The II./KG 51 reported a strength during the afternoon of 22 (21) Me 262 A-2 at Schwäbisch Hall and another 14 in the Front Transit Depot (Frontschleuse) in Lechfeld. Of these aircraft, nine had been delivered new, seven were repaired machines and three had come from other units; 13 more were “being worked on.” The Gruppe had 56 pilots.
The I./KG 51 reported putting up 30 sorties on 3 December 1944. Two machines went to Sittard, three of their bombs being seen to fall in the town near the railway; bad weather on their return flight necessitated an intermediate landing in Twente. Immendorf was also the target for two aircraft while single Messerschmitts bombed Venray, Helenaveen, Meijel, Deurne and artillery positions west of Geilenkirchen. Although Baesweiler had been assigned as a new main target the previous evening, it does not seem to have been reached, perhaps because five aircraft broke off with technical defects, others were turned back by bad weather and one was 5% damaged in a forced landing.
This last machine was 9K+QK which made an emergency landing on the airfield at Hilden, 10 km. south of Düsseldorf, wiping off its undercarriage and slightly denting its nose cone. The pilot (his name tentatively deciphered as Uffz. Kollkok but perhaps Kollek in fact) was unhurt. The I./KG 51’s Ltn. Ritter at Hopsten was told that technicians would attend to it after work on 9K+SK was complete. Unteroffizier Jäger was seeking the necessary spares but had yet to ascertain their availability and Hilden lacked any kind of ground equipment. Three days later 9K+QK was still there, damage now assessed at 30%, without camouflage and vulnerable to strafing. Lying as it did along the main road between the airfield and Düsseldorf it could “be examined by anyone” pending its suggested recovery on Sunday the 10th. On the 11th an Ofw. Drescher confirmed that the Düsseldorf-Unterrath workshop had salvaged 9K+QK and would be repairing it, therefore I./KG 51’s repair squad was returning to Hopsten.
Oberleutnant Karl-Heinz Petersen was amongst a Schwarm that flew in formation to the village of Weert, which they bombed through a small break in the clouds. They were unable to observe the fall of their bombs and lost contact with one another, seemingly because of the poor visibility. Southwest of Venlo at 08.30 hours, Petersen encountered 30 Liberators, one of them flying alone and ahead of the formation at 1,000 metres. He engaged the latter aircraft and set one of its engines on fire at his first attempt, whereupon three of its crew bailed out. After another pass the Liberator exploded and fell to earth in pieces.
Petersen was south of Rheine, at 200 m. and on a north easterly heading when his Me 262 A-2 (W.Nr. 170296, 9K+EK) spun twice and crashed into a wood at Steinfurt. He suffered severe burns and died of his injuries two days later. On 4 December the Gruppe Operations Officer could only report “cause so far entirely unexplained. Investigation in progress …” Neither the pilot himself nor observers on the ground had seen any hostile fighters.
Three of I./KG 51’s Me 262s took off at 07.50 hrs. for “fighter operations in the Hopsten area against small enemy formations” (this mission was described as “fighter training” in another report). They encountered around 30 Thunderbolts in Map Squares JP2–HP8 and made a pass from out of the sun. No hits were scored but the hostile machines dived away, jettisoning their bombs in open country.
Faced with thickening cloud, the Messerschmitts had to land singly between 08.28 and 08.35 hrs. using blind approach procedures. Because Hopsten was not available for landing, Oblt. Joachim Valet of 1./KG 51 was homing on Rheine under Benito guidance and with only one engine functioning. The I./KG 51’s Oblt. Stephan saw how, lined up for the approach and with his flaps down, his comrade was attacked by from behind by a Mustang and hit by its fire. Valet, who had won the Ritterkreuz while a transport pilot, was found dead after his Me 262 A-2 (W.Nr. 110535, 9K+EH) crashed at 08.37 hrs. south of Rheine.
The fighter that brought Valet down was not in fact a Mustang but the Hawker Tempest of F/O John Garland, a Canadian serving with the RAF’s No. 80 Squadron. The Tempests had been on armed reconnaissance when Garland saw the Me 262 cross ahead of him. He was able to close and open fire, at which the Messerschmitt’s canopy detached, the jet rolled into the ground and exploded. That Garland was able to catch up is probably attributable to Valet’s earlier loss of an engine and that the Tempest apparently achieved surprise may be because the German pilot was intent on his blind landing procedure.
Already on 2 December, II./KG 51’s W.Nr. 110503 had dived into the ground for no known reason, 13 km. north east of Schwäbisch Hall, and investigations were in progress with help from Messerschmitt. Now the Gruppe was reporting to the Geschwader’s Technical Officer that its advance party was finding that Hesepe had inadequate supplies and servicing facilities for an operational deployment there. What was more, Hptm. Hans-Joachim Grundmann had narrowly escaped disaster during a practice mission over the Hessental (near the Gruppe’s base at Schwäbisch Hall). He was pulling out after releasing his bombs in a glide when the aircraft’s tail unit and jet nacelles were wrenched out of shape, the frame joining the fin was warped and the fuselage distorted; multiple cracks were found in the ailerons and flaps. Grundmann’s W.Nr. 170280, 9K+AC was 30% damaged and returned to the factory. Werk Nummern 170092 and 110587 too had suffered when pulling out after bomb-release: wrenched engine fairings and “flattening out of the point of the fuselage” (presumably the nose cone). These latter aircraft had “fighter equipment” (four cannon?) and had carried a single 250 kg bomb; the dates of their mishaps were not cited.
The strength of II./KG 51 on 3 December was reported as 21 (18) at Schwäbisch Hall and 14 (14) at Lechfeld along with 54 (52) pilots, all at the former aerodrome. By 07.00 the following day, Me 262 A-2 W.Nr. 110580 had come on to strength but another A-2 had been struck off with 90% damage in a forced landing from which the pilot emerged safe.
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PART TWO OF FIVE