When, in the second half of 1944, the Luftwaffe concluded that they
couldn’t effectively use twin engine bombers in daytime operations
pretty much anywhere anymore, they began pondering how to use
the freed up crews. Several bomber units, including KG 27, were
picked to supply pilots destined for conversion on to single engine
Bf 109s and Fw 190s. From the end of the year, they also carried
modified designations, and in the case of Boelcke, the identifier
was KG(J) 27, where the ‘J’ stood for ‘Jagd’, meaning ‘fighter’. One
of the priorities of the leadership was to use experienced bomber
pilots under unfavorable weather conditions. Their experience in
twin-engined flying was also to be used to advantage in further
conversion to the jet powered Me 262.
During the last months of the war, individual components of KG(J)
27 were based at the Austrian fields of Wels, Raffelding and Hörsching. Stab I. and II. Gruppe were equipped with the Bf 109, while
the III. Gruppe had the Fw 190 A. In March, 1945, the former bomber
pilots first began to mix it up with enemy fighters. Quick identification markings in the form of green and white squares also began
to appear on KG(J) 27 aircraft.
. Photo: Photographer's notes and Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group pilots
The Red Tails Versus The Squared Bands
Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., 332nd FG Commander, led his unit on
March 31st, 1945, to the area around Munich, with the task of hitting
trains and other rail assets in Bavaria and northern Austria. It reached the target area after noon with 43 aircraft, and he separated
his unit into three parts, which subsequently destroyed seven locomotives and several rail cars between Munich, Regensburg and
Linz. The air combat that followed brought the 332nd FG the most
air to air kills recorded on a single day.
Not far from Landshut, the 99th FS was jumped by five Bf 109s and
a single Fw 190. The Americans were able to bring down all of their
adversaries, but during the combat, they lost 2/Lt. Frank N. Wright,
who apparently lost control of his Mustang ‘Tall In The Saddle’. His
aircraft went into a spin during a tight turn and Wright was unable
Photograph shows members of the 332nd FG, from left to right: Robert W. Williams,
William H. Holloman (leather cap), Ronald W. Reeves (cloth cap), Christopher W. Newman
(leather cap), Walter M. Downs (flight cap). Williams, in combat with KG(J) 27 on 31st
March 1945, shot down two 190s and damaged one. Holloman later served in the Vietnam
War. Reeves was killed in a crash in Italy on 24th March 1945, apparently due to fuel
exhaustion. Newman flew 84 combat sorties in World War II and added 97 more during
the Korean War.
to recover. The identity of the German unit remains unknown, but
it may have been an operational training unit.
Their colleagues of the 100th FS were searching out locomotives
further to the east, near Wels in Austria. The Luftwaffe countered with sixteen fighters from KG(J) 27 at Wels, Vöcklabruck and
Traunsee. This counter force included a dozen Bf 109s from I. and
II. Gruppe and a quartet of Fw 190s from III. Gruppe.
One of the American pilots perished in this area. It was 2/Lt. Arnett
W. Starks, flying ‘Cool Fool’. His colleague, 2/Lt. Conrad A. Johnson
lost contact with him at 1430h during an attack on ground targets
at Vöcklamarkt. According to witnesses, Starks had attempted to
hit a farmer with horses in the field, but he crashed into a building
not far from the railroad station.
Ten minutes later, both units engaged in combat, and the Americans came out as clear victors. Although the Germans initiated the
fight with the Red Tails rather aggressively at a height of around
3,000 feet, they fell into disarray during the fight and the P-51 pilots
prevented them from operating as a cohesive unit.
Without a single loss, the Americans claimed five Fw 190s and
a pair of Bf 109s confirmed, one Fw 190 as a probable, and two
Fw 190s with a single Bf 109 as damaged. The most successful of
the pilots were 1/Lt. Robert W. Williams, who downed two Fw 190s
and damaged another, and 2/Lt. Bertram W. Wilson, Jr., who got
one confirmed Fw 190 and one damaged. One Fw 190 was shot
down by 1/Lt. Roscoe C. Brown. Williams and Wilson were awarded
the Distinguished Flying Cross for this event. Williams wrote in his
"I dived into a group of enemy aircraft’s, I shot off a few short
bursts. My fire hit the mark and the enemy aeroplane fell off and
tumbled to the ground. On pulling away from my victim, I found
another enemy aeroplane on my tail. To evade his guns, I made a
steep turn. Just as I had turned, another enemy fighter shot across
the nose of my aeroplane. Immediately, I began firing at him."
On the German side, three aircraft were lost, one went missing
and one was damaged. One pilot was killed and one injured. Pilots
from KG(J) 27 were initially quite optimistic in their reporting of
kills, claiming six Mustangs. But the daily operational reports of
the Luftwaffe from April 1st, 1945 from this event list one kill and
two probably damaged.
At the beginning of April, KG(J) 27 was disbanded and her assets were distributed among other fighter units. A segment of the
pilots were reassigned to Rammkommando Elbe, which was to
conduct Taran attacks against enemy bombers.
But prior to that, the 332nd FG and KG(J) 27 would meet up one
more time, on April 1st, 1945. Again, this came about during a
search and destroy mission of rail targets in Austria. In combat
with eight P-51s from the 301st FS, the Germans lost four aircraft
and another seven were damaged. Three pilots were lost and one
was MIA. Members of the 301st FS claimed twelve destroyed fighters with a further two damaged. Three confirmed kills were
claimed by 1/Lt. Harry T. Stewart.
The Americans lost three aircraft and two pilots in this fight. James
Fischer crash landed in Yugoslavia and was saved by partisans.
F/O William P. Armstrong was killed south of Hörsching and 2/Lt.
Walter P. Manning was taken prisoner. He was held by members
of KG(J) 27 right from the base at Hörsching. Unfortunately, he
was taken out by two Luftwaffe NSDAP officers on the night of 3/4
of April, lynched and hanged.
After the war, this incident was not investigated until the issue
was pushed by Austrian historians who published its details in
2013. In April, 2018, a memorial to Manning was erected at the base
in Vogler. Not only were the Austrian Minister of Defense, the Chief
of the Air Force, and Commander of the Ground Forces present
for the ceremony, but so was one of the participants of the battle,
namely one Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Harry T. Stewart.
INFO Eduard - June 2021