In Southeastern France, in an area heavily infested by gangs, 268 terrorists were killed in battle.
Das Keine Blatt, Vienna, 24 July 1944
Just 14 Bongart machines took the offensive while another six dropped supplies and evacuated German wounded. (Large quantities of parachute supply containers were later found by the Allies in farm buildings near Valence aerodrome). This is corroborated by a message from Bongart to Luftflotte 3’s Operations Officer at 1115 GMT:
Communication with Battle Group [Kampfgruppe] Schäfer established by infantry troops pushing orward from the South. From this evening it will be possible for Ju 52 to land at Vassieux. The enemy is retiring toward the North. Battle Group Schäfer is following.
Early that morning the Maquis had heard the aeroplanes returning, apparently large ones if their engine noise was a guide. Then small machines again began landing and taking off at Vassieux. In the afternoon a single large plane was heard by Résistants retreating from the Vercors.
Once a link-up with the airborne forces had been accomplished, orders were given for I./Luftlandegeschwader 1 (to which the DFS 230s and their Do 17 tugs belonged) to be withdrawn: a Ltn. Flamm (apparently at Clermont-Ferrand) was told at 13.30 hrs. to move that day, as soon as the weather permitted, to Nancy with all aircraft and material. He was to report completion to "Battle HQ Lyon." It may be relevant that Lyon was the location of a parachute school, Fallschirmschule I. Three days later (i.e. 27 July) a signal was addressed to an Obltn. Menken care of Air Movements Control at either Valence or Lyon. He was informed that 1./LLG 1 had been ordered by “the Gruppe” to return to Nancy with its Do 17s that day at the latest.
The sharply reduced sortie rate was probably attributable to a major Allied raid on Valence-La Trésorerie. Sixty B-24s came over in three waves, between 09.45 and 10.00 hrs. What the Germans described as a “bomb carpet” fell mainly on the edge of the aerodrome, destroying one or two Ju 88 (reports differ) and two Re. 2002 while a Bf 108, a Fi 156 and 15 Ju 88s (probably from II./KG 26) were reported damaged. It was likely that the damage to installations and facilities, rendering the airfield unserviceable, hamstrung the Geschwader that day. The loss of two of its fighter-bombers was a further albeit lesser setback.
Based away from the Allied bombardment, Jagdgruppe 200 was able to fly “gang operations” from Avignon and one of its Messerschmitts may have been responsible for shooting up a Maquis column retreating off the northern side of the plateau..
Anti-terrorist operation in the area east of Valence: contact made with airborne troops; Luftwaffe successfully supported the advance of the Battle Groups.
OB West IA daily report
The 25th saw a partial recovery in the sortie rate with 32 Bongart aircraft operating: 25 of them on “battle tasks and bombing”, the remaining seven on supply and establishing contact with Kampfgruppe Schäfer, the principal air-landing element of the Vercors operation. This last assignment may explain 5 July’s message about the “signals Junkers.” OB West was able to report:
Operation against terrorists in the area east of Valence making further progress. Contact established with airborne troops. The Luftwaffe successfully supported the battle groups’ advance.
The Vercors battle moved into its pursuit and mopping-up phase, characterised by repeated atrocities against civilians and captured Maquis and destruction of homes and farms. Around midday, a comany from Gebirgsjäger-Ersatz-Bataillon I./98 spotted fleeing partisans near Rousset-en-Vercors:
A German plane is circling over the valley. We immediately spread out squares of cloth and fire white rockets. The plane lets us know with a siren blast that it has recognised us. Coming lower into the valley, it releases its bombs and machine guns the enemy with its onboard armament.
Over La Vacherie, an aircraft released seven bombs plus incendiaries but missed its target.
Vercors Operation: enemy resistance to attack from east and south collapsed … Enemy, dissolved into small groups, is seeking to filter through blocking lines, especially to the north west.
OB West IA daily report
Eight of the Geschwader’s aircraft supported the Vercors operation, supplying and maintaining signals contact with Kampfgruppe Schäfer, while 10 bombed Ambert (58 km south east of Clermont-Ferrand) and Avenas (124 km ENE of Clermont). OB West also reported that the Luftwaffe had made an effective attack on a “guerilla assembly” on the plateau 35 km south west of Guéret (and 95 km SSW of Châteauroux). A Ju 88 C-6 of the 11. Staffel suffered minor damage in strking a high-tension line while taxying at Clermont-Ferrand and its wireless operator, Uffz. Hermann Jahn, was hurt.
At 17.30 GMT, six German aircraft passed over the town of Ouroux (in the Rhône Département, 118 km north east of Clermont-Ferrand), turning back to drop several HE and incendiary bombs, some of which fell on surrounding forests while others damaged homes and businesses, shattered church windows. Many inhabitants took refuge in the river culvert during the 45 minutes of bombing and strafing. In addition to the immediate casulaties of the attack, an 11-year old child was killed three weeks later, after disturbing an unexploded bomb.
An intercepted message believed to be from the Fliegerzieldivision to Geschwader Bongart directed that no crews were to be sent to Italy to collect Re. 2002 as (ferrying?) crews were already there.
A German spotter aircraft was active over Saint-Agnan-en-Vercors, firing a flare signal to ground troops. Away from the savagery of the Vercors operation’s aftermath, three of Bongart’s aircraft were used against guerilla forces around Beaujeu, south west of Mâcon on the 27th. The next known operations came two days later when two of the Geschwader’s machines flew reconnaissance and offensive sorties, their location unstated (aircraft are said by Resistance sources to have supported operations against the Maquis on the south western edges of the Vercors). Jagdgruppe 200 was more heavily engaged for once: seven groups of Bf 109s (15 sorties) were up between 07.45 and 21.07 hours, using guns and WGr. 21 mortars in support of German troops fighting guerrillas. This last action may have been the one underway near Gigors above the Drôme Valley (about 107 km ENE of the JGr. 200’s main airfield of Orange-Caritat).
Anti-guerilla flying on the 30th seems to have been left to JGr. 200 (15 sorties) but Geschwader Bongart’s men clashed with the Resistance on the ground. Four 13. Staffel pilots had left their quarters in woodland some way from their airfield (presumably Lissay-Lochy) for a Sunday evening stroll. Safety could no longer be taken for granted and the group—Fw. Otto Schild, Ofw. Karl Fritz, Ofw. Kraus and Ofw. Weitzberg—were carrying side arms and a flare pistol. Near Arçay (Cher), shortly before they got back to their billets, they came under automatic fire and sought cover. As well as shooting back, they shot off a distress signal to alert their comrades, a rescue party arriving within 15 minutes, armed with grenades and machine guns. The Resistance fighters withdrew into the woods and the Germans gave chase. On regrouping, they realised Schild was missing and returned to the ambush site only to find him dead, pistol in hand. Karl Fritz, closest to Schild when they all took cover, had not heard him cry out nor noticed anything else to indicate that his comrade had been hit. Otto Schild was buried with full military honours in Bourges but reinterred in the German cemetery at Dagneux after the war.
The circumstances of his death were set out in letters of condolence to his widow from his two comradesas well as Staffelkapitän, Obltn. Eckart Higgelke. These letters pay the customary tributes to a valued comrade and offer some insights into Bongart’s operations. Schild had carried out 18 combat sorties and four “front flights” (not involving contact with the enemy), some or all with the Re 2002. He had taken part in “operations in Southern France” not long before his death, the timing suggesting that these were over the Vercors Plateau.
Jagdgruppe 200 also put up 12 ground attack sorties on the last day of the month, whereas Geschwader Bongart managed just two. In addition the 31st also brought the promise of reinforcements, “Airfield 252” in north eastern Italy advising Lyon’s Air Movement Control that Re. 2002 MM 5217, 5220, 5221, 5222, 5224 and 5225 had departed between 11.05 and 11.08 hrs. Bongart pilots seem to have been involved in these deliveries since Fw. Lach later wrote that he had been in Italy for a week at the end of July.
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