JG 54 vs the Western Allies – August 28, 1940

August 28, 1940

1550 – 1645 Hours

Rain and fog on August 27th provided a welcome reprieve from flight operations to the exhausted airmen. The following day the skies cleared and both sides readied for the expected raids. Earlier in the day, Goring had dispatched two heavily escorted bomber attacks on the air bases at Eastchurch and Rochford in southeast England. By the afternoon Goring was ready to spring his trap. The third raid consisted of over 100 aircraft and once again aimed at 11 Group's airfields. Park scrambled his squadrons to patrol over the likely bomber routes. In all, six British squadrons would tangle with the Germans. The British expected to encounter another raid bound for their airfields. However, instead of finding bombers they encountered the first pure fighter sweep over England.

"Hornchurch Scramble" by Robert Taylor

 

54 Squadron scrambled 11 Spitfires from Hornchurch. The Spitfires initially swept southeast towards Canterbury, circled back to Hornchurch on reports of enemy activity, and then back to the Margate-Ramsgate area where they eventually clashed with II. and III./JG 54. The pilots of 54 Squadron claimed two 109's. In return, 5./JG 54 reported the destruction of 2 Spitfires. Meanwhile, Fw. Clerico, Oblt. Scholtz and Fw. Leykauf of 7 Staffel each claimed a Hurricane in the Canterbury area. In a repeat of August 25th, both sides actually lost one aircraft.

Squadron Leader Finlay's Spitfire was hit and burst into flames over Sturry, near Canterbury. Finlay, wounded, managed to bail out. He'd been posted to 54 Squadron for only 24 hours. The former hurdler who won silver at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, returned to duty on September 14 and took command of 41 Squadron. S/Ldr Finlay's victor is difficult to identify, as usually is the case in swirling dogfights. The two Spitfires claimed by 5./JG 54 were not near Canterbury, while the 7 Staffel pilots all filed claims over Canterbury, but against Hurricanes. It's not uncommon for fighter pilots to misidentify enemy aircraft, especially during the stress of combat, and this may be another case.

Pilot Officer Gray scored against JG 54 again. This time he claimed a "Curtiss" that he attacked on its return to France. P/O Gray stated the enemy aircraft fell out of control in mid-Channel. The 109 belonged to 5./JG 54's Uffz. Karl Kleeman, whose 109 E-4 (Wn. 2759) fell into the sea off Dover and went missing.

If Goring hoped this first fighter sweep would lead to significant RAF losses in fighter-vs-fighter combat, he'd be sorely dissapointed. The RAF lost 7 fighters, while the Luftwaffe suffered the loss of 6 109's.

The intense fighting of the past 21 days took it's toll on the combatants. A 54 Squadron pilot described the effect on the unit, now down to 4 experienced pilots:

"The strain had almost reached breaking point. The usually good natured George [Gribble] was quiet and irritable; Colin [Gray], by nature thin-faced, was noticeably more hallow cheeked; Desmond [McMullen], inclined to be weighty, was reduced to manageable portion..." The Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revised (Bergstrom).

1930 Hours

The final combat of the day involved III Gruppe on another fighter sweep over Kent.  Only 603 Squadron, which was on defensive patrol with 11 Spitfires, was able to engage the Germans.  In the brief battle, Lt. Hans-Erich Heinbockel of Stab III claimed a Hurricane.  The "Hurricane" was in fact the Spitfire of P/O Benson, who was killed.  On the debit side for JG 54's ledger, was the lost of a 1./JG 54 109E-1 (Wn. 6204 "White 4") piloted by Fw Otto Schottle.  Schottle's suffered a combat damage to his aircraft engine and force landed in Kent and was captured.

No losses were reported for III Gruppe.

 

Sources:

Christer Bergstrom / Claes Sundin, Hans-Ekkehard Bob (Ace Profile 1: The Men and Their Machines).

Christer Bergstrom / Claes Sundin, Max Hellmuth Ostermann (Ace Profile 2: The Men and Their Machines).
Christer Bergstrom, The Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revised.

Nigel Parker, Battle of Britain Combat Archive: Volumes 1-7.
Battle-of-Britain-Diary.org.uk.

Gunther Rosipal – JG 54 Loss List.

Tony Wood – Luftwaffe Aerial Claims.
Jerry Scutts, Jagdgeschwader 54: Aces of the Eastern Front.
Werner Held, Hannes Trautloft, Hans-Ekkehard Bob, JG 54: A Photographic History of the Grunherzjager.

aircrewremember.com

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