Jagdgeschwader 54

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Jagdgeschwader 54
JG-54 Emblem.svg
Unit insignia, featuring the "Green Heart" of Thuringia
Active 1939–45
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch  Luftwaffe
Type Fighter Aircraft
Role Air superiority
Size Air Force Wing
Nickname(s) Grünherz, Green ass
Engagements Battle of France, Battle of Britain, Operation Barbarossa
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Hannes Trautloft
Aircraft flown
Fighter Bf 109, Fw 190, Me 262

Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) was a Luftwaffe fighter wing during the Second World War. JG 54 flew most of its missions on the Eastern Front where it claimed more than 9,600 aircraft shot down. It was the second-highest scoring wing in the Luftwaffe after JG 52 (+10,000 victories). Notable pilot aces (Experten) that flew with JG54 included Walter Nowotny, Otto Kittel, Hans-Ekkehard Bob, Max-Hellmuth Ostermann, Hugo Broch and Hannes Trautloft.

JG54 participated in the Poland in 1939, and the Battle of Britain and invasion of the Balkans in 1940. The unit was transferred to the Eastern Front in the spring of 1941 in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. It remained there for the rest of the Second World War. JG 54 first flew Me Bf 109Fs before changing to the more powerful Fw 190.

Operational history[edit]

I./JG 54 was initially formed as I./JG 70 in July 1939. On 15 September 1939, I./JG 70 was redesignated I./JG 54. The initial unit designation for II./JG 54 was I./JG 138. This unit was raised in 1938 after the Anschluss of Austria and included many Austrian nationals. I./JG 138 became II./JG 54 on 6 April 1940. III./JG 54 was initially raised as I./JG 21 and redesignated III./JG 54 on 15 July 1939, with official records reflecting the change only after a year. Thus, III./JG 54 fought in Poland and France as I./JG 21.

Invasion of Poland and Battle of France[edit]

JG 54 took part the invasion of Poland in September–October 1939. Equipped with Bf 109s, their operations consisted of ground attack, air superiority and escorting Stukas. JG 54 was transferred back to Germany on 9 October 1939. Before the invasion of France, during a period known as Phoney War, it operated mainly in an air defence role.

Germany invaded France on 10 May 1940. The Luftwaffe operated by advancing in front of the German army to destroy French airfields and bomb cities, industrial complexes and transportation hubs. JG 54's role was to escort the bombers (Stukas and Heinkel He 111s mostly) and to conduct fighter sweeps in French airspace in order to maintain air superiority. The unit also operated at Dunkirk against the evacuating British Expeditionary Force. During the period 10 May to 21 June (until the capitulation of France), JG 54 claimed 17 aircraft, according to JG 54 documentation.

Before the Battle of Britain the wing was transferred to the Netherlands. In a British raid on the Soesterberg airfield, III/JG 54 suffered heavy ground crew and equipment losses. While in the Netherlands, the unit claimed another 21 aircraft.

The Battle of Britain[edit]

The Battle of Britain began in late July and early August, with the goal of destroying the RAF, a prerequisite of a land invasion of Britain. The three JG 54 squadrons were transferred to airfields near Calais on 6 August 1940. Dissatisfied with the fighter arm's performance in the operation, Göring's purge led to a command shakeup in mid-1940. Major Hannes Trautloft was placed in command of JG 54. The Battle of Britain proved costly for both the Luftwaffe and JG 54. The wing lost 43 pilots, 40 percent of its strength at the onset of the operation. JG 54 claimed 238 enemy aircraft destroyed.

After the Luftwaffe's defeat, the three squadrons were assigned to separate locations in Germany and France. On 29 March 1941 Stab, II, and III/JG 54 were relocated to the Balkans. After the defeat of Yugoslavia, the unit was transferred into Prussia in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.

The Eastern Front[edit]

Bf 109G-2 of JG 54 on the Russian front, August 1942

JG 54 was assigned to Army Group North during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 as part of the Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 1. It remained on that part of the Eastern Front for most of its existence. JG 54's operations for 1941-43 had a twofold objective: to keep the pressure on the Leningrad sector, and to reduce Soviet pressure on the Lake Ilmen area at the German flank.

In the period 22 June - 5 December 1941 the unit destroyed 1,078 Soviet aircraft in return for 46 losses in aerial combat and a single fighter on the ground.[1] JG 54 received its first Focke-Wulf Fw 190s in February 1943. Trautloft left JG 54 in July 1943 when General Adolf Galland asked him to join his staff. (He ended the war with 57 victories and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.) After his departure, JG 54 continued operating in the area of Army Group North, and their victory tally rose continuously. Feldwebel Helmut Missner was credited with JG 54's aerial victory on 17 July 1943.[2] The 7,000 JG 54 claim was made on 23 March 1944, with the 8,000 mark passed on 15 August.

A downed Focke-Wulf Fw 190D-9 of 10./JG54, near Brussels on 1 January 1945.

I., II. and IV./ JG 54 ended the war fighting around the Baltic region, supporting the troops of Army Group North through Latvia and Estonia, and into the Courland Pocket. JG 54 could never hope to regain air superiority against the mounting number of Russian aircraft. The Russians never defeated Army Group North, which held out until the last day of the war, surrendering 210,000 Germans to the Soviets in Courland.

All remaining serviceable FW-190's of JG 54 were ordered to fly to Flensburg on the German-Danish border. 90 personnel from JG 54 were able to flee to the west by air. The German Navy evacuated as many as possible of the remaining ground personnel by ship.

The Western Front[edit]

In February 1943 III./JG 54 was transferred back to the west for operations against the RAF and USAAF. At first they operated as a stand-alone Bf 109G Gruppe, but later were attached to JG 26. Intensive training in the more rigorous techniques of fighting on the Western Front were only partly successful, and Oberst Josef Priller, Geschwaderkommodore of JG 26 and charged with III Gruppe's training, refused to declare the gruppe operational. III Gruppe transferred to North Germany as a result, supporting Jagdgeschwader 1.

During the autumn of 1944, III./JG 54 was the first Luftwaffe unit to be supplied with the new Fw 190 D-9 "Dora". The D-9s were used in base defence missions for the Me 262 jets of Kommando Nowotny, and later over North-West Europe. 68 operational aircraft were available early in December, but due to heavy losses, the gruppe was disbanded soon after. Pilots Robert Weiß, the Gruppenkommandeur, and 12 other pilots were killed by RAF fighters on 29 December 1944 alone.

At the end of 1944 ZG 76 was disbanded and its pilots formed the nucleus of a new III./JG 54. Operating from Berlin, the unit's Fw 190s saw intensive action against Soviet ground targets such as road and rail supply columns, flak positions, armour and the bridges across the River Oder. A few weeks before the war ended, the depleted III./JG 54 was disbanded, being absorbed into JG 26.

Although Luftwaffe documentation were destroyed at the end of the war surviving records indicate JG 54 lost 491 pilots killed in action and 242 pilots missing. A further 322 pilots were wounded in action. The ground personnel lost 570 killed.[3] Total losses in aircraft were approximately 1071 Bf 109 and 746 FW 190.

Commanding officers[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 116.
  2. ^ Bob 2011, p. 250.
  3. ^ Bob 2011, p. 311.
Bibliography
  • Mombeeck, Goralczyk (2017). Luftwaffe Gallery - JG54 Special Album 1939-1945. LuGa. ISBN 978-2-930546-19-3.
  • Bergström, Christer (2007). Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
  • Bob, Hans-Ekkehard (2011). Jagdgeschwader 54 — Die Piloten mit den grünen Herzen (in German). Aachen, Germany: Helios Verlags- und Buchvertriebsgesellschaft. ISBN 978-3-86933-041-9.
  • Weal, John (2001). Jagdgeschwader 54 'Grunherz'. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-286-5. 
  • Weal, John (2003). Bf109 Aces of the Russian Front. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-084-6.

See also[edit]