A Luftwaffe ‘Jagdgeschwader’ or fighter wing usually consisted of 3 Gruppes or Units made up of approx. 3 or 4 Staffels (Squadrons) of between 12 - 16 aircraft along with their ground support crews..
One of the most successful of these fighter wings was the Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52), which by the close of hostilities in Europe, had claimed more than 10,000 enemy aircraft - all predominantly in variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
By the end of 1940 after playing a lead role in both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, JG 52 had claimed a total of 177 enemy aircraft, but those victories had come at significant cost, with 53 pilots killed or captured in the Battle of Britain alone.
In comparison to other Luftwaffe fighter wings, JG52’s kill/loss ratio was pretty unremarkable for the period, but once the Jagdgeschwader were transferred to the Eastern Front in support of Hitler’s invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa), this ratio was to change dramatically.
Prior to the commencement of Barbarossa, the German Army had been split into three autonomous groups with Army Group North and Central pushing deep into Soviet territory toward Leningrad and Moscow.
JG 52 were tasked with supporting Army Group South which were advancing from the South along the Volga River in an attempt to draw off Soviet forces in the North leaving Leningrad and Moscow exposed.
From the war's outset, the Soviet Airforce had been severely hampered by antiquated aircraft and poorly trained pilots - the perfect conditions for the German fighter wings to amass huge personal scores of aircraft downed. By early September 1941, JG 52 had chalked up their 500th air victory.
Nine months later in the face of desperate and unrelenting Soviet resistance, the German Army’s advance north into Russia had stalled outside Moscow with the onset of winter.
Moscow had been saved by her winter snows, so it was not unreasonable to assume that come the Russian summer, the Germans would continue their push toward the Soviet capital but to everyone’s surprise, the German army turned south toward Stalingrad on the Volga River, catching the Russian army completely off guard.
In reality, the German lines had been stretched more than everyone had realised and both they and German industry had been finding themselves starved of fuel. Whoever controlled Stalingrad had immediate access to the oil fields of the Caucasus.
The race was on.
The siege of Stalingrad...
Spilt into two groups, armoured Panzer divisions of XIVth sprinted toward the Volga and succeeded in pushing Soviet forces back whilst the 4th Panzer group pushed deep into the Caucasus before once again turning toward Stalingrad. In effect the city was besieged on all sides but both armoured groups found themselves too far apart to adequately support each other.
In the first 48 hrs of the battle for Leningrad, the Luftwaffe were to drop some 1000 tonnes on the city. All Soviet citizens were called upon to defend their city to the last man woman and child with the Stalingrad Tractor factory churning out T-34 Soviet Tanks right up until the German troops overran the factory.
Whilst the German Army fought their way through the outskirts of Stalingrad, the Russians, bolstered by the arrival of US Lend Lease P-39 Airacobras and a number of Hawker Hurricanes and Mk V Spitfires from Britain were busy planning a counterattack.
Although the US had not officially entered the war in Europe, US ammunition and supplies including tanks, artillery and aircraft were pouring into the Arctic ports of Archangel and Murmansk. Resupplied and reinvigorated, the Soviets started to look for a weakness in the German lines surrounding Stalingrad.
They found it in the German Army’s southern flanks where under resourced and ill equipped Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allied forces were struggling to hold the line
On 19 November, Soviet forces launched Operation Uranus which broke through the German southern lines and led to the encirclement of Axis forces laying siege to Stalingrad. The German High Command were completely stunned - the hunters had now become the hunted.
Hitler declared that his Army would never surrender and the 6th Panzer Division, arriving from recent victories in the French lowlands supported by the Luftwaffe, pushed north to break through the Soviet lines and allow the trapped German 6th infantry to attempt a breakout.
It was to be a disastrous and futile exercise as the relieving armoured divisions simply did not have the fuel or manpower to reach their comrades in time and on the 31st of January 1943, German Gen. Friedrich Paulus, Commander in Chief of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad surrendered to the Soviets.
The remnants of the 6th Panzer Division and the Southern Army were pushed relentlessly south until they were finally able to regroup and take up heavily reinforced defensive positions across the Kuban River Delta on the Taman peninsula between the Sea of Azoov and the Black Sea.
Elements of JG 52 had been used to support the attempted break out of the 6th Army trapped at Stalingrad but with the 6th Army’s surrender, the entire fighter wing found themselves retreating to the more secure German-held airfields just south of the Taman peninsula and it was there that they too dug in and readied themselves for the Soviet assault on what was to become known as the Kuban Bridgehead.
The Gustav G...
JG 52 had only just received the new Bf-109 G ‘Gustav’ variants which featured the more powerful 1,455 HP DB 605 engine and updated armament packages.
The previous F series had abandoned the wing mounted cannons of previous 109s in favour of concentrating all fire power in the aircraft’s nose with a pair of synchronised machine guns above and a single 15 or 20 mm mounted cannon behind the engine, the latter firing between the cylinder banks and through the propeller hub. The series G built on these innovations with the addition of additional underwing armament points and increasing the nose cannon to 30 mm and machine guns from 13 to 17 mm.
Tasked with defending the Kuban Bridgehead JG 52 were joined by JG 54 which included the elite Udet, Molders and Green Hearts Jadgeschwander groups. Equipped with the Focke Wulfs 190s and the Henschel Hs 129 ground-attack aircraft, together the Luftwaffe fielded a combined force of some 1000 aircraft operating from highly fortified bases along the northern borders of the Crimea.
Stationed so close to the front, and operating from well maintained and resourced airfields, the German Air Wings had a significant advantage over the Soviet airforce who, even with new US and British Built aircraft and equipment and the arrival of the reconfigured YAK 9, were based far from the Kuban Peninsular, often on the other side of the Caucasus Mountains operating from temporary makeshift muddy airfields with very little ground support.
What the Luftwaffe had not factored in however was the newly found confidence, aggression and radically changed tactics of the Soviet pilots.
Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov, the Red Army’s Chief Marshal of Aviation had reorganised the airforce into separate divisions and air corps for more efficient frontline coordination and had for the first time, introduced the use of radio to coordinate his bomber and fighter squadrons whilst also adopting the Luftwaffe style ‘4 plane' formations and offensive fighter sweeps.
The stage was set for one of the most intense but little known, major air battles of WWII and even though it lasted only two months it was to create some of the most respected Soviet air aces of the war.
Aircraft wheeled across the sky from dawn to dusk with the battles fought with such ferociousness that the Russian General K. V. Vershinin, the main Soviet Air Commander of the sector, claimed on some days he could see an aircraft fall every ten minutes, and it was not unusual for as many as 100 air battles to take place in a day.
At the end of the first week the peninsula was littered with burning aircraft wreckage as Soviet and German pilots struggled to down the other in fierce air battles across the Crimean skies.
Constantly on the move, JG 52 now operated from makeshift and temporary airstrips close to the rapidly contracting frontline - often in danger of being overrun by Russian armoured spearheads.
Ultimately however, it was a battle the Luftwaffe could not win as the Soviet aircraft were being constantly replaced by their US and British allies and German aircraft and pilot reinforcements that should have been sent were now being diverted to Southern Europe and North Africa where Rommel’s forces had also found themselves on the retreat.
What the Jagdgeschwaders were able to achieve, was to buy precious time for the German forces to use their defensive line to stage a successful full front withdrawal back to the Caucasus and thereby salvaging their armoured divisions and infantry units, moving some 239,669 soldiers, 16,311 casualties, 27,456 civilians, and 115,477 tons of equipment across the Strait of Kerch.
By the end of the battle on the 7th June 1943 when German forces were finally expelled from the peninsular, the Soviets had claimed a total of 1100 German aircraft destroyed and whilst the Soviet air losses are calculated at over double that, the air war had finally turned against the Luftwaffe.
An amazing original...
This is an original battle damaged Bf 109 G port side Exhaust Stub, retrieved from a downed Luftwaffe Bf 109 G4 fighter buried in the mud along the banks of the Kuban River on the Taman Peninsula.
It is almost impossible to pin down exactly which Staffel this BF 109G flew with as the wreckage was reported to have been incinerated with only the engine block, some undercarriage components and some partial wing framing recovered.
Given that JG 52 received the bulk of the BF 109G’s and flew that aircraft exclusively it would be a safe bet that it has come from Jagdgeschwader 52 - the Unit of Germany’s top three fighter aces of the war; Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn and Günther Rall.
Mounted on its 100 yr old Mango Wood stand with a highly detailed hand crafted and airbrushed model of the iconic German fighter the Messerschmitt Bf 109G and informative Fact Sheet, this would make an extraordinary and highly valued, original memento of one of the most fiercely fought air-battles of WWII.
This Bf 109 collectable comes complete with detailed 1/72 or larger 1/48 Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of collectable on aircraft.
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