Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Fw 190 colours and markings (1) - Fw 190s of Hauptmann Heinrich Krafft’s I./JG 51

During late August 1942 Hauptmann Heinrich Krafft’s I./JG 51 became the first fighter unit to re-equip with the Fw 190 on the eastern front having converted onto the Fw 190 A-3 at Jesau near Königsberg. The unit’s arrival at Lyuban Airdrome, south of Leningrad caused great concern to the Soviets. Introduced into the theatre when the German armies in the East had been all but checked, the robust new fighter was superior in most respects to the Bf 109 especially with regard to weight of fire, engine reliability in cold weather conditions and its relative invulnerability to combat damage. The wide track undercarriage came into its own on difficult terrain and of course facilitated the carriage of ordnance on the under fuselage ETC 501 carrier pending the widespread introduction of a dedicated fighter-bomber or Schlacht (Battle) variant. The aircraft of I./JG 51 were initially finished with two tone dark green 70/71 upper surfaces sprayed in a ‘splinter’ type scheme over pale blue-grey 76 undersides.

The combat environment in Russia would dictate the use the use of shades of green, brown and greyish-green. In addition, as units moved further from Germany, shortages of materials, local needs and individual initiative would come to directly affect combat colours. Incidentally the image of Oskar Romm’s A-3 ‘white 9’ in Meyer and Stipdonk’s JG 51: eine Bilddokumentation indicates that this scheme was applied prior to the move to Russia.

The individual Staffeln continued to be identified by coloured numbers, white for the first, black for the second and yellow 27 for the third. The Geschwader emblem was carried on the cowling and the Gruppe badge, a stylised Chamois on a rock, under the cockpit, although unit badges were dispensed with relatively quickly in Russia. Gruppenkommandeur Krafft was killed in December 1942 when his Fw 190A-3, W Nr 539 marked with a double chevron, was shot down by flak.

As a rule Stabs markings were somewhat unconventional in JG 51; the II Gruppe painted the Gruppe Balken ahead of the fuselage cross on its 109s and in similar fashion III Gruppe Kommandeur Fritz Losigkeit had the Wellenlinie ahead of the Balkenkreuz on his Fw 190. The fourth Gruppe symbol was initially a black cross before becoming a flattened wavy line when the third Gruppe symbol was changed to a vertical bar during the summer of 1941. The only unit to remain on Fw 190s throughout JG 51’s time in the East was the Stabsstaffel, a unit that served effectively as an officer training wing for the Geschwader. Their Staffel markings consisted of Kommodore style insignia; a bar either side of the fuselage cross with the chevron replaced by a black individual number. The Stabsstaffel JG 51 was also virtually the only Fw 190 unit to paint a variety of personal markings on their aircraft mostly featuring pilot’s girlfriend’s names. The Stabsstaffel JG 51 became a renowned exponent of close support and fighter-bomber missions during the retreat from Russia and a number of their aircraft sported yellow spinners and cowls which may have been a recognition aid for German flak.