Sonderstaffel Kaatsch was an emergency tactical reconnaissance unit, scraped together in a matter of days from the remnants of two regular tactical reconnaissance Staffeln and an auxiliary fighter Gruppe. This is a further revised and expanded version of my original piece on this short-lived Luftwaffe unit, making use of new research.
On 4 August, Jagdgruppe 200 had been assigned four Bf 109s but had to collect them itself from Hptm. Öls’s JG 27 rear detachment at Champfleury. Ten days later, as we have seen, JG 27 signalled that four pilots had duly arrived from JGr. 200 to fetch aircraft that had been made available by II. Jagdkorps on the 6th. The machines in question had already been handed over to JG 3 however. On the 15th, II. Jagdkorps told JG 27 that the four JGr. 200 men should instead report to II./JG 2 at "Airfield 409." This was thought by the Allies to be a satellite of Creil and indeed II./JG 2 was based at Baron, 18 km. south east of there. In the unravelling German situation their journey (130 km. by road) may not have been easy and another week passed before British Intelligence heard any more of them.
By the evening of 18 August Jagdgruppe 200 was reduced to 12 Bf 109 G-6 (9 serviceable) and 23 pilots (6 ready for operations) and late that day Luftflotte 3’s Operations Officer announced its withdrawal:
The development of the situation in the Army Group B area suggests that the 19th Army may possibly be cut off in the near future. OKW has ordered [that] Army Group G will disengage from the enemy and will join up with the southern flank of Army Group B on the line Sens-Dijon-Swiss frontier … Jafü Süd, together with … Jagdgruppe 200 will be subordinated to Jagdkorps II which is to transfer them back to its own area …
On Saturday the 19th, German forces in France were in deep trouble. In Normandy, the Allied encirclement was closing around the Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies; in Provence, in the south, the Nineteenth Army was ordered to pull back north up the valley of the River Rhône following the Allied landings on the Riviera. Luftflotte 3’s units were withdrawing toward Belgium and Germany in some haste.
Nineteenth Army needed to disengage and gain the Beaune-Dole-Dijon area before the US Third Army, driving east across France, cut it off from Germany. It was vital to know where the opposing regular forces were and what threats were posed by the many active Resistance groups in the mountains flanking its route and, in particular, by the American forces (Task Force Butler and the 36th Division) moving in from the east and threatening to cut the Rhône Valley routes in the Montélimar – Livron sector.
Signed Blaskowitz, Army Group G, IA, No. 2042, 20 August 1944, 17.30 [GMT+2]:
To Ob. West (by radio
Nineteenth Army has been without any kind of fighter protection, reconnaissance and close-support units since 19 August.
Army Group urgently requests that new units be brought up, especially recce and fighter aircraft. Reconnaissance on the eastern flank of the Army most necessary; presence of fighters necessary for carrying out recce, and also for psychological grounds for the troops.
At the same time Blaskowitz wired 19th Army that establishing whether the enemy would in the short term advance from Digne toward Valence or Grenoble had been made harder by the lack of Luftwaffe reconnaissance. He again wrote to Ob. Westat 06.30 on the 20th that with Jafü Süd’s withdrawal, aerial reconnaissance of Draguignan - Digne - Valence was indispensable and Luftflotte 3’s response followed the same day::
(1) 2. Flieger Division is transferring on orders of OKL to OB Süd West.
(2) Following will remain for the present in the area of Army Group G: 2./NAG 13, Stab JG 77, II./JG 77, Jagdgruppe 200.
(3) 2. Flieger Division has task with these forces of effecting cooperation with Army Group G and/or 19 Army until roughly area Valence is reached.
(4) From this area onwards, Luftlotte 3 will continue cooperation with Army Group G with forces from the Dijon area.
Paragraph “(2)” was either disingenuous or ill-informed as II./JG 77 and 2./NAG 13 were already leaving France. The Luftflotte’s own situation report for the 21st acknowledged the dangers besetting the Nineteenth Army:
Between Donce [?] and Valence strong saboteur activity. All the Rhône bridges between Lyon and the estuary destroyed. Crossings possible only on single ferries which are not easily enough available. Fighter-bomber activity is hampering our movements.
In his daily report to Ob. West, dispatched at 02.30 on the 21st, Blaskowitz again stressed the urgent necessity of aerial reconnaissance on his eastern flank now that the enemy was headed for Grenoble. Next day at 11.30 he sent a hoplelessly outdated radio-telegram to 19th Army: “The following elements of the Luftwaffe are remaining in the Army Group’s sphere until the bulk of 19th Army reaches the area round Valence: 2./NAG 13, Stab JG 77, II./JG 77, Jagdgruppe 200.”
At 13.30 hrs. (local time) on the 22nd, Jafü Süd asked after the locations of various "march groups", among them a "Kröck Group" (Maj. Hubert Kröck had commanded JGr. 200) which was headed for Dijon; at 16.00 hrs. Air Movement Control at Dijon was notified that the Bf 109 being flown in from Creil by Ltn. Bell had been re-routed to Strasbourg. Kurt Bell was 2./JGr. 200’s Staffelführer and at least two more pilots from the same Staffel, Lt. Max Moschke and Ofw. Eduard Isken, are known to have served with Sonderstaffel Kaatsch.
At 21.30 hrs. Nineteenth Army complained to OB West that: “for days there has been no form of air reconnaissance. The massif south of Drôme as far as the Rhône is now blocked, still obscure in what strength troops are there. Air reconnaissance of all roads on the east flank of the Army is urgently requested. 11. Pz. Div. will attack tomorrow.” The Army issued its daily report around midnight: 11. Panzer was holding off pursuing French and American troops near Nyons and Puy St. Martin, and the road north of Montélimar was blocked “whether by terrorists or regular troops is not known. Total lack of air reconnaissance over enemy movements in the mountains.”
Urgent requests were also made to Luftflotte 2 in Italy for photo-reconnaissance of roads in Provence including those from the Esterel Mountains to Cannes and Grasse and around Castellane, and coverage of the relevant area was ordered for the following day. Nevertheless, they complained again on the evening of the 23rd that there had been no reconnaissance of its eastern flank. Ob. West later advised that 2½ battalions of the 157. Reserve Division had been south of Grenoble on the 22nd, their whereabouts uncertain. Accordingly, Ob. South West in Italy had despatched a reinforced battle group and flown air reconnaissance to establish contact.
continued on next page...
Normandy: Falaise Gap closed.
Allies cross the Seine north and south of Paris.
US forces reach Grenoble.