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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Focus unit: Erprobungsgruppe 210

Thought I'd start doing some pieces on some of the key units who flew in the battle.

First up: Erpro 210

Erprobungsgruppe 210 (Erpr.Gr.210)
Erprobungsgruppe 210 was formed on July 1, 1940 at Koln-Ostheim under the command of Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer, a Swiss true believer in Nazism, who had migrated to Germany following Hitler’s rise to power and joined the Luftwaffe, where he gained a reputation as a ground-attack specialist during the Spanish Civil War, where he led 3./J 88 which used the He-51B in the development of schlactflieger tactics.

The unit was given the task of operational test of the Bf-109E and Bf-110C as fighter-bombers, and the development of suitable tactics.  The legend of Erpr.Gr.210 is that the aircrews assigned were all “specialists,” which is not true. 1.Staffel, which was to be equipped with the new Bf-110C-4/B, a version with a fuselage mounted bomb rack capable of carrying two SC 500 bombs on a paired ETC 250 rack under the fuselage,  was formed from I./ZG1. 2.Staffel, also to be equipped with the Bf-110C-4/B, was formed from 3./StG. 77, and 3.Staffel, which was equipped with the Bf-109E-4B capable carrying one SC 250 on a centerline rack, was formed from 4./JG 186. Some crews were assigned straight in from training, including Leutnant Erich Beudel and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Heinrich Diemer, and Uffz. Werner Neumann and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Karl Stoff.


At their commissioning, 1.Staffel was equipped with the Bf 11OC-6, only 12 of which were ever built, which carried a 30 mm. MG 101 in place of the standard two 20 mm cannon. 2.Staffel received their first Bf-110C-4/B aircraft a week later, while 3.Staffel operated the Bf-109E-4Bs.

     The heavy commitment of the unit during the Battle of Britain would take its toll: four commanding officers would be lost in action between August 15th and October 5th 1940.  An indication of the level of combat experienced by Erpr.Gr.210 is seen in the fact that four awards were made of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, the most for any single Gruppe in the Battle.

     Erpr.Gr.210 moved to St. Omer-Arques for missions over the English Channel on July 10, 1940, and flew its first mission of the Battle of Britain on July 13, 1940, against two convoys near the mouth of the Thames. No RAF fighters appeared, and hits were claimed on a total of 20,000 tons of shipping, with all aircraft returning to France. In the following days the unit continued attacking convoys, and suffered their first loss on July 24, when the Bf-110C-4/B of Uffz. Paul Hermann and his Bordfunker Uffz. Heinz Meinhardt was hit by AA fire from the convoy they were attacking and plunged into the North Sea east of Harwich. 2.Staffel suffered a second loss on July 27 when the Bf-110C-4/B of Oblt. Franz Fallenbacher received a direct hit with its bombs still attached and blew up in mid-air. By the end of July, Erpr.Gr.210 claimed 80,000 tons of British shipping during their two weeks of operations.

     The next few weeks were spent re-equipping 1.Staffel with new Bf-110C-4/B aircraft to replace the Bf-110C-6s, and moving to Calais-Marck airfield for the coming assault on Britain

     On August 11, Bf-109E-4Bs of 3.Staffel shot down barrage balloons protecting Dover Harbor, followed by Bf-110s of 2.Staffel bombing the harbor.  That afternoon, Erpr.Gr.210 sent out after Convoy “Booty” off the coast of Essex, accompanied by Do-17Zs from KG2, with escort from I/ZG 26. This was the first time 1.Staffel used Bf-110C-4/Bs, along with two C-6 strafers. The raiders were able to attack the convoy before being intercepted by a force of Hurricanes from 17 and 85 Squadrons and Spitfires from 74 Squadron. In the combat that followed, the two Bf-110C-6s from 1.Staffel were lost.  1./ZG 26 lost two Bf-110C-3s, while 2./ZG 26 had two damaged in action.

     August 12 would prove to be the busiest day of the Battle of Britain. Erpr.Gr.210 left Calais-Marck at 0930 to attack the radar stations around the south coast of England. Heading low over the Channel, the unit split into four formations. Gruppenkommandeur Rubensdörffer led the four Bf-110C-4/Bs of the Gruppenstab toward the station in the tiny village of Dunkirk, north of Canterbury; Oberleutnant. Otto Hintze led the Bf-109E-4/Bs of 3.Staffel to the Dover station; Oberleutnant. Wilhelm-Richard Rossiger led 2.Staffel’s Bf-110s towards Rye, with Oberleutnant Martin Lutz leading 1.Staffel’s Bf-110s to the Pevensey station. All four stations were hit, but the masts were not toppled.  All except Dunkirk were temporarily put out of action, but all were back in operation before the end of the day. All aircraft of Erpr.Gr.210 returned to Calais-Marck. So far, the tactic of using the fast Bf-110 at low altitude, operating below the radar screen, was proving effective.

     An hour after their return to Calais-Marck, Erpr.Gr.210  headed for Manston, on the south-eastern tip of Kent, joined by Dornier 17s of KG2.  Coming in under the radar, the formation made its approach unopposed. 65 Squadron managed to take off as the raid was in progress. Heading home, Erpr.Gr.210 was attacked  by 54 Squadron Spitfires and Hurricanes of 501 Squadron. One Bf-110C-4/B of 1.Staffel was slightly damaged.

     The third mission of the day came three hours later, when Erpr.Gr.210 hit Hawkinge airfield with a precision attack. Although considerable damage was done to the airfield, it was not put out of action. All aircraft of the unit returned to Calais-Marck, ending the most successful day in the history of Erpr.Gr.210.

     Bad weather on August 14 limited the unit to a second attack on Manston.  August 15, which dawned clear, would turn out to be the day remembered by the Luftwaffe as “Black Thursday,” and the darkest in the history of Erpr.Gr.210.

     That afternoon, the unit left Calais-Marck to attack Martlesham Heath airfield in Suffolk. Unescorted, they flew in over the North Sea and reached the target unopposed, though Hurricanes of 1 and 17 Squadrons had been scrambled to intercept. The Bf-110s hit the airfield, and damage was compounded by a direct hit on a Fairey Battle loaded with bombs. As the Messerschmitts turned for home, the Hurricanes finally made contact, but this time the losses were all on the RAF side, with three Hurricanes of 1 Squadron shot down and one from 17 Squadron crash-landed. One Bf-110 received sufficient damage it was not serviceable to fly on any other missions that day.

     At 1820, Rubensdörffer led the Gruppenstab and all three Staffeln on a raid against Kenley airfield, with JG 52 providing Bf-109s for escort. Over the Channel, one Bf-110 from 2.Staffel turned back due to mechanical problems, leaving 14 Bf-110C-4/Bs of the Stab and 1. And 2.Staffeln and the eight Bf-109E-4/Bs of 3.Staffel. On the way in, the escort became detached and turned back. Erprobungsgruppe 210 continued on alone.

     As he approached the target over Seven Oaks, for some reason Rubensdörffer lined up dived to attack Croydon, not Kenley, just as the last Hurricanes of 111 Squadron lifted off from Croydon, while 32 Squadron was scrambled from nearby Biggin Hill.

     Croydon, the pre-war civil airport for London, was inside the line of Greater London that the Luftwaffe was prohibited from attacking at this time. While the airfield was now used by the RAF, it was considered off-limits.  Erprobungsgruppe 210 sighted the Hurricanes climbing out of Biggin and Kenley as Rubensdörffer led the unit down on Croydon.  The field was hit hard, and as the three staffeln came off the target and set about climbing to re-group and head for home, they knew that two enemy squadrons were in pursuit.  Both RAF squadrons hit the Germans as they attempted to reform, and the Bf-110s formed “defense circles” for several minutes, but upon breaking for home the losses started.

     The four Bf-110s of the Gruppenstab came under attack by 111 Squadron. Rubensdörffer was hit but the Bf-110 kept flying.  Taking the airplane so low that he was maneuvering around farm houses, Rubensdörffer streaked for the coast.  A Hurricane managed to get within range as the 110 lifted slightly to go over a church steeple and set the fleeing German afire. Moments later, as the flames engulfed a wing, Rubensdörffer and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Richard Kretcher were killed in the explosion as they hit ground just short of a farmhouse. At almost the same time Gruppenadjutant Oberleutnant Horst Redler was shot down.  He died three days later of his wounds while his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Johann Werner became a POW. Hit badly, Gruppe Technicsoffizier Leutnant Karl-Heinz Koch made a successful belly-landing, both he and Bordfunker Unteroffizier Rolf Kahl being captured. Three more Bf-110’s of 1.Staffel were shot down. Leutnant Horst Marx, who tried to help Rubensdörffer, was shot down by a Hurricane and abandoned his Bf-109E-4/B to become a POW. 2.Staffel lost two Bf-110’s, with three of the four crew being captured. The two RAF squadrons suffered no losses in the action.

     Even without the leadership of Rubensdörffer, Erprobungsgruppe 210 continued to make daring low-level attacks through the remainder of the Battle of Britain, taking losses that were never so bad as they were on “Black Thursday,” though the unit lost three more commanding officers. Following the great battle of September 15, operations tailed off until September 24, when Erpr.Gr.210 again set out for their third attack on the Spitfire works in Southampton.  Once again, they failed to hit this target, and took their final loss of the battle, a Bf-110C-4/B shot down into the Channel.

     In a raid against the Parnall Aircraft Factory near Bristol on September 27, Erpr.Gr.210 could only put up ten Bf-110’s for the raid when the Gruppenstab, 1. and 2.Staffeln should normally have been able muster twice that many, an indication of the state of things in Zerstörer units by this stage of the Battle.  Escorted by III/JG 26, the Germans were intercepted by RAF squadrons before they could reach the target.  As they turned and fled south, four aircraft were shot down, including the third Gruppenkommandeur, Hauptmann. Martin Lutz, a Condor Legion veteran, who was killed when his Bf-110C-4/B crashed.  The unit also lost the Staffelkapitän of 2.Staffel, Oblt. Wilhelm-Richard Rossiger. ZG 26 lost six aircraft.

     Erpr.Gr.210 flew a mission to London on October 29th losing the Bf-110 flown by Feldwebel Siegfried Troppl, who died with his Bordfunker, Unteroffizier Otto Buttner when they crashed back in France. This was the final loss of what was later known as the Battle of Britain.

     On November 15, Erpr.Gr.210 became SchnellKampfGeschwader 210 and reverted to shipping strikes. Having lost four Gruppenkommandeure, command was taken by Major Wolfgang Schenck, who would take the unit to the Eastern Front in 1941 and rise to prominence when SKG 210 became ZG 1 on the Russian Front.  He would later command “Kommando Schenck” to evaluate the Me-262 as a fighter-bomber and become Geschwaderkommodore of KG51 on the Me-262A-2a at the end of the war.

     Had more units of the Zerstörerwaffe been employed in the strike role like Erpr.Gr.210, particularly during the airfield attacks in August, the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been different, since a speeding Bf-110 at low altitude was a very difficult catch for a Hurricane or Spitfire without a lot of luck being involved, as happened on August 15.
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1 comment:

  1. Erprobungsgruppe 210 did not fly Bf110C-4/Bs. 1. Staffel flew Bf110 C-6s until re-equipped with Bf110 D-0/Bs in the first few days of August 1940. 2. Staffel was equipped with Bf110 D-0/Bs from the outset, as were the Gruppenstab.

    Rubensdörffer's Bordfunker's name was Kretzer. Gruppenadjutant shot down non the Croydon raid Was Horst Fiedler.

    Hope the above helps.

    John Vasco
    (Author - Bombsights Over England, The History of Erprobungsgruppe 210)