Messerschmitt Bf 109 E vol. II


The afternoon of 9th September 1939 saw the biggest engagement of Emils during the entire campaign in Poland. In the vicinity of Lubień the Germans had detected a forward landing ground operated by III/3 DM, and the entire strength of I.(J)/LG 2 was despatched to neutralize it. On the way to the target Uffz. Fritz Geisshardt jumped a young pilot of 131. EM. and shot him down in flames. Twenty minutes later the Germans approached the airfield. Realizing that their base had been discovered, the Poles scrambled seven P.11s. Although at a severe disadvantage, they put up a gallant fight. The pilots of the Lehrgruppe claimed five ‘kills’ – Lt. Harro Harder, Lt. Klaus Quaet-Faslem, Lt. Hans-Wedige von Weiher, Fw. Erwin Clausen and Uffz. Gerhard Haag claimed one apiece. In fact III/3 DM lost only two fighters; several others were badly shot up. For the Germans even this meagre victory came at a cost, for Uffz. Geisshardt was shot down and taken prisoner, whilst another Emil pilot belly-landed his damaged machine behind friendly lines.

A JG 51’s pilot and the groundcrew of his Bf 109 E awaiting the return of their peers from a combat mission. Note the unit’s emblem on the yellow cowling. [Kageros's Archive]


On the morning of 10th September the Emils scored their last victory of the campaign, when Lt. Roloff von Aspern of 1./JG 76 flamed a PZL.23 of 1. EB. The following day two Emils of 2./JG 76 ran into a lone PZL P.7 on a sweep over the frontlines. This type, deemed too obsolete to serve as a fighter, was relegated to reconnaissance duties. Nevertheless, the daring pilot of 151. EM not only outmanoeuvred the two assailants but also sprayed the machine flown by Lt. Schulten with bullets, forcing him to crash-land! The other Messerschmitt gave up and flew away. Meanwhile, the Polish pilot landed in a field, fixed his failing engine and triumphantly returned to base.
By that time most Polish fighter outfits were grounded due to lack of fuel – very much like the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1945. Finding no opposition in the air, the Emils resorted to strafing attacks against ground targets. The last recorded air engagement during the 1939 campaign in Poland, which involved Bf 109 Es, took place on 14th September. Four machines of 2./JG 77 led by Hannes Trautloft bounced eight PZL.23s but failed to bring down any of them.
On 17th September 1939 Soviet Russia, by then allied to the Third Reich, attacked Poland from the east and effectively sealed the country’s fate. The surviving Polish aircraft were evacuated to Romania. The last Polish troops fought on until early October.
German pilots flying Bf 109 Es claimed a total of 19 victories over Poland for the loss of seven (in aerial combat). Overall, the campaign cost the Jagdwaffe 54 aircraft, including 19 written off in crashes (notably, 16 of them were Bf 109 Es).

Sitzkrieg
France and Great Britain, Poland’s western allies, were not eager to engage in another war with Germany, for which the two countries were actually ill prepared. Consequently, their declaration of war on Germany, issued on 3rd September 1939, was followed by a period of inaction known as the ‘phoney war’, or Sitzkrieg (a sitting war) to the Germans. On 7th September, elements of the French 3rd and 5th Armies advanced, without any resistance, across the Franco-German border to a depth of eight kilometres, but the half-hearted offensive was soon halted. Having seized the Warndt Forest - three square miles of German territory - a few days later the French withdrew. Henceforth the ‘frontline’ was to remain unchanged until the late spring of 1940.
During that period Germany’s western borders were defended by 806 fighters, this number including 433 Bf 109 Es, which equipped the following units: Stab, I./JG 2 Richthofen; Stab, I./JG 3; I./JG 20; Stab, I., II./JG 26 Schlageter; I./JG 51; I./JG 52; Stab, I., II./JG 53 Pik-As; I./JG 71; II./JG 77.
France might have seemed a much tougher opponent for Germany than under-armed Poland had been. However, the Armée de ľAir was, in many respects, years behind the Luftwaffe. The French Air Force was still tied down to its old-fashioned, support role for the army. Furthermore, it lacked the logistics needed to wage a modern air war – an early warning ground network, reliable radar stations, communications and control systems – and had too few airfields to operate from. The French DEM (détection électromagnétique) radar system proved useless because of its short range and ongoing problems with communication. Thus, the widely dispersed fighter units of the Armée de ľAir, very much like those of the Polish Air Force before them, found it exasperatingly difficult to locate and intercept Luftwaffe raids in time. Furthermore, the new generation of French combat aircraft had not advanced beyond the prototype stage, and were still far from mass production. Some aircraft were purchased abroad, mainly in the USA, which offered Curtiss Hawk 75 fighters as well as Martin 167 and Douglas DB-7 bombers. At the outbreak of war the French could field 271 Morane Saulnier MS.406 and 88 Curtiss H-75 fighters. Deliveries of more Hawks and American-built bombers were expected over the following months. At the same time preparations for production of the French-built Dewoitine D.520 and Marcel Bloch MB.152 fighters were intensified.
Great Britain was also well behind the Luftwaffe in the latest armament race. The doctrine operative in the Royal Air Force called for defending British territory with pre-emptive strikes against German naval bases, which would probably harbour an invasion fleet and submarines. Afflicted by a firm, and as time would prove, unfounded belief that “the bomber will always get through”, the RAF did not foresee the need for long-range escort fighters. The crews of many Wellington bombers were to pay the price for this error. The mainstay of the British Fighter Command was the Hawker Hurricane. It was armed with eight wing-mounted machine guns and attained a speed of 520 kph. At the outbreak of war there were 497 Hurricanes grouped in 17 squadrons. At that time the Hurricane’s vastly superior successor, the Supermarine Spitfire, equipped only five squadrons. In October 1939 the RAF ordered as many as 4,000 Spitfires into production. For the time being the Spitfires were held back for the defence of the British Isles. Only four Hurricane squadrons were relocated to France as part of the AASF (Advanced Air Striking Force).

Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-1, coded ‘Red 2’, flown by an unknown pilot of 2./JG 77, Germany, summer 1939. The aircraft in RLM 65/71/70. Note pilot’s personal emblem on the engine cowling with lettering Hol’s der Geier. MG 17 cowl gun troughs were painted in yellow. The aircraft participated in the campaign in Poland.  [Painted by Janusz Światłoń]


First blood in the West was drawn on 4th September 1939. In the evening a formation of Wellingtons of No 9 Sqn had attempted to bomb some German warships and was intercepted by Bf 109 Es of 6./JG 77. Fw. Alfred Held and Fw. Hans Troitzsch shot down two bombers apiece. On 8th September the fighters of both sides scrapped for the first time. A brief skirmish between four Emils of 1./JG 53 and six H-75s of GC II/4 proved inconclusive. One damaged Messerschmitt, flown by Hptm. Mölders, nosed over whilst touching down at a waterlogged forward landing ground.
During that period German fighters were mainly tasked with intercepting allied reconnaissance aircraft. The Saarland, which borders France and Luxembourg, was an area of unusual activity in the air. This region was the operational responsibility of JG 53, which quickly scored its first victory. It was credited to Ofw. Walter Grimmling of 1. Staffel, who on 9th September 1939 claimed a ‘Blenheim’. His debriefing report reads:
“At about 11:25 hrs I spotted an enemy bomber to the southeast of Saarbrücken. It flew at 5,900 metres, with me 200 metres higher. When the enemy noticed our aircraft – Uffz. Bezner’s and mine – he immediately broke to starboard, heading for the border. I was 300 metres behind and closing fast. At a distance of 250 metres I opened up with my four machine guns. Shortly before reaching the border, in the area southwest of Saarbrücken, the bomber’s starboard engine began to belch smoke. I broke off and turned towards some enemy fighters circling above the bomber. The fighters did not intervene during my attack”.
 […]

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