Text: Jan Bobek

Illustration by Piotr Forkasiewicz 

Cat. No. 7467

In the first half of 1944, the Luftwaffe command decided to reinforce fighter units in Western Europe. The number of Staffeln in a particular fighter Gruppe was increased from three to four. Therefore, some fighter Gruppen in other theatres had to select one Staffel and send it to the West. Hence I./JG 51 “Mölders”, fighting on the Eastern Front with Bf 109 Gs, had to send its 2. Staffel, which thus came under the command of IV. Sturm/JG 3 “Udet”in June 1944. The commander of this unit was Major Wilhelm Moritz. It was one of the three Sturmgruppen in the Defense of the Reich, designed to attack bomber formations at close range. For this purpose, it was rearmed in May from Messerschmitt Bf 109s to heavily armoured Fw 190 A-8/R2s (and a few A-7s). At the same time one of its three Staffeln was disbanded and replaced by Sturmstaffel 1, which specialized in such attacks. Its newly added Staffel, 2./JG 51, was getting familiar with Focke-Wulfs throughout June. In August, it was formally redesignated 16. Sturm/JG 3.  

For the first time, IV. Sturm/JG 3 entered combat as Sturmjäger unit on July 7, 1944. With 44 aircraft from Stab and four Staffeln, the unit managed to attack an unescorted Liberator formation at Oschersleben, shooting down 19 of them during the three-minute battle. As a result of this engagement, the 492nd BG had to be disbanded. 

Moritz and his four Staffeln with 45 armoured machines made a similar attack over Starnberger See on July 18, 1944. Top cover was to be provided by Focke-Wulfs from 2./JG 51 under Oblt. Haase. The Germans were able to attack a B-17 formation from the 483rd BG that was also unescorted. In the ensuing fight, 14 bombers were shot down. The American unit received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its valiant defense. Oblt. Haase, however, disobeyed Moritz's order and instead of protecting his colleagues, ordered his 2./JG 51 to attack the bombers as well. The Mustangs that arrived at the scene of the bloody encounter punished this mistake severely and the result was 12 Focke-Wulfs shot down and an equal number of pilots killed or wounded. In the following weeks the number of aircraft that IV. Sturm/JG 3 deployed into combat was reduced in most cases to between 10 and 20. 

 Similar events happened on August 23, 1944, when 17 fighter planes took off under Moritz´s command from Schongau airfield against bombers of the 15th Air Force targeting fuel production plants in Blechhammer (Blachownia Śląska) and Odertal (Zdzieszowice), as well as aviation and industrial plants in and around Vienna. In total the Germans sent 96 fighters against that raid, but only 50 of them made contact with the enemy. The allied escort fighters shot down seven Focke-Wulfs from II. Sturm/JG 300 and the only significant success was scored by Moritz's Sturmgruppe. At first his unit joined the JG 300 formation, which drew attention of the US fighters. But IV. Sturm/JG 3 then avoided the escort and south-west of Vienna it attacked 24 Liberators of the 451st BG, which were flying, without escort, a north-westerly course to their target, Markersdorf airfield. The bombers took up a tight formation to make it dangerous for the Germans to attack at close range. A deadly struggle ensued, taking place at an altitude of 6000 mètres on a route of sixty kilometres approximately between the towns of Nasswald and Kilb. Moritz and his fighters claimed the downing of nine bombers within three minutes, and nine actually crashed. The others were badly damaged. The commander of the American unit, Col. Robert E. L. Eaton reported that about forty fighters attacked them extremely aggressively, making expert use of the dense cloud cover before the attacks. The Germans attacked in groups of six to ten machines in a very aggressive, almost suicidal manner. Some of the Liberators were so badly hit that they disintegrated in mid-air. The picture of the burning Liberator “Extra Joker” just before its explosion is one of the most famous photographs in aviation history. Its commander, 1st Lt Kenneth A Whiting, was killed with his entire crew.

Sixteen 451st BG aircraft got over the target and managed to hit Markersdorf airfield. For this action the unit received a Unit Citation from the commander of the 15th Air Force, Maj. Gen. Twinning, stating among other facts that the gunners shot down or damaged 29 enemy aircraft. Certainly, five pilots of the 15. and 16. Sturm/JG 3 were shot down, killed or remained missing, to which must probably be added three other machines that were damaged. During the fighting over Europe, the 451st BG lost 112 crews over enemy territory. The fight over the foothills of the Alps on August 23, 1944, was one of the heaviest.