In 1968 or ’69, I was with my parents travelling through France to a holiday in Spain. We’d stopped in Limoges and there, on a plinth in the Bishop’s Gardens, was a wingless aircraft carrying faded German crosses. A plaque said that it had been brought down by the Resistance in 1944 and I thought it was something Italian but it wasn’t until I got home and could look it up that I knew that it was a Reggiane Re. 2002. This article is by way of following up that first encounter.
This piece is rooted in the work of several researchers. After I started using ULTRA and Signals Intelligence material in 1987, I came across mentions of Geschwader Bongart, a unit I’d never heard of previously, which flew the Re. 2002; and I read Rémi Baudru’s article about that machine in Jet&Prop magazine in 1992.
In 1999, Jean-Louis Roba wrote in Barry Rosch’s Luftwaffe Verband Journal about the Geschwader, prompting Larry de Zeng and me to respond separately with what we knew. Jean-Louis knew about Bongart himself; I had some intercepted material and captured aircraft reports; Larry outlined the Geschwader’s organisational history; Jim Crow contributed a number of photos of its Re. 2002s.
Geoff Thomas and I corresponded about the unit and his extensive research into the Vercors operation (in which its aircraft participated) appeared in 2003, in his book on KG 200 (completed by Barry Ketley after Geoff’s untimely death). In 2005, Andrew Arthy wrote an article on Bongart for his website, including entries from III./SG 4’s war diary covering that Gruppe’s brief spell of operations alongside Geschwader Bongart (something my own notes from the same source hadn’t included — in 1990 I didn’t foresee writing this article).
The Geschwader cropped up several times in my researches for the articles here on Operation Dragoon, Jagdgruppe 200 and Sonderstaffel Kaatsch, so I thought I’d put together what I’ve got. To give it a wider context, I’ve also tried to incorporate or link to my other research which alludes to anti-Resistance operations by the Luftwaffe over the French interior in summer 1944. My suspicion is that the record of Bongart’s operations is unlikely ever to be complete although much might yet be pieced together in France from documentation of the Resistance’s engagements with the occupying forces.
Finally, a warning about the terminology here. To the Germans, the irregular forces they fought in France were variously “partisans”, “gangs” or “terrorists” while the formations they used to counter them frequently had “security” in their titles. Where I reproduce that historic language, that does not imply that I accept the Germans’ evaluation of their own or their opponents’ moral standing or tactics. Also, the French Resistance was never a monolithic organisation, even after it was ostensibly unified as the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur) and nor was it entirely French, numbering Spanish Republicans, Allied evaders, German anti-fascists and more among its ranks. I have used the terms Resistance, FFI and Maquis as ones generally applicable to inusrgents in the mainly rural parts of France under discussion but I recognise that some of the groups concerned may have had more specific (e.g. Communist or Gaullist) loyalties.
Before sophisticated simulators existed, air defences — fighters, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, observer posts, radar — needed live practice to be effective. This called for aerial targets to calibrate equipment on, to search for, to track and to shoot at. In September 1943, the Luftwaffe organised a Fliegerzieldivision (Air Target Division) of three Geschwader commanded by the former Stuka pilot and Ritterkreuzträger, Oberst Oskar Dinort. The divisional HQ was in Wenigenlupnitz (a village about 11 km ENE of Eisenach) and so it may have made use of Eisenach-Kindel airfield, 1 km further east. In February 1944, command of Fliegerzielgeschwader 2 was taken over by Oberst Frhr. Hermann-Josef von dem Bongart who, until the previous October, had been Kommandeur of III./KG 55.
Aerial “policing” (i.e. bombardment) of rebellious colonial populations had developed in the 1920s, the RAF being notable exponents. In the occupied USSR and Yugoslavia, the Luftwaffe had established formations to fight guerillas, the Behelfs- and Stör- Kampstaffeln. This example was not followed France, although sabotage and insurgency became an increasing problem after the German occupation of the Vichy zone in November 1942 and the imposition of compulsory labour service in February 1943. Nor was the opportunity taken in autumn 1943 to create a Nachtschlachtgeschwader in France when Luftflotte 2 in Italy was given one. When an anti-partisan unit was finally established, the Luftwaffe turned to Fliegerzielgeschwader 2: Geschwader Bongart is said to have been formed in April 1944 out of its Stab, III. and IV. Gruppen but the new name was used in combination with the old Gruppe and Staffel numbers throughout the summer. An early indication of his Geschwader’s activity in France came on 27 January 1944 when a Naval Liaison Officer signalled that an He 46 would be taking off from Nantes on a target flight off Saint Nazaire. An He 111 would carry out a similar task over the port that afternoon. Bongart himself had been in France as early as July 1940 when (as a Major) he was mentioned as Liaison Officer with “G.L.Z., Paris-Villacoublay.”
I have no idea exactly when Luftwaffe aircraft were first used against the French Resistance, only that the means, motive and opportunity had been present from the moment that Maquisards first gave trouble in a rural area under German occupation. Once ground troops were sent against Resistance fighters in rugged countryside, air support would have become valuable whether for reconnaissance or in an offensive role. The turning point seems to have been in early 1944 when the Wehrmacht (as opposed to the Vichy forces and the various German “security” services) began a succession of campaigns against regional Maquis groups.
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