apr

Airacobras

It was 2 April before I./JG 2 fought again, Lemke (now a Leutnant) and Wirtgen claiming a P-39 and a Spitfire respectively, at 13.37 and 13.38 hours. Eight P-39s of the 347th Fighter Squadron, 350th FG, Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force, were bombing buildings north of Montalto di Castro when their four top cover aircraft were bounced by a Schwarm of Fw 190s. First Lieutenant Milton Harber was flying one of the escorting P-39s:

…4 bogies were called in at 9 o' clock. They were between 11,000 to 12,000 ft. We turned right and headed out to sea. At the same time the bogies started diving on us. They were at 6 o'clock and our #2 man could definitely identify them as FW-190's. I called a break to the right but the leader's radio was U/S so I don't think he heard me. By this time the FW's were overtaking us very fast. Two of them attacked Lt Hendon, the #2 man, and 2 of them were on my tail. They opened fire at very close range. Tracers were coming over both my wings and the 20 mm shells were exploding well up in front of us. At the same time I was kicking, rudder skidding, and slipping and breaking into the #2 man, trying to get a deflection shot at the planes on his tail and then he in turn would break into me. I saw tracers coming over both wings again so I kicked full left rudder and the tracers moved off to the right. A FW overshot me and turned into Lt Hendon, the #2 man. I cut into him and opened fire at about 100 yards, closing to 50. I got in a very long burst, observing hits on the engine cowling and the nose of the plane, and pieces were seen flying off. He made a slow diving turn to the right and was gliding back to the Italian coast leaving a trail of black smoke. I did not see him anymore since there were other planes firing at us. Immediately after this they broke off combat with us and this was the last I saw of them at close range. They circled and headed back to the Italian coast. I was indicating 300-350 during the engagement. I claim 1 FW-190 probably destroyed.

Milton Harber was killed two days later. He had flown 23 operational patrols and 14 combat sorties but failed to return from a weather reconnaissance on 4 April along with 2nd Lt. Robert T. Boyd.

Neither side lost any aircraft in this engagement but next day, Fw. Herbert Penz of 2./JG 2 died when his Fw 190 A-6 crashed during a test flight. F/Sgt. J.J. Thomson of 145 Squadron did claim one of a pair of Fw 190s but from the circumstances and available records this seems likely to have been a Bf 109 of 2./NAG 11 rather than Penz's Focke-Wulf.

Also on 3 April, Siegfried Lemke was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold to go with the Ehrenpokal he had received four days earlier.

Mid afternoon on the 6th would see one last action for the Gruppe, over Grosseto. Oberleutnant Georg Schröder and Uffz. Willi Lang of 4./JG 2 claimed a P-51 and a Spitfire respectively. The aircraft they encountered were P-39s and Spitfires of the USAAF and none appears to have been lost.

In what the 347th FS called “the outstanding mission of the month”, flown jointly with the 346th, four P-39s had bombed a radar station north west of Grosseto aerodrome scoring two near misses. Twelve more had attacked railway and road bridges south of the town, rendering both impassable with direct hits when, after their bomb run, they were attacked by ten Fw 190s and Bf 109s, claiming five destroyed plus one probable and one damaged.

346th FS

2/Lt. Lowell E. Dougherty

Bf 109, Grosseto area

 

Lt. Hugh D. "Rowdy" Dow

Bf 109, Grosseto area

 

2/Lt. Hugh D. Rudisill

Bf 109, Grosseto area

347th FS

2/Lt. Charles H. Burgess

Fw 190, Grosseto area

 

2/Lt. James K. Levy

Bf 109, Grosseto area

Thirty-eight Spitfires of the 52nd FG were escorting a B-26 raid to Orvieto when the top cover element, from 5th FS, was able to bounce six of the 37 opposing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs, destroying two of them.

Three German combat losses can be identified: Uffz. Erich Erbe of 8./JG 53 fell in action against Spitfires (probably of 52nd FG) over Orvieto while Lt. Georg Schneider of 4./JG 2 baled out of his Bf 109 G-6 with wounds and Oblt. Wolfgang Fischer of the same Staffel crash-landed after combat with "Mustangs", both at Grosseto. So ended JG 2’s involvement in the Italian campaign.

Between 5 and 8 April, the aircraft of I./JG 2 flew back to La Jasse, France, a move detected by Allied Signals Intelligence. A string of landing and take-off reports enables us to trace at least parts of the sequence as well as confirming the name of another pilot and identifying some more of the Fw 190s that I./JG 2 sent to Italy. On the afternoon of the 6th, at least eight Focke-Wulfs of flew out of Viterbo and made an interim landing in Perugia (where white 6 turned over, injuring its pilot) before continuing to Cameri-Novara. At least two of them then took off “for Marseille” on the 7th. A message two days later, asking where two named pilots had landed confirms the involvement of 1. and 2./JG 2.

Aircraft movements reported on 6 April 1944:

15.45

Fw 190 black 3 and white 4 leave Perugia for Piacenza.

16.05

S.82 1Z+AN, !Z+ EP and 1Z+PP leave Perugia for Piacenza.

Note: this movement by three aircraft of II./TG 1 may or may not be connected with the departure of I./JG 2 but the coincidence of route and time is interesting.

 

16.09

Fw 190s white 1, black 7, chevron and black 8 leave Perugia for Piacenza.

16.20

Fw 190 white 10 leaves Perugia for Piacenza.

18.38

Fw 190 white 6 lands at Perugia from Viterbo: aircraft pitches over, pilot injured.

17.45

Fw 190s white 4 and black 3 arrive in Cameri-Novara. "Onward flight on 8/4 to Marseilles."

On 9 April, Cameri-Novara signalled all airfields in Luftgau Südfrankreich to ask where Fw 190s white 4 and black 3 (pilots Uffz. Wirtgen and Uffz. Nistler) which had taken off on the 7th had landed.

Wirtgen would claim a further string of victories and become a Leutnant before being posted missing over Holland on 6 October (again flying an Fw 190 marked "white 4"). Nistler had made no claims in Italy but was to make two in the first days of the Normandy campaign before being killed on 12 June.

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