Sharks over Crete

Text: Jan Bobek

Illustration: Antonis Karydis

The Bf 110 was the fighter plane with the

best victory/loss ratio in the Battle of

Britain. This aircraft also performed well

in attacks on ground targets. It continued

in both roles as I. and II./ZG 26 took part in

the attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. The

fighting over Greece culminated on April

20, 1941, with an aerial battle over Athens in

which the most successful Western Allied

fighter pilot, South African Pat Pattle, was

killed by a Bf 110. He had more than 50 victories to his credit.

Due to the impending invasion of Crete,

I. and II./ZG 26 were tasked with attacking

the island's defences and vessels in its

vicinity. They were reinforced by II./ZG 76,

which moved to Argos airfield. Due to the

paintings of shark mouths on the noses of

their aircraft, they were known as the Haifischgruppe. Its commander was Maj. Erich

Groth and one of his Staffelkapitäne was

Hans-Joachim Jabs, the most successful

Bf 110 fighter pilot of the Battle of Britain.

He later became a successful night fighter

with 50 victories. He was awarded Knight's

Cross with Oak Leaf for his combat efforts.

The defences of Crete were very strong and

Allied airmen as well as gunners on land

and in ships inflicted heavy losses to the

attackers. The first appearance of Bf 110s

over Crete was probably on May 11, when

five aircraft from II./ZG 76 strafed Heraklion airfield. The Bofors gunners opened fire, but due to late warning only one

Gladiator from No. 112 Squadron RAF took


INFO Eduard

off. Its pilot claimed a probable kill. Three

days later, however, the Germans suffered

a noticeable loss. A dozen aircraft from

II./ZG 26 flew to Heraklion, where they

came under fire from the Bofors gunners,

and were also attacked by two Gladiators

from 1430 Flight. New Zealander P/O Jerry Westenra managed to hit a low-flying

Bf 110 which crashed into the sea off the

coast. Bofors gunners also claimed this

victory. None of the crew survived. The pilot of the aircraft was Oblt. Sophus Baagoe

of 5./ZG 26, a 14 victory ace. He was one of

the pilots who may have killed Pat Pattle

three weeks earlier over Athens. Another

Bf 110 crash landed near the airfield after

hits from Bofors and its crew was captured.

On the day of the invasion of Crete, May 20,

1941, 4./ZG 26 lost its commander Oblt. Reinhold Heubel. In the afternoon, the Bf 110s

of II./ZG 26 were to destroy the remaining

Bofors positions at Heraklion. However,

valiant Bofors gunners shot down two

Bf 110s, killing Heubel, and capturing the

other crew.

The Bf 110s were also targeting vessels,

as illustrated by Antonis Karydis in the

illustration, portraying the aircraft of

Hans-Joachim Jabs of II./ZG 76, which

achieved excellent results during the fighting at Crete. Even a small vessel could be

a dangerous target. On May 21, 1941, near

Suda Bay, the Kommandeur of I./ZG 26,

Hptm. Wilhelm Makrocki, who was a Kni-

ght's Cross recipient and an ace with nine

kills, attacked the small coastal patrol

vessel Syvern. During the first attack, he

killed one sailor by gunfire and wounded

all the others. He continued to attack with

his Bf 110 and men on the Syvern bravely

fired small arms. During the sixth attack,

one ammunition box on board exploded,

debris hit the Bf 110, which in turn struck

the mast and crashed into the sea. Not only

did Makrocki died, but also his gunner, war

correspondent Hptm. Heinrich Eisgruber,

who served in the 3. Bayerisches Infanterie-Regiment during the First World War.

Syvern eventually reached the coast.

While on patrol on May 31, about 25 km

north of Kissamos Bay the Kapitän of

2./ZG 26, Hptm. Karl Heindorf, tried to get

into firing position behind a Maryland bomber. But he was hit from behind by Lt. Jim

Williams of No. 24 Sqn. SAAF in another

Maryland and was shot down in flames into

the sea.

During the two weeks of fighting for Crete,

the Germans lost more than twenty Bf 110s

and most of their crews. A considerable number of Bf 110s were damaged. The

pilots in the cockpits of the Bf 110s suffered from poor air and sea rescue service.

Many of them ditched in the sea but were

left without help. ZG 26 lost six commanding or staff officers in this short period,

which was comparable with the intensity

of losses in the Battle of Britain.

September 2022