Fighter-bombers against England

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Messerschmitt Bf 110: Bombsights over England Erprobungsgruppe 210 in the Battle of Britain
John Vasco

On 1st July 1940, Erprobungsgruppe 210, essentially translated as Experimental or Test Wing, was formed at Köln-Ostheim in Germany under the command of Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörfer.

Hauptmann Rubensdörfer, the Gruppe Kommandeur and a much admired and capable leader, had previously been based with the RLM at Rechlin and was charged with putting the Jabo (Jagdbomber or fighter-bomber) theory into practice. The Gruppe or Wing consisted of the Gruppe Stabskette or Wing Staff Flight and three Staffeln or Squadrons, of which the Stabskette and 1 and 2 Staffeln were equipped with Bf 110s and 3 Staffel with Bf 109Es.

1 Staffel, 1./ErprGr 210, was formed from elements of 1 Staffel Zerstörergeschwader 1 1./ZG 1 initially with five of the former unit’s thirty mm MG 101 Kanone armed Bf 110C-6s, of which some twelve or so were produced, which initially retained 1./ZG 1’s codes 2N but which were subsequently over painted and ErprGr 210’s codes S9 applied. Later in the month brand new Bf 110D-0/Bs (see also 2 Staffel below) were acquired which operated with the Bf 110C-6s throughout the remainder of the summer. The unit was commanded by Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Martin Lutz.

2 Staffel, 2./ErprGr 210, was equipped with Bf 110D-0/Bs, a long-range version of the Bf 110C fitted with paired ETC 500/IXb bomb racks covered with a streamlined fairing under the fuselage centreline, and an extended rear fuselage fitted with a dinghy pack from the start. The staffel was formed from the Junkers Ju 87B-equipped 3 Staffel Stukageschwader 77, 3./StG 77, under the command of Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Wilhelm-Richard Rössiger. ErprGr 210’s Stabskette was also equipped with Bf 110D-0/Bs.

3 Staffel, 3./ErprGr 210, was equipped with brand new Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4/Bs with factory fitted single ETC 500 bomb racks covered with a streamlined fairing under the fuselage centreline, and was formed from 4 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 186. The Staffelkapitän was the experienced Oberleutnant Otto Hintze.

Following a short period of initial training in the various aspects of dive-bombing with the twin and single engined Messerschmitts, and the crews familiarising themselves with their aircraft, the Gruppe moved from its base at Köln-Ostheim with some twenty five aircraft to Denain in France in the middle of July 1940.

Training continued at Denain, where ErprGr 210 came under the control of II Fliegerkorps of Luftwaffe 2, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring. During the opening stages of the Battle of Britain, with Luftwaffe attacks on British shipping in the Channel, the unit was subordinated to Geschwader Kommodore Oberst Johannes Fink’s Dornier Do 17Z-equipped Kampfgeschwader 2, KG 2. From mid September the unit came under the control of Luftflotte 3, under Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle. The

Battle of Britain

After its settling in period at Denain, the unit undertook its first operation on 13th July 1940, with four Bf 110C-6s, ten Bf 110D-0/Bs and eight Bf 109E-4/Bs attacking shipping near the Thames Estuary with 500kg and 250kg bombs and 30mm cannon fire. Operations against shipping in the English Channel continued throughout July, termed ‘Kanalkampfkrieg’ by the Luftwaffe crews, in which coastal convoys and harbours were the main targets, but after a reduction in the tempo of operations at the beginning of August for further training, and the receipt of replacement aircraft, offensive operations against targets on mainland Britain started.

From 12th August to early October 1940, the emphasis shifted to strikes against RDF stations, aircraft factories and airfields. ErprGr 210’s aircraft would get bombed up and start from their inland home base at Denain and then refuel and operate from temporary forward bases nearer the coast, such as St Omer-Arques, up to 8th August, Calais-Marck, up to mid/late September, and then from Cherbourg-Ost.

These operations culminated in the famous raid against RAF Croydon, although Kenley was actually the intended target, on the late afternoon of 15th August, in which Hauptmann Rubensdörfer, the Gruppe Kommandeur, and his Bordfunker or radio operator Obergefreiter Ludwig Kretzer, were shot down and killed in Bf 110D S9+AB, thought to be by Pilot Officer Duckenfield of No 501 Squadron flying a Hurricane, together with two other Stabskette Bf 110Ds, S9+BB and S9+CB, a Bf 110C-6, S9+TH, from 1 Staffel, two Bf 110Ds, S9+CK and possibly S9+GK from 2 Staffel, and a 3 Staffel Bf 109E-4/B, Yellow 3.

Operations continued throughout the rest of August, initially under the temporary command of 1 Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Martin Lutz, until Oberleutnant Hans von Boltenstern was appointed as Gruppenkommandeur, and on into September with attacks mainly on inland targets including several aircraft factories, such as the Vickers works at Weybridge and Brooklands, Cunliffe-Owen works at Southampton, Parnall Aircraft Factory at Yate near Bristol, and several visits to the Supermarine works at Woolston.

It was during an attack to the Vickers works at Weybridge on 4th September that ErprGr 210 lost its newly appointed Gruppenkommandeur, Oberleutnant von Boltenstern, in a bizarre accident when he and his Bordfunker were killed after crashing in to the sea in Bf 110D S9+AB following an ‘erratic manoeuvre’ (sic) on the way to the target. Following von Boltenstern’s death, Oberleutnant Martin Lutz was finally appointed ErprGr 210’s Gruppenkommandeur until his death, with his Bordfunker Unteroffizier Anton Schön, on the raid to the Parnall Aircraft Factory at Yate near Bristol on 27th September, in S9+DH. His aircraft was damaged in combat with a Hurricane of 504 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant Anthony Rook, and crashed with both engines on fire near Cerne Abbas.

The loss of three Gruppen Kommandeur in forty four days was a heavy blow to Erprobungsgruppe 210, but the unit continued operations until the end of the Battle of Britain under the temporary command of Oberleutnant Werner Weymann, until he too was shot down and killed with his Bordfunker Unteroffizier Erwin Hübner, in S9+FH, on 5th October 1940.

Despite being a relatively small unit, staffed by ordinary aircrew, as opposed to specialist experts, and equipped with what were essentially merely modified standard single and twin seater fighters, Erprobungsgruppe 210 was nonetheless one of the most successful Luftwaffe units in the Battle of Britain.

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