6 June 1944 - The D-Day Response
by Don Caldwell

......By the spring of 1944 every member of the Geschwader knew that an Allied invasion was imminent. The Allies were expected to come ashore somewhere on the coast of the Pas de Calais, which put JG 26 right on the firing line. The OKL had a long-standing plan to reinforce Luftflotte 3 with fighter units from Germany once the enemy landings began. JG 2 and JG 26 would provide the experienced nucleus for the 5th Jagddivision, which would command the "pure" fighter units under Genmaj. Werner Junck's Jagdkorps II. About half of the new Jagdgruppen would join Genlt. Alfred Buelowius's Fliegerkorps II, a ground attack command that had established a fully-staffed headquarters in France in advance of the invasion.

......The Geschwader was far below its authorized strength in aircraft and pilots, but was in its best shape in months. Obstlt. Priller's Geschwaderstab and the First and Second Gruppen were equipped almost entirely with the Fw 190A-8. An improved Fw 190A-7, it would become the Fw 190 model built in the greatest numbers, 1334 eventually rolling off the production lines. The Fw 190A-8 retained the A-7's powerful armament of four wing-mounted MG 151s and two cowling-mounted MG 131s, although some examples had the outer wing cannon removed to save weight. It had a new radio with homing capabilities and a new 25 gallon fuel tank behind the cockpit. In the R4 variant this fuel tank was replaced by a nitrous oxide tank in a system called GM-1 boost, which increased top speed by as much as 36 mph at altitudes above 8000 meters (26,000 feet). The Fw 190A-8 had the same 1700 HP BMW 801D-2 engine that had powered the Fw 190A-3 in 1942, so the boost was necessary to remain competitive with improved Allied fighters. GM-1 raised the fighter's critical altitude from 5500 to 6300 meters (18,000 to 20,700 feet) at which height its maximum speed was 656 km/h (408 mph). At low or medium altitudes the performance of this fighter was comparable to that of the four principal Allied types, and its pilots, even the new ones, had a great deal of confidence in their mount.

......The Third Gruppe was still flying its old Bf 109G-6 Beulen (boils), so named from the bulbous fairings covering the breeches of their cowling-mounted MG 131 machine guns. While still an effective dogfighter, the Bf 109 was showing its age, and lacked the speed necessary to initiate combat or escape from Allied fighters. An experienced pilot could use its ability to climb and turn to regain the advantage if caught by surprise; inexperienced pilots, who were the great majority, were easy targets.

......As the Allies completed their preparations for the invasion, the Germans still had no clue as to its date or location. Rain and mists covering France in early June led to a reduction in the Wehrmacht state of readiness. The First Gruppe kept up its routine of flying from its northern bases to Trier or Metz in the morning, and returning in the evening. The Second Gruppe continued training at Mont de Marsan. The Third Gruppe remained on Nancy-Essey, and was scrambled a few times. Contact was not sought with the enemy.

......On 4 June the Allied air forces kept up a blizzard of attacks on tactical objectives in France. In England, the assault craft had been loaded and were on their way to the Normandy beaches when an urgent message from SHAEF was received postponing the D-Day landings one day, from 5 June to 6 June, to take advantage of a predicted improvement in the weather. The convoys put back into port, still unobserved by the Luftwaffe.

......Jagdgeschwader 26 got word of the Normandy invasion via a telephone call to Obstlt. Priller at his Lille-Nord command post. Priller was told that JG 26 had been put under the command of the 5th Jagddivision, and that he should begin transferring his Gruppen to bases nearer to the beachhead area. Orders were quickly passed to the nearby First Gruppe and to the Third Gruppe at Nancy-Essey to get their operational fighters airborne and en route to the JG 2 airfields at Creil and Cormeilles. His staff was told to load their trucks and head south toward Poix. The First and Third Gruppe truck convoys were already on the road with those units' ground staffs, but were unfortunately headed in the wrong direction. The First was going to Reims in anticipation of a permanent base move; the Third was moving southeast to join its flying units at Nancy. Priller had fought the orders for these transfers into the French interior, but had lost. The convoys were located by radio and told to stop. Hptm. Naumann's Second Gruppe pilots had already taken off from Mont de Marsan and Biarritz at 0700 and had reached Vrox, where they awaited further orders. Beyond telling the Second Gruppe ground staff to pack up, Priller had no orders at the moment; the unexpected Allied landing site had upset all the Luftwaffe plans. Having done all he could, Priller and his wingman, Uffz. Heinz Wodarczyk, headed for their Focke-Wulfs, which as usual were parked just outside the command post. The first Luftwaffe response to the invasion was underway.

......The pair took off into the gray skies at 0800. Priller's only orders to Wodarczyk were to stick close. They headed west at low altitude, spotting Spitfires above them as far east as Abbeville. Near Le Havre the duo climbed into the solid cloud bank. When they emerged, the ships of the largest assault landing in history were spread before their eyes. After a shouted "Good luck!" to Wodarczyk, Priller dove for the beach at 650 kph (400 mph). The British soldiers on Sword, the easternmost of the five landing beaches, jumped for cover as the two fighters roared overhead at fifty feet, their machine guns and cannon clattering. The fleet's antiaircraft guns opened fire with every gun that could track them, but the Focke-Wulfs flew through the barrage unscathed. After traversing the beach, the two pilots climbed for the clouds, honor satisfied. Their D-Day mission, the most famous in the history of the Geschwader thanks to Cornelius Ryan's book The Longest Day and the resulting movie, was over.

......The two Focke-Wulfs landed on Creil, and Priller went to see Major Bühligen, the Kommodore of the Richthofen Geschwader. Bühligen had no more fighters than did Priller. Only one of his Gruppen was immediately available; another was en route from Brittany, and the third was in Germany for rebuilding, and had not yet been released to return to France. After several telephone calls to 5th Jagddivision headquarters, Priller got a decision on relocating his Geschwader. The Second Gruppe could continue north to Guyancourt, near Paris. The First and Third Gruppen could stay at Creil and Cormeilles until the arrival of the rest of the JG 2 aircraft made things too crowded, and would then move south to bases in the Paris region. Priller made arrangements for Bühligen's radiomen to contact his four road convoys, and returned to the business of fighting the Allies.

......Although Priller and Wodarczyk may have been the first German pilots to fly over the beachhead, they were by no means the only ones to contact the enemy on this day. Bühligen himself scored the first victory for JG 2, a P-47 over the Orne Estuary, at 1157. I/JG 2 was active over Caen from noon, and III/JG 2 joined in after it arrived at Cormeilles from Brittany. For the day, the Richthofen Geschwader claimed three P-47s, five P-51s, and nine Typhoons, for the loss of nine Fw 190s. The P-51s included an entire flight of four 4th Fighter Group aircraft, bounced while strafing a convoy near Rouen.

......After sitting on the ground at Creil and Cormeilles for three hours waiting to be serviced, the First Gruppe began flying small missions, some jointly with I/JG 2. Uffz. Hans-Werner Winter of the 3rd Staffel either got lost or was chased east by Allied fighters, and was shot down and killed by the Abbeville Flak. Fhr. Gerhard Schulwitz was missing for a day after being shot down by naval gunfire, but returned with slight injuries. Fhj.-Uffz. Friedrich Schneider of the 2nd Staffel was also hit by naval gunners, and belly-landed on Beaumont-le-Roger. By late afternoon, the JG 2 armorers had fit some of the Focke-Wulfs with launchers for 21 cm rockets, and Lt. Kemethmüller led his 4th Staffel in the first rocket attack by the Geschwader on land targets; they had been trained for this at Cazaux. The 2nd Staffel leader, Oblt. Kunz, scored the day's only air victory for the Geschwader, downing a Mustang southeast of Caen at 2055. This was probably a 4th Fighter Group P-51 that had aborted from a mission to Dreux with a bad magneto and was attempting to reach the Allied lines to force-land.

......The Third Gruppe had reached the JG 2 bases by 0930, but did not begin flying combat missions until nearly noon. It is known that they tangled with Spitfires, claimed no victories, and sustained no losses or damage. The fragile Messerschmitts probably stayed well away from the beachhead.

......The Second Gruppe lost one aircraft on its takeoff from Biarritz. Lt. Hans Bleich was caught in Lt. Glunz's propwash and crashed, suffering slight injuries. Those Focke-Wulfs that reached Vrox flew north in two separate formations. One flew directly to the new Second Gruppe base at Guyancourt, where they landed before 1115. They did not fly again this day, probably because there was no-one there to service the aircraft. Lt. Glunz led eight aircraft to Cormeilles. While en route, Glunz spotted a flight of P-51s attacking ground targets near Rouen and led a bounce. They were spotted, and the Mustangs broke into the attack. One pair boxed in Uffz. Erich Lindner and shot him down. He attempted to bail out, but caught his parachute on the cockpit framing; he pulled it loose in time and fell free, landing with only slight injuries. Glunz holed one Mustang's wing, but was unable to get an advantage, and both sides broke away. After servicing at Cormeilles, Glunz's group reached Guyancourt by 1700.

......The OKL in Berlin believed at first that the Normandy landings were only a diversion, and did not order the fighters in Germany westward until afternoon. The Bf 109s and Fw 190s began arriving at their assigned bases near nightfall, and none played any role in the day's operations. The effort by the 5th Jagddivision totaled 121 combat sorties, all by JG 2 and JG 26. Fliegerkorps II reported fifty-one sorties, all by SG 4. According to one source, the 8th Air Force and the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) flew 14,000 combat sorties on 6 June; the American 56th Fighter Group flew an unprecedented eleven combat missions.

.....On the following day the three JG 26 Gruppen and Priller's Geschwaderstab were active from dawn until dusk. Missions were either strafing attacks on infantry Stützpunkte (footholds) or freie Jagden (free hunts), sweeps in search of Allied aircraft. Pips Priller was in a friendly race to beat Kurt Bühligen to one hundred Western victories. These two pilots and Josef Wurmheller of JG 2 were the only active pilots nearing this number, considered the pinnacle of achievement for a Luftwaffe fighter pilot. At 1350 Priller shot down a P-51 north of Caen, for his 97th victory, and followed it up at 1900 by downing a P-47 near Évreux, for Number 98. But Bühligen shot down two P-47s in late afternoon, for his 100th and 101st victories. Priller had to present him with a victory bouquet at Creil.

......The First Gruppe claimed two Mustangs and four Thunderbolts during the day; the Third Gruppe, two P-47s. A Second Gruppe pilot claimed one Mustang, and a second was credited to Ogfr. Erwin Mayer, a gunner with the unit Flakkompanie. He was on the road with the Second Gruppe convoy, which was fighting its way north through army traffic and fighter-bomber attacks.

......Most of the day's victories cannot be matched up unambiguously with the day's eighteen Mustang and twenty-seven Thunderbolt losses. Fw. Zimmermann of the 8th Staffel almost certainly shot down a No. 129 Sqd. Mustang that was on an early-morning armed recce mission near Argentan. The four Thunderbolts claimed by the First Gruppe definitely belonged to the 362nd Fighter Group's 379th Squadron, which had a flight bounced near Falaise in mid-afternoon and lost two aircraft; the other two P-47s in the flight were badly damaged and force-landed on the first English airfields their pilots saw. Hptm. Staiger and two of his pilots filed four claims for these aircraft; three were confirmed.

......Two 1st Staffel pilots, Uffz. Hans-Georg Becker and Uffz. Helmut Hüttig, dropped into the cloud deck during a combat over the beachhead, and never returned to Cormeilles; they were probably shot down by the marauding Allied fighters. Fhj.-Uffz. Friedrich Schneider of the 2nd Staffel, who had belly-landed his Focke-Wulf on Beaumont-le-Roger the previous day, was sent to Paris by truck to get a replacement fighter. While en route, his truck overturned, probably as the result of an Allied air attack, and Schneider was killed.

......The Third Gruppe took off from Cormeilles for its morning mission, during which two Messerschmitts were shot down without injury to their pilots. The rest then flew to Paris, where the pilots located and landed on Villacoublay-Nord. This would be their base for the next two and one-half months.

......The Second Gruppe pilots were at nearby Guyancourt, where they struggled to service their own aircraft until their own ground crews arrived. Guyancourt and Villacoublay were best two airfields in the region that were not already occupied by front-line Luftwaffe units. Obstlt. Priller was very fortunate to have gotten them assigned to his Gruppen. It is not known if the prestige of his unit, or merely his early arrival in the area, did the trick.

......Guyancourt and Villacoublay were located among a cluster of small towns south of Versailles. Guyancourt had been built by Caudron in 1930 as a factory airfield. It had four large hangars, which were used until 17 June, when they were destroyed by B-17s, and three hard-packed grass runways. Most maintenance was carried out in the ten solidly-constructed T-hangars, which were just large enough for one Fw 190 to be pushed into tail-first. The aircraft dispersals were well-hidden in nearby woods. The pilots' quarters were in a nearby château; those of the enlisted groundcrewmen, in barracks on the edge of the field.

......The Villacoublay complex comprised two separate airfields, separated by a national highway. Villacoublay-Sud, the larger, was formerly an aircraft factory and a research facility for the French Air Force. One row of hangars and buildings was now an important Fw 190 repair and modification center, operated by Junkers. Another row had previously housed a Breguet factory, which had now moved elsewhere, and underground. Villacoublay-Nord contained a former Morane factory, now used to assemble Fieseler aircraft. Each field had a large, well-drained landing ground and one concrete or asphalt runway. Each had numerous dispersals well-camouflaged in the surrounding woods. Two small war-service landing grounds, Buc and Toussus, were nearby. These served as overflow and emergency landing fields, and as places of refuge when the larger bases were under Allied attack. The 10th and 12th Staffeln spent a lot of time on Buc, and may in fact have been based there in late June and early July.

......Across the highway from the Third Gruppe, on Villacoublay-Sud, were the Focke-Wulfs of III/JG 54, which had just arrived from Germany. The Green Heart Gruppe was fortunate to have been assigned such a well-equipped base. The unit's status as an "independent" Gruppe was always anomalous, and Priller's staff handled administrative matters for the unit while it was on the Invasionsfront (invasion front), although it was apparently never formally subordinated to JG 26.

......By evening there were only six Gruppen of single-engine Luftwaffe fighters left in Germany; seventeen Gruppen were in France. At full strength this would have amounted to a force of 1100 aircraft. However, most units were at half strength or less, and owing to the disorganization resulting from the rapid move and the chaotic state of most French airfields, only 278 fighters from the new units were reported operational in the strength return radioed to the RLM. General Galland complained bitterly in his post-war interrogation about the deplorable conditions at most of the new units' fields, many of which lacked dispersals, headquarters buildings, communications equipment, lights, and critical supplies. Luftflotte 3's phlegmatic Feldmarschall Sperrle cited the manpower shortage as justification for neglecting this task, which the OKL had assigned to his command in early 1944 as an integral part of its plan to repel the invasion. The poorly-camouflaged airfields of many of the new units were quickly discovered by the AEAF. Some Gruppen were virtually destroyed on the ground by air attacks, and the rest took weeks to regain even the low strength levels at which they had left Germany. The OKL plan was thus doomed by the end of D-Day+1.

©Don Caldwell

JG 26 Claims 6th-7th June 1944


JG 26 Losses 6th-7th June 1944


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