Messerschmitt Bf 109 C/D in the Polish Campaign 1939


‘How different it all looked in 1914’, thought the Major, ‘What a huge advance in technology we have achieved!’
It was only his fourth flight at the controls of the Bf 109 he was piloting, but he already felt at home in its cockpit, secure in the knowledge that he had the temperamental beast well under control.
The first signs of life could be seen far below. Our artillery pounded the enemy frontline incessantly. Troop columns moved along the roads, infantrymen marched, tanks and horse-drawn carts rolled on, everything pushed forward, towards Poland. The thudding sounds of the ground war grew louder... the frontier! Zigzagging trenches, manoeuvring tanks, fires, muzzle-flashes… Our troops pressed on relentlessly.  
The Major strained his eyes scanning the horizon ahead, looking for enemy fighters. The Stukas got to work. They pulled up their noses, rolled over and plummeted straight down like birds of prey. Their pilots calmly watched their targets grow in their bombsights, then released their deadly load and rocketed back up. Pelted with bombs, the ground erupted into plumes of dark, billowing smoke, dust, and swirling debris. The heavy shroud lingered for a few moments, then drifted aside. (...)
The Gruppe reversed course, turning for home. Sunrays played along the glossy wing surfaces of the German aircraft, but the treacherous fog again started to cloak the distant ground. The airmen looked apprehensively for breaks in those opaque, intermittent cloud layers in order to check their whereabouts. Finally, the fighters arrived at Groß-Stein and dropped into the swelling bank of fog. They were immediately enveloped by a white fluff, which drastically reduced visibility. Droplets of moisture began to form up on the inside of the canopy… watch out, treetops! Pull up! Then, the airfield loomed directly ahead - thank God!
The ground rushes up, a slight pull on the control column checks the descent, and the first machine alights. As it rolls on, more fighters emerge from the fog and touch down, one after another. The Gruppe’s first operational mission is over”.16
However, I./ZG 2’s debut did not end in a welcome manner. Lt. Hans Nieswandt, who was piloting Bf 109 D-1 WNr. 2704, lost his bearings on approaching the airfield and crashed to his death. The pilot’s body, along with the wreck of his machine, were not found until two days later, near Namslau. Furthermore, two machines of 3./ZG 2 crash-landed at Groß-Stein: Bf 109 D-1 ‘Yellow 7’ flown by Maj. der Reserve Otto Zimmermann, and Bf 109 C-3, WNr. 1722 ‘Yellow 11’ flown by Ofw. Kurt Müller. Both pilots emerged from their mishaps only slightly bruised. Another Bf 109 D-1 was written off in the vicinity of the airfield (the pilot was unharmed).
Between 08:24 hrs – 09:12 hrs the Stab, 1st and 2nd Staffeln - 27 Bf 109s in all - carried out another mission, escorting the Stukas of II./St.G 77 to the area of Radomsko. Assignments continued in the same vein. From 13:24 hrs to 14:16 hrs the Gruppe provided cover for the Ju 87s of I./St.G 76 as they headed for Radomsko and Kłobuck. On landing at Groß-Stein Lt. Hans Röderer of 2./ZG 2 forgot to lower his undercarriage and effectively brought his aircraft down for a belly landing. His Bf 109 D-1, marked ‘Red 15’, suffered 20% damage.
At 17:42 hrs the Gruppe was informed that a Polish reconnaissance aircraft had been observed over the village of Panki. Four machines of the Stabsschwarm and a further 14 of the 3rd Staffel were scrambled to intercept it. Over Częstochowa, Polish anti-aircraft batteries fired at the German fighters. Karl Georg von Stackelberg noted:
“The Salzburg Oberleutnant (Josef Kellner-Steinmetz – author’s note) was leading the 3rd Staffel. He searched for the prey like a hunting hound. From time to time he passed short orders over the radio to the other pilots of his Staffel. Sometimes the Kommandeur’s voice could be heard in the pilots’ headsets – he flew at the front of the formation. Suddenly, there was a cry of warning:
‘Watch out! Barrage balloons ahead!’
Light-coloured balls seemed to hover in the distance. At first glance one could mistake them for barrage balloons, but after a few seconds they dissipated into fleecy clouds. Flak! The Poles are shooting - but what are they trying to hit? Their aim was really bad. The bursts fell wide and we ignored them. Apart from that, we saw not a trace of the enemy - at least, not in the air”.17
Having failed to locate the ‘recce’ machine, the Messerschmitts turned around, and at 18:45 hrs they returned to base.

Endnotes:

1     Figures quoted after: Prien Jochen, Stemmer Gerhard, Rodeike Peter, Bock Winfried: Die Jagdfliegerverbände der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1934 bis 1945, Teil 1 Vorkriegszeit und Einsatz über Polen – 1934 bis 1939 (Eutin 2000, p. 395). Marius Emmerling in his Luftwaffe nad Polską 1939, cz. I Jagdflieger (Gdynia 2002, p. 222) records 334 Bf 109s.
2     Reportedly there were at least several Bf 109 C-3s, armed with 20 mm wing-mounted MG FF cannons, among them.
3     Since von Stackelberg’s reportage was written during the war, unit and personnel names were censored out. Jagdgruppe G. was obviously Jagdgruppe Gentzen, which carried the name of its commander.
4     Stackelberg Karl Georg von: Jagdgruppe G., Jäger an Polens Himmel, Graz 1940, pp. 25-27.
5     Times of I./JG 21’s operational activity are quoted after Emmerling Marius: Luftwaffe nad Polską 1939, cz. I Jagdflieger (Gdynia 2002), whilst those of I./ZG 2 are based on Emmerling Marius: Luftwaffe nad Polską 1939, cz. I Jagdflieger (Gdynia 2002) and: I./ZG 2 nad Polskem at www.valka.cz/clanek_12310.
6     Luftwaffe pilots who saw action during the Polish Campaign invariably identified all the Pulawski fighters, fitted with the distinctive gull wing, as PZL P.24s. In fact this most advanced type of the P-series fighters was not operated by the Polish Air Force.
7     Bob Hans-Ekkehard, a personal account related to the author on 25th August 2007.
8     Emmerling..., op. cit., pp. 8-9.
9     The corresponding RAF ranks were as follows (abbr. in brackets): szeregowy (szer.) – AC 2; starszy szeregowy (st. szer.) – AC 1; kapral (kpr.) – LAC; plutonowy (plut.) – Cpl; sierżant (sierż) – Sgt; starszy sierżant (st. sierż.) – Sgt Mjr; podchorąży (pchor.) – Officer Candidate (no equivalent); chorąży (chor.) – W/O; podporucznik (ppor.) – Pilot Officer; porucznik (por.) – Flying Officer; (kapt.) – Flight Lieutenant (translator’s note).
10     Kurowski Adam: Bijcie się z nami Messerschmitty!, Warszawa 1967, pp. 90-91.
11     Kędzierski Janusz: Pod niebem własnym i obcym, Warszawa 1989, p. 171.
12     Janowicz Krzysztof: Myśliwiec z Choszczówki, Militaria XX wieku, nr 3(30), maj-czerwiec 2009, str. 8
13     According to Marius Emmerling, I./JG 21 lost only six Bf 109s in this action, whilst Jochen Prien mentions as many as 11 write-offs. It seems that the most probable figure is nine aircraft lost. This calculation is confirmed by Hans-Ekkehard Bob who stated that of eight machines of 3./JG 21 which had taken off, only two made it back. Thus, 1. Staffel lost two Bf 109s, 2. Staffel one more, and 3. Staffel another six.
14     NSFK –  the National Socialist Flyers Corps was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party founded in 1937. It conducted military aviation training in gliders and private airplanes during the years when a German Air Force was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.
15     The pilot was Maj. Otto Zimmermann.
16     Stackelberg..., op. cit., pp. 28-35.
17     Ibidem, op. cit., p. 34.

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