End in Spain

As previously mentioned, bad weather dogged operations in late June and eariy July 1938, but on 12 July, preparations for an all out offensive against Valencia were completed. A period of great success followed for J/88. It began on the 12th when it. Wilhelm Keidel and Fw. Herbert Ihlefeld each shot down an 1-15. Three days later no less than nine Chatos were destroyed by pilots of J/88, one of them falling to Molders, his first victory. On 17 July, six more l-15s were shot down with four Ratas following next day and five more on the 19th. Three 116s and a Chato followed on 20 July prompting the Germans to report:

"In the five days since the delivery of 22 new Bf 109s, the German Jagdgruppe has shot down 22 Red fighters without loss."'

The successes were to continue, J/88 destroying four more Republican aircraft on 23 July. Two days later. Republican troops launched a surprise counter attack across the River Ebro between Mequinenza and Amposta, advancing on Gandesa. Before ground reinforcements could arrive, the Nationalist air forces were thrown against the incursion, J/88 based at La Cenia flying fighter protection for the bombers of K/88. Nevertheless, within three days the Republicans had captured 600 sq km (230 sq mis) of territory and it was not until early August that the situation was stabilised. During the air operations, a SB-2 was shot down on 27 July and four days later three Chatos were shot down by 3.J/88, followed by a Rata on 2 August. Ten days later, l.J/88 destroyed three SB-2s and a Rata, but next day the unit encountered the 1-16 Type 10 (often known as the "Super Rata") for the first time. Another large air battle developed on 14 August with 1. and 3. J/88 shooting down no less than seven Ratas.

On 19 August, seven Nationalist divisions counter attacked towards Fatarelle with strong support from the Legion Condor. Although J/88 destroyed four Ratas little success was achieved on the ground. Next day. Schellmann scored his twelfth and last victory in Spain, making him the highest scoring German pilot to date. On the ground. Nationalist troops began to make slow inroads into the Republican advance while in the air J/88 destroyed four aircraft on 23 August and five more by the 9 September. One of these was Mölders' sixth victory.

Handrick was finally relieved as commander of Jagdgruppe 88 on 10 September, his place being taken by Hptm. Walter Grabmann who had previously led l./JG 234. Around the same time. Hptm. Siebelt Reents took over from Schellmann as Kapitän of l.J/88 and by this time many other experienced pilots had returned to Germany due to the looming Sudeten crisis. Successes continued however, four Republican aircraft being shot down on 20 September, ten on 23rd and four on 27th. On 4 October, two l-15s and an 1-16 were destroyed by J/88.

At the end of October, the Nationalists launched a major offensive on the Ebro battlefield. Although still possessing about a hundred fighters, the Republicans could not claim air superiority. Trying to penetrate the Nationalist screen of Bf 109 and Rat fighters, they lost eight l-16s and two l-15s to the guns of 2. and 3.J/88. On 3 November. Nationalist forces captured the town of Pineii, marking the first major breakthrough at the Ebro. J/88 claimed six more kills, one of them the 14th and last by

Hptm. Molders. The Ebro battle continued until 16 November 1938 by which time the Nationalists had regained all the territory lost. The three and a half month battle had resulted in the loss of 300 Republican aircraft, over one third being destroyed by J/88 and no fewer than 42 by Molders' 3. Staffel.

After the battle of the Ebro, the Legion Condor was ordered to rest with only one Staffel of J/88 remaining operational. At the end of November, Volkmann was replaced by von Richthofen as commander of the Legion, with Obstlt. Hans Seidemann

Hans Seidemann

Heinkel He 51 C-l of 4.J/88

Based at Calamocha, spring 1938, this aircraft has a variation of the dark brown (61), medium green (62) and pale grey (63) uppersurfaces with pale blue (65) beneath. The "Pik-As" (Ace of Spades) insignia was carried by the second 4.J/88 which was formed on 2 November 1937.

Werner Lders Legion Condor Bilder

MWVriiis He 51, coded 2* 106, of 4.J/88 is under guard by the Spanish "Guardia Civil".The "Pik-As" emblem was introduced at the beginning of November 1937 by Obit. Ebcrhard von Trutzschler-d'ftsa when he formed the second 4.Staffel.The original 4 J/88 which had been formed from the first group of fighter pilots which went to Spain in August 1936, was disbanded in March 37. A total of 126 He 51s were sent to Legion Condor, numbered 2#1 to 2*131 although some of these codes were not used.

RIGHT. When the second 4.J/88 was formed on 2 November 1937, the unit adopted a "Pik-As" (ace of spades) badge for its He 5Is.This badge was later adopted by JG 53 (formed from JG 334 by way of JG 133) which bccamc known as the "Pik-As Gcschwadcr".

taking over from Piocher as chief of staff. Môlders also left Spain at this time, his place as commander of 3.J/88 being taken by Obit. Hubertus von Bonin.

On 23 December, the Nationalists launched what was to be the last major offensive in which the Legion Condor was involved. The plan was to strike north and east with the intention of taking Barcelona and the area bordering France. By this time the first Bf 109 E-ls were delivered to J/88 at La Cenia, the new variant being powered by a 1,100 hp Daimler-Benz 601A engine which gave a maximum speed of around 555 km/h (345 mph). Between 28 and 30 December, J/88 shot down 16 Republican aircraft including one by Obit. Alfred von Lojewski, the new commander of the 2. Staffel.

Bad weather was to curtail operations during this period, but on 12 January 1939, Bf 109s of J/88 carried out a surprise attack on Republican airfields, destroying 13 aircraft on the ground. As the Nationalists continued to advance on Barcelona, 3J/88 shot down four aircraft on 17 January and four days later the Gruppe moved to Vails airfield north of Tarragona. Barcelona fell on 26 January and two days later the Bf 109s from J/88 guarded a large victory parade over the city in case there should be a surprise attack. The next few days were spent in pursuing what remained of the Republican forces towards the Pyrenees, but heavy rainstorms restricted operations on 30 January. Early in February, J/88 flew escort missions and attacks on Republican airfields,shooting down three aircraft on 5 February and four on the 6th. On this day, the unit suffered its last operational loss when Uffz. Heinrich Windemuth's Bf 109 E-l, coded 6-89, crashed in flames during an attack on Vilajuiga airfield. On 6 March, J/88 scored its 314th and last victory, a "Curtiss" shot down by Obit. Hubertus von Bonin of the 3. Staffel.

The Legion Condor took little part in the final offensive against Madrid, flying what were described as "practice missions" during the final days of the war. J/88 flew an operation on 17 March when several Bf 109s carried out a "freie Jagd" over Madrid but without meeting any opposition. The last sortie came on 27 March when the unit escorted the bombers of K/88 for a final mission against forward Republican positions. Early the same day a Hs 126 reconnaissance aircraft reported seeing white flags flying in the capital, and at 10.00 am von Richthofen sent the long-awaited message to his squadrons: "All German units will cease operations!"

The support of Germany and Italy for the Nationalists, and the Soviet Union for the Republicans had turned what began as a ill-fated coup d'état into a long and bloody civil war. Though German aid to Franco never equalled that given by Italy, the Germans estimated that they had spent half a billion Reichsmarks on the venture. In addition they had tested aircraft, tanks and tactics which were to prove invaluable during the Second World War.

Harro Harder

BELOW: The three highest scoring German lighter pilots in Spain share a joke. From left is I Iptm. Wolfgang Schcllmann, who led l J/88 and scored 12 victories, Hptm. Harro Harder, who led 1 J/88 before Schcllmann and had 11 victories and Hptm. Werner Moldcrs, who led 3 J/88 and scored l i victories.

BELOW: The three highest scoring German lighter pilots in Spain share a joke. From left is I Iptm. Wolfgang Schcllmann, who led l J/88 and scored 12 victories, Hptm. Harro Harder, who led 1 J/88 before Schcllmann and had 11 victories and Hptm. Werner Moldcrs, who led 3 J/88 and scored l i victories.

109e Spain

ABOVE AND LEFT) This Bf 109 "Bipala", coded 6#51 wa: the first D-l to be delivered to Spain.The aircraft is seen here after the end of civil war with Spanish Air Force red-yellow-red roundels under the wings.

Alfred Von Lojewski

LEFT AND BELOW-. These close ups show Hie Junkers Juino 210 Da Iwdvc-cylinder invcrtcd-Vcc liquid cooled inline engine filled to the Bf 109 D-l. For many years alter the war. it was thought that the D-variant was powered by the experimental l.tXKl hp Daimler-Benz DB 600 A engine, a result of successful German propaganda.

ABOVE: The third Bf 109 D to be delivered to Spain photographed during the simmer of 1938.

LEFT. Undercarriage retraction tests being carried out on a Bf 109 D-l. For Ibis, the aircraft was mounted on hydraulic jacks.

109 Nationalist Spain

ABOVE: This 109 1)1, axled 6#51 is generally thought to be the aircraft piloted by Hptm. Wolfgang Schellmann who led 1 J/88 from 19 December 1937 to 2 September 1938. He was the second highest German lighter pilot in Spain after Moldcrs with 12 victorics.Thc aircraft shown here has six kilLs on the tail which suggests that the photo was taken in mid-1938. Hptm. Harro Harder, the second Staffelkapitan of 1 J/88 adopted the white-diagonal cross superimposed on the black fuselage national insignia.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 D-l

Flown by Oberleutnant Wolfgang Schellmann, Staffelkapitän of l.J/88, June 1938. The first Bf 109 D-l delivered to the Legion Condor, this aircraft had overall medium green (62) uppersurfaces with pale blue (65) beneath. Schellmann had shot down four Republican aircraft at this time, eventually destroying a total of 12 which made him the second highest scoring German pilot In Spain. The next aircraft, coded 6»52, was delivered to 2.J/88.

Bf109 Legion CondorBf109 Legion Condor

Three dosi-ups showing a Bf 109 D l being re^rmcd.Thc variant earned an armament of iwo 7 9 mm MG 17 madlinc sons above the cowling and two MG 17» in the wings. Note the sideways-hinging canopy which was feature of the Messcrschmilt fighter throughout its life.

Adolf Galland InsigniaGotthard Handrick

TOP LEFT AND ABOVE-. Two views of Gotthard Handrick's Bf 109 D showing Che Olympic ring insignia on the spinner. Close-up details of these are given on ll»c opposite page. Most D-series aircraft could be distinguished from the earlier models by the small exhaust ejector stubs.

LEFT. The Kommandcur of J/88, Hptm. Gotthard Handrick (with the stick), relaxes in Spain during die summer of 1938. Appointed Kommodorc of JG 26 on 24 June 1940, he was replaced by Adolf Galland after only two months in this position. He survived the war and died in 1978.

Mid Summer Air Festival Bf109

I.F.I-T: The Bf 109 IM piloted by Hptm. Gotthard Handrick, commander of J/88. Apart from having the Olympic rings painted on the spinner of his aircraft, Handrick also had a white script "h* superimposed on the black fuselage national in«f.ni:i After n-rnrning io Germany, Handrick took over command of 1./JG 234 (later I./JG 26) and later became Gesch waderkommodore.

RIGHT. The Bf 109 D-l flown by the Kommandcur of J/88. It is difficult to tell whether the pilot at the time this photo was taken was Hptm. Gotthard Handrick or Hptm. Walter Grabmann as neither the white script "h" of the former or the white capital "G" of the latter was applied to the starboard side of the aircraft. Handrick would end the conflict with five victories, Grabmann with seven.

+2 -1

Post a comment