D-Minus 2: Sunday, 13 August 1944
Four aircraft of III./KG 100 were detected operating out of Toulon from 05.38–07.47 and during the day Luftflotte 3 was asked by 4. Defence Division that the Gruppe's missions "combating shipping targets on the Biscay Coast be continued wherever possible in order that the supplying of fortresses may be carried out more easily." After midnight came an assurance that this would be done "as long as no attacks are being carried out in the Mediterranean" but once the Allies began landing in the South of France, III/KG 100 would be exclusively employed in the Mediterranean.
The Allies bombed Aix-Les Milles Aerodrome, 1.(F)/33 reporting an aircraft destroyed and three damaged in these raids. Otherwise, there seems to have been little activity by the Luftwaffe during the daylight hours but between midnight and dawn, eight aircraft of 6./KG 77 were up, controlled from Istres and "further shipping was seen approaching CORSICA from the south west." In its strength return on the 13th, 6. (Bel.)/KG 26 reported one aircraft missing with its crew and one 60% damaged in a crash.
During the morning, Jafü Süd made an urgent request for 28 pilots to be allocated to JGr. 200 since it was 28 short. Just after 11.00 hours some 31 P-38s strafed and bombed Montélimar without warning, damaging two Ju 88 A-17s, W.Nr. 823016 and 823019, between 30 and 50%. Both aircraft were handed over for repair by the airfield workshops. The 6. Staffel reported that its own four-barrel machine guns "played a large part in shooting down a Lightning." That afternoon, Orange Plan de Dieu reported the arrival of seven Ju 88s of I./KG 26 under Oblt. Becker. American fighters attacked several more airfields across Southern France that evening, damaging installations and killing and injuring personnel but finding few aircraft. Two Ju 88s were damaged at Salon-Lajasse while at St Martin, home of 1.(F)/33, a Ju 188 was destroyed and two damaged while one air crewman was killed.
D-Minus 1: Monday, 14 August 1944
… on the 14th a message was passed [over a W/T net] stating that aircraft of 2 NAG 13 had sighted shipping moving towards Southern France from AJACCIO. Nothing had been heard on R/T.
As seen from the convoys themselves:
... the appearance of the Focke-Wulfs always set off an ear-piercing drumfire of antiaircraft guns from scores of ships before the enemy snoopers fled for home.
The first recorded action by the Luftwaffe came between 09.55 and 10.24 when "four aggressive a/c met heavies nr. Toulon." In this encounter, JGr. 200's Ofw. Isken and Uffz. Kniestedt claimed a P-51 each at 10.23 local time.
Squadron Leader D.S. Handley and P/O T.J. Philips of No. 151 Squadron had taken off in their Mosquito from Ford, West Sussex the previous morning; they were to fly to Maison Blanche, Algiers, looking for Do 217, He 177 and Ju 290 based around Toulouse. Now, on their return flight, they were to do the same. Reaching Leucate on the French coast, they shot up four Ar 196 on the lagoon. One, suspended from a crane, caught fire and fell, damaging another, while the other two were strafed at their moorings. Evidence of their success is provided in a signal from Oblt. Dietrich Astheimer, informing Fliegerdiv. 2 that at 06.30 hrs. a “Marauder” had shot up parked aircraft at Perpignan and although there had been no casualties, Ar 196 6W+AK had been destroyed by fire. At 19.30 hrs. the order was given that in the event of an Allied landing on the south coast, 2. SAGr. 128 should prepare to transfer “the entire Staffel to Biscarosse via Lyon” (the reason making such a lengthy detour rather taking a direct route was not explained). Later in the day, the Perpignan detachment was told to transfer back all its serviceable aircraft and as many aircrew as possible, preferably under cover of darkness.
According to civilians living near Cuers-Pierrefeu aerodrome, the last aircraft took off on the 14th. Even so an abandoned Fw 190 (from 2./NAG 13) was found there after the invasion. The Staffel was operational nonetheless with an Fw 190 and a Bf 109 on convoy recce over the Golfe du Lion from 12.35-13.45 but no sightings were made. Early in the afternoon, in the Toulon area, a German reconnaissance aircraft was heard to report that 100 B-17s were bombing Flak batteries and 2/Lt. George M. Rhodes Jr. of 100th FS claimed an Fw 190. An afternoon convoy reconnaissance by an Fw 190 of 2./NAG 13 and four Bf 109 of Marseille, Toulon and the Golfe du Lion brought no results.
That afternoon, FAG 122 ordered Ofw. Jackstadt's Me 410, F6+BK at St. Martin to carry out a photo reconnaissance of La Maddalena early on the 15th, weather and state of aircraft permitting. This was one of the comparatively rare cases where the signal was decrypted by the Allies before the flight had taken place. Meanwhile there was undeniable evidence coming in that a major Allied amphibious operation was underway. At 21.15, 2./NAG 13 reported landing craft stretching 50 miles west from Ajaccio Roads and at 22.35, two convoys were sighted by Luftwaffe aircraft, 100 miles south of Menton. These totalled over 100 landing craft and included strong surface and air escorts.
The first of these warnings was relayed at 19.30 alongside a series of steps to be taken:
1) Reconnaissance aircraft report that the shipping concentrations have left the harbour and bay of Ajaccio and are in Square JQ, course west. Further recce is operating.
2) In the event of a landing on the south coast of France in the night of 14–15/8:
A) Bombing operation at first light on 15/8 with all available forces, target landing fleet.
B) Prepare transfer at short notice of ground personnel to airfields situated in the rear. Orders to follow.
C) 2./128 prepare transfer of the entire Staffel to Biscarosse via Lyon. transfer only to be carried out on orders from Fliegerdivision 2 will remain at present battle HQ until further notice.
The Germans had clear warning of what was coming:
At 1915/14 [GMT] air recce picked up a total of 100 to 120 vessels 55 miles northwest of Ajaccio, mainly landing boats, course northwest …
Deciphered Kriegsmarine report
Meanwhile, the USAAF had wrecked the Luftwaffe's fighter control centre in Southern France.
Perhaps not surprisingly, "Ju 88's of 6/KG 77 were active all night" (flying five sorties in all) and at 00.22 shipping was reported 30 miles south of the Hyères Islands. Minutes later, radio traffic was intercepted from KG 77 aircraft "closely watching our invasion forces", again reporting the two convoys on their westerly course at 4215N/0725E, the first consisting of 20 landing craft and the second of 75–100 units, including landing craft with large escort, very heavy AA and air cover.
A German radar mechanic attached to Flak Regiment 69 at Nôtre Dame Convent, Marseille told his captors how his unit had been alerted late that night:
To his knowledge no official warning had been given of an impending Allied invasion although many of the radar stations were out of action through Allied strafing attacks and telephone connections with other units and H.Q. grew fewer and fewer as the Resistance cut the wires, which naturally gave rise to some brisk speculation.
...P/W was up a hill overlooking the harbour when aircraft flew over very low and immediately about 50 flares were seen falling in a cluster into the sea. The whole scene was so brightly lit that P/W counted the ships in the docks and says he saw 20. 2 cm AA opened fire... but soon ceased. P/W was told the batteries were shooting at parachutists though he did not see any.
[At 03.00] a lighthouse S.W. of Marseilles began to sweep the sky with its beam and the German artillery opened fire and knocked it out.
Guards were now doubled and all action stations manned but nothing further was seen...
P/W was told that the F.F.I. had captured it and turned the light [and that] ships firing from out at sea were making off in the direction of Toulon.
continued on next page...