Schlachtgeschwader 1 - The Retreat in Russia

The Retreat in Russia

The Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad erupted on 19 November 1942 causing surprise and mayhem. On 22 November I/SchlG 1 was forced to blow up several its unserviceable Bf 109E-7s, just days after the start of the Soviet counter-offensive that eventually encircled the German 6th Army. The unit was forced to abandon its base at Oblivskaya on 26 November and withdraw to the west. II Gruppe also began a maximum effort around Stalingrad at the cost of at least eight Hs 129Bs, Hs 123As and Bf 109Es lost in ground attack missions or blown up to prevent capture by the on-coming Russians.

Four Bf 109E-7s of I Gruppe were lost in December, two to Soviet fighters, as I/SchlG 1 was forced back to Millerovo. On 31 December the 3. Staffel lost Staffelkapitän Oblt. Josef Graf von und zu Hönsbröck, killed by ground fire. By 22 December what was left of II/SG 1 had also been pulled back, to Voroshilovgrad.

In 1942 II Gruppe had flown 3,128 Hs 129 sorties, 1,532 Hs 123 sorties, and 1,938 Bf 109 sorties, claimed 107 aircraft shot down or destroyed, and lost 20 Hs 129s, 16 Bf 109s, and 5 Hs 123s to enemy action.

During early 1943 the staff was located in the Donets Basin area, two Bf 109E-7s from 2nd Staffel being lost to enemy fire on 10 February. On 16 February, the Soviets recaptured Kharkov and the Germans counter-attacked to retake the city two weeks later. SG 1 supported, and as soon as the city was again under German control it moved to Kharkov-North on 14 March.

The SG 1 continued operations during the spring and summer while converting to the Focke Wulf Fw 190. The conversion of I Gruppe was completed by the end of April, though several Bf 109s remained on strength. II Gruppe converted to the Fw 190A-5 which was completed by early March, transferring to central Ukraine for a month of training before moving back to the front in April 1943.

The ground attack missions in support of the cut-off 17th Army in the Kuban bridgehead were intense and costly, as the Soviet Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe four-to-one and large numbers of AA guns were present in the area. 7 Fw 190A-5s of II Gruppe were shot down in May 1943, most falling to AA fire. June also saw the first arrivals of the new heavily armoured Fw 190F-3 aircraft.

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