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Escorts to Cassino

The Gruppe flew an early morning "direct escort" for SG 4to Cassino on 18 March, Lemke claiming a Spitfire and Uffz. Bielohlawek another. One was also claimed by Lt. Bruhe of 5./SG 4 at an altitude of just 20 metres. Another mission to Cassino late in the afternoon—apparently escorted by I./JG 2, III./JG 53 and II./JG 77—also ran into opposition. The I./JG 2 again claimed two Spitfires and Lt. Kulpa of Stab II./SG 4 another. In fact, the 31st FG lost only one destroyed and one damaged from the 112 sorties it put up that day while claiming six Fw 190s and a Bf 109 destroyed; an Fw 190 probable; and four Fw 190s damaged. Unteroffizier Kuno Dollenmaier of 4./JG 2 was killed, as were a pilot from Stab II./SG 4 and one from 8./JG 53. Information about Dollenmaier's whereabouts was sought in a signal issued at 19.30 hrs. that evening. The same message asked whether anyone had seen a Thunderbolt crash at 12.52 hours between Roccasecca dei Volsci and Cassino. The aircraft had been had last been seen falling and giving off light-coloured smoke after being shot up by fighters but does not seem to correspond in type or timing to any known loss in air-to-air combat in this area, either on the 18th or the day before.

1/Lt. Carroll A. Pryblo:

I was leading a section of four aircraft on patrol of the Cassino area on 18 March 1944, with Lt O’Brien as my wing man. At approximately 1730 hours, I was flying over Ceprano in pursuit of enemy aircraft and I noticed Lt O’Brien’s aircraft still in position and apparently perfectly all right. A minute or two later Lt O’Brien contacted me by radio saying he was no longer with me. I looked around but could not find his plane. Nothing was seen or heard of Lt O’Brien after that.

Among the USAAF claims were two by the 308th FS (one of these by 1/Lt. Richard Hurd) and two by the 307th FS. Later in the day, 307th FS made two more claims, one of them by Pryblo.

British and American Spitfires had several engagements with hostile aircraft, over Cassino, Anzio and Ortona on the Adriatic coast on the 19th. The MATAF operations/intelligence summary’s verdict was “enemy throughout day not aggressive” yet the prolific Lemke claimed to have shot down three more Spitfires in the course of the following morning and Lt. Großfuß (who was awarded the Ehrenpokal during March) claimed another. All these actions were reported as occurring north west of Rome.

According to Luftwaffe disposition maps, I./JG 2's strength on 20 March was 19 (8) aircraft.

Activity was limited on 21 March: 20 Bf 109s of III./JG 53 scrambled at about 15.15 against an Allied formation north of Orbetello but did not make contact and the Gruppe reported that a ground attack operation was flown against heavy motor transport south of Cassino. According to an Ultra decrypt, one victory was claimed by III./JG 53 on the 21st.

The 31st FG had two contacts with small groups of Bf 109s, claiming an over-optimistic 4–0–1. At 07.05, 1/Lt. John C. Gfeller (307th FS) claimed to have damaged a "109E" from a pair encountered over Anzio.

At 14.05 1/Lt Lawrence N. Guarino (308th FS) claimed another "109E" near Pontecorvino; 2/Lt. James A. Jacobs claimed one in the Cassino area, and apparently also at this time, 2/L.t Youngblood N.H. Ricks claimed one as well. Two more were claimed in the Pignataro Interamna (FR) area by Lt Richard F. Hurd.

From 4./JG 2, Uffz. Hermann Kämmlein was killed in combat with six Spitfires, 7 km south of Cassino. North east of Rome, a Spitfire was claimed by Fw. Herbert Penz of the 2. Staffel at 09.34 hours.

Intelligence

Unteroffizier Helmut Kölbach of 4./JG 77 was shot down and captured on the 22nd (he had already been shot down over German-held territory on the 19th) telling his interrogators about:

The new FW 190 Gruppe I./JG 2, which has operated successfully for three weeks in Italy is reported to have 40 victories to its credit, amongst them 4-engined Allied bombers. The armament is said to include, besides two 13mm MG 131, 4 cannon MG 151 of 20 mm. These cannon are distributed as follows: two in the upper part of the nose, and two in the wing roots.

From the body of a pilot thought to be from I./JG 77, Allied Intelligence retrieved a list of callsigns which “confirm the presence in Italy of I./JG 2.” These were Trommelfell (ear drum), Mansarde (attic) and Pilatus (Pilate) and were thought to be used at different times of the month. The fighter control station in the south was Bleistift (pencil).

Oberfeldwebel Hartmann flew a mission to Cassino on the afternoon of the 23rd, looking for artillery spotter aircraft but finding none owing to the bad weather which also prevented any ground attack operations by Fliegerführer 2 that day.

Thunderbolts

The next known combat by the Gruppe was on 24 March when 57th FG ‘s P-47s flew armed reconnaissances of German lines of communication in the Rome-Orte-Orvieto area, strafing and damaging a locomotive and rolling stock and bombing a bridge. The 64th FS ran into I./JG 2 (reported as 10 Bf 109s and Fw 190s) and at 11.18 Rudolf Wirtgen ,shot one of them down Uffz. Walter Jürling accounting for another, a minute later. After this engagement, Lt. Towner was found to be missing, presumed shot down. In return, Lt. William F. Nuding claimed a Fw 190 shot down north of Rome and Lt. Robert B. Abercrombie another one damaged.

P-47s of the 79th FG's 85th FS were bounced by 12 Bf 109s, with a reported eight Fw 190s as top cover and Lt. Ward Pringle was lost, last being seen with two Bf 109s on his tail. Two more of the American fighters were damaged. The only Bf 109 victory claim against a P-47 that day came from III./JG 53 at 12.15 hours, so there is a perhaps a question mark over the Americans' identification of the top cover element as Fw 190s.

Scrambles and an escort

Unteroffizier Walter Sauder had not flown for nine days when he scrambled from Diavolo in his "3" at 09.03 hrs. on 27 March. This appears to have been uneventful for he was on the ground after 37 minutes, only to take off again two hours later, this time for a flight lasting twice as long.

His Flugbuch for the 29th records that he escorted at Rotte of Fw 190s on a one-hour reconnaissance sortie to Cassino from 14.20 hours. It is not easy to identify this operation from the surviving records of either side although 15 Focke-Wulfs of I./SG 4 took off for a shipping strike off Anzio at the same time, with III./JG 53 escorting. There had been an attack by I./SG 4 on the south eastern part of Cassino in the morning and Luftflotte 2 reported photographic coverage of the Cassino area during the day but details of that mission are lacking.

Bad weather severely curtailed flying on the 30th but Sauder recorded a mission from 10.55–12.15 hours to Cassino which included an inconclusive contact with Mustangs. This again is hard to tie up with the encounters recorded by the Allies during the day but these do include another possible operation by I./JG 2, an attack by 12 Fw 190s against B-25s of the 321st BG north east of Viterbo at 12.15 hours.

445th BS War Diary: Capt. Neumann led today’s raid which was to bomb Orvieto but due to poor visibility, the alternate target or target of opportunity had to be hit. Fighter attacks were encountered through the clouds and Sgts. York and Dillon claimed a FW 190 each.

448th BS War Diary: Mission 201 (246). At 10:03 24 planes off to bomb Orvieto RR bridge S (bomb bridge NW of Orte A-6234 as alternate) and dropped 48 x 1000 bombs at 12:00 from 10,500 feet. All down at Foggia at approximately 13:50. Escort P-40’s and P-47’s. No hits on bridge seen, bombs over, clouds obscured observation. Formation attacked by from 6-15 E/A in two main waves from coast. 6-8 ME-109’s sighted just at coast going in but did not attack. Near Viterbo 8 ME-109’s and 3 FW-190’s attacked but were not aggressive and were driven off by fighters. After bombs were dropped 6-9 ME-109’s came in from both 6 and 12 o’clock above and below but were not aggressive after first pass although they seemed experienced. They worked in teams of 2 or 3 usually from 6 o’clock with one coming in from above and doing split S and diving, others climbing and breaking from right to left. Reports of rockets being used and from 4 to 6 flak like bursts seen only smaller and with smoke. First element of first flight not attacked and E/A seem to know bombers field of fire. ME-109’s reported black with blue underneath. FW-190’s were grey. Claims 1 FW-190 destroyed claimed by both S/Sgt. James Dillon and Sgt. Howard Luton, tail gunner. One ME-109 probably destroyed. Confirmation of fighters destroying one FW-190.

The 79th FG was escorting the bombers and the Allies had no losses. One Fw 190 was claimed destroyed in that action while 15 minutes later some 20+ Bf 109s attacked the same formation.

NOTE: "The Cassino area" seems almost to be the default entry in Sauder's flight log, but many of the incidents concerned can be established from other sources as taking place elsewhere.

The I./JG 2's strength on the 31st was reported as 14 Focke-Wulfs and just four Messerschmitts.

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