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Old 27th March 2005, 14:32
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Christer Bergström
Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

Reading through “Fighters over Tunisia” gives the impression that most Axis aircraft lost to Allied fighters during the Battle of Tunisia were either unescorted bombers (Ju 88s and He 111s) which flew long-range missions against shipping targets in Algeria (and thus could not be provided with any fighter escort due to the long distance) or transport planes.

The Allied bombers usually operated in formations of about 10 - 20, provided with an escort of about twice as many fighters. When Luftwaffe fighters caught Allied bombers without fighter escort - which was very rare - a brutal massacre generally was the rule. One such example was the so-called “Boston tea party” in Libya. Another example was the massacre on Bisleys on 4 December 1942.

On 4 December 1942, a whole formation of 11 Bisley bombers was completely annihilated in a German fighter attack over Tunisia. I have to say that the German bombers or Stukas which operated over Tunisia never sustained such a disastrous defeat at the hands of Allied fighters. As I have mentioned before, the old Ju 87 Stukas of StG 3 flew regular missions over Tunisia without being much troubled by Allied fighters, apart from a few isolated cases. In total, no more than 22 of StG 3’s Ju 87s were shot down by Allied fighters in North Africa during the four months January through April 1943 - i.e. only slightly more than five per month. Like Erhard Jähnert, who flew a Ju 87 with StG 3 in Tunisia, told me when I interviewed him the last November: "The Allied fighters were mostly taken care of by our Messerschmitts."

One reason why the German fighter pilots shot down more fighters than bombers in Tunisia is that there were many more Allied fighters than Allied bombers in the air.

Here are some examples of Luftwaffe fighter attacks against Allied bombers in Tunisia:

On 13 January 1943, JG 77 attacked 21 Baltimores of 21 SAAF Sqn, escorted by 44 P-40s and Spitfires of 57 FG, 112 Sqn and 92 Sqn, and shot down three bombers. Those losses were admitted by the Allies. (“Fighters over Tunisia”, p. 148.)

On 14 January 1943, 36 Kittyhawks from 3 RAAF Sqn, 250 Sqn, 260 Sqn and 450 Sqn succeeded in their task to protect 18 Boston bombers against attacks from 20 Bf 109s (due to the Allied report). Instead, the Kittyhawks took the brunt of JG 77’s attack, and these Kittyhawk pilots were shot down by the German fighter pilots: S/L Gibbes, F/O Diehm, P/O Tonkin, P/O Weatherburn, Sgt. Caldwell, F/S Nickolson, Sgt. Frost, Sgt. Cameron, Sgt. Harrison, Sgt. Webster, and Sgt. Kirkman. In all, JG 77 shot down 11 Kittyhawks in this massacre - without own losses. (“Fighters over Tunisia”, p. 151.) Major Jochen Müncheberg claimed three shot down, bringing his victory total to 126.

On 15 January 1943, 12 Bf 109s of II./JG 51 attacked 18 B-26s of 17th BG escorted by P-38s and shot down two B-26s and two Lightnings - losses due to Allied sources. (“Fighters over Tunisia”, p. 153.)

16 January 1943: No info on Allied bomber operations.

17 January 1943: 16 P-38s escorted six B-25s, no fighter interception.

18 January 1943: 33 P-38s of 1st FG escorted 13 B-17s of 97th BG. II./JG 77 and Italian 3 Stormo intercepted with approximately 15 -20 fighters and shot down at least one P-38 and a B-17 without own losses.

If we then turn to the Battle of Britain, it is a well-known fact that the Bf 109s did not succeed to provide their bombers with an effective fighter cover. But let’s not go into the likewise well-known reasons to that. At least not in this thread.
All the best,

Christer Bergström

Last edited by Christer Bergström; 27th March 2005 at 14:35.
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