JG 53 “Pik As”


During the fighting in Western Europe aircrews of JG 53 shot down 185 enemy aircraft (I./JG 53 – 61, II./JG 53 – 25, III./JG 53 – 99). Own losses included seven pilots killed in action, nine wounded and 32 aircraft.
Fighting over England and the Channel: June 26, 1940 – June 21, 1941
During the first several weeks after the fighting in Western Europe had ended the units of JG 53 were based in Brittany and watched from the sidelines as the air offensive against England began to unfold. It was not until August 8 that the wing deployed to bases on Cotentin Peninsula and on German-occupied Guernsey. On the same day aircrews of II./JG 53 clashed with the RAF fighters over Swanage and shot down three of them without own losses.

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There was more fighting three days later when JG 53 aircraft escorted German bombers on a strike against Portland. This time the RAF lost eight Spitfires to the Luftwaffe fighters, who once again suffered no losses of their own. On the following day both I. and II./JG 53 scored kills, each claiming four RAF fighters. This time the victories came at a cost: the CO of III./JG 53 Hptm. Harro Harder was killed at 13.35 in an air battle over the Isle of Wight. The Gruppe’s command went to Hptm. Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke, who had been previously in charge of 7. Staffel.
August 13, 1940 was code-named Adlertag by the Luftwaffe command. A series of massive air operations planned for that day were designed to bring the Fighter Command to its knees. Although the German plans were partially ruined by poor weather, the crews of JG 53 did manage to add 11 kills to the unit’s tally. The wing lost four aircrews in the fighting, but only one of them was listed as killed in action. The other three were captured and became POWs.
Over the next several days JG 53 escorted waves of Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers during their largely ineffective missions against British radar installations. On August 18, 1940, following horrendous losses suffered by the Stuka units, the decision was made to withdraw the type from daytime operations over Britain.

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The crews of I./JG 53 had their day of glory on August 25 when the unit shot down eight RAF fighters for the loss of a single pilot captured on the ground. II./JG 53 had less luck: on August 26 the Gruppe lost two of its pilots without scoring a single kill. On the same day I./JG 53 claimed four Spitfires and lost one of its own pilots.
During the first week of September the wing’s units continued escort missions in support of the Luftwaffe bombers , shooting down 30 enemy aircraft in the process. However, the wing’s own losses were far from insignificant: 11 aircrews had been killed in action, missing or captured.
The losses continued to mount after September 7 when JG 53 began to operate over London forcing the crews to abandon the “free hunt” tactics in favor of providing close protection to the Luftwaffe bomber formations. On September 15, 1940 – the Battle of Britain Day – I./JG 53 did manage to shoot down nine RAF fighters, but lost six pilots in the process. The crews of III./JG 53 fared much better: not a single pilot was lost in the fighting that cost the RAF eleven aircraft. By the end of the month additional 35 kills had been added to the wing’s tally for the cost of seven aircrews lost in combat.
In October 1940 3., 4. and 8./JG 53 were re-designated as Jabo-Staffeln (fighter-bomber squadrons) and began flying ground attack missions. By the end of the month the pilots of JG 53 had scored 25 kills, but the wing’s own losses were also high: six aircrews were killed in action, two were listed as missing and six had been captured. Among those killed was the CO of I./JG 53 Hptm. Hans-Karl Mayer, recipient of the Knight’s Cross and an ace with 22 kills to his credit.

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Foul autumn weather reduced the number of combat operations over the Channel and south-eastern England. The wing’s last victory in 1940 was scored on December 1 by the Geschwaderkommodore Maj. Günther von Maltzahn, who downed a Hurricane at 15.15.
During the fighting over the Channel and England in the second half of 1940 members of JG 53 scored 223 air-to-air victories ( Stab – 3, I./JG 53 – 58, II./JG 53 – 76, III./JG 53 – 86) for the loss of 100 aircraft (Stab – 1, I./JG 53 – 28, II./JG 53 – 37, III./JG 53 – 34). 39 aircrews were listed as either killed or missing in action, 10 were wounded and 29 captured.
During the first quarter of 1941 JG 53 aircrews converted to the Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-2. Sporadic combat sorties flown during that time over the Channel produced rather disappointing results. Although the wing’s CO did add three kills to his tally in March and April 1941, the crews of I./JG 53 managed only one air-to-air victory, while III./JG 53 did only slightly better recording five kills. Members of III./JG 53 had considerably more luck and claimed the destruction of 16 RAF aircraft. During the same period the wing’s losses included one pilot missing in action, four wounded and one captured.
Operation Barbarossa: June 22 – October 8, 1941
During fighting over the Soviet Union the wing’s Gruppen operated independently. I./JG 53 was at that time the only JG 53 group to be directly subordinated to Stab/JG 53 and formed part of Luftflotte 2. II./JG 53 (without 6./JG 53, which remained in north-western Germany to protect the North Sea coast against the RAF strikes) was subordinated to Stab/JG 54 operating as part of Luftflotte 1. III./JG 53 was under control of Stab/JG 27 within Luftflotte 2.
All JG 53 Gruppen began their Russian campaign at dawn on June 22, 1941. During the first hours of the invasion they were tasked with escorting Luftwaffe bomber formations attacking Soviet airfields along the border. It was not long before the crews of JG 53 had a chance to engage enemy aircraft, which invariably showed up in large numbers. Whatever numerical advantage the Soviets enjoyed was quickly denied by much better training of the Luftwaffe aircrews and the superior performance of their Bf 109 F-2 fighters. On the first day of the campaign alone the wing’s pilots shot down as many as 71 Soviet aircraft (/JG 53 – 6, I./JG 53 – 18, II./JG 53 – 11, III./JG 53 – 36) for the loss of only three of their own machines.

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