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|Active||22 June 1940 – 8 May 1945|
|Size||Air Force Wing|
|Engagements||World War II|
|Fighter||Messerschmitt Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 110
Junkers Ju 88
Heinkel He 219
Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1) was a German Luftwaffe night fighter-wing of World War II. NJG 1 was formed on 22 June 1940 in Mönchengladbach. By the end of the war it was the most successful night fighter unit and had claimed some 2,311 victories by day and night, for some 676 aircrew killed in action.
I Gruppe was formed in June 1940 from elements of I./Zerstörergeschwader 1 (ZG 1) and IV./Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26), while II Gruppe was formed from IV./(N)JG 2, although the Gruppe was redesignated III./NJG 1 in July 1940, while a new II Gruppe was formed from 2./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30). Again this Gruppe were redesignated as I./Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2) and a third II Gruppe was raised in September 1940 from I./ZG 26.
IV./NJG 1 was raised in October 1942 from parts of II./NJG 2.
In common with all other air forces of the time, the Luftwaffe did not possess an organized night fighter force at the outbreak of war. Although 5 Staffeln of Bf 109's and Bf 110's were designated as dual day/night fighter units, no specialist aircraft or trained crews existed and all night fighting took place on an ad-hoc basis by existing front line units.
By 1940 it was clear the Bf 110 twin engine fighter was more suitable for night defense duties, and in mid 1940 NJG 1 was formed from a cadre of experienced Zerstörer crews. Based at Deelen, the Netherlands, the unit were part of the 1st Night Fighter Division under Oberst Josef Kammhuber. With little technical equipment or training, interceptions of night flying RAF bombers were sporadic through the year, although by October the first Himmelbett zones were in place to aid the aircrews with radar guidance and radio assistance from the ground.
Stretching across the approaches to the vital industrial targets in the Ruhr, each 'Himmelbett' zone had a searchlight battery and two Würzburg radar, one of which linked the fighter to a ground control, and one to a master searchlight to illuminate the bombers. The plotting control room enabled the single night fighter manning each zone to be vectored towards the bombers. The system first became known as 'Helle nachtjagd' and was evolved in to 1941 to include the longer range Würzburg radars, the short range Freya, and a single NJG 1 night fighter allocated to each 30 mile square zone.
Simple though the interception system was, NJG 1 did obtain a certain degree of success in 1941. Many future Night Experten would learn their trade in these early days, such as then-Oberleutnant Helmut Lent, who with 6./NJG 1 based at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, claimed his first kill in March 1941. By the end of 1941 Lent (with 20 kills) and Werner Streib (22 kills) would be the top scorers of NJG 1.
However, the need for an airborne radar interception system became increasingly obvious. The first Ju 88C fighters, equipped with Lichtenstein FuG 202 UHF-band airborne radar were delivered to I./NJG 1 at Venlo early in 1942. This allowed the crews to track a target over a range of 3,500 to 6,100 yards, the image appearing as a 'blip' on two cathode ray tubes.
NJG 1 also started receiving the upgraded Bf 110 G-4 in February 1942, able to be fitted with numerous 'conversion kits', giving the Geschwader flexibility in weapons, fuel capacity and engine performance. In 1942 the Dornier Do 217 J was also trialed in service with NJG 1; however the lack of performance made the type unpopular with crews.
In early 1943 the heavy fighters of the Nachtgeschwadern, NJG 1 among them, were also being used against the increasingly heavy raids by the daylight bombers of the US 8th Air Force, where it was thought their heavier armament and longer endurance would complement the day fighters. However, most night fighter crews had little experience of day combat techniques, and the missions inevitably saw a steady attrition of these specialist, highly trained crews. For instance, based at the Fliegerhorst in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, Hptm. Ludwig Becker, a 44 victory ace of 12./NJG 1, was lost against B-24's over the North Sea in February 1943. Just two days earlier Oblt. Paul Gildner, a 48 victory ace also from Leeuwarden, died in a landing crash following an engine fire in his Bf 110 near the Fliegerhorst at Gilze-Rijen in the Netherlands.
By the start of 1943, almost all NJG 1's fighters were equipped with radar and the Nachtgeschwadern were inflicting ever higher losses on RAF Bomber Command (Lent had claimed his 50th kill in January). The battle in the night skies became an ever more accelerated technological race between the RAF's need for accurate navigation and bombing aids and the Luftwaffe's requirement for tracking and location of the bomber streams.
Gradually, the old Himmelbett system was now becoming increasing saturated and with the RAF introducing 'Window' counter-measures in July 1943, new tactics were needed.
Zahme Sau was a new tactic introduced in 1943. At the indication of a forthcoming raid, the fighters were scrambled and collected together to orbit one of several radio beacons throughout Germany, ready to be directed en masse into the bomber stream by R/T running commentaries from the Jagd division. Once fed into the stream, fighters made radar contact with a succession of individual bombers and maintained contact (and combat) as far as their ammunition and fuel held out.
This resulted in a far more economic use of crews and the commencement of 'multiple' kills by the more able and experienced of the NJG 1 night fighter crews; Werner Streib claimed 5 on 11 June, Hptm. Hans-Dieter Frank 6 on 21 June, and Leutnant Musset 5 over Peenemünde on 17 August.
Initial deliveries of the brand new Heinkel He 219 night fighter went to I./NJG 1 in mid 1943 for combat evaluation. Based at Venlo The first combat mission was flown by Werner Streib with bordfunker Pischer on the night of 11/12 June 1943. Streib shot down five heavy bombers, but on returning Streib totally misjudged the approach due to a misted windscreen. Seeing the runway lights at the last moment he selected full flap at too high a speed, and the aircraft hit the ground so hard it broke up, although both men were unhurt.
I./NJG 1 was ultimately the only gruppe to be equipped with the He 219, although a small number of aircraft were attached to other units, including NJG 3. Hpt. Frank, Gruppenkommandeur of I./NJG 1, was killed when his Heinkel He 219A-0 collided with a Bf 110 on 27 September 1943.
Bomber Command commenced its concentrated offensive against Berlin in November 1943, in what became known as The Battle of Berlin. NJG 1 were heavily involved in the increasingly effective night fighter riposte to the massed deep penetration raids, and scored heavily up until late March 1944, when the RAF switched its attentions to short range, tactical targets ready for the forthcoming invasion. Hpt. Von Bonin of II./NJG 1 claimed 5 kills on the night of 25/26 November 1943, and Obfw. Vinke of IV. Gruppe based in Leeuwarden, scored 5 on 19/20 February 1944.
The raids comprising the battle often took place in extremely poor weather conditions, and these conditions contributed to many of NJG 1's losses. For example, Hpt. Walter Ehle (39 kills) died in an accident on 17 November 1943.
The experten of NJG 1 continued to be successful through the first half of 1944. Schnaufer was appointed Gruppenkommandeur IV./NJG 1 in March 1944 and claimed 5 aircraft on the night of 24/25 May. He was awarded the Eichenlaub on 24 June for 84 victories and the Schwerter on 30 July, with his total at 89. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer claimed 79 of his eventual 121 kills in this year, and Hpt. Martin Drewes over 40.
Early 1944 also saw NJG 1's aircraft start to be equipped with the newer and more effective Lichtenstein SN-2 radar, further improving the units effectiveness. Hpt. Drewes claimed 5 kills on two May nights; 3/4 May and 21/22 May 1944.
However, this period also saw the advent of anti-night fighter operations by Bomber Command's No. 100 Group RAF, and the commencement of radar-equipped de Havilland Mosquito fighter operations over Europe, leading to gradually increased losses among the overworked experienced Nachtgeschwader crews through 1944. By this time any flights, day or night, were hazardous, and NJG 1's Obfw. Heinz Vinke (54 kills) was shot down and killed by RAF Typhoons during a daylight air test on 26 February 1944.
Once the European invasion in June 1944 had stabilised and the Allied armies commenced an advance into France, the Nachtjagdgeschwadern found their early warning radar network and monitoring infrastructure increasingly compromised, as territory was lost to the Allies.
Thus as 1944 ground on, NJG 1 found its job increasingly difficult. Novice and less successful crews were diverted -and often lost- to costly night ground-attack operations, leaving those few experienced crews remaining operational to shoot down more of the rapidly increasing numbers of RAF Bomber Command aircraft which now - due to a wide range of radio counter-measures and their own night fighter efforts - roamed almost at will in the German night sky. Fuel and equipment shortages also curtailed the response to the continuing night attacks. In September 1944 Schnaufer achieved his 100th victory on 9 October 1944 and was awarded the Brillanten personally by Hitler. After the death of Helmut Lent on 7 October 1944, caused by his injuries from a plane crash on landing at Paderborn in Germany, Schnaufer became the most successful German nightfighter pilot of world war 2 claiming a total of 121 victories.
Oberleutnant Werner Baake was awarded a Ritterkreuz on 27 July for 33 victories. Baake was then appointed Gruppenkommandeur I./NJG 1 on 2 October 1944, succeeding Major Paul Förster (8 victories) who was killed on 1 October. Baake ended the war with 41 victories.
As 1944 wore on more irreplaceable aces were killed in action by the increasingly effective RAF night fighters; Obfw. Willi Morlock (16 kills) was shot down and killed by RAF Intruders on 5 November 1944, while Hpt. Hans-Heinz Augenstein (46 Kills) was killed by a Fighter Interception Unit Mosquito fighter on 6 December 1944. On the night of 24/25 December 1944, Hpt. Heinz Strüning (56 victories) of 9./NJG 1 was shot down in his Bf 110 G-4 by a No. 157 Squadron intruder.
- Oberst Wolfgang Falck, 26 June 1940 – 30 June 1943
- Oberst Werner Streib, 1 July 1943 – March 1944
- Oberstleutnant Hans-Joachim Jabs, March 1944 – May 1945
- Hauptmann Günther Radusch, 1 July 1940 – 6 October 1940
- Major Werner Streib, 18 October 1940 – 1 July 1943
- Hauptmann Hans-Dieter Frank, 1 July 1943 – 27 September 1943
- Hauptmann Manfred Meurer, 28 September 1943 – 21 January 1944
- Hauptmann Werner Baake, 2 October 1944 – 8 May 1945
- Major Walter Ehle, 6 October 1940 – 17 November 1943
- Major Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin, 18 November 1943 – 25 October 1944
- Hauptmann Wolfgang Thimmig, 6 June 1942 – 31 May 1943
- Major Egmont Prinz zur Lippe-Weißenfeld, 1 June 1943 – 20 February 1944
- Major Martin Drewes, 1 March 1944 – 8 May 1945
- Major Helmut Lent, 1 October 1942 – 1 August 1943
- Hauptmann Hans-Joachim Jabs, 1 August 1943 – 1 March 1944
- Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, 1 March 1944 – 26 October 1944
- Hauptmann Hermann Greiner, 1 November 1944 – 8 May 1945
- 'History of the German Night Fighter Force', Gerhard Aders,1978 page 239.
- Hinchliffe, Peter (1998). Luftkrieg bei Nacht 1939–1945 [Air War at Night 1939–1945] (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-613-01861-7.
- Mauermann, Helmut."Fliegerhorst Störmede.Eine Chronik in Bild und Wort." 2005. ISBN 3-00-015708-5. (The base of III./NJG 1 Dec 1944 until March 1945)