Junkers Ju 88 vol. III

Junkers Ju 88 vol. III

The monotonous drone of four Pratt & Whitney engines seemed to be omnipresent. It completely filled the inside of the BuNo 32022 (42-40282) PB4Y-1 Liberator. Indifferent to the noise, a VB-103 crew carefully combed the airspace around their aircraft.

Their commander, Lt. (jg) James H. Alexander, had led them on a number of combat missions over the Bay of Biscay and there were no indications that the September 4, 1943 sortie would be in any way different from the previous ones they had flown. The co-pilot, Lt. (jg) Paul B. Kinney, along with three other crewmembers, trained their binoculars on the surface of the sea in search of a familiar U-boat shape. At the same time the gunners eyeballed the skies for any air-to-air threat. They certainly had good reasons to be vigilant: two days before Lt. Keith W. Wickstrom’s crew did not return to their base at St. Eval, Cornwall. In his last message the radio operator reported that the aircraft was being attacked by several Ju 88s...
At the same time a package of six twin-engine Junkers Ju 88 heavy fighters of 13./KG 40 was on a combat air patrol over the Bay. The leader, Oblt. Hermann Horstmann, ordered his crews into a wide line abreast formation to maximize their search coverage. Soon they encountered some clouds and tightened the formation to allow the crews to keep an eye on one another and be able to call for help in case one of them had to ditch in the sea. That would be a hapless crew’s only chance of survival, albeit a rather small one. After two hours of fruitless search, Horstmann’s formation turned south towards the Spanish coast, where they would cross the routes used by allied aircraft and increase their chances of contact with the enemy. In a few minutes they broke out of the clouds and one of the navigators spotted a light-gray aircraft through his binoculars.

Front section of a Ju 88C-4 fuselage. Aircraft serving with V./KG 40 had various camouflage schemes. One of the variants included RLM 72 and 73 patches on the upper surfaces.[Kagero's Archive]

The Liberator’s crew proceeded to their waypoint positioned some 60 nm. north-west of Cape Finisterre. It turned out the area was completely free of cloud cover. The crew did not have to wait long for the Germans to appear. A tail gunner’s voice broke the silence on the intercom: “Two twin-engine bogeys, five o’clock!”. Three more aircraft were soon spotted and then one more, coming in from the right. The Germans were closing in on the bomber and setting up for an attack. It took the Americans only a short moment to recognize their adversaries: they were Ju 88Cs bristling with machine guns and cannons. Their gray paint scheme made them look like sharks circling their prey.
German crews spotted the Liberator flying at 2,000 m from a considerable distance. They enjoyed a 1,000 m altitude advantage, but the Liberator’s pilot lowered his aircraft’s nose even before the Junkers crews began their attack. The bombardier opened the bomb bay door and jettisoned the entire bomb load. Alexander leveled off at 200 m above the deck to protect the vulnerable belly of the aircraft. Although the situation looked rather bleak, the gunners set up for a fight. If they wanted to have their way with them, the Germans would have to pay dearly.
Oblt. Horstmann was the first to attack. His initial long burst partly missed the mark and caused water geysers to erupt around the Liberator. Some of the bullets, however, hit the aircraft’s tail and fuselage. Within minutes other crews followed their leader’s suit and began firing away at the four-engine giant. Burst after burst of bullets punched through the skins, tore at the flight control surfaces and raked the inside of the PB4Y. The bomber’s gunners were also doing a good job. Two of the Junkers received multiple hits, but the Germans were undeterred and pressed on their systematic, well-executed attacks. The swift Ju 88s kept popping up at different angles, firing with everything they had.
The situation on board the Liberator was becoming more and more dramatic. The starboard waist gunner station was taken out of action and the tail gunner’s turret was seriously damaged. 20 mm cannon shells tore through the cockpit and the front section of the fuselage wounding the copilot and the navigator, Ens. Donald L. Burnett. That was not the worst of it, though. One of the engines caught fire, followed moments later by another one. In spite of the damage the aircraft seemed to be controllable and James Alexander decided to nurse it back to the Spanish coast.

Noticing the bomber’s desperate attempts to break free, Lt. Gerhard Blenkenberg moved in to strike the decisive blow. Trying to make sure he would not miss, Blenkenberg waited until he was within 50 m of the bomber before he squeezed the trigger. At that very instant he flew into well-aimed fire from the Liberator’s gunners. Half-inch bullets walked up the Junkers’s fuselage and port engine, which exploded in a bright flash of burning fuel from a punctured fuel tank. The fiery torch missed the bomber by a few meters and seconds later hit the water. None of the Junkers crew had the slightest chance of survival.

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.

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.

There were also significant combat losses, especially in 4./NJG 2 commanded by Oblt. Paul Bohn, which lost three crews in a single night of June 13. Two crews were lost to British Beaufighters, while the third one crashed in the North Sea flying low over a dinghy carrying German airmen. Less than a week later 4./NJG 2’s commander met his match. On June 26 at 00.15. Oblt. Bohn successfully engaded a Whitley bomber, but the final burst of fire from the bomber’s gunner hit the Junkers’ cockpit, instantly killing the pilot. Uffz. Walter Lindner, who was somewhat familiar with flying, took over the controls but couldn’t land at Gilze-Rijen due to fog. After engaging the autopilot and having thrown overboard Oblt. Bohn’s body strapped to a parachute, the two remaining crewmembers bailed out. Their ghost Ju 88 flew on and, having spent all fuel, crashed near... Milan!

NJG 2 personnel in front of the Stab Ju 88G-6. Fall of 1944.[Kagero's Archive]

The unit’s tally was fast approaching one hundred. In the evening of June 27 the I./NJG 2 crews again launched for England. At 23.45 Fw. Lüddecke shot down a Wellington – the unit’s 99th victory. Ten minutes later another Wellington was sent to the ground – Ofw. Sommer was the one to claim the jubilee kill.
In July I./NJG 2 claimed 20 British bombers destroyed. Four of these fell victim to Ofw. Beier in the morning of July 6. Three days later Lt. Hans Hahn became the first member of the unit to be awarded the Knight’s Cross. He had 10 kills to his credit and was the first night fighter pilot to receive the coveted award. The 22 year old Hans Hahn had seemed to never run out of luck. He initially flew as a bomber pilot and in 1940 sank a sizeable French freighter near Dunkirk. After his transfer to 3./NJG 2 Hahn’s excellent marksmanship began to show. He tried to engage his victims at a very close range, not the soundest of tactics for a night fighter. On August 17 at 00.44 he shot down a Wellington whose debris damaged his own Junkers. The German returned to base on one engine. The same thing happened on three other occasions. Another time Hahn returned to base with a souvenir – a piece of a barrage balloon canopy. His luck finally ran out over Grantham on October 11, 1941 when at 22.20 he engaged an Oxford trainer of 12 FTS. He tried, as usual, to attack at an extremely close range. Both aircraft collided in mid-air and crashed. That was Hahn’s twelfth and final victory.
The loss of Hahn and his crew coincided with the unexpected end of Fernnachtjagd over England. The decision was made by Hitler himself, who considered I./NJG 2 efforts ineffective in the face of intensifying allied night bombing operations. In reality, I./NJG 2’s AOR in central England was home to the majority of Bomber Command’s night flying schools. The unit’s operations significantly hampered and delayed the training process. With the end of I./NJG 2’s operations, the British could freely continue to develop their bomber force and press new types into service. Soon Halifaxes, Sterlings and Lancasters became the basic types in Bomber Command.
During the 16 months of Fernnachtjagd operations the II./NJG 1 and I./NJG 2 crews claimed almost 200 British aircraft, including 141 shot down in air-to-air combat and over 50 destroyed on the ground. The units lost 40 aircraft and 89 airmen. The most effective pilot turned out to be Wilhelm Beier with 14 kills under his belt. His specialty was jumping the homebound bombers over the North Sea. He scored all his victories, which included Hurricane and Defiant fighters, close to the British shores. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross on October 10, 1941.

...then the Mediterranean
November 1941 saw the beginning of the British offensive against Afrika Korps in North Africa. German troops were harassed by night RAF bomber attacks against the seaports which processed much needed supplies from Italy. One of the main bases used by the bombers to attack German shipping and ports was the island of Malta.
On November 15 I./NJG 2 commanded by Hptm. Emil Jung arrived at the Sicilian airfield Catania. Initially six Ju 88C-6s of 2. Staffel were on detachment to Benghazi, but they returned to Catania on November 28.
First engagements over North Africa took place after the British commenced Operation Crusader. The black-painted Junkers of I./NJG 2 attacked ground targets and engaged RAF fighters on several occasions. On November 23 Hptm. Heinz Harmstorf’s aircraft was seriously damaged by a Hurricane, while Lt. Voigt’s crew returned with a wounded gunner (Uffz. Bodden) and 50 bullet holes in their aircraft.
The first attack against Malta was launched on the night of December 5. Soon the I./NJG 2 crews were tasked with escort missions for Ju 52 transports moving supplies from Italy to North Africa. It was during one of those missions that the unit scored their fist victory in the new theater of operations. On December 12 the unit’s pilots encountered and engaged RAF aircraft during a Ju 52 escort mission. Lt. Herbert Haas of 1./NJG 2 claimed a Beaufighter. It might have been the aircraft flown by P/O Hammond of 272 Sqn., who belly-landed his damaged machine back at home base. It is also possible that Haas shot down one of the two 56 Sqn. Beaufighters lost that day. The following day Ofw. Hermann Sommer of 2./NJG 2 shot down a 227 Sqn. Beaufighter flown by F/O Morris in an engagement south of Crete.

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.

Ofw. Alfons Köster of 3./NJG 2 increased his tally by three kills. Before midnight on June 24 he downed a Wellington of 37 Sqn. over Benghazi followed, two nights later, by a 70 Sqn. Wellington over Sidi Barrani. June 27 was a lucky day for Fw. Werner Heyne who shot down one of the four Beaufighters attacking Derna airfield. The next victory belonged to Rökker: in the early hours of June 28 he shot down a 108 Sqn. Wellington after a low-level pursuit. The British bomber crash-landed in the dessert. A Ju 88 flown by St.Fw. Zappe was caught in heavy anti-aircraft fire. The gunner, Fw. Alfred Fuß was so terrified that he jettisoned the canopy and bailed out of the aircraft. The attempt at saving his life proved ill fated, as he hit the vertical stabilizer and was killed instantly. In the meantime, Zappe managed to nurse his damaged aircraft back to base and landed safely.
The following week opened up a lucky streak for 3./NJG 2’s commander, Hptm. Paul Semrau. By July 6 his tally grew by five victories, while the remaining I./NJG 2 pilots shot down only two enemy aircraft. Semrau’s success story began in the first minutes of June 30. His first victory was a heavy bomber. He noticed that the aircraft had four engines and twin vertical stabilizers, so he assumed that he shot down a Halifax. In reality he shot down an American Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber of HALPRO unit returning home after a raid against Tobruk. Less than 20 minutes later Semrau scored another kill, this time a Wellington. He shot down another Wellington on July 3, while one more was sent to the ground by Fw. Heyne. Early in the morning on July 5 Hptm. Semrau destroyed a Wellington of 38 Sqn., but on the same day the unit lost Lt. Erwin Wolfbauer’s crew. The following night two more Wellingtons fell victim to Semrau and Hptm. Harmstorf, but not without losses – Lt. Georg Wiedow’s crew did not return to base.
During the next two weeks I./NJG 2 flew combat patrols over the Eastern Mediterranean and flew supply missions out of Crete for Afrika Korps. Lt. Wolgang Wennig’s crew was lost during that time. The unit operated out of a number of bases simultaneously. The night fighters were detached to Benina, Benghazi, Berka, Derna, El Quasaba, Tobruk and Kastelli, Crete, while Catania in Sicily remained the main operating base.
The unit resumed its fighter operations on July 21/22. On that night Ofw. Köster shot down two Wellingtons, but his aircraft also suffered in the engagement. The pilot managed to land in the dessert and Köster, Ofw. Biehne and Uffz. Handl trekked for a day and a half to reach the German lines. Hptm. Heinz Harmstorf, who also downed a Wellington on the same night, was not so lucky. He was hit in the head by the British gunner’s fire and lost consciousness. The Junkers’ gunner took over the controls and landed safely at Quasaba. Heinz Harmstorf, who had four kills to his credit, succumbed to his wounds a few hours later.

Junkers Ju 88C-6 (W.Nr 360 022, F8+EX) from 13./KG 40. Lorient airfield, France, November 1942. The letter “E” on the fuselage painted in white and repeated in black on the lower wing surface. Propeller spinners in RLM 70 with a thin, white band. Cockpit reinforced with side-mounted armor plates. [Painted by Maciej Noszczak]

During the day of July 23 Ofw. Köster claimed an enemy aircraft, quite possibly a Boston of 24 SAAF Sqn. The night of July 25/26 saw a loss of 108 Sqn. Wellington shot down by Oblt. Hißbach, while Ofw. Sommer and Fw. Siewert downed two more on July 27. On the same night a team of British commandos attacked Quasaba airfield. One of the members of I./NJG 2 described the events of that night:
“The night of July 27 was a disaster to all of us. At about 1:00 am I heard explosions and shots fired at the airfield. Everybody thought that one of the aircraft caught fire and its ammunition was exploding. We didn’t know the real reason of the commotion until we heard the scream: British tanks on the airfield! Well, that was the last thing we needed! Get out of the tents! We could still hear the explosions and we saw enemy vehicles firing at the aircraft. We won’t be able to do much with just our side arms – Oblt. Hißbach said – and I don’t think they’re trying to take us prisoner. So we decided to lay low and wait. Tommy ran a surprise attack with approximately 16 vehicles having by-passed our positions in the dessert. The night guards used everything, including aircraft guns and 2 cm Flak weapons, to return fire. Before any counterattack could be launched, it was real hell. We lost all of our aircraft, except one, which was airborne at the time. Three Stukas were also destroyed and several other aircraft were burnt down. We also lost a few men who were either wounded or captured. To us, that was the end. Only with greatest effort did we manage to put together one serviceable aircraft out of all the wreckage. It seemed that it was over for us in Africa. We had enough, half of the men were sick.”


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