Jagdgeschwader 51

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Jagdgeschwader 51
Jagdgeschwader 51.svg
JG 51 Mölders
Active 1939–45
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) Luftwaffe
Type Fighter Aircraft
Role Air superiority
Size Air Force Wing
Nickname(s) Mölders (after Werner Mölders)
Commanders
Notable
commanders

Theo Osterkamp
Werner Mölders

Heinz Lange

Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51) was a German fighter wing during World War II. JG 51's pilots won more awards than any other fighter wing of the Luftwaffe, and operated in all major theatres of war. Its members included Anton Hafner, Heinz Bär, Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, and Günther Schack.

World War II[edit]

Formed in August 1939 and commanded by 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.

Four Bf 109 of JG 51 in France 1940

On 12 July 1940, JG 51 moved to Saint-Inglevert, Stab JG 51 was at Saint-Inglevert until November.[1] 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.

Invasion of the Soviet Union[edit]

During Operation Barbarossa, JG 51 was positioned in the centre of the 4480 km-long front. Its 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. A total of 500 Soviet claims was reached by 12 July 1941, while 6 pilots had been lost by JG 51 in the same timeframe. By 10 July, the wing was gathered on the pre-war complex of Soviet airfields around Bobruisk.

Emblem of 8./JG 51

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.[2]

General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's 8th Air Corps was in charge of air support for the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre. In early January 1942, among the fighter units available to 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.

Aircraft of 8./JG 51 being armed.

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 materiel. After the Soviet winter offensive, there followed a lull in operational intensity with April–June 1942 with 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.

Mediterranean Theatre[edit]

In November 1942, II. / JG 51 was transferred to the Mediterranean theatre under Captain 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 [3] Although II. / JG 51 claimed 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 Axis perimeter further shrank. 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.[4] In July, the unit flew intensively from Trapani against the invasion forces in Sicily, claiming 26 air victories. 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 Battle of Kursk in southern Russia, I., III. and IV. / JG 51 were based at Oryol with Luftflotte 6, flying alongside I. / JG 54 in support of Army Group Centre. These units 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 Soviet forces 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.

Battle of Normandy[edit]

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.

Commanding officers[edit]

Given below is a list of commanding officers of JG 51.[5]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Saint-Inglevert" (in French). Old Anciens Aerodromes. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 116.
  3. ^ Weal, 'JG 51' page 95
  4. ^ Weal, 'JG 51'
  5. ^ Aders & Held 1993, p.247–252.

References[edit]

  • 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.