Whatever the organisational indecision of the previous ten days, JGr. 200 went into action on 15 June when a force of USAAF P-51s and P-38s strafed Luftwaffe airfields at Lajasse (near Salon), Orange and Avignon. The Americans lost several aircraft to Flak as well as clashing with German fighters. The first claim was made by 1/Lt. John D. Lewis of 14th FG/49th FS at 11.55 hours, a probable Bf 109 at Orange-Caritat; at noon it was 3./JGr. 200’s turn when Ofw. Eduard Isken claimed a P-38 over Orange.
Isken’s victim cannot be identified with certainty among the five Lightnings lost in strafing the two airfields — the Americans attributed all of them to Flak — but there are two strong candidates. The 14th FG’s 2/Lt. William L. McClain was found to be missing as his Group left the area but no one had seen him hit; the same was true of 1/Lt. Warren E. Semple but since his P-38 was one of the final pair off the target, he seems the more likely to have been picked off by an unseen Bf 109.
At 12.01 hours, Lt. Don H. Greenley of 1st FG/94th FS damaged a Bf 109 over Orange’s other airfield, Plan de Dieu. At 12.10 the two P-51 Groups engaged Bf 109s between Salon and the eastern side of the Étang de Berre (Lake Berre to American airmen), claiming 4-1-0. There was one loss recorded from 1./JGr. 200 and two from the 3. Staffel, all three pilots being killed but there is not enough evidence to match individual losses and claims in this engagement. Also at 12.10, Capt. Robert A. Spitler of 1st FG/71st FS claimed a Fw 190 near Tarascon, some distance from the above engagements and the locations of the day’s known German losses.
The final action came 30 minutes later when the 325th FG were already over the Mediterranean. First Lieutenant Hiawatha Mohawk (319th FS):
“We were about 40 miles south of Marseilles and … [2/Lt. Robert A. Rausch] was flying about one ship-length and fifteen yards to the left of me … and then when I looked around there were two Me 109s in our formation about fifty yards behind on our same level. I told Rausch … to break and at that instant his wings burst into flames. My ammunition was all gone … so I had to leave. At the time Lt. Rausch was hit we were at an altitude of fifty feet. He stayed in the air for about fifteen seconds and then went straight into the water.”
Rausch’s loss was timed at 12.30, corresponding closely with the claim by 3./JGr. 200's claim of a P-51, shot down from 100 m. in the relevant area, at 12.32 hours.
In addition to the above actions, at least three Bf 109s were deployed to Valence for operations against Resistance targets in that area.
On 16 June, JGr. 200 reported a strength of 33 (31) pilots and 37 (17) Bf 109s; wireless telephony traffic revealed that German fighters were active over the Rhône Estuary from 14.08–14.50. They reported Allied fighters but no contacts were made. Two days later JGr. 200 sent up 12 aircraft to counter an allied incursion into the Montpellier area. The interlopers were probably the 20 P-47s of the Free French Gr. C. 2/5 “Lafayette” which claimed three locomotives and an He 111 but were not intercepted by the German fighters. On the 22nd the Gruppe was advised that it had been allocated a Fi 156 (W.Nr. 1725) which would be delivered by a ferry pilot. Three fighter patrols were detected during the day, the early evening one being in the Nîmes – Marseille area but no corresponding operation is recorded in MATAFs’ daily operations summaries.
The 23rd brought more patrols over the Rhône Estuary, Signals Intelligence inferring a contact with Allied fighters from 15.39–15.43 hours in which the Luftwaffe pilots “may have inflicted some damage.” According to the German situation report for the Western Theatre, a Bf 109 was lost in combat. In addition, Uffz. Ohmert took off from Orange in Fi 156 RR+XX at 17.05 (local time) on a one-hour “reconnaissance of partisan position”; his passenger, Ogefr. Georg Klauka, would die in combat two days later. On the 24th aircraft were up between 14.15 and 15.11 hours over the Estuary and Lyon, apparently in response to hostile incursions but no combat ensued; early in the evening, Ohmert ferried Bf 109 G-6 “1” to Aix-les-Milles.
continued on next page …