...more than a hectic dice

On 8 March, there was a scramble at 09.50 but no contact and next day a scramble at 13.28 in reaction to Allied bombers and a sweep to Nettuno from 15.35–16.50 were similarly uneventful. In all, Uffz. Sauder was scrambled three times on the afternoon of the 9th, without encountering hostile aircraft. That day, Hptm. Manfred Spenner, Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 4, was shot down by AA fire and captured, later telling his interrogators that:

Three Gruppen are permanently in operation against the Nettuno beachhead. After a spell at the front, each Gruppe is withdrawn to Upper Italy for a rest and its place is taken by another. At the time of the Hauptmann’s last flight the following units were up forward: I/JG 4, III./JG 53 and a Gruppe of JG 2 recently arrived to relieve I/JG 53 and flying Fw 190’s.

A scramble at 09.50 on the 10th brought I./JG 2 into low altitude contact with A-36s of the 86th Fighter Bomber Group whose target was a railway station at Fara in Sabina. The Germans claimed four Mustangs in the space of five minutes but only two were actually lost — indeed only two were still in the area by the time the defending fighters arrived.

2/Lt. David A. Waterman:

While pulling off the target to the West I banked sharply south and looked to observe damage done. I watched 2nd Lieut.’s Russell Palmer and Robert P. Teeple, the last two men in Blue Flight, pull off and head roughly SE. I crossed the Tiber River … at about 3,500 ft. and climbing. I looked back again and observed 4 ships, which I took to be Blue Flight, to the rear and left of me. The two last ships were almost in formation and the other 2 were very far apart heading SSW.

At the edge of a flak area at 4,500 ft. … I looked down to my left and saw three (3) enemy aircraft at 2–3,000 feet, one was an ME 109 and two which I thought to be FW 190’s. The FW’s were turning right to a heading roughly S and the ME was already headed South. The last glimpse of 2nd Lieut.’s Russell Palmer and Robert P. Teeple was a moment before I sighted the enemy aircraft.

2/Lt. Charles C. Mulnix:

On the way into the target we ran into moderate, heavy, flak. The weather at the target area was clear. After the bombing, in which I saw light flak, I looked back and saw [Palmer and Teeple] pull off the target at about 2,000 ft altitude, and head almost due South. I then saw three bandits off to my right about 15 miles and about 4,500 ft. at the same time I was back in the flak area at [map reference] F-7999. I never saw 2nd Lieut’s TEEPLE and PALMER again.

Teeple had been unable to rejoin the formation because his dive brakes would not close fully and his radio was u/s. He bailed out and was taken prisoner whereas Palmer was later confirmed killed in action.

NOTE: There is a discrepancy over timings: the Americans recorded taking off at 10.00 and put the last sighting of their comrades at 11.00; I./JG 2’s claims were made from 10.10–10.15. Usually such statements on both sides use local time, which should have been the same for all concerned on this date. It is probable that these American reports used GMT but left out the Z suffix which usually indicates it.

On 11 March, Spitfires of 145 and 601 Squadrons on early morning patrol intercepted a large formation of Bf 109s and Fw 190s over Cisterna. Sixteen Focke-Wulfs of SG 4 were able to bomb without loss while their escorts fought the RAF:

F/O Thomas of 601 had more than a hectic dice. After breaking away from an attack on one 190, he was attacked by 3 FWs and 2 109s which took full advantage of the unequal situation until Thomas was able to outwit them by climbing into the sun. Two cannon shells smashed through his cockpit, one striking his parachute release which fortunately deflected the shot.

The 1./JG 2’s Uffz. Rudolf Wirtgen and Ofw. Lemke each claimed a Spitfire but none was lost to German fighters. No. 601 Squadron’s aircraft returned to base “without loss, although one or two of the aircraft had received slight M.G. damage.”; P/O Evans of 145 Squadron was hit by Flak while chasing a Fw190 and landed uninjured just short of the Nettuno landing strip. The Spitfires claimed two Fw 190s and a Bf 109 destroyed plus a 109 and a 190 damaged. The Bf 109 was probably that of Stab I./JG 4’s Lt. Hermann Weber who was wounded but only one Fw 190 was in fact shot down, an A-7 flown by Fw. Reinhold Klein of 3./JG 2. He too was wounded and baled out. Later in the day, Ofw. Fritz Hartmann of 3./JG 2, who had not been on the early mission, scrambled twice, at 10.28 and 12.21 hours but without reporting any contact.

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