Croatian Air Force WWII Part I

Of the several Frankenstein monsters created by the mad political scientists of Versailles after World War I, Yugoslavia was among the most horrific. A hopeless mishmash of ethnically, culturally, spiritually, even linguistically disparate populations, they agonized under a facade of “the self-determination of peoples:” By its 10th anniversary, Yugoslavia had degenerated into an open tyranny, when the Serb monarch dissolved and replaced parliament with a centralized, highly repressive dictatorship under the motto, jedan narod, jedan kralj, jedan drzava, or “One Nation, one King, one Country.”

Nothing could have been further from reality. Instead, this pressure-cooker of mutually antagonistic minorities-Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Montegrins, Macedonians, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, and Albanians, with Catholics, Orthodox Serb Christians and Muslims thrown into an incandescent brew-seemed guaranteed to ignite another European conflict in the same region. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, as various folkish and religious groups jostled one another to maintain their identity and bare survival, Yugoslavia was torn by the same kind of violence that characterized the Balkans until at least the last decade of the 20th century.

None of these much-abused peoples yearned more than the Croats to break free from Belgrade’s iron heel. Their moment finally arose with the sun on April 6, 1941, when Hitler’s Wehrmacht invaded Yugoslavia. His troops were not opposed as conquerors but more often welcomed as liberators. The Royal Yugoslav Air Force’s 3rd Bomber Regiment (Bombarderski Puk) had been obliterated on the ground by attacking Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka dive-bombers, because the Croatian commanding officer deliberately allowed his aircraft to sit in the open as inviting, unprotected targets.

At the same time, another commanding officer, Major Mato Culinovic, defied orders by refusing to fly his 205. Bombarderska Eskadrilal63.BGI3. BP en masse to Greece. Three days prior to the invasion, it was importantly aided by a Croatian defector, Colonel Vladimir Kren, who landed his Potez Po.25-a French single-engine reconnaissance biplane-in Austria, where he turned over sensitive intelligence information about the Royal Yugoslav Air Force to the Luftwaffe. Before German forces reached Zagreb, its residents proclaimed the Nezavisna Drava Hrvatska, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), on April 10.

Almost simultaneously, the Zrakoplovstvo Nezavisna Drava Hrvatska, or “Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia” (ZNDH), was formed and became operational almost at once. On the afternoon of that same day, Cvitan Galic, a narednik voclnikll klase (flight instructor) in the Royal Yugoslav Air Force, landed his biplane trainer at an airfield that had been just seized by the rebels. They hastily replaced the Bucker Jungmeister’s despised red-white-blue roundels with the ZNDH insignia-a black-leaf trefoil in a white cross-and Galic took off before the engine could cool to complete the new air arm’s first sorties, a few reconnaissance missions over territory still held by the Jugoslovensko Armija.

His single-place Bucker Bü.133 had never been intended for military operations of any kind. Its fabric-covered wood and tubular steel frame mounted a Siemens Sh 14A-4 radial piston engine rated at 160 hp to give the “Young Master” a 311-mile range at 124 mph, hardly performance enough to save itself from even the mostly obsolete fighters of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force. With that polyglot country’s collapse after 11 days of resistance, a few pilots fled to the Soviet Union or the Middle East, but most joined the ZNDH, headed by the same Colonel Kren who had defected to the Germans prior to their invasion.

His first task was collecting all aircraft, spare parts, machinery, and support equipment from the defeated Royal Yugoslav Air Force that had survived the recent Blitzkrieg. These comprised British handme-downs, such as a few dozen Bristol Blenheim light-bombers and worn-out Hawker Hurricane fighters, plus Yugoslavia’s own Rogozarski IK-3 and Ikarus IK-2 fighters. The former was a relatively modern, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, but the Ikarus was a synthesis of Poland’s gull-wing PZL P.8 and Czechoslovakia’s Avia B.534 biplane, both superior warplanes. The reliable, stable, if slower Ikarus actually proved itself more useful for antipartisan missions than the five faster but outdated Rogozarski IK-3s. The original four IK-2s soldiered on against knots of homegrown insurgents into late 1944, when the last Ikarus was destroyed by Allied interceptors.

Other indigenous aircraft included more than 200 Zmaj Fizir light aircraft manufactured before and during World War II. Variants of the rugged, 85-hp biplane served a multitude of roles, from trainer, reconnaissance, and liaison, to amphibian ambulance and guerilla fighter. Italian contributions to Croatia’s new air force included the CANT Z.1007, Fiat BR.20, and Caproni Ca.310. The Z.1007 Alcione (“Kingfisher”) suffered from poor directional stability that rendered it a marginally effective medium-bomber at best. Its three Piaggio P.XI RC 40 radial engines were maintenance-plagued and resulted in poor power-to-weight ratio, providing just 1,100 hp each, for an unimpressive maximum speed of just 285 mph. Although defended by three 12.7-mm Isotta-Fraschini Scotti and two Breda-SAFAT 7.7-mm machine-guns, and crew positions were protected with five- to eight-mm armor shields, the Z.1007’s all-wood construction was prone to catch fire. Not for nothing was the Acione known nonaffectionately by both Italian and Croat pilots as “the flying barn door.”

More popular was the Fiat BR.20. Obsolete before the war began, it was an under-powered, under-defended medium-bomber that nonetheless served admirably in anti-insurgency operations, where enemy interceptors were infrequently met. A more stable bombing platform than the larger Alcione, a pair of Fiat A.80 RC.41 18-cylinder, radial engines enabled a pleasant-to-fly Cicogna, or “Stork;’ to cruise at 211 mph-adequately fast to spoil groundfire but slow enough to carry out the kind of pinpoint accuracy required by attacks against mobile partisans.

A lone Caproni Ca.310 operated by the Croats likewise excelled against “Communist bandits;’ due to its slow-flight characteristics, cruising at just 177 mph, and lack of aerial opposition. The sleek, twin-engine Libeccio, or “Southwest Wind;’ was valued for its reconnaissance capabilities. More ancient were several dozen Fokker F.VII and IX passenger planes from Holland. These part wood/part fabric-covered, high-wing tri-motors could barely top 100 mph, but in their time, they achieved historic results. Richard E. Byrd was the first to fly over the North Pole in a F.VII on May 9, 1926, beating Roald Amundsen aboard his airship Norge by just a few days. In June 1927, a Fokker made the first flight from California to Hawaii. The following year, another F.VII was the first airplane to cross the Pacific Ocean from the United States to Australia.

Although used by the ZNDH as transports throughout 1941, some Dutch tail-draggers were assigned to the 1 Padobaranski Lovacki Sat, or Croatia’s 1st Light Infantry Parachute Company, in January 1942. Forty-five men equipped with rifles, submachine guns, light-machine guns, and light mortars made their first mass-jump from three F.VIIs to demonstrate their completed training on July 6, 1943, at Zagreb’s Borongaj airfield. Four months later to the day, three brigades of the 1 Padobaranski Lovacki Sat-10 paratroopers per Fokker-staged a surprise attack on a partisan stronghold near the border with Hungary.

Supported by artillery, the paratroopers took Koprivnica after three days of bitter fighting. They were redeployed in June 1944 to Zagreb’s Borongaj airfield, where an additional three companies resulted in their expansion and redesignation as the 1 Padobranska Lovacka Bojna, or 1st Light Infantry Parachute Battalion. They continued to jump from Fokker F.VIls and IXs against insurgents, but also took over Borongaj’s ground defense. Outstanding paratroopers were honored with ceremonial guard duties for government officials at the Croatian capital.

During 1941, Colonel Kren’s top priority was modernizing the ZNDH in anticipation of up-to-date machines due to arrive from the Reich. Beginning in July, the German Luftwaffe began training Croat volunteers at a flight school opened in Zagreb. Graduates were sent to Furth, outside Nuremberg, for advanced instruction. In October, the first 21 airmen left directly from Furth for the Ukraine, where they were formed into a pair of air force fighter squadrons, the 10th and 11th Zrakoplovno Lovacko Jato (ZLJ).

At Poltava, the 10th ZLJ was redesignated the 15th Koatische.I JG (Croatian Jagdgeschwader, “fighter squadron”) 52, under the Luftwaffe command of Major Hubertus von Bonin. Since radio equipment was scarce, Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goering sent the Croats 25 Benes-Mraz Be-50 Beta-Minors-nimble Czech two-seater, low-wing, prewar monoplanes with transmitters/receivers-to liaison between squadrons. Fighters, too, were in short supply, and until more became available, the new pilots had to make do with only 10 Messerschmitt Bf.109Es and a single Bf.109F.

Although the former was no longer the world’s leading fighter by late 1941, it was still superior at the time to anything in the arsenal of the Red Air Force. The Bf.109F, or “Friedrich;’ however, was then regarded as the most formidable warplane in the sky, a significant improvement over its immediate predecessor. Armed with a pair of 7.92-mm MG 17 machine-guns above the engine and two MG 17s in the wings, “Emil” had a maximum speed of 348 mph, thanks to its 1,159-hp Daimler-Benz 601Aa engine. It was with this slightly elder version of the most famous Messerschmitt that the Croats achieved their first “kills” on November 2, when Hauptmann (Captain) Ferencina and Leutnant Baumgarten each destroyed a Polikarpov 1-16 fighter near Rostov.

Two weeks after the Croats scored their first aerial victories, Baumgarten, Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Starc and Stabsfeldwebel (Sergeant Major) Boskic shot down a trio of Rata fighters. On November 20, Baumgarten claimed a fifth 1-16 to become an ace, dying in a mid-air collision with his victim. Twelve days later, an R-10 was downed by Cvitan Galic, the same former flight instructor (now likewise a Stabsfeldwebel), who carried out the ZNDH’s first operations eight months before.

The R-10 was the Soviets’ standard light-bomber and observation aircraft (“R” stood for razvyedchik, “reconnaissance”), a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and a respectable range of 802 miles. It was armed with a 660-pound payload, two 7.62-mm ShKAS machine-guns in the wings, and a single ShKAS in a rear turret. The airplane’s designer, Josef Neman, had been arrested by the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, on December 11, 1938, because more difficulties, for which he was held criminally liable, were encountered with the early design than had been anticipated. The R-10’s plywood-covered construction combined with a maximum speed of just 240 mph provided by a 730-hp Shvetsov M-25 radial engine made it an easy target when undefended by fighters.

In Galic’s case, he was able to dispatch a pair of protective Ratas, claiming two more three days later, when his squadron comrade, Feldwebel (Warrant Officer) Jure Lasta, destroyed an 1-16 during the same mission. The Red Air Force was markedly inferior to its opponents in terms of tactics and quality equipment, to say nothing of the low morale and worse training of air crews. With few exceptions, all the Soviets had going for them was the sheer weight of numbers, against which the Croats and every other Axis ally scored notable successes.

A case in point was something that began as routine escort duty undertaken on October 25, 1941, by Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Franjo Dzal and Feldwebel Veca Mikovic. They were assigned to rendezvous with a Henschel Hs.126 flying reconnaissance near Matveyev Kurgan, but, unbeknownst to them, bad weather had grounded the parasol-wing observation plane. While patrolling on station, they encountered a formation of three Ratas and five Chaikas, or “Seagulls.” Another Polikarpov design, the 1-153, was among history’s worst military aircraft; a deeply flawed biplane issued to operational units on June 16, 1939, long after the close of the Double-Decker Age, but in time to be massacred by Japanese fighters later that summer during the Nomohan Incident.

Among the Chaika’s long catalog of unresolved deficiencies was the absence of any firewall separating the fuel tank mounted between the cockpit and engine. In the event of an onboard fire, a powerful draft blasted the interior of the fuselage through the wheel wells, instantaneously incinerating the pilot and engulfing the entire machine. It was not for nothing that aircrews descriptively referred to the “Seagull” as the Kometi, the “Comet” Additionally given to chronic instability, exceptionally poor visibility, and powered by an 800-hp Shvestov M-62 radial engine with just a 60-hour service life, the 1-153 was nevertheless pushed through production to become one of the most numerically significant warplanes in the Red Air Force, which was equipped with 3,437 examples.

Soviet officers rarely pointed out the obvious to their superiors. In a justifiably paranoid system where constructive criticism was regarded as treason, according to aviation historians Dragan Savic and Boris Ciglic, “any attempt to show initiative or criticize how the air war was being run could lead to immediate transfer to punishment squadrons, the first rows of infantry trenches or, worse still, NKVD death-squads:”

The Croatian Messerschmitts were more than 80 mph faster than the stubby Chaikas, which dumped their payload in fright on Soviet territory after Oberstleutnant Dzal set one of them alight. Red Air Force policy forbade returning to base with unused bombs or ammunition. Pilots were required to expend their entire ordinance at the enemy, even at the risk of repeated, sometimes unnecessary passes over a target area, thereby increasing the Russians’ already prodigious attrition.

The Soviet “Seagull” did not usually carry bombs, but Dzal’s encounter revealed that his opponents perhaps represented a ground-attack version, the I-153Sh, equipped with 5.5-pound anti-personnel fragmentation bombs. In any case, they and their Rata companions fled from the outnumbered Croats, until the sudden arrival of 10 more 1-16s. In the resulting melee with 18 enemy fighters, both Dzal and Mikovic were able to fight their way out and return with minimal damage to base.

The following April, Mikovic tangled with a more modern enemy in the skies over Dyakovo village. With a maximum speed of 398 mph and an outstanding service ceiling of 37,700 feet, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 was faster than any Axis counterpart and the best fighter available to the Red Air Force, despite its numerous faults, especially oil and fuel pressure inadequacies that spoiled its performance at altitude. Feldwebel Mikovic had little difficulty shooting down his first MiG.

Another aircraft widely employed by the Soviets was the Il-2 Shturmovik Notwithstanding its unique claim to fame as the single most produced military aircraft design in all aviation history-with 36,163 examples constructed between 1941 and 1945-the Ilyushin was a preposterous monstrosity. Standing empty, the single-engine, two-seat ground-attack plane weighed just under 10,000 pounds. More than 15 percent of its gross weight-some 1,540 pounds-was made up of armor protection for crew, radiators, and a fuel tank. The pilot sat in a kind of tub 5-12 millimeters thick that additionally surrounded the 1,720-hp Mikulin AM-38F, liquid-cooled V-12 engine. Naturally, the aircraft could absorb a phenomenal amount of punishment and was not easy to shoot down.

But a ponderous performance executed at very low altitudes rendered the “Flying Tank” or “Cement Bomber,” as the Germans called it, more vulnerable than Stalin believed to ground fire, while Luftwaffe fighter pilots learned early to aim down into the cockpit and wing roots of the less-than-impenetrable Zementbomber. Its underside, non-retractable oil cooler was yet another Achilles’ heel exploited by Axis interceptors. The Luftwaffe’s Otto Kittel specialized in hunting Ilyushins, so much so, he was renowned as “the Annihilator of Shturmoviks;’ accounting for 94 of the ground-attack warplanes. South of Shadishemskaya, the 15th Koatische./Jagdgeschwader’s own Cvitan Galic shot down an Il-2 piloted by Lieutenant Grigoriy K. Kochergin, later a “Hero of the Soviet Union:”

While the Ilyushin’s steel envelope could deflect small arms’ fire and even glancing blows from larger-caliber rounds, rear gunners were not equally protected, and suffered about four times as many casualties than pilots. Nor were they provided with parachutes. These unfortunate crew members usually came from penal companies composed of politically unreliable “enemies of socialism” or “enemies of the people” who were attached to every Soviet airfield on probation. They were required to serve nine consecutive missions. Should they survive-an unlikely prospect-they were supposed to be granted their freedom, but were, in fact, transferred indefinitely to mine clearing or similarly hazardous duty. Attrition among Ilyushin gunners was so high, Marshal of the Air Forces A. E. Golovanov had installed in the cockpit rear of each Shturmovik a special, spring-driven device that kept the 12.7-mm Berezin UBT machine-gun pointing downward after its operator was killed, as a ruse to convince attacking Axis fighter pilots that the dead gunner was still alive.

The Shturmovik’s RS-82 anti-tank rockets were, moreover, so wildly inaccurate, they were usually fired only in the general direction of a target, rarely hitting it, and then entirely by chance. To compound matters for the Il-2s, Soviet flak gunners often mistook them for German aircraft, and many were brought down by friendly fire, although precise figures for these misidentification incidents do not appear to have been kept.

Stalin was so taken with his “Flying Tank;’ he was convinced it alone could crush any Nazi attempt to attack the USSR. Over the objections of Ilyushin engineers, who pointed out that their new aircraft had not yet been produced in sufficient numbers for squadron strength, and pilot training was virtually non-existent, he rushed the first few machines to Western bases, where the Axis invasion was expected to begin. The first Il-2s were stationed with the Red Air Force in Poland, but ground personnel were unable to service or rearm them for lack of instruction, while insufficiently trained flight crews, who had never fired their machine-guns, could only take off and land.

When Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa broke over the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, most of the 249 Il-2s at the front were wiped out in a matter of days. One squadron, ShAP, lost 55 of its 65 Shturmoviks by July 10. Stalin’s love affair with the Cement Bomber was undiminished, however, although he failed to understand that the burdensome armor provisions did not lend themselves well to rapid mass production. In a personal telegram he sent to the aircraft manufacturers, Shenkman and Tretyakov, the Premier raged, “You have let down our country and our Red Army! You have the nerve not to manufacture Il-2s until now! Our Red Army now needs Il-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one Il-2 a day, and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army! I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more Ils. This is my final warning!!!”‘

When deployed in large numbers, nonintercepted by Axis fighters, or opposed by anti-aircraft artillery under 20 millimeters, the Shturmovik could be devastating. It often attacked when lighting conditions were dim, especially after sundown, at low altitude, confounding German flak gunners, and carried 1,320 pounds of armor-piercing bombs quite capable of demolishing Panther and Tiger I tanks. A Soviet staff publication reported that during 1943’s Battle of Kursk, `on 7 July, enemy tank attacks were disrupted in the Kashara region (13th Army). Here, our assault aircraft delivered three powerful attacks in groups of twenty to thirty aircraft, which resulted in the destruction and disabling of thirty-four tanks. The enemy was forced to halt further attacks and to withdraw the remnants of his force north of Kashara.”

On that same day, Il-2s surpassed this score byknocking out 70 tanks from the German 9th Panzer Division in just 20 minutes. Outstanding Shturmovik pilots were Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova (260 missions), decorated posthumously, presumed killed in action, when she had actually survived the destruction of her “Flying Tank” to become an inmate of a prisoner-of-war camp; and Georgi Beregovoi (185 missions), who went on long after the war to become a cosmonaut aboard the Soyuz 3 spacecraft in 1968. But the DB-3F (or the Ilyushin Il-4, as it was known from 1942) was ponderously weighed down by its plates of heavy armor protection surrounding the gunners, which availed them naught against the 20-mm cannon fire of Zlatko Stipcic’s Bf.109 on May 20, 1942.

A month later to the day, Croats on the Eastern Front completed their 1,000th combat mission, with 52 confirmed kills for the loss of three pilots wounded and, by the end of July, two killed; one of them, Veca Mikovic. He was shot while attacking a Petlyakov Pe-2. The Petlyakov’s rearward defense combined twin 7.62-mm Berezin UB machine-guns in the dorsal turret with another in a ventral hatch and a single ShKAS machine-gun able to alternate between port and starboard mountings in under a minute. It was this formidable return fire from a Pe-2 that holed Mikovic’s Messerschmitt. Lacking sufficient fuel to reach the safety of his lines, he crashed near Rostov in no-man’s-land. He was flying one of the new Bf.109Gs, replacements for the doughty Emits.

With this improved version, Axis pilots substantially widened the technological gap between themselves and their Red Air Force opponents. The Gustav’s 1,475-hp Daimler-Benz DB 605 AM, 12-cylinder inverted Vee piston engine gave it a maximum speed of 385 mph at 22,640 feet. Armament was upgraded to twin 13-mm MG 131 machine-guns installed above the engine, and a single MK 108 cannon firing 30-mm rounds through the propeller shaft. Pilots of the 15th Koatische. /JG soon put their new mounts to good use, shooting up enemy shipping in the Black Sea and downing 13 Reds on July 9 and 10 with no losses to themselves.

Early the next month, Galic and Oberleutnant Albin Starc destroyed one each of five aircraft engaged over Novo Pokrovskoye. Both victims were LaGG-3s, like MiG-3s, among the better fighters available to the Soviets. While its design was fundamentally sound and capable of improvements, the LaGG-3 was badly underpowered, a dilemma designers sought to alleviate by drastically lightening the airframe and installing less heavy armament. Instead, they succeeded only in weakening the warplane and pulling its teeth. Poor-quality wood-laminate construction led pilots to observe that “LaGG” was less appropriate as an acronym for the design team of Lavochkin, Gorbunov, and Goudkov, than a match for the aircraft’s description as lakirovannygarantirovanny grob, a “guaranteed varnished coffin:” Indeed, the wood frame shattered under high explosive rounds fired from a Gustav’s nose cannon.

To execute a complete circle, LaGG-3s needed a full 20 seconds, by which time, however, they were more often shot down. The two destroyed by Galic and Starc were followed on August 8 by the unit’s 100th victory, when machine-gun fire from Hauptmann Josip Helebrant’s Messerschmitt roasted a DB-3 bomber in the vicinity of Armavir. But a few weeks later, the Croats lost their youngest pilot after an Ilyushin Il-2 fell to the guns of Stjepan Radic. Hit by flak, the Gustav’s ruptured glycol tank lost too much fuel, and the 20-year-old Feldwebel was forced to crash-land in enemy territory, where his aircraft hit some treetops and exploded. A few hours later, Helebrant claimed another Shturmovik.

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Croatian Air Force WWII Part II

Messerschmitt Bf.109G-14 Unit: 2. Lovacko Jato, 1. Zrakoplovna Skupina Zagreb-Lucko, April 1945. On 16th April 1945 Josip Cekovic defected to Falconara region (Italy) 12 kilometers westward of Ancona. This airplane was captured by Americans.

Dornier Do.17Z-2 Unit: 19. Bombardersko Jato, 1. Zrakoplovna Skupina Zagreb, spring 1945.

Breguet Br.19-8 Unit: 6 Sqn ‘Anti-guerilla’, 2 Group Circa 1943.

Macchi MC.202 Serie XII Unit: 2./Kro.JGr 1 Pilot – CO of 2./Kro.JGr 1 Capt (later Maj.) Josip Helebrant.

From late August through early September 1942, bitter fighting along the Novorossiysk front involved the 15th Koatische. /JG as never before, with its pilots averaging 20 escort missions every day. On September 3, Starc and Oberfelclwebel (Sergeant Major) Stjepan Martinasevic were flying cover for an Fw.189, when they were bounced by eight Ratas. Two of the attackers were damaged and the rest driven off. The twin-engine, twin-boom, three-place Focke-Wulf-189 was the war’s finest reconnaissance aircraft, able to execute a circle so tight that Allied interceptors could not follow it. Although armed with five 7.92mm MG 17 machine-guns, more often than not, the Uhu, or “Owl; simply out-ran its pursuer. The Fw.189 was also extraordinarily rugged, sometimes returning to base from the thick of combat minus an entire tail.

Three days after escorting this “Flying Eye” of the German Army, Starc and Helebrant were assigned anti-shipping duty over the Black Sea. There, they strafed a 100-ton tanker, blasting it with concerted cannon fire, until the vessel erupted into a flaming inferno, capsized, and sank in minutes. On September 8, Helebrant was back over the Novorossiysk front with Martinasevic, when they intercepted a reconnaissance aircraft escorted by 11 Chaika fighters. Martinasevic dispatched a Soviet “Seagull;’ then joined Helebrant in destroying the Polikarpov R-5. As some indication of Soviet military obsolescence, this 680-hp, wood double-decker from 1930 was the standard reconnaissance model of the Red Air Force, which equipped over 100 of its regiments with the antique airplane into 1944.

What the Russians lacked in quality, they strove to compensate with quantity, as four Croatian pilots observed while patrolling the road between Gelendzhik and Novorossiysk. During their clash with 5 Chaikas and 14 Ratas, Oberstleutnant Dzal destroyed one of either type, while Fähnrich (Officer Candidate) Tomislav Kauzlaric shot down an 1-16. On October 24, Helebrant and Starc each brought down a pair of Lavochkin fighters over the Tuapse area, raising their unit’s score to 150 confirmed “kills:” In November, the pilots were returned to Croatia for extended rest after a full year of virtually non-stop flight operations. These comprised 3,698 sorties-2,460 of them combat missions-for the confirmed destruction of 178 enemy aircraft, plus 33 “probables.” Six Croatian pilots had been lost in action, together with five ground crew men in Soviet raids.

During mid-February, the men of 15th Kroatische./Jagclgeschwacler 52 returned to the Eastern Front in the company of fresh recruits and new planes. But the situation had changed dramatically over the previous three months. The Axis initiative that had rolled irrepressibly across Russia since the first day of Operation Barbarossa had stopped at Stalingrad, where Croatian casualties were very heavy. And U.S. aid to the Soviets was now apparent in the appearance of American aircraft. On April 15, 1943, Oberleutnant Mato Dukovac fired on a Bell P-39 fighter that “flamed like a torch before abruptly falling away.”

The Aircobra’s streamlined, aerodynamically efficient design had been occasioned by placement of a 1,200-hp Allison V-1710-85, liquid-cooled, V-12 engine behind the cockpit. This peculiar arrangement enabled a 37-mm M4 cannon to fire 30 rounds of high-explosive ammo through the propeller hub at the rate of 140 rounds per minute. It was supplemented by a 12.7-mm machine-gun installed in each wing; two more were mounted in the upper engine cowl. Regardless of this formidable armament, the rear-mounted engine proved to be vulnerable to attacks from above and behind. Almost any hit on the fuselage from an attacking enemy fighter was virtually guaranteed to disable the cooling system, destroying the engine. In crash-landings, the pilot was liable to be crushed by the hot, heavy engine falling forward on his back.

The all-metal fighter’s unconventional layout allowed no space in the fuselage for a fuel tank, which was transferred to a necessarily smaller tank in either wing, thereby restricting the P-39’s operational radius. Moreover, its single-speed supercharger confined optimal performance to beneath 12,000 feet, a serious limitation, as modern aerial combat took place at increasingly higher altitudes. By 1942, virtually all bombers carried out their runs far beyond the Aircobra’s reach. Performance was further compromised by 265 pounds of armor plating, which was appropriate for a ground-attack role, but detracted from Bell’s original fighter conception. An innovative tricycle undercarriage and hinged “automobile doors” on either side of the cockpit contributed to the aircraft’s unorthodox design.

Despite its numerous drawbacks, the P-39 was just 10 mph slower than the Messerschmitt-109, handled very well, and was the best fighter available to Soviet pilots, who referred to it affectionately as Kobrastochka, “dear little cobra:” Aleksandr Pokryshkin, the Allies’ second highest-scoring ace, accounted for 58 Axis aircraft in a P-39, the highest score ever gained by any pilot with a U.S.-built aircraft. The 4,773 Aircobras President Roosevelt sent to beleaguered Soviet pilots critically helped them make up the severe losses they suffered since June 1941.

Five days after Dukovac’s first encounter with an American Kobrastochka, he was escorting German Stuka dive-bombers and Ju.88 medium-bombers in the company of three other Gustavs, one piloted by the redoubtable Cvitan Galic, when they ran into 25 Soviet fighters and gigantic flying boats. In the engagement that ensued, Dukovac downed a LaGG-3, as Galic went after a Chyetverikov MDR-6, with its 63-foot, 7.75-inch wingspan. Only 27 of the big, twin-engine, highwing flying boats had ever been built, so Galic felt privileged to claim this rara avis, which disintegrated in flames toward Novorossiysk. Continuing escort duty produced more residual “kills” on May 8, when Dukovac and his wingman, Felclwebel Bozidar Bartulovic, each destroyed a LaGG-3 while protecting a Fieseler Storch.

The Fi.156 was famous for its unprecedented STOL characteristics, making it the war’s outstanding liaison and medivac aircraft. Its very low landing speed combined with a long-legged undercarriage containing oil and spring shock absorbers that compressed about 18 inches on landing enabled the “Stork” to set down in a variety of otherwise impossible terrain. It could hover in place, almost like a helicopter, or even fly backwards against a head wind. Under normal conditions, the Fi.156 took off in less than 150 feet and landed in 60. Wings could be folded back along the fuselage, allowing it to be transported by trailer, aboard covered trains, or towed behind a vehicle. Flying their high-performance Messerschmitts, the Croatian pilots found escorting the 100-mph Storch a challenging, but rewarding experience.

Despite the debacle at Stalingrad, Axis morale held firm. There was no rout, and the Eastern Front stood badly dented, but unbroken. Positions from the vicinity of Leningrad in the north, down through Smolensk and Taganrog to the Sea of Asov in the south stiffened, frustrating all Soviet attempts to break through, while the Red Air Force lost more than 2,000 warplanes in combat above Kuban. These defensive successes were generally regarded as prelude to a renewed Wehrmacht offensive that would regain the initiative in summer. But news of the Italo-German loss of North Africa in early May struck some observers as the Axis death knell. On the 14th, two pilots of the 15th Koatische.I JG 52 defected to the Soviets, setting down their Bf.109s behind enemy lines at Byelaya Glina airfield, northeast of Krasnar.

A month and one day later, another Croatian pilot landed at Byelaya Glina. Over the next two years, defections took place in direct ratio to the decline of Axis fortunes. While much has been made of them by Allied historians, the actual number of deserters from the unit represented a small fraction of its total strength. Most who defected simply wanted to end the war on the winning side, and were largely indifferent to ideological concerns. Those who did give political consequences any thought had been deceived by Communist propaganda promises of a free Croatia or, in the case of Slovenian airmen, an independent Slovenia. These trusting souls were to be sadly disappointed with the postwar fate of Eastern Europe, and many fled to the West after the Iron Curtain fell on their respective homelands.

A case in point was the first Balkan airman, Nikola Vucina, who flew over to the Soviets on May 4,1942. Horrified by the bloodshed and slavery visited upon Yugoslavia by the Red Army, he fled in an ancient Polikarpov Po-2 Kukuruznik (“Corn”) trainer to Italy in 1946.

Mato Dukovac, Croatia’s top-scoring ace with 45 kills, lived to regret his defection by flying to Italy in another biplane, a stolen British De Havilland “Tiger Moth;’ less than a year after his September 20, 1944 desertion. Dukovac became increasingly anti-Jewish after his wartime experiences, so much so, he volunteered to fight the newly created state of Israel as a captain in the Syrian Air Force, flying American T-6 Texan trainers outfitted with ground-attack rockets and 110-pound bombs during the Arab-Israeli Conflict of 1948.

The attitude of most Croatian pilots was summarized in June 1944, when one of their officers, Oberst Franjo Dzal, offered them the alternatives of fighting on, going to Germany for advanced training, or joining the partisans. According to Savic and Ciglic, “His words were greeted by whistles and shouts of disapproval’s”

The Croatian airmen continued to enjoy the clear-cut superiority of their Bf.109Gs throughout most of 1943. In early November, however, they began encountering growing numbers of an opponent with serious claims on the Messerschmitt’s predominance. This was the Lavochkin La-5, the Soviets’ first and only up-to-date fighter. While its performance fell off above 12,000 feet, the La-5 excelled at lower altitudes. It executed a smaller turning radius and higher roll rate than the German Gustav. Ivan Kozhedub, the leading Red Air Force ace, scored most of his 62 kills flying the La-5. With more of these dangerous machines filling Russian skies, outnumbered pilots of the 15th Kroatische. /JG 52 were hard pressed.

On November 7, Unteroffizier (Senior Corporal) Vladimir Salomon was shot down by a combination of Aircobras and La-5s. Successfully bailing out of his stricken Bf.109, he froze to death after parachuting into the Sea of Azov. Two weeks later, Felclwebel Zdendo Avdic and Dukovac were battling six LaGG-3s, when Avdic received a particularly painful wound in the right arm. He was horrified to observe that his severed hand still gripped the control column, which he manipulated with his left to make a perfect landing, albeit barely conscious from a prodigious loss of blood, five miles inside friendly territory. German grenadiers carried Avdic to a field hospital, where he eventually recovered.

By then, the unit had been stationed at Karankhut airfield, where adverse weather conditions grounded its pilots until early 1944, save on rare occasions. When conditions cleared in February, they faced greater numbers of enemy aircraft-many of them La-5s and P-39s-than ever before encountered. Flying against impossible odds, the squadron was decimated, and the 15th Kroatische./JG 52 disbanded, its survivors returning to Croatia in mid-March. During the previous five months, flying through foul weather and against overwhelming adversaries, five of the airmen were killed, and four had been seriously wounded. But between them they scored 77 confirmed “kills” and 8 “probables.”

In July, survivors joined the newly formed Hrvatska Zrakoplovna Skupina, the Croatian Air Force Group, for homeland defense against increasing incursions by Anglo-American bombers. The HZS was also no less preoccupied with quashing the various Communist and nationalist insurgent groups running rampant through the countryside. Fighting these rebels was nothing new. As long before as June 26, 1941, pilots of its predecessor, the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia (Zrakoplovstvo Nezavisna Drava Hrvatska), had carried out the earliest anti-partisan raids in Herzegovina and suffered its first loss the following day, when an aged Potez Po-25 biplane was brought down by rebel ground-fire.

Increasingly fortified with Soviet arms, supplies, and propaganda, the Yugoslav underground movement grew steadily throughout 1941, when 15 aircraft were lost to the partisans. In June 1942, they absconded with a pair of French bombers-a Brequet-19 and Potez Po-25-from the Zegreb headquarters. The Yugoslav Royal Air Force had purchased its first Breguet-19s as far back as 1924, thereafter license building another 300 examples. Most of these were destroyed during the German Blitzkrieg of April 1941, but enough survived to flesh out the new Croatian Air Force. While randomly machine-gunning the residents of Banja Luka, the bandit Breguet was brought down by flak outside the village of Kadinjani. Its pilot committed suicide, while his gunner was shot trying to escape.

ZNDH commanders were deeply alarmed by the brazen theft of this World War I-style sesquiplane with cloth-covered wings and open cockpits, and spent all their energies searching for its companion. Meanwhile, the elderly Po-25 raided four towns in as many days, successfully eluding all efforts to intercept it, until the pokey Potez was finally spotted by the Luftwaffe pilot of a Focke-Wulf Fw.58. On July 7, his twin-engine Weihe (“Harrier”) trainer doubling as a reconnaissance-attack plane used its two MG 15 machine-guns to shred the stolen aircraft while parked near Lusci Palanka.

In summer, the ZNDH mounted its first, concerted offensive against the burgeoning insurgency with warplanes left over from the defeated Royal Yugoslav Air Force. All were antiquated and worn out, but the most useful among them were 7 Avia BH-33Es remaining from 38 destroyed while resisting the invading Germans, back in 1941. The 1927 Czech biplane’s physical appearance was somewhat strange for its upper wing, being shorter, for reasons never entirely understood, than the lower. An otherwise reliable, if entirely mediocre fighter, the Vickers machine-guns and low speed provided by its 580-hp Skoda L engine made it ideal for strafing partisans. They were themselves hamstrung by conflict between the Soviet-backed Narodnooslobodilacka Vojska Jugoslavije (“People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia”) and royalist-nationalist Chetniks, from the Serbian word seta for a “military company.”

According to Savic and Ciglic, “Often, groups of insurgents were at each others’ throats, rather than attacking their common enemy. There was even collaboration with the Axis on both sides.”

Shortly after the Wehrmacht conquest, the several resistance movements began to coalesce into a general insurgency until the Chetnik leader, Draza Mihailovic, realized that Josip Tito’s NVJ only wanted to “burn the country and the old order to the ground to better prepare it for Communism. This is the fight that the Communists wage, a fight which is directed by foreign propaganda with the aim of systematically annihilating our nation:” He was likewise mistrustful of the Anglo-Americans, whose “sole aim was to win the war at the expense of others:”‘ Favorably impressed by Germany’s invasion of the USSR, Mihailovic hoped to create a Greater Serbia in the manner of the Independent State of Croatia, when he learned that Hitler’s postwar intentions for the former Yugoslavia was its division along ethnic lines into various, similarly autonomous states. In the resulting civil war between Communists and Chetniks, the Croatian airmen sought to annihilate them both.

Mussolini sent their ZNDH its first modern aircraft in the form of 10 Fiat G.50 fighters, during late June 1943. Although eclipsed by other designs by then, the Freccia, or “Arrow,” could still intercept enemy bombers or ground-attack insurgent forces with success. Following the Duce’s overthrow in September, the ZNDH received something of a windfall when 60 Italian aircraft of various types were found at Mostar and Zadar airfields. They included three “Arrows” and six Fiat CR.42 biplanes no longer fit for aerial combat, but very effective in anti-partisan warfare.

While the rebels lacked any aircraft of their own, they took their toll on ZNDH men and machines through ground-fire and espionage. On October 7, the Commanding Officer of 1. Air Group, Mato Culinovic, an ace with a dozen “kills” to his credit, perished with his crew aboard a Dornier Do.17K medium-bomber that exploded while attacking insurgent forces west of Zagreb; saboteurs had installed a detonator activated when the bay doors were opened.

Shortly thereafter, 38 Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406c-1s from France’s defeated Armee de /Air arrived from Germany. It was with this inadequate fighter that ZNDH pilots were expected to intercept growing numbers of U.S. heavy-bombers protected by huge swarms of P-51 and P-47 escorts. Croat airmen were additionally hampered by a wholly inadequate early warning system and usually scrambled only as the enemy was overhead. Whenever the defenders did get airborne, they invariably found themselves hideously out-numbered by mostly superior aircraft.

From the close of 1943, USAAF and RAF bombers repeatedly violated Croatian airspace with impunity, as they overflew the Balkans on their way to targets in Austria. The ZNDH lacked sufficient strength to oppose these Allied intruders, until interceptor units of the Hrvatska Zrakoplovna Legija (Croatian Air Force Legion) were formed with Luftwaffe assistance on December 23. A month later, Mussolini’s Salo Republic contributed 12 new specimens of the Macchi M.C.202 Folgore. At 372 mph, the sleek “Lightning” lived up to its name. Croat pilots loved the Macchi for its superb handling characteristics and 3,563-feetper-minute rate of climb, but found that the two 7.7-mm Breda-SAFAT wing guns lacked punch. Only its twin 12.7-mm machine-guns in the engine cowling were effective by contemporary standards.

But HZL crews had little immediate opportunity to put the Folgore through its paces, because Allied raids on Austria by way of the Balkans fell off for the first quarter of 1944. They used the lull to gain additional training experience until April 1, when the unit was redesignated 1./Jagdgruppe Kroatien. The next day, an immense bomber stream of the 15th U.S. Air Force passed over Croatia on its way to attack the Austrian industrial city of Steyr. The ZNDH’s early raid alert system had not improved during the previous four months, and only two interceptors could be scrambled in time to confront the Americans returning from their mission. With hundreds of 12.7-mm M2 Browning machine-guns firing at them, the Folgore pilots dashed unscathed among the flight of B-24 heavy-bombers, one of which fell burning out of the sky.

In hopes of better positioning themselves to meet the foe, several dozen Croatian fighters were relocated from the unit’s base at Lucko to Zaluzani airfield outside Banja Luka. British intelligence learned of the move, and Numbers 1, 2, and 4 Squadrons in the South African Air Force’s Number 7 Wing were alerted. Their Spitfire Mk.IXs, some carrying a pair of 250-pound bombs apiece, appeared without warning over Zaluzani in a low-level attack that overtook the defenders on April 6. Twenty one ZNDH aircraft were destroyed on the ground, including a Folgore and all save 1 Morane-Saulnier, together with 16 Luftwaffe warplanes.

Of greater loss was the death of Cvitan Galic, who perished when the M.S.406, under which he took shelter during the raid, exploded and collapsed on him in full view of his horrified comrades. With 38 confirmed and 5 unconfirmed aerial victories, he was Croatia’s second-highest scoring ace. Yet another 21 ZNDH machines were caught parked in the open and destroyed by bomb-laden Spitfires six days later.

Despite these appalling losses, the 1./Jagdgruppe Kroatien dispatched two pairs of Morane-Saulniers and Fiat Freccias to patrol for damaged or separated B-24s. Instead, they were attacked by two Mustangs 6,500 feet above Zagreb. The decidedly inferior MS.406s and G.50s were no match for state-of-the-art P-51s, which shot down one each of the older French and Italian fighters in short order. If anything, it is to their credit that the other two pilots were able to successfully elude their technologically superior pursuers.

When provided with better aircraft, the Croatians went over eagerly to the offensive. They had always been outnumbered by their enemies, so a numerical advantage possessed by the Anglo-Americans meant little to them. Before the end of April, Unterofizier Leopold Hrastovcan flew his Macchi past escorting Mustangs to blast a four-engine Liberator that crashed outside the village of Zapresic. Several days later, Unterofizier Jakob Petrovic’s Folgore closed in on a British de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito fighter-bomber famous for its laminated plywood construction. “The Timber Terror;” as it was also known, fell trailing thick smoke toward the sea.

Petrovic and another comrade were evenly matched against two USAAF P-38s on May 1, when one of the “Fork-Tail Devils” was shot down and the other driven off, badly damaged. While pilots of the 1./Jagdgruppe Kroatien continued to score against Anglo-American intruders for the rest of spring and throughout summer, war on the homefront was spreading across the Balkans.

In mid-summer, 15 long-distance R-series Stukas were dispatched to Croatia, where they pounded Red Army columns at the southeastern border. They joined eight Ju.87D-5 dive-bombers delivered to the Antiteroristicka jedinica Lucko, an antiterrorist unit based near Zagreb, at Lucko, the previous January. In an unexpected assault on September 20, partisans captured Banja Luka, over-running the airbase at Zaluzani airfield. Thinking fast, many ZNDH crews jumped into their Dornier bombers, engines started just after propellers cleared hangar doors, to machine-gun waves of partisans, and got away at the last, possible moment. Once airborne, they circled back around to provide suppressive fire, enabling their comrades’ escape. A few days later, the city and airbase were recaptured in a powerful counterattack launched by Croat and German troops.

Further Croatian requests for specialized aircraft from the Luftwaffe were answered in mid-September with the arrival of a dozen Fieseler Fi.167A-0s. They were indeed purpose-built, but not for any antipartisan role. The big biplane had been originally designed in 1938 to serve aboard the German Navy’s projected aircraft carrier for reconnaissance and torpedo bombing. Graf Zeppelin was never completed, however, and the few examples already produced were put to use flying coastal patrols in Denmark before being transferred to the ZNDH. Like its more famous Fieseler, the Storch, the Fi.167 was endowed with extraordinary STOL characteristics, capable of landing almost vertically anywhere. With a maximum take-off weight of 10,690 pounds, its short-field and outstanding load-carrying capabilities made it an ideal transport flying ammunition, food, medical supplies, or evacuating wounded to and from Croatian Army garrisons besieged by Tito’s insurgent armies.

On October 10, while on a mission to a Croatian position near Sisak, a lone Fi.167 flown by eight-kill ace, Bozidar “Bosko” Bartulovic, was jumped by five P-51 Mk IIIs of the RAF’s 213 Squadron. Bartulovic’s rear gunner, Mate Jurkovic, used his 7.92-mm MG 17 machine-gun to score a lethal hit on one of the attacking Mustangs before the Fieseler, too, was destroyed by the other four, thereby achieving perhaps the last and certainly most remarkable aerial victory in biplane history. Both Bartulovic and Jurkovic parachuted to safety. Some of the remaining Fi.167s were installed with a single 2,200-pound bomb used effectively against otherwise impenetrable rebel positions.

Beginning in December 1944, things began looking up for the Croats. As a measure of the high regard with which he held them, Goering equipped two ZNDH squadrons with the Luftwaffe’s best piston-driven fighter. The Kurfurst, or “Elector Prince;’ was the last and fastest in a long operational line of the Messerschmitt Bf. 109 series, which had begun 10 years earlier. Optimized for high altitudes, a nine-foot-wide chord, three-bladed VDM 9-12159 propeller converted the 1850/2000 PS output of the new Messerschmitt’s DB 605DB/DC power plant into thrust. As such, the fully loaded aircraft was able to top 445 mph at 22,500 feet, while enjoying an extraordinary rate of climb at 4,820 feet per minute. Armament comprised twin, 13-mm MG 131 machine-guns in the nose with 300 rounds each, plus a single, engine-mounted MK 108 cannon firing 65 30-mm rounds.

Thus equipped with the Kurfurst, ZNDH pilots evened the playing field against their Western opponents. What the Croat interceptors still lacked in numbers, they made up for with a fighter at least the equal of the American Mustang or British Spitfire, and a highly effective bomber-buster, the K-4’s real function. Both German and Croat fliers took advantage of the airplane’s high performance to avoid enemy escorts and go after the USAAF B-17s and B-24s.

The ZNDH also made do with much older machines. On December 31, a Dornier Do.17E paid a surprise New Year’s Eve visit to the RAF’s 148 Squadron base at Grabovnica near Cazma, where the old medium bomber dropped its 1,100-pound payload on the airfield, causing numerous casualties among partisan defenders. Supply dumps were wrecked, and a four-engine Handley-Page Halifax heavy-bomber was destroyed.

On March 24, 1945, ZNDH aircraft grounded at Lucko airfield, for lack of petrol, were incinerated during a napalm attack delivered by RAF Mustangs of Numbers 213 and 249 Squadrons. Defensive flak shot down a P-51 from the former Squadron, but three Messerschmitts, one Morane-Saulnier, and a Focke-Wulf 190 were ruined. Several other aircraft were damaged. The day before, the Croats won their last aerial victories, when Mihajlo Jelak and 15-“kill” ace, Ljudevit Bencetic, flying Bf-109G-10s, claimed two British P-51s between them. Jelak was hit by enemy fire but managed to safely crash-land his wounded Gustav. With Communist forces overrunning Zagreb, Bencetic addressed his crews at Lucko airfield for the last time. They had performed their duties splendidly, he said, and flying with them was the greatest personal honor he had ever known, but they were released now from their loyalty oath and at liberty to return to their homes.’

As Bencetic returned the final salute of his men, a pair of aged Rogozarski R-100 trainers flown by Lieutenants Mihajlo Jelak and Leopold Hrastovcan were attacking a railway bridge spanning the Kupa River with 50-pound bombs. Destroying it would delay the enemy’s advance toward Karlovac, allowing time for the city to be evacuated. As Hrastovcan’s biplane circled for another pass, it was hit by ground fire and crashed near the foot of the bridge, where he was dragged from the wreckage and shot to death.

Fighting against 12-to-1 odds, Croat airmen continued to score hits on the enemy. Their final flight operation occurred on April 15, 1945, when a Dornier Do.17Z medium-bomber, covered by a pair of Messerschmitt-109Gs, raided the partisan airfield at Sanski Most, destroying two Communist warplanes, damaging several others on the airfield, and machine-gunning ground personnel to escape with damage.

The last ZNDH remnants in the 1st Light Infantry Parachute Battalion had joined up with the Croatian Army’s Motorized Brigade as early as the previous January, from which time they were in constant action south of Zagreb against an advancing partisan army. The few surviving paratroopers were still fighting in Austria a week after the German surrender, refusing to lay down their arms until May 14, 1945.

During the immediate postwar period, Tito assumed a magnanimous pose, extending “general amnesty” to all opponents. But his apparent generosity was a ruse luring war-weary servicemen to their doom. Every ZNDH airman the Communists could lay their hands on was imprisoned and tortured, often for many years. Bozidar Bartulovic, the Fieseler biplane pilot, whose rear gunner shot down an attacking Mustang, had bailed out when a 0.50-caliber bullet partially shattered his skull and shot away his right eye. After long-term recovery at a Zagreb hospital and later graduation from officers’ training school, he was arrested and sent to a POW camp until his release in 1946, then rearrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Upon his release, Bartulovic fled to Munich, Germany.

Many of his comrades fared far worse. All high-ranking ZNDH officers were rounded up and shot.

Slovakian Air Force WWII Part I

Avia B.534-I There exist only a few photos of B.534-I series. On one of them we can see this B-534 with number 7 on the fuselage, but this marking is not complete.

Letov S-328 of rising air force during Slovak National Rising (against Germans in 1944). Czechoslovak national insignia, completed with silhouettes of three mountains with Slovak cross.

The 2.8 million Sudeten Germans freed by Czechoslovakia’s disintegration, beginning in September 1938, triggered the liberation of other minorities stranded for nearly 20 years behind the borders of that artificial state. Teschen, with its predominantly Polish population, went back to Poland; and Hungarians in Ruthenia, at Czechoslovakia’s extreme eastern section, declared independence on March 14,1939. During the afternoon of that same day, the Slovak people proclaimed their own state, which the Romanian government in Budapest officially recognized 24 hours later.

The Hungarians were likewise determined to reclaim the rest of their fellow countrymen, who made up a majority population in northeastern Slovakia, where they had been stranded since passage of the Versailles Treaty following World War I. On March 23, Honvedseg troops stormed across a border as ill-defined as it was ill-defended. Unprepared troops of the Slovak Army were routed, then rallied, but were ultimately unable to contain the invaders. Hardly less auspicious was the fledgling Slovenske vzdušné zbrane, the Slovak Air Force, really nothing more than the former 3rd Czech Air Regiment. Although the Letecky pluk 3 still possessed 230 aircraft, there were only 80 pilots and observers to man them.

They nonetheless seized the initiative on the opening day of hostilities, when their open-cockpit biplanes struck the Hungarian-occupied cities of Mukacheve, Roznava, and Uzhorod. One of the Letov bombers was brought down by flak, which additionally destroyed two fighters and inflicted damage on four more, plus another bomber. Undaunted, the Slovaks returned 24 hours later for their first aerial combat. They flew the Czech-designed and -manufactured Avia B-534, among the last of the great biplane fighters, such as Britain’s Gloster Gladiator, Italy’s Falco, and Russia’s Chaika.

Powered by an 850-hp Hispano-Suiza HS 12Y drs 112-cylinder, Vee piston engine, the Avia could achieve a maximum speed of 245 mph at 12,435 feet, with a service ceiling of 34,775 feet, and a 360mile range. These qualities won laurels for the rugged aircraft at 1937’s International Flying Meet in Zurich, where it proved at least equal to all competition and out-performed Germany’s own biplane fighter, the Heinkel-51. The B-534 was not envisioned strictly as a fighter, however, and made to serve a ground-attack role. As such, four Model 30, 7.92-mm machine-guns installed in the sides of the fuselage were synchronized to fire through the propeller, or, alternately (as the Bk 534), a single, 20-mm cannon firing from the nose was supplemented by a pair of 7.92-mm machine-guns at the sides. Provision was also made for six 44-pound bombs. It was in this mode that three Avias tangled with an equal number of Hungarian-flown Italian fighters in the early morning of March 23.

The Avia owned a 12-mph speed advantage over the Fiat CR.32, but better-trained Magyar Legier pilots prevailed. The 264-pound payload aboard CO podporučík (second lieutenant) Jan Prhacek’s aircraft was hit and exploded, atomizing his aircraft and killing him instantly, but desiatnik (corporal) Cyril Martis dropped his bombs before crash-landing upside down in a swamp. With the sudden loss of his commanding officer and comrade, and faced by three-to-one odds, slobodnik (lance corporal) Michal Karas out-maneuvered his opponents, escaping unscathed to the base at Spisska Nova Ves. Shortly after his escape, two of three Avias attempting to attack enemy tanks advancing on Tibava a Sobrance were brought down by ground-fire.

Three more B-534s returned to the same general area escorting a trio of Letovs, but were met this time by nine Fiats. Although the observer, podporučík Ferdinand Svento, parachuted from a bomber falling in flames, his body was riddled with 18 rounds of machine-gun fire, as he hung helpless in his harness. Another Letov was shot down outside the village of Strazske, but one survived the carnage to return to base. All three Avias were destroyed without cost to the Hungarians. Later that same day, 10 Junkers Ju. 86K-2 bombers purchased by the Hungarians from Germany before the advent of hostilities struck Spisska Nova Ves in the first raid of its kind on Slovakian soil. A dozen soldiers and civilians perished, with almost 100 injured, but the base did not suffer crippling damage.

A flight of seven Avias attempted retaliation by diving on advancing enemy troop concentrations in the vicinity of Paloc, but nine defending Fiat CR.32s claimed all the Slovak fighters at no loss to themselves. By then, the Hungarians had achieved limited objectives on the ground and sued for peace. In what the Slovaks referred to as Mali Vojn, “The Little War,” they lost 58 dead (22 soldiers and 36 civilians) against 23 Hungarian fatalities (8 soldiers and 15 civilians) during a week and a day of fighting. They were determined to learn from this premature baptism of fire, however, and initiated a serious reorganization of their armed forces, with special attention given to pilot training in the SVZ.

The Slovaks inherited a broad variety of aircraft from the Czechs, but many were worn out or hopelessly obsolete. These were either scrapped or consigned to student pilot squadrons, while frontline machines were refurbished almost entirely by innovative mechanics, because Slovakia did not possess a modern aviation industry. The already small SVZ was downsized still further, but its organizational structure tightened up, and a parachute brigade established. Just five months after the conclusion of the Little War, the Slovakian Air Force was a noticeably improved, although far from perfected service, when a much larger war broke out on September 1, 1939.

Joining Hitler’s Blitzkrieg against Poland were 35,000 Slovak troops set in motion by their Prime Minister, Jozef Tiso. Their limited objectives were recovery of original Slovak territories in Javorina, Orava, and Spis seized by the Poles during 1920, 1924, and 1938. Slovak participation in the Campaign was not entirely self-serving, however, because Tiso was himself a convinced Fascist and trusted friend of the Germans. They had informed him of the up-coming invasion as early as August 28, when he arranged for part of the their attack to be launched from Slovak areas bordering Poland. Beyond the recapture of former regions, he put his air force at the disposal of the Wehrmacht.

To the SVZ warplanes’ national insignia (a red disc with blue twin-cross outlined in white) were added black-and-white Luftwaffe Balkenkreuzen (“Balkan Crosses;’ Iron Crosses) on either side of fuselages and wing surfaces. Tiso dispatched 20 Letov S.328s and as many Avias to scout for his advancing troops, but even after they took Javorina, Orava, and Spis, the fighters stayed on in Poland to escort German Stukas dive-bombing enemy railroad yards around Drogobytch and Lvov. During one of these attacks, on September 9, anti-aircraft fire brought down an Avia flown by čatár (sergeant) Viliam Grun. He was captured and became a prisoner of war, but shortly thereafter made good his escape to rejoin his unit, Number 12 Squadron.

Three days earlier, a lone, unidentified aircraft flew over military installations inside Slovakia. A trio of Avias scrambled to investigate and intercepted a Lublin R-XIII (not a RWD-XVII aerobatic trainer, as sometimes reported),’ the Polish Army’s standard liaison-spotter. Forty-nine of the Polish parasol observation and liaison planes had been organized into eskadra obserwacyjna, or special observation squadrons, for long-range photographic missions. The Lublin was a versatile workhorse. Its tough construction and remarkably short takeoff run of just 204 feet were likewise ideally suited to field operations of all kinds, including courier and ambulance duties.

One R-XIII had tried to attack an enemy vessel on when the elderly Schleswig-Holstein-a pre-dreadnought battleship from 1908-was mercilessly pounding Polish defenders at Danzig with an unremitting, hours-long fusillade of 11-inch shells fired at virtually point-blank range. Unable to find his target, the pilot dropped a stick of 55-pound bombs on a German residential neighborhood instead. But a single 7.7.-mm Lewis machine-gun operated by the observer was inadequate defense against the three Avias, which handily shot down the reconnaissance plane in flames. Its destruction signified the young SVZ’s only kill of the Campaign and its first-ever aerial victory.

These were not the only Slovakian warplanes operating over Poland, however. When the brunt of Luftwaffe aircraft was thrown into the siege of Warsaw, and Wehrmacht ground forces in the south suddenly lost their eyes in the sky, the Slovaks volunteered their open cockpit, two-place biplanes. The Czech-built Hispano-Suiza Vr-36 engine could only provide 740 hp for a maximum speed of 170 mph, but when the Aero A.100 was not shooting photographs of enemy troop movements, it fired four 7.92-mm wz.29 machine-guns or dropped 1,300 pounds of bombs, thereby offering German ground forces much-needed air cover they would have otherwise missed.

The territories Tiso’s soldiers reclaimed during 1939s conquest of Poland more than compensated for regional losses to the Hungarians earlier that year and brought closer ties with the Third Reich. Yet, less than two years later, Hitler did not include the Slovaks in his original plan to invade the USSR, and even tried to dissuade them from participating, because he believed too many of Tiso’s people would side with their fellow Slavs in Russia. But the President argued persuasively on behalf of his fellow countrymen’s loyalty, and Slovakia was eventually allowed to join Germany’s other allies in their combined assault on the citadel of Communism.

However, he was disappointed to learn from the SVZ commander in chief, General Anton Pulanich, that just 33 Avias and 30 Letovs were in fully operable condition. Moreover, they could only be fueled with a unique alcohol-benzene-gasoline mixture not employed by any other aircraft on the Eastern Front. Supplies of this singular concoction needed to be constantly brought up from Slovakia, a process made increasingly difficult, as operations moved further away into the East. Despite these drawbacks, three fighter squadrons (the 11th, 12th, and 13th Letky) joined as many bomber-reconnaissance squadrons (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Letky) in western Ukraine by July 7, 1941.

Only then did General Pulanich realize that the homeland had been left without enough interceptors to defend against attack and re-assigned the 11th Letky to Piestany. His already small armada was now down to only 20 fighters. These were inadequately supplemented by 10 former Czech elementary trainers pressed into service for reconnaissance duties, for which the Praga E-39-with its 150-hp, nine-cylinder Walter Gemma, air-cooled, radial engine-had never been designed.

With a top peed of just 106 mph, the rugged little biplanes were surprisingly effective, flying cover and observation for Slovakian ground forces in the conquest of Lvov, Kiev, and Rostov. Fortunately for the defenseless Pragas, skies above these cities had already been mostly swept clear of Soviet machines by the Luftwaffe, making aerial combat unlikely. But Red Army anti-aircraft fire remained dangerous, and čatár Frantisek Brezina’s Avia B-534 was the first Slovak to fall to Russian flak on July 25, while in the act of flying escort for a German Henschel Hs.126 observation plane.

Forced into an emergency landing far behind enemy lines, he came under fire from approaching troops. These were strafed by his squadron comrade, čatár Stefan Martis, who then landed as close as possible to Brezina, enabling him to jump aboard the lower, port wing. More Russian soldiers fired on the Avia, as it took off with the rescued pilot clinging to a strut for dear life. Although Martis was shot in the leg and his fuel tank holed by gunfire, he managed to safely reach the SVZ airfield at Tulczyn with a badly wind-blown, but otherwise sound Brezina.

The incident was important, because it for the first time won the favorable attention of Luftwaffe brass, who awarded Martis the Iron Cross Second Class, in addition to the Silver Medal for Heroism he received from his own country. When, merely five days later, another downed flyer was rescued in an identical fashion by a SVZ pilot, Slovak courage featured prominently in the German press.

Still, more than a month was to pass before General Pulanich’s airmen finally confronted the Red Army Air Force on July 29, with inconclusive results, neither side claiming any “kills:” In August, however, fighters of the 12th Letky destroyed three Polikarpov I-16s near Kiev without loss to themselves. While these numbers are not high, the Slovak achievement was nonetheless significant, because the Soviets’ low-wing monoplane Rata was more than 80 mph faster than the Avia double-deckers.

The fighting around Kiev spilled into early September, when 10 B234s attacked 9 of the markedly superior Polikarpovs, shooting down two of them without suffering casualties. A third Rata was destroyed 24 hours later, during a patrol of three Avias above the Dniepr bridge. While no Slovaks had been killed yet on the Eastern Front, their equipment was so badly worn out, continued operations were no longer feasible, and all squadrons were reassigned to the homeland before the close of 1941. Thus ended the purely Slovakian phase of the SVZ’s involvement in World War II. But Hermann Goering had been impressed by these doughty crews, winning victories with patently obsolete aircraft, and offered to provide them pilot instruction for an all-Slovak squadron. Designated 13 (slow)/JG 52, it would be attached to a Luftwaffe unit (II. JG 52) with its own Messerschmitt-109s.

Accordingly, 19 Slovakian students arrived at Karup airfield in occupied Denmark on February 25, 1942, to complete their conversion training some four months later, when they were transferred on behalf of advanced combat instruction in Piestany. They finally left during October for their new operational base at Maikop, where they awaited the arrival of their fighters. The aircraft were something of a disappointment: outdated Messerschmitt-109Es, scarred veterans of the Battle of Britain. Some, in fact, were repaired crash victims. Undeterred, the Slovaks were committed to proving themselves and dressed their seasoned Emits in the new national insignia of a dark blue cross outlined in white with a red disc at the center.

On November 29, just two 13 (slow)IJG 52 Messerschmitts took on nine Polikarpov Chaikas, shooting down three of them, suffering no losses of their own. During the weeks that followed, the Slovaks escorted Luftwaffe Junkers-88 and Heinkel-111 bombers, and undertook ground attacks against enemy transportation. They were rewarded by Goering in mid-December when he replaced their used-up Emits with the much-improved Messerschmitt Me-109F-4. The Slovak pilots immediately took to this more up-to-date model, as evidenced by their escalating number of kills. The Friedrichs came just in time, because the Soviets were replacing their out-moded Chaikas and Ratas with far better Yaks, Migs, and Lavochkins. It was at the controls of 109Fs that the first Slovakian aces began to make their impact on the Eastern Front during early 1943.

While flying Avia biplanes, they were fortunate to get a crack at the enemy. Now, pilots such as Jan Reznak, Jan Gerthofer, and Jozef Jancovic were competing among themselves for the position of Top Gun. As testimony to the desperate measures undertaken by Red flyers to destroy their Slovak opponents, Jancovic returned to base after a memorable encounter on January 20, when a Polikarpov 1-16 left part of its wing embedded in his own aircraft! The Rata pilot had attempted to ram Jancovic head on.

A rapidly growing tally of successful sorties collected by the Slovaks yet again caught Hermann Goering’s eye, and he re-equipped their squadron with the latest Messerschmitt Me-109G-4s. These state-of-the-art warplanes and their crews were soon put to the test when they were moved from Maikop to an airfield on the Taman Peninsula. According to CO stotnik (captain) Jozef Palenicek, “In the sector to which the squadron has been assigned, enemy air activity has increased to such an extent that pilots-mainly on escort flights-have to engage with forces up to nine times more numerous”‘

The Red Army Air Force mounted a maximum effort for undisputed ascendancy over the Kuban, a region of southern Russia surrounding the Kuban River on the Black Sea between the Don Steppe, Volga Delta, and Caucasus. It was here that Stavka, the Soviet high command, intended to break the Axis on the Eastern Front. Never before had the Slovak airmen been caught up in such ferocious and relentless engagements, which intensified throughout March, when one of their leading aces, čatár “Jozo” Jancovic, was killed. Reznak likened him to “a bird of prey, who never took any account of his own safety in air combat;’ a recklessness that prevented him from noticing a Lavochkin interceptor while attacking Shturmovik bombers.’ Although pulled from his crashed landing, Jancovic died of his injuries soon after at a Zaporoshskaya field hospital.

He had at least lived long enough to celebrate his squadron’s 50th confirmed victory on March 21, when podporučík Gerthofer splashed a Petlyakov Pe-2 into the Black Sea. This victory was also the first Peshka dive-bomber claimed by 13 a success that drew widespread congratulations, including a personal telegram from Reichsmarshal Goering. His chief of the air department at the Deutsche Luftwaffenmission in der Slowakei, Oberleutnant Ignacius Weh, reported after inspecting the Taman base, “the Slovak fighter squadron is delighted to fight:”

Slovakian Air Force WWII Part II

Messerschmitt Bf.109E-4 Unit: 13.Letka Eastern Front, December 1942.

Heinkel He.111H-10 Unit: 51.Dopravni letka Tri Duby, Slovakia, July 1943.

Praga E-39G The E-39G taking part in Training Courses of SVZ (Slovenske Vzdusne Zbrane = Slovak Air Forces) based in Piestany in 1941. Note the yellow painted fuselage bow and the yellow fuselage band in the same colour.

Messerschmitt Bf.109G-6/R3 Unit: 13 Letka Serial: 7 (W.Nr.161742) June 1944.

As some measure of the intense struggle for Kuban airspace, 13 (slow)IJG 52 doubled its total number of “kills” in little more than a month. Aviation historian Rajlich writes that two pilots often managed “to destroy as many as four aircraft each in a single day”6 They cite the redoubtable Gerthofer, who shot down a pair of Lavochkins, one Shturmovik, and a U.S. Boston medium-bomber, all on April 24. Five days later, four Yak-1 fighters fell one after the other under the guns of rotnik (staff sergeant) Izidor Kovarik. These achievements were widely publicized back home, where the crews were popularly revered as “the Tatra Eagles;’ after the high mountain range bordering Poland.

Continuous Slovak and German air victories resulted in unacceptable losses for the Soviets, who gradually relinquished their bid for the Kuban, and the focal point of the Eastern Front gradually shifted away toward a confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers around the city of Kursk. As history’s greatest tank battle got under way there on July 4, a Petlyakov bomber burst into flames under the accurate marksmanship of nadporucik (first lieutenant) Vladimir Krisko. It was not only his ninth and last success, but the final victory won by13 (slow)/ JG 52’s first team members, who were sent home after a grueling eight months of combat. They were relieved by crews whose average age was just 24 years old, although each pilot benefited from more extensive training.

Their preparation was soon apparent in the 48 enemy aircraft that fell under their guns during the first 12 weeks of engagement. Moreover, the Soviets’ venerable Polikarpovs and Yaks were being replaced by American Aircobras and British Spitfires, which could match the Messerschmitt-109 in many particulars. It was especially to their credit then, that the airmen of 13 (slow)IJG 52 could celebrate their 2,000th combat mission on August 28. In October, they moved to Bagerovo airfield, west of Kerch, where its strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, an area soon to be hotly contested between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army.

But the Slovaks were more concerned for the immediate protection of their homeland, which had recently come within striking capabilities of long-range U.S. heavy-bombers after Allied forces occupied airfields along the eastern Italian peninsula. Goering gave the Tatra Eagles leave to dissolve 13 (slow)IJG 52 and return home, but not before a Lavochkin La-5 fighter fell into the Kerch Channel under the guns of rotnik Frantisek Hanovec, as a parting shot at the Soviets, and the last Slovak aerial victory on the Eastern Front.

Since August 1941, the Slovaks accounted for 221 confirmed, plus 29 unconfirmed “kills;’ in more than 2,600 sorties. These numbers are aside from very many ground attack, anti-partisan, reconnaissance, and escort duties additionally undertaken during some 16 months of combat. Their achievement seems particularly remarkable when we learn that it was accomplished by less than 100 pilots, only 4 of whom were killed. Seventeen became aces, shooting down at least five enemies each. Such statistics speak to the high skill and determination of the Slovak airmen, who usually fought against opponents that not only outnumbered them, but flew warplanes, which, later in the war, technologically matched their own.

As the Slovak veterans returned to their country, however, they found conditions changed, and not for the better. During the previous two years, Soviet intelligence had waged a concerted campaign to infiltrate Slovakia with numerous covert operatives, who prepared the ground for revolt. They found the general population, and especially the peasantry, still favorably disposed to the Tiso regime, but made important allies among urban residents and the aristocracy, which in large measure controlled the nation’s armed forces. Importantly assisting the agents was Germany’s deteriorating military situation, which certain SVZ commanders hoped to use for disengaging Slovakia from the war.

Meanwhile, the former 13 (slow)IJG 52 crews were formed into a new unit, the “Readiness Squadron;’ for homeland defense on January 31, 1944. It began with shining hopes for the future, and among the brightest was its outstanding pilot, zastavnik (master sergeant) Izidor Kovarik, the nation’s second-highest-scoring ace with 28 confirmed kills. In April, he transferred as an instructor at the Tri Duby flying school, where he and his student died the following July 11 in the crash of his Gotha Go 145 biplane trainer after the structural failure of its upper wing. His loss was a terrible blow to the entire SVZ and particularly to his comrades in the Readiness Squadron.

Their 11, aging Emils and three Avias were almost hopelessly inadequate as interceptors, so Goering rushed 15 new Messerschmitt Me109G-6s straight from their Regensburg factory to Piestany, plus the first of some 25 Stukas. A trio of Junker Ju-87Ds arrived in time for the Soviet spring offensive against the Carpathian Mountains at the country’s eastern border. The SVZ-flown Doras operated with three more Letov bombers out of Spisska Nova Ves in numerous ground-attacks on the advancing Red Army.

In June, a dozen more dive-bombers were received-mostly older B and D models (some unarmed for use as trainers)-plus five, factory-fresh D-5s. A final 11 Doras arrived from Germany the following August. But as the U.S. bomber streams overflew Slovakia, they went unopposed by Readiness Squadron fighter pilots, who stayed well beyond firing range. They were under secret orders by the treasonous Minister of National Defense (!) and Chief of Staff of Land Forces to save themselves for an anti-German insurrection in the making. A few commanding officers were briefed of these plans; most pilots were not, but nonetheless forced to obey orders. Their passive resistance to the enemy came to a head on June 16, when Bratislava was attacked by Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated B-24 Liberators for the first time. The capital city suffered extensive damage, and 717 men, women, and children were killed, with another 592 injured.

The Readiness Squadron pilots in their new Messerschmitts had been eye-witnessed by too many civilians circling far out of harm’s way. A pair of bombers destroyed by loyal anti-aircraft gunners were the only intruders shot down. Popular reaction was outraged, with loud denunciations of disloyalty hurled at the airmen. Luftwaffe observers condemned them as cowards. Stung by these accusations, Deputy CO nadporucik Juraj Puskar ignored the orders of his scheming superiors to lead a full-scale attack against the next American bomber formation 10 days after the Bratislava raid. In what was to be the greatest Axis aerial opposition over Slovakia, 203 Luftwaffe interceptors were joined by 30 Hungarian fighters and 8 Tatra Eagles.

They arose to confront more than 500 Flying Fortresses and Liberators protected by 290 P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs on their way to strike oil refineries and depots in the vicinity of Vienna. Puskar and his pilots dove into the air armada, but only rotnik Gustav Lang broke through its ring of escorts to fire on a single B-24 that crashed at Most na Ostrove. His Messerschmitt was immediately thereafter riddled with .50-caliber rounds fired by USAAF fighters. Three of his remaining seven comrades were killed in short order by overwhelming numbers of the enemy, another was gravely wounded, and all their aircraft gunned down. The Readiness Squadron had been shattered.

In late August 1944, armed forces’ plotters made their move to overturn the Tiso regime and expel German forces from Slovakia. Their action, according to Milan S. Durica, Slovakia’s leading historian, was less the “national uprising” portrayed by postwar Communist propaganda and picked up by uncritical scholars in the West, than a collection of criminals armed and organized by Soviet agents.’ In any case, after two months of chaos during which Slovakian peasants were predominantly the defenseless victims of murder and looting, it petered out, as much for lack of popular support, as for the intervention of Wehrmacht troops, who were more often than not welcomed and aided by the rural populace in hunting down the bandits. The revolt was chiefly notable for one of the few combat successes achieved by the insurgents, when an Avia flown by Frantisek Cyprich shot down a German Junkers Ju-52 transport plane with Hungarian markings on September 2. The elderly trimotor was unarmed, its crew unaware that any “national uprising” had taken place.

Earlier, on February 15, 1942, President Tiso’s Ministry of Defense began organizing and recruiting for an airborne infantry aimed at striking important targets not otherwise accessible deep behind enemy lines. These would include Red Army headquarters, fuel and ammunition depots, and railway centers. By October, the first volunteers had been selected for the Junior Air Cadets’ School at Trencianske Biskupice, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Juraj Mesko. His men were trained as infantry sappers in close-quarter combat, sabotage, demolitions, and field communications.

The pace of their instruction was slowed by lack of sufficient aircraft and basic supplies, due to exigencies of the Eastern Front. But June 12, 1943, Mesko and three top-scoring classmates-Jozef Lachky, Ladislav Lenart, and Jozef Pisarcik-were provided officer training at the Deutsche Fallshirmjagerschule II (German Paratrooper School-II), in Wittstock-Dosse, 60 miles northwest of Berlin. There, they were familiarized with equipment and tactics and learned the Fallschirmjager’s Ten Commandments:

1. You are the elite of the Wehrmacht. For you, combat shall be fulfillment.

2. You shall seek it out and train yourself to stand any test.

3. Cultivate true comradeship, for together with your comrades you will triumph or die.

4. Be shy of speech and incorruptible. Men act, women chatter. Chatter will bring you to the grave. Calm and caution, vigor and determination, valor and a fanatical offensive spirit will make you superior in attack.

5. In facing the foe, ammunition is the most precious thing. He who shoots uselessly, merely to reassure himself, is a man without guts. He is a weakling and does not deserve the title of paratrooper.

6. Never surrender. Your honor lies in Victory or Death.

7. Only with good weapons can you have success. So look after them on the principle: First my weapons, then myself.

8. You must grasp the full meaning of an operation, so that, should your leader fall by the way, you can carry it out with coolness and caution.

9. Fight chivalrously against an honest foe; armed irregulars deserve no quarter.

10. Keep your eyes wide open. Tune yourself to the top-most pitch. Be nimble as a greyhound, as tough as leather, as hard as Krupp steel, and so you shall be the Aryan warrior incarnate.’

After two months at Wittstock-Dosse, the young Slovaks returned to their homeland and a new school in Banska Bystrica, at the Tri Duby airport. The 34 cadets underwent intensive instruction, making their public debut on October 30, when they jumped for the first time en masse from a pair of German aircraft before President Tiso near the town of Zilina. The right side of their helmets were then hand-painted (not decaled) with Slovakia’s airpower insignia: a white patriarchal cross standing above three, blue hills with a red sun rising in the background, the same emblem applied to engine cowlings of aircraft operated by Slovak crews. The sleeve of their dress uniform featured the image of a deployed chute on a blue patch encircled by a white band.

During January 1944, the paratroopers pursued advanced training, including night-time jumps-the first exercises of their kind in military history, not even attempted by the German Fallschirmjagern. In February, winter instruction took place near the village of Lieskovec. Before spring, the unit experienced an influx of new members, so much so, they passed abreast in review during Bratislava’s annual Armed Forces’ Day parade on March 14. However, development had been hindered since the group’s inception by a dearth of supplies and aircraft, virtually all of it eventually provided by Germany.

Short on supplies themselves, the Fallschirmjagern spared what chutes, jump smocks, and helmets they could, and Goering dispatched several medium-bombers modified to accommodate 16, fully equipped airborne soldiers each. These were examples of the Heinkel He.111K-20/ R1, among the last production variants of this famous warplane, having entered service when the Slovaks were in need of just such an aircraft. Its spacious, ventral hatch facilitated rapid jumps, and FuBI 2H blindlanding equipment aided night operations in which the paratroopers specialized.

When the “national uprising” erupted in August, some 80 Slovak paratroopers located at Banska Bystrica warded off all attacks on the Tri Duby airport. They and the rest of their comrades later participated in fierce fighting along the Zvolen-Kremnica railway and around the villages of Gajdel, Jasenovo, and Svaty Kriz. A few of Lieutenant Mesko’s men deserted; one, captured by the Germans, was executed, while another, severely wounded, was killed when the truck in which he was being driven to a prisoner-of-war camp infirmary was strafed by USAAF fighters.

After the insurgency was put down, Slovak paratroopers continued to engage the invading Soviets, but with the loss of every Heinkel and no prospect for re-supply, plus the seizure of most airfields by the enemy, their unit’s further existence as an airborne organization was no longer justified, and they disbanded in mid-November.

Although some SVZ pilots, for various reasons, joined the insurgency, Slovakia’s most successful airmen did not. Jan Reznak, his country’s leading ace with 32 confirmed and 3 unconfirmed “kills;’ refused to switch sides. His comrade and friend, Jan Gerthofer (26 “kills”), even though imprisoned by the Germans at Austria’s Stalag XVIIA prisoner-of-war camp, until his release in February 1945, likewise remained loyal to the Tiso regime.

After the war, both men enlisted in the newly reconstituted Czechoslovak Air Force as flight instructors. But their past eventually caught up with them. In 1948, Reznak was discharged for his “negative attitude toward the People’s Democracy”‘ Three years later, he was grounded permanently, when his pilot’s license was confiscated by the State Security Police. By 1951, Gerthofer had become a civil transport pilot, but in June he, too, was forbidden to fly for political reasons, and the highscoring ace was forced to work as a manual laborer.

Critics of Prime Minister Tiso fault him for bringing his country into World War II against even Adolf Hitler’s early advice. Yet, neutrality would not have spared Slovakia from the Red Army that overran all of Eastern Europe in 1945. So too, the Slovakian Air Force could not, alone, fundamentally influence the course of events, due to its numerical disadvantage. Yet, the achievement of its crews was all out of proportion to its relatively small size, and they did, after all, significantly contribute to events on the Eastern Front. As such, they secured an especially high position for gallantry in the history of military aviation.

AFRICA WWII – REFLECTIONS AND REPUTATIONS I

On November 4, the time had come for Eighth Army to pursue a crippled and defeated Axis force. Montgomery was well aware that Rommel’s army was now gravely damaged and in retreat. He launched two armored divisions, the 1st and the 10th, and the New Zealand Division, with an attached armored brigade, in pursuit. The Panzerarmee’s withdrawal presented Montgomery with a priceless opportunity because, according to many German sources, it was poorly conducted. Afrika Korps’ War Diary reported:

Officers of all ranks had lost their heads and were making hasty and ill considered decisions, with the result that confidence had been lost, and in some places panic had broken out. Some vehicles were set on fire on or beside the road, and guns were abandoned or destroyed because there were no tractors for them. A large number of vehicles had left their units and were streaming back without orders.

The Diary also recorded with some surprise, “No contact with the enemy all day.”

The War Diary of the 90th Light Division chronicled similar conditions, admitting that there was “very little discipline during the withdrawal.” It also claimed German transport and supply units were “fleeing in wild panic.” As a result, its withdrawal from Alamein was “very difficult.”

The pursuit phase of the Alamein battle has been strongly criticized by many writers who believe that Montgomery acted with undue caution. The British official history made a perceptive observation that, “Whether they could have captured or destroyed more of the Panzerarmee than they did will be argued as long as military history is read.” This has certainly happened. Alexander McKee accurately stated, “There was no pursuit, merely a follow up.” Correlli Barnett has been one of Montgomery’s harshest critics, believing that Montgomery “signally fail[ed] to take advantage of this astonishing flow of precisely accurate intelligence, which removed all guesswork from generalship” and that his failure to destroy Panzerarmee at Alamein “calls in question Montgomery’s generalship at this stage of his career.” Johnston and Stanley wrote, “The pursuit was poorly planned and confused, a fact Montgomery never acknowledged.” As early as the evening of November 3, Freyberg had warned Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden, 10 Corps commander, that Rommel “will slip away if they are not careful.” The cautious pursuit, including by Freyberg, ensured that this happened.

There was one overriding factor, however, that explains and perhaps excuses Montgomery’s caution. This was the state of his armored corps, his prized corps de chasse. So far in the Alamein battle, 10 Corps had failed in every task it had been allocated, had demonstrated excessive caution, and an inability to follow even the simplest directives. His trust in his armored commanders, especially in 10 Corps commander Lumsden, was “at an all time low.” As it was, this Corps that would be used during the pursuit, it was only natural that Montgomery wanted to keep it on as tight a leash as possible to ensure that it did in fact accomplish even the most limited of tasks assigned to it. John Harding, commanding 7 Armoured Division during the pursuit and “in favour of pressing on all-out, hard as I could go,” thought at the time that Montgomery was being “overcautious” in restraining his armored formations. Harding later changed his mind. “Montgomery was very conscious of the fact that we had already been twice up and twice back and he was determined not to be pushed back for a third time,” Harding said. A third defeat could have prolonged the war in North Africa. “Looking back on it all, I think he was right to be cautious,” was Harding’s conclusion.

And, as John Keegan has pointed out in his history of the Second World War, with the exception of the Soviets’ Operation Bagration, the Allies were never able to encircle and destroy retreating German armies. Montgomery cannot be judged too harshly for not achieving something other British or American commanders were also unable to do when given the opportunity.

Montgomery initially planned to use the New Zealand Division, augmented by an armored brigade, as the main pursuit force. He directed them to the Fuka escarpment some 45 miles to the west. As the New Zealanders set off for Fuka, the British armor of 10 Corps made a series of shorter wheels to the coast of some 10 to 15 miles. But there was a considerable delay before the New Zealanders could get moving. Freyberg recorded about the lull, “The congestion of vehicles in the forward area would have done credit to Piccadilly. Fortunately the RAF ruled the skies.” Montgomery’s fears about his armored formations soon proved justified as the armor “swanned” about the desert out of coordinated control in several fruitless encircling movements. Nor did the New Zealand Division, which de Guingand described as Montgomery’s “mobile shock troops,” demonstrate much dash or daring. Freyberg was especially concerned not to let his division get mauled by the Afrika Korps for the fourth time. He still erroneously estimated Rommel to have a powerful armored force under command. To his subordinate commanders, Freyberg had stated that “the policy is not to fight but to position our force to bottle him.” Freyberg, the commander of the three left hooks carried out by the New Zealand Division, was in no doubt as to the purpose of a left hook and tended to view it as a substitute for heavy fighting—a way of achieving a victory with minimal casualties. The New Zealanders made three attempts to entrap Panzerarmee using the wide encircling “left hook.” All three failed. Kippenberger informed the New Zealand official historian:

You have one or two tricky questions to deal with in this volume, particularly the conduct of the three “Left Hooks” which seem to me to have been clumsily and rather timidly executed. I thought so at the time and am inclined to the same opinion still.

Ironically, both Montgomery’s and Freyberg’s caution, though understandable, was to prove more costly in the long run. As Rommel pointed out, if Montgomery had abandoned his restraint after Alamein, it “would have cost him far fewer losses in the long run than his methodical insistence on overwhelming superiority in each tactical action, which he could only obtain at the cost of his speed.” The failure to prevent Panzerarmee from withdrawing, especially after the Alamein battle, meant much hard fighting ahead with the North African campaign dragging on for another six months.

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There were many reasons for the defeat of the Axis forces at Alamein, not the least important being their weakness in logistics and firepower. Rommel devoted nine pages of his papers analyzing “the decisive battle of the African campaign,” which he had lost. He did this primarily to counter accusations from the armchair strategists that the Axis troops and their commanders had performed poorly at Alamein. Rommel wrote that these accusations came from those whose military careers were “notable for a consistent absence from the front.”16 Rommel attributed his defeat at Alamein primarily to his weak logistics, especially in weapons, fuel, and ammunition and to British air supremacy. The “extreme concentrations” of Eighth Army’s artillery fire and “locally limited attacks” by infantry with an “extremely high state of training” was also important.17 He was especially impressed with the British infantry’s ability to attack at night, writing that “Night attacks continued to be a particular speciality of the British.”18 Rommel finished his analysis by stating that the bravery of all German and many Italian troops “was admirable.” Alamein had been a struggle and a defeat but it was still “a glorious page in the annals of the German and Italian peoples.” But in the end, the enemy was just too strong and their own material resources too small. In this imbalance “lay destruction.”

Other German accounts placed considerable stress on their material weakness at Alamein when compared to the resources available to Eighth Army and the DAF. They seldom gave credit to the performance of Eighth Army’s commanders or soldiers. The War Diary of 15 Panzer Division was especially critical:

The English did not win the battle of Alamein by superior leadership or dash. On the contrary, after their original plan of attack failed they worked their way systematically forward, always probing ahead with the greatest care choosing limited objectives. Often, particularly after our withdrawal from the Alamein line, the enemy failed to perceive or take advantage of good opportunities to destroy German troops.

The main reasons given for the British victory were Eighth Army’s overwhelming artillery firepower and the DAF’s air superiority. The War Diary did admit, though, that Eighth Army’s infantry were stronger and rested and that this infantry was “superior to the Germans, and still more to the Italians, in night fighting.” But Panzerarmee, it stated, had been crushed by the sheer weight of numbers brought against it. Eighth Army’s successful deception plans had convinced Panzerarmee and German military intelligence that its opponents were more than 40 percent stronger than they actually were.

The secretly recorded conversation of a German infantry officer captured on the night of October 29 was particularly revealing about the state of Panzerarmee’s logistics. The lieutenant from 2 Battalion, 125 Infantry Regiment told his cell mate, an officer from submarine U-559:

We’ve been in FRANCE, in the BALKANS, and in CRETE. Throughout the whole of the French campaign my Company only had thirty-five killed and seventy-five wounded. This time there was no way out for us, it was either death or capture. I was right in the front line, about fifty metres behind my platoons. When the infantry came along there was practically nothing more I could do with our 7.65 guns. As for our M.P.’s [Machine Pistols: the German Schmeisser submachine gun], none of them would fire because of the magazine. We’ve had them since 1940. All the springs were bad and we couldn’t get replacements. You can fire one round and that’s all. Our lack of supplies in AFRICA is appalling.

German intelligence officer Hans-Otto Behrendt believed that Ultra intelligence “played a major part” in the defeat of the last German-Italian offensive at Alam Halfa and had played “a crucial part in the sinking of Rommel’s oil tankers and supply convoys.” For the final October battle, though, “The decisive factor now was quite simply the sheer British superiority in tanks, artillery and aircraft for which no amount of tactical skill and self-sacrifice could compensate.”

Certainly, Eighth Army had superior logistics and firepower, tanks that could match the Germans, and the DAF dominated the skies above the battlefield. But it was the way these assets were used that made the critical difference. The Eighth Army’s artillery was concentrated and its firepower coordinated with infantry and armor in a master fireplan. In the twelve days of the battle, Eighth Army’s artillery fired more than one million rounds of twenty-five-pounder ammunition and throughout the battle “some artillery action was occurring all the time, and heavy action for most of the time.” The DAF made extraordinary efforts to support the troops on the ground and was most effective at disrupting enemy concentrations and their communications. During the October battle, the DAF flew 10,405 sorties and their American allies flew 1,181. This compares with just 1,550 German and 1,570 Italian sorties. It made a telling difference and the effect on morale on both sides was critical.

An American study compiled in 1947, written by the German officer Generalmajor Hans-Henning von Holtzendorff, was adamant that Eighth Army’s success at Alamein was primarily through its use of tanks. Von Holtzendorff wrote, “El Alamein was decided by the numerically far superior Panzer forces of the British, which were not dispersed as before, but were now concentrated and to some extent were equipped with American material.” All of these elements made vital contributions to Eighth Army’s victory.

In infantry, though, Eighth Army’s margin was not so pronounced as many historians have claimed, and the October Alamein battle was primarily an infantry battle. While it was a considerable advantage having a materiel superiority over the enemy, it still needed skill, courage, and determination to effectively apply what you had. One thing Eighth Army did in this October battle was to keep the fight going for over a week, which ultimately wore down the Panzerarmee. This was an old-fashioned battle of attrition, but it produced a decisive outcome. The 9 Division’s Report on Operations believed that this was the most crucial “lesson” of the battle. It began this section of the Report with the heading Maintenance of Pressure. Under this heading it perceived:

So often in military history, the battle has gone to the side which had the will or the strength to hang on just long enough to outlast the opponent. By maintaining offensive pressure, the enemy is forced to use his reserves and if this pressure can be maintained until these reserves are used up and he has insufficient resources to meet the new threat, defeat follows.

In this battle, by maintaining pressure by a series of attacks to the north and to the west, the Axis reserves were drawn in and steadily worn down until on 4 November—11 days after it had been planned to occur—penetration was effected.

This pressure was maintained throughout the battle by the numerous sorties of the DAF, the interdiction of Rommel’s supply line by the Royal Navy, and the cooperation of all arms of Eighth Army. An Air Ministry Report recorded that the Alamein battle “demonstrated untold value of good cooperation between all arms and services.”28 It was an old lesson to learn, but this cooperation between arms and services was a critical development. It signified, as Alexander McKee noted, a crucial shift. He wrote of the battle: “At long last the British were learning how to make war—which is not the same thing as fighting.”

There was little doubt, though, that the primary responsibility for breaking the Alamein position had been with the infantry divisions backed by heavy artillery and air support. Freyberg’s report on the El Alamein operations concluded that the “value of well-trained infantry, capable of attacking by night with the bayonet against any form of defence, was fully proved.” Jonathan Fennell was correct in his assessment that the infantry units of Eighth Army were “Montgomery’s main offensive force.” Fennell also observed that in winning this last Alamein battle, “many of the frontline battalions of Eighth Army suffered over 50 per cent casualties.” Being the Army commander’s main offensive weapon came with a heavy cost.

It has been argued that Alamein could not have been won without the contributions of the two elite infantry divisions in Eighth Army identified earlier by Rommel—9 Australian Division operating in the north, and two brigades of New Zealand infantry plus supporting units in the center, and later in the pursuit. That the New Zealanders played a vital role was uncharacteristically recognized by Montgomery:

The Battle of Egypt was won by the good fighting qualities of the soldiers of the Empire. Of all these soldiers none were finer than the fighting men from New Zealand…. Possibly I myself am the only one who really knows the extent to which the action of the New Zealand Division contributed towards the victory.

Montgomery sent the Australian commander a similar message of praise on November 2, just as Operation Supercharge was underway. Montgomery wrote to Morshead that, “Your men are absolutely splendid and the part they have played in this battle is beyond all praise.” General Alexander was also effusive in his praise of the 9th Australian Division when he addressed them at a parade on the Gaza airstrip on December 22. He pointed out that “The battle of Alamein has made history, and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory.” Alexander concluded his address by telling the Australians that “one thought I shall cherish above all others—under my command fought the 9th Australian Division.”35 Churchill too acknowledged in his history of the war that it was the “ceaseless, bitter fighting” that the Australians had endured at Alamein that “had swung the whole battle in our favour.” Twenty-five years after the battle, Montgomery wrote that “it would not be right to single out any for special praise” when all had performed well. But then Montgomery did exactly that, stating, “I must say this—we would not have won the battle in ten days without that magnificent 9th Australian Division.”

It was heady stuff and it was entirely appropriate that the Australians and New Zealanders received high praise for their efforts in the October battle. No historian could ever dispute their key roles. But Montgomery was correct when he gave credit to the fighting qualities of the soldiers of the Empire, although he perhaps should have mentioned the Empire airmen as well. Throughout the battle Eighth Army had “complete protection from serious air attack and, at the same time, had the benefit of such close co-operation and continuous air support as never before.” There were, of course, other formations and corps that contributed significantly to the outcome of the battle. All German accounts comment on the weight and effectiveness of Eighth Army’s artillery. No infantry division made more attacks nor suffered heavier casualties than 51st Highland Division. And while the armored divisions may not have performed as well as Montgomery and the infantry commanders wanted, no formation did more to win the battle than the 9th Armoured Brigade. The New Zealand official history was correct when it stated that “Finally, tribute for the victory should be bestowed on all those Allied troops who had a share in the fighting and behind the lines.”

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It was surprising that General Alexander, in his Despatch published in 1948, was somewhat dismissive of the casualties incurred in this third battle. Alexander claimed that Eighth Army’s losses at El Alamein “were not unduly severe” and later that: “Our casualties were a negligible factor as far as the pursuit was concerned.” But Alexander was comparing Alamein to the attritional battles of the First World War. As he pointed out in his Memoirs, there was “one rather big difference.” At Alamein, casualties averaged just over 1,000 a day. On the first day of the Somme they had numbered “some 60,000.”

As with any battle of attrition, the cost of success was high. Eighth Army suffered 2,350 men killed in action; 8,950 wounded; and 2,260 men missing—a total of 13,560. In addition, 500 tanks and 111 guns were put of action and the DAF lost ninety-seven aircraft during the battle. These are not negligible figures and prove, as the British official history stated, “the battle was anything but a walk-over.” Panzerarmee losses were high too. An estimated 1,149 German and 971 Italians were killed in action, with a further 3,886 Germans and 933 Italians wounded. A more precise figure was recorded for the number of Axis prisoners taken during the battle. By November 11, it had reached 30,000.

The breakdown of Eighth Army’s losses indicates its multinational character. Of the total casualties incurred in the October battle, the percentages suffered by various nationalities were: UK troops 58 percent, Australians 22 percent, New Zealanders 10, South Africans 6, Indians 1, Allies (Free French, Greeks) 3. Two Australian historians have made much of these figures. They write that:

The Australian Division, although representing just under a tenth of the Eighth Army’s strength, had suffered more than one in five of its casualties. Further reports revealed the scale of the Australian contribution to the battle. Thirteen per cent of the 9th Division’s men had been killed or wounded, which is exactly double the British percentage and three times that of the other Dominion formations.

No one could ever question the contribution of the Australians to the final outcome of the battle and their heavy casualties are just one indication of the hard fighting they endured. But using casualty figures as a yardstick of contribution is misleading. It needs to be remembered that the UK casualties were not evenly spread across all its formations and some UK formations, such as the 51st Highland Division and 9 Armoured Brigade, suffered heavier percentage casualties than the Australians. In fact, 51st Highland Division, with 2,827 killed, wounded, and missing, suffered the highest number of casualties during the battle. The bulk of this Division’s casualties were in its nine infantry battalions, which collectively had a casualty rate of around 40 percent. The 2nd New Zealand Division losses had also been heavy, given that it was well understrength before the battle began. More than 1,700 New Zealanders became casualties during this second battle of El Alamein. More than a third of these casualties, some 651, had occurred in the first twenty-four hours of the battle, the highest number suffered amongst the five infantry divisions used on the opening night. Among the 7,350 graves of Allied servicemen in the Alamein cemetery are those of 1,049 known and fifty-six unknown New Zealanders. After the October battle, the New Zealand Division was now below strength by 3,600 men, a deficiency felt especially keenly in the infantry, the artillery, and the engineer corps. It had commenced the long campaign in June with nearly 20,000 men. In November 1942, its strength had almost reached 13,000 again. Niall Barr was correct in his assessment of the human cost of the last Alamein battle. He wrote that, “Eighth Army had finally crushed the Panzerarmee but the human cost to both sides had been grievous.”

Battle of Falciu/Tiganca

Soldat (soldier), Romanian Infantry December 1942 Sergent (cape), Romanian cavalry, 1942 Capitan, Romanian Infantry, late 1941

July 02, 1941 – July 15, 1941

Operation München was the name of the main offensive by the German and Romanian armies on the Prut river, which separate Bessarabia and Bukovina to the north of Romania. The 5th Romanian Army Corps had to establish a bridgehead on the Prut in the Falciu-Tiganca area. After a short artillery initial fire (due to a lack of ammunition), the 6th Romanian Guards regiment crossed river and swamps and engaged Russian units in defense in the heights. The battle lasted 2 weeks with the engagement of infantry and engineer units as well as guards units. Tiganca, Stoenesti, hill 93 and Epureni Hill were the place of fierce combats. On the 15th July, the 5th Army Corps succeeded to clear the bridgehead and carried on his advance. But the battle of Tiganca had cost more of 8 000 losses (KIA and injured) to the two Romanian divisions engaged in the battle.

The 5th Corps, made up of the Guard Division (CO: brig. gen. Nicolae Sova) and the 21st Infantry Division (CO: maj. gen. Nicolae Dascalescu), received the task of establishing a bridgehead over the river Prut in the area opposite of Falciu. It had rained a lot and this only added to the difficulty of offensive. The lunca was flooded and the water barrier was 200-600 m wide.

The initial attack started on 5 July and was carried out by the Guard Division. However it failed. The Romanians had been stopped by the powerful resistance encountered on the Epureni Hill and near the villages Stoenesti and Tiganca. At noon, the 21st Infantry Division received the order to force the river Prut and assist the offensive of the Guard Division. The attack was going to take place during the night. The infantry was supposed to cross on the railroad bridge near Bogdanesti. The artillery was going to remain behind on the right bank, until a bridge could be built at Falciu.

Following his reconnaissance, gen. Dascalescu decided that the attack should be carried out by the 24th Infantry Regiment , with two battalions in the first line. At 1:00 am the troops started to cross the bridge, which had previously been damaged by a bombardment, through the rain. The next day (6 July), the two battalions were ready to attack at 9:00 am. But the bombers which were supposed to assist them did not arrive. At 10:00 am it was decided to start the attack without air support. The airplanes appeared, but at 10:30 and attacked the Romanian troops by mistake. With all the confusion, the 2nd Battalion managed to approach the village of Stoenesti, advancing with difficulty through the marshes in the area. The assistance of the 30th Artillery Regiment was requested, but for unknown reasons it did not materialize. However, at 8:00 pm, the 24th Regiment had already reached the Epureni Hill and the 1st Battalion was assaulting it. The losses of the first day: 26 dead and 166 wounded. Meanwhile, the Guard Division managed to brake the Soviet resistance in front of it and establish a solid bridgehead, through an attack carried out by a detachment of 5 battalions, under the command of col. Alexandru Cozloschi.

During the night, the 24th Regiment had to face a powerful artillery bombardment and then was pushed back. The next day, the attack started at 11:00 am. The fighting lasted until 5:00 pm. The Epureni Hill had been captured. The 11th and 12th Regiments (from the 21st Infantry Division) started to cross the river Prut, and the 6th Guard Regiment ‘Mihai Viteazu’ (from the Guard Division) advanced in the south of the Leca Plateau. But the 24th Infantry had suffered heavy casualties: the 1st and 3rd Battalion were at 50% and the 2nd Battalion at 75%. The recon company had been reduced to 25% its original size. The operation was supported by the 1/2nd Guard Vanatori (infantry) Regiment. The 3rd Battalion attacked through the heavy rain, it crossed the Balacea creek under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire and managed to advance to the western side of the Tiganca Hill., between the villages Stoenesti and Tiganca.

On 8 July, the 11th Regiment entered in the first line south of Tiganca. It was however powerfully assaulted. At about 10:00 am, col. Bardan, the regiment’s Coreported that he was in a desperate situation together with the 1st Battalion. They were almost out of ammo. At noon, it was again attacked. Two companies pulled back, but col. Bardan remained on the position together with 68 men. He ordered the regiment’s flag to be raised and the trumpet sounded the attack. Meanwhile, gen. Dascalescu took over the rest of the 11th Regiment and counterattacked, saving the situation. The 12th Regiment, situated in the area of the Epureni Hill was also attacked, but it stood firm.

On 9 July, the 1/2nd Guard Vanatori Regiment attacked on the direction of Hill 120 – Hill 196 on in the Toceni Hills. After very heavy fighting and numerous Soviet counterattacks, the regiment managed to take Hill 196 at about 5:00 pm. It had advanced 7 km. Two young officers were awarded the ‘Mihai Viteazul’ Order 3rd class, following this action. The fighting continued intensively in the sector of the 21st Infantry Division, where col. Gheorghe Nicolescu, the CO 12th Regiment, died heroically in the line of duty.

The battle reached its climax on 12 July. The Guard Division was strongly attacked in the sector of the 1/2nd and 2/9th Guard Vanatori Regiments. The assault lasted 16 hours. The two regiments held their positions with much difficulty. All the reserves were thrown into the battle, the pioneers and even the command groups. The violence was extreme. Hand to hand combat was frequent. The example of the 3rd Battalion from the 1/2nd Guard Vanatori Regiment is eloquent. Although almost surrounded on the Cania Hill, it continued to resist on its position. The 21st Infantry Division, reduced to 4 battalions, was also attacked by two Soviet divisions, but it stood firm.

The Combat Air Grouping had an important role in the defeat of the Soviet offensive. Between 8:50 am and 5:30 pm, almost 37 tons of bombs were dropped on Soviet artillery positions and concentration areas. 120 sorties were flown, of which 59 were by bombers. The POWs taken stated that the air bombardment caused up to 40% of the casualties suffered by the Red Army that day near Tiganca. Thus the evacuation planed for the night of 12/13 July was cancelled. During the fighting in July, the Combat Air Grouping dropped 134.5 tons of bombs in support of the 5th Corps. The Soviet attacks continued until 14 July, but much weaker. On 15 July, the Guard and 21st Infantry Divisions managed to break out of the bridgehead and advance into Bessarabia. The Battle of Falciu/Tiganca was over. The casualties suffered by the two divisions were very high: 2,743 by the Guard Division and 6,222 by the 21st Infantry Division.

No less than 17 ‘Mihai Viteazul’ Orders, 3rd class, were awarded for this battle, of which 6 posthumously. The highest ranking officer decorated was maj. gen. Nicolae Dascalescu. Apparently, Antonescu took off his own MV order (received during WWI) and gave it to the general, during an inspection. Dascalescu was in fact the first Romanian officer this distinction during WWII (after Antonescu got the 2nd and 1st class). The 21st Infantry Division’s battle flag was also decorated with this award.

Operation München – retaking Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina – 1941

Horthy tries to exit the War

A Honvéd column retreats through eastern Transylvania (the so-called Szeklerland), in the vicinity of Sepsiszentgyörgy (in Rumanian Sfântu-Gheorghe) – as indicated by the road sign – in the autumn of 1944. Note the Steyr RSO (Raupenschlepper Ost) towing a 40 mm Bofors flak cannon, at left, and the opportunist bicyclist who grabbed the opportunity for a free ride.

Following the disaster of the Wehrmacht’s Heeresgruppe Mitte in late June 1944, the Hungarian First Army found itself stripped of all German reserve units from its rear areas, units that were hastily thrown into battle further to the north, against the advancing Red Army. On 23 July, the weakened Hungarian First Army was targeted by a local offensive carried out by Soviet units on the left flank of the First Ukrainian Front.51 The Hungarian lines at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains were overrun on the first day. Within less than a week, the Honvédség units’ resistance collapsed. Soon, the fortified Hunyadi Line was also penetrated at several points. Surviving units withdrew randomly, soldiers occasionally dropping their weapons as they tried to escape the onslaught. Most tanks of the Second Armoured Division had to be abandoned due to lack of fuel. Some semblance of order was to be restored only by public hangings and sporadic summary executions of deserters and panic-mongers.

Because of the defeat of his army, Colonel General Beregfy was removed from command by Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Vörös, replacing him temporarily with Lieutenant General Ferenc Farkas. Thanks to the commanding presence of Lieutenant General Farkas and his firm stance the situation was soon restored in the last days of July and the retreat of the Honvéds stopped. The troops of the First Army were directed towards Hungary’s so-called ‘millenary border’ spanning the wooded Carpathian Mountains’ peaks and passes in the Kárpátalja Region, at the edge of south-western Ukraine. Once regrouped there, the Hungarians mounted a spirited defence, which surprised Army General Ivan Y. Petrov, the new commanding officer of the Fourth Ukrainian Front, and his staff. Further Soviet attacks carried out in the first days of August were repulsed by the Honvéds, entrenched in the Carpathians, with their back to the Hungarian border. Thanks to their last stand, the Red Army could not cross into Hungary proper – at least not yet.

Having realized his country’s desperate situation, the elderly Horthy started to seriously contemplate exiting the war and asking for an armistice in order to save Hungary from being overrun by the Red Army. Therefore, he decided to remove the pro-German Sztójay and offer the prime minister’s portfolio to Colonel General Géza Lakatos, Horthy’s trusted soldier. Parallel to this move, he intended to assemble a new ‘technocrat’ government. However, the reluctant and politically inexperienced veteran general did not aspire to any political limelight and looked for any excuse to avoid Horthy’s offer. The delicate situation was cleared by Dr Veesenmayer, Hitler’s confidante in Budapest. Because the old-fashioned Horthy wanted to perform the cabinet change openly and gentlemanly, he forwarded the list of his appointees to Berlin. Hitler responded immediately through Veesenmayer, refusing the government’s new restructuring and threatening a new military intervention in the case that the change went through. Hitler’s blunt message and its harsh tone as it was conveyed by Veesenmayer deeply offended the proud Horthy, who contemplated immediate resignation and retirement. However, his advisors eventually convinced him not to resign and to stay in power for the sake of Hungary. Due to Hitler’s blackmail, Sztójay stayed in power and the Hungarian government remained un-restructured. Horthy’s opposition to the Germans materialized in the refusal to name a Wehrmacht officer as Chief of Staff of the Hungarian First Army, a position assigned instead to the trusted young Staff Colonel Kálmán Kéri in July; the assignment of the First Army’s command to one of his trusted older generals, Colonel General Béla Miklós on 1 August, in lieu of the right-wing General Beregfy; and the firm order to stop the deportation of Budapest’s Jews to the Third Reich. The far-right Nyilaskeresztes (Arrow Cross) Movement was banned as well, despite Berlin’s obvious displeasure. These top personnel moves in the First Army, along with changes in the leaderships of the Second Army, were done in line with Horthy’s secret plan of leaving the Axis camp at a proper moment, in order to save his country from the imminent disaster.

Parallel to securing his grip on the army, Horthy begun to initiate secret talks with the Allies, even with the mistrusted and feared Russians, in order to obtain acceptable terms for an armistice. His plans were strongly affected by the young Rumanian king’s coup and the unexpected unilateral ceasefire declared by the Rumanian Army against the Allies (including the Soviets) on the night of 23 August 1944. This unforeseen move shifted Hitler’s attention from mistrusted Hungary to his most important East European ally, Rumania, which he thought was a strong supporter in the common fight against Communism.

Horthy immediately realized that the situation had changed dramatically. Following the Rumanians’ ‘betrayal’, the Soviet Army could easily cross the southern Carpathian Mountains – a natural fortress the Hungarian defence strategy was counting on – and invade Hungary from the south-east, through southern Transylvania. He took advantage of the Germans’ weakened position and shift in attention, and forced Veesenmayer to accept the change of government. Accordingly, Colonel General Géza Lakatos, the new prime minister, took office on 29 August. Most of the new ministers were loyal to the Regent, but two were actually German informers, so Veesenmayer was aware of the new cabinet’s every move. Lakatos was an excellent soldier, an honest and straightforward man, but a political novice not suitable for the new high-stakes position during those turbulent times. Initially refusing Horthy’s request, he reluctantly accepted the new position and only to obey his superior’s direct order. In contrast, the new Foreign Minister, retired Colonel General Gusztáv Hennyey, was well suited for the key position and greatly assisted Horthy in planning the armistice. The Hungarians’ plans were accelerated by the successful Rumanian coup d’état and the following dramatic change in the military situation at Hungary’s borders.

From 25 August, Rumanian troops started local attacks against the Hungarian border posts on the Transylvanian border between the two antagonistic countries, although there was no formal declaration of war issued by Bucharest (this happened only on 7 September). This was the date when the ground war actually reached Hungarian territory. Five days later, Rumanian forces firmly occupied the first piece of land in the ceded northern Transylvania, near Barót (Baraolt). The danger of combined Soviet–Rumanian troops advancing from southern Transylvania prompted the Wehrmacht to declare eastern Hungary, including northern Transylvania, a battle zone. The Germans decided to counter-attack and planned to push the new frontline to the Transylvanian Alps (southern Carpathian Mountains) by overrunning the Rumanian-administered southern Transylvania, hoping to build up a strong defence line in the high mountain peaks.

The joint Honvédség–Wehrmacht offensive started from the area of Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg) on 5 September and initially progressed well against the ineffective Rumanian resistance. However, soon, strong Soviet reinforcements arrived in southern Transylvania, which stopped the Axis advance. A ferocious battle raged in the area of the city of Turda (Torda, Thorenburg), which changed hands several times. Ultimately, the numerically superior Soviet–Rumanian units prevailed and the Hungarian–German troops were pushed back beyond the borderline by 7 October. Nevertheless, the Red Army’s thrust was temporarily stopped, allowing the Axis units to safely evacuate the Székelyföld in eastern Transylvania. The epic battle of Turda, fought mostly by Magyar soldiers, was one of the shining combat feats of the wartime Honvédség.

In the meantime, a separate offensive of the Honvédség in western Transylvania towards Arad started on 9 September 1944. At this point, it involved the IV and VII Corps, as well as the 1st Armoured Division, completed by two replacement field divisions and a replacement Huszár regiment. This force was lead by Lieutenant General vitéz József Heszlényi, commanding officer of IV Corps. The Hungarian Third Army was officially formed only on 19 September 1944, based on the headquarters of IV Corps, led by the same Heszlényi.52 Despite the initial success of the last independent Hungarian operation of the Second World War, the city of Arad, taken on 13 September, had to be abandoned a week later due to the overwhelming Soviet–Rumanian counter-attack.

Colonel General Lajos Veress, commanding officer of the Hungarian Second Army – the principal Honvédség force in Transylvania – despite his personal feelings as a native of Transylvania, being aware of his enemies’ superiority, ordered a general retreat. Kolozsvár, Transylvania’s historical capital, was evacuated by the Honvédség without a fight on 10 October, to avoid its destruction. Even before Kolozsvár fell, the first Soviet troops had advanced beyond Hungary’s pre-war borders on 24 September. In early October, the Red Army engaged the defenders in the puszta (Hungarian plain), planning a speedy occupation of the whole of eastern Hungary and targeting the capital itself, which they planned to capture ‘on-the-go’. However, the Soviets did not succeed in quickly overrunning eastern Hungary and taking Budapest swiftly, as originally planned. The task given by Stalin to Marshal Rodion Y. Malinovsky, to capture Budapest by the end of October and thus open the road to Vienna, proved to be a total failure. He actually needed another three and a half months to achieve that goal.

The Soviet Army’s advance into Hungary proper prompted Horthy to speed up his effort to take his country out of the war. The 76-year-old Regent had realized a while ago that the war was lost and the only way to save his country being used as a theatre of war by both the Germans and the Soviets, who would plunder and destroy it in trying to achieve their own respective goals without paying much attention to the Hungarians themselves, was to achieve a separate armistice with the Allies. Therefore, despite what certain post-war Hungarian sources claim, the real power behind the movement to take Hungary out of war was the elderly Regent. To achieve this he was ready to talk even to the loathed Soviets, as he realized that the Danube Basin was to be a Soviet zone of influence and he could not rely on the support of the Western Allies. Horthy planned to achieve a truce with the Soviets, declare an armistice, and then persuade the Germans to leave Hungary voluntarily, transferring the country into a transition zone for the Soviet Army rather than into a battlefield. His plans were obviously naïve, out of touch with reality.

To achieve these steps, first he tasked Colonel General in Reserve vitéz István Náday, known for his pro-British views, to clandestinely fly aboard a German-marked Heinkel He 111H transport to Italy and initiate peace talks with them.53 The aircraft took off from Csákvár secondary landing ground on 22 September. After the pilot failed to locate an airport where he could safely land, he eventually belly landed in darkness, near Termoli, in Foggia province. However, the mission failed, as the Allies refused direct talks, and directed Budapest towards Moscow. When this situation became known to Horthy, he clandestinely sent a delegation led by vitéz Gábor Faragho, Inspector of the Police and Gendarmerie, to the Soviet Union. The freshly promoted Colonel General and his small team arrived in Moscow, via Slovakia, on 1 October. The Soviets welcomed the Hungarian truce delegation, but did not accept their peace offer, modelled after the Finnish armistice. Instead, the Soviets insisted on the Rumanian model, which had more severe terms. This model did not assure neutrality for Hungary, as requested by Horthy, but rather an instant change of sides and immediately fighting the Germans alongside the Red Army. Moreover, Stalin made it clear that all recent territorial changes would be reversed, although he left a minor hope for the Hungarians by declaring that ‘all Transylvania, or a larger part of it, shall be returned to Rumania’. Indeed, Stalin was not interested in keeping the Hungarian ruling elite in power, as he wanted radical change and a different social order. He was also primarily interested in reaching Austria as soon as possible through Hungary, so that the Red Army could occupy that country before the Allies. A secondary goal was to secure a sizeable port on the Adriatic Sea. Therefore, he intended to use the Hungarian troops only as cannon fodder against the Germans, without actually guaranteeing anything in the so-called peace offer. Small wonder Budapest was reluctant to accept these unfavourable terms.

Following a few days of indecision, General Faragho eventually signed the Soviet-dictated armistice at the Kremlin, on 11 October, after being reluctantly accepted by the Hungarian Crown Council the day before. Horthy had no choice but to accept all terms, as formulated by Moscow. He actually planned to carry out all terms, except for one – an immediate attack on German troops. The old-fashioned Horthy, with his gentlemanly manners and way of thinking rooted in the nineteenth century, could not accept the betrayal of his comrades-in-arms, despite the many disappointments they caused. He still hoped for a solution by persuading the Germans to leave Hungary without a fight, based on a gentlemen’s agreement, despite his personal contempt against Hitler and, generally, the Nazis. He was also well aware that his troops would not fight their German allies even if ordered by him, in contrast to what the Rumanian soldiers did following their king’s call. His emissaries established contact also with the leftist opposition, united in the so-called Hungarian Front, asking for their active support. Horthy even planned to cede powers to new people, more suitable for a radically changed situation, realising that his time as a ruler under any circumstances was now over.

However, by early October, Berlin became aware of the Hungarians’ intentions to bail out. To counteract a possible repetition of the Rumanian betrayal, the German headquarters drew up a plan, code named Operation Panzerfaust (Armoured Fist). In planning this operation, the Germans relied not only on their own men, but on several key Hungarian figures as well, most notably General Károly Beregfy, the deposed commander of First Army, and Ferenc Szálasi, the leader of the extremist Arrow Cross movement (officially called Nyilaskeresztes Párt–Hungarista Mozgalom, or Arrow Cross Party–Hungarist Movement). After establishing general details of the plan to counteract the Hungarian escape from the Axis camp, the Germans decided to wait for the Regent’s next step.

In the meantime, Horthy proceeded with his own plan. He ordered several Honvédség units he believed could trust to the capital, placed on alert the few huszár elements available in the country (the division was returning from Poland), and told the palace bodyguards and the Danube Flotilla – the only notable force stationed in the capital – to be prepared for any eventuality. It has to be noted that of these forces, only the bodyguards could be realistically counted on, but their meagre number was far from sufficient for such a large scale plan. These actions did not escape Berlin’s attention, however. They made steps so Operation Panzerfaust could be started at any moment. Parallel to this, the Arrow Cross party members also started to organise. The party’s second in command, retired Major Emil Kovarcz, mobilized and armed party members, ready to counteract any attempts to take Hungary out of the war. By mid-October, all three sides were ready to act, or counter-act.

The apparent but tensioned lull was dispersed by the first act preceding the Hungarian coup attempt on 15 October – which happened to be a pleasant autumn Sunday. At 8:30 in the morning, the Gestapo’s civilian-clad secret agents, supervised by a certain ‘Dr Wolff ’, a pseudonym of the famous SS-Hauptsturmannführer Otto Skorzeny, kidnapped Miklós Horthy jr (Operation Micky Maus), the Regent’s sole surviving son. He was the political leader of the forces preparing the change and the commander of the army corps stationed in Budapest, instrumental in Horthy’s plans. This way, the Germans could also blackmail ‘Micky’s’ elderly father. An hour later, General Vörös arrived at the palace with the ultimatum signed by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, Chief of Staff of OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres). Guderian declared the whole territory of Hungary as a combat area, where only the German Army headquarters was allowed to issue orders to military units, including the Honvédség. Regardless of these ominous facts, Horthy stuck to his plan. At 11:00, he declared his intention to exit the war and ask for an armistice in front of the Supreme Crown Council. All his ministers individually agreed to Horthy’s plan. Later, he ordered the Prime Minister, General Lakatos, to carry out his orders.

At noon, the Regent called Veesenmayer to his office and informed him of his intentions, including the denunciation of the alliance with the Third Reich and declaration of a ceasefire with the Soviet Army. The German plenipotentiary was not expecting Horthy to make a deal with the Soviets and asked him to reconsider his action. Horthy refused and at 13:10 he delivered a speech on the national radio station. He declared on the airwaves that the war was lost, demanded that the Wehrmacht leave the country and asked for an armistice with the Soviets. Even before the last sentence was aired, the Germans initiated Operation Panzerfaust. They closed all transmission points in an attempt to hinder the transfer of Horthy’s instructions to Honvédség units throughout the country. The orders were nevertheless aired through the second broadcast of the Regent’s proclamation to his nation. However, at this stage Horthy’s plan stalled. Many Honvédség officers were outraged that they now had to deal with the loathed Soviet Army. Several key officers ordered their men not to put down their arms, but to wait for further orders. Chaos and confusion reigned in the ranks of the Honvédség and all over Hungary. A key role in the confusion was played by General Vörös who, having second thoughts, aired on the radio a further proclamation at 17:20, explaining that Horthy’s proclamation could not be regarded as capitulation and ordering his subordinates to wait for further instructions. Prime Minister Lakatos also hesitated to carry out Horthy’s orders. The contradictory information, rumours and the lack of further firm orders for action confused even the soldiers loyal to the Supreme Commander. The country’s population also reacted with apathy. There were no demonstrations or any mass movements. The leftist leaders did not take the workers out to the streets, as promised. Everybody was waiting passively for events to unfold.

In parallel with the Hungarians’ inactivity, the Germans and their extremist Hungarian allies acted swiftly according to their own plans. Shortly after 16:00, a small joint German/Arrow Cross detachment occupied the main radio station building without a single shot being fired. Party members took over power in several key points of the capital. Soon, they read their own proclamation to the country, announcing that the Arrow Cross movement had taken over power in Hungary. Several pro-Arrow Cross officers arrested their superiors and took over command. Even the trusted Danube Flotilla decided not to lay down arms and continued to fight against the Soviets. Their pro-British commander, Horthy’s former aide, Vezérfőkapitány (Captain-General of the River Forces, equivalent to Vice-Admiral) Dr vitéz nemes Kálmán Hardy, was arrested by his own men. Acting according to the plans of ‘Operation Trojan Horse’, aimed at swiftly occupying Budapest, German tanks, supported by elite troops, mostly Waffen-SS men, took over key positions and aimed their guns on the Citadel’s gates where Horthy was trapped.

Horthy was isolated from the outside world. He was not aware of what was going on in the capital, or the countryside. Due to lack of the expected response from his army and people, he became insecure. His position was worsened by an ultimatum issued by Marshal Malinovsky, commander of Second Ukrainian Front, in which he requested that the Honvédség start attacking the Germans immediately. The tone of the Soviet ultimatum convinced even Horthy and his most faithful men that such a prompt order could not be carried out and that there was only one choice he had left – to negotiate with the Germans. At dawn on 16 October, Horthy was persuaded by Veesenmayer to withdraw his earlier proclamation and reluctantly handed over power to the Arrow Cross party leader Ferenc Szálasi, freshly released from the Citadel prison. Later, the Parliament was informed – without actual proof – that Horthy had resigned and had ordered the Honvédség to continue the fight against the Red Army. Horthy was then ‘invited’ to SS headquarters, where he was kept under ‘honour guard’ until events unfolded according to the Germans’ plans. On 17 October, at 17:00, Miklós Horthy, his family and entourage, boarded a train and headed into German internment in the Hirschberg Castle in Bavaria. With this final act, the elderly Regent’s active involvement in Hungary’s destiny came to an end. Horthy’s son was never released from German captivity and spent the rest of the war in the concentration camp at Dachau until liberation.

Horthy’s ill-conceived and poorly executed plan to step out of war and spare his country further destruction failed less than twelve hours after his proclamation was aired on the radio. As a consequence, Hungary faced a further eight months of Total War and wanton destruction.

The failure of the Hungarian leaders to leave the Axis camp had also a noted effect on the behaviour of the Red Army soldiers in Hungary and their attitude towards the Hungarians, regarding them as the ‘fascist enemy’, similar to the Germans, and dealt with them accordingly.

Hungarian Bf 109s

The first Hungarian produced Me109 – still Ga-4 – was finished on November 21, 1942. Its first flight was on December 30, 1942.

In October 1942, Germany gave Hungary 50 Bf109F-4s, which were used to re-equip Re.2000 units. 40 Ju87D-1s, 30 Ju87D-5s, 6 Bf110G-4s, and 160 Me210s (which the Germans were happy to get rid of) were added to the Hungarian Air Group to be used on the Russian Front.

By May 1943, 50 Bf109G-2s re-equipped 2 squadrons armed with F-4s. By May 1944, 4 squadrons on the Russian Front and 6 for home defense (against British and American bombers based in Italy) were armed with G-6s. By December 1944, The Russians were at the door step of Budapest; all 9 remaining squadrons were armed with G-6s. a few surviving squadrons retreated with the Germans and continued to fly G-6s until May, 1945.

Hungarian produced Bf 109s.

If I understand correctly many of the components were manufactured in Germany and major parts like the fuselage where built in Hungary. Of course late war (dispersed) manufacturing techniques might give reason to believe that perhaps aircraft produced in the latter part of the war of Hungarian origin had a higher quality finish, giving them some advantage. On the other hand German aircraft were designed with mass production in mind, and the component concept was highly developed – the penalty could not have been excessive.

Different circumstances

According to an Franz A. Vajda article Mr. Fritz Wendel visited the MWG (and Dunai Repülõgépgyár Rt.) factories in January 1944 and after some test flights he wrote in his report that the Hungarian produced Messerschmitts (both the Bf 109G and Me-210Ca) had better quality than the German produced ones.

There are two possible reason for this:

First, main components for Hungarian produced Bf 109Gs were made in Hungary except canopy frame and armament (and partially the radio equipment and instruments) delivered from Germany. Although the German industry was very well organized, the Hungarians had some advantage, because the Allied bombing raids started “only” on April 3, 1944 against Hungarian Industry. Between 12-1942 and 03-04-1944 approx. 140 Bf 109G-4/G-6s were produced in MWG Gyõr and until 31-03-1944 some 820 DB605A/B engines were produced in Weiss Manfred factories at Budapest / Csepel in peace conditions. After this date Hungarian factories were damaged by MASAF which caused problems in production / assembly and I’m sure in quality too.

Second, in Hungarian aircraft factories most of the employees had some years of experience in aircraft industry and there were no POW’s, only Hungarian workers by profession. (For contrast just think about German V-2 production in Nordhausen / Mittelwerk underground tunnels with slave workers.)

However I think there were no any major differences in quality and performances between the German and Hungarian / Romanian produced Messerschmitts.

Hungarian Bf 109G-14s and G-10s

Most of the Hungarian G-14 and G-10 appear to have been G-14/U4 and G-10/U4, at least their WkNr appear on WNF/Gyor production lists as such.

The Me-109G was the most numerous of the Messerschmitts, with production reaching 725 a month by July 1943, and that year’s total reaching 6,418 aircraft. In spite of Allied bombing raids against German industry, Me-109 production for 1944 reached 14,212. In addition to the Messerschmitts produced in Germany, Hungary built about 700 Me-109Gs under license at Budapest and Györ until September 1944. Romania also began licensed production in the IAR plant at Brasov, but completed only 16 Me-109G-6s and assembled 30 others from German-delivered components before its facilities were destroyed by bombers of the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force on May 6, 1944.

#

In March, 1939, Hungary joined in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, supplying air support to its ground units. The air contingent carried out bombing, recon, and patrol missions, but met no aerial opponents.

Fighters 1/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 27 CR.32
Bombers 3/II Group (sqdn 3,4,5) 27 Ju-86K-2
LR Recon 1 LR group 9 He170A

By December, 1939, Hungary had grown the Royal Hungarian Air Force into the following:

Fighters 1/I Group (sqdn 1,2) 18+6 CR.32
1/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 CR.32
2/I Group (sqdn 1,2) 18+6 CR.42
2/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 CR.42
Bombers 3/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 12+3 Ju-86K-2
3/II Group (sqdn 3,4,5) 12+3 Ju-86K-2
4/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 12+3 Ju-86K-2
4/II Group (sqdn 3,4,5) 12+3 Ju-86K-2
SR Recon 10 sqdns 34 He46 biplanes
51 WM21 biplanes
LR Recon 1 LR group (sqnd 1,2) 16 He170A
Transport 1 sqdn 5 SM.75 (nationalized from airline)

By April, 1941, the RHAF had upgraded to:

Fighters 1/I Group (sqdn 1,2) 18+6 CR.32
1/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 CR.42
2/I Group (sqdn 1,2) 18+6 CR.32
2/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 CR.42
Bombers 3/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 27+9 Ju-86K-2
3/II Group (sqdn 4,5) 18+6 Ju-86K-2
4/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 27+9 Ca.135b
4/II Group (sqdn 4,5) 18+6 Ju-86K-2
SR Recon 11 sqdns 42+14 He46 biplanes
24+8 WM21 biplanes
LR Recon 1 LR group (sqnd 1,2) 18+6 He170A
Transport 1 sqdn 5 SM.75 (nationalized from airline)

In June, 1941, Hungary sent a field army to Operation Barbarossa. Hungary’s Air Force was composed as follows:

Fighters 1/I Group (sqdn 1,2) 18+6 CR.32 (+ field test unit of 9 Re.2000s)
2/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 CR.42 (in process of changing to Re.2000s)
Bombers 4/I Group (sqdn 1,2,3) 27+9 Ca.135b
4/II Group (sqdn 3,4) 18+6 Ju-86K-2
SR Recon 7 sqdns 24+8 He46 biplanes
18+6 WM21 biplanes
LR Recon 1 LR group (sqnd 1,2) 18+6 He170A

Predictably enough, Operation Barbarossa took a big bite out of these aircraft. They were replace by German aircraft, and Germany began to set up aircraft factories in Hungary to produce components and assemble aircraft.

In October, 1942, Germany gave Hungary 50 Bf109F-4s, which were used to re-equip Re.2000 units. 40 Ju87D-1s, 30 Ju87D-5s, 6 Bf110G-4s, and 160 Me210s (which the Germans were happy to get rid of) were added to the Hungarian Air Group to be used on the Russian Front.

By May, 1943, 50 Bf109G-2s re-equipped 2 squadrons armed with F-4s. By May, 1944, 4 squadrons on the Russian Front and 6 for home defense (against British and American bombers based in Italy) were armed with G-6s. By December, 1944, The Russians were at the door step of Budapest; all 9 remaining squadrons were armed with G-6s. a few surviving squadrons retreated with the Germans and continued to fly G-6s until May, 1945.

Aircraft used by the Hungarian Air Force

Arado Ar 79

Arado Ar 96

Avia B.534

Banhidi Gerle

Breda Ba 25

Breguet Bre XIX

Bristol Type 142M Blenheim

Bucker Bu 131 Jungmann

Bucker Bu 181 Bestmann

Caproni Ca. 101

Caproni-Begamaschi Ca. 135

Caproni-Begamaschi Ca. 310 Libeccio

Caudron C. 600 Aiglon

Caudron C. 630 Simoun

de Havilland D.H.60 Moth

DFS 230

DFS Kranich

Dornier Do 17

Dornier Do 23

Dornier Do 215

EMESE EM-29

Fabian Honved

Fabian Levente

Fiat CR.32

Fiat CR.42 Falco

Fiat G.12

Fieseler Fi 156 Storch

Focke Wulf Fw 56 Stosser

Focke Wulf Fw 58 Weihe

Focke Wulf Fw 189

Focke Wulf Fw 190

Fokker C.V

Fokker D.VII

Gotha Go 145

Gotha Go 242

Heinkel HD-22

Heinkel He 45

Heinkel He 46

Heinkel He 111

Heinkel He 112

Heinkel He 170

Hirtenberger HS-9

IAR 37

Ilyushin Il-2

Junkers Ju 52

Junkers Ju 86

Junkers Ju 87

Junkers Ju 88

Klemm L 25

Klemm Kl 35

Loczy Hungaria

Manfred Weiss WM 10/13

Manfred Weiss WM 16B Budapest

Manfred Weiss WM 21 Solyom

Meridonali Ro 37

Meridonali Ro 41

Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun

Messerschmidt Bf 109

Messerschmidt Bf 110

Messerschmidt Me 210 C1

Messerschmidt Me 210 Ca1

Nardi FN.305

Nardi FN.315

North American NA-57

Polikarpov PO-2

Potez 25

Potez 63.11

Praga E-39

P.Z.L. P.11

Reggiane Re.2000 Ariete

RWD 8

Savoia-Marchetti S.M.75 Marsupiale

Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79 Sparviero

Siebel Si 204

Varga Kaplar

Yakovlev UT-2

Yakovlev Yak-4

Zlin XII

Zlin 212