|Active||1939 – 1945|
|Size||Air Force Wing|
|Patron||Albert Leo Schlageter|
|Decorations||References in the Wehrmachtbericht (2)|
|Adolf Galland (22.8.40 – 5.12.41)
Josef Priller (11.1.43 – 27.1.45)
Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26) Schlageter was a Luftwaffe fighter-wing of World War II. It operated mainly in Western Europe against Great Britain, France the United States but also saw service against Russia. It was named after Albert Leo Schlageter, a World War I veteran and Freikorps member arrested and executed by the French for sabotage in 1923.
The I. and II. Gruppe of JG 26 was formed 1 May 1939 in Odendorf and Bönninghardt from I. and II./Jagdgeschwader 132 (JG 132). Initially they had a strength of three squadrons per Gruppe, but in 1943 they had their strength increased to four. The III. Gruppe was formed 23 September 1939 in Werl from parts of I. and II./JG 26. It too saw its strength increased from three to four squadrons in 1943. The IV. Gruppe was formed 25 February 1945 in Varrelbusch from III./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54).
JG 26 took part in the Battle of France from 10 May 1940 onwards, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. To help with identification the unit had the undernoses of their aircraft painted yellow. Some aircraft had their entire cowling thus painted. JG 26 claimed 160 French and British aircraft shot down, for relatively light losses of 17 pilots killed. After the fall of France JG 26 took part in the Battle of Britain, located in the Pas de Calais region. In late August it was becoming apparent to the German High Command that the Battle of Britain was not going as planned. A frustrated Göring relieved several Geschwaderkommodoren of their commands, and appointed younger, more aggressive men in their place. Thus Major Adolf Galland was given command of JG 26 on 22 August 1940. During the Battle of Britain, the Geschwader claimed 285 fighters shot down, for losses of 76 aircraft and 45 pilots killed, and 29 prisoners of war.
In 1941 most of the fighter units of the Luftwaffe were sent east to the Eastern Front, or south to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, thus leaving JG 26 and Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen as the sole single-engine fighter Geschwadern in France. For the next two years these two Geschwadern were the main adversaries to the Royal Air Force's (RAF) day offensives over Occupied Europe. The two Jagdgeschwader maintained around 120 serviceable Bf 109 E and F’s to face the increasing number of aggressive RAF Fighter Command sweeps conducted to wear down the Luftwaffe in a war of attrition and so relieve pressure on the Eastern Front.
Galland's careful husbanding of his resources and astute tactical awareness meant JG 26 kept their losses to a minimum while inflicting maximum damage on the RAF's Spitfires through 1941. This became even more evident with the arrival of the potent Focke-Wulf Fw 190A to units in late 1941 - early 1942, which, in most cases, outclassed the current Spitfire Mark Vb in service with the RAF. In late 1941 JG 26 started converting to the Fw 190A fighter. I. and II. Gruppe were soon fully equipped with this aircraft, and although the III Gruppe started converting, the process was stopped and it continued using various versions of the Bf 109 for the remainder of the war. By the end of 1941 JG 26 had claimed more than 900 victories since September 1939 (some 400 since May 1941), and had lost some 95 pilots killed (34 POW) in return. The highest scoring pilots at this time were Galland (97), Hptm Müncheberg (62) and Hptm Josef Priller (58).
JG 26 and Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) had to defend the entire Atlantic Wall from the Spanish border through Belgium, until late 1942 when more units were directed West after the Allied bombing campaigns increased in ferocity.
Although JG 26 was not known by specific name to their opponents, JG 26 built a fearsome reputation among Allied aircrews. The skill and determination of the Luftwaffe fighter units when attacking United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) bomber formations led the Allied bomber crews to become wary whenever any yellow-nosed Bf 109 or Fw 190 aircraft attacked them. Because some elements of the unit was located in Abbeville-Drucat the Allies dubbed any yellow-nosed Bf 109 or Fw 190 aircraft who aggressively and effectively attacked them the nickname The Abbeville Boys and perceived them as the Luftwaffe's special hand-picked elite group of aces, although from the Luftwaffe's perspective they were just another — albeit highly experienced and effective — fighter Geschwader.
In February 1941, 7./JG 26[Notes 1] under Hpt Joachim Müncheberg operated in the Mediterranean theatre against Malta from bases in Sicily. The unit was to achieve success out of all proportion to its moderate size, claiming 52 victories over the island's defenders without losing a single Bf-109E. Müncheberg claimed almost half of the victories. In addition to flying missions over Malta, 7. JG 26 also flew over Yugoslavia in support of the German invasion of the Balkans. On 7 May 1941, Müncheberg was awarded the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz and the Italian Medaglia d'Oro, with 43 victories to his credit. After a spell in Libya during June–July 1941 to support Rommels Afrika Korps, 7./JG 26 was transferred back to France.
The ill-fated Allied landing at Dieppe on 19 August 1942 was intended as a reconnaissance in force to learn the techniques required to breach the Atlantic Wall along the French coast. The air operations in conjunction with Operation Jubilee resulted in some of the fiercest and intensive air battles since 1940. The RAF’s objectives were to throw a protective umbrella over the Naval and Army forces involved and to force the Luftwaffe fighters into an attritional conflict on the Allies’ own terms. Fifty one fighter squadrons of Spitfires and Typhoons were committed, with 8 squadrons of Hurricane fighter-bombers, 4 squadrons of reconnaissance Mustang Mk I’s and 7 squadrons of light bombers. Opposing were the 115 operational fighters of Jagdgeschwader JG 2 and JG 26. The German fighters were therefore outnumbered by about three to one. Although initially slow to respond to the raid, the German fighters soon made their presence felt over the port as the day wore on. While the Allied fighters were moderately successful in protecting the ground and sea forces from aerial bombing, the RAF came off second best versus the experienced and well-equipped Jagdgeschwaders.
While Fighter Command claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the Luftwaffe the balance sheet showed the reverse; Allied aircraft losses amounted to 106, including 88 RAF fighters (of which 70 Spitfires were lost to all causes) and 18 bombers, against 48 Luftwaffe aircraft lost. Included in that total were 28 bombers, half of them Dornier Do 217s from KG 2. One of the two Jagdgeschwader's, JG 2, lost 14 Fw 190s and eight pilots killed. JG 26 lost six Fw 190s with their pilots. The Spitfire Squadrons (42 with Mark Vs, and four with Mark IXs) were tasked with ground attack, escort and air-superiority missions, so the exact number of Spitfire losses to the Fw 190 is unknown. The Luftwaffe claimed 61 of the 106 RAF machines lost, which included all types (JG 2 claimed 40 and JG 26 claimed 21 kills).
At the end of March 1942, a specialist fighter bomber Staffel was created; 10.(Jabo)/JG 26. Equipped with the Fw 190 A-3/U3 along with sister unit 10.(Jabo)/JG 2 the staffel operated from June onwards against channel shipping and port towns on the south-eastern coasts of England. Often operating in small numbers at high speed and low altitude, these pin-prick raids were almost impossible for the RAF fighters to defend against. On 31 October 1942 Canterbury was attacked in the largest daylight raid mounted by the Luftwaffe since the Battle of Britain, with some 60 Fw 190s attacking the city, killing 32 and injuring 116 (one Fw 190 was lost). The most effective counter to these attacks were wasteful standing patrols by the Hawker Typhoon and the Griffon engined Spitfire Mk XII, which were both fast enough at low level to catch the Fw 190. As 1943 progressed however the Jabo units were suffering ever higher losses. For example, in the London raid of 20 January 1943, JG 26 jabos and their escorts (some 90 fighters in all) lost eight aircraft and pilots to the RAF.
In February 1943, 10.(Jabo)/JG 26 became 10.(Jabo)/JG 54, but continued to operate under the control of JG 26. In April these Jabo units were amalgamated into IV gruppe, Schnellkampfgeschwader 10 (SKG 10) and switched to night operations over southern England.
The dawn of 1943 saw the period of the RAF's massive circus operations pass, with the 'Schlageter' Geschwader increasingly involved in operations against a new enemy, in the form of the increasingly intensive daylight heavy bomber operations of the USAAF Eighth Air Force.
The bomber formations were initially the bait with which to lure the Luftwaffe fighters into combat, although the bombers also now had the capability to destroy or severely damage their ground targets. No longer would JG 26 have the luxury of picking and choosing the time and place of combat. The unit's FW 190's performance fell off rapidly above 25,000 feet, and thus massed head-on attacks were developed to maximise the fighter's firepower and to exploit both the B-17E and F model Flying Fortresses', and B-24D Liberators' weaknesses in forward-facing armament, a defeciency partly corrected in late-model production versions of both heavy bombers.
Meanwhile JG 26 were notified that they were to be posted to the Eastern Front, replacing JG 54 Grünherz who were to transfer west. The changeover was to be by Gruppe strength, and I./JG 26 (under Major Johannes Seifert) and 7./JG 26 (Hpt. Klaus Mietusch) moved into Northern Russia in late January 1943. However, during the spring of 1943 the planned phased transfer was postponed, and by early June I./JG 26 was back in France, as was 7./JG 26 in July. Some 199 Soviet Air Force aircraft had been claimed shot down, for just 11 pilots killed.
Jagdgeschwader 26's first operations during the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944 was conducted by Geschwaderkommodore Obstlt. Josef Priller, flying an Fw 190A-8 W.Nr.170346 Black 13, and his wingman from his airfield at Lille-Nord; an event that would be portrayed graphically in the book by Cornelius Ryan and the resultant film The Longest Day. Priller and his wingman, Uffz. Heinz Wodarczyk, took off in their Focke-Wulfs and headed west at low altitude, dodging several formations of Spitfires in the process. Crossing the coast at Le Havre the duo spotted the ships of the assault force. The pair made a high speed strafing pass over what was the British Sword Beach. Anti-aircraft fire forced the unscathed Focke-Wulfs to seek cloud cover. JG 26 (with JG 2) flew the bulk of the 172 sorties by the Luftwaffe Fighter arm on D-Day. By contrast the Allies Air Forces flew 14,000 sorties the same day.
The Luftwaffe's fighters were mobilised as part of a long-standing plan in the event of an invasion to reinforce the French based units of JG 2 and JG 26 with home-located Reich Defence gruppen. Alongside these some 20 gruppen from the newly arrived Jagdgeschwaders under the command of Jagd Division 5, JG 26 would fly intensively over the invasion battlefield during the summer of 1944, flying sweeps against the ever present hordes of Allied fighter-bombers. Inevitably the overwhelming Allied air superiority inflicted heavy losses on pilots and planes. By late summer few of the battle-hardened JG 26 experten of earlier years remained with the Geschwader, with novice recruits of less than 180 hours flying experience drafted in. JG 26 claimed just 30 kills in July, and suffered 20 pilots killed and 16 injured.
By late August the Geschwader was stationed in Belgium, mustering just 56 aircraft. JG 26 claimed 76 kills for the month, with 40 pilots killed in action (their highest monthly loss of the war), 6 killed in accidents, and 20 injured.
The Geschwader, located close to the Dutch border, was heavily involved in operations against Operation Market Garden, the airborne offensive around the Rhine bridges. Efforts to disrupt the transport aircraft were thwarted by the numerous Allied fighter patrols. Major Klaus Mietusch, the 72-kill ace commander of III/JG 26, and the longest serving member of the Geschwader (since 1938), was killed in combat at this time.
In November 1944 II Gruppe withdrew to re-equip with the improved FW 190 D-9 the 'Dora'.
JG 26 took part in Operation Bodenplatte, the low-level massed fighter attacks on the Allied air bases in the Low Countries. Led by Oberst Priller. over 60 FW 190D's of I/JG 26 and the subordinated III/JG 54 attacked the RAF airfield at Grimbergen, destroying 5 bombers and a Mustang, along with various trucks and equipment. However, 24 aircraft failed to return, over half falling to German friendly fire. II. and III./JG 26 meantime attacked Brussels - Evere the home of the RCAF's crack No 127 Wing, flying Spitfires. Just 11 Spitfires were destroyed, the attackers losing 17 aircraft. JG 26's losses were indicative of the Luftwaffe's casualties that day, with some 300 of the 900 fighters involved failing to return safely. The operation marked the end of the Luftwaffe's hopes for effective and concerted operations against the Allies in the future.
JG 26's task for the rest of the war was to provide what support it could for the German Armies defending the Northern sector of the Western Front against the thrusts of the Canadian and British Armies. Despite chronic shortages of fuel and equipment, the unit flew intercept sorties against Allied reconnaissance aircraft and 'freie Jagd' against the ground-attack and tactical formations.
Although many Luftwaffe records were lost at the end of the war, research suggests that JG 26 claimed around 2,700 aircraft shot down, with 763 pilots killed (631 in action, 132 in accidents). Some 67 were shot down and became prisoners.
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