JG 51 Mölders
|Active||1939 – 1945|
|Size||Air Force Wing|
|Decorations||references in the Wehrmachtbericht (6)|
|Heinz Lange (2.4.45 – 8.5.45)|
Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51) Mölders was a Luftwaffe fighter wing during World War II, named after the fighter ace Werner Mölders in 1942. JG 51's pilots won more Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes than any other Jagdgeschwader, and flew combat from 1939 in all major theatres of war. Flying Bf 109s and then FW 190s, the wing claimed over 8,000 air victories. Experten included 'Toni' Hafner, Heinrich Hoffmann, Heinz Bär, Richard Leppla, Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, Günther Schack and the legendary Mölders.
World War II
Formed in August 1939, and commanded by 48-year-old World War I ace Onkel Theo Osterkamp, JG 51 was based in the early months of the war in the West, fighting in the French campaign and in the Battle of Britain. From late June to mid July JG 51 was the only fighter Geschwader engaged continuously against the RAF. During the battle JG 51 lost 68 pilots, the highest casualty rate of the Luftwaffe fighter units engaged. JG 51 was one of the two Geschwader that had four Gruppen, the other being JG 1.
On 12 July 1940, JG 51 moved to Saint-Inglevert, Stab JG 51 was at Saint-Inglevert until November. Whilst based at the Belgian airfield at Mardyik in late 1940, the German ace Josef "Pips" Priller was a Staffelkapitän with JG 51, flying Bf 109-E "Yellow One". Priller went on to score over 100 victories, the third highest among Luftwaffe day fighters on the Western Front, fighting solely against the Western Allies.
JG 51 claimed 345 aircraft destroyed by May 1941 and was therefore one of the elite units, with 'top ten' aces at this time including Werner Mölders with 68 claims, Walter Oesau with 34 claims, and Hermann-Friedrich Joppien with 31. Major Werner Mölders became the unit's commander (Geschwaderkommodore) in July 1940 and led the unit at the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
For the new offensive in the East JG 51 was positioned in the centre of the 4480 km-long front that stretched from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Its principal task was to clear the skies above Panzergruppe 2, which formed the right flank of Army Group Centre, advancing north east towards Moscow.
Claiming 69 kills on the first day of the offensive, by 30 June 1941 JG 51 became the first fighter Geschwader to claim 1,000 air victories (113 kills in 157 sorties were claimed on one day). 2./JG 51, whose Bf 109-Fs had been fitted with ventral bomb racks, were alone credited with 43 ground victories in four Jabo sorties during the day. On 24 June JG 51 claimed 57 bombers shot down of a total of 81 victories on that day. On 25 June JG 51 shot down 83 Tupolev SB-2s. Mölders became the first fighter pilot to reach 100 claims in July and in the same month JG 51's Oberfeldwebel Heinz Bär reached 60 claims and was decorated with the Oak Leaves. A total of 500 Soviet claims was reached on 12 July 1941, although 6 pilots had been lost by JG 51 in the intervening 3 weeks since the offensive had started.By 10 July the Geschwader was gathered on the pre-war complex of Soviet airfields around Bobruisk.
After Mölders' departure in September 1941 (and death later that year) the Geschwader adopted his name as a title of honor in early 1942. Jagdgeschwader 51 Mölders was to remain on the centre sector of the Russian front throughout the rest of 1941. However Oberstleutnant Friedrich Beckh ( one of the few fighter pilots to wear spectacles) proved an uncharismatic commander after Mölders, and it was not until Major Karl-Gottfried Nordmann took over in April 1942 that a worthy successor to Mölders was found. In the period 22 June - 5 December 1941 the unit destroyed 1,881 Soviet aircraft, in return for 84 losses in aerial combat and a single aircraft on the ground.
Air support for the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre was entrusted to General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps. In early January 1942, among the fighter units available to von Richthofen were II, III and IV/ JG 51. With the onset of the sub-zero conditions of the Russian winter, the majority of JG 51's available aircraft became grounded.
The Russian winter counter offensive forced III./ JG 51 into flying numerous fighter-bomber operations in direct support of the infantry, and the gruppe filed few aerial 'kill' claims through January 1942. II./ JG 51 however, accounted for most of VIII. Fliegerkorps's aerial victories during the Soviet offensive. Particularly successful was the duo of Lt. Hans Strelow and Ofw. Wilhelm Mink, both of 5. JG 51. They claimed five MiG-3s of 16 IAP on 4 January (Mink claimed three) and 9 days later Mink claimed a Pe-2 and Strelow destroyed two R-Z biplanes for his 30th and 31st victories. On 4 February, Strelow increased his victories to 36 by shooting down four Russian aircraft. The 19 year-old Strelow claimed his 40th victory on 28 February and claimed 4 victories on both 6 March and 17 March. The next day he was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes and also shot down seven Soviet aircraft. He was awarded the Eichenlaub on 24 March, his claims total at 66.
Drive to Moscow (1942)
In early 1942 Heinz Bär took command of IV./JG 51, and in mid-February he was awarded the Swords, after achieving 90 claims before departing for JG 77.
Most of early 1942 was spent in operations supporting the Central Front drive towards Moscow, or defensive missions against counter-attacks on Heeresgruppe Mitte's left flank. 2. Staffel were now released from the unpopular fighter-bomber operations conducted since the start of the offensive the previous year.
Army Group Centre's situation had by now stabilised after severe losses in personnel and material. It had been saved from almost complete destruction mainly by the efforts of the VIII. Fliegerkorps - including Stab, II, III and IV./JG 51. On 8 April 1942, JG 51 became the first Jagdgeschwader to reach 3,000 victories.
After the Winter offensive there followed a lull in operational intensity, with April–June 1942 seeing little fighting in the air. However, JG 51 lost three of its experten in less than ten days; Lt. Hans Strelow,(68 victories) was lost on 22 May; 2. JG 51's Oblt. Erwin Fleig (66 victories), ex-wingman to Werner Mölders, bailed out and captured on 29 May; and two days later Hptm. Josef Fozo (27 victories), Kommandeur I./JG 51, was severely injured in a landing accident and would never return to first-line service.
In June 1942 a Spanish Air Force volunteer staffel was attached to JG 51, becoming 15.(span.)/JG 51. Commanded by Comandante Julio Salvador Diaz-Benjumea, a 24-kill ace of the Spanish Civil War, and flying the Bf-109F and then the FW 190, 15./JG 51 was finally recalled to Spain in January 1944, after 2,500 sorties had been flown, with 149 air kills being claimed, for 17 pilots killed in action. Capt. Gonzaldo Hevia was top scorer with 11 claims.
Night bomber attacks during June 1942 managed to put a part of JG 51's aircraft out of commission on the airfields at Orel, Bryansk and Dugino (west of Kursk). However, Soviets bomber and ground-attack operations in daylight against the same targets on 5 July proved far more costly. II./JG 51 claimed some 46 Soviet aircraft shot down in return for two Bf 109 F-2s with severe battle damage.
The renewed Soviet offensive on 30 July saw heavy rain ground most German aircraft. Massive formations attacks of Il-2 Shturmoviks, split the front-line German Infantry divisions. Major Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, Kommodore JG 51, instructed all pilots to concentrate on the Il-2s and on 1 August, JG 51 claimed 20 Il-2s shot down. Ofw. Franz-Josef Beerenbrock of IV./JG 51, claimed nine of these aircraft in three sorties.
On 2 August, JG 51 claimed 45 victories, though during the first three days of August 20 JG 51 aircraft were shot down. On 2 August, Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 51, Hptm. Richard Leppla, was shot down and was seriously injured. The next day, 11.JG 51's Staffelkapitän Obit. Georg Seelmann (39 victories) bailed out injured, as were Obit. Harald Jung of 4./JG 51, and Lt. Gottfried Schlitzer of 9.JG 51. To bolster JG 51 Major Joachim Müncheberg arrived from JG 26 to be groomed for the role of Geschwaderkommodore. Two of the 16 victories by JG 51 on 3 August 1942 were Major Muncheberg's 84th and 85th kills.
In August 1942, JG 51 suffered heavier losses than at any time previously during the conflict; 101 Bf 109s destroyed or written off from all causes in the month, with 17 pilots killed, missing, or hospitalised.
Early in September 1942, I./JG 51 were withdrawn to convert to the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. By November 1942 JG 51 had claimed 4,000 kills in total.
Mediterranean Operations (Late 1942)
In November 1942 II./JG 51 was transferred to the Mediterranean theatre under Hauptmann Hartmann Grasser, fighting over Tunisia, Sicily and Italy before leaving for Sardinia in April 1943. 3.JG 1 were also transferred in, and subordinated to II gruppe as 6 staffel  While in Tunisia, Grasser claimed 12 victories to raise his total to 103, while Anton Hafner claimed a further 20. The gruppe claimed 7 Spitfires on 27 November, and claimed some two dozen fighters in the first two weeks of December. Although II./JG 51 would claim some 121 air victories, the far superior numbers of Desert Air Force and USAAF fighters meant their effect on the air and ground battles were gradually minimised and their losses increased.
By April the hard pressed gruppe were stationed near Tunis as the superior numbers of the Allied armies further reduced the Axis perimeter. The unit handed over its remaining aircraft to JG 77 and left the continent on 19 April 1943. The unit had lost 26 pilots killed, almost a 100% loss rate since their arrival.
In July the unit flew intensively from Trapani against the invasion forces in Sicily, claiming 26 kills. In March 1944 the gruppe moved eastwards into Yugoslavia and the Balkans, in order to cover the vital Ploesti oil fields.
Later in 1943 II gruppe joined in the defence of the Reich against the USAAF 15th Air Force's bomber offensive, being stationed at various times in Hungary, Greece and Austria until late 1944. 6 B-17's were downed on 23 June 1944, and 5 B-24s were claimed the day after. 7 bombers were claimed without loss on 15 July. At this time 5. JG 51 were detached to Crete covering Axis maritime supply routes.
During the offensive around the Kursk salient, I.,III. and IV./J.G. 51 was based at Orel with Luftflotte 6, flying alongside I./JG 54, in support of Army Group Centre. These gruppen were tasked with escorting Ju 88s, He 111s, and Ju 87s as well as defensive interceptions and offensive sweeps over the battle area. On 5 July 1943, the Soviets launched concentrated air attacks against the German airfields, and as all available Luftflotte 4 and 6 fighters scrambled, one of the largest air battles in history began. JG 51 scored heavily, Oberfeldwebel Strassl claiming 30 shot down in the next 3 days to raise his score to 67. On 8 July 1943, Hubert Strassl was bounced by four LaGG-3s 60 km north of Kursk. Strassl had already downed three enemy aircraft on this day, but he had to bail out of his FW 190A-4 'Black 4'. Strassl failed to open his parachute in time. He was posthumously awarded the Ritterkreuz in November 1943.
In late July 1943, JG 51 claimed its 6,000 victory. The Geschwader then converted back to the Bf 109-G due to increased demand for the Focke Wulf Fw-190 from other fronts. In May 1944 JG 51 claimed its 8,000 aircraft destroyed. JG 51 featured heavily defending the retreat following the Soviet Offensive of June 1944, operating with III./JG 52 as the heavily outnumbered fighter cover.
Oblt. 'Toni' Hafner shot down a Russian Yak-7 fighter for his 204th claim on 17 October 1944, although during the low-level combat his Bf 109G hit a tree and crashed, killing JG 51's highest scoring ace.
7./JG 51, (with Bf 109G-6's) was attached to II./JG 1 in May 1944 from Brest-Litovsk, with pilots arriving at Störmede late in May and hurriedly converting to the FW-190. (It was later renamed 8./JG 1 on 15 August 1944 when the four-Staffeln Gruppe became standard) 7. Staffel was led by Ritterkreuzträger (Knight's Cross winner) Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weber with 136 confirmed kills. Its two other experten were Lt. Friedrich Krakowitzer (23 kills) and Ofhr. Günther Heckmann with 12 kills.
7./JG 51 joined II. Gruppe with 15 pilots on strength at the end of May, and during the first two months of the Normandy campaign the staffel was decimated, with twelve pilots killed, one POW and one severely wounded.
As the war turned against Germany JG 51 was forced to operate closer and closer to Germany, finally staging out of East Prussia.
Given below is a list of commanding officers of JG 51.
- Oberst Theo Osterkamp, 25.11.39 - 23.7.40
- Oberstleutnant Werner Mölders, 27.7.40 - 19.7.41
- Oberst Theo Osterkamp (acting), 28.7.40 - 7.8.40
- Oberstleutnanat Friedrich Beckh, 19.7.41 - 10.4.42
- Major Günther Lützow (acting), 9.41 - 8.11.41
- Oberstleutnanat Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, 10.4.42 - 30.3.44
- Major Fritz Losigkeit, 1.4.44 - 31.3.45
- Major Heinz Lange, 2.4.45 - 8.5.45
- Major Ernst Freiherr von Berg, 1 May 1939
- Hauptmann Hans-Heinrich Brustellin, 23 September 1939
- Hauptmann Hermann-Friedrich Joppien, 18 October 1940
- Hauptmann Wilhelm Hachfeld, 26 August 1941
- Hauptmann Josef Fözö, 3 May 1942
- Hauptmann Heinrich Krafft, 1 June 1942
- Hauptmann Rudolf Busch, 15 December 1942
- Major Erich Leie, 18 January 1943
- Hauptmann Günther Schack, 29 December 1944
- Major Kramer, October 1939
- Major Ernst Günther Burgaller, 26 October 1939
- Hauptmann Günther Matthes, 3 February 1940
- Hauptmann Josef Fözö, 21 February 1941
- Hauptmann Hartmann Grasser, September 1941
- Major Karl Rammelt, 6 June 1943
- Oberleutnant Otto Schultz, 24 December 1944
- Hauptmann Hannes Trautloft, 4 July 1940
- Hauptmann Walter Oesau, 25 August 1940
- Hauptmann Richard Leppla, 11 November 1940
- Hauptmann Karl Heinz Schnell, 8 August 1942
- Hauptmann Fritz Losigkeit, 26 June 1943
- Hauptmann Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber, 1 May 1944
- Hauptmann Joachim Brendel, 1 September 1944
- Hauptmann Johannes Janke, 21 November 1940
- Major Friedrich Beckh, 1 March 1941
- Hauptmann Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, 20 July 1941
- Hauptmann Hans Knauth, 10 April 1942
- Major Rudolf Resch, 1 March 1943
- Major Hans Ekkehard Bob, 1 August 1943
- Major Heinz Lange, 9 May 1944
- Oberleutnant Günther Josten, 12 April 1945
- Major Heinz Lange, 29 April 1945
Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|4 May 1944||Das unter Führung von Oberstleutnant Nordmann stehende Jagdgeschwader "Mölders" meldete seinen 8 000 Luftsieg.||The under the leadership of Oberstleutnant Nordmann standing Fighter Wing "Mölders" reported its 8 000th aerial victory.|
- "Saint-Inglevert" (in French). Old Anciens Aerodromes. http://old.anciens-aerodromes.com/terrains%20aviations/StInglevert.htm. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Bergström 2007, p. 116.
- Weal, 'JG 51' page 95
- Weal, 'JG 51'
- Aders & Held 1993, p.247–252.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 95.
- Aders, Gebhard & Held, Werner. Jagdgeschwader 51 'Mölders' Eine Chronik - Berichte - Erlebnisse - Dokumente. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag, 1993. ISBN 3-613-01045-3.
- Bergström, Christer. Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chervron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
- Das Jagdgeschwader 51 (Mölders): ein Bilddokumentation über die Jahre 1938-1945. Nickel, 1996. ISBN 3-92548-017-X
- Weal, John. Jagdgeschwader 51 'Mölders' Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84603-045-5, 128 pages.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 (in German). München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1985. ISBN 3-423-05944-3.
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