THE OPENING OF THE CAMPAIGN
Assigning a date to this is a somewhat arbitrary process as far as the air fighting is concerned. A degree of pressure had been maintained throughout the summer and the communications along the Riviera were frequent targets. A raid on Bergamo-Seriate in Italy on 9 August was to have been the first of a series hitting at German units that might intervene against the intended landings. The B-26s of 17th BG, 42nd BW dropped 350 x 250lb bombs on the airfield causing "at least 50 craters" on the concrete runway while the Wing's other two groups dropped fragmentation bombs with:
…excellent results, completely covering the centre of the south dispersal area, starting numerous fires, destroying eight aircraft and damaging others.
The Americans also reported:
... a direct hit on one J.U. 88 which exploded ...
Three enemy aircraft were seen to take off just before the bombs fell, one of them crashing 10 miles from the airfield. The raid's success was confirmed by Luftflotte 2 which reported all its FuG 200 aircraft (i.e. the Ju 188s of 6.(F)/122) lost and asked Fl.Div. 2 to provide that night's cover instead.
The Bergamo raid was not followed up — the Luftwaffe's weakness led to the cancellation of other attacks planned in the Po Valley. Quite why a reconnaissance base in northern Italy had been targeted is not clear. The Luftwaffe in Italy was at a low numerical ebb already and practically devoid of offensive capability, while in Southern France were three operational (if understrength) anti-shipping Gruppen, a fighter Gruppe and two Staffeln engaged in overwater reconnaissance.
On 8 August Luftflotte 3 had issued orders that in the event of an Allied landing in Southern France, Stab and III./KG 100 were to be subordinated to Fl.Div. 2. The Division was also told that for fuel reasons, FAG 5 would be operating only single aircraft on weather reconnaissance when a Westa was not available.
D-Minus 3: Saturday, 12 August 1944
That the Germans knew the invaders were coming at last may be inferred from Fl.Div. 2's urgent request to Luftflotte 3 for aircraft torpedoes to be delivered by rail and — at 11.00 — III./KG 100's subordination to the Division. In fact III./100's attention was not yet on the Mediterranean, the RAF's Y-Service detecting four of the Gruppe's aircraft operating under control of Toulouse between 07.38 and 09.47. From Lfl. 3's daily situation report we learn that they were attacking Allied ships in the Gironde Estuary – Lorient area, claiming near misses with Hs 293s on a destroyer and a landing vessel of 2,000 tonnes with an explosion and patch of oil near the latter's stern.
It was 2./NAGr. 13 that brought hard information of Allied intentions. At 06.40 three Fw 190s took off to photograph Ajaccio, although it seems that one aborted only a few minutes into the flight. Lt. Georg Pemler was in one of the pair that continued:
On 12.8.44, I flew the morning reconnaissance of the bay of St. Florent. By this time the assembly of the Allied landing fleet was almost complete, their air superiority crushing.
The Focke-Wulfs had picked up two large convoys (each of about 75–100 merchant vessels and warships including two aircraft carriers) due south of Ajaccio, course northeast and entering harbour; in the harbour itself were another 20 vessels. Added to that, on the airfield were eight gliders and five multi-engined aircraft. This news was sufficiently disquieting for Lfl. 3 to order that reconnaissance of these convoys be continued "by every means, day and night."
Later in the morning, an Me 410 was sent to photograph Ajaccio harbour and a report was made of one carrier leaving the Bay on a southwesterly course. A few hours earlier, another 410 had been to look at Sardinia. At 13.00, Luftflotte 2 signalled Fl.Div. 2 and FAGr. 122 that in the first half of the night a Hohentwiel aircraft was to return from France, carrying out a mission off the Italian west coast en route. Meanwhile, a 410 at Fl.Div. 2's end could also be used to pick up a convoy.
According to a MAAF Intelligence Summary, "50/60" German fighters attacked bombers over Nīmes, shooting down six of them plus an escort fighter against Allied claims of 18 destroyed or probable. This is something of an exaggeration since JGr. 200 only mounted 18 sorties that day in two scrambles from Aix Les Milles.
Early in the evening, forty-two P-47s of the 27th FBG attacking Miramas marshalling yard were attacked by six bandits after leaving the target area: two Thunderbolts were damaged. The Americans claimed one Fw 190 and 1-0-1 Bf 109s (by 522nd FS) while 524th FS damaged another Messerschmitt.
The Germans’ total claimed successes for the day were: 2 Thunderbolts shot down; 1 Spitfire and 3 Thunderbolts probably shot down; 1 Spitfire and 1 Thunderbolt effectively shot up. In addition one Thunderbolt and a Spitfire had been brought down by "emergency Flak" at a radar installation. The cost was three Bf 109s and their pilots. It was on this day too that the unit moved from Aix-Les Milles to Avignon-East.
During the afternoon, two Ar 196s had flown a routine anti-submarine patrol of over two hours from Perpignan in the sea area Port Vendres followed by another which made a recce of the Golfe du Lion from Berre between 19.05 and 21.24. After the morning's sightings the reconnaissance effort for the night and evening was intense: an Me 410 was up to photograph Ajaccio Bay and harbour and Propriano Bay and a Ju 88 covered the area west and northwest of Corsica to Ajaccio Bay, where it sighted three large vessels on radar, evaluated as carriers or battleships. Luftflotte 2 reported shipping sufficient for one division in Ajaccio and warned that a landing was to be expected in the South of France or Liguria "in the near future." The Allies plotted W/T traffic from a total of 10 long-range reconnaissance sorties from Southern France, noting that:
...eight aircraft, drawn from both 6/KG 77 and 1/F 33, patrolled the sea between CORSICA and France
and that Ajaccio had been covered again during the evening. Allied Intelligence learned that a torpedo attack on four destroyers, two other escorts and six merchant vessels sighted off Corsica was intended for dawn on 13 August but was cancelled owing to mist.
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