After the Battle of Britain, most of the German Luftwaffe formations were withdrawn leaving only two units to defend the Kanalfront.
JG26 “Schlageter” and JG2 “Richthofen”, each with an average strength of some 150 aircraft, remained the only day fighter formations in the west until the end of 1942. JG26 picked Abbeville in Northern France as their main base, while JG2 operated south of Le Harve further to the West.
Inferior in numerical strength, the two seasoned Geschwader managed to put up a formidable opposition to the RAF. JG26 in particular gained notoriety as an active, deadly opponent during the Circus offensives of 1941 and 1942.
Mr. Horst Jeckel of Germany sent us these photos of downed Spitfires from a JG 26 album.
22 August 1942 was a particularly bad day for No. 306 (Polish) Squadron operating from Catterick. That day, the Poles took off in squadron strength for Rhubarb in the St Omer area. Thirteen aircraft crossed the channel at low level, splitting up over France and looking for ground targets of opportunity.
Some of the Spitfires encountered intense and highly accurate anti-aircraft fire. A total of four aircraft were lost – S/Ldr Tadeusz Czerwinski flying Spitfire Vb EN826 UZ-C, Fl/Sgt. Zdzislaw Horn flying Spitfire R6904 UZ-D and F/O. Witold Szyszkowski flying Spitfire Vb AR381 UZ-R. All three pilots were killed.
The last flak victim was the Spitfire R6770 UZ-V piloted by Fl/Sgt. Brunon Kroczynski. He was wounded but managed to make a safe forced landing in an open area.
Fl/Sgt. Kroczynski had a close call with JG26 one year previously, on 19 May 1941. Engaging Bf 109’s from 4./JG52 whilst on convoy patrol at midday, his Hurricane was mortally hit. Wounded, Kroczynski baled out but that time was rescued from the sea and could return to the active duty. This time round, he would have no such luck. Quickly captured by the German ground patrol, he became a POW.
Here is an excerpt from No. 306 Squadrons Operational Records Book describing the fatal mission:
Weather was fair. Thirteen aircraft of 306 Squadron left Northolt at 11.00 hrs., crossing the English Coast at Beachy Head, flying at 0 feet and crossing the French Coast at Hardelot at 11.40 hrs. Still flying at ground level they arrived over St. Omer / Longueness at 11.54 hrs.
There was no A/A as they went into France but halfway to the target the ground defences opened up at them. Intense light A/A was experienced from aerodrome defences and also from Gravelines on the way out.
The pilots who returned by St. Englevert was free from A/A.
F/Lt. Gil attacked a hangar on Longueness aerodrome. Sgt. KORDASIEWICZ attacked A/A posts on the same aerodrome and in the vicinity of the aerodrome, and aircraft in the hangar. F/Sgt. Krupa attacked a railway while on the way to St. Omer. He circled three times over Longueness and shot up aircraft in the hangar. He last saw S/Ldr. Czerwinski over the aerodrome. The port wing and tail of his own aircraft were damaged.
P/O. Pietrzak, about thirteen miles from the coast, found an aerodrome and attacked aircraft which were dispersed at the edge of a wood. He flew on over Longueness and attacked a big hangar and building nearby. Returning via Gravelines, the tail of his aircraft was damaged.
F/O. Marcisz attacked A/A posts at Longueness. The starboard wing, rudder, aileron and radiator were damaged by A/A from Gravelines. He fired at a gun position there. Four miles North of Gravelines he saw a large naval unit but he was unable to identify because of his speed and height.
F/O. Kurowski attacked a motor car arriving at Longueness aerodrome and fired at buildings and various objects around the aerodrome. He returned via Boulogne without opposition.
F/Sgt. Machowiak attacked a railway engine on the way to St. Omer. He did not locate the target and returned via Gravelines where the starboard wing and cabin were damaged by A/A.
Sgt. Rogowski attacked a small hangar on Fort Rouge aerodrome. He returned via St. Englevert without opposition. The cockpit of his aircraft was damaged while over the ‘drome.
S/Ldr Nowierski, who was flying the thirteenth aircraft of this Squadron, attacked an aircraft on the ground at St. Omer / Longueness aerodrome. This aircraft had its engine running. A detachment of soldiers exercising behind the aerodrome were also attacked. S/Ldr. Nowierski crossed the French Coast East of Gravelines on the return journey.
Four pilots failed to return from this Operation as follows: –
F.O. W. Szyszkowski was last seen when crossing the French Coast on the way in. Not one of the pilots who returned are able to give any information about him.
F/Sgt. Z. Horn was last seen by F/Lt. Gil near Desvres. White smoke was coming from his aircraft.
S/Ldr. Czerwinski was seen to make a climbing turn when over the target, giving the impression that he had lost control.
F/Sgt. B. Kroczynski reported over the R/T that he was wounded and was going to try and make a forced landing. Later he was heard to say over the R/T that he had landed, his position was approximately South of St. Omer.
Nine aircraft landed at Northolt 12.30 to 12.45 hrs., five of them having been damaged by Flak.
Weather: While over the English Coast 4/10ths cloud at 2,000 feet., improving over Channel. Over France cloudless, bright sunshine and good visibility.
S/Ldr. T. CZERWINSKI, F/O. W. SZYSZKOWSKI, F/SGT. B. KROCZYNSKI and F/SGT. Z. HORN were all posted to R.A.F. Polish Depot (N/E), Blackpool supernumerary non-effective missing.
Sgt. CZAHLA discharged from Hospital.
On June 29th, 1942, No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron participated in Circus 195, escorting a formation of Bostons on a bombing mission to Hazebrouck marshalling yards. No. 350 engaged a formation of Fw 190s.
Young Belgian pilot Roger De Wever spotted a lone Fw 190 and moved in to attack. However, he underestimated the experience of his opponent, Fw Ernst Christof of 1./JG26. The German pilot managed to outmaneuvre the Spitfire and shot De Wever, who immediately dived towards the sea. Although the Spitfire was damaged, the Belgian pilot succeeded in regaining control and belly-landed his aircraft near Oye-Plage.
De Wever was taken POW, but not before a picture of him with his damaged aircraft was taken by a Luftwaffe war correspondent. His story was later publicised in “Der Adler”.
Wever’s Spitfire Mk. Vb, AA835 MN-E carried a personal name STELLA MARIS. The nicknamed the aircraft after the daughter of a Scottish family, who accepted him as their own son when he arrived in Britain as a refugee. It was on this aircraft that Wever performed his first operational sortie on the 5th May 1942. His career as a fighter pilot lasted merely two months.
After the war, De Wever had a long and successful career with the Belgian Air Force. Under his retirement he returned to England where he died on the 1st May 1990. Lt. Colonel Roger De Wever lies buried at the Lowestoft cemetery.
The last picture in this series shows another Spitfire Mk. Vb, this time a machine of No. 412 (Canadian) Squadron. Either the serial number or the individual letter are indiscernible in the photograph, so identifying the machine and the details behind its demise has not been easy. Perhaps some knowledgeable reader could fill in this story; this is what I could establish about it with any degree of probability.
Firstly, I assumed that this photo also originates in 1942, which was just a guess as No. 412 used their Spitfires Mk. V well into 1943. Secondly, let’s note that the “grass” surrounding the downed aircraft is a wheat field.
The fully-grown state the wheat indicates high summer season. Worth considering is also that the wheat harvest in France occurs in the first weeks of August.
This would narrow down the time frame of the photograph to late June-August 1942. During that time, No. 412 lost two Spitfires, one on 26 July and another on 19 August, during the Dieppe operation. That left just two candidate aircraft to investigate further, and so…
On 26 July 1942, No. 412 saw their biggest action to date. Long relegated to convoy escort duties in the 12 Group zone, they were now operating from Merston (Sussex), taking active part in the RAF’s summer offensive.
On that day, Fighter Command’s Rodeo (fighter sweep) operation prompted response from JG26 fighters. Yellow Section of No. 412 tangled with Focke-Wulfs over the latter’s home base at Abbeville-Drucat. Flt. Lt. F. E. Green destroyed one Fw 190 and damaged a second, Flying Officer G. C. Davidson scored a probable kill, and Flying Officer K. I. Robb damaged still another.
Interestingly, three of the squadron pilots on that mission were American guests. Major McNickle, Captain Davis and Col. Albert P. Clark were commanders of the 31st FG which then undertook its operational training in the UK. Col. Clark was the Executive Officer of the unit.
The Spitfire which Clark received for the mission was marked VZ-G. It became the squadron’s only loss of the day. Hit by a Focke-Wulf, Clark put down his Spitfire in a field, thus becoming the first 8th Air Force fighter pilot to be shot down over Europe. He survived his predicament and was taken prisoner by the Germans, who were somewhat baffled by his American uniform and his high rank.
Clark spent 33 months in the infamous Stalag Luft III. He was involved in the famous Great Escape, responsible for accumulation and hiding of supplies used in the breakout. After World War II, he progressed through key staff assignments with the U.S. Air Force.