(often abbreviated to KG55; translated it means "Battle Wing" 55)
was a famous Luftwaffe bomber unit during World War II.
On 1 April 1934, a
unit called the Hanseatische Fliegerschule e. V. was formed.
It was based at Fassberg in Lower Saxony, northern Germany, and
shared the airfield with 1., 2., and 3. Staffeln of KG154. By
October 1938 it had been redesignated as KG155 and itself split into
two units: Stab, 1., having relocated to Langendiebach, whilst II.,
Gruppe had moved to Giessen. The designation Kampfgeschwader
55 "Greif" was made for the two sub-units on 1 May 1939, whereby the
unit changed the "155" to "55". They would also be joined by
III. Gruppe in December 1939 . The unit's first Geschwaderkommodore
was Generalmajor Wilhelm Süssmann,
from March 1937 until March 1940.
The aircraft they used
mostly were Heinkel HE111s, medium bomber aircraft. Other
types of aircraft were used later in the war.
Assigned to Luftflotte 2 during the Polish invasion, the unit saw
action for the first time. During the campaign, KG55 suffered one
complete loss of aircraft and crew, in which an Oberleutnant Walter
Fritz and his crew from 1./KG55 were killed in action south west of
L'vov. Three other Heinkel's were forced to land due to enemy
action, but the crews did not suffer any fatalities.
1940: France and the Low Countries
After the Polish campaign, KG55 moved to various bases in Germany to
prepare for the invasion of France. They began operations on
10 May in the Lorraine region of the country, taking part in missions
over Nancy, Toul and Espinal. However, the RAF helping to
protect France proved to be formidable opponents, and soon KG55's
losses began to mount. On the 12 May, Allied fighters shot
down a Heinkel of 4./KG55, whilst it was attacking railway targets
North East of Reims. The following day, 13 May, KG55 lost ten
rest of the Battle for France, a further seven Heinkels belonging to
KG55 were damaged: five of these were forced to land, whilst the
other two and their crews were killed.
Battle of Britain
Following the fall of France, attention switched to attacks on
Britain - but the opposition by the RAF remained just as fierce, if
not more so. KG55 lost seven aircraft in July 1940, but after
this the number of aircraft being shot down continued to rise.
As a result, the unit began to lose some of its most experienced
crews. Amongst the losses on 14 August 1940 was KG55's second
Geschwaderkommodore, Oberst Alois Stoeckl whom was killed in a crash
near the Royal Naval Armament Depot in Hampshire. Between 10
July and 31 October 1940, KG55 lost 73 machines to enemy action. A
further eight were shot down during 1940 in night operations over
Britain. The last Heinkel lost, piloted by Unteroffizier Bruno
Zimmermann, was shot down by Pilot Officer J.G. Benson and Sergeant
P. Blain in a Defiant from 141 Squadron over Sussex on 22 December
1941: The Channel Front
KG55 continued operations over Britain into the summer of 1941.
Subsequently it did not participate in the Balkans Campaigns of
April/May 1941. The unit was to lose a further fifty one aircraft in
missions over Britain, the last being forced to ditch in the English
Channel after an attack by No. 66 Squadron Spitfires. The last
recorded fatality occurred when Feldwebel Lorenz Kempel and his crew
were shot down and killed by Pilot Officer Pickering of 66 Squadron,
whilst carrying out a reconnaissance mission off Gurnard's Head,
Russia: Operation Barbarossa
KG55's units began a last minute withdrawal to the Eastern borders
of the Reich in preparation for Hitler's war on the Soviet Union.
I. Gruppe, II. Gruppe and the Geschwaderstab moved from their
respective bases to Zamosz in Poland, while III Gruppe were located
to Klemensow aerodrome south east of Lublin in Poland. On 8 March
1941 the Erganzungstaffel was formed into IV. Gruppe, but was
deployed to Dijon in France and remained there until 4 May 1944.
KG55 was to
provide air support for Army Group South attacking into the Ukraine
in its drive toward the Caucasus and the Soviet oil fields. The
opening day of the campaign resulted in the loss of seven aircraft.
The next day gave the men of KG55 some idea of what life was to be
like on this new front. In the morning a 8./KG55 Heinkel was shot
down by flak over Luck, the crew bailed out but were found by
advancing German forces to have been shot in the head. Two of the
men were found at the local Commissar's house.
established air superiority after destroying and capturing over
4,000 Soviet aircraft in the first weeks of the invasion (this
figure rose to 21,200 by December 1941. Losses between the
Kampfgruppen had been heavy. The vast expanse of the front, the wear
and tear of machines constantly advancing eastward took its toll. By
August 1941, KG4, KG27, KG53 and KG55 were reduced to just 128
serviceable aircraft between them. The Geschwader played an
instrumental role in the Battle of Kiev, in which the Wehrmacht won
a huge victory, effectively destroying three Soviet Army's and
killing or capturing 600,000 Red Army soldiers. I./KG55 was credited
with the destruction of 58 railway cars, 675 trucks and 22 tanks in
this battle alone.
During the stalemate in the winter of 1941/42 the units of KG55 were
redeployed to rest in Western France, not to return until April
1942, with the exception of IV. Gruppe. KG55 once again was
deployed to the Ukraine, to support the 11th Army in the Crimea, and
the 6th Army pushing its way eastward from the Charkow area into the
Caucasus. During the night of the 23/24 August the unit took part in
the 'maximum' effort attack on Stalingrad which destroyed the centre
of the city, one Heinkel was lost. Disaster struck the German 6th
Army at Stalingrad, for on the 18 November the Russians
counter-attacked and cut off the 6th Army. Hermann Göring assured
Hitler that 'his Luftwaffe' could airlift in supplies. Göring
wrongly believed a Heinkel that could carry 2000kg of explosives
could as easily carry 2000kg of cargo. The Junkers Ju 52 and
Heinkel 111's bore the brunt of Göring's supply plan. The Germans
resisted fiercely, but on the 14 January 1943, Pitomnik airfield was
captured by the Soviets and many supplies were then parachuted in.
The last German elements surrendered on 2 February. KG55 contributed
only a small fraction of the meagre 90 tonnes of supplies the German
6. Armee received daily. Over 165 He 111's were lost over
Stalingrad, KG55's losses stood at 59, although the unit managed to
evacuate nearly 10,000 wounded. KG55 covered the retreat of the
German forces until the spring and II./KG55 celebrated their
10,000th mission on 11 May 1943.
KG55 supported German forces throughout 1943, and was heavily
involved in Operation Citadel and continued to cover the retreat
across Russia. As air superiority slipped away, losses to the bomber
units began to climb. Ritterkreuz holder Oberfeldwebel Willi Nemitz
and Oberleutnant Herman Meyer of Stab II./KG55 were killed in the
space of three weeks in May 1943. Many of the Heinkels were modified
to enable them to carry out low strike missions in the face of enemy
air superiority. The specialist train busting unit 14(Eis)./KG55 had
its Heinkels fitted with an electric altimeter that enabled them to
fly at tree top level over the railway tracks. The unit began using
the Ju 88C-6 aircraft in this role. The unit lost nine aircraft but
flew over 5,000 missions, and was disbanded on 27 April 1945.
The role of the unit in Russia continued much as it left off in
1943. Most notable during this year was the completion of KG55's
50,000th mission on 10 May 1944. With production of the Heinkel
ceasing in 1944, the unit was being prepared to re-equip with the
ground attack versions of the FW 190.
The unit was withdrawn from front line duty, and was assigned to
training duties using mainly modified fighter aircraft.
The only active unit of the Geschwader was IV. Gruppe, which
continued operations in the west from 1941-1945. It would lose
50 aircraft in the west before the end of the war.
This page was compiled of material from the following sources which
are also recommended for more detailed reading:
Models and artwork: