Junkers Ju 88 vol. III

The final months of the war saw frequent allied attacks against German airfields. Strafing runs by roaming P‑51s and P-47s were virtually daily affairs. Many Luftwaffe night fighters were destroyed in that way. Pictured here is a Ju 88G-1 from NJG 2. Kagero's Archive]

On December 15 Lt. Peter Laufs and Lt. Hermann Haas destroyed two more Beaufighter heavy fighters south of Malta. Two days later over Malta Lt. Dieter Schleif shot down a 107 Sqn. Blenheim, while on December 18 Laufs claimed a Hurricane. The unit suffered the first combat loss on the night of December 28 when British ant-aircraft fire downed Lt. Wilfried Babinka’s aircraft over Malta. The entire crew perished.
In early January 1942 I./NJG 2 operated briefly from Kalamaki airfield near Athens, but returned to Catania after two weeks. At the same time 2. and 3./NJG 2 detached to Benghazi where they were to remain until March 20.
German counter-offensive got on the way on January 21 and I./NJG 2 was tasked with providing top cover for the convoys carrying re-supplies for the Afrika Korps. A few skirmishes took place on the night of January 25 during a convoy escort mission. The fight resulted in Ofw. Sommer’s downing of a Swordfish biplane and Lt. Wiedow’s victory over a twin-engine Blenheim. Over the next two months convoy escort was the primary task of I./NJG 2, so their Ju 88Cs were rarely used in the night fighter role. During one of those sorties (on March 17) Uffz. Wolfgang Traubert’s crew died in a crash at Berka airfield.
In April I./NJG 2 was split into several dedicated night fighter groups. They were stationed in Benghazi, Benina, Berka, Derna, El Quasaba and Kastelli, Crete. Their task was to protect assigned areas, mainly seaports at the end of Mediterranean supply routes. Finally I./NJG 2 could perform operations for which it was deployed to the Med – the night hunt for British bombers.
The first success came on April 29 when Ofw. Sommer claimed a Wellington. The next victory was somewhat unusual. On May 4 at 02.09 the CO of 2./NJG 2, Hptm. Harmstorf, shot down a 108 Sqn. Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber over Derna. It was one of the first B-24s in RAF service and was returning home after a raid against targets in Tripoli. On board as an observer was a high-ranking RAF officer. Some of the crewmembers, although seriously hurt, managed to bail out of the plane and were later visited by the victorious German pilot in a Derna Hospital.
Heavily armed Ju 88Cs were also used in night ground attack role. I./NJG 2 crews strafed and bombed supply routes and depots. On the night of May 25 one of the aircraft (R4+DL, flown by Lt. Riedlberger’s crew) was hit by Flak near Gambut. All crewmembers suffered injuries in a crash landing that ensued. They evaded the enemy for two days but were eventually captured by the British, only to be freed by German infantry the following day. Another aircraft was lost on May 27/28: a crew commanded by Ofw. Anton Naiß went missing when their Ju 88C was shot down over Bardia by heavy anti-aircraft fire.
Occasionally, the sea convoy escort missions were still flown. Those missions were performed jointly with selected bomber crews of KG 54 and 60 flying Ju 88As. On June 14, during one of such sorties, nine Beaufighters of 252 and 272 Sqns. attacked a group of freighters. The British pressed their attack unaware of a Ju 88C flown by Lt. Wiedow. The German pilot put his aircraft in a near-vertical dive and quickly got on one of the Beaufighters’ tail. The British aircraft performed a shallow left turn, only to be hit by accurate fire from behind. The aircraft’s starboard engine caught fire and moments later the Beaufighter, crewed by F/Sgt. Gael and Sgt. Amos, crashed in the sea among the convoy ships.
The following day more fighting took place over the convoys and Oblt. Albert Schulz claimed a Maryland. On the night of June 18 Ofw. Hermann Sommer jumped a single P-40 Kittyhawk of 260 Sqn. After a long fight the German crew won the upper hand and shot down the British fighter killing its pilot, Sgt. Carlisle. It was the 150th victory for I./NJG 2.
During the last ten days of June nine more British aircraft were shot down. Three of those fell at the hands of a 22 year-old Lt. Heinz Rökker of 1./NJG 2. On June 20 he was part of a combat patrol over Crete flown by a Kette led by Oblt. Hißbach. The Germans encountered a flight of twin-engine Beaufort light bombers and Rökker attacked one of them. It took the young pilot seven attack runs before the Beaufort was forced to ditch in the sea at 17.20. The Beaufort’s crew climbed into their dinghy, while Rökker returned to base with 25 bullet holes in his aircraft from the British gunner’s fire. Just before midnight on June 25 Lt. Rökker shot down one of 37 Sqn. Wellingtons and another one, this time belonging to 108 Sqn, in the first minutes of June 26. That night Uffz. Hermann Heckhausen’s crew did not return to base.