Formation of JG 27
Jagdgeschwader 27 was formed on October 1, 1939 at the dawning of WWII.
In September, Germany had launched a successful blitzkrieg attack on Poland, an action that prompted British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to declare war on Hitler’s Reich. However, the period from September, 1939 until the German invasion of Norway and Denmark in April, 1940 was remarkably calm, with very little fighting actually taking place.
This period became known as the ‘Sitzkrieg’ – or sitting war – by Germans. In allied countries, it’s often referred to as the ‘Phoney War’.Behind the apparent calm, however, there was a rapid build up of the Luftwaffe and the subsequent forming of JG 27.
The squadron was equipped with the new Messerschmitt Bf 109 E and initially chose the “Berlin Bear” as its unit emblem. JG 27 was soon destined to become one of the most renowned squadrons of the Luftwaffe.
It served over most battlefields of the war, and from its ranks, many famous aces were to emerge.
Blitzkrieg on the Low-Countries,May 10th 1940
During the Sitzkrieg, JG 27 along with JG 26, 51 and 54 were based north of Cologne in the Drei-Land-Ecke region where Germany, Belgium and Holland meet, to prevent any enemy reconnaissance aircraft from crossing Germany’s borders.
Being in the lee of neutral Holland, the squadron saw little action during this time. On the first day of the Blitzkreig against the Low Countries, 10 May 1940, JG 27 formed part of VIII Fliegerkorps, commanded by Oberstlt Max Ibel at München-Gladbach.
II / JG27 was based at Bönninghardt and commanded by Hptm Werner Andres with an established strength of 43 Bf 109 E, of which 33 were serviceable on the day.
During the Blitzkrieg, JG 27 was one of the Jagdgruppen, Luftflotte 2, supporting Army Group B which was advancing through Belgium and into France.
The squadron was involved in heavy action from the outset as it provided fighter cover for the advancing Wehrmacht. JG 27, together with JG 26 and 51, clashed with Dutch fighters as they provided cover for the JU52 transports which were deploying parachute troops throughout the Low Countries.
Adolf Galland and JG27
Adolf Galland, who flew with JG 27 during this period, referred to this as his ‘true combat debut’, (despite having seen action in Spain). On 12 May, Galland opened his score with an easy victory over a Hurricane, which he believed at the time to be Belgian, although it was later identified as British.
It was not until providing cover for the attacking bombers over the beaches of Dunkirk that JG27 was to meet its first Spitfires. Here the squadron pilots, along with those of JG 2, 3, 26, 52 and 53, found that after weeks of combat over France, protecting the bombers was a demanding and near-impossible task .
The most demanding task was protecting the JU 87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers. These were slow in level flight and difficult to keep station with, but lost the Bf 109 when it began its dive. All the 109 pilots could do was to wait until the Stuka began its climb out, when it was at its most vulnerable.
Battle of Britain / Kanal Kampf
After the fall of France, the squadron was stationed in Normandy where it carried out bomber escort duties and fighter sweeps during the ‘Kanal Kampf’.
Below is a list of the JG 27 bases at this time:
- Stab Cherbourg-West
- I Gruppe Plumetot
- II Gruppe Crepon
- III Gruppe Carquebut
The squadron was heavily engaged with bomber escort throughout the Kanal Kampf.
Eagle Day / Adler Tag
On 13 August 1940, the Luftwaffe launched a massive air assault on Britain with the intention of destroying the RAF. JG 27 was heavily involved in this operation, forming part of Luftflotte 3.
On this day, the Luftwaffe carried out 1,485 sorties, for the loss of 53 aircraft, plus 5 Bf 109s, for the destruction of 13 RAF fighters. Adler Tag failed in its objectives, and Goering ordered even more cover to be given to his bombers in future. Additional to this, he dictated that they would have to stay closer to the bombers, thus removing any tactical advantage that the Jagdflieger previously had.
Monday 30 September 1940: At midday an attempt was made by the Luftwaffe to bomb London, which lay at the maximum range of the Bf 109. One hundred bombers, supported by 200 fighters were involved. JG 27 successfully shepherded a single Gruppe of KG30`s JU88`s to the outskirts of the city, at a cost of eight aircraft from Stab, 1,2,3,4 and 6 Staffeln.
Of these, two aircraft were destroyed and their pilots wounded in accidents. Two were KIA, and three posted as missing to become POWs. Hptm Eduard Neumann returned his aircraft to Marquise, to crash land, writing off the aircraft.
During this later period of the Kanal Kampf, the Jagdverbande were hampered both by the tactical doctrine of having to stay close to the bombers and by the lack of range of the Bf 109 E, which meant that they often had only 10 minutes of fuel in the combat zone. After this – and low on fuel – the pilots faced the hazardous return flight back to friendly lines over the cold grey waters of the English Channel.
Throughout the Battle of Britain the following members of JG 27 received the Knights Cross: 22 August 1940, Oberst Max Ibel: 6+ kills. 24 September 1940, Hpt Wolfgang Lippert II/JG27: 12+ kills. 13 November 1940, Hpt Walter Adolph III/JG27: 15 kills. 14 December 1940, Hpt Joachim Schlichting III/JG27: 3 + (POW, 6 Sept).
Afrika – The Early Period
With his sights firmly set on Russia, Hitler had no wish to widen the conflict.
However, intent on creating a second Roman Empire, Mussolini began operations in the Mediterranean, which shortly began to falter under heavy British resistance.
On 7 December 1941, shortly after the British began to drive back the Italians, Hitler decided to intervene in North Africa, not entirely to Mussolini’s wishes.
Commanded by Hptm Eduard Neumann, I /JG 27 was deployed to El Gazala in Libya where it began operations over the desert in support of the Deusche Afrika Korps, (DAK), on 19th February 1941. It was in this theatre that JG 27 rapidly made a name for itself, not only through its prowess in the skies, but also its use of sound battle tactics.
As the Germans had made no plans for a desert war, much of the clothing and equipment initially had to be purchased locally.
The Bf109 E stood up well to operations in this theatre, despite temperatures often reaching over 100 degrees F. Tropical filters were fitted to the supercharger inlet, to prevent fine sand from wearing or clogging the engine.
With help from the Italian Regia Aeronautica, JG 27 flew numerous operations escorting JU87 and JU88 bombers, as well as fighter sweeps over enemy lines. Despite JG 27’s 109’s being equipped to carry drop tanks and bombs, the targets often lay well within standard range.
Many pilots that arrived in North Africa with modest scores were quickly able to increase their scores. JG27 flying a desert patrol. Overall, I / JG 27 did well in the first months, without sustaining high casualties and achieved a combined victory total of 61 kills.
The top scoring pilots in this early period were: Oblt Gerhard Homuth: 15 kills. Oblt Ludwig Franzisket: 14 kills. Oblt Karl-HeinzRedlich: 10 kills. Lt Willi Kothmann: 7 kills
The Mediterranean: Yugoslavia
On 26th March 1941, Yugoslavia tore up an agreement to join the Axis alliance. Fearing that an Allied presence in that country would threaten the planned invasion of Russia, Hitler began operations against the country, and Greece on 6 April.
I / JG 27 was part of the force assigned to the invasion of the Balkans, with the Stab, II and III / JG 27, based in Hungary, also available.
The Yugoslav air war was somewhat confused, due to recognition problems caused by the Yugoslav Air Force’s use of 60 Bf109E’s, which it had previously purchased.
Blitzkreig tactics were once again employed by the Wehrmacht, leading to the surrender of Yugoslavia on 17th April 1941.
The Mediterranean: Malta
During May 1941 the battle in North Africa was raging and supply lines to this theatre became of prime importance to both sides.
The British- held island of Malta thus became strategically important, and in January 1941, the Luftwaffe began a campaign to suppress the British forces on the island.
III/JG 27 was detached to Sicily, 60 miles to the north, in May 1941 where it carried out both bomber escort and fighter sweep operations.
The Gruppe operated briefly over the island, prior to transferring to Southern Germany a month later. As the air war over Malta intensified during September 1941, I/JG 27 was detached to Sicily from North Africa, being withdrawn back to Libya on 26 October 1941, due to the worsening situation there.
During the squadron’s time over Malta, the confirmed kills were: I/JG 27: 5 kills. III/JG 27: 7 kills.
Afrika – The Mid- Period
Back in Africa, the ground war had stagnated, forcing Rommel to abandon his attempt to take Tobruk. In September and December 1941, II and III Gruppen JG27 were transferred to Libya. (II / JG 27 having spent three months in support of Operation Barbarrosa, in Russia).
The lull in the ground war during the autumn gave I / JG 27 an opportunity to dispatch a Staffel back to Germany, to re-equip with the new Bf 109 F2 / Trop model.
Whilst considered under-gunned for fighters of its day, the ‘F’ model exhibited decreased drag and increased performance.
The British offensive, code named ‘Crusader’, opened in November, and the DAK was slowly driven back.
I /JG 27 was temporarily bogged down on its airfields, due to recent rains. Because of this, Gazala, JG 27’s main base since the squadron deployed to the desert, was abandoned and the squadron moved to Martuba, where it was joined by II and III Gruppen JG 27, thus reuniting the squadron for the first time since 1940.
Despite now being equipped with the Bf109F, the Allied Tomahawk and Hurricanes still proved a handful. On 22nd November, the squadron lost 6 aircraft, for a total of 14 kills. This may appear to be a good kill ratio, but to such a small force as JG 27 was at that time, these losses came as a heavy blow.
As December rolled on, the shortage of fuel was partially solved by flying it across from Crete. However, due to the dire situation that now existed for the DAK on the ground, the squadron was forced to begin a series of retreats, often having to abandon valuable aircraft that were awaiting repair. To make matters worse, on 24 December, Oblt Erbo Graf von Kageneck, of III / JG 27, was mortally wounded in a dogfight against Hurricanes.
Having 67 kills accredited to him, he was at that time one of the Luftwaffe’s highest scoring aces.
By February 1941, the Crusader offensive ground to a halt, partially due to the now over-stretched supply lines, and the Germans were able to consolidate their positions. With no shortage of targets, the squadron pilots were able to rapidly increase their scores, with Hans-Joachim Marseille reaching 40 kills on 19 February.
The desert war rolled on, and on 31 August 1942, the DAK, commanded by Erwin Rommel, began the attack at Adem El Halfa on the edge of the Qattara Depression. The British forces were now under the command of Montgomery.
On 1st September, Hans-Joachim Marseille, having returned from leave in Germany, shot down 17 fighters, from a squadron total of 20 that day. During his first sortie, he downed 4 fighters for the use of only 20 cannon, and 60 machine gun rounds. By the end of September, Hans-Joachim Marseille had made 44 more kills, bringing his total to 158, all but 7 of them in Africa.
During the autumn of 1942, I / JG 27 was able to re-equip with the Bf109 G2.
Marseille flew one of the first to be delivered on a patrol. En-route back to base, he noticed smoke entering the cockpit. Having crossed into friendly territory he made his last radio transmission: “I’ve got to get out now. I can’t stand it any more”. Now over German territory, at approximately 10,000 feet, Marseille rolled his aircraft inverted in a standard maneuver, to prepare for bailout.
Suffering from probable spatial disorientation, possible toxic hypoxia, as well as being blinded by the smoke in the cockpit, Marseille’s aircraft entered an inverted dive with an approximate dive angle of 70 to 80 degrees. At a speed of approximately 400 knots, Marseille jumped out of his damaged aircraft.
Unfortunately, the left side of Marseille’s chest struck the tail of his aircraft – either killing him instantly or incapacitating him – to the point where he was unable to open his parachute.
As the other members of Marseille’s squadron watched in horror, his body landed face down, 7 km South of Sidi Abd el Rahman: an unfitting end to the “African Eagle” and a foreshadowing of things to come for the Luftwaffe. JG 27 was so devastated by his death that the entire I Gruppe ceased to function as a combat unit and was subsequently withdrawn from combat operations for a period of almost one month.
Marseille was buried in the desert with full military honors in the military cemetery in Derna, Egypt.
To this day, a pyramid – newly dedicated in 1989 – stands as both a testimony and honour to his achievements during some the most severe fighting in North Africa.
Afrika – The Final- Period
Along with Hans-Joachim Marseille, the squadron also lost another ace during late 1942, when Gruppenkommandeur Wolfgang Lippert was shot down. Fourteen-kill ace, Oberfeldwebel Albert Espenlaub was also shot down on 13 December. According to British records, he was taken prisoner but was shot and killed later that same day while trying to escape.
On 8 November 1942, American troops landed to the west of the DAK, at Algiers and Oban. The DAK was now fighting a war on two fronts.
Despite still being a threat to Allied operations, the Luftwaffe in North Africa was now no longer in support of a strong land army. Partially due to Hitler’s reluctance to commit forces to what he thought was a mere sideshow to the war in Russia, and partly due to difficulties in supplying materiel to the theatre. The Allied build up in North Africa was relentless, and the Luftwaffe faced an ever more impossible task of preventing the inevitable defeat.
The Mediterranean: Italy
On 10 July 1943, the allies landed on Sicily, and JG 27 was involved along with with JG 51 and JG 77 in trying to prevent the Allied advance across the island. Axis forces began the withdrawal to the Italian mainland on 14 August.
With the air war over Germany steadily increasing, Luftwaffe high command viewed the defense of Italy as a lost cause, and progressively withdrew the Jagdwaffen based there to join the Reich Defense Force.
II / JG 27 left its Bf109G’s behind to be used by JG 3, JG 53 and JG 77.
Russia and Operation Barbarrosa
Prior to WW2, the Germans and Russians cooperated both commercially and militarily, with most German tactics and aircraft were tested in Russia prior to 1939, and in 1939, both countries signed a non-aggression agreement known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. (Officially, it was known as the Treaty of Nonaggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)
However, in June 1941, the German invasion of Russia began.
Code named Operation Barbarrosa, the invasion was designed to extend the Nazi Reich into Russia and create more Lebensraum (or living space) for the German people. The invasion having been foreshadowed in Hitler’s book Mein Kamf (My Struggle) back in 1926.
Although aware of the build up of forces on his western border, Stalin chose to ignore this, and his armies – having been stripped of capable officers in his ‘purges’ – was not equipped to halt the German advance.
On 22nd June 1941, the invasion began. Three million men were committed to this epic struggle, and within the first day, the Luftwaffe had destroyed over 2000 Russian aircraft, mostly on the ground, and in a week had total supremacy of the skies.
II and III /JG 27 formed part of that force as part of Luftflotte 2.
Historians still debate as to whether the first kill of the war in the East was by a JG 27 pilot. Leutnant Hans Witzel, of 5 / JG 27, downed an I-15 at 0345 hrs, and another one 60 seconds later. The other contender, was Oberleutnant Robert Olenjnik, of I /JG 3, who was credited with the destruction of an I-16 at 0340 hrs, just 25 minutes after the first artillery barrages began.
Losses were low in the early days as the Russians, purged of good leaders by Stalin, fell back. However, JG 27 lost one of its Spanish Civil War veterans on the opening day when Kommodore Wolfgang Schellman, (26 kills ) crashed after shooting down an I-16.
The aircraft broke up and fragments of it critically damaged his Bf109, forcing him to bale out. It is thought that the Russian NKVD executed him.
Unknown to the Jagdflieger, the Russians viewed any enemy forces as ‘War Criminals’, making no differentiation between aircrew and ground forces. Even aircrew lucky enough to survive a bailout, faced years of captivity in Russian labour camps, most not returning home until years after the war ended – if at all.
Attached to III / JG 27 at this time were Spains’ Escadra Azi. Identified as 15 Staffel, this unit included a number of Spanish veterans of their civil war. Its commandant, Angel Salas Larrazabel, had 17 victories over his homeland, before gaining another 7 in Russia.
As the bitter Russian winter of 1941 /42 drew on, air operations became ever more difficult, despite Luftwaffe ground crews adopting the Russian practice of thinning the aircraft’s engine oil with fuel, to aid cold starting. II and III / JG 27 were thus re-deployed, as were JG 53, back to the Mediterranean.
Defending the Reich
The first daylight raid by the USAAF on a German target was on 27th January 1943, when 50+ B17 bombers attacked the naval base at Wilhelmshaven.
The air war over Germany became an established theatre itself a year later, with the adoption of the green Verhvertidigung (Reich Defense) identification band on the rear fuselage of participating units’ aircraft. In many cases this was the only identification that aircraft had, as the practice of painting unit or individual markings gradually waned, due to pilots going through many more aircraft, as the odds became ever more stacked against them.
One type of marking that became more prevalent was the painting of a white spiral on the propeller spinner. This produced an optical illusion, which had the effect of throwing bomber gunner’s aim off mark.
In April 1944, JG 27 was based in Austria and Southern Germany. Equipped with Bf109G’s. it was tasked with defending the southern flank of the Reich. The squadron came under the command of 7 Jagddivision, at Schleishem, Munich. I/JG 27 was based at Fels am Wagram, with II/JG 27 at Weisbaden-Erbenheim. Gradually the bomber offensive grew, with the Americans bombing by day and the British by night, Germany was gradually being bombed to a standstill.
Despite overwhelming odds, the squadron, and Luftwaffe valiantly defended its homeland from this onslaught.
Big Week: 20-25 February 1944
The allies devised a plan codenamed ‘Argument’, to carry out a week-long, intensive bombing of Germany to erode the country’s air defenses in the shortest possible time. Taking place from 20-25 February 1944, this became the most frenzied period of activity so far in the war.
On 22 February 1944, a total of 120 Bf 109`s from I/JG 27, along with I/JG 5 and Italian fighters intercepted a raid on the Regensburg-Obertraubling aircraft factory. In the ensuing battle over Klagenfurt, Austria, 14 Liberators, 5 B-17`s, 1 P38 and 1 P47 (from a total of 122 which arrived to provide return cover for the raid ), were shot down.
The following day, the squadron was not so fortunate when return fire from US bombers brought down at least 2 squadron aircraft, including that of budding 5-victory expert, FW Otto Haas, who was killed.
Special Duty Wing
In the spring of 1944, Inspector der Jagd Flieger Adolph Galland, suggested that a crack fighter unit be formed, specifically for the interception of heavy bombers.
Designated Jagdgeschwader z.b.V, (Special Duty Wing ), it was based at Nuremburg-Ansbach and commanded by Maj Walther Dahl.
II /JG 27 formed part of this unit, along with Gruppen from JG 3, JG 5, JG 53 and JG 54, all being equipped with the Bf109G. The unit lasted only a month, as after the D-Day landings in Normandy, its Stab became that of JG 300, and the Gruppen reverted to their original units.
On 6 June 1944, the Allies landed on the shores of Normandy – D-Day had arrived. Following this, several Jagdgruppen were rushed to the theatre in an attempt to provide some resistance.
JG 27 once again found itself on French soil where it fought valiantly despite overwhelming Allied air superiority. (Odds of 20:1 in fighters alone have been quoted, with the total Luftwaffe presence here being only 289 serviceable aircraft.)
In spite of this adversity, JG 27 pilots gave a good account of themselves, with Maj Ernst Düllberg, Gruppenkommandeur of III /JG 27 claiming 4 kills, (all fighters), and Feldwebel Heinrich Bartels, already an ace on the Mediterranean front, making 11 kills in 12 days, between 14 and 25 June. But by the end of August, the shattered remnants of the German forces withdrew eastwards towards Germany, the Jagdwaffe amongst them.
Battle of the Bulge
Having been driven east across France, almost to the German border, there existed a `bulge` in the German front line, in the region of the Ardennes, Belgium.
This densely wooded area, with few good roads, was where the Blitzkreig had begun four years earlier.
Once again, the region was only lightly held by allied units and Hitler decided to attack through this region to drive for Antwerp in an attempt to split the allied forces in two and force a ceasefire. In secrecy a huge force was assembled, which, on December 16th 1944, was unleashed on the American troops in the area.
Under a blanket of winter fog, the allied air forces were powerless to help. The troops on the ground, having become accustomed to air cover since their first days in Normandy, were driven back. The Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last offensive in the west, had begun. With the weather becoming slightly better on the 22nd, air operations gradually resumed.
On the 23rd, Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Bartel made his 99th and last kill, shooting down a P47 near Bonn. Bartel failed to return from this sortie, and it was over 20 years before the remains of him and his aircraft were found.
The weather finally broke on 26th December and immediately the allies began air operations against the Wehrmacht.
On 1 January 1945, having received only minimal briefing, the Luftwaffe mounted a series of raids on allied air bases in Holland and Belgium. Codenamed ‘Boden Platte’, the idea was to destroy as many aircraft on the ground as possible, a task for which the Luftwaffe was able to raise 900 fighters.
All four Gruppen of JG 27 – only one of which had been equipped with the newer ‘K’ model – were part of this assault. Ground mist delayed take off and several aircraft were lost to ‘friendly’ flak, as the gunners had not been made aware of the delay.
The element of surprise meant that substantial damage was done to most of the bases attacked, with the allies losing 20 pilots and 500 aircraft. For the Luftwaffe, however, Boden Platte was a disaster, with 237 aircraft lost at a time when every trained Jagdflieger was irreplaceable.
On 9th January, German forces began a withdrawal from the Ardennes.
1945: The Final Months
Throughout the battle of Normandy and the Ardennes, the air war over Germany still raged. On November 2nd 1944, the USAAF mounted a 1000 bomber raid on the Leuna-Mersenburg oil refineries. The Luftwaffe was able to launch 490 fighters to intercept this force. JG27 Jagdflieger entered the melee, in support of the FW190`s which were attacking the bombers. The squadron lost 27 pilots to P51 Mustang escorts.
Overall that day, the Luftwaffe lost 70 pilots killed, 28 wounded, with the loss of 120 aircraft. Up until Boden Platte this was the worst day of the war for the Luftwaffe. Despite this, the Luftwaffe fought valiantly, defending its homeland, until the last day of the war in Europe, long after any chance of saving the situation had passed.
Exactly how and where JG 27 ceased operations is difficult to determine, although with a chronic shortage of aviation fuel and spare parts, it is possible that the squadron eventually collapsed, as was the fate of so many other Jagdwaffe. Many Luftwaffe personnel were utilized as ground troops in the final months of the war once they ceased being able to maintain air operations. It is known, however, that whilst most squadrons were transferred to the Eastern Front to stem the Russian advance on Berlin, JG 27 formed part of Luftflotte Reich, staying on the Western Front.
No matter how JG 27 ceased operations, the squadron will always be recognized as one of the premier Luftwaffe Squadrons.
During World War Two, the Luftwaffe lost 150,000 killed, wounded or missing: 70,000 of these were pilots. The fighter units lost 2,700 killed, missing or POW, with 9,100 Wounded.
I researched and wrote this short history of the Luftwaffe fighter squadron, JG27 in 2004. If readers of this have any information regarding the last months of JG 27, I would be grateful if you could forward it to me.
Duel for the Sky: Christopher Shores
Messerschmitt BF109: Jerry Scutts
Bf 109D/E Aces of the Blitzkrieg: Osprey
Bf 109 F/G/K Aces of the Western Front: Osprey
Bf 109 Aces of North Afrika and the Mediterranean: Osprey
Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front: Osprey