March 6, 1944
[Historical note: On March 4, the 95th BG bomber I'll Be Around, piloted by Alvin Brown, was the first B-17 over the German capital. However, I'll Be Around was not the first bomber to drop its load on Berlin. That distinction went to two pathfinder B-17s because the bomb bay doors of I'll Be Around had frozen shut!].
A milestone in the airwar against Germany was reached today. After severe weather caused all but 29 B-17s of the 3rd BD to abort the planned attack on the German capital on March 4, the 8th AF was able to despatch the 1st BD (262 B-17s), 3rd BD (242 B-17s) and the 2nd BD (226 B-24s) to attack industrial targets around the Berlin area.
The 1st BD was in the lead, followed by the 3rd BD and the 2nd BD. Measured end to end, the bomber stream was nearly 94 miles long! Escort for this aerial armada was provided by 86 P-38s, 615 P-47s and 100 P-51s. In all, 672 bombers would drop 1,648 tonnes of high-explosive and incendinary bombs on or around Berlin.
Fighter Gruppen received the green flare to scramble at 10:55. Hptm. Rudolf Sinner, Kommandeur of III/JG 54, led his 20 Me 109s from their base at Lueneburg and headed for the assembly point over Lake Steinhuder, near Hanover.
The Me 109G-6 (WNr 440 141) of Oblt. Wilhelm Schilling, StK of 9/JG 54. Photo taken at Ludwigslust airfield in Feb 44. This aircraft was lost on 20 Feb 44 when Schilling was shot down. (Sundin).
The fighter force was under the command of Hptm. Rolf Hermichen:
- Stab and I/JG 11 led by Hptm. Hermichen – 4 Me 109s and 13 Fw190s
- III/JG 11 led by Hptm. Anton Hackl – 18 Fw 190s
- II/JG 11 led by Maj. Guenther Specht – 15 Me 109s
- III/JG 54 led by Hptm. Rudolf Sinner – 20 Me 109s
- I/JG 1 led by Maj. Karl Schnoor – 16 Fw 190s
- II/JG 1 led by Maj. Heinz Bar – 21 Fw 190s
In all, there were 107 Me 109s and Fw 190s - one of the largest Luftwaffe formations ever vectored as a unit toward a bomber stream.
At 11:58 Hptm. Hermichen sighted the bomber stream of the 13th Combat Wing comprised of 81 B-17s of the 482nd, 95th, 100th and 390th Bomb Groups. Due to a navigation error which split the 1st BD and part of the 3rd BD, the 13th Combat Wing was being covered by only a few escorts. Only Eight T-bolts of the 56th FG were in position to block the on rushing head-on attack when the two forces clashed over the small town of Haseluenne.
I/JG 11 attacked first followed by III/JG 54.
In less than a minute, 10 bombers went down. Hardest hit was the 100th BG - The Bloody 100th - who lost 9 B-17s over Haseluenne.
Hptm. Sinner claimed hits on a B-17 and Fw. Ungar claimed a B-17 damaged – smoking badly. Other claims by III Gruppe are not known at this time.
Fw. Ungar came under attack by Capt. Walker Mahurin of the 56th FG. But Ungar managed to evaded Mahurin by reaching the clouds. Unfortunately for Ungar, he then emerged from the clouds in front of a T-bolt piloted by Lt. Barney Casteel, also of the 56th FG. Fw. In the ensuing attack, Ungar was wounded in the foot but made a forced landing at Hornfeld.
The aircraft of Friedrich Ungar after the battles of Mar 6 1944 (Ethell via Ungar)
Hptm. Sinner attacked a straggling B-17 only to be hit by defensive fire of the same bomber. Sinner suffered wounds to the left thigh from splinter fragments and bailed out near Bassum at 12:15.
Meanwhile, south of Bremen, mustangs of the 357th FG, flown by Lt. John Carder and Lt. John Howell, encountered a Me 109. Howell attacked first but overshot. Carder was able to follow up Howell's attack and shot down the Messerschmitt. The pilot managed to bail out at 2,000 ft, but his parachute harness ripped apart and he fell to his death near Rheinsehlen. This aircraft belonged to III/JG 54 and was piloted by Oblt. Gerhard Loos, Staffelkapitän of 8/JG 54 with 92 victories to his credit.
|53 B-17||22 Me 109|
|16 B-24||19 Fw 190|
|1 P-38||6 Me 410|
|5 P-47||20 Me110|
Luftwaffe aircrew lost: 36 KIA, 25 WIA.
Bomber gunners claimed an amazing 97-28-60 enemy aircraft - mute testimony to the ferocity of the combat. Escorting fighters claimed 81-8-21 and a further 1-0-12 on the ground.
According to the Prien book on JG1 and JG11, III/JG 54 claimed 8 B-17s, 1 B-24 and one B-17 e.V. (final total destruction). Thanks to Jim Horan for sending me that info.
III Gruppe Verlustliste:
|3/6/44||Bf109G-6||411922||RX+DL||?||?||100%||Rheinsehlen||Loos 8./||Gerhard||Oblt.||92||RK||8.||LK||FJ||P-51 357th FG||gef.|
|3/6/44||Bf109G-6||440135||?||we||10 +||100%||Gebiet Cloppenburg||Rosenberg||Herbert||Uffz.||?||?||7.||LK||?||?||verm.|
|3/6/44||Bf109G-6||410557||?||?||2 +||100%||Bassum||Sinner III./||Rudolf||Hptm.||?||?||III/St||LK||?||?||verw.|
|3/6/44||Bf109G-6/U-4||440180||?||ge||6 +||100%||Hornfeld/Hoya||Ungar||Friedrich||Fw.||?||?||9.||LK||BL||P-47 56th FG||verw.|
Sources Used for III/JG 54 vs the Western Allies:
Jeffrey Ethell, Target Berlin Mission 250: 6 March 1944.
Roger Freeman, The Mighty Eighth War Diary.
Eric Hammel, Air War Europa: America's Air War Against Germany in Europe and North Africa.
Claes Sundin and Christer Bergström, Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile.
Jerry Scutts, Jagdgeschwader 54: Aces of the Eastern Front.
Werner Held, Hannes Trautloft, Hans-Ekkehard Bob, JG 54: A Photographic History of the Grunherzjager.