Messerschmitt Bf 110 vol. III

Stab, I. and II./ZG 26, subordinated to Fliegerkorps VII (Luftflotte 2), started their war in the East from Suwalki airbase (III. Gruppe was at that time posted to the Mediterranean region). In mid-July the Geschwader operated in the area of Vilnius, reaching Pskov (Pleskau) in August, and Smolensk by the end of September (the II. Gruppe moved in mid-September to Pärnu in Estonia, on the Gulf of Riga). The post of Kommodore was in this period (from November 1940 until September 1941) by Obst. Johann Schalk. His two Kommandeure were Hptm. Herbert Kaminski (replaced by the end of 1941 by 1941, Hptm. Wilhelm Spies) of I./ZG 26, and Hptm. Ralph von Rettberg, CO of II./ZG 26. Soon after the start of the campaign in the East, I. and II./ZG 26 were transferred from the central zone up north, to spearhead the advance of the field marshal von Leeb’s Army Group “North”, through the Baltic States towards Leningrad.
The 5./ZG 26’s diary clearly demonstrates the changing pace of the German drive east. On 1st June 1941 the Staffel was still stationed at Argos, in the Peloponnesus, Greece, escorting Ju 52 transports bound for Crete. On 22nd June, the opening day of “Barbarossa”, the unit carried out four Tiefangriff (low level mission) and Bombenwurf (bombing mission) against, among others, airfields at Alytus, in the south of Lithuania, and Lida airbase in Byelorussia.
The following day the Staffel flew another four missions: Tiefangriff and Bombenwurf against enemy mechanised columns and trains, as well as Kampfverband begleitet (bomber escort) in the Vilnius area. Between 24th and 29th June the 5./ZG 26’s machines attacked targets around Minsk, mostly columns of lorries.
During the first week of July the Staffel set up shop in Vilnius, from where it often flew out twice a day. On 1st July it was twice Tiefangriff in the vicinity of Dünaburg; on 2nd and 3rd Bewaffnete Aufklärung (armed reconaissance) and Bombenwurf at Borrisow, on 5th and 6th Freie Jagd near Polozk, in the northern Byelorussia. For the next week the Staffel moved forward to the airfield at Sloboda, Byelorussia. From here the ‘destroyers’ had already in reach the targets in Russia proper – Nevel, Velikiye Luki, Smolensk. Day after day Bf 110s pounded ground targets; on 9th July the unit’s Messerschmitts flew Jagdschutz (interception mission) around Polozk-Czina. On 13th the Staffel flew as many as seven Freie Jagd (fighter sweeps) over Smolensk and Vitebsk area, the following two days it was tasked with a series of Bewaffnete Aufklärung and Tiefangriff.
From 16th July 5./ZG 26 stationed in Pskov in Russia, just east of the border with Latvia and Estonia. From there the unit had within its operational range the city of Leningrad, as well as Staraya Russa or Dorpat (Tartu) in Estonia (west of the Lake Peipus). Three, four missions per day, almost exclusively Abwehrschlachten (ground-attack missions). The pace of advance clearly slackened. Between 30th July and 20th August the Staffel moved to Sarodinye, some 100 km east of Lake Peipus. It’s hard to find this place on any map. As one of the pilots recalled later, “there was no town nearby, not even a village, just a spot in the middle of a forest. But it wasn’t a bad airfield. In fact, it wasn’t an airfield at all – just a lot of firebreaks cut among the trees. Each Rotte had its own runway, pointing in all directions. In the middle of it all a small clearing, surrounded by tall trees, where we set up our tents”.
More VVS bases are ‘worked over’ by the 5./ZG 26’s machines: Sivierskaya, Krasnogvardeisk, Jadrovo, Sipovo. The morning mission on 13th August is Infanterieschutz (own infantry protection). More Freie Jagd are ‘on the board’, on 14th and 15th over Kingisepp, and on 18th and 19th in the area of Leningrad. Besides, almost invariably, low level strafing and bombing. Finally on 23rd August 1931 the exhausted 5./ZG 26 was ordered back to Germany for rest and recuperation.


Messerschmitt Bf 110C-4, D5+AS of 8./NJG 3, flown by Staffelkapitän Oblt. Walter Borchers, Lüneburg, winter 1941/1942. The aircraft in standard finish of RLM 70 Schwarzgrün and RLM 71 Dunkelgrün on the upper sides and RLM 65 Himmelblau on the lower surfaces. Code letters black.On the nose the ‘shark’s jaw’. In the aft fuselage narrow yellow band. [Painted by Arkadiusz Wróbel]

The remaining Staffeln were equally busy during the first months of the German campaign in the east. On 28th July, during the assault of the German Sixteenth Army against the railway junction at Velikiye Luki, Russian antiaircraft batteries claimed the life of Hptm. Richthofen, Staffelkapitän 6./ZG 26, whose aircraft crashed into woods, causing a massive forest fire.
Meanwhile, the Red Air Force tried to recuperate from the initial shock and re-group behind ever changing defence lines. Whenever the local Wehrmacht headquarters started to complain about the increased activity of VVS aircraft, Bf 110s of ZG 26 were unleashed to wreak havoc at enemy airfields. On 2nd August the twin-engined Messerschmitts “paid a visit” at the airbase in Tallinn, destroying 40 aircraft on the ground. Some Russian pilots, like many before them, occasionally made a fatal mistake – engage a Bf 110 head-on. During one of the Zerstörer raids on VVS bases, Leytenant (Lt.) Vasiliy Golubev, the Soviet naval fighter ace from 13 OIAE/KBF, scrambled to intercept the incoming formation of twin-engined machines, which he thought to be Ju 88s. With no time to manoeuvre into a better firing position, he charged forward, hoping to break the enemy attack. However, the “Junkers” formation pressed on firmly, and when Golubev came in range, he was greeted with a thunderous hail of fire from 20 mm guns. Fortunately for the Soviet ace, the runway he had taken off from was right below him, and from behind he was guarded by his faithful wingman, Leytenant (Lt.) Dmitriy Knyazev. When one of the Bf 110s veered around to finish off Golubev, who was struggling to belly-in his stricken machine, Knyazew got the German off his tail and, after a wild chase, shot down the Messerschmitt in the vicinity of ­Narva.
On 19th August ZG 26 again set upon airfields of the Baltic Fleet naval air force. This time the target was the 5 IAP/KBF base at Nizino, to the south-west of Leningrad. Oblt. Johannes Kiel of I./ZG 26 recounted this mission:
We started diving from an altitude of 3,000 metres, right into the antiaircraft fire. AAA bursts appear to the left, to the right, and between our aircraft. And still we continue toward our target. Battle excitement has caught us. Each of us concentrates only on the target. We approach the airfield rapidly. Each pilot has singled out his target… The ground comes rushing forward us, as if it is going to consume us. Five hundred, three hundred, one hundred metres. Our guns start hammering. The Zerstörergruppe comes sweeping down over the airfield, only a few metres above the ground. Here and there we can see enemy aircraft burst into flames, and then we climb again. A wild circus is commenced. The formation is split as each pilot seeks his target. The aircraft dive upon their victims from all directions…
‘Achtung! Fighters from the left!’ The enemy fighters have arrived already! Everything is on fire on the airfield beneath us. Heavy explosions are sounding and there is thick smoke in the air. We dive into the smoke over and over again, and discover more hidden aircraft. As in a dream, I can see one of our own aircraft disengage with a thick trail of smoke – hit by antiaircraft fire. The damaged plane is turning away to the west. It starts losing altitude, goes deeper and deeper. There. It hits the ground”.
By the end of August the Wehrmacht arrived at the gates of Leningrad. Just like Moscow or Stalingrad, the city named after the father of the revolution and the cradle of the Bolshevism was fiercely defended against the Luftwaffe raids. For the Zerstörer crews it meant a bitter repetition of the previous autumn:
“It was just like London and the south of England all over again. The flak around Leningrad was horrendous. We could understand now why the anti-aircraft defences of the many airfields we had encountered en route had been practically non-existent. Enemy fighters began to appear as well – something we hadn’t experienced since leaving White Russia. Here, there were whole bunches of them, often flying at an altitude of 6000-7000 metres. But they weren’t particularly dangerous. We could easily outmanoeuvre them. They occasionally tried to attack us, but clumsily and without skill. Our fighters (Bf 109s of JG 54) usually made short work of them”.


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