1–5 July 1944

On the 1st, Jafü Süd reported that seven operations had been flown, totalling 23 Bf 109 sorties, withhout loss. Three patrols appear to have been flown on 2 July, the first early in the morning and the next at midday; the last, at mid-afternoon, was interpreted as being a reaction to Allied reconnaissance aircraft but no contact ensued. Reported strength that day was 34 pilots and 25 serviceable machines.

The early morning operation on the 3rd was an attempt to intercept Lightnings in the Avignon-Marseilles area was unsuccessful; the 1. Staffel’s Uffz. Gustav-Wilhelm Ohmert took part, flying Bf 109 G-6, white 1. The Gruppe’s aircraft were apparently up again during the afternoon and the next day saw three similarly fruitless patrols. Jagdgruppe 200 reported having 32 (29) Bf 109s and 33 (24) pilot on 4 July: of these operational airmen, 16 were at Orange-Caritat and 8 at Aix-Les-Milles.

Next day according to Allied signals Intelligence, “German fighters reacted with more determination than usual when escorted heavy bombers were over the Gulf of Lions and the Rhône Valley … several claims being made.” The 3./JGr. 200 was subsequently credited with the destruction of three B-24s and two P-51s. Second Lieutenant Edward A. Grunewald’s B-24H “Free Delivery” (42-52484) of the 464th BG/776th BS caught fire and then blew up in mid-air at around, its wreckage falling near La Vallette du Var; its target had been the submarine pens and arsenal at nearby Toulon. Six of the Liberator’s crew bailed out successfully although Grunewald himself was badly injured; one man evaded capture. The USAAF believed "Free Delivery" had been downed by Flak but German reports on captured crew members attribute its destruction to fighter attack. American records time the Liberator's loss at 12.45 hrs. (when others in the formation saw parachutes opening); survivors later reported that it was at 22,000 ft. when it was hit, just after leaving the target. The best matches for location are the claims by Uffz. Martin Hermanitz and Fw. Lünsmann, both at 12.36 hrs., south of Toulon, although both give an altitude of just 5,000 m. (c. 16,500 ft.). The next claim of a B-24 was made at 13.00 by Fw. Horst Kubeit, at 6,000 m. over Sète (180 km. from Toulon) but “Free Delivery” seems to have been the only B-24 lost that day. Unteroffizier Ohmert claimed damage to a B-24 before his guns jammed, noting that a coastal Flak battery had confirmed that the bomber was shot down. He pencilled in “three points” but nevertheless does not appear to have been credited with a victory.

Seventy minutes later, two P-51s were claimed in rapid succession by Ogefr. Horst Rippert and Fw. Rainer Müller-Haagen, off the coast between the Rhône Estuary and Marseille. The Americans do not appear to have lost any aircraft but 1/Lt. Ralph Q. Gassman and 2/Lt. William F. Hanes Jr. of the 52nd FG/4th FS together shot down Müller-Haagen’s Bf 109 (W.Nr. 412629, yellow 9) and he was killed.

Elements of the Gruppe were active from Avignon and Valence throughout the day against “gangs in the Valence area.”

6–12 July 1944

On the 6th the Gruppe mounted eight operations totalling 19 sorties, some of them against resistance groups in the French countryside: no losses were incurred, nor were hostile aircraft seen. Serviceability improved markedly over the next few days with strengths reported as follows:

6 July

30 (14)

aircraft

33 (23)

pilots

7 July

30 (20)

 

34 (29)

 

8 July

30 (23)

 

34 (25)

 

No operations were flown on 9 July while on the 10th there was an early morning patrol. Next day however 87 B-24s attacked the harbour at Toulon, France, hitting numerous installations. American attacks were curtailed by bad weather and it may have been this that prevented to two formations which rose in defence achieving any success. Later German activity was over the Rhône Valley and in all during the day there were 10 scrambles (30 sorties altogether) without loss.

Large scale action resumed on the 12th when 15th AF sent 449 bombers and 114 escorts to rail yards and bridges across Southern France. The Gruppe responded with 32 sorties in two operations.

Over the Miramas marshalling yard, three supposed Fw 190s made a pass from 6 o’clock high at the 459th BG but were driven off by the escort. The major effort by the German fighters was against the formation raiding the yards at Nîmes. According to MASAF (Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force):

"464 BG was attacked by 16/20 Me 109s and Fw 190s. Some attacked four abreast and others line astern but were not aggressive. 465 BG was attacked by 15/20 very aggressive Me 109s and Fw 190s, their attacks were varied but were mainly from 10 to 11 o’clock and 5 to 7 o’clock high. 461 BG was attacked by 20 aggressive Me 109s near the target area. Other Groups in target area by 2/4 … some of which were aggressive. The above encounters were from just prior to IP [initial point] until after the target. The 332 FG followed 6 Me 109s that dove through a bomber formation, to the deck. 1 Me 109 was chased into the ground."

There is clearly an element of double- or triple-counting here, making the German fighters appear far more numerous than they actually were. That being the case, attackers who seemed "not aggressive" to one Bomb Group were quite possibly the same ones judged "very aggressive" by the next. According to 461st BG's report of its Mission #60:

“For the first time in its history the … Group was really hit on the bomb run by a formation-concentration of enemy fighters … the fighter attack split up the bomb run with the result that the mission was only scored 24 percent.”

The Germans hit the 461st's last flight, bringing down four out of six Liberators: three of these went down over the target and the fourth was lost trying to ditch off Toulon. Second Lieutenant Chester A. Ray’s B-24 exploded in mid-air, an event witnessed by 2/Lt. Norman H. Cogswell:

“We were flying in number five position of C Flight. I saw three or four rockets pass between me and ship number 42. Ship number 58, Lt. Ray and crew, evidently had been hit by one of the rockets. It immediately dropped one bomb through the front bomb bay door, then peeled off to the left seemingly under control.”

A French civilian, Antoine Fecci, was watching this action from the ground:

At about 10 o’clock in the morning, I was supervising the work of some labourers on my property 3 km east of Saint-Maximin when I saw two German fighters attacking a formation of … 16 American bombers. The result of the German fighters’ attack was that two bombers were separated from the formation. Right away, my wife and I saw about 15 parachutists jumping from the planes. Two came down near us and we ran to the aid of one of them who gave us his name: Lt. Chester A. Ray. He was seriously injured and we took him to our house in the countryside to care for him and to hide him from the Germans.

continued on next page …

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