"… at 11.00 hours that day [31 July 1944] the German radar station »Falter« (Moth or Butterfly) situated west of Lyon reported a lone aircraft and alerted the pilots of Jagdgruppe 200 in Aix-en-Provence."
Chazelles-sur-Lyon was certainly the location of »Stellung Falter« but why would this station, about 240 km. inland, be the one to detect an incoming flight from Corsica when there was an extensive radar and reporting network on the coast? How far could its three Freyas or its two Würzburg-Riesen see? Does this mean that Saint-Exupéry had penetrated well inland and was shot down by Rippert on his way home? What's more, wouldn't an order to scramble have come from the Jafü (fighter controller) or Stab/Luftnachrichten Regiment 51 (in charge of the radar and signals posts) both of whose HQs were at La Nerthe with a direct landline to JGr. 200 at Aix-Les Milles?
(File AIR40/3114, report CSDIC CMF A.448, "German Fighter Control South France")
"In July 2006 I called Horst Rippert from Wiesbaden … As a pilot with »Jagdgruppe 200« he had been stationed in Marignane near Marseille."
On 31 July 1944, all my sources place 1. and 3./JGr. 200 at Aix-Les Milles and Rippert was serving with the latter. The 2. Staffel was at Avignon-East at this time.
"Victory reports for this unit from June 1944 onward are no longer available … There are no documents preserved from the relevant German unit in Southern France that give particulars about that period."
But that doesn't mean that there isn't a reasonable amount of contemporary documentation that can help us. Please read on for some examples.
There were precious few German pilots in the South of France at the end of July 1944 who might have been involved, since just two units there had fighter aircraft:
2./NAG 13 with (on 9 August 1944) 11 pilots and 7 Focke-Wulf 190s, operating in the tactical reconnaissance role. (File HW5/558, document CX/MSS/T273/21)
JGr. 200 with 31 pilots and 17 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters on 30 July. (File HW5/547, document CX/MSS/R.262(C), paragraph 7). Ten of those pilots were operational and 8 were actually available; of the aircraft, 14 were serviceable..
Obergefreiter (Leading Aircraftman) Horst Rippert flew with the 3. Staffel of JG 200 and his victory claims there are recorded: none is a P-38 and none was on 31 July 1944. The nearest are a B-24 on 24 July and a Spitfire on 12 August 1944.
Of those 40 or so pilots who were there at the time, how many survived the war and were still alive over 60 years later? Enough to form "a pact of silence" or did they simply have no information to give?
Bremner ended his article by saying "Rippert's story will not take long to check."
Exactly … Many Luftwaffe records were destroyed at the war's end but the corresponding Allied ones were not, they are readily available and presumably no one is suggesting that the Germans managed to falsify these as well?
Let us contrast the evidence from two days: 30 July when a Lightning certainly was shot down and 31 July when one quite probably was not.
Summary of enemy air activity for 30 July 1944
(All times GMT)
FIGHTERS AND FIGHTER BOMBERS
… Fighters based in Southern France were active between 1105 and 1149. Thunderbolts were mentioned at 1110 and an Allied reconnaissance aircraft was claimed shot down at 1115. An apparently uneventful patrol was flown between 1418 and 1453.
(File HW41/87: MAAF Signal Int. Service, Enemy Air Activity, June 1944–Feb. 1945)
The time of 11.15 hours GMT exactly matches that of a Luftwaffe victory claim (held at the Bundesarchiv–Militärarchiv, Freiburg) which is in German Summer Time = GMT plus 2 hours:
At 13.15 hours on 30 July 1944, Feldwebel (Sergeant) Guth of of JGr. 200 claimed a P-38 in grid square EQ-2:
continued on next page …
PART TWO OF FIVE
All file references are from the National Archives, Kew London.