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Brief History of Kampfgeschwader 55

Kampfgeschwader 55 (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.

1939: Poland

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 aircraft. 

Throughout the 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 1940.

The full list of known raids by KG55 on England during the summer/autumn/winter of 1940were:-

  • 26 August, 1940 --- Portsmouth

  • 28 August, 1940 --- Liverpool

  • 15 September, 1940 --- Portland

  • 25 September, 1940 --- Bristol

  • 26 September, 1940 --- Southampton

  • 30 September, 1940 --- Yeovil, Somerset

  • 13-14 November, 1940 --- Birmingham

  • 14-15 November, 1940 --- Coventry

  • 19-20 November, 1940 --- Birmingham

  • 3-4 January, 1941 --- Manchester

  • 11-12 January, 1941 --- London

  • 13-14 January, 1941 --- London


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, Cornwall.

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.

The Luftwaffe 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.

1942

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.

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.

1944

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.

1945

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.

 

Further Reading:

This page was compiled of material from the following sources which are also recommended for more detailed reading:

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