From the unit’s activation to the end of the Phony War: May 1, 1939 – May 9, 1940
On May 1, 1939 the existing Geschwaderstab and I. and II./JG 133 were re-designated Stab, I. and II./JG 53. At the outbreak of the war the wing’s units were stationed in western Germany at Wiesbaden-Erbenheim and Mannheim-Sandhofen airfields with their area of responsibility stretching from Saarbrücken to Trier
The Geschwader’s first contact with the enemy came on September 9, 1939. At 11.36 Ofw. Walter Griemmling from 1./JG 53 shot down a reconnaissance Bloch MB.131 just north-east of Saarbrücken (Griemmling misidentified his victim as a Blenheim bomber). Three hours later, while patrolling in the same area, Lt. Wilhelm Hoffmann from 3./JG 53 dispatched a French Bloch MB.200.
On the following day the crews of I./JG 57 claimed three Mureaux kills. Another victory was added to the unit’s tally on September 17 by Oblt. Wilhelm Balfanz, while Hptm. Werner Mölders, the CO of 1./JG 53, opened up his World War II score board on September 20 when he downed a French Curtiss H.75 fighter. On the same day the crews of II./JG 53 (Oblt. Heinz Bretnütz, Lt. Albert Richert and Lt. Kurt Lüdtke) achieved the first three kills for their unit. It was on the same day that JG 53 suffered its first casualty of the war: Uffz. Martin Winkler from 3./JG 53 was seriously wounded during a fight against Curtiss H.75 fighters and died four days later in a hospital.
On September 26, 1939 Hptm. Werner Mölders was appointed the CO of the newly established III./JG 53 based at Wiesbaden-Erbenheim.
The heaviest fighting of the fall of 1939 involving the aircrews of JG 53 came on September 30. On that day 10 Allied aircraft were claimed by members of I./JG 53, while the crews of II./JG 53 reported three air-to-air kills. The Germans’ own losses included seven aircraft, four aircrews killed in action and one wounded.
On October 30, 1939 Hptm. Werner Mölders scored the first kill for III./JG 53 when he downed a British Blenheim bomber.
The JG 53 pilots had their first run-in with the RAF fighters on December 22, 1939. In the engagement over Metz against the aircraft from No. 73 Sqn Hptm. Werner Mölders and Oblt. Hans von Hahn (both from III./JG 53) each claimed a Hurricane kill.
The harsh winter of 1939/1940 significantly reduced the number of combat sorties generated by each side and it was not until March and April 1940 that the tempo of air operations began to pick up again. On March 31, during the largest air battle of the spring, the crews of II./JG 53 claimed six Morane MS. 406 fighters without own losses. In total, between September 3, 1939 and May 9, 1940 JG 53 aircrews shot down 73 Allied aircraft. The wing’s casualties included seven aircrews killed in action and five lost in non-combat accidents.
Campaign in the West: May 10 to June 25, 1940
During the first few days of the German westward drive the units of JG 53 were tasked with providing air cover to the northern flank of the advancing force and, consequently, saw little action. On May 14, after the German forces had broken through the French lines in the Ardennes and captured bridgeheads on the Meuse, the Luftwaffe command ordered I./JG 53 to deploy to Sedan. On the same day the Allied bombers flew over a dozen operations against the Meuse crossings built by the Wehrmacht sappers. The Luftwaffe responded by knocking down as many as 170 enemy bombers, including 35 kills reported by members of I./JG 53.
After the threat of air attacks on the river crossings had been eliminated, JG 53 remained in the Sedan area and continued to provide support for the northern section of the front. Although there was only sporadic air-to-air fighting, the wing’s crews did manage to add 50 more kills to their tallies before the end of May 1940. The wing’s leading ace was the CO of III./JG 53, who scored his 20th victory in World War II on May 27. Two days later he was awarded the Knight’s Cross becoming the first member of the Luftwaffe to receive this coveted decoration.
On June 3, 1940 the Luftwaffe command launched Operation Paula, a massive offensive effort directed against French airfields and aircraft manufacturing plants around Paris. On that day JG 53 shot down 14 French aircraft against own losses of two aircrews.
Two days later the German forces commenced their final push towards Paris, code-named Operation Fal Rot. Operating in target-rich environment, members of III./JG 53 reported 11 air-to-air victories, including kills number 24 and 25 scored by the Gruppe’s CO Hptm. Werner Mölders. Later that day the German ace shared the fate of his victims when he was shot out of the sky by a French Dewoitine D.520 fighter. Mölders was captured and briefly became a POW until his release following the surrender of France.