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All Posts, Aviation, Military History

Author Guest Post: Norman Ridley

III./JG 52 not up to scratch

III./JG 52 was moved up to Coquelles from Werneuchen Aerodrome in Berlin on the 21st of July to take part in the Kanalkampf attack on British convoys in the Dover Straits. Eleven days later it was withdrawn and transferred to Zerbst from where it took no further part in the Battle of Britain.

During its short involvement, the Gruppe, in two days, suffered catastrophic losses of its Gruppenkommandeur and three Staffelkaipitäne leaving it without experienced leadership and, in view of Luftflotte 2 commander Feldmarschall Kesselring, unable to continue in the front line. The loss of its flight leaders points to a serious flaw in its operational efficiency. Normally each Staffelkaipitän would lead his rotte into battle with his wingmen flying cover on each side and a little above to protect him from attack. Of course, it was possible for a Staffelkaipitän to fall victim from a surprise attack but to lose three and the Gruppenkommandeur also in two days is clear proof that the wingmen were either poorly trained or particularly inept.

The Gruppe had operated in France without loss during May and early June but had not been heavily involved there.

On the 24th of July a force of some twenty Do17s of II./KG 2 swept in to bomb a convoy in the Thames Estuary off the North Foreland. The Dorniers had a fighter escort comprising Bf109s of JG 26 and JG 52. Twelve Spitfires of 54 Squadron and six of 65 squadron patrolling off Deal were vectored in to intercept the raid.

The Dorniers were approaching at about 5,000ft but the 109s were some 3,000 feet above and ready to pounce. The 109s swept down to challenge the Spitfires before they could reach the bomber stream. The weather was cloudy with poor visibility at combat height but this could not have been the only reason that 54 Squadron report of the incident described the Bf109 tactics as ‘clumsy’ with loose formation.

JG 52 suffered four casualties in this engagement, Gruppenkomandeure Hauptmann Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald was shot down, as were Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Lothar Ehrlich of 8./JG 52, Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Herbert Fermer of 7./JG 52 and Oberfeldwebel Erich Frank also of 7./JG 52, all shot down off Margate.

Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Lothar Ehrlich

On the following day III./JG 52 were in action again this time escorting Ju88 bombers and Ju87 Stukas of 6./StG 1 and 11(St)./LG 1 in an attack on a convoy in the Dover Straits. 56 Squadron from Hornchurch were patrolling above the convoy and 54 Squadron from Manston were scrambled to assist when the Luftwaffe force of more than 100 aircraft attacked.

It was the Spitfires of 56 squadron who tackled the Stukas bringing two of them down but it was Spitfires of 610 Squadron from Hawkinge which then appeared and tore into the Bf109s. Two 109s went down straight away and a third was forced to make an emergency landing at Elvington Court, Deal. 610 suffered no casualties and reported no damage at all to their aircraft in the encounter. German casualties were Unteroffizier Max Reiss who was made POW when his Bf109E-1 of 8./JG 52 was shot down at Deal and Staffelkapitäne Oberleutnant Wilhelm Keidel who was posted missing when his Bf109E was shot down off Dover. Oberleutnant Willy Bielefeld who had just been made Staffelkapitän in Keidel’s place was killed on the same day in a later incident.

Order The Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Britain here.