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Eimannsberger, Ludwig V. (Translated by David Johnston) Zerstorer Gruppe: A History of V./(Z)LG1 - I./NJG3, 1939-1941. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1998.
In 1937 III/JG134 with its Bf 109 aircraft transferred to the newly forming Lehrgeschwader as II (Schwere Jagd) Lehrgeschwader in anticipation of conversion to heavy fighters. In 1938 the Lehrgeschwader became Lehrgeschwader 1 while II Geschwader became I (Schwere Jagd) Lehrgeschwader and began taking delivery of its Bf 110 twin-engined fighters. By August 1939 the geschwader was fully equipped with Bf 110s and was redesignated V Gruppe (Zerstorer) of Lehrgeschwader 1.
As V./(Z)LG1, the unit flew escort missions during the Polish campaign, then flew training and recon escort missions on the western front during the Phoney War. On 10 May 1940 the Me 110s began flying missions, mostly escorting bombers, during the invasion of France and the Low Countries. On the 17th they first ran up against Spitfires, soon to become their nemesis. During the campaign in France the unit transferred forward to an airfield in Belgium, losing eight aircraft -- nine aircrew killed and seven wounded -- by the time its operations were suspended on 17 June. All these actions Eimannsberger describes in ten pages of text, leading up to the Battle of Britain.
On 27 June, following its rest and refit, V./(Z)LG1 moved to Le Mans and then Alencon on the 29th. From airfields there the unit began flying its first missions against England on 4 July, refueling at Cherbourg en route. On 12 July the Zerstorers transferred to a strip near Caen and, still refueling each time at Cherbourg, began flying missions in earnest. With the mounting pace of operations, it became apparent the heavy fighters were no match for Spitfires or Hurricanes in dogfights, and the Germans suffered increasingly heavy losses. Eimannsberger quotes a 110 pilot:
"I would not say that the British fighters were superior to the Bf 110. Each possessed certain advantages and disadvantages. Under equal conditions much depended on the pilots. But I would like to make one thing clear: the nature of our missions places us at a grave disadvantage compared to the British. The figher pilot's motto always has been: see and attack at once! But on our missions this applied only to the British. They could initiate their attacks from a safe altitude, where and when they wanted. On the other hand we as direct escorts were tied to our slower-flying bombers. We had to wait until the British attacked, usually in superior numbers. In order for us to have at least some measure of mutual protection in this disadvantageous situation we formed one or two vertically staggered defensive circles."
In any event, from 4 July through 15 September, the geschwader lost 25 machines and was reduced to just eleven crews. The surviving aircraft and aircrews, amid rumors they were to be withdrawn from combat, received a respite as the weather deteriorated in the second half of September.
On 27 September, however, the remaining eleven Bf 110s were thrown back into action. One was damaged while taxiing and aborted its takeoff. The other ten, without knowing it, were executing a feint designed to draw British fighters away from the Luftwaffe's main effort of the day. In drawing the attention of RAF fighters they succeeded. Accounts of the air engagements that followed come mostly from the RAF, for few Luftwaffe aircrew survived. Only three of the ten twin-engined fighters returned to base.
In fact after the 27th September there were only two crews left who had been with the Gruppe prior to the start of the French campaign in May 1940: Feldwebel Jecke (still in hospital) and radio operator Unteroffizier Schmergal of 14 Staffel and Oblerleutnant Zobel with Unteroffizier Pellnat. The others had been killed, wounded, or captured and as well several had been transferred. Some of the wounded resumed flying in the night-fighter arm following their recovery. The personnel who had come from Zerstorer Replacement Training Gruppe had suffered equally heavily. Of twelve crews assigned to the unit before the end of operations over England to make good losses, nine failed to return from combat sorties.
On 1 October the unit was redesignated I Gruppe of Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 (I./NJG3) and on 5 October began staging back to Germany to become one of the Luftwaffe's first night-fighter units.
Zerstorer Gruppe, largely a photo album (of the book's 232 pages, only about 40 are text), contains over 500 pictures from the personal collections of surviving crews and ground staff. The text includes large sections of accounts from aircrew-- for the most part, those who were captured over England and spent the bulk of the war in POW camps in Canada.
Interesting stuff. Especially informative on the slaughter of 27 September, with accounts from pilots of both sides.
We're told by the publisher, by the way, that a forthcoming sequel will cover the exploits of I./NJG3 through the end of war.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer Publishing.
Thanks to Schiffer for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 27 May 1998
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