Bombed Up Fw 190 inTunisia

Many fighter versions of the Fw 190 but the earliest examples to be tested with bomb-carrying equipment appear to have been two from a second batch of preproduction aircraft – WNr. 0022, coded SB+IB, and WNr. 0023, coded SB+IC. They flew test flights with either a 500kg bomb or 300 litre drop tank fitted beneath their fuselages up to June 30, 1941. This This basic bomb-carrying configuration was given the designation A-0/U4. Another prototype was used to test different arrangements of SC 50 bombs carried either beneath the fuselage or under the wings.

The first attempt to create a dedicated Schlachtflugzeug (ground-attack aircraft) was the Fw 190 A-3/U3, devised in May 1942. The /U3 denoted Umrüstbausatz (Umbau for short), a kit of parts that could be fitted to any standard Fw 190 fighter immediately following its manufacture at the factory.

The Fw 190 A-3/U3 had extra armour plates fitted around and beneath the engine, on the sides of the fuselage and on the undercarriage doors. A variety of different armament options were proposed, ranging from bombs to under-wing cannon pods but just 12 aircraft received these modifications.

Next came the A-4/U3, featuring the same armour and weapon options as its predecessor. In addition, the A-3/U3’s centreline ETC 501 bomb rack featured the ER-4 adapter, which allowed the Fw 190 A-4/U3 to carry a set of four SC 50 bombs. Again, only a handful, perhaps a dozen, are believed to have been made.

Next came another small-run type, the A-5/U3. This had two ETC 50 racks under each wing and a hefty total armour weight of 794lb. The A-5/U3 was scheduled for limited production in December 1942 with the ultimate goal of using it as the pattern aircraft for the full production Fw 190 F ground-attack aircraft, scheduled to enter production in June 1943.

Although the successes of the Jabo raids had been relatively insignificant, the Germans resolved to intensify them as 1942 drew to a close.

It was decided that a new sort of unit should be established to specialise in these attacks – the Schnellkampfgeschwader or `fast bomber wing’. SKG 10 was to have three Gruppen, each comprising four Staffeln, compared to the more usual three.

Since existing Fw 190 pilots were all needed elsewhere, SKG 10 would be manned by ex-III./Z.G. 2 which was a former Bf 109 Jabo unit, and the rest of S.K.G. 10 was formed from former Bf 109 and later FW 190 Jabo units.

Meanwhile, the first Fw 190 unit had arrived in North Africa – III./ZG 2. Heavy losses inflicted by the British in the theatre had prompted Göring to promise that 40 of the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers would be transferred there to help.

III./ZG 2 arrived in Tunisia, having flown there via Italy and Sicily, in early to mid- November and flew its first mission against Bone harbour, held by the Allies, on November 12 and numerous clashes with enemy ground forces and Spitfires ensued. Five days later, II./JG 2 began to join III./ZG 2 at Sidi Ahmed. Its pilots were soon battling P- 38 Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group and B-17s of the Twelfth Air Force.

In December 1942, it was decided that III./ZG 2 would be renamed III./SKG 10 to become the third Gruppe of the new Geschwader, though it continued its bombing operations in North Africa – attacking Allied ground targets ranging from ships to tanks and motor vehicles and supporting German ground forces.

In March of the following year, a third Fw 190-equipped unit moved to North Africa, II./Schl. G 2. In April, III./SKG 10 was issued with the Fw 190A-5/U8, the predecessor of the Fw 190G, but was deeply unimpressed with it, regarding the twin under-wing 300 litre drop tanks as perilously vulnerable to ground fire.

However, it then began to receive the Fw 190F predecessor, the A-5/U3s with added armour protection, and found that these were much better suited to the fighter-bomber role. Intense fighting followed, with hundreds of sorties being flown against advancing British forces but to no avail. All of the Luftwaffe’s surviving Fw 190s in North Africa were evacuated on May 8, 1943.

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As the first of the Fw 190s entered service with the ground-attack arm, two new Hsl29-equipped units were raised for operations in the Middle East and the first, 4/Sch. G 2, alternatively known as the Schlacht und Panzer-fliegerstaffel ‘Afrika’, left Poland on 2 November with fourteen aircraft. At the end of the first week’s operations from Staraset, however, only two aircraft survived and the unit’s personnel, evacuated to southern Italy, were refitting at Bari when. The Jabostaffeln of J.G. 27 and J.G. 53 had been used to form Jabogruppe Afrika in the autumn of 1942, a unit that was subsequently amalgamated into I./Sch.G. 2.. This unit was more successful than its predecessor but could make no substantial or distinctive contribution to the Tunisian fighting. Based at the large airfield at El Aouina, 8/Sch. G 2 joined the Ju87s of St. G 3 and the Fw 190s of III/SKG 10 (formed on 20 December by redesignating III/ZG 2). During the British October-November offensive from El Alamein, St. G 3 lost approximately 125 aircraft during 960 sorties mounted in support of the Afrika Korps against troop columns, tank concentrations and troop transport generally. Thereafter the number of Stuka sorties dropped, mainly due to low serviceability and the vital necessity of avoiding losses in view of the overall situation. Also, increasing use was now being made of the Fw 190s in the ground-attack role and between 11 November and 11 February, III/SKG 10 claimed 449 vehicles destroyed and a further 196 damaged during 51 operations undertaken in a vain effort to stem the Allied advance. In January, however, III/SKG 10 lost about half of the 30 Fw 190s transferred to Gabes when the airfield was heavily bombed by the RAF, and further losses occurred from extremely accurate AA when the unit attacked the airfield and harbour at Bone. From 10 November, battered Luftwaffe units encountered a new hazard when RAF Beaufighters from Malta made numerous night and day raids against the airfield at El Aouina, destroying hangars and setting workshops and parked aircraft alight. As the Allies closed in on the remaining Axis units in Tunisia, III/St. G 3 was badly shot up over El Guetter by newly-arrived American Spitfires on 3 April and had to be finally withdrawn to Sicily. The remaining Fw 190s could not redress a hopeless situation and on 12 May the North African campaign came to an end with the final surrender of German and Italian troops.

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Review  Focke Wulf Fw 190 in North Africa

Andrew Arthy & Morten Jessen

Published by Classic Publication in 2004

176 pages

111 photos

15 colour profiles (incl. 2 plan view)

9 x 12″

Hardcover

ISBN: 1903223458

For someone with a special interest in the operational history of Germany’s superb radial-engined fighter of WWII, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the brief period this fighter spent in the North-African theatre of operations has always been a bit mysterious to me. Very little has been written on this subject and it seems that even fewer photos were available. And those that were available tended to be re-published countless times. Who haven’t seen the classic shots of Fw 190A-5 KM+EY?

I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I read on Andrew Arthy’s Fw 190 website that a book on this subject was forthcoming. At first opportunity I bought it.

Let me start by concluding that this is a masterpiece of aviation writing! As a scientist I am very, very pleased to see the academic approach taken by the authors when writing this book. By this I mean that not only is the research conducted thorough and extensive but it is also presented in the best possible manner, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. The authors use footnotes extensively throughout their work and this is conveniently placed below each page. I would strongly urge all aviation authors to use this system as it is very easy to find the required reference and a great aid in one’s own research. Fortunately, it seems to be a trend in aviation writing of late.

The authors present their work in a chronological day-to day manner, another approach I must admit I am inclined to favour! The book is broken down into ten chapters, five appendices, a reference section (in addition to the aforementioned footnotes) and thankfully a personnel index. The chapter breakdown is as follows:

  1. The early desert war – brief introduction to Luftwaffe operations in North-Africa, tactics and command structure.
  2. Erprobungskommando 19 – brief chapter on the first Fw 190 unit in North-Africa (all of which was news to me)
  3. III./ZG 2 in North Africa – chronological war diary November-December 1942
  4. II./JG 2 in Tunisia – chronological war diary November-December 1942
  5. III./SKG 10 – chronological war diary December 1942 – February 1943
  6. A successful period for II./JG 2 – chronological war diary January – February 1943
  7. Kasserine – 14. – 24. February 1943, the famous battle described
  8. II./JG 2 leaves North-Africa – chronological war diary Late February – March 1943
  9. Axis reversals – chronological war diary Late February – March 1943
  10. The final days – April – May 1943

Even if emphasis is on Fw 190 operations the allied perspective is not forgotten and combat reports and war stories from several participating American and British are presented. Together with the German view these are an interesting documentation of an air war that has often been overlooked in the past. At the end of each chapter the authors present their “conclusions”, an assessment of the Fw 190 units’ significance and achievements during the time period just described. An interesting way to end each chapter, I think! There are also a few bibliographies in the book, like that of Kurt Bühligen and Erich Rudorffer. Interspersed among the text are various small tables, like summaries of Fw 190 claims or losses for a given period or of unit commanders.

Moving on to the aircraft profiles all that is needed to say is that they are by Claes Sundin! Everyone with an interest in aviation art knows what that means. The profiles included in the book are some of the very best I have seen, indeed some of the best from Sundin’s hand, even if I am not entirely partial due to my interest in the Fw 190. Naturally the emphasis is on the Fw 190 (12 of the 15 profiles are devoted to the fw 190, including the two plan views) but there are one of a Bf 109G-4/R-6 (Franz Schiess’ Black 1, probably thrown in for the Bf 109 guys!), an American Spitfire V and a French P-40F. Sundin has also made three maps in colour of the areas of operations.

A crucial aspect of any Luftwaffe book, at least it is the one aspect I tend to consider the most, is the choice of photos. I am sure that the authors have done their utmost to find new photos and there were several here that were new to me. Of course there are old “friends” like the abovementioned shots of KM-EY, but they have also managed to find a few new ones of this machine that I have not seen before. There are not really any big surprises as far as photographs are concerned, although the Gruppeemblem of III./SKG 10 was one that I have not seen in print before. Furthermore, I find the shots of White 1/White E fascinating, especially since this machine apparently belonged to Eprobungskommando 19, the first fw 190 unit in North-Africa who only carried out non-operational tests. There are also four pages (appendix V) devoted solely to presenting more photographs, including many of KM+EY and four of a captured Fw 190A-4 with strange red-white-blue tricolor markings painted over the German national insignia.

If I have to find a negative point with this book it is that the photos are far to small for my comfort. At least some of them are deserving of much more space than they have been allocated. The majority of the photographs are only approximately 9×6 cm or smaller and that is not enough. I have been told that this is the choice of the editor and not the authors. Good thing that the profiles span an entire page and are reproduced with excellent clarity.

The appendices include the obligatory claims and loss lists but also a section on Jabo escort missions and, for modellers, a section on camouflage and markings. Perhaps surprisingly for many, the majority of the Fw 190s depicted in the book did not carry tropical camouflage, but the regular greys. Finally, there’s a list of Fw 190s captured in Tunisia.

This then, is my impression of this work. If it is not clear already let me say it again, this book is excellent, it represents marvellous scholarship and is obviously the result of a passion for the chosen subject and I can only look forward to any future titles from these authors.

Kjetil Aakra

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