Junkers Ju 88 vol. III


The terrified Germans broke off their attacks for a brief moment. That did not really matter, since Blenkenberg’s bullets lit up the Liberator’s third engine and Alexander had no choice but to ditch his burning aircraft in the sea. He performed a textbook ditching maneuver, and soon the entire eleven-man crew evacuated the bomber and climbed into their emergency rafts. They had certainly more luck than the doomed Junkers crew and were picked up two days later by a fishing boat.
In the meantime the Germans returned to base. The Liberator kill was credited to the fallen Blankenberg’s crew. The following day the Junkers fighters of V./KG 40 launched for another patrol over the Bay of Biscay.

Holland, the summer of 1941. The crew of a Ju 88C-4 from I./NJG 2 walked away from this crash-landing. Also their aircraft appears to be only slightly damaged. [Kagero's Archive]

 

In the beginning there was Fernnachtjagd...
In 1939, after the first attacks against the Third Reich, it became painfully clear to British Bomber Command that the pre-war adage: ”the bombers will always get through”, was no longer valid. During raids against the German fleet, Wellington bombers suffered horrendous losses at the hands of German fighter pilots without inflicting any serious damage to the enemy. There was no other option but to resort to night bombing where the only threat was AAA fire.
Hermann Göring had claimed for years that there was no room for night fighters within the Luftwaffe. After the end of French campaign in May 1940, he had no choice but to admit his mistake. German anti-aircraft artillery was glaringly ineffective against British bombers flying their missions under the cover of darkness. Although the British attacks brought rather lackluster results, Göring was not about to wait for improvement and on June 26 he stood up the first night fighter unit – Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 commanded by Hptm. Wolfgan Falck, a veteran of campaigns in Poland and Western Europe. The new unit was composed of I./NJG 1 commanded by Hptm. Günther Radusch, II./NJG 1 led from July 1 by Hptm. Karl-Friedrich Heyse and III./NJG 1 with Hptm. Conrad von Bothmer as CO.
The unit was equipped with twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, with some exceptions, noticeably II./NJG 1, which was tasked with intruder missions over British territory. Originally the unit comprised only 4./NJG 1 ­under the command of Oblt. Bönsch, which evolved from the Ju 88C-1 equipped Zerstörerstaffel KG 30, a battle-hardened unit whose pilots had already seen action in Norway. At the same time 5./NJG 1 used fighter variants of the Dornier Do 17Z bomber.
At that time airborne radar was still in a distant future: all the crews could rely on were their own eyes. Initially some help to the pilots of II./NJG 1 came in the form of monitoring radio traffic on frequencies used by Bomber Command. During combat sorties the aircraft were often armed with bombs, which were used in raids against enemy airfields. Two Junkers of 4./NJG 1 were lost during the work-up period, but the end of July saw the beginning of combat operations.
The Dornier crews claimed the first victories for the unit, although it was a Ju 88C-2 of 4./NJG 1 that became the first combat loss. It happened early in the morning of August 17 when a Blenheim night fighter from 29 Sqn. engaged Fw. Schramm’s aircraft. After a short fight the German crew perished. In the evening on the same day Ju 88 night fighters scored their first kill when Fw. Laufs claimed a Hurricane.
In order to enhance the Fernnachtjagd units’ operational capabilities, II./NJG 1 was moved on September 2 to the Dutch airfield Gilze-Rijen and was re-designated I./NJG 2 a few days later. The unit’s AOR was the North Sea between Holland and England, including its eastern territory. I./NJG 2 was composed of three Staffel, two of which were equipped with Ju 88Cs: 1./NJG 2 under Oblt. Bönsch and 3./NJG 2 commanded by Oblt. Schütze (later by Hptm. Hülshoff). Stab I./NJG 2 led by Hptm. Karl-Heinrich Heyse also had these aircraft in its inventory.
Fernnachtjagd tactics was simple and effective. As soon as increased activity on Bomber Command’s frequencies was detected, the alert crews were scrambled. The operations were conducted in three sectors: A (Eastern England), B (the Midlands) and C (Northern England). The sorties were flown in the vicinity of British airfields in each sector in anticipation of returning RAF bombers. The bombers often came in low on fuel and had to land immediately. In such cases runway lights were turned on and the bomber crews activated their navigation lights. All that made it easier for the Germans to spot the enemy and attack from astern. At times German crews turned on their own navigation lights masquerading as the inbound bombers. The deception sometimes worked and the Germans took every opportunity to drop their bombs on the aircraft parked on the ground. Not only did it result in destruction of enemy aircraft, but also had a significant psychological impact and disrupted the training of personnel.