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One thing led to another

This article came about because research for Air War Italy 1944–45 led me to sources for the Luftwaffe and Operation Dragoon, which eventually became the first long-form article on this site. Work on that gave me the beginnings of the article on the disappearance of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and early material for the story of Sonderstaffel Kaatsch.

The idea of this piece is to tell the story of JGr. 200 from its activation through to its operational demise after the Allied landings in Provence. The unit's history from 12–20 August has been rethought and rewritten for this article, superseding originally appeared in the "Dragoon" pages on this site. The unit's "afterlife" is retold in the Kaatsch article. In consequence, I have since reworked "Dragoon" so that it integrates better with the present piece and the others I’ve mentioned.

While there are books which have touched on Jagdgruppe 200 to some extent, I think this — for all its gaps — is the fullest account of the unit to appear so far. There are nevertheless several “blank pages” in the diary because Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) only raided Southern France sporadically before August 1944, the strategic force (MASAF) ranged across South East Europe while the tactical arm (MATAF) was preoccupied with supporting the campaign in Italy. Allied reconnaissance machines, especially F-5s, were more frequent visitors and the Gruppe regularly scrambled pairs of Bf 109s to try and intercept them.

Origins

We went down there with 22 men and there were only five of us left at the end. We used to drink ourselves silly every day, out of sheer joy that we were still alive.

Unteroffizier Walter Lang (1./JGr. 200), 23 August 1944

Like much else to do with the Luftwaffe, the picture we have of Jagdgruppe 200’s origins is fragmented and contradictory. On 6 December 1943, Göring issued a paper (Ob.d.L. Fü.St. Ia 8947/43) predicated on "indications … multiplying that the enemy will carry out his intended landing in the West either in Winter 1943/44 or at the latest in spring 1944." The schedule of units which would reinforce the German defences included the formation, from Jagdgruppen Ost, West and Süd, of two operational units, Jagdgruppe 200 and Jabogruppe 100. The former was to operate from Lézignan and Perpignan, the latter from Amy (later revisions of the scheme exclided JGr. Ost and envisaged two Jabostaffeln rather than a Gruppe).

When JGr. 200 was activated following the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, its constituent Staffeln were drawn from aircraft and pilots of the training formations JG 101 (3./JGr. 200) and Jagdgruppe Süd (1. and 2./JGr. 200). Detachments from Süd had been operating in the defence of Southern France and claiming victories since late April and some of its successful pilots would continue to score as members of JGr. 200. However the first victory accredited to JGr. 200 — by one source at any rate — occurred before D-Day, a P-51 claimed by Fw. Rainer Müller-Haagen of “Sonderkommando JGr. 200” at 10.42 hours (local time) on 27 May, south west of the Rhône Delta and just 50 m. above the sea. Units of the US 15th Air Force were raiding French marshalling yards and airfields, escorted by P-51s and P-38s. Over Montpellier/Fréjorgues aerodrome:

“7 Me 109’s made an attack on one formation of bombers from 6 o’clock, firing rockets and cannon from 500 yards. The escort [49 P-51s of the 31st FG] engaged and 4 of these A/C split up into pairs and fought back aggressively.”

The Americans lost no fighters but 1/Lt. John A. Frazier (307th FS) claimed a Bf 109 damaged. Thirteen fighter passes were made against the B-24s raiding Nîmes Marshalling Yard and the escort (46 P-38s of the 14th FG) fought a running battle with the Germans, extending 15 miles out to sea, the Group CO Col. Oliver B. Taylor claiming one destroyed. Again the Americans had no losses but there is a tentative identification for one their claims: a communication sent the next day reported that Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 20683, “24” had sustained 30% damage near Nîmes airfield. French author Guy Julien has identified this machine as Uffz. Fritz Nötzold’s “white 24” of 1./JGr. Süd. Another German participant in this action was Uffz. Gustav-Wilhelm Ohmert who scrambled from Orange at 10.00 (local time) in Bf 109 G-6 “15” and reported contact with 90 Liberators and ca. 30 Lightning, Thunderbolts and Mustangs’ in the Nîmes – Montpellier area.

Rather than being the first victory of JGr. 200, Müller-Haagen’s success was in fact the last for Einsatzkommando/Jagdgruppe Süd. This is confirmed by Jafü Süd's Order of the Day for 10 June 1944 and since he was on the spot and controlling the operation concerned, it seems reasonable to trust him over the Abshußkomission back in Germany. (When Müller-Haagen was awarded the EK I on 10 May, his unit had been cited by Luftflotte 3 as "1. Kdo. 4. Jagdgruppe Süd").

Activation

Allied Signals Intelligence heard patrols over the Fayence area between 11.37 and 12.50 hours on 9 June which may have been by elements of Jagdgruppe 200. (This is supported by a signal from Jafü Süd reporting three scrambles that day, two of them by Rotten and one by a Kette). He added that of a total of 14 crews, all but one were ready for operations (the other was sick) but there is no way of knowing whether this referred to all or part of the nascent Gruppe. On the 10th, JG 101’s Kommodore, Maj. Walter Nowotny, reported that 3./JGr. 200’s transport had not left, the railway between Tarbes and Toulouse was impassable and they would go by road instead — should they go to Lézignan or Orange-Caritat?

The same day, the Operations Officer of II. Jagdkorps signalled Jafü Süd about the “disbandment of Jagdgruppe 200”: two Staffeln with all the unit’s aircraft fitted for auxiliary tanks were to transfer at once to Vertus (east of Paris and 30 km. west of Chalons-sur-Marne) and would be incorporated into I./JG 27; the Gruppenstab and the rest of the machines would go to Märkisch Friedland. This was amplified next day by Luftflotte 3: some 25 serviceable aircraft of 1. and 2./JGr. 200 with their crews would be subordinated to I./JG 27 on arrival. Meanwhile, the “training elements of Jagdgruppe Süd” had been ordered to Germany by OKL.

continued on next page …

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