Junkers Ju 88 vol. III

A typical Eastern Front scene. A Ju 88C night fighter camouflaged with tree branches at a forward airfield. Beginning in June 1944 such scenes would become common in Western Europe as well. [Kagero's Archive]

During the first months German crews were busy refining their tactics and by the end of 1940 they only claimed 18 kills. Three claims were made on both October 24 and November 23. There were also combat losses, sometimes quite painful. I./NJG 2 commander, Maj. Heyse, perished in an engagement with a British bomber on November 23. He was replaced by Hptm. Karl Hülshoff, who turned over the command of 3./NJG 2 to Hptm. Mayer. Mayer, however, was lost in the morning of December 21 when his aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Next to take command of 3./JNG 2 was Oblt. Semrau. In total 12 aircraft were lost, half of them in accidents. 4. Staffel, also equipped with Ju 88Cs, became part of I./NJG 2 in November.
In 1941 the tempo of British raids against Germany increased, and so did the activity of Fernnachtjagd pilots. In January 1941 the crews reported six kills and as many as twelve in February. Half of those were scored just after midnight on February 11, including double victories for Oblt. Herrmann and Oblt. Semrau. During that time the pilots of 2./NJG 2 also converted to Ju 88Cs. After relatively uneventful March the crews of I./NJG 2 celebrated a great success claiming 25 enemy aircraft in April. The first aces began to emerge: Lt. Heinz Völker of 3./NJG 2 scored six victories in April, including four in a single sortie just after midnight on April 25. Ofw. Hermann Sommer had a similar score on April 30. He wrote in his combat report:
“On April 29, 1941 just before 20.00 I crossed the Wash River into sector B. I noticed a British bomber fire signal flares. I followed it and saw a lit-up, busy airfield below. I set up a racetrack pattern at 200-300 m above the airfield. After a few circuits at 00.15 I got behind an enemy a/c and had a good firing solution. I closed on the enemy and opened fire from 100-150 m. After a short burst the a/c exploded and its debris fell to the ground.
After the first kill, at 00.20, I attacked another a/c on its landing approach. The enemy a/c had its landing lights on. I opened fire from behind and above the a/c, which was then at 80 m. After one burst the bomber crashed and burned.
There was chaos in the air, since there were 15‑20 aircraft above the field. I dropped my bombs after the second kill. After that the nearby airfields turned on their lights. I flew on to Hucknall, where I saw an aircraft on short final at the altitude of 10‑20 m. At about 00.50 I took position behind its tail and fired from 100 m. The a/c caught fire in the air, then crashed and completely burned down.
Finally I climbed to 300 m and set course for home. Then suddenly my radio operator shouted: aircraft on starboard!
I began the attack at 01.30. I could not, however, get on his tail. I made a turn to the right and then to the left and engaged the enemy at a sharp angle from starboard and behind firing in such a way, that he would have to fly through my bullets. The a/c fell to the ground from 10, maybe 5 m.”
In addition to the four British bombers that he shot down, Ofw. Sommer claimed five more aircraft destroyed on the ground as a result of his bomb run. He filed an additional report:
“After I had shot down two aircraft, I decided to drop my bomb load. I noticed three aircraft about to begin their take-off roll with the landing and navigation lights on. Another aircraft had just landed and was taxiing down the runway with the landing lights on. The fifth aircraft was on final approach. I released the bombs at 00.30 right on target. All five aircraft blew up in fiery explosions. The sky turned blood red. An hour later one could still see secondary explosions visible from a considerable distance.”
Sommer’s sortie can be considered one of the most successful missions flown by the night fighters. The destruction of nine enemy aircraft in just over an hour is indeed a tremendous fete. Among the aircraft destroyed by Sommer were three Blenheims (two over Tollerton and one over Hucknall) and a Beaufort shot down over Bircham Newton. This way Sommer’s tally grew to five aerial victories. Before his death in 1944, Sommer would go on to destroy additional 14 enemy aircraft.
I./NJG 2 pilots claimed 13 kills in May and 21 enemy aircraft destroyed in June. Oblt. Semrau notched up a remarkable victory on June 13 when at 01.40 he shot down a four-engine Handley-Page Halifax heavy bomber. It was the first aircraft of that type destroyed by German night fighters. The night of June 16 brought particularly impressive results: six Wellingtons and a Whitley were shot down. Oblt. Bönsch, Ofw. Sommer and Ofw. Bußmann all reported double kills.