Oberfeldwebel Erwin Sawallisch
© Dan & Nick’s Collaborative Experten Biographies
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Messerschmitt Bf.109F-4/Trop 4./JG 27 Serial: 8+- (W.Nr.8596) Pilot – Obfw. Erwin Sawallisch. Quotaifa, North Africa, August 1942.
Oberfeldwebel Erwin Sawallisch (8 October 1914 – 19 August 1942) was a veteran of the Legion Condor and amongst his total of 39 confirmed victories are 3 biplane kills, and 2 ships.
He served with the Legion Condor in Spain, Stab./JG27 (Soviet Union), and 4./JG27 (Libya 4/42)
Upon scrutinized research into his claims, we find 36 confirmable victories, with 23 of them matching actual Allied losses. There are 13 unmatched overclaims.
This gives Sawallisch a mediocre claiming accuracy of 63.8%….
His aircraft in Libya bore some interesting victory marks, with the nationality of the aircraft shot down above the bars. The rudder also displays the silhouettes of two ships he sunk on the Eastern front.
Sawallisch was known for being a bit ‘ill in the head’ and reportedly went head on with a P-40 Warhawk.
He was also a notorious member of the JG27 “Schwarm of Liars” in North Africa…
The most notable example of the Luftwaffe ace culture’s impact in North Africa was the falsification of victory claims by a small group of 4./J.G. 27 pilots in mid-1942.
Few Axis aerial victories were claimed in August, with the exception of these 4./J.G. 27 pilots, who claimed numerous victories almost daily.
In August 1942, members of “Experten-Schwarem” from 4./JG 27 claimed no less than 63 victories, probably all of them were false.
Individually it was:
Ofw. Karl-Heinz Bendert – 23 (19-41) – survived WWII as Oblt., total 54 vics.
Ofw. Erwin Sawallisch – 18 (16-33) – KiFA 19 August 1942
Ofw. Franz Stiegler – 11 (6-17) – survived WWII as Oblt., total 28 vics.
Oblt. Ferdinand Vögl – 10 (21-30) – survived WWII as Hptm., total 33 vics.
Later came also Uffz. Ferdinand Just – 1, PoW 29 August 1942, total 1.
Other J.G. 27 pilots had their suspicions, and these were confirmed on 16 August when a 2./J.G. 27 pilot came across five 4./J.G. 27 pilots shooting off their ammunition in the desert in a mock combat.
Slipping away unnoticed, the 2./J.G. 27 pilot landed at base. When the 4./J.G. 27 pilots returned, they claimed twelve victories between them.
Some 58 false victory claims were submitted between 20 June and 12 October 1942, along with others that were suspicious. Most of these occurred in August.
As if to confirm their guilt, on the day after they were discovered, one member of the Staffel (Sawallisch) apparently committed suicide in his Bf 109.
This series of events was never reported to the Luftwaffe high command, and one of these pilots later received the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross).
This was the only known case of Axis falsification of victory claims in North Africa in 1942, but it is a stark example of how much the ace culture affected German fighter pilots in North Africa.
In first days of August 1942 four pilots from the same Schwarm of 4./JG 27 begun to claim big number of victories. Very soon it was called “Experten-Schwarm”.
Pilots, who had their successes very rarely earlier, suddenly started to win air combats every day and their accounts started to grow very fast. And so it was :
3 August: 2; Bendert 1, Sawallisch 1,
4 August: 4; Bendert 2, Sawallisch 2,
5 August: 1; Bendert 1,
6 August: 3; Bendert 2, Stiegler 1,
7 August: 9; Bendert 3, Sawallisch 2, Stiegler 2, Vögl 2,
10 August: 8; Bendert 2, Sawallisch 2, Stiegler 2, Vögl 2,
11 August: 5; Sawallisch 2, Vögl 2, Stiegler 1,
12 August: 12; Bendert 5 !, Sawallisch 4, Stiegler 3,
14 August: 2; Sawallisch 2.
Some other, very experienced pilots like Stahlschmidt, Sinner, Börngen – knew, that air combat wasn’t a play and getting so much successes by unexperienced pilots was very suspected.
The pressure in JG 27 was growing till 16 August 1942.
On that day Lt. Hans-Arnold Stahlschmidt from 2./JG 27 with his wingman started from Fuka and shot down 2 P-40 on 8.15 and 8.25 hours. After landing in the base he came to kommodore JG 27, Maj. Edu Neumann, claimed 2 victories and reported that during his second fight saw 5 Bf 109 shooting into sand!
There was only Expereten-Schwarm in the air in that time. When these pilots landed, they claimed 12 victories !
(Bendert 3, Sawallisch 3, Vögl 3, Stiegler 2, Just 1).
Maj. Neumann decided not to inform High Command, because he didn’t want Jagdgeschwader to lose good opinion. All their victories were cancelled, but after official confirmation by OKL in Berlin they have stayed on their accounts.
THE Experten-Schwarm was unformed and the pilots were moved to other staffels. The new Rommel offensive was to come and every pilot was valuable.
On 19 August 1942, Ofw. Erwin Sawallisch started in his Bf 109 after technical check-up, but didn’t come back. It is unknown, if he killed himself or if it was a revenge of angry mechanics, whose hard work was wasted.
His body was found the next day on the beach of Mediterranean Sea.
Ten days later, on 29 August 1942, Uffz. Just was taken PoW. His account has stayed on 1.
The rest survived the war, everybody in officer’s ranks.
Erwin Sawallisch began his career in the Luftwaffe in the mid 1930’s and took part in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Legion Condor, flying biplanes….
As a pilot in the I./136, Sawallisch was one of the units first participants in the Spanish Civil War in the unit J/88 as early as 1936
By the beginning of October 1936, six of the new batch of He 51s had arrived in Spain, together with ten volunteer pilots and more mechanics – ”a necessary and welcome strengthening”, as Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel described it. ”Just like we had done two months previously, they had put together their He 51 single-seaters in Seville, for which we soon almost fell around their necks with joy.”
This latest batch of pilots comprised Oberleutnante Dietrich von Bothmer, Oskar Henrici and Günther Radusch, Leutnante Kurt von Gilsa, Paul Rehahn and Henning Strümpell and Unteroffiziere Willi Gödecke, Kowalski, Ernst Mratzek and Sawallisch.
On the afternoon of 13 November 1936, nine He 51s from the German Legion Condor took off from Ávila to provide escort for five German-flown Ju 52/3ms and three He 46s, which were to attack the Republican positions on the west bank of the Manzanares. It seems that at least six CR.32s also were present.
At 15:00, twelve I-16 type 5 “Moscas” and twelve I-15s intercepted them over Madrid. The I-16s were led by the Russian squadron leader Kapitan Sergey Tarkhov (’Antonio’) (he was the commander of the first and newly created escuadrilla of I-16s) in their first combat while the I-15s (Escuadrilla Palancar) were again led by Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov. All Republican pilots taking part in this combat were Russians.
The Republican fighters dove on the Henrici Kette. Unteroffizier Ernst Mratzek was able to claim an I-16 as it dove past. Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici claimed a Russian fighter in the same way as the He 51s dove into the clouds. A bitter dogfight raged over Madrid at 1,500 meters. The Knüppel Kette dove into a cloud, reversed course in a steep turn and re-emerged below the Republican aircraft.
Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Unteroffizier Sawallisch claimed two I-15s; Sawallisch made his way home with some difficulty with shot-up tail surfaces.
Claims Verification Research by
Casa de Campo/Eastern edge of Madrid @ 1500m
Possibilities include Vladimir Bocharov, forcelanded in I-16 “Black 9,” but murdered (so at least one more of these claims must be a misidentification) as was Karp Ivanovich Kovtun.Was P A Purtov also downed this date?
The Eberhardt Kette had remained above the bombers as top cover. Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt collided with an enemy fighter he had shot down and was killed when his fighter crashed to the ground at Casa de Campo; the Russian pilot was able to bail out.
Oberleutnant Henrici took a bullet through the lung, but was able to land his aircraft in friendly territory at Alcorcon. As he left his aircraft, however, he collapsed and died.
The German Staffel became completely scattered, each pilot seeking cover in cloud and making his own way back to Avila. Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer reported the destruction of two further I-15s.
Henrici was probably shot down by Leitenant Sergey Chernykh, (I-16 in Escuadrilla Kolesnikov). It seems that Eberhardt collided with Tarkhov since it’s reported that he single-handed fought against a number of He 51s before being forced to bail out after a collision.
While hanging in his parachute, Republican soldiers mistook him for Nationalist pilot and opened fire, hitting him six times. Tarkhov landed in Madrid but was attacked by the public because they thought he was a German. He died of his injuries at Gómes Ulla hospital on 23 November.
Totally, the Nationalists claimed seven victories (2 I-16s and 5 I-15s). Five of them were later confirmed; the two unconfirmed was those made by the killed Henrici and Eberhardt (I-16) for the loss of two aircraft (Henrici and Eberhardt) (other sources claims four lost He 51s).
The Republicans claimed four victories while losing four aircraft and pilots (including Bocharov and Tarkhov). The fourth victory seems to have been claimed by Leitenant Nikifor Balanov (I-16), who reportedly claimed a He 51 on this date. Bocharov and Tarkhov were posthumously awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union on 31 December 1936.
On 12 December, the 4.J/88 (He 51B-1) had a great day when they claimed four SBs and one unconfirmed. They were claimed by Leutnant Kurt von Gilsa, Leutnant Paul Rehahn, Unteroffizier Sawallisch, Unteroffizier Willi Gödecke and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel (unconfirmed).
SB-2 (Or General Aircraft Monospar ST-25 Jubilee?)
Grupo 12? Possible overclaim, can’t be verified in Spanish records. Day’s only known loss was a Jubilee and it was not due to combat.
None of these claims can’t be verified by Republican records.
On 4 January 1937, the He 51B-1s of J/88 escorted Ju 52/3ms bombing enemy positions when they were surprised above Torrijos by Republican I-15s. The escorting fighters claimed three enemy fighters over the Bilbao area when Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald (2 Staffel) claimed an I-16 and Unteroffizier Sawallisch (4 Staffel) and Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1 Staffel) claimed an I-15 each.
Day’s losses include “15” of Teniente Juan Roldan Moldonado of Esc de Chatos del Norte (Definitely attributed to a German He51) KIA, plus apparently Soviet pilot N T Petruchin. 3 more returned damaged (40 bullet holes each)
Oberleutnant Harder (flying He 51B-1 2-64) described his first claim for a subsequent propaganda article:
“I hear machine guns behind me. A Red is coming for me sharply from above, his radial engine appearing like a giant eye. I pull “2-64” into a turn and the Red streaks past with two of our fighters already in pursuit. Far below, down in the valley, I see one turning around. Using my superior speed I know I can block him off.
I get behind him, fire, he turns, I cut him off, another turn, the smoke twists from my tracer shells disappear into his machine. Now he climbs, black, with a red band in front of the tail, rolls onto his back and plunges almost vertically to the ground. I pull myself together – the intoxication has blinded me to everything else going on. I see a He 51 nearby.
Exhausted, I pull up and fly to Vitoria, where I make a low-level loop over the airfield.”
Sawallisch ended the Spanish Civil War with 3 biplane victories.
WORLD WAR TWO
Career in 4. Staffel/JG77:
Joined 4. Staffel on October 30. 1939
Tony Wood’s files list six victories in the West for Feldwebel Erwin Sawallisch with 4./JG 77 through 1939-1940.
1. 30 October 1939 Blenheim 15:23 NE Helgoland
2. 14 December 1939 Wellington 15:28 N Wangerooge
3. 14 December 1939 Wellington 15:30 N Wangerooge
4. 30 April 1940 Wellington 20:50 SW Stavanger
5. 13 June 1940 Skua 2:10 Trondheim
6. 8 September 1940 Hudson 19:45 Bergen
Checked in the “Fledgling Eagles” by Christopher Shores and found the following for Fw. Erwin Sawallisch II/JG77.
30Oct39 Blenheim IV (N6234) Plt Off W.G. McCracken 139 Sqdn
14Dec39 two Wellingtons 99 Sqdn
30Apr40 Wellington 37 Sqdn
13Jun40 Skua 800 or 803 Sqdn
08Sep40 Hudson (N7268) 224 Sqdn
Said to be N6234/XD-E of 139 “Jamaica” sqn. P/O W G McCraken (Australian) and crew all KIA (Also attributed to Heinz Lange)
14.12.39/1528 and 1530
99 sqn, 5 shot down, 1 crashed. Losses include: N2870/LN- of P/O Norman Leonard Lewis and crew all KIA, N2886/LN- of F/S James Ernest Kirby Healey and crew all KIA, N2911/LN- of F/S W H Downey and crew all KIA, N2956/LN- of F/O John Arkell Harding Cooper and crew all KIA. N2957/LN- crashed back at base with three crewmen being KIA including the pilot F/L Eugene John Hetherington, attributed to Bf110. The loss of N2986/LN- of Sgt. R H J Brace and crew all KIA is attributed to flak.
Sawallisch arrived with II./JG 77 in Norway April 11. 1940.
SW of Stavanger
37 sqn or 99 sqn. 37 lost two Wellingtons: P9213 of S/L R L Bradford, SW of Stavanger and P9215 of F/O G V Gordon, W of Stavanger whilst 99 sqn lost P9276 of F/S J W L G Brent. (Versus 5 claims, slight overclaiming by the unit)
Fjords in Trondheim area
L2991/7A of 803 sqn FAA. Lt. Peter Evelyn “Hornblower” Fanshawe (perfected the method of sand dispersal for the Great Escape but was transferred out before it took place) and LtCdr. John Casson both POW
Peter Fanshawe is one of the major characters in the book of The Great Escape. Very significant victim of Sawallisch.
The method of stuffing bags of dirt down their trousers with the pins in the end that they pulled to let the dirt out – that was his idea.
August 13 1940, the RAF attack on Aalborg West airfield.
On August 13 1940, 12 Blenheims of RAF 82 Sqn were detailed for an attack on Aalborg West airfield. One of the aircrafts had to turn back due to fuel problems while the remaining eleven aircrafts pressed on. When crossing the Danish west coast near Søndervig flying at 8000 feet in a clear blue sky they were spotted by a German observation post and the flak at Aalborg was alerted.
Eight Bf 109E fighters of 5/JG 77 based on Aalborg East airfield were scrambled at 12:05 hours. The attack on the airfield started at approx. 12:15 and all eleven Blenheims were lost to flak and fighters within 20 minutes.
They are listed in the sequence in which they are believed to have crashed.
Who actually claimed who is impossibly to say due to the fact that the fighters claimed 15 Blenheims.
The flak is known to have made claims for Blenheims at 12:16,12:17,12:18 and 12:18. 1./615, 3./615 and 5./615, being those who are known to have made claims.
On 8 September 1940, Sawallisch makes his 6th and last claim over Norway when he shoots down a Hudson bomber from 224 Squadron.
224 sqn. N7268/QX-D of F/O Robert Guy Cuthbert and crew all KIA (also claimed by Arnoldy so a shared kill or slight overclaim)
Left Norway with II./JG 77 on November 9. 1940
Career after leaving 4. Staffel/JG77:
Flew with the Stabstaffel of JG77 late 1940 and early 1941, although he probably still was listed as pilot in 4. Staffel
On 23 April 1941 over Greece, three Ju-88’s of I/LG1 fire on a Bf-109E of Stab/JG77 flown by Ofw Erwin Sawallisch. Sawallisch’s Bf-109 is hit and he returns fire killing one of the crew of one Ju-88.
Sawallisch is then able to force land at his base at Krumovo.
Transferred to JG27 at unknown date, flew in Stabsschwarm II./JG27.
His first known Soviet victory, a MiG-3 on 15 August, 1941. Nine of his claims over the Soviet Union are listed below:
Possibly Starshiy Leytenant Aleksandyr Pokryshkin of 55 IAP (crashlanded in swamp at Grozeshti, 50km W of Kishinev). Possibly attributed to flak or even fuel shortage by Soviet sources
E of Ljuban
7 IAK? 44 losses between 20.8.41 – 30.8.41 (26 and 191 IAPs lost 17 whilst 35 and 44 IAPs lost 5)
21.9.41/0952 and 0955
2 x I-153 “Tchaikas”
Through the course of the day, 71 IAP lost St. Lt. V M Gavrilov failed to return and pilots Mazurenko and Chinyakov WIA. Denk and Krupinski of 6/JG 52 claimed two victories against them four hours earlier and I am not sure who was lost in which engagement… Benefit of the doubt to Sawallisch….
4.10.41/1355 and 1356
2 x DB-3s,
90 DBAP lost gunner Ivan Filipovich Sazonov KIA in air combat this date, that’s as much as I know…
Also on 4.10.41 an SB-2 claim
After rotating home from Russia, he was assigned to instructor duty but volunteered for combat in Libya instead.
In August 1942, Sawallisch served with 4./JG 27 in North Africa flying Bf 109F-4s with this unit.
Between 18:25-19:30, in the evening of 3 August 1942, ten Spitfires from 145 Squadron took off to patrol over the northern part of the line at 19,000 feet followed by Hurricane IIcs from 33 and 213 Squadrons.
Eight Bf 109s of II./JG 27 were sent off on a Frei Jagd about ten minutes later, six more escorting Jabos on a raid at the same time. The German unjt’s pilots reported three different engagements.
The first was with two Spitfires, one of which was claimed by Oberfeldwebel Emil Clade of 5./JG 27 at 19:03 north of El Bahrein, the pilot reportedly baling out. Spitfire V BP865 of 145 Squadron was shot down into the sea with Pilot Officer A. E. Mulhall (Argentinian) safely baling out.
The second engagement reported was with eight more Spitfires, two of which were claimed. The first at 19:12 north-west of El Hammam by Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert (4./JG 27) and the second by Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch (4./JG 27) north-north-west of El Hammam at 19:15. 145 Squadron recorded meeting 12 Messerschmitts, Spitfire V BR519 being damaged and crashed on landing, the pilot Sergeant R. A. Cunningham being safe.
NNW of El Hammam
145 sqn. Only one loss at this time: BR519 of Sgt. R A Cunningham crashed on landing, pilot safe (also claimed by Bendert)
They claimed two possible victories over two Bf 109s, these being claimed by Flight Lieutenant Cecil Saunders (Spitfire Vb BR583/ZX-T) and Sergeant P.G. C. Thomas (Spitfire Vb BP986/ZX-X) over the north end of the line.
The third engagement was with a reported 24 Hurricanes, three of which were claimed. Oberleutnant Rudolf Sinner (6./JG 27) claimed one at 18:55 south-east of El Daba and a second at 19:00 over Bir Ibrahim. The third was claimed by Oberfeldwebel Herbert Krenz at 19:20 north-west of Quabr Hanizadr.
Again, one of the pilots was seen to bale out. 33 Squadron lost two Hurricanes and got one damaged at around 19:00. Pilot Officer W. Friend returned with BP352 slightly damaged. Pilot Officer H. Steward safely baled out of BP192 while Sergeant J. A. Kingdon was wounded, and he crash-landed his badly damaged BE409/G. Hurricane IIc BP331 from 213 Squadron was also lost when 23-year-old Pilot Officer Robert Joseph Wallace (RAF No. 49696) was seen to spin in and crashed for no apparent reason 10-15 miles south-west of Burg el Arab.
At 08:30 on 4 August 1942, 12 Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron were provided with cover by Kittyhawks during a raid, the South Africans being attacked by two Bf 109s of 4./JG 27 which were escorting a reconnaissance Bf 110.
Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert and Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch each claimed one fighter shot down south-east of El Alamein at 08:08 and 08:10 respectively.
SE of El Alamein
AK429 of 5 sqn SAAF. 2/Lt. E H Johnson crashlanded, unconcious for 3 hours, then walked 8 hrs to aid (again, also claimed by Bendert)
Hurricane II (mistaken for a “Spitfire V”) NW of El Hammam
BN117 of 213 sqn. F/S S R Fry forcelanded unhurt N of Hammam (Originally attributed to Italian MC 202s but there were no claims by them) (Yet again, this one also claimed by Bendert)
One Tomahawk IIa was shot down when 2nd Lieutenant E. H. Johnson crash-landing with AK429 (Cat. II) 10 miles west of El Alamein, wounded in his left leg. He remained unconscious in the cockpit for three hours, but ultimately recovered, then walked for eight hours until picked up and put in hospital.
At 13:25 on the same day, 213 Squadron patrolled over the El Alamein line as top cover to 33 Squadron, awaiting the return of a formation of Baltimores, Kittyhawks and Spitfires from a raid.
Eight Bf 109s of II./JG 27, pilots including Sawallisch and Bendert again, were scrambled, this latter pair each claiming a Spitfire shot down north-west of El Hammam at 13:28 and 13:30 respectively. Flight Sergeant S. R. Fry of 213 Squadron was shot down, force-landing Hurricane IIc BN117 north of Hammam. The Squadron reporting that they had been bounced by MC.202s, but no Italian claims were made in the area during this day.
Around 09:50 on 7 August 1942, eight Bf 109s, four each from I. and II. Gruppen, were scrambled, soon encountering 12 Hurricane IIs of 274 Squadron, six with bombs and six as escort, which were attacking MT before making off out to sea.
The I. Gruppe pilots saw them over the sea near Ras Gibeira, and Hauptmann Gerhard Homuth from Stab I./JG 27 claimed two of them shot down; reported as a Hurricane 09:21 5 km north-west of El Alamein and the second as a P-40 at 09:23 south of El Hammam. Leutnant Hans Remmer claiming to have damaged a third.
274 Squadron reported being attacked over the sea by two Bf 109s between 10:05-11:10, one of which had a blue spinner. Two Hurricanes were lost with 24-year-old Flight Lieutenant Christopher William Wharton Darwin (RAF no. 42050) in BE683/P shot down off Sollum and Flight Sergeant Paul Gordon Hemmer (RCAF no. R/83123; from the U.S.) in Z5337/O shot down near Burg el Arab. Both baled out, but neither was rescued.
The four Messerschmitt pilots of II. Gruppe’s 4.Staffel, led by Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl, reported meeting 24 Hurricanes and 12 Curtiss fighters near Hammam, and later another formation of fighter-bombers.
Nine claims were submitted by the pilots of this unit. Although the opponents of III./JG 53 and I./JG 27 and the identity of those ’shot down’ have proved readily accessible to identify, no details of such losses as those now claimed can be found.
Claiming pilots were:
Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch, who claimed one Hurricane at 09:12 east of Alam el Kadim and a second Hurricane at 09:15 south-east of Alam el Kadim
7.8.42/1212 and 1215
Alam el Kadim sector
Possibly 1 SQN SAAF. Bendert said to have damaged S/N 227 of Ray Connell. (That is the only loss or damage attributed to the Schwarm that day, versus NINE claims by them in total….)
Oberleutnant Vögl, who claimed one Hurricane at 09:12 south-east of Alam el Kadim and a second Hurricane at 09:16 east of Alam el Kadim
Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert, who claimed one Hurricane at 09:13 south-east of Alam el Kadim, a second Hurricane at 09:21 east-north-east of Alam el Kadim at 1500 meters altitude and a P-40 at 09:23 south of El Hammam
Oberfeldwebel Franz Stigler, who claimed one Hurricane at 09:14 east of Alam el Kadim and a second Hurricane at 09:20 east-north-east of Alam el Kadim
On 10 August 1942, twelve Kittyhawks of 4 SAAF Squadron were scrambled at 08:30 to carry out a patrol. They encounter four II./JG 27 Bf 109Fs which took off at 09:09.
The German pilots reporting encountering 16 British fighters south-east of El Alamein and claimed four shot down, two each by Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch (08:31 north of El Muhafid and 08:30 north-west of El Muhafid) and Oberfeldwebel Stigler (08:32 north of El Muhafid and 08:33 north-north-west of El Muhafid).
10.8.42/0831 and 0834
El Muhafid sector
4 sqn SAAF. AK623 of P/O J K McIvor KIA and ET512 forcelanded LG 94 badly damaged in fuselage and tail unit, Lt. T B Milne safe, ET901/U of Lt. W J Wheeler damaged, pilot safe (That’s 3 losses versus EIGHT claims for the day by the Schwarm….)
The South African reported being jumped by two Bf 109s out of the sun, one being claimed damaged by Lieutenant J. W. Wheeler (Kittyhawk Ia ET901/KJ-U) over El Alamein at 09:25. His Kittyhawk was damaged in the combat but he returned safely to base. One Kittyhawk was shot down (28-year-old Canadian Pilot Officer John Kitson McIvor, RAF no. 107257, KIA in Kittyhawk I AK623) and one crash-landed on return (Lieutenant T. B. Milne safe in ET512).
In the morning on 11 August 1942, 4./JG 27 despatched four Bf 109s, the pilots of which reported engaging ten Hurricanes, claiming five of them in the El Hammam area.
Claiming pilots being:
Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch – 1 Hurricane 10:10 north-west of El Hammam and 1 Hurricane 10:13 east of El Hammam
11.8.42/1010 and 1015
El Hammam sector
Overclaiming. Either claimed against 1 sqn SAAF, which suffered no losses or pure invention (Total of FIVE claims by the Schwarm in this instance)
Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl – 1 Hurricane 10:11 west-north-west of El Hammam and 1 Hurricane 10:17 east-north-east of El Hammam
Oberfeldwebel Franz Stigler – 1 Hurricane 10:13 south of El Hammam
Ten Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron (take-off 11:20) were repeatedly subjected to ‘hit and run’ attacks by a reported six Bf 109s and Captain L. R. S. Waugh (Hurricane IIb …698/AX-P) returned claiming one of the Bf 109s damaged 15 miles west of Burg el Arab.
Neither side suffered any losses in this combat.
On 12 August 1942, the claims of 4./JG 27 became even more exaggerated. In the morning, twelve 2 SAAF Squadron Kittyhawks undertook an armed reconnaissance of the southern area.
After bombs had been released on various targets the three aircraft of the top section were jumped by two Bf 109s, Lieutenant W. L. O. Moon’s Kittyhawk I AL174/U being badly damaged, causing him to force-land at a forward landing ground. Lieutenant T. M. McLeod also force-landed in AK906/O back at base at 07:30 wounded, but Lieutenant J. R. Burls (AK760/K) was able to claim damage to a Messerschmitt in the El Imayid area at 07:35.
Another aircraft was reportedly hit by Flak as the attack was underway and Lieutenant A. Morrison force-landed at El Hammam station with ET874/D on fire; he managed to get out just before it blew up.
Three of 4./JG 27’s Messerschmitts had taken off early in the morning, but a fourth, piloted by Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl, was unable to get off due to engine trouble. The three remaining pilots returned to report having encountered 40 fighter-bombers and 16 escorting Curtiss fighters, between them claiming eight Hurricanes and four P-40s!
Undoubtedly, they had been the attackers who had hit the three South African Kittyhawks; equally undoubtedly, these claims were vastly overstated.
The claims being distributed as follows:
Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch – 1 Hurricane 06:42 south-east of El Alamein, 1 Hurricane 06:48 west of Alam el Kadim, 1 Hurricane 06:51 north of Alam el Kadim and 1 P-40 07:00 south-west of Alam el Halfa
12.8.42/0642 – 0700
“Three Hurricanes and a Kittyhawk”
Alam El Halfa/El Alamein sector
2 sqn SAAF. Massive overclaiming: AL174/U of Lt. W L O Moon bellylanded safely and AK906/O of Lt. T M McLeod WIA slightly damaged. One other damaged by Flak and crashlanded (Versus a massive TWELVE claims by the Schwarm…)
Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert – 1 Hurricane 06:43 south-east of El Alamein, 1 Hurricane 06:50 west of Alam el Kadim, 1 Hurricane 06:52 east of Alam el Kadim, 1 P-40 07:02 south-west of Alam el Halfa and 1 P-40 07:04 south-west of Alam el Halfa
Oberfeldwebel Franz Stigler – 1 Hurricane 06:44 south-south-east of El Alamein, 1 Hurricane 06:53 south of Alam el Kadim and 1 P-40 07:03 south-west of Alam el Halfa
On 14 August 1942, eleven Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF and 11 of 4 SAAF Squadron escorted 12 Baltimores to bomb LG 18 in the Daba-Fuka area. Ten minutes behind them came 12 more Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron with six attached US P-40Fs of the 57th Fighter Group, to provide top cover for 12 Bostons bombing Fuka Station.
Twenty minutes behind these aircraft came eight Spitfires of 92 Squadron on their first patrol since re-equipment, their task being to cover the returning formations against any pursuing Axis fighters.
At 06:57 four Bf 109F-4 trops of II./JG 27 were scrambled, followed seven minutes later by six more. The Messerschmitts initially attacked the Baltimores and their escorts, one Kittyhawk being claimed by Oberleutnant Rudolf Sinner (6./JG 27) north-west of El Alamein at 06:25, but not confirmed due to lack of witnesses.
MC.202s of the 9o Gruppo also took part in this interception. At 05:58 Tenente Antonio Canfora led six MC.202s of the 97a Squadriglia that were scrambled at Fuka to face raiders. Near El Daba at 06:20 they intercepted 12 bombers, identified as Marylands, covered by about 18 P-40s.
At the end of the fight, one P-40 was claimed by Tenente Canfora as a probable with a Maryland also claimed as a probable by an unspecified pilot and some others damaged.
4 SAAF Squadron reported being attacked by seven plus Bf 109s and MC.202s when flying top cover over Fuka at 06:20; one of the unit’s aircraft were shot down, and a second was badly damaged.
21-years-old Lieutenant Neil Washington Hancock (SAAF no. 104008V) was killed when his fighter (Kittyhawk I ET978) was shot down while Lieutenant David Woodliffe’s Kittyhawk (AK720) was damaged by Bf 109s with the tailplane badly hit and he belly-landed on return. The pilot was safe. The third (AK788) was damaged Cat. I in combat with Bf 109s but the pilot was safe.
The German fighters then attacked a formation identified as ten Bostons and 20 Kittyhawks, without result, finally heading for that escorted by 260 Squadron.
Here Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch claimed two (one 06:15 at 2000m 2km north of Fuka and a second 06:30 at 20m south of Ras el Maquiran)
Two Curtiss P-40s
Possibly 65th FS, 57th FG. Lt. William O’Neill baled out and rescued
Oberleutenant Sinner a third (06:30 at 2000m 5km north-west of El Alamein) and
Oberfeldwebel Herbert Krenz (6./JG 27) a fourth (06:25 north of El Hammam).
260 Squadron’s top flight was attacked out of the sun, two Kittyhawks being shot down. This unit’s next section of four was then attacked over Daba by two Bf 109s, losing sight of the bombers. Their pilots patrolled the area until they spotted the Baltimores which had just bombed LG 18 and were now being engaged by Messerschmitts; the Kittyhawk pilots at once joined in this combat.
The third four were the only aircraft of the unit to actually reach the target, and here they were also attacked by Messerschmitts, one Kittyhawk force-landing. Two then returned to base, the fourth fighting a lone combat, Sergeant W. R. Cundy (Kittyhawk I ET1016/V) claiming one Messerschmitt as a probable.
Totally 260 Squadron lost two aircraft in combat with Bf 109s but the pilots, Squadron Leader P. P. Devenish and Warrant Officer O. Bowerman, were safe. A third Kittyhaek (AL149) was attacked when flying at only 50-100 feet altitude near its home base (reportedly by a Hurricane), and force-landed ten miles north of LG 97 with the pilot Pilot Officer E. G. Aitchison safe.
Lieutenant William O’Neill of the USAAF reported engaging five Bf 109s, two of which he claimed to have shot down, before being shot down into the sea himself. He was later safely picked up.
At this stage the 92 Squadron Spitfires joined the action, Squadron Leader ‘Jeff’ Wedgwood (Spitfire Vc BP476/QJ-B) opening the unit’s scoring in its new guise, shooting down Leutnant Gert Mix (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr. 10074/Yellow 5) of 6./JG 27 who crash-landed after his aircraft was hit in the cooling system to become a PoW.
Although O’Neill’s claims were noted in contemporary USAAF documents, possibly because he was flying as part of an RAF formation and probably filled in an RAF combat report, his victories appear not to have been noted as such in subsequent US records.
16 August 1942 proved to be a strange day for JG 27. At 07:27 a pair of I. Gruppe Bf 109s was scrambled and was involved in two combats, the first at 09:15 when Leutnant Hans-Arnold Stahlschmidt claimed one Curtiss fighter out of six north-west of El Hammam. He then claimed a second ten minutes later from a formation of 20 west-south-west of El Alamein.
Five more Messerschmitts had been scrambled by 4./JG 27 at 0912, and it seems that these had become involved with the second formation reported by the I. Gruppe pilot. At this time 11 Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron were escorting Bostons on a photo-reconnaissance mission when they were attacked, one of these fighters being shot down at 09:15, 21-year-old Lieutenant Clifford Trenchard (SAAF No. 205455) baling out of the blazing aircraft (ET522/W) seven miles south-west of El Alamein and falling in no mans’ land where he was captured, becoming a PoW. However, he had been badly wounded, and he died next day.
Three more of the unit’s Tomahawk IIas were damaged Cat I. by Bf 109s including AN427/D (Captain R. F. Armstrong safe). The unit in return claimed three damaged Bf 109s at 09:35 12 miles south-west of El Alamein, the claiming pilots being Captain D. C. Dove (AN366/GL-N), Lieutenant Robert Hirst (AN238/GL-O) and 2nd Lieutenant Hendrik Smith (AN461/GL-K).
Eight Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron on a fighter reconnaissance were also attacked by Bf 109s, Captain R. Clifton (ET522/W) baling out and landing in the sea at El Alamein, slightly wounded; another of the unit’s aircraft (AL160) was hit and damaged.
It would appear that the two South African aircraft shot down represented Stahlschmidt’s victims, and given his known expertise as a fighter pilot, the various aircraft damaged may have been hit by him or his wingman. Equally, it is possible that the 4. Staffel pilots may also have become involved in one of these engagements – probably with 5 SAAF Squadron.
Whatever may have happened at this moment, the five pilots from 4./JG 27 returned to report a combat deep in enemy territory at about 09:30 with five Curtiss fighters and ten Hurricanes. In the next quarter of an hour they claimed to have shot down all five Curtisses and seven of the Hurricanes:
Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch (one Hurricane 08:26 west of Alam el Halfa and a second 08:32 south-west of El Hammam and a third 08:39 south-south-west of El Hammam)
16.8.42/0826 – 0839
Alam el Halfa – El Hammam
In this engagement Stahlschmidt is credited with downing AN329 of 5 sqn SAAF. Lt. C Trenchard POW and ET522/W of 2 sqn SAAF. Capt. R Clifton baled out WIA. But apart from those, there were no other losses except 5 sqn SAAF suffered 3 others cat. I damaged, including AN427/D of Capt. R F Armstrong, all pilots safe. (Versus TWELVE claims by the Schwarm…)
Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl (one Hurricane 08:27 over Alam el Kadim, a second at 2500m 12km east of El Hammam and one P-40 08:38 east of El Hammam)
Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert (one P-40 08:28 south of Alam el Kadim, a second 08:35 east of Alam el Kadim and a third 08:40 south of El Hammam)
Oberfeldwebel Franz Stigler (one P-40 08:28 south of Alam el Kadim and one Hurricane 08:38 south-south-west of El Hammam)
Unteroffizier Ferdinand Just (one Hurricane 08:40 south-west of El Hammam)
However, when Leutnant Stahlschmidt landed he had a different story to tell. After his combats he had seen the aircraft of 4. Staffel shooting off their ammunition into the desert sands in the course apparently of a mock dogfight!
It is, of course, just possible that he did not see clearly from long range what was going on, but this seems unlikely, and no details of any such heavy losses are to be found in British records. It has been suggested that they were practising “shadow-shooting” to improve their marksmanship, but why they should have been doing so, and with what ammunition if they had already shot down a dozen British aircraft between them, is very difficult to explain or justify.
The JG 27 staff was at a loss to know what to do. Until this time, as has been demonstrated, Luftwaffe claims had, allowing for the inevitable errors during heavy combat which occurred on both sides, been remarkably accurate.
Here, however, was the exception to the rule – and it is such unfortunate lapses which would appear to have largely been responsible for the scepticism with which Luftwaffe claims are still treated by many people. Throughout the first three weeks of August the main duties of JG 27 had been daily escorts to convoys sailing along the coast between Tobruk and Mersa Matruh and relatively few combats had occurred.
The apparent luck of 4. Staffel’s “Experte Schwarme”, as it had become known had become legendary, and had led to some shaking of heads. As their claims raised higher certain of the pilots, notably Sinner and Börngen, had come to distrust them, and now energetically pressed for action to be taken against them.
However, when questioned, these pilots emphatically denied falsifying their claims. It was considered undesirable to report the matter to the higher command, as this would reflect badly upon the whole unit. Plans were therefore made to break up the Schwarme, posting the pilots to other Staffeln.
It was also agreed to treat all future claims from them with some scepticism and to get rid of them as soon as possible.
It was also suggested that all their victories to date should be forfeited, and they should start again from scratch. However, Rommel’s next offensive was due shortly, and they could not be spared until after it, so it was several weeks before they were sent home to Germany.
Due to the hushing-up of the incident, the pilots’ claim for their combats in the desert were fully accepted by the authorities when they arrived home, and Karl-Heinz Bendert even went on to be awarded the Ritterkreuz on 30 December 1942.
During the early afternoon on 19 August 1942, Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch of 4./JG 27 took off on a test flight in Bf 109 F-4 trop. WNr. 8782 from which he failed to return. Next day his naked body was washed ashore, the reason for his death officially unknown.
However, it was thought possible that, accused of making false claims and fearing a possible court martial, he had deliberately dove into the sea.
At the time of his death, Sawallisch was credited with 3 biplane victories and a total of 39 confirmations.
His victories may be as high as 30 as of 14 August, 1942; 12 in Africa, 18 on the Eastern Front and two ships (per Franz Stigler).
EK 1 & 2
Fighter Operational Clasp