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|Active||March 1945 – May 1945|
|Size||~ 50 pilots
~ 25 planes
|Nickname(s)||Der Galland Zirkus (The Galland Circus)
Die Jet Experten (The Jet Aces)
The Flying Sanatorium
|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 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.
The commander of JV 44 was General Adolf Galland 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. Galland was charged with setting up a small Me 262 unit to demonstrate the capabilities of the jet fighter.
JV 44 comprised a core of highly experienced pilots chosen from Galland's former staff or recruited from units which had been disbanded or were being re-equipped. JV 44 performed with 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.
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.
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.
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. Surviving records suggest the unit shot down approximately 47 Allied aircraft during April/May 1945.
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, 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.