A new base

On the morning of the 13th, 24 A-36s of the 86th FBG were attacking a railway embankment three miles north of Attigliano (on the line from Orte to Orvieto) when their top-cover element was hit by 20-25 Bf 109s and Fw 190s. Oberfeldwebel Hartmann had scrambled from Castiglione at 09.55 and was one of five pilots from 2., 3. and 4./JG 2 to claim a victory in the space of nine minutes. Again this was overclaiming: three of the American aircraft fell in the action, while a fourth was lost after its pilot got back to base at Pomigliano but opted to bail out over the sea rather rather than attempt a crash landing. Rescuers found the parachute but not the pilot. (A fifth A-36 was lost on a later mission that day but to Flak rather than fighters).

From the War Diary of the 526th Fighter Bomber Squadron:

The mission our Squadron flew today proved to be the most disastrous we have experienced. The four pilots who were flying cover were attacked by enemy fighters, outnumbered 5 to 1, and all four failed to return.

Lts. Buchman, Mudrich and Warren were last seen North of Rome, and Lt. Forster, after returning to the field and being cleared twice for a crash landing, announced he was going to bail out in the sea. He was last heard over the Bay of Naples, but a search failed to reveal his whereabouts, and it is believed that he may be the victim of drowning.

All four pilots were later posted as killed in action and a fifth A-36, that of 2nd Lt. John T. McDermott from the 527th FBS, was lost in the same area just minutes later. Flight Officer George Simpson:

McDermott was in blue flight #4 position. We received heavy scattered flak over the target. We pulled out to the Northwest [and he] was last man off the target. we were at approximately 5,000 ft and about 10 miles Northeast of Viterbo … where the flight received very accurate, heavy, medium flak. I received a RT call saying that I had a straggler. I doglegged and found him about 4 miles to our rear. As I saw him the plane was bracketed by flak, then four (4) more passed right under his plane. I did not observe him after that moment. I did not see any parachute.

After this action, Hartmann landed at Plana del Diavolo, one of several satellites of Canino. This was part of a planned transfer and more of the Gruppe’s aircraft made the same move that day at 10.00 hrs., others following next morning (14 March) while an Fw 190 and a Bf 109 arrived in Piacenza from Aix les Milles as replacements, the latter crashing on landing.

Moving to the new base brought the Gruppe about 75 km. closer to the Anzio-Nettuno beach head, giving its aircraft valuable extra time over its main combat arena. At 06.30 hours on the 14th, Hartmann took off in his usual “yellow 10” to escort SG 4 to Nettuno while Sauder flew the same mission in Bf 109 "blue 10"; there was no contact with Allied aircraft and Hartmann landed again at 07.30, Sauder two minutes later. At 11.20–11.22 hours, both were scrambled once more, against a force of B-26s of the 42nd Bomb Wing attacking the Prenestina Marshalling Yards in Rome. Crossing the coast at Fregene at 11.16 hrs., the 320th BG saw two groups of 10–12 enemy fighters flying 5,000 ft. below them. At 11.32, just after breaking away from the target, they were subjected to five minutes of attacks from 8–12 Bf 109s and Fw 190s.

The sole German success was a B-26 claimed by Siegfried Lemke: one 42nd Bomb Wing B-26 was reported missing at the time but no Missing Air Crew Report appears to have been submitted and so it may have been one of two machines that landed away from base to refuel. The 320th BG had no losses but five of its B-26s were damaged by the German fighters and four by cartridge cases falling from the bombers ahead of them in the formation; while taking evasive action one Marauder’s rudder was chewed up by the propeller of another.

The 3./JG 2 lost the Focke-Wulfs of Lt. Rolf Esche (who baled out wounded) and its Staffelkapitän, Adalbert Sommer, who was killed. The escort mission, by 64 Spitfires of 31st FG and the RAF’s 244 Wing, was reported as “without incident” and so the bombers’ gunners were probably responsible the German casualties a Bf 109 destroyed, another probable and four Bf 109s and two Fw 190s damaged.. Another possibility is the P-47s of the 57th FG, out to bomb a rail station, who were intercepted by three Fw 190s and shot down two of them, claims being made by Lts. Donald W. Bell and Walter H. Henson of the 66th FS. Hartmann mentions no Thunderbolts but he does refer to Mustangs (none was actually present) and “18 Spitf. (Jabos).” Spitfires and P-47s might be confused owing to their similar wing planform and the only fighter bombers reporting combat that day were Thunderbolts. Another casualty on the 14th was Uffz. Walter Heiden of 3./JG 2 who died in an accident 1 km east of Castiglione, i.e. in Lake Trasimeno. but there are no further details. Jochen Prien writes that his Fw 190 struck the water and crashed fatally during a workshop flight.

NOTE: Lke Fw. Werner Kilchling, Heiden’s identification number had been issued by 1./JGr. West. He was among the Gruppe’s youngest pilots, having been born on 29 August 1923. Most I./JG 2 pilots killed in Italy had birth dates between 1919 and 1921, the exceptions being Erich Gross (7 November 1923) and Adalbert Sommer (3 December 1914).

Next day, Walter Sauder was scrambled from Diavolo at 14.30 hrs., landing again after 40 minutes. The frequency of these often brief «Alarmstarts» could indicate that aircraft were sent up when hostiles approached either to guard the German base area or simply to avoid being caught on the ground if their airfield was attacked.

On 16 March, the Gruppe flew an early morning escort for SG 4 from Diavolo to the Nettuno beach head where artillery positions were bombed. There was no contact with the enemy and the two “Fw 190s” destroyed by 417 Squadron that day seem to have been Bf 109s of Stab/NAG 11 which were lost with both pilots wounded.

That evening, four pilots ferrying Bf 109s from I./JG 77 to I./JG 2 stopped over with 3./JG 4 at Fabrica di Roma before continuing to Canino on the 17th. Early on the morning of 17 March, 12 Spitfire IXs of 72 Squadron contacted 15-plus Fw 190s approaching Anzio from the mouth of the River Tiber. The Spitfires claimed one probable and two damaged but lost two of their own. Warrant Officer H.G. Turgeon was last seen “mixing it over the sea 5 to 6 miles west of Anzio” while F/Lt. Mayes was hit in the wings and crash landed safely at base. Lemke and Wirtgen claimed a Spitfire each at 06.57 and 07.00 hours respectively.

Landing report: all a/c except 1 Fw 190 landed at 0610 hours [GMT = 07.10 local]. Contact with the enemy. 1 Fw 190 with Uffz. Breitweg lost.

Breitweg evidently survived to rejoin his unit since he was flying with 1./JG 2 during Unternehmen Bodenplatte on 1 January 1945 when he was hit by AA and taken prisoner.

The remaining Focke-Wulfs had not been long on the ground when two of them were scrambled again:

Take-off report: 2 Fw 190 at 0615 hours [GMT] on sighting report. Landing at 0640 hours. Contact with enemy. Battle report follows.

If a battle report did follow, it was not picked up by the Allies. However the surviving lists show that Lemke and Wirtgen each claimed a Spitfire, at 07.23 and 07.24 hours, south and south west of Manciano (GR). Spitfires of the 5th FS, 52nd FG were on reconnaissance north of Talmone (GR) when a Fw 190 hit the cooling system of Lt. Richard A. Ritchings' aircraft, forcing him to bail out.

At 11.20 hours, 18 P-47s of 85th and 86th FS, 79th Fighter Group were escorting B-25s when they met 10-plus Bf 109s, apparently from 4./JG 2. Captain Carl W. Stewart and Lt. Charles W. De Four of 85th FS each claimed a Messerschmitt (Stewart’s was the unit's first with the P-47). In addition, Lt. Earl Maxwell claimed a Bf 109 damaged.

Eight Bf 109s of III./JG 53 were escorting an SG 4 mission over Cassino at this time and reported seeing 6–8 Spitfires but did not engage. For its part, 86th FS reported 15 Bf 109s dive-bombing Cassino but made no further claims.

The 4./JG 2’s only recorded loss was Uffz. Erich Gross. Fliegerführer Luftflotte 2 tried the following afternoon to confirm his fate:

Ref. Me 109 which crashed in HJ8A. What time did this happen and were identity disc, engine or works number found? Possibly Uffz. Gross (Roman) I./2.

NOTE: This map reference is about 2.5 km. NE of Aquino and 34 km. ESE of Frosinone.

A Focke-Wulf of Stab II./SG 4 lost in combat with Spitfires that day can probably be credited to 72 Squadron. The 17th was however the only day on which I./JG 2 was mentioned by name in Ob. SW’s report:

Fighters carried out scrambles, escorts and combating artillery spotters in the Cassino area. Five enemy aircraft were shot down, 4 of them by (Roman) I./JG 2.

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