Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Piotr Forkasiewicz
Surprise over Heesch
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-14/AS with
a number one on the side of the fuselage
was found at the end of the war at Twenthe
airfield in the Netherlands. In the past, there
were disputes about the colour of the stripes
on the fuselage, the colour of the fuselage
number, or whether its serial number was
786930 or 786938. In our kit, we leaned towards some selection of these possibilities.
The machine probably belonged to III./JG 6,
although it lacks the III. Gruppe marking and
the bands on the fuselage, which are rarely documented on this unit, should be three,
two red and a white one in the middle. The
question is how this Messerschmitt got to
this base. Because JG 6 did not have a base
at Twenthe and did not operate in this part of
Europe from early January 1945. It cannot be
ruled out that “1” participated in the attack on
Allied airfields on New Year's Day 1945, the
so-called Operation Bodenplatte.
JG 6 “Horst Wessel” is one of the lesser-known Luftwaffe units. As its combat name
suggests, the I. and II. Gruppe were formed
at Königsberg in July 1944 by the re-designation of I. and II./ZG 26 “Horst Wessel”. Their
pilots switched from twin-engined fighters
to Fw 190s. The III. Gruppe had a different
origin, however, and was formed in October
1944 by the renaming of I./JG 5 “Eismeer”
equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109s. It was
commanded by the well-known fighter pilot Theo Weissenberger, who had 200 aerial
victories to his credit at that time. At the
end of November, he left this unit to join
JG 7 armed with Me 262 jets to take over
its I. Gruppe. He was replaced by Major
Helmut Kühle, who previously commanded
II./JG 52 and before that, in 1943, had the Slovak
13./JG 52 under his command.
The commander of the entire JG 6 was
Austrian Obstlt. Johann Kogler, originally
a Bf 110 pilot and a veteran of the Battle of
Britain. He learned of the plan to attack Allied
airfields at a briefing in early December. The
target of JG 6 was to be the Volkel airbase in
The Netherlands. He briefed some of his officers about the operation and its target and
even had a model of Volkel airfield built so
that the raid could be well prepared. When
the offensive in the Ardennes began to take
place, Kogler was surprised because the order to raid the Allied airfields had not come.
He was even more surprised when the order
eventually came on December 31, 1944, the
raid was to be carried out on New Year's Day.
Everything seemed to be in perfect readiness and three Ju 88 night fighters from
III./NJG 5 were on standby at each Gruppe to
guide the attacking formations to their targets in flight very low over the terrain. The
first wave of the attack was to be carried
out by Focke-Wulfs from I. and II. Gruppe,
while Messerschmitts from III. Gruppe were
to provide altitude cover. The Germans, however, had no idea of the newly built Allied
air bases at Heesch and Helmond, which
were on their flight path to Volkel. During the
flight to the target, the formation even flew,
to the surprise of both sides, over Heesch
airfield, where Canadian Spitfires were based. Moreover, while navigating to Volkel,
where two Wings of Tempests and Typhoons were based, an error was made, and the
JG 6 formation did not find the intended target at all. Instead, I./JG 6 mistakenly attacked
Eindhoven, while II./JG 6 together with
III./JG 6 attacked Helmond also by mistake.
The worst losses were suffered by III./JG 6,
this unit lost 13 of the 20 Messerschmitts
deployed. It was attacked by several Spitfires from No. 401 Squadron RCAF while still
flying towards the target. The German fighters reported the Canadians to Kühle, but he
ordered them to continue to the target. Then
the Canadians managed to shoot down two
Bf 109s. Only then did Kühle order part of his
unit to engage the Spitfires.
After the action, JG 6 claimed the destruction
or damage of 43 aircraft on the ground and
the shooting down of six fighters in the air.
However, the operation ended disastrously for this unit. Kommodore Kogler and
Major Kühle were hit by flak, the Kommodore was captured while the commander
of III./JG 6 was killed. Total 43% of the 77 aircraft deployed were destroyed or damaged.
The unit lost 23 pilots who were killed,
missing, or captured.
JG 6 was withdrawn from combat after this
action in order to be reequipped. Its new
Kommodore was Gerhard Barkhorn, and
it was to fight on the Eastern Front until
the end of the war.