Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Kateřina Borecká
Fourth of July over the Netherlands
The boxart of Eduard’s September release
depicts the fight of Uffz Johannes Rathenow
with the British Boston formation on July 4,
1942, over the Netherlands. This was the first
victory of IV./JG 1, which later became I./JG 1,
re-equipped with Heinkel He 162 jets at the
end of the war. However, the German unit did
not come unscathed out of the engagement.
The crews of No. 226 Squadron RAF, armed
with Bostons III, were joined in the spring of
1942 by some personnel of the American 15th
BS of the 27th BG. The Yanks were to learn
low-altitude bombing tactics from their British counterparts. The first joint mission was
scheduled for the morning of July 4, 1942.
Twelve aircraft were prepared for the raid on
the airfields in the Netherlands, including six
with American crews. Their targets were De
Kooy, Haamstede, Valkenburg and Bergen-op-Zoom. The latter airfield, where IV./JG
1 was based, was attacked by P/O Charles
M. Henning, F/Lt. Robert A. Yates-Earl and
American 2/Lt. William G. Lynn Jr.
Bostons have hit hangars and dispersals of
IV./JG 1 few minutes after 8 am. Their bombs
severely damaged a Bf 109F “White 11” of
10./JG 1, killing one mechanic and injuring
two others. However, the aircraft piloted by
2/Lt. Lynn crashed within the airfield, apparently after being hit by flak. The flak also hit
Henning's machine, but he managed to drop
his load and continued flying.
Just after the bombs were dropped, Yates-Earl spotted a Bf 109 in front of him.
He scored hits from his front guns, follo-
wed by gunfire at point-blank range by his
rear gunner, Sgt. Leaver. The stricken Bf 109
F-4/Z (WNr. 7423) marked “White 9” crashed
into one of the airfield buildings and its pilot,
Uffz. Erwin Grütz of 10./JG 1, was killed.
The pair of Bostons were pursued by a plane
which was leaving a black smoke trail. The
British thought it was the same one they had
hit over the airfield, but it was a different aircraft. Behind the controls of this plane was
Uffz. Johannes Rathenow of 10./JG 1 and the
engine of his machine was apparently running in short-term power boost mode. He
managed to catch up with the Bostons over
the sea and concentrated his fire on the
damaged aircraft manned by 20-year-old
P/O Henning. The British machine burst into
flames, disintegrated, and the navigator, P/O
Percy J. Voyzey as well as the radio operator/gunner, Sgt. Herbert T. Willig, were killed
along with their pilot.
A victorious Rathenow is depicted in a series
of photographs with the Fw 190 “White 12”,
which show him in high spirits after this first
victory, including a jump from the edge of
the cockpit to the ground. The images have
been described as such in several publications. The problem is that the war correspondent made them in late July 1942. On July 4
Rathenow was still flying a Bf 109. It may
have been his personal Bf 109F “white 4” with
the Susi inscription under the cockpit.
In March 1942, the Luftwaffe established the
IV./JG 1 for a second time. Most of the original IV Gruppe had been incorporated into
JG 5 in northern Europe shortly before. The
new IV./JG 1 was formed largely from several operational training units. From the end
of April, it was gradually moved from Germany to various bases in the Netherlands.
It was armed with a varied mix of different versions of the Bf 109E and F fighters.
At the end of June, it was assigned seventeen Fw 190A-2s and fifteen Fw 190A-3s.
However, these were in Germany with Übernahmekommando Rotenburg in Mönchen
Gladbach, at which IV./JG 1 was gradually
rearmed with the Fw 190s from mid-July
1942. The transformation was accompanied by a number of problems with malfunctioning BMW engines. When parts of
IV./JG 1 with Fw 190s began to move to Deelen in the Netherlands at the end of July, the
last Bf 109E’s were still to be seen alongside
the new Focke-Wulfs. For the rest of 1942,
IV./JG 1 over the Netherlands and Germany mostly encountered reconnaissance
Mosquitos, but occasionally got into combat
with Spitfires, Bostons or Wellington bombers.
Johannes Rathenow later scored a number
of successes in combat against American
four-engined bombers. He was killed on
November 3, 1943, in fight with Boeing B-17s
and their escorting P-38 fighters of the 55th
FG over Germany. His aircraft exploded after shots fired probably by Lightning pilots
Major Milton Joel and 2/Lt. Willard L. Kreft.