In what was to be his first and last Geschlossener Gruppeneinsatz using the Y-Verfahren (Y-Control) system, on 17/18 August Oberleutnant Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer and three other Bf 110s of the unit took off from Leeuwarden airfield. Soon after take-off Schnaufer and Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling had to break off the operation, as they suffered engine failures. Schnaufer made an emergency landing at Wittmundhafen in northwest Germany and the flak defences shot at him. It was a bad omen for what was to come for the crews of IV./NJG1. Two other Bf 110s flown by Feldwebel Heinz Vinke and 22-year old Unteroffizier George ‘Schorsch’ Kraft pressed on to intercept what they thought were RAF heavies. They arrived north of Schiermonnikoog around 2300 hours. Ten of 141 Squadron’s Beaufighter VIfs patrolled German night fighter bases in Germany and Holland this night. One of them was flown by the CO, Wing Commander J. R. D. ‘Bob’ Braham DSO DFC** and his radar operator, Flight Lieutenant ‘Jacko’ Jacobs DFC143 whose Beaufighter VIf was fitted with the ‘Serrate’ homer. Braham bounced Kraft’s Bf 110 (G9+E7) and shot it down in flames. Unteroffizier Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Dunger, radar operator, bailed out into the sea and was rescued two hours later by a German flak trawler but Kraft’s body was washed ashore four weeks later on the Danish coast near Heidesande (Esbjerg), where he was interred. Kraft had shot down fifteen Allied bombers in a period of only seven months.
Immediately after shooting down Kraft’s Bf 110 Braham got onto the tail of the second Bf 110G-4 of IV./NJG1 flown by Feldwebel Heinz Vinke, a night fighter ‘Experte’ with over twenty victories. Unteroffizier Johann Gaa, the gunner, spotted the attacker and Vinke immediately turned away sharply. The German crew had already assumed that they had shaken off the Beaufighter, yet only moments later Braham’s attack from below and behind caught the German crew completely by surprise. Vinke’s control column was shot out of his hands and the burning aircraft plunged down out of control with a severely injured gunner. Vinke and Feldwebel Karl Schodl, his radar and radio operator, who was injured, bailed out. Landing in the North Sea Vinke inflated his one-man dinghy. While he floated under the star-lit expanse of the night sky he was appalled to hear the desperate calls for help from his friend Schodl. This continued for quite some time but Vinke was unable to do anything to rescue his friend, who drowned. Next day, a ship sailed past quite close to Vinke’s dinghy but the crew did not notice him. Only eighteen hours after he was shot down by Braham and Gregory he was picked up by a Dornier Do 18 floatplane of the German ASR service. The bodies of both Gaa and Schodl were never recovered.
Unteroffizier ‘Rudi’ Dunger crewed up with Feldwebel Vinke and with their gunner, Unteroffizier Rudolf Walter they became a most successful team. After scoring 27 Night Abschüsse, Vinke was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 19 September 1943 and the Oak Leaves followed in April 1944. The Eichenlaub were awarded posthumously because on 26 February 1944 two Typhoons on 198 Squadron (Flight Lieutenant R. A. Cheval L’Allemand and Flying Officer George E. A. Hardy) shot down Vinke while flying Bf 110G-4 during an ASR operation fifteen kilometres northwest of Dunkirk. Vinke, Dunger and Walter had scored 54 victories in about 150 sorties. Dunger and Unteroffizier Walter were also killed.
The third Bf 110 lost to a Beaufighter crew on 141 Squadron on 17/18 August was a Bf 110 of 9./NJG1 flown by Hauptmann Wilhelm Dormann, who had by now fourteen victories. The victory was later credited to Flying Officers ‘Harry’ White and Mike Seamer Allen, their second of the war. Dormann’s radar operator, Oberfeldwebel Friedrich Schmalscheidt was killed when his parachute did not fully open. Despite his wounds Dormann also bailed out, near Klein-Dohren and he suffered severe head injuries and burns. He never flew operationally again. Shortly after midnight White and Allen intercepted a Bf 110 of 12./NJG1 flown by Leutnant Gerhard Dittmann, a 20-year-old pilot and his bordfunker, Unteroffizier Theophil Bundschuh, also twenty years of age. After raking the 110 with gunfire it plunged down steeply. Dittmann may have tried to crash-land Bf 110 G9+FZ on the Friesian coast but the Bf 110 exploded near Marrum at 0015 hours. Both crew were killed. Dittmann had claimed no night kills during his short time with 12./1 NJG1 but he had claimed two B-17s on 25 and 26 July 1943. For once the tables had been turned. It had been a very black night for the night fighters from Leeuwarden.
Flying back to the General Staff HQ in East Prussia on 20 August Generalleutnant Josef ‘Beppo’ Schmid learned that the Chief of Staff, Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek had died overnight (he had committed suicide by shooting himself because Hitler and Göring held him responsible for the deterioration of the Luftwaffe). Schmid therefore approached Göring directly with his proposals that the conduct of the entire defence of the Reich both by day and night should be placed in one pair of hands and that France, the territory of Luftflotte 3, should be incorporated into the defence of the Reich. He seems also to have convinced Göring that he was the man for the task. In any event Kammhuber was in disfavour because his night fighting system showed few signs of success. Göring gave Schmid command of Fliegerkorps XII on 15 September. Kammhuber remained General der Nachtjagd for two months longer but fell into disfavour when he continued to press for a new dedicated night-fighter design, eventually selecting the Heinkel He 219 ‘Uhu’ after seeing it demonstrated in 1942. During the first ten days of operations in June 1943 with I./NJG1 which operated from Venlo and Münster, the ‘Owl’ proved the only Luftwaffe piston-engined night-fighter capable of taking on the Mosquito on equal terms, the unit claiming six Mosquitoes destroyed (plus claims for 25 Viermots). But, like the Me 262 jet fighter in the day-fighter arm, was never available in sufficient numbers to have a significant effect on the course of the air war. In late May 1944 the ‘Uhu’ was abandoned in favour of the Ju 88G series, an aircraft that had sufficient performance to take on Viermots but was incapable of combating the ‘Wooden Wonder’. By the time the first He 219A-6 Mosquito hunters (with all engine and ammunition tank armour and oblique armament removed) was delivered, use of the ‘Uhu’ against the Wooden Wonder had officially been banned. Only 268 ‘Uhu’s were built, 195 of which were delivered to operational units. The majority went to I./NJG1 and to NJGr10, a specialist anti-Moskito Gruppe at Werneuchen near Berlin. He 219 production ceased in favour of the Ju 88G (Gustav) series by January 1945.
When Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch the Air Inspector General, had decided to cancel the ‘Uhu’ there was disagreement. Milch, had overseen the development of the Luftwaffe as part of the re-armament of Germany following World War I and served as founding Director of Deutsche Luft Hansa. At the outbreak of World War II Milch commanded Luftflotte 5 during the Norwegian campaign. In November 1943 he had Kammhuber transferred to Luftflotte 5 in Norway, which now was equipped with a handful of outdated aircraft. After the reorganization of the Luftwaffe in Scandinavia and the dissolution of Luftflotte 5, Kammhuber became commanding general of the Luftwaffe in Norway (September-October 1944). In 1945 he was re-appointed to command of the night fighters, at this point a largely ceremonial position considering the state of the Third Reich at that time.
With Kammhuber’s departure, the title of General der Nachtjagd was dropped, the relevant functions being taken over by a newly instituted Inspekteur der Nachtjagd, subordinated to the General der Jagdflieger. This was a great blow to the prestige of night fighting and resulted, according to General ‘Beppo’ Schmid, in considerable neglect of night fighting interests. The change in the night fighter command had immediate repercussions. Schmid described the Divisional Operations Rooms, as they were when he took over command as ‘Richard Wagner theatres.’ They were, he said: ‘Oversized, overstaffed, overequipped and utilizing every device of electrical engineering, optics and cartography for the sole purpose of fixing the position of the enemy and one friendly night fighter on large scale maps, they were built almost as an end to themselves. They ceased completely to function when the British tactics of flying in a narrow stream deprived the ‘Himmelbett’ system of its effectiveness.’
Schmid reduced the personnel of each Division by 75 officers, fourteen officials, 3,290 NCOs and men and 2,630 female employees. On 1 October, in an extensive re-organisation, Fliegerkorps XII was split into three separate commands: Jagdkorps I, II and 7. This signalled the end of unified night fighter control and the adverse effect on night fighter efficiency was so great that Schmid, in command of Jagdkorps I, had no difficulty in obtaining the re-subordination of 7 Jagddivision on 1 February 1944.
Since the introduction of ‘Window’, few of the traditional ‘Himmelbett’ GCI patrols were flown. The twin-engined German night-fighters thus released from GCI activity were employed at first on Objektnachtjagd (target interception). The Jagd-division carried out control, all the aircraft of a Geschwader operating as a unit, with no limitation of the area of activity. High power light beacons and radio beacons were set up and used as assembly and waiting points. At the same time single engined night-fighters were also employed in fairly small numbers on Objektnachtjagd.
The simultaneous operation of several bomber streams, the jamming of the Lichtenstein AI and the Mosquito screening of the bomber formations resulted in the splitting up of German night fighter forces and reduced (it) to a minimum the chances of success of individual ‘Zahme Sau’ tactics. Indeed, owing to the inability to overcome RAF jamming, the ‘Zahme Sau’ technique never reached its full development but it was used to great effect during the Battle of Berlin and remained the main night attack tactic until the end of the war. General Schmid thought that had the Jagdschloss ‘Panorama’ ground radar set been perfected early enough, events might have taken a different course. Schmid concluded that in view of the high standard of RAF Bomber Command tactics, the Germans acted correctly in not depending on one method of night fighting alone but in employing the different methods singly and in combination in accordance with the situation. i.e. ‘Zahme Sau’ against the massed bomber stream, ‘Himmelbett’ against loose formations or single aircraft, Objektnachtjagd in the case of surprise attacks and against Mosquito formations.