was the highest-ranked British soldier to be killed by enemy fire in the Second World War. His death led to the hurried appointment of a replacement commander for the 8th Army, a relative unknown named Bernard Law Montgomery.
On 1 September 1942, as the Afrika Korps assaulted Allied positions at El Alamein, JG 27 had their best day. Hpt. Marseille alone claimed 17, destroying eight P-40s in 10 minutes during one sortie over Alam el Halfa. However, it believed that at least two and as many as four of Marseille's "kills" were claimed in error.
However, author Stephen Bungay pointed out the limited military value of shooting down fighters rather than the bombers of the DAF which, by 1942, were attacking DAK and Italian ground units and convoy routes with increasingly damaging effects. He points out that on that day the DAF bombers were able to attack the Axis ground troops and rear echelons with impunity; while Marseille probably shot down 15 fighters, while the rest of the Luftwaffe pilots shot down another five confirmed aircraft:
"The British lost no bombers at all. The commander of JG 27, Eduard Neumann, commented after the war that 'most of the pilots in Marseille's Staffel acted in a secondary role as escort to the "master". Internal rivalry over star status took precedence over military effectiveness.'"
The 100 figure given by Bungay represents the Geschwader's strength, and not the number of German pilots that took part in the three missions of 1 September. The number of German fighters pilots that participated was 50, at most.
In late 1942, the Allied superiority in numbers began to tell. In the space of three weeks, Jagdgeschwader 27 was rocked by the deaths of three top aces: Leut. Günter Steinhausen (40 kills) in air combat with Hurricanes of No. 127 Squadron RAF, followed 24 hours later by Leut. Hans-Arnold Stahlschmidt (59 kills) in air combat with a Spitfire from No. 601 Squadron RAF and on 30 September 1942 Hpt. Hans-Joachim Marseille, "The Star of Africa" (158 kills) was killed in an aircraft accident. By November, the intensity of operations was such that JG 27 often had fewer than a dozen fighters serviceable.
Understandably, high combat fatigue and low morale meant the Stab, I. and III. Gruppen of JG 27 were withdrawn to Sicily in October, to operate over Malta. They returned briefly to North Africa but then the whole of JG 27 was withdrawn from the theatre for the final time in December 1942. JG 27 was then replaced by JG 77.
I./JG 27 claimed 588 aircraft shot down in the period of April 1941–November 1942. Stahlschmidt, Steinhausen and Marseille accounted for 250 of these; a huge 42% of the unit's total. The total claims in North Africa for JG 27 were 1,166 aircraft: the Stab flight claimed one kill, I. Gruppe claimed 588, II. Gruppe 477, and III. Gruppe 100 aircraft shot down. JG 27 lost some 200 aircraft in action. The surviving top scorers were Lt Werner Schröer (I/JG 27) with 61 claims and Hpt. Gustav Rödel (II/JG 27) who by now had claimed 52 kills.
Most of JG 27 avoided the final defeat of Axis forces in Africa, in Tunisia. After withdrawing to airfields in western Cyrenica, and having abandoned a large number of its aircraft along the way, the unit passed the remainder of its aircraft to JG 77 and were then evacuated from North Africa on 12 November. II./JG 27 remained nearly a month longer, based at Merduma airfield. During that month the Gruppe lost three pilots killed for six Allied fighters destroyed. The last of these kills, a Kittyhawk, was the first kill for Leutnant Hans Lewes of 6. Staffel, in the final sortie by JG 27 in Africa, on the morning of 6 December 1942.
In 1943 I./JG 27 was posted to Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3) in Northern France, while II./JG 27 went to Sicily and Brindisi and were tasked with the protection of the supply convoys from Sicily and Tunisia. Lt Willi Kientsch emerged as the top scorer during these operations, adding 25 claims to the 17 scored in Africa. II Gruppe then returned to Germany in August 1943 for the air defense of Germany, based in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, and Merzhausen. Under the command of Hpt. Werner Schröer, the gruppe first saw action on 6 September 1943, claiming 9 B-17's shot down. In May 1943, IV./JG 27 was reformed in Greece and was tasked with defending the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti.
I. Gruppe found the transition from desert warfare to anti-bomber operations difficult; many of the pilots were fresh recruits, and the more seasoned fliers were unfamiliar with the European theater. Gruppenkommandeur Hpt. Heinrich Setz (132 Soviet kills) was killed in March 1943. Hpt Erich Hohagen, a JG 2 veteran, was posted in to command I./JG 27, although he was badly wounded in July 1943, and the Gruppe was transferred to the South of France soon after.
III./JG 27, Stab./JG 27, and IV./JG 27 remained at Crete and the Greek islands and were in action against the unsuccessful British landings on various Greek islands in the fall of 1943. The Geschwader claimed its 2,000 kill on 29 September 1943. While based at Wels I./JG 27 increased its establishment of personnel and aircraft to double its usual complement, as the unit undertook training for experienced junior pilots from other units to become formation leaders.
On 14 May 1944 Unteroffizier Stadler of 7./JG 27 scored the last of JG 27's victories in the North African and Mediterranean theaters when six Savoia-Marchetti SM.84s of the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force were shot down over the Strait of Otranto. Actually the planes shot down were Italian aircraft of a similar type, the three-engine bomber/transport CANT. Z 1007. A formation of nine of them, from Gruppo 88, lost contact with their fighter escort while returning from a mission to Kolasin, in Montenegro, where they had dropped 96 food containers for Yugoslavian partisans. Five CANT. Z 1007 were shot down into the Adriatic sea, while two more landed heavily damaged at their base of Lecce-Galatina, in Apulia, Southern Italy, the Italian unit suffering 26 personnel casualties in this mission. JG 27s last casualty, Unteroffizier Gerhard Siegling, was shot down and killed in this action by the return fire from the CANT. Z 1007s. He was the last of 150 German pilots killed in the theatre.
In June 1944, the invasion of France prompted I., III. and IV./JG 27 to be thrown into the battle, initially stationed on airfields around Rheims. By September, the Jagdgruppen in France had been largely decimated, with JG 27 alone losing nearly 200 aircraft and 87 pilots killed and 62 wounded against 146 Allied aircraft were claimed shot down. The unit was withdrawn to Saxonia for re-formation. In the meantime, II./JG 27, based in Austria, were "working up" on the Bf 109 G-6/AS high altitude fighter. In the early autumn the Geschwader reached the peak of his strength with some 250 aircraft. However fuel situation was critical and most of the pilots were novices or veterans from disbanded bomber and reconnaissance units, all with little experience of fighter combat. In these conditions, by November 1944, JG 27 was back serving with Reich air defense, flying operations in the Southern Germany and Austria against the USAAF 15th Air Force bombing raids. The illusory nature of JG 27 increased strength was soon revealed. On November, the Eight Air Force mounted a massive raid on German synthetic oil plants in Merseburg-Leuna. All four Gruppen took off to intercept the more than 600 B 17s and their escorting fighters but the Bf 109s of JG 27, climbing to reach the heavy bombers, ran straight into the more than 209 P-51 Mustangs of the 20th, 352nd, 359th and 364th Fighter groups which escorted the 1st Bombardment Division. The dispersed German fighters then were pursued as they tried to escape, and many were shot down as they landed. The JG 27 suffered the worst defeat in its history, in a single day, losing 53 aircraft with 27 pilots killed and 11 wounded to the escort fighters of the USAAF, in return for six  (or eight, according to other sources ) P-51 Mustangs claimed. The Geschwader also took part in the ill-fated Operation Bodenplatte attacks on Allied airfields on New Year's Day 1945, losing 15 pilots.[Notes 1] Soon after the JG 27 activities were limited by a new Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) directive that severely restricted fighter operations in the west. Moreover, many ground personnel were transferred to infantry units. The IV.Gruppe was disbanded in March 1945 to provide reinforcements to the other Gruppen. Despite these limitations, the Geschwader continued to fight, claiming 92 victories during the closing weeks of the war but suffering more than 150 pilot losses (more than 100 were killed or posted MIA). The last two JG 27 victories were achieved on 30 April 1945 by Feldwebel Horst Rippert of 7.Staffel who claimed two Spitfires. Most probably the aircraft were two Hawker Tempests of No. 3 Squadron RAF which did not return after a raid on II./Gruppe’s base, in Schwerin. Soon after, the whole II./Gruppe plus Stab moved to Leck, Schleswig-Holstein, in Nordfriesland, to surrender to British. On 2 May, I. and III. took off for their last base, Salzburg, Austria, a collecting point for Luftwaffe units in the Southern Reich. Here the two Gruppen’s commanders decided to form a column of all remaining JG 27's personnel – about 1000 men – and march to the small resort town nearby of Saalbach, to surrender to Americans.
Although official records were lost at the end of the war, research suggests Jagdgeschwader 27 claimed over 3,100 kills for some 1,400 aircraft lost, and lost approximately 827 pilots killed, missing or POW during 1939-45.
Australian author Russell Brown has cast doubt on the accuracy of aerial victory claims by JG 27 pilots in North Africa. Brown, who has researched the records of individual Desert Air Force squadrons, suggests that Luftwaffe claim confirmation in North Africa was less stringent than it had been during the Battle of Britain. Brown points out specific, documented examples of spurious verification, such as one "confirmation" by a Panzer commander, who merely saw a "cloud of dust", after an Allied plane passed behind a sand dune. He also lists several dates on which there was significant, demonstrable over-claiming by JG 27 pilots. For example, pilots from JG 27 were credited with destroying 19 or 20 P-40s from No. 239 Wing (No. 3 Squadron RAAF, No. 112 Squadron RAF and No. 450 Squadron RAAF) on 15 September 1942. Marseille alone claimed seven kills in six minutes. However, the records of the individual Allied squadrons show a total of five aircraft lost to enemy action that day and one lost to friendly AA fire. This analysis is supported by other authors. Brown states: "Clearly in the combat of 15 September, there could not have been seven accurate eyewitness reports, let alone twenty [emphasis in original], but Marseille's seven victory claims were accepted without question... [and] other recognised Experten, Schröer, Homuth and von Lieres submitted a total of six further [accepted] claims between them."
|Oberstleutnant Max Ibel||1 October 1939||–||10 October 1940|
|Major Bernhard Woldenga||11 October 1940||–||22 October 1940|
|Major Wolfgang Schellmann||22 October 1940||–||21 June 1941||KIA USSR|
|Major Bernhard Woldenga||21 June 1941||–||10 June 1942|
|Oberstleutnant Eduard Neumann||10 June 1942||–||22 April 1943|
|Oberstleutnant Gustav Rödel||22 April 1943||–||29 December 1944|
|Major Ludwig Franzisket||30 December 1944||–||8 May 1945|
- After researching JG 27 records, only 15 pilots were lost as a result of Bodenplatte. A further 3 were lost in unconnected operations.
- "Saint-Inglevert" (in French). Old Anciens Aerodromes. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Bergström 2007, p.18.
- Weal 2003, p. 78.
- Weal 2003, pp. 79-80.
- Weal 2003, pp. 80-81.
- Weal 2003, p. 86.
- Bungay 2002, pp. 139-141.
- Weal 2003, p. 89.
- Prien, Rodeike and Stemmer 1998, p. 437.
- De Marchi and Tonizzo 1994, p. 42.
- De Marchi and Tonizzo 1994, p. 43.
- Weal 2003, p. 102.
- Weal 2003, p. 115.
- "2 November 1944: Sturmjäger Slip Through". Bergstrombooks.elknet.pl. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
- Manrho & Pütz 2004, p. 282.
- Weal 2003, p. 117.
- Weal 2003, p. 119.
- Weal 2003, p. 120.
- Weal 2003, p. 122.
- Russell Brown, 2000, p. 281
- Brown 2000, p. 282
- Christopher Shores & Hans Ring 1969, p.178.
- Bergström, Christer (2007). Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
- Bungay, Stephen (2002). Alamein. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-842-5.
- De Marchi, Italo and Pietro Tonizzo. CANT. Z. 506 "airone"- CANT. Z. 1007 "alcione" (in Italian). Modena: STEM Mucchi Editore, 1994. NO ISBN
- Manrho, John, Pütz, Ron. Bodenplatte: The Luftwaffe's Last Hope–The Attack on Allied Airfields, New Year's Day 1945. Ottringham, United Kingdom: Hikoki Publications, 2004. ISBN 1-902109-40-6
- Prien, Jochen & Rodeike, Peter & Stemmer, Gerhard (1998). Messerschmidt Bf 109 im Einsatz bei Stab und I./Jagdgeschwader 27 1939 - 1945. struve-druck, Eutin. ISBN 3-923457-46-4.
- Russell Brown, 2000, Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa, 1941-1943 Banner Books: Maryborough, Queensland; ISBN 1-875593-22-5, p. 281
- Shores, Christopher & Hans Ring, 1969, Fighters over the Desert. Neville Spearman Ltd, London.
- Shores, Christopher and Hans Ring- Fighters over the Desert: The Air Battles in the Western Desert, June 1940 to December 1942' (Arco 1969)
- Shores, Christopher- ' Mediterranean Air War' (Ian Allen 1974)
- Various- 'The Battle of Britain- Then & Now'(Plaistow Press 1987)
- Weal, John (2003). Jagdgeschwader 27 'Afrika'. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-538-4.