June 1944 - The D-Day Response
......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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.