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During March 1945, American troops advancing northward out of the Remagen bridgehead had reached the River Sieg, a tributary of the Rhine. On the 21st, their progress allowed their compatriots on the west bank to build a bridge across from Bonn and next day Air Technical Intelligence Teams were examining the airfield at Hangelar in the suburb of Saint Augustin on the eastern side. Amongst 19 wrecked aircraft, there were three Ju 87s, one of which was WNr. 131372, V8+KD of 3./NSG 1. This article attempts to explain how it came to be there.

GRENADE

The Luftwaffe's night effort in this sector was directed by Gefechtsverband Hallensleben (named for its Commanding Officer and formed out of Stab/KG 2) based at Hennef, east of Bonn and directing the operations of Nachtschlachtgruppen 1 and 2, each consisting of three Staffeln of Junkers Ju 87s adapted for night operations. In Autumn 1944, the command had also included long-range bombers and (until mid-January) the Fw 190s of Maj. Kurt Dahlmann's III./KG 51, but the latter were now operating primarily from Twente in Holland, against British and Canadian forces although they would sometimes fly south on missions, landing at Bonn-Hangelar.

Both Ju 87 units had begun life as ad hoc harassing formations on the Eastern Front, operating a variety of light aircraft before being re-equipped with Stukas as these were supplanted on daylight missions by the ground-attack variants of the Fw 190. In NSG 1's case this conversion (from the Ar 66) had taken place at Kaunas, Latvia in April 1944. After a period of blind-flying and weapons training, the Gruppe had returned to operations on the Latvian front in June, being withdrawn to Wormditt in East Prussia during September for its aircraft to be fitted with FuG 16Z radio and FuG 25a IFF sets.

NSG 1's Kommandeur, Hptm. Hilberg, was ordered to report to Hallensleben on 16 October 1944. Two days later, he was signalling from Bönninghardt, asking Störmede to detain any his aircraft that arrived at that airfield. Also on the 18th, orders were issued by Lw.Kdo. West for Bönninghardt to be stocked with 50 kg and 250 kg bombs and AB bomb canisters for the Gruppe which however was still assembling as the month drew to an end. The move from the East had used up all their allocation of diesel fuel, leaving vehicles immobile.

Meanwhile some crews were seconded to NSG 2 to gain experience in their new theatre of war. NSG 2 had been fighting in the west since mid-September and was hard-pressed: on 21 October, the Gruppe petitioned Hallensleben for a rest day after 11 days of uninterrupted action. The two units were to fly against the Anglo-Americans for the rest of the war, their targets including troop assembly areas, artillery positions, tank and transport parks, road junctions and bridges and even river traffic on occasions. On busy nights each plane might carry out up to three sorties.

Operations normally required a minimum of 4/10ths cloud and the period immediately around full moon was avoided (in marked contrast to the tactics of NSG 9 in Italy). Aside from darkness, the Junkers relied for protection on radio silence, Düppel and continuous weaving with constant height changes. Shot down crewmen revealed that outward flights were generally carried out at low level (around 300 m), climbing to anything between 1000 and 2000 m as the front line was crossed. Navigation was assisted by visual beacons, angled searchlights and the firing of tracer and starshell by ground troops.

The target itself would be marked by two aircraft (usually the first and third to take off) from around 1,000 m with orange or white parachute flares. At first these pathfinders had to rely on a timed run-in from a known datum point, although EGON guidance (based on triangulation by two ground radars) was later introduced; one of the special signals detachments moved to the area of Soesterberg, Holland on 14 February 1945 to support NSG 20 for example and similar help was provided for the Ju 87s in their attacks on the Remagen bridge in March. Interestingly, none of the NSG 1 or 2 aircrew interrogated by the Allies admitted to using EGON, although they were aware of the technique.

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BACKGROUND

I began work on this article in 1987 after I'd matched a wrecked Ju 87 pictured in Monogram Close-up 7: Gustav, Messerschmitt 109G Part 2 with one listed in the Luftwaffe General Quartiermeister's loss records for 1945 (by sheer chance, I should add) and began trying to find out more about the aircraft's fate.

The project stalled for a long while because I couldn't resolve one of the central questions thrown up by the research but eventually I decided to press on and not pretend to have all the answers.

Thanks to Aéro-Journal editor, Christian-Jacques Ehrengardt, this article appeared in French as Le Stuka dans la Décharge in issue No. 32 of that magazine (August/September 2003). The present version has more appendices.

Since then I've been in contact Richard Oxby and I'm delighted to report that he passed the English text on to his father, the RAF Radar Operator featured in the story, prior to the latter's death in 2009.


© Nick Beale 1987–2015

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