Lt. Col. Heinrich “Pritzl” Bär leads
the Focke-Wulf FW-190s of Jagdgeschwader 3
after Hawker Typhoons of RAF No. 168 Sqn., 143 Wing.
Eindoven, Netherlands. 1-1-45.

On New Year’s Day 1945 the German Air Force launched its final offensive: an aerial Battle of the Bulge

by Don Hollway

Appearing in the March 2015 issue of AVIATION HISTORYmagazine

“Operation Bodenplatte”
by Nicholas Trudgian

Me109s and Fw190s of JG-3 hurtle across Eindhoven for 23 minutes, while Spitfires from 414 Sqn RCAF fight back
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British newsreel

On New Years morning, 1945, Allied pilots in Northwest Europe might have expected to see pink elephants before they saw Nazi aircraft. Since the Normandy invasion, RAF and USAAF fighters had driven the Luftwaffe from the skies. Poor late-December weather had hindered efforts to counter the German Ardennes offensive, but with the new year dawning cold and clear, all that prevented a renewed Allied aerial assault was aircrew hangovers.

“The first hours of 1945 were spent letting in the New Year, wishing each other all the best and having a few beers,” recalled Leading Aircraftsman Desmond Shepherd, an armorer with RAF 137 Sqn. at Eindhoven, Holland. “…After breakfast I was crossing the runway, going toward the armoury….At that moment I heard gunfire. Looking up the runway I saw what looked like an Me262 jet go streaking above my head. This was closely followed by several FW190s, and coming in the other direction were several Me109s. I threw myself down onto the grass at the side of the runway.”

Sgt. Peter Crowest, an RAF air controller at Ursel, Belgium, reported for duty at 0900 hours. “We barely had time to judge the extent of our hangovers from the ‘night before’ when we heard and saw a squadron of low flying fighters approaching. An enquiry from my CO as to whether we were expecting Spitfires was answered when I said they were not Spitfires but Focke-Wulf 190s. Moments later I was firmly gripping the ground!”

With Germans fighters raking his field at Knokke, Belgium, Sqn. Ldr. G. Dickinson put through an urgent call to headquarters, only to be told, “This is January 1st, old boy, not April 1st.” Then he heard, “My God, the bastards are here!” and the line went dead. Anyone receiving all the reports of simultaneous attacks all across Northwest Europe might have thought the Luftwaffe was attacking all at once, and would very nearly have been right.

Read about it in the March 2015 issue of AVIATION HISTORY magazine

“Unhappy New Year”
by David Pentland

Lt. Col. Heinrich “Pritzl” Bär leads the Focke-Wulf FW-190s of Jagdgeschwader 3 against Eindoven, Netherlands.
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General of Fighters Adolf Galland had long seen the futility of battling fighters while bombers devastated German cities. He wanted to concentrate his forces beyond enemy escorts’ reach and attack the bombers all at once: a Grosser Schlag, Great Blow. New long-range Allied fighters, however, left no place for such a blow to be struck. By October 1944 Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, feeling Hitler’s wrath, blamed everything on his fighter pilots and their general in particular. “Mustangs are practically doing training flights over Bavaria,” he railed, tearing off Galland’s medals in front of all his men. “I'll put them back on when your damned fighter pilots start shooting planes down again.”

Galland’s Great Blow was handed over to Brig. Gen. Dietrich Peltz. What Galland was to fighters, Peltz was to bombers: an experienced Junkers Ju-87 Stuka and Ju-88 ground-attack expert. Plus, at just 30 years old, he was ambitious and loyal, and obsequious where Galland was obstreperous. Instead of a Great Blow in the air, Peltz wanted to destroy Allied fighters before they ever took off.

Targeted Allied bases (blue) were outnumbered 2-1 by attackers' German bases (red).
Mouse over for base info. Switch to satellite view & zoom to see modern bases & former sites. (Some no longer exist.)

In the early hours of Jan. 1st, four Arado Ar-234 jets overflew Brussels and Liège, dropping nuisance bombs—the world’s first night raid by jet bombers—but their role in Bodenplatte was limited.

Focke Wulf Fw 190 D-9 “Blue 13” of 3./JG 2 “Richthofen” during Operation Bodenplatte
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Me-262s of Kampfgeschwader 51 claimed to have bombed Gilze-Rijen and Einhoven but were more useful in post-strike camera reconnaissance.

Captain William “Whiz” Whisner in his Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine” leads Red Section of the 487th FS 352nd FG up over Asch, Belgium in “The Battle for New Years Day” by Nicholas Trudgian.
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Reichsverteidigund: “Defense Of The Reich” stripes

As early as January, 1944, JG 1, JG 3 and JG 27 began using single-color fuselage bands to distinguish their aircraft from other Geschwaders. JG 11, JG 300 and JG 301 soon followed their example. After the D-day invasion in June 1944, and expecially fighter units were reorganized in October, 1944 for defense of the Reich, the use of the fuselage band increased. Luftwaffe fighters began wearing distinctive stripes on their after fuselages and later around the cowling just behind the spinner. The size of the bands varied, JG 1 and JG 27 being wide and JG 3 being quite narrow, but the standard width was 900 mm. As more and more German units began adopting these markings, they became known as “Reichsverteidigund” or “Defense Of The Reich” bands.

Hawker Typhoon Mk.Ib

F/Lt. Howard P. “Gibby” Gibbons was returning to Eindhoven from a shakedown flight in QC-D when JG 3 attacked. Gibbons was seen to get behind a Focke-Wulf and blow its tail off. No sooner had the 190 crashed, however, than three 109s bounced Gibbons, who was shot down and crashed near his victim. He was listed KIA.

Hawker Typhoon Mk.Ib

F/Lt. Howard P. “Gibby” Gibbons was returning to Eindhoven from a shakedown flight in QC-D when JG 3 attacked. Gibbons was seen to get behind a Focke-Wulf and blow its tail off. No sooner had the 190 crashed, however, than three 109s bounced Gibbons, who was shot down and crashed near his victim. He was listed KIA.

Spitfire XVI

Flown by F/Lt. Dave Harling, C.O. 416 Sqn RCAF, the only member of his unit to make it off the ground at Brussels-Evere. He shot down one Fw-190D of JG26 before two others shot him down over Brussels. Harling had been awarded the DFC days earlier, finished his tour and on New Year’s Eve requested a 25-hour extension. Later Mk. IX and XVI Spitfires had “tear-drop” canopies, but SM304 was one of the earlier models.

P-51D Mustang

Taking off in “Petie 3rd,” Lt. Col. John C. Meyer of the 352nd FG shot down an Fw-190 of JG11 before his wheels were completely raised.

P-47D “La Mort”

“La Mort” was flown by Lt. Melvyn Paisley of the 366th FG “Hun Hunters” when he downed an Me-109 using unguided air-to-ground rockets

Focke-Wulf FW-190 A-8

Flown by 19-year-old Gefrieter Walter Wagner of 5./JG 4. Bodenplatte was his third and last mission of the war. Downed by anti-aircraft fire at St. Trond, he made an emergency landing. His “White 11” was repaired and closely studied by the Americans.

Focke-Wulf Fw-190D-9

Flown by 101-victory ace Col. Josef “Pips” Priller when he led JG 26 and III./JG 54 in the attack on the Allied airfields at Brussels-Evere and Brussels-Grimbergen. Priller survived Bodenplatte and later took part in the infamous “Revolt of the Aces.”

Messerschmitt Me-109K-4

Shown in the markings of Geschwaderkommodore, JG 77.
Maj. Siegfried Freytag had just taken over JG 77 on Dec. 25th. He scored his 102nd and last victory, a Spitfire, over Deurne during Bodenplatte. After the war, with all his family and friends dead and his family property near Danzing annexed by Poland, Freytag joined the French Foreign Legion and fought as an infantryman in Indochina, Algeria and Djibouti, retiring in 1970.

Arado AR-234B

Six Arados of Kampfgeschwader 76 at Münster-Handorf attacked Gilze-Rigen, but caused no damage and took no losses

Junkers Ju-88G

Ju-88 night fighters were flown to guide inexperienced day-fighter pilots to their targets before dawn. This Ju-88G of Nachtjadgeschwader 6 had its tail painted to mimic a less dangerous Ju-88C

Grimbergen, Belgium

The “long-nose” Fw-190D, powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 Junkers Jumo 213A, was still new to the Allies in January 1945. Lt. Theo Nibel of JG 54 was downed at Grimbergen by a bird strike to his radiator. Had he been flying an air-cooled FW-190A he might have escaped. Nibel’s “Black 12” was the first 190D captured more or less intact, and the subject of intense study.

JG 6 over Eindhoven

JG 6 Horst Wessel was intended to strike Volkel, some 30 kilometers northeast of Eindhoven, but lost their Ju 88 pathfinder and became separated. The Messerschmitts of II and II Gruppe blundered over B.88 Heesch, a brand-new Allied-built airbase which they didn’t know existed. In their surprise they completely overflew the field without firing more than a few hasty shots. They next wandered over B.88 Helmond, which was still under construction, but protected by two regiments of antiaircraft. Geschwaderkommodore Oberstleutnant Johann Kogler, among others, was shot down. He bellied-in his Fw 190 A-9 seven kilometers west of Sevenum. His job as Gesch Komm was taken over by Maj. Gerhard Barkhorn.

Meanwhile, pilots of I./JG 6 were attracted to the smoke coming off Eindhoven due to the attack by JG 3. In FW 190 A-9 “Red 12,” Hauptmann Ewald Trost, Staffelkapitän of 2./JG 6 made three strafing runs and was coming about for a fourth when he was hit by what he thought was flak and bellied in about seven klicks north of Eindhoven. He had actually been shot down by Sgt. W.R. Large and F/Sgt. C.J. McGee, No. 438 Sqn. ground crew, using a pair of .303 Bren guns; Trost's wounds were from bullets.

During Bodenplatte Volkel was only visited by a few stray German aircraft. JG 6’s attack was a total failure, and it lost 16 pilots killed and seven taken prisoner—some 43% of its strength. A few days later it was withdrawn and prepared for transfer to the Eastern Front.

Melsbroek, Belgium

Ghent/Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Belg.

No. 131 (Polish) Wing flew mainly ground support missions and rarely engaged German aircraft. On New Years morning Nos. 302, 308 and 317 Sqn were returning from a dawn mission when they ran into the attacking Germans. 18 Polish fighters scored 18½ FW 190s destroyed, losing just two of their own aircraft shot down. However, 19 Spitfires were destroyed on the ground. The one in the foreground has been blown completely in twow.

Metz-Frescaty, Fra.

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