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July 1944: II./KG 26 at Vercors, III./KG 100 anti-partisan operations

II./KG 26

From Military Command, Southern France, 14 July 1944

Since 09.20 hrs. parachute landing over Vercors, at least one battalion estimated. 20 parachutists were twice reported in District of Tournus as well as South of Salons-sur-Soane, perhaps the same. Alarm Level 2 for the whole of [codename] LERCHE. Report what the situation is like there.

Jagdgruppe 200 and Geschwader Bongart were not the only units to counter the Resistance fighters on the Vercors Plateau. In his book, »Achtung — Torpedos Los!«, Rudi Schmidt recalls an attack on KG 26’s bases "on a Sunday early in August 1944”, followed by a wave of transports flying over Valence and on toward Grenoble. Parachutes were seen to fall and the Geschwaderstab ordered a scouting sortie which established that supplies had been dropped for the Maquis, with the drops zones clearly recognisable.

Everything about the circumstances suggests that Schmidt’s memory was at fault and that whatever the date of the bombing, the supply drop was the USAAF’s "Operation Cadillac" on Friday, 14 July 1944. He goes on to describe how “five or six” of II./KG 26’s Ju 88s were sent out to scatter fragmentation bombs on the drop zones:

The cargo parachutes could be seen lying about from afar and from [our] low altitude containers and other objects could be seen among them … In the partisan area there were virtually no anti-aircraft defences. An operation by aircraft at low-level and without bombsights was feasible. With this level-bombing you couldn't overshoot.

Karl-Heinz Freese flew two brief sorties from Valence on 14 July, as one of the crew (probably its wireless operator) of a Ju 88 A-4, 1H+IM, whose pilot was named Dingermann. On the first (14.40–15.19) they carried two AB 500 anti-personnel bomb canisters; on the second, an AB 1000 and two AB 500, all filled with incendiaries.

Early on 15 July, Fliegerdivision 2 reported an operation the previous evening by II./KG 26 against supply containers in guerilla territory between Vassieux-en-Vercors and La Chappelle (37 km east of Valence). The message was fragmentary but it appears that 13 of the Gruppe’s 38 aircraft were involved, landing at 22.10 hours. They had dropped 39 canisters of SD1 fragmentation bombs and 1 kg Elektron incendiaries on Vassieux; a drop zone just south of La Chappelle; a wood to the NNE; a wooded area and hutted camp 1 km. from La Chappelle; and woods 1 km north of Roche Chinard. The attacking aircraft had been subjected to such intense rifle and machine gun fire that 11 of them had sustained damage (reported strength on the 15th was 36 Ju 88s, 19 of them were serviceable, six fewer than on the 14th).

Unteroffizier Horst Winkler of II./KG 26 was shot down while operating over Normandy. In British captivity, and oblivious to concealed microphones, on 30 July 1944 he recounted his part in the campaign against the Maquis in Southern France:

We had to deal with partisans down there, you can’t imagine … [they] suddenly retrained the torpedo pilots to use bombs, with the “88” in a dive. Wonderful. But it wasn’t counted as a war flight.

… 10 kg fragmentation bombs, as many as would fit in. The mission lasted 15 minutes and all day from early till late, taking off continually, dive — swish — bombs away. It was fun.

The 15-minutes’ flying time suggest that these were operations from Valence against the nearby Vercors Plateau (a round trip of about 65 km). Asked if the partisans could fight back, Winkler replied (with a degree of exaggeration) that “the fellows had AA guns” and continued:

The Kommandeur was carrying 50 kg bombs. So, [he] took off first, had a quick look at the affair, “Aha, there’s a house with a few motor vehicles.” … the old “88” dives at an angle of 80 degrees, he presses the button, tight turn and head for home. PW’s were brought in the next day by the SS and by a Cossack unit, and they landed paratroops in there too … They took some prisoners and what do you think the Kommandeur had hit? A whole staff with nothing but high officers, including an English General who had been landed there just days before.

There was no British General but Winkler had not invented the story himself. An intercepted German message of 5 July had noted: “Allegedly in Vercors Mountains (Drôme) near La Chapelle the English General Conwell with two companies of black [… word missing].” In fact there was no British general with the Vercors Maquis, nor any named Conwell. Major Desmond Longe seems to have been the highest-ranking non-French officer present, leading the Inter-Allied “Eucalyptus” team, dropped on the night of 28/29 June.

If Winkler apparently overstated the scale of his unit’s efforts against Vercors (and the frequency of Allied supply flights) he did nevertheless provide some accurate details:

Italian fighters were there too [and] old Do 17s … as tugs for the gliders.

He went on to describe how “infantry, paratroops and Cossacks” had been dropped among the mountains, clearing out the area with “machine pistols and MGs … and we were always in amongst it with bombs.” Other sources do not suggest that II./KG 26 operated over Vercors after its attacks on the drop zone on 14 July and it seems unlikely that, speaking only nine days after the German landings, Winkler’s memory had faded. Unless corroboration emerges, it seems that he was simply bragging (as so many of these prisoners did).

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