JG54West 40Aug25

August 25, 1940

1840 – 1910 Hours

On August 19th, the RAF and Luftwaffe commanders reflected on the air battles that had transpired since August 8th. They were shocked by the losses suffered from the ferocity of the fighting:
Lufwaffe losses: 246 fighters and 298 bomber (Battle of Britain Combat Archive vol. 6)
RAF losses: 211 fighters (The Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revised)

Most alarming was the loss of experienced pilots. Since the Battle started, Fighter command suffered 94 pilots killed or missing with another 60 pilots suffering wounds to render them unfit for combat duty. The pilot losses suffered in France hadn't been replaced and Fighter Command estimated it was short over 300 pilots. Fighter Command was locked in a war of attrition that it couldn't sustain.

As a result, both sides reassessed their strategy and issued new directives.

Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park of 11 Group, commander of the fighters squadrons in southern England that was facing the brunt of the Luftwaffe assault, issued Instructions to Controllers No 4. on August 19th. The instructions were designed that air battles would be fought over land. Several RAF fighter pilots were lost at sea when they either ditched or baled out over the Channel. Park wanted 11 Group to focus on the bombers and avoid being drawn into unnecessary fighter-versus-fighter combat. If unavoidable, those squadrons equipped with Spitfires should engage the Messerschmitts, leaving the Hurricanes free to attack the bombers. Chasing small numbers or bombers or reconnaissance aircraft over the sea was discouraged.

Goring in turn withdrew the Ju-87 Stuka from the combat arena; they would be saved for the planned invasion. The Stuka had proven to be slow and vulnerable to the RAF fighters. Secondly, the Reichs Marshall ordered Luftloftte 3's fighters stationed on the Cotentin Peninsula to be transferred to Jafu 2 at Calais. The longer flight times from the peninsula allowed Fighter Command to favorably position its squadrons to counter raids, leading to high losses. Bomber formations would be reduced in size and escorted by large numbers of Messerschmitt 109's and 110's. Contrary to the Battle of Britain movie (1969), and other historical accounts, Goring didn't restrict the Messerschmitts to close escort of the bombers. Instead, a majority of the fighter escort were sent on sweeps or "Free Hunts" ahead of the bombers steam. The United States 8th Army Air Force adopted a similar tactic in 1944, an example of such was the Zemke Fan, to protect its lumbering bombers from fast moving fighters. A small number of fighters were assigned to satisfy the bomber's requests for close escort, though Goring knew that sweeps in front of the formations was the best protection for the bombers.

Inclement weather over the Channel and England limited air operations. It wasn't until August 24th that the weather cleared enough to permit large scale raids over England again. JG 26 and JG 51 were heavily engaged that day. JG 54 wouldn't see action until the following day.

The afternoon of August 25th, a small formation (approximately 12) of Dornier 17s from I./KG 76 set out towards south-east England to serve as decoys, hoping to lure RAF fighters. The entirety of JG 26, led by the gregarious and affable Major Adolf Galland, swept ahead of the Do 17s. JG 54's Stab, I and III Gruppe, led by Major Hannes Trautloft, tethered themselves to the bombers as the close escort. The size of the 100+ formation enticed a response from Fighter Command, which sent the Spitfires of 616 and 54 Squadrons, along with the Hurricanes of 32 Squadron, to challenge the Germans.

The Spitfires of 616 Squadron and 32 Squadron's Hurricanes tangled with Galland's men in a running battle from Dover to Calais. Meanwhile, the 109s of JG 54 bounced 54 Squadron out of the sun to begin their melee. The Germans reported the destruction of five Spitfires, with Fw. Max Clerico and Oblt. Gunther Scholtz of 7 Staffel filing claims. Pilot Officers Gray and Maxwell each reported the destruction of a 109. In actuality, the dogfight ended with honors even as each side suffered one casualty.

P/O Mick Shand, with only 20 hours of flight time in a Spitfire was shot down and badly wounded in the arm but was able to make an emergency landing at Margate. Shand was likely attacked by JG 54's Geschwaderkommodore, who described his attack thusly, "I picked out a Spitfire that was separated from the rest of the formation as the "tail-end Charlie" and attacaked from below. I opened fire at a distance of 80 meters and hit the fuselage. The next salvo hit one wing. Burning, the aircraft spun down towards the Channel. I never saw the impact." [quotes reprinted with permission of author Bergstrom] The Pilot Officer spent several months recovering from his wounds and later returned to duty with 485 Squadron, flying the Spitfire Vb, in October 1941. By September 1942, F/Lt Shand was a decorated flight leader with over 60 missions under his belt, a far cry from the novice shot down by Trautloft in 1940. On November 28, 1942, Shand led a flight of six Spitfires on a Rhubarb over the Dutch coast seeking targets of opportunity. After shooting up a barge, Shand and his wingman were attacked by two Focke-Wulfs of JG 1 and shot down. Fw. Ernest Winkler of 4./JG 1 is credited with shooting down Shand. F/Lt Shand was quickly captured and sent to Stalag Luft III. Although he had survived two shoot downs, Shand's remarkable story doesn't end there. On the evening of March 24-25, 1944, he emerged from a 100-meter tunnel named "Harry" as part of the Great Escape. Mick Shand was on the run for four days before being recaptured by Luftwaffe personnel. After the war, Mick Shand returned to his native New Zealand and passed away at the age of 92 in October 2007.

Stab I./JG 54 lost Oblt. Heinrich Held who was KIA, possibly the victim of P/O Gray of 54 Squadron, who claimed a 109 during this clash. Gray reported the Messerschmitt exploded and broke apart in two pieces. The wreckage of Held's 109 E-4 crashed at St. Nicholas at Wade (NE of Canterbury). The Werk Number and Tactical Number of the aircraft are unknown.

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