On 1 May the Gruppe’s leadership noted that these flights had ended and the fitting of "Erla attachments" for auxiliary tanks would be complete within a few days. Once combat readiness had been raised there would be practice flights in Gruppe strength which would also serve to test the droptank installations. Meanwhile belly landings resulting from engine trouble and accidents while taxying had reached an intolerable level. Four Fw 190 A-6 went off strength during April "without enemy action" (so were probably lost in accidents) and the 8./SG 4’s Fw 190 A-6, W.Nr. 470604 was received for repair at the AGO facility in Cravant-Bazarnes on 15 May.
Leutnant Esau led exercises with the same regiment from Tours on 15 and 16 May. In the first, four aircraft flew dummy strafing runs against vehicles and assembly points around Saint-Sauveur (64 km WNW Poitiers) and other villages in the Deux Sèvres Département. The pilots were successful in recognising camouflaged “Blue Force” positions and attacking them. The operation early next morning, this time in support of “Blue”, was a diving attack on Argenton-Château (now part of Argenton-les-Vallées) where—for the purposes of the exercise— hostile airborne troops had established themselves. The aircraft were also able to carry out mock strafing of Flak and anti-tank emplacements as well as vehicle assembly areas. Once again radio contact was good throughout.
Less appropriate employment—anti-submarine patrol—was found for 9./SG 4 whose 12 serviceable aircraft transferred to Marignane (18 km NW Marseille) on the 18th, groundcrew following in three Ju 52. A command post, dispersals and crew quarters had been prepared. Discussions took place with the Kapitän of 2./NAG 13, Hptm. Roland Eckerscham, and Maj. Wilhelm Ahlert, Operations Officer of Fliegerdiv. 2, the Staffel reporting itself operational that evening with 11 machines. Only at this point does it seem to have dawned on all concerned that Marignane was too distant from their assigned patrol area, the seas between Marseille and the Italian border. After checking the suitability of Le Luc (87 km to the east of Marignane) they moved there on the 20 May but heavy rainfall had so softened the new airfield that operational status was not declared until the evening of the 21st. The first flights were made the following day, establishing a pattern of patrols in Rotte-strength at first light and evening twilight, with another Rotte held at cockpit readiness in the meantime. There was a scare on 26 May when Ahlert ordered all serviceable aircraft to cockpit readiness but this “Alert Level II” lifted at around 14.00 hours [GMT+2].
Oberleutnant Heinrich Hesse reported that despite excellent telephone links, it still took between 20 minutes and three hours for reports of submarine sightings or attacks to reach the Staffel command post, the average being 40 minutes. Add a 15–20 minute flight time and it was hardly worth taking off. Reports arriving via the Kriegsmarine wireless detachment attached to the Staffel was usually quicker but reports arrived encrypted and the deciphering process consumed any time gained. Even so, cooperation with the navy was never achieved in spite of several attempts. What was more, the Fw 190 proved ill-suited to sub-hunting given its high speed and poor view forward and down. Hence success was un likely unless a raised periscope or surfaced submarine was encountered.
1–6 June 1944
On 2 June the 7. Staffel arrived to take over and groundcrew returned to Clastres. The flying elements of 9./SG 4 were held back for a Sondereinsatz, moving to Valence on the 4th and flying the mission the following day. The Staffel was back in Clastres by 20.00 (GMT+2), minus one Fw 190 undergoing an engine-change in Aix-les-Milles. The nature of this special mission is not described but the location suggests an operation against the highly active Resistance fighters in that area.
The 7./SG 4 did not stay long in Provence, being recalled to Normandy on 6 June:
Le Luc L/G [Landing Ground]: According to information from a French family living in buildings occupied by the Germans, there were 9–12 Fw 190s operating from this field, each usually carrying a bomb. All the aircraft left on the day the invasion of Normandy took place and it was believed that they left for the North. Later two transport planes came to take away ground staff … much equipment had been left behind [including] bombs (500 kg or smaller) …
M.A.A.F. Field Intelligence Unit
continued on next page …
PART TWO OF EIGHT