Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Marek Ryś
Cat. No. 7033
The Ju 87 Stuka units from the Battle of Britain period are mainly known for the heavy losses they suffered on August 18, 1940. However, they returned to combat in early November. Their targets were once again Allied vessels in the Channel.
One of the units that made it through the entire western campaign was III./St.G.1. It was formed in July 1940 from I.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186, which was originally intended to be on board of the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin. Gruppe’s commander, Obstlt. Walter Hagen became Kommodore of Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 in mid-1940. His former Gruppe, under the new designation III./St.G.1, was taken over by Hptm. Helmut Mahlke, who served in the Luftwaffe from 1935 after previous service in the Navy.
In early November 1940, well protected by fighters from III./JG 51 and from Galland's JG 26, Mahlke's unit made three attacks on allied vessels within sight of the British coast. . In mid-November, III./St.G. 1 found itself in an unexpected situation. For organizational reasons, it was incorporated under the fighter command of Luftflotte 2, the so-called Jagdfliegerführer 2 (Jafü 2). Its commander was GenMaj Kurt-Bertram von Döring, a World War I fighter ace.
Mahlke had legitimate doubts about how Jafü 2 would handle leading a bomber unit in attacking vessels. His fears were realized on the first deployment on November 14, 1940. This is a transcript of a communication between the two staffs that began at 1100. The document is part of the St.G. 1 Chronicle in the Bundesarchiv collections:
Jafü 2: “III./St.G.1 will attack: enemy convoy reported to have passed Dover in a north-easterly direction towards the Thames estuary. Fighter escort to join at 1445 on the Channel coast. Do not fly beyond Cape Margate due to limited range of escort fighters.”
III./St.G.1: “When and where was the convoy sighted, how many ships and at what speed?”
Jafü 2: “A formation of ships was sighted at 0900 off Dover, medium speed, easterly course.”
III./St.G.1: “Then the convoy of ships will pass Cape Margate before we reach the target area. We request permission to deploy beyond Cape Margate in this case.”
Jafü 2: “The Cape Margate restriction must be respected at all times.”
III./St.G.1: “What is the alternate target if the ship group is not in the restricted area?”
Jaffa 2: “Then attack the other ships in the Dover-Margate section. If there are no ships there: the alternate target is the radio station at Dover.”
III/St.G.1: “If we get to Margate and then turn towards Dover, we'll have the entire British fighter fleet on our tail! - Which radio station at Dover is to be the alternate target, we have 3 radio stations here in the Dover files.”
Jafü 2: “The one with the mirror” (“Spiegel”, German for mirror, a codename for radar)
III./St.G.1: "Which one is it?”
Jafü 2: “We don’t know that either. We will try to find out and tell you before the take-off. Otherwise, just attack the largest radio station in Dover.”
Just as Mahlke predicted, they did not encounter a single ship on the flight to Margate. The formation of nineteen Stukas then proceeded to Dover, where it was attacked by five RAF squadrons. Some of the Stukas had as many as five enemies on tail. Yet some of them managed to drop bombs on Dover facilities. Stuka gunners claimed two victories and RAF fighters reported 16-4-5 Stuka victories. A number of Stukas were hit, but only two were shot down and three more made emergency landings in France. Galland’s fighter escort arrived at the scene of the engagement 10 to 15 minutes late. Kommodore Galland, CO of 7./JG 26 Oblt. Müncheberg and CO of 9./JG 26 Oblt. Ruppert each claimed one Spitfire. However, the RAF lost only one Spitfire from No. 74 Sqn. and two others from No. 66 Sqn. were damaged.
After a few days, a meeting between the staffs of Jafü 2 and St.G. 1 took place. In the process Mahlke and his commander learned that it was a mistake to disband the formation and try to escape from the Spitfires. After a subsequent exchange of views, Jafü 2 no longer required the deployment of the Stukas, explaining that there were no fighter units available as escorts.
Helmut Mahlke retired in 1970 at the rank of Generalleutnant and had not only 159 combat sorties in the Stuka but also a number of flights in the F-104 Starfighter in his flight log. He is the author of Stuka Angriff: Sturzflug, published in English as Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot.