Messerschmitt Bf 109 C/D in the Polish Campaign 1939

“Ppor. Anatol Piotrowski flew the P.11c marked ‘3’. He was most probably injured during the air engagement, or perhaps his fighter was damaged, for it seems he was looking for a place to make an emergency landing. It was then that he was jumped from above by Lt. Fritz Gutezeit of 3./JG 21, who claimed a P.24 at 16:55 hrs. A burst of gunfire tore into the P.11’s unarmoured fuselage. It’s very likely that this was the fatal burst, which pierced the Polish pilot’s chest. Despite his injuries, ppor. Piotrowski switched off the magneto, jettisoned the fuel tank, veered around a village and attempted to touch down. Unfortunately, the starboard wheel of his fixed main landing gear hit an earth embankment - the starboard wingtip then ploughed into the ground, and the machine cartwheeled. He was found dead in the cockpit”.12
The German unit’s own losses were devastating. Lt. Friedrich Behrens and Uffz. Otto Wolz of 1./JG 21 both force-landed due to combat damage sustained in the scrap with Polish fighters over Warsaw and were captured. Lt. Behrens returned to Germany after the cessation of hostilities, on 6th October 1939. The injured Uffz. Wolz left hospital and returned to service on 12th November 1939. Lt. Rudolf Heimann of 2./JG 21 ran out of fuel and had to belly-land in Polish territory. He was promptly taken prisoner, but was released from captivity after the end of the campaign, on 6th October. The same fate was shared by two other pilots of 3./JG 21. Lt. Fritz Gutezeit was forced down in the vicinity of Suwałki by a shortage of fuel, as was Uffz. Heinz Dettmer near Augustów. The two pilots were also returned to Germany on the same date. Gefr. Werner Ahrendt of 3./JG 21 strayed as far as Lithuania, where he was interned until 6th October. Overall, five German pilots were forced to land behind the lines to become PoWs, whilst another was interned in Lithuania. Therefore, the Gruppe’s losses may have been as high as 11 aircraft, due both to deficiencies in its pilots’ navigational skills and an over-ambitious extension of the Bf 109 D-1’s operational radius.13
Meanwhile in the south, I./ZG 2 was tasked with several assignments for the early morning of 1st September 1939. The Stabsschwarm and 1st Staffel were to escort the Stukas of I./St.G 77; the 2nd Staffel was to accompany the Henschel Hs 123 ground-attack aircraft of II.(Sch)/LG 2 to their target; the 3rd Staffel was to cover the Ju 87s of I./St.G 76. A morning fog delayed the unit’s takeoff for some 30 minutes. Karl Georg von Stackelberg recorded the Gruppe’s debut action as follows:
“The moment has come, it has started! The officers approaching from their billets turn up the collars of their coats. It’s chillingly cold outside. Everybody’s shuffling their feet around in the darkened park, lost in their thoughts. They are visibly tense; their pulses are racing, for they’re going into real combat for the first time. At last!
At 04:45 hrs German troops will cross the border and start the offensive. We’re about to strike at our enemy. This thought alone puts more spring in our step; our eyes subconsciously pierce the surrounding darkness as if already searching for a hidden foe - for we are the hunters, fighter pilots, the tip of the sword.


The engines purr at low revs as they warm up for takeoff. The groundcrews busy themselves around the machines. Flashes of light glint along the highly polished fuselages, making them look like arrowheads. The fighters seem to be trembling expectantly, waiting to be let loose to climb up into the air. Dawn breaks in the east. The distant, muffled sound of rolling thunder rises above the din of the idling engines. It must be the opening artillery barrage. The pilots don their flight suits, button up, tighten their parachute harnesses and put on their helmets.
The commander is a Major der Reserve - only the day before he had held the post of an NSFK Gruppenführer in Leipzig14. His strong voice rings out clearly; he is reminded of the year 1917, when he took off for the first combat sortie of his career.15
‘All set?’ he asks his crew chief.
‘Jawohl, Herr Major!’
The Major climbs aboard. To his left and right, mechanics check the control surfaces of his fighter. Those who will remain on the ground to await his return wish him good luck. The commander’s machine starts to roll off the dispersal pen. Together with the Adjutant, Technical Officer and Intelligence Officer they form the Stabsschwarm, which leads the formation. The rest follow them in quick succession, aircraft after aircraft getting off the ground. Gruppe G. is forming up. Their first combat mission, the first strike at the enemy!
The Major looked at his watch. It was 04:50 hrs. The objective was Wieluń. They were to provide cover for some Stukas. The skies brightened up, revealing a clear, sunny day. Early morning mists rose from the ground and drifted away. The Gruppe climbed up to 2,000 metres. The sky was teeming with aircraft that had taken off from neighbouring airfields, all heading north, towards Poland. Bombers, Stukas, fighters…
Propellers whirling, engines rumbling, the powerful air fleet droned on to challenge the enemy. There were so many aircraft all around that care had to be taken to avoid mid-air collisions. The fighter pilots, comfortable in their close-fit cockpits, steered their slim mounts with well-rehearsed movements. Men and machines merged into one. They all looked ahead, for there, somewhere beyond, lay the frontier with Poland. Swift and elegant like a flock of swallows, the fighters weaved in smooth curves above the stately Stukas.