June–July 1944

Night fighter operations were notified for late on the 4th (five Ju 88) and the early hours of the 10th (two). In the wake of the Normandy landings came a change of operational area: at midnight on the 13th a lone Ju 88 was due to fly out between St. Malo and Morlaix for a patrol over the English Channel. On both the 15th and 16th the Kommando was due to operate freelance against heavy bombers over Western France. The sortie announced for 18 June was called off but a Ju 88 was up two days later at 2112 for a patrol over NW France which it abandoned after about two hours, having failed to contact the enemy. The British verdict on the following night was simply “No evidence of operations by Detachment Kunkel”.

Fliegerkorps X sent up six Ju 88 at 0808 on the 22nd for an unspecified task in daylight, among than an ‘HA’ (a Kunkel aircraft is said by one source to have been coded ‘HA’). The last known mission by the Kommando came on 24 June with two Ju 88 up from 2305, once again without making contact.

It appears that the Kommando was disbanded as the Luftwaffe’s Atlantic coast units were withdrawn under pressure of Allied progress during July; III./ZG 1 gave up all its aircraft to other units in the course of the month. Kunkel himself went on to become Staffelkapitän of 1./NJG 4 with effect from 28 July 1944.

Organisation

CFAIt is not certain when Kommando Kunkel was allocated the unit code 4C+_A, nor when it formally became 9./ZG 1. Aircraft ‘A’ and ‘B’ were active in early December 1943, to be joined over the coming months by ‘C’, ‘D’, ‘E’, ‘F’, ‘G’, ‘I’ and ’T’ but in no recorded case was a full four-character code intercepted.

NOTE: A 2009 article in Luftwaffe im Focus Nr. 15 (its author unnamed and sources unfortunately not cited) lists codes 4C+AA through to …HA, as well as 4C+MA. The appearance of apparent unit codes almost from the outset contrasts with Kdo. Rastedter which does not seem to have acquired its 9U+_B codes until it was formally established as Horch- und Störstaffel 2 in February 1944, despite operating under the same auspices and to the same ends as Kunkel’s unit.

Four Stammkennzeichen were disclosed through signals intelligence: BK+MR, NQ+UF, NL+DM and NL+DP although these call signs were often used in air-to-ground communications whether or not the aircraft concerned also carried a unit marking on its fuselage. The Luftwaffe im Focus article includes a colour photograph of a Ju 88 C marked UQ+TQ which is said to have belonged to the Kommando. There is room for doubt simply because the machine in question carries the antenna array of the FuG 200 shipping search radar and the Navy had been advised in January that freelance night fighting with such a set did not promise success (see above). On the other hand it is possible that FuG 200 was tried out even so. The image is not clear enough to reveal whether there was any armament in the Ju 88’s solid nose.

NOTE: According to a 1942 Allied manual for ASV Mk. II operators, distinguishing an aircraft from a ship is “a matter of difficulty and under many circumstances … impossible”; types that carry ASV tend to be slow; sea returns limit the minimum range; and the set’s inability to indicate relative altitudes makes good visibility essential. Even so, “In some cases it will be possible to carry out interceptions … hostile aircraft have been located and homed on to by this means” and one had been shot down. The manual’s conclusion is that ASV patrols specifically aimed at intercepting aircraft “may not be profitable” but that contacts arising during routine patrols were well worth pursuing.

There are indications that the Kommando had not become 9./ZG 1 before April 1944. On 1 April, three airmen had been transferred from IV./KG 40 to Kommando Hauptmann Kunkel (see above); a detailed strength return from ZG 1 on the 11th had included neither a 9. nor a 10. Staffel. On the same date the award of Iron Cross 1st Class was recommended for Fw. Rudolf Schönbach. In this message his unit was given as 10./ZG 1 but on 16 April ZG 1 confirmed to its III. Gruppe that the award had been made two days earlier, however now the recipient was said to belong to the 9. Staffel. On the 19th 10./ZG 1 handed over its personnel and equipment “for the building up of … 9/ZG 1”, leading Bletchley Park to infer from the chosen German word (Aufbau) that there was at least the nucleus of a 9. Staffel already in existence. It was 28 June before the new 9.(NJ)/ZG 1 is known to have lost an aircraft, Ju 88 C-6 W.Nr. 750898 which came down near Dancy, about 14 km NW Châteaudun. Its pilot was Uffz. Werner Migge, who had joined Kdo. Kunkel in April; wireless operator was Ogefr. Hans-Joachim Köhler and air-gunner, Ogefr; Horst Michael. Migge and Köhler are buried in the Champigny-St.André war cemetery, Michael is missing.

Afterword

That the Kommando was kept going for so long with so little success was perhaps symptomatic of the Germans’ pressing need to find ways of ensuring the safe passage of their U-boats across the Bay of Biscay at night—a problem already being tackled with surface escorts (in effect a small-scale convoy system) and fields of radar decoys, plus radar warning receivers and heavier Flak armament aboard the the submarines themselves.

The Luftwaffe had understood back in the Summer of 1942 that their night fighters were unlikely to achieve much operating out to sea unless they could be controlled from a vessel equipped for the purpose. What was more, they had no airborne radar effective against machines flying low over water … where anti-submarine planes spent much of their time. Their targets were few in number, operating in darkness, usually alone and spread across a wide area. There was no bomber stream to contact, no single target the enemy were all heading for, no burning cities to silhouette the attackers from below. The Germans did however know where their own submarines were and could patrol the designated approach routes to the various bases. (The Allies often knew the U-boats’ positions and intentions too, of course, but could not brief their airmen too precisely without jeopardising the sources of their intelligence).

The Allies were understood to keep their ASV sets transmitting continuously but Naxos would only react when painted by the beam (which swept a 60º arc ahead of the carrier aircraft). The receiver had a detection range of around 50 km against an aircraft flying 1,000 m higher than the night fighter but only gave bearing information. Coastal Command’s normal ASV patrol altitude appears to have been 500–800 m, limiting the Naxos detection range achievable by a night fighter which must fly lower still. Once contact was made, it would have to be held until the Ju 88 was near enough (3.5 km) for FuG 212 contact. If this was achieved the night fighter would now have indications of bearing, range and altitude. To make an actual attack, the fighter had then to close to gain visual contact. Clearly then, Kommando Kunkel faced enormous obstacles to success.

continued on next page …

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PART FIVE OF SIX


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