Messerschmitt Bf 109 C/D in the Polish Campaign 1939

Operational orders for the following day arrived at I./JG 21’s base in Gutenfeld at about 18:00 hrs on 31st August 1939. The fighters were to take off at 04:30 hrs and head for Warsaw to provide an escort for some German bombers. But the weather would not cooperate. Throughout the night banks of dense fog veiled everything, grounding the Luftwaffe in the morning; the mission to Warsaw was duly scrapped. It was not until 08:02 hrs that the Messerschmitts of the 1st Staffel were scrambled and vectored towards Insterburg, where the observation posts had reported hearing the engine sounds of unidentified aircraft. No contact was made with the enemy however, and after 20 minutes the German fighters returned to base.5
After dinner the Gruppe moved from Gutenfeld down to a small forward landing strip at Arys-Rostken, some 130 kilometres to the south, close to the border with Poland. The Bf 109s took off from Gutenfeld at 14:20 hrs, and half an hour later landed at their new base, followed by the unit’s mechanics and armourers, who arrived aboard a Ju 52/3m transport. On landing, Gefr. Johannes Rauhut of the 1st Staffel experienced undercarriage failure and bellied-in. The damage to his Bf 109 D-1 was estimated at 30%.
After refuelling, at 16:16 hrs some 30 Bf 109 D-1s took off from the Arys-Rostken airstrip to cover a bomber formation which was made up of He 111s of KG 27 and LG 1, and Ju 87s of I./St.G 1. Their targets were the military facilities in and around the city of Warsaw. It was a tough assignment, for the Polish capital was only just within the range of the escorts. Lt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob, then the technical officer of the 3rd Staffel, reminisced:
“In the early afternoon all three Staffeln of our Gruppe took off from Arys-Rostken and headed for Warsaw. Our task was to provide cover for the Heinkel He 111s of KG 27. When we arrived at the rendezvous point, their gunners opened a heavy but chaotic fire at us. Our comrades took us for the Poles! Apparently they were unaware that our enemy had no modern, low-wing monoplane fighters with retractable landing gear. Since we had no radio contact with the bombers our commander, Maj. Martin Mettig, resolved to fire a pre-agreed recognition signal – a white flare - which on bursting released three additional red ‘stars’. The flare pistol was mounted in a fixed position on the starboard side of the cockpit sidewall, directly below the canopy. The barrel protruded through to the outside. It must have been clogged with something, for – as our commander later told us – when he pulled the trigger, the flare exploded in the breech and fired back into the cockpit! The commander suffered severe burns to his right hand. The flare furiously buzzed inside the cockpit, bouncing off the sidewalls and canopy, and after a while it seemed to burn out. At that moment, however, it ignited again, exploding into three fiery red balls! The commander, choking with smoke, jettisoned the canopy to let the red flares out. Badly burned, he turned towards base, accompanied by his wingman, Oblt. Schelcher and the other Rotte of his Stabsschwarm.
The remaining aircraft of our Gruppe continued on the heading towards Warsaw, maintaining a healthy distance from our charges, which still considered us hostiles and obstinately took pot shots at us. At the outskirts of Warsaw we spotted some Polish PZL 24 fighters approaching. They were getting set to have a crack at our bombers.6 A fierce dogfight ensued, which quickly broke up into a series of individual duels. Our formation scattered all over the sky. We tied up the Polish fighters, giving the Heinkels a free passage to their target. However, the air battle took us over Warsaw, dangerously overstretching our range. With no time to reassemble, everyone headed back to Arys-Rostken by himself. Our young tyros, who were on their very first combat mission, quickly became disoriented. As for myself, after a few circles I pinpointed my location and turned for home. I was the first pilot of the 3rd Staffel to turn up at Arys-Rostken, where I landed ‘on fumes’ shortly before 18:00 hrs. Our Staffelkapitän, Oblt. Schneider, landed elsewhere to refuel and returned in the evening.
All in all, of the eight machines of the 3rd Staffel that had taken off, only two made it back. The remaining six made emergency landings on their way home. I remember that the Poles captured two pilots, and one was interned in Lithuania. Fortunately, they were all returned to service after the end of the campaign in Poland.”7
Gefr. Walter Nuhn of the 2nd Staffel was also amongst the pilots who tasted combat over Warsaw on the afternoon of 1st September 1939:
“The Gruppe scrambled in the following sequence: Stab, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Staffel. My 2nd Staffel went up with ten machines – two Schwärme and one extra Rotte, formed by Lt. Schön and myself. Weather conditions were decidedly unfavourable for the task at hand, due especially to the poor visibility. The trip to Warsaw was uneventful, until we ran into enemy fighters some 20 km north of the city. As soon as we saw them, the Staffel swooped down to attack. A wild melee developed. I did my best to stick to Lt. Schön. We singled out two fighters and engaged them. They both veered around to meet us head-on. Suddenly, one of them loomed large right in front of me. We opened up at the same instant.