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Hs 129. Combat Use
January 3, 1942 the first Hs 129B-0 and B-1 began to enter the Luftwaffe. Two aircraft of the B-0 series and three of the B-1 series were delivered to the LG 2 combat training unit for training and pilot training.
At the end of 1941, there was only one II assault group LG 2 in the Luftwaffe, which was later withdrawn from the eastern front and disbanded. In accordance with the order, the aircraft and personnel of the formation were to be used to create the first Sch.G 1 assault formation. This new "geschwader" (air regiment) was formed on January 13, 1942 and consisted of a headquarters and two air groups. Three squadrons from Group I were stationed at Werl and were armed with Bf 109E aircraft. Group II was formed in Lippstadt, it included the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th squadrons, armed with Hs 129 aircraft. four squadrons. Such a scheme made it possible for one group headquarters to lead all Hs 129s.
Formed Sch.G 1 began five months of training. Ground and flight personnel studied new weapons. The pilots worked out the tactics of flying over the battlefield. After the first flights under the training program, the pilots of the Hs 129B were slightly surprised that the attack aircraft had excellent control characteristics; one of them recalled: "This is a very stable machine in the air, and I got the impression that it can cope with assault missions very well."
During the retraining in Lippstadt, only three accidents occurred. The first was on April 12, 1942, when Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0177), assigned to the 6th Squadron, crashed, in which pilot non-commissioned officer Willy Elbers died. To clarify the causes of the accident, the Henschel company immediately sent its representatives to Lippstadt, who came to the conclusion that the cause of the disaster was a malfunction of one of the engines. On April 22, during takeoff, the headquarters Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0161) was slightly damaged, and the next day another Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0175) from the 6th squadron crashed, again due to a defect power plant. But this time, although the plane was seriously damaged, the pilot was not injured.
At the end of April, squadrons of Sch.G 1, one after another, went to the eastern front, to the southern sector, where they were subordinate to the 4th air fleet. Germany was preparing for the summer campaign of 1942. The German plan was to break through the Russian front between Kursk and Rostov, followed by an exit to the Volga and the capture of the oil-bearing regions of the North Caucasus.
A necessary condition for the beginning of the implementation of the plans of the German General Staff was to cover the flanks of the advancing German troops. In accordance with this, one part of the assault air squadron Sch.G 1 was sent to the Crimean peninsula to provide support for the German offensive on Kerch as part of the VIII air corps, and the other part became part of the IV air corps and supported ground troops in the direction of the main attack, to the Caucasus.
On May 6, 1942, the 4th squadron of Sch.G 1 arrived at the Crimean Grammatikovo airfield and the next day began combat missions. During the flight on May 5, I made an emergency landing in the Zaporozhye region and one Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0183) crashed.
On the evening of May 8, on the day of the start of Operation Bustard Hunting - a breakthrough to Kerch, 5./Sch.G 1 set off for the eastern front. Its base was an airfield near Konstantinovka, in the main sector of the breakthrough.
The first combat loss of the II group Sch.G 1 suffered on May 9 in the vicinity of Kerch during the attack of a mechanized column of Soviet troops, discovered right in front of the German positions. Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0168) received a direct hit by an anti-aircraft shell, the pilot of Hauptmann Max Eck from the headquarters level went missing.
The sorties of the German attack aircraft were very intense: they began at dawn and ended at dusk. A feature of the steppe airfields were huge clouds of dust rising from many planes taking off and landing. Due to dust, engine failures on which dust filters were not installed became more frequent. The ubiquitous dust also clogged the propeller hubs, making it difficult to start the engines. Later, these problems were solved by installing filters and modified electric starters.
Support for the Hs 129 provided great assistance to the Wehrmacht ground forces. The commanders of the German divisions noted the high activity of their attack aircraft. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group South, reported to Hitler that the infantry received great moral support when attack aircraft appeared in the sky.
In addition to their main tasks, Hs 129s were also involved in attacks on enemy front-line airfields. Bruno Mayer, commander of 4./Sch.G 1, recalled one such attack by the force of an attack aircraft unit: “After our strafing strike, about 40 aircraft were destroyed and burned. One of the Hs 129s shot down a Soviet I-16 in a dogfight...”.
The fighting in the Crimea was not over yet, when the Soviet troops launched an unexpected counteroffensive in the Kharkov direction. On May 12, 1942, the Soviet 28th, 6th and 57th armies, under the general command of Marshal Timoshenko, attacked the Kharkov ledge from the north and south. German and Romanian divisions put up fierce resistance. Troops from the Crimea were transferred to their aid, including Sch.G 1 in full force. Attack aircraft operated from airfields in the Barvenkovo area.
Soviet troops near Izyum were well supported by aircraft, which dealt heavy blows to airfields captured by the Germans in southern Russia. This led to an increase in the losses of German aircraft. The II/Sch.G 1 fell on hard times at the Konstantinovka airfield, but thanks to its simple design, the Henschels successfully endured these Soviet air raids. Here is one of the cases. Four Soviet "Bostons" appeared at an altitude of 2500 m above Konstantinovka, bombs exploded in the middle of the aircraft parking lot, steel fragments turned two Hs 129s into a sieve. Upon subsequent inspection, it was found that the shrapnel had pierced the skin, and it seemed likely to cause a lot of internal damage, but in the end only the landing gear wheels had to be replaced.
Tymoshenko's powerful southern wedge, aimed from the Izyum ledge, swept away everything in its path. German defeat seemed inevitable. Soviet troops rushed farther and farther to the zalad, on May 16 their units were already approaching Poltava, where von Bock's headquarters was located. The situation was becoming critical. On May 17, a day earlier than planned, German troops launched a counteroffensive with air support. On May 23, Tymoshenko's troops on the Barvenkovsky ledge themselves were surrounded. The ensuing battle became one of the bloodiest on the eastern front. Not without losses in the II/Sch.G 1.
On May 22, non-commissioned officer A. Meyer from 5./Sch.G 1 on Hs 129 (W.Nr.0189) due to damage to the fuel pump in battle, made an emergency landing near Grishino, southwest of Barvenkovo. The pilot was seriously injured.
The next day, four Henschels were lost at once. The machine (W.Nr.0186) of sergeant major A. Katzberg from the group headquarters caught fire after being hit by an anti-aircraft shell. 9 km southwest of Petrovskaya, Katsberg jumped out with a parachute. The pilot was blown into the territory occupied by Soviet troops, where he was taken prisoner.
Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr.0157) of NCO X. Lemmel of 5./Sch.G 1 was shot down by a direct hit from an anti-aircraft shell on one of the engines. Lemmel tried to save the car, but could not - 11 km east of Petrovskaya, his plane crashed into the ground and exploded.
The third loss of the air group that day was Hs 129B-1 (W.Nr. 0173), shot down by Soviet anti-aircraft guns. The plane crashed near Petrovskaya, the pilot survived. The fourth "Henschel" (W.Nr.0191) was shot down by anti-aircraft fire in the Konstantinovka area.
On May 26 another Hs 129 (W.Nr. 0172) was hit by fire from the ground near Barvenkovo.
During their combat debut in May 1942, attack aircraft squadrons lost 7 Henschels, while 2 vehicles could be restored in field workshops.
In general, the successful combat debut of the Hs 129 was overshadowed by problems with the Gnome-Ron engines. At best, the engines did not develop full power, at worst, they suddenly caught fire. There was a constant shortage of spare parts for them, in addition, the engines turned out to be extremely sensitive to clogging with particles of dust and sand, which turned out to be more than enough in the southern Russian steppes. It is clear that the mechanics of the Luftwaffe did not have tender feelings for French engines, and the development of new filters for other people's engines dragged on for half a year.
At the beginning of June 1942, 4./Sch.G 1 received sets of R-2s with 30 mm guns and was deployed near Kharkov, where the Hs 129 pilots had to stop the advancing Soviet tanks. In the battles near Kharkov, the new attack aircraft played a certain role. In any case, by mid-June, the pilots of this squadron had chalked up 23 destroyed Soviet tanks.
The pilots of 4./Sch.G 1 were not pioneers in the use of 30mm guns to fight enemy tanks, but they developed a new tactic to fight tanks. The pilots fired the entire ammunition load at one target, as a result, the tank was more likely to be disabled. The disadvantage of this method was that only one target was hit in one sortie. In the field, it turned out that aviation gunsmiths were not ready to service 30-mm guns, the percentage of failed guns was constantly increasing, and the number of aircraft on which R-3 kits were changed to ETS-50 bomb racks grew accordingly.
In the summer of 1942, in accordance with the instructions of Goering, it was planned to give each fighter unit operating on the eastern front one anti-tank squadron, Hs 129B-1. But the only such squadron was 13. (Panzerjager) / JG 51 "Molders", formed on August 1, 1942. Further plans to change the structure of fighter squadrons were canceled.
After training in the Polish city of Deblin - Irena 13.(Pz) / JG 51 was sent to the eastern front. On August 5, 1942, the squadron arrived near Kharkov, but was soon transferred to Rzhev, where it first entered combat. Between August 14 and October 26, the squadron flew 73 sorties against Soviet troops in the Rzhev zone. During this time, the pilots announced the destruction of 29 tanks, with the loss of three aircraft.
At the end of September, the situation in the Rzhev-Vyazma sector of the front was calm. Calm was used by 13.(Pz)/JG 51 for intensive training in cannon firing at tank mock-ups. At the end of November, shooting exercises ended (shooting accuracy reached 60% of hits on the target), and the squadron returned to combat operations.
In the autumn of 1942, an anti-tank squadron was formed as part of II./Sen.G 1, which was immediately transferred to Stalingrad. Very few Hs 129s from this unit were armed with 30mm guns.
On November 19, 1942, about 250 Soviet tanks broke through the defenses in the sector of Italian troops between the Don and Volga rivers. Attempts to stop the tank avalanche with Ju 87 dive bombers and Bf 109 fighter-bombers from II/Sch.G 1 had absolutely no success. At the same time, six MK 101 Hs 129B-1 guns from 8.(Pz)/Sch.G 1 hit ten tanks in two days. However, these achievements of the Henschel pilots could not change the course of events. Soon the squadron retreated to Voroshilovgrad. Aircraft losses from anti-aircraft fire were significant.
To reinforce 8.(Pz)/Sch.G 1, 13.(Pz)/JG 51 was transferred from Rzhev. joint combat operations, the personnel of the two squadrons announced the destruction from 1 to 16 January 1943 of 13 Soviet tanks. Then 8.(Pz) / Sch.G 1 was taken to re-equipment, and in the future, these two units acted separately.
During the battles near Kharkov and Voronezh, the pilots of 8, (Pz) / Sch.G 1 chalked up another 23 tanks. January 27, 1943 the squadron was transferred to the Kursk region. By this time, only six combat-ready aircraft remained in the unit.
Another anti-tank squadron, 4./Sch.G 2, was formed on September 30, 1942 at the Deblin-Irena airfield.
In October - November 1942, another autumn thaw began. The roads became impassable, and flying conditions were impossible, however, the Henschels still rose into the air. By that time, II / Sch.G 1 had dismantled all the guns of the MK 101 from attack aircraft and at the end of November moved to Millerovo northwest of Rostov. A group of 20 Hs 129s and 10 Bf 109Es actively participated in bombing operations against the Soviet offensive aimed at Donetsk. On November 28, armed specialists from the RLM arrived at the headquarters of II / Sch.G 1 and saw that the MK 101 guns were not used by Hs 129. Having requested the Assault Aviation Inspectorate on this occasion, the armed forces were instructed to remove the fuselage bomb racks and re-equip the aircraft with guns. Due to the rapid advance of the Red Army, the German pilots from the II/Sch.G 1 did not have time to practice firing an anti-tank gun, so they had to attack the Soviet tanks without knowing how to properly use the MK 101 gun.
Nevertheless, in two days of operations, the pilots of six Hs 129s from 4./Sch.G 1 reported 10 knocked out tanks. Frank Neubert, commander of Sch.G 1, later wrote: “Due to the great frosts, the MK 101 did not live up to expectations as an anti-tank weapon. When it was tested on the ground, it fired and functioned perfectly, but problems began in the air. Even the RLM engineers didn't know how to overcome the faults." In addition to technical shortcomings, the gun failed due to snow and mud thrown by the propellers.
By February 20, 1943, only 2 combat-ready aircraft remained in 13. (Pz) / SG 51. Of the 40 Sch.G 1 aircraft, which, in addition to the Henschels, also had Fw 190 and Bf 109, 28 aircraft were in combat readiness. In February 1943, Sch.G 1 was still in the process of re-equipment, as a result of which most of the squadrons had Fw 190A-5s in service by early March.
In the autumn of 1942, from several squadrons of Hs 129, which were withdrawn from the eastern front to make up for losses, a new Sch.G 2 assault formation was formed. Although according to the original plans, this formation was supposed to operate in the east, some squadrons were seconded to 1- th air fleet operating in North Africa.
By the autumn of 1942, the 8th British Army, in North Africa, consisted of 7 infantry, 3 armored divisions and 7 tank brigades. On October 23, the British went on the offensive, inflicting a surprise attack in the El Alamein area. The German-Italian troops defended themselves desperately, lacking fuel and reserves. After holding out for several days, on November 4 they were forced to retreat. German troops in Africa needed everything that could stop the tanks of Montgomery, commander of the 8th British Army.
November 2, 1942 4.(Pz) squadron Sch.G 2 under the command of Bruno Meyer flew from Deblin-Iren to North Africa, and by November 7 reached Tobruk in Libya.
In the first operation, carried out on November 17 to support the retreat of the German Panzer Army Africa, the 4th Stormtrooper Squadron destroyed 12 British tanks. But then luck turned away from the German pilots.
A sandstorm began that lasted 6 hours and covered the runway of the airfield west of Sollum, where the 4th Squadron was based. When the sky cleared and flights could be resumed, it turned out that the runway was reduced to 750 m, while the distance required for the Hs 129 to take off with the MK 101 gun reached 1400 m. After the second sandstorm that overtook the squadron in Benghazi, the planes could not take off at all with their heavy cannon and ammunition load. Therefore, the suspended armament was removed and transported from the airfield to the airfield by ground transport.
On November 20, 3 days after the first air operation, the squadron was transferred to Misurata for repairs, since all the aircraft were incapacitated.
The reason for all the troubles of the Hs 129 was the air filters on the engines, which were not suitable for African dust and sand. By December 31, the Germans were able to repair 7 cars, the rest followed the squadron to the airfield in Castel Benito in a machine tow.
In mid-January 1943, due to the deteriorating military situation, the remnants of the 4th squadron crossed over to Sicily. A little later, the technical staff was sent by train to Russia, and the pilots went to Germany to receive new aircraft, then to meet their mechanics on the eastern front. However, this was not the end of anti-tank squadron operations in North Africa.
In September 1942, 5./Sch.G 1 was withdrawn from the Soviet-German front for re-equipment with new Hs 129B-2s, specially prepared for operation in the tropics. At the end of November 1942, the 5th squadron arrived in Africa. The winter of 1942/43 was one of the worst in the memory of the participants in the African campaign. Countless torrential rains turned the airfields into seas of mud, but it was good that there were no sandstorms that so damaged 4.(Pz)/Sch.G 2, and 5.(Pz)/Sch.G 1 could report a high degree of combat readiness.
On November 30, from the airfield in El Aouina, the first operation was carried out by the forces of 5. (Pz) / Sch.G 1 and one English tank was knocked out. The success of the 5th Squadron can be judged by the letter of the squadron commander Oswald home, in which he says: “The day before yesterday and today we achieved very good results, knocked out 8 tanks and several armored cars. My squadron did not suffer any casualties."
At the beginning of the new 1943, 5.(Pz) / Sch.G 1 was reorganized and received a new designation 8. (Pz) / Sch.G 2. Until February 1943, there were no active hostilities in Tunisia, and Hs 129 from 8.(Pz)/Sch.G 2 only occasionally flew free hunting.
On March 20, after a month and a half of preparation, Montgomery's troops began to break through the German front line. At the same time, American troops were advancing in southern Tunisia from the west. The number of combat-ready aircraft in 8.(Pz) / Sch.G 2 decreased from 16 to 2. And it was absolutely clear that the supply could not be established due to the blockade of the Mediterranean Sea by the enemy.
On April 20, 1943, with the end of hostilities in Africa, 8.(Pz)/Sch.G 2 was also evacuated to Sicily. At the end of June, this squadron was sent to the eastern front. General Adolf Galland spoke quite objectively about the actions of the Hs 129 in Africa: “I saw the Hs 129 in Tunisia ... Well-trained, excellent pilots flew on the Henschels, but they could no longer withstand enemy superiority.”
In the first months of 1943, the Luftwaffe underwent a reorganization of the assault regiments, as a result of which most of the formations received Fw 190 fighter-bombers. Only in four squadrons: in 4. and 8./Sch.G 1 and in 4. and The 8./Sch.G 2 remained in service with the Hs 129. They formed the so-called Weiss Tank Destroyer Detachment (Jagdkommando Weiss), named after its commander Lieutenant Colonel Otto Weiss, Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. The idea was to massively use anti-tank aircraft on a narrow sector of the front. The combined actions of anti-tank aircraft and ground forces proved the effectiveness of such tactics.
On March 19, 1943, one of the German infantry divisions attacking the village of Tamarovka called Hs 129 attack aircraft on the radio, which attacked Soviet tanks near the village. After Tomarovka was taken, the Germans counted 29 destroyed Soviet tanks.
Reports to the Luftwaffe Headquarters dated March 1943 mention a large number of reports and telegrams received from the ground forces, in which they express gratitude for the air support provided by the anti-tank squadrons.
But such support in conditions of strong air defense fire was often given at the cost of heavy losses. In many cases, the pilots of the Hs 129 survived only thanks to the armor protection of the cockpit. But on May 29, 1943, German anti-tank aviation lost one of its best pilots, Lieutenant Friedrich Zeuken from Pz.Ja.St. / JG 51. During the attack of T-34 tanks east of st. Krymskoy, his Hs 129B-2 (W.Nr. 0404) was hit by a light anti-aircraft gun. The plane crashed, burying the pilot under its wreckage.
With the onset of the spring thaw, large-scale ground operations along the entire line of the Soviet-German front ceased. Both sides were building up the power of their troops in preparation for the summer offensive of 1943. The German command planned a powerful offensive to encircle more than a million Soviet troops in the Kursk salient, between Orel in the north and Belgorod in the south. Having pulled together large forces, the Germans hoped to seize the strategic initiative, and the spring counter-offensive, as a result of which Kharkov, Orel and Belgorod were once again captured, inspired them with confidence in their forces.
When developing Operation Citadel, it was planned to strengthen both fighter and assault units of the Luftwaffe. The composition of each Hs 129 squadron was increased from 12 to 16 vehicles. In addition, in June 4.(Pz)/Sch.G 1 was sent to Germany, where it received new Hs 129s with the MK 103 cannon. This new 30 mm anti-tank gun differed from the MK 101 in its higher rate of fire.
The Battle of Kursk began on the morning of June 5 at dawn. German tanks and infantry went on the offensive after artillery and air strikes. They were supported by large aviation forces. In the absence of suitable targets, the Henschels flew on a "free hunt". Hs 129B aircraft operated on the southern face of the Kursk ledge from the Mikoyanovka airfield, located about 20 km northwest of Kharkov. The pilots carried out missions in formations of four aircraft against a few stray Russian tanks. They flew more to get acquainted with the area than to help the ground forces. Recalling the initial period of the Battle of Kursk, Meyer, who at that time held the post of head of anti-tank operations, wrote: "Our work in supporting the advanced regiments was just a pleasure ...". The day of July 8 turned out to be especially successful for the German attack pilots. According to them, they destroyed 80 Soviet tanks, which is equivalent to almost two tank brigades. The reader may have doubts about the plausibility of these figures. Nevertheless, we will give a story about this event, as it looks from the German side.
Three days after the start of the operation, German troops advanced 40 km deep into the Soviet defenses and reached the approaches to Belgorod on the southern face of the arc. At dawn on 8 July, a group of Hs 129Bs led by Meyer discovered a large number of Soviet tanks suddenly attacking General Hausser's undefended eastern flank of II SS Panzer Corps. Meyer called for reinforcements from Mikoyanovka, and he immediately led the attack on enemy armored vehicles. After 15 minutes, 16 attack aircraft of Hauptmann Hans Matyushka from 4./Sch.G 2 approached the battlefield, followed by aircraft of 8./Sch.G 2 Lieutenant Oswald, 4./Sch.G 1 Ober Lieutenant Dornemann and 8 ./Sch.G 1 Lieutenant Horta. The Henschels hung over the battlefield continuously: one squadron attacked, the second returned to Mikoyanovka, the third replenished fuel and ammunition, the fourth at that time was on the route to the point of attack. Hs 129B strikes against tanks were accompanied by Fw 190 raids with suspended SD 2 fragmentation bombs, a very effective anti-personnel weapon. The Henschels tried to attack the tanks from the stern or sides, where the armor was thinner than in the frontal part.
In less than an hour, most of the tanks were rendered inoperable. The Soviet counterattack on the flank of the SS Panzer Corps bogged down. The Henschels themselves had no losses. The command of the II SS Panzer Corps expressed gratitude to the pilots: “For the first time in military history, an enemy tank brigade was destroyed by aviation, without any help from ground forces!”
In the meantime, in the north in the Oryol sector, the German IX Panzer Army was able to deepen only 10 km. The Soviet defense in depth turned out to be impenetrable for the enemy. On July 10, another strike by the German troops, using all their available reserves, again did not bring tangible results. Then, on July 12, 1943, the troops of the Bryansk and Western fronts went on the offensive, the German troops were forced to go on the defensive. This day was a turning point in the Battle of Kursk.
In the 11 days of subsequent fighting between July 14 and 25, the German anti-tank squadrons lost a total of about 30 of their aircraft and pilots both on the ground and in the air. At the same time, they did not have an opportunity to perform the tasks for which they were intended and specially trained.
By July 23, the Germans were driven back to their original positions. By mid-August, combat losses and equipment wear and tear reduced the number of Hs 129s from 68 vehicles before Operation Citadel to 27 units. But we can say that the "Henschels" as a whole acted successfully. It was probably from that moment on that the Hs 129 anti-tank squadrons became a kind of "fire brigade" of the Wehrmacht on the eastern front. They were transferred from one "hot spot" to another.
Despite the success, Hs 129 suffered heavy losses. The 4th Squadron, Sch.G 1, lost one Hs 129B-2 at the Zaporozhye airfield during a Soviet air raid on September 5, and more than 5 vehicles were missing the following month due to Soviet air defense fire. The 8th Squadron Sch.G 1 also lost 5 aircraft during August - September, of which 4 were hit by anti-aircraft guns. At the same time, the 4th squadron of Sch.G 2 lost 8 aircraft, of which two were blown up during the evacuation from the airfield in Varvarka, 2 were lost due to technical malfunctions and 4 were hit by anti-aircraft fire. The losses of the pilots were: three killed and one wounded. In the 8th squadron of Sch.G 2, 5 Henschels were lost from the fire of Soviet anti-aircraft guns, two pilots were killed and two went missing. As far as is known, only one Hs 129B-2 was lost by Pz.Ja.St./JG 51. On September 17, the vehicle was shot down by Soviet fighters northwest of Pologi.
According to the order of October 18, 1943, the organization and designation system of the units of attack aircraft and dive bombers of the Luftwaffe changed. Air regiments of dive bombers were transformed into assault ones. The former Sch.G 1 and Sch.G 2 were disbanded and served as the basis for the creation of new tank destroyer units. By order of the same October 18, 1943, a new formation was created - IV (Panzer) / Schlachtgeschwader 9 and the unit designations were changed: FuPz became the headquarters of the IV (anti-tank) group SG 9. 4. (Pz) / Sch.G 1 became 10. ( Pz)/SG 9, 8.(Pz)/Sch.G I became ll.(Pz)/SG 9, 4.(Pz)/Sch.G 2 was renamed to 12.(Pz)/SG 9, 8,( Pz)/Sch.G 2 became 13.(Pz)/SG 9 and finally Panzerjagerstaffell/JG51 became 14.(Pz)/SG 9.
In addition to the Luftwaffe, Henschel Hs 129 were in service with the Royal Romanian Air Force. The Romanian I Air Corps included the 8th assault group, which included the 41st, 42nd and 60th squadrons. The command of the 1st Romanian air corps was operationally subordinate to the headquarters of the 4th air fleet of the Luftwaffe, although the Romanians operated both in the sector of the 4th and in the area of responsibility of the 6th air fleets.
In the winter of 1943/44, the strength of the rV.(Pz)/SG 9 aircraft fleet was approximately 70?4 of the regular one, as a rule, about 50 - 60 attack aircraft were considered combat-ready. Serious problems arose with the MK 103 guns: these weapons were not tested for reliability at low temperatures. Winter showed that in the cold, guns practically do not work.
For the German army on the eastern front, 1944 began with bleak military prospects. Only the Right-bank Ukraine still remained under German control. Despite the prevailing situation, the Luftwaffe continued to play an important role in covering the gaps between the retreating German formations and provided support for counterattacks by ground troops, the purpose of which was to delay the Soviet offensive.
On January 24 and 25, 1944, attacks by Soviet troops continued in the Kirovograd region, which the Germans were still trying to defend. At the same time, Soviet troops launched an offensive against the German salient on the front west of Cherkasy. On January 30, another salient east of Krivoy Rog was also attacked. The Soviet troops had a clear superiority in forces, and each of their attacks was a success. On January 25, SG 9 Squadron 10 counteracted the offensive of Soviet tanks and received a letter of thanks from General Seidemann for their successful actions. By October 1943, three months after the reorganization, the German pilots recorded 219 destroyed Soviet tanks on their squadron's account.
Georg Dornemann and Gebhard Weber were considered the most successful pilots, but they, as well as Hans-Hermann Steinkamp (Steinkamp), commander of 14. (Pz) / SG 9, were shot down in January 1943. The pilot Steinkamf was famous for his exceptional visual acuity and an unusual ability to feel the enemy's camouflaged anti-aircraft positions for many kilometers. Once, flying over a column of retreating German tanks and vehicles, Steinkamf noticed two tanks moving along another road not far from the column. At first, he assumed that they were his own, but when the tanks that aroused suspicion turned and went to cut the column, Steinkamf realized that this was the enemy.
Pilots from his link watched as their commander approached one of the tanks and shot him. Black smoke poured from the tank. German drivers and soldiers jumped out of their vehicles and rushed into roadside ditches for cover, at first not understanding what was happening and why Steinkamf was attacking his convoy. They only realized when they noticed red stars on the second tank. After the second armored vehicle was hit, the German soldiers got out of the ditches. But during one of the attacks, Steinkamf's plane was also damaged by anti-aircraft installations and made an emergency landing on the territory occupied by Soviet troops. The German pilot got out of the cockpit of his "Henschel" and ran to his positions. He had to break through the ranks of the advancing Soviet infantry. At the same time, a Soviet officer called out to him, Steinkamf shot him with a pistol. Hearing a shot from behind, another Red Army soldier opened fire on the fleeing German pilot. The burst wounded Steinkamf in the neck and forearm. Despite his injuries, he managed to escape and swim to the safe side of the river. After a fairly quick recovery, Steinkamf returned to combat operations. On March 29, 1944, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold, and on October 24 of the same year, the Knight's Cross.
Although the main task of the Hs 129 squadrons was to destroy enemy tanks, there were cases when they were used on other targets. For example, during one of the battles in the lower reaches of the Dnieper, several German soldiers from the mountain division found that their positions were in full view of the Russian observation post, equipped on the bell tower on the opposite bank of the river, as a result of which the Soviet guns fired at the German positions with sufficient accuracy. The Germans' own artillery could not cover this observation post, and then the "Henschels" were called in, who coped with this task.
Armor-piercing shells were not required for this mission, the planes were loaded with bombs and explosive shells. The four Hs 129s took off and disappeared into low clouds. Crossing the front line, they flew past the target, and then turned to attack it from the rear. During the first call, they dropped bombs. Then they again went to the target and fired at the bell tower from their cannons. They turned around again and made another pass over the target to make sure that the NP was destroyed and would no longer be able to correct fire on the German troops.
At the beginning of 1944, the Germans had one of the largest strategic groupings on the southern wing of the Soviet-German front. By the strictest order of Hitler, she had to retain at all costs "the richest grain regions of the Right-Bank and Western Ukraine", Nikopol with its enterprises for the extraction and processing of manganese, the Krivoy Rog basin, rich in iron ore, and the Crimea, which firmly covered the communications of the southern wing of the eastern front . In February 1944, key positions in the bend of the Dnieper, Nikopol and Krivoy Rog finally fell under the ongoing Soviet offensive. Winter was in full swing. Weather conditions for a long time landed all the aviation regiments of the Luftwaffe. When the weather improved a little, anti-tank squadrons were able to make several sorties to help the German troops trapped in the Cherkasy-Korsun pocket.
In the ring were the administrations of the 11th and 42nd army corps, 4 infantry and 1 tank divisions, corps group "B", the SS "Wallonia" brigade, 3 divisions of assault guns and a regiment that broke through from the south directly into the "cauldron" 14th Panzer Division, and in addition, separate units of other units. The size of the encircled group, according to Soviet data, reached 80,000 people, it was armed with up to 1,600 guns and up to 230 tanks. According to German authors, about 56,000 soldiers and officers were surrounded.
By the end of February, a thaw began, bringing mud and rain. On 1 March, mainly due to the state of the airfield at Uman, which the Soviets would have captured anyway, 10.(Pz)/SG 9 was transferred to Vinnitsa, where there was a concrete runway. A few days later, the squadron redeployed again, this time to Proskurov. At this time, Soviet troops surrounded the city from three sides and captured the dominant heights around it. Although the season of Russian mudslides limited the movement of the attackers, the Red Army resumed its attacks, using a large number of tanks in the offensive. Over the next few days, Henschels from 10.(Pz)/SG 9 made constant sorties against Soviet tanks that had broken through the front line.
Good luck was achieved by German attack aircraft on March 12, when a strong advance detachment of Soviet tanks approached the airfield from which 10. (Pz) / SG 9 operated quite close. On its own initiative, wave after wave of the squadron launched attacks against Soviet tanks. From their airfield, ground personnel saw their Henschels approaching targets to attack, and between reloading aircraft weapons and refueling their aircraft, they themselves prepared to defend the airfield. By nightfall, the squadron had chalked up 19 wrecked and 5 damaged tanks. Hauptmann Ruffer recorded his 50th victory, sergeant major Ritz - 5 tanks, and his personal account increased to 27 tanks in 90 sorties, Lieutenant Krause - 2 tanks. Oberfeldwebel Dittrich, who had previously completed 100 sorties and had 37 tanks, 13 assault guns, about 100 vehicles, as well as downed Il-2 and La-5 aircraft, increased his account by 7 tanks.
The commander of 10. (Pz) / SG 9 Hauptmann Ruffer was twice noted in the summary of the high command of the ground forces: “March 13, 1944 in the area east of Ternopil ... the actions of Hauptmann Ruffer’s assault squadron deserve the highest praise” and “April 13, 1944 .: over the Northern Crimea and in the area northeast of Feodosia, the pilots of the assault squadron destroyed 82 enemy tanks in two days, Hauptmann Ruffer's unit especially distinguished itself.
By this time, Ruffer had achieved most of his victories by flying an aircraft with MK 101 guns. Eight times he flew an aircraft equipped with an MK 103 gun, and in all cases it failed. However, by the end of March, Ruffer remained the leader among ground attack pilots flying the Hs 129 and increased his tally to 63 tanks.
Soon only a small part of Proskurov, including the airfield, remained in the hands of the Germans. By March 24, the situation became hopeless, and the Henschels were forced to fly to Kamenetz-Podolsky, which turned out to be only a temporary shelter, they soon redeployed again, this time to Chernivtsi, and then to Lemberg, near Lvov. Almost the entire VIII Air Force of the Luftwaffe was stationed there. By the beginning of April, the 10th anti-tank squadron had chalked up 100 destroyed T-34 tanks, 6 aircraft, about 30 self-propelled guns and several hundred vehicles of all types. However, they lost only two pilots. On March 31, non-commissioned officer Otto Mechlig died on Hs 129 (W.Nr. 141549), and on April 5, Oberfeldwebel Franz Bernbaum, in a machine with W.Nr. 141731.
A report prepared by one of the Henschel technicians stated that, regardless of the type of combat operation undertaken, all Hs 129 flights are successful, and the pilots who fly them have confidence in their aircraft. Even with pierced rudders, multiple damage to the fuselage and wing, the pilot could always rely on his aircraft, which would reach the base or cross the front line. Hs 129 could be used not only against tanks, but also against infantry, as well as for low-altitude reconnaissance: a good view from the cockpit made it possible to identify camouflaged and hidden targets.
By May 1, 1944, there was a lull on the Soviet-German front. In the southern sector, hostilities were already taking place on the territory of Romania. After a brief period of relative silence, the Soviet tank wedges again moved forward towards the Romanian oil sources. The German IV (Pz) SG 9, together with the 8th Romanian assault group, also equipped with Hs 129, were transferred to the zone north of Jassy, where the Red Army troops sought to dislodge the Germans from their positions on the heights around Karbiti on the banks of the Prut.
The end of the Soviet offensive in Romania was on August 22, 1944, when at 22:00 Bucharest radio transmitted an order for a ceasefire by all Romanian armed forces. On August 25, Romania's "Government of National Unity" officially declared war on Germany. 32 attack aircraft Hs 129B-2 from the 8th Romanian assault group now began to fight against their recent allies - the Germans.
Due to the lack of spare parts and frequent accidents, the combat capability of the Romanian Henshel squadrons decreased by 30 - 40%, but, although no more than 6 aircraft could take off at the same time, flights were usually carried out according to German rules, that is, units from four aircraft. The ground Soviet troops appreciated the support provided by the Romanian aircraft and recognized the effectiveness of the attacks of the Hs 129 attack aircraft. All Romanian aviators who were related to the Hs 129 noted its effectiveness, the ability to accurately bomb, good flight performance and armor protection of the pilot.
Preparing for the summer campaign of 1944, the German command considered it most likely that the Red Army would strike the main blow in the south. In Belarus, the Germans assumed only private diversion operations, and hoped to repel them with the forces of Army Group Center. Therefore, the main forces of the German army were not in Belarus, but in the south. Despite reports coming from the front in early June, which noted the constant accumulation of Soviet troops for a powerful offensive against Army Group Center, the blind faith that the attack would be launched in the south was too firmly planted in the minds of the German High Command. The main forces of the Wehrmacht, including 300 attack aircraft of all types, remained in Ukraine. On June 10, 1944, the Soviet command launched a major offensive in Belarus, not at all where the Germans expected it.
After the High Command of the Wehrmacht realized the extent of the catastrophe, the strike and assault formations of the IV Air Fleet were urgently transferred to the north. From mid-July and throughout August, the Hs 129 squadrons were most used in the Luftwaffe (despite their small number, they were constantly in the thick of hostilities).
On July 14, 1944, two Soviet armies attacked the German 1st Panzer Army from the left flank east of Lvov. In the following week, 13. (Pz) SG 9 squadron made constant sorties. Over the next two weeks, German pilots claimed 38 enemy tanks they had knocked out. The commander himself announced 10 tanks destroyed by him in 13 sorties. On July 24, 13.(Pz)/SG 9 made its 3000th sortie and celebrated its 50th victory over tanks in 10 days.
It was impossible to resist the Soviet offensive with the resources available to the Germans. The German troops could only delay the complete catastrophe and retreated "burning bridges behind them." The number of Hs 129s was too small to change the entire front-line situation, their successes were only enough to change the course of local battles, but the attack aircraft continued to fly without a break.
Despite major defeats throughout 1944, the German army still retained combat readiness and had reserves sufficient to launch counteroffensives. But the transfer of hostilities to the territory of Germany proper and the loss of vast territories led to a further reduction in the German military-industrial potential.
13.(Pz)/SG 9 ended its existence on January 22, 1945, when almost all the remaining aircraft of the squadron were at the Vagrovleke (Thorndorf) airfield. In the morning haze, units of the Red Army made an unexpected breakthrough. The Germans themselves had to destroy about 13 Hs 129 attack aircraft so that they would not fall into the hands of the Soviet troops. The pilots of the squadron were sent to Perleberg for retraining on the Fw 190.
In 10.(Pz)/SG 9 in February and early March, the number of sorties was small. On March 1, only two "Henschels" of the 17 available in the squadron flew in good condition, and then only for aerial reconnaissance. However, on March 6 and 8, 7 Hs 129s were lost during attacks on the Weidengut airfield by Soviet aircraft. Due to frequent air raids, 10.(Pz)/SG 9 was forced to relocate to Schweidnitz.
Here in the middle of March there was still snow on the ground, but the sky was clear and sunny. With excellent spring weather, the activity of aviation of both belligerents increased. On 17 and 18 March 10.(Pz)/SG 9 chalked up 37 tanks and assault guns. But on March 22 it was not successful, although it carried out 11 general sorties to destroy Soviet tanks and columns of vehicles in the Leobsshutz-Naustadt zone. Nevertheless, 10, (Pz) / SG 9 was considered one of the best anti-tank assault squadrons of the Luftwaffe and had 600 destroyed tanks on its account. On March 23, the squadron made 17 sorties in the Leobeschutz-Naustadt zone and, although 8 of them were unsuccessful due to strong opposition from the Soviet side, the pilots claimed that they managed to destroy 8 tanks, and 3 more were badly damaged.
At that time, 10. and 14.(Pz)/SG 9 were the only squadrons armed with Hs 129, and their achievements were considered very high. But the available combat experience showed that despite the results achieved, the Hs 129 was outdated. True, it was too late to replace the plane.
The last airfield on which the Henschels were based was Zellweg, located in the vicinity of the Austrian city of Klagenfurt. Due to lack of fuel, the planes could not make a single sortie. During the surrender, all attack aircraft were destroyed so that they would not go to the enemy. Part of the personnel went to the territory of Czechoslovakia, where they were captured by the Red Army.
Hs 129 for a short time fought on the western front. To repel the landing of Anglo-American troops in Normandy in June 1944, the Germans abandoned all aircraft capable of taking to the air, including those from training units. Among the latter was SG 101, based at Orly Airport in Paris. SG 101 was the only Luftwaffe unit to train Hs 129 pilots.
The training group was armed with cars of models "A" and "B".
During the fighting in Normandy, SG 101 acted against the British invasion forces, based at the airfield of Caen Carpicu. After the capture of the airfield, one serviceable Hs 129 fell into the hands of the Americans, but the further fate of this aircraft is not known.
Anglo-American troops have already had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the creation of Nikolaus: in North Africa, the British captured two attack aircraft from 4,/Sch.G 2. One aircraft was lightly damaged during a forced landing. He was sent to England. July 27, 1943 the trophy was delivered to Collywiston.
The "North African" Hs 129 in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) received the registration tail code NF 756. The machine was repainted according to the RAF camouflage scheme and applied British identification marks. The first flights on the repaired Henschel were performed by Lieutenant Forbis. Despite the good technical condition of the engines, the British (as well as the Germans) could not achieve their reliable operation. On November 8, 1943, flights under the test program were stopped, and on November 1, 1945, the machine was deposited at the air base in Sealand.
In addition to the NF 756 aircraft, the British and Americans captured several more Hs-129 attack aircraft. At least one machine was delivered to the United States, where it, along with other trophies, underwent flight tests at Freeman Field Air Force Base. This aircraft received registration number FE-4600. The machine was scrapped in 1954 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Currently, the front of the fuselage of this "Henschel" is in Australia in one of the private collections.
Several Hs 129s were also captured by the Soviet troops. One of them was shown in 1943 at an exhibition of trophies in the Gorky Park of Culture and Leisure in Moscow.
Attacking ground targets is considered one of the main tasks of aviation. During the Second World War, attack aircraft and bombers were the main striking force of aviation. Without their participation, not a single significant operation of the ground forces was conceived.
Ground attack aircraft were designed to destroy ground targets in the front zone and close rear areas of the enemy. It would seem that when creating machines to perform the same tactical task, aircraft designers in different countries should have come to similar technical solutions. However, in reality, everything turned out to be completely different. The task of destroying ground forces, equipment and communications was solved in different ways.
During the war, the Germans used the new Hs 129 attack aircraft on the eastern front, specially designed for operations against enemy armored vehicles. A completely unique model of the Il-2 battlefield aircraft was created in the USSR shortly before the start of World War II. These two aircraft were entire strike complexes in which the designers tried to optimally combine high flight performance, armament and survivability. But comparing the IL-2 and Hs 129 with each other is not entirely correct. Although they belong to the same type of attack aircraft, they are made according to different design schemes.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the ideas applied in the design of the Il-2 and Hs 129 subsequently became equally classic for subsequent generations of attack aircraft and anti-tank aircraft both here and abroad.