April 17, 1943
1230 – 1320 Hours
Mission #52 of the 8th Air Force dispatched 115 B-17F's to bomb the Focke-Wulf factory at Bremen. The force was comprised of the 91st, 303rd, 305th and 306th Bombardment Groups.
A formation of B-17's from the 401st Bomber Squadron, 91st Bombardment Group.
Gruppenkommandeur Seiler's Stabschwarm led the entirety of III Gruppe into the air at 12:29 from their base at Oldenburg, Germany. The Messerschmitts were vectored to the north-west while they clawed for altitude. The stream of 100+ bombers was spotted traveling south-east as the fighter group as the thin-air of 8,000+ meters.
The Gruppe stalked the bombers along a parallel course racing to get in position for a front or head-on attack. German pilots had learned to their misfortune that a traditional rear-quarter attack against the heavily armed combat boxes of B-17's was costly. The Americans had designed the combat boxes to be mutually supportive; a fighter attacking any bomber in the box would be exposed to intense defensive fire from the others. Luftwaffe pilots countered by from a frontal position and slightly above the bomber altitude, which led to bomber gunners coining the famous phrase "twelve o'clock high" when calling out warnings. The benefit of attacking a bomber head-on held several advantages: (1) the combined closing speed reduced the amount of time an attacker was exposed, (2) the frontal defensive armament on a B-17F was weak, and (3) any successful hits had the possibility of knocking out engines, igniting the wing fuel tanks, or incapacitating the flight crew.
Just before III Gruppe could initiate a turn to begin a frontal attack, the bomber formation turned to port and started the run toward their Initial Point for the bombing run on Bremen. The Grunherzjagers raced after the bombers, braving ever the increasing flak surrounding Bremen. They stayed out of range of the defensive gunners while getting into position in front of the bombers.
At 13:00 hours on the southwestern side of Bremen, the intercepting 109's and 190's rolled into their attacks. Major Seiler immediately shot down a B-17F of the 306th Bombardment Group. Uffz. Albert Pfeifer (7 Staffel) filed a claim for his 6th victory, while 8th Staffels' Lt. Rudolf Klemm tallied a B-17 as his 22nd victory and Fw. Hans Hermann added his first. In all, 16 bombers, the highest bomber losses suffered by the 8th Air Force to date, were lost.
Only one German was lost, a Bf 109 G-4. It belonged to the Staffelkapitan of 9./JG 54, Hauptaman Hans-Ekkehard Bob. Hauptman described what happened on this day in the Pilot Speaks section of this website.
The Luftwaffe suffered grievous losses:
Staffelkapitän Hptm. Bob
I started behind the Gruppenstab (II.Gruppe) as leader of 9.Staffel JG 54 from the airbase at Oldenburg on April 17th,1943, 12:29 CET for reported American B-17s. Around 12:40 CET we recognized 120 to 150 four-engine Boeing-type bombers, altitude 7-8000 meters, west of Wilhelmshaven. The enemy unit flew course S to S/E. We passed the enemy bombers on the left, to attack him frontally. As we had just enough lead to set up an attack, the enemy turned left, so that we now had a right-hand position to the bombers. Now I corrected my direction a bit and set up a frontal attack with the whole Staffel. At the same time the enemy continued turning left, so that I was in a very bad attack position - I did not expect an effective attack. Meanwhile, the B-17s attacked Bremen and turned back South, then turned West. Now I started another attack and flew directly frontal to the leading box. I opened fire on the right B-17 of the leading box from 500 meters up to ramming-distance; I observed very good hits in the canopy and engines of the Boeing. At the last moment I wanted to push underneath the Boeing, but I failed, ramming the bomber.
My 109 completely lost its tail. The aircraft immediately went into a very fast spin and did not react naturally to any rudder movements. I decided to bail out at once. For that I pushed away the canopy and opened the beltlock. I was immediately catapulted out of the aircraft. I overturned permanately and lost altitude from 6000 to 5000 meters, where I could launch my parachute. I hung in the parachute belt with a big brake moment. It took 15 to 20 minutes with strong windspeed, until I reached ground; passing by woods, lakes and electricity-wires. In any case, the stormy wind and my wild pendulum swings made the crash was so heavy that I lost consciousness. I was dragged several hundred meters through field.
When I woke up and wanted to disconnect the parachute belt, I could not do it because the rubber dinghy handicapped me. I first stripped off the chute so I could bring the chute down by pulling on the ropes. In the Home Area were stationed homeguards, who were former soldiers in WWI. They observed the dogfight and saw the fall of the American bomber from which the crew bailed out. The homeguards mission was to catch the Americans. Their mission was successful and they caught me too. German flight-overalls looked nearly like the American ones, although we had strange badges on ours. As a Hauptmann, I had to one line with two wings to signify my rank. I was still groggy from crashing to the ground, so I didn't resist against being caught. A little bit later, when my mind cleared up, one of the homeguards said to another:
"Look man, there is an Ami, wearing the Knights Cross!!"
So then all turned: they celebrated my victory. In the nearby village of Großkören, the mayor gave a big victory party, where I became honorary citizen of Großkören. It was a drunken anticipation of the "Endsieg". My parachute jump had consequences: My whole body had green and blue fields - I could not move for the next three days. The victory was proofed and confirmed by the RLM.
According to Christer Bergstrom / Claes Sundin, Hans-Ekkehard Bob (Ace Profile 1: The Men and Their Machines, Hauptman Bob's 109 collided with B-17F (42-24459) "Hellsapoppin" of the 401st Squadron, 91st Bombardment Group. Five of the stricken bomber's crew managed to bale out, wounded, into captivity. JG 54 also reported battle damage to four other machines, but suffered no other pilot casualties.
III Gruppe Verlustliste: (The non-100% loss entries for this date is N.N. on the Rosipal Loss List)
The remainder of the month of April remained calm, as could be said for the first two weeks of May. Operational flights consisted of exercises and training. There were no losses reported during this period.
Christer Bergstrom / Claes Sundin, Hans-Ekkehard Bob (Ace Profile 1: The Men and Their Machines).
Jochen Prien / Gerhard Semmer / Peter Rodeike / Winfried Bock, Die Jagdfliegerverbande der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1939-45 10/III.
Gunther Rosipal – JG 54 Loss List.
Tony Wood – Luftwaffe Aerial Claims.