For the past three years, Morten Jessen and I worked on a book about the Focke-Wulf 190 in North Africa, and this project is now published. As a result of our research, the old FW 190 in North Afrika article was completely outdated, so I have decided to remove it from the site. Instead, on this page you will find some extracts from our upcoming book. Enjoy!
The FW 190 in North Africa - a Summary
The FW 190 was a late arrival in North Africa, making its combat debut on 16 November 1942. Over the next 6 months, III./Z.G. 2, III./S.K.G. 10, II./J.G. 2, the Stab and II./Sch.G. 2, all successfully flew the FW 190 in North Africa. Many aerial victories were achieved, and the FW 190 fighter-bomber pilots demonstrated how effective the FW 190 could be against ground targets. III./Z.G. 2 (re-named III./S.K.G. 10 in December 1942), was particularly successful. The unit operated throughout the Tunisian campaign, and attacked a variety of Allied targets including airfields, harbours, tanks, vehicles, troop concentrations, anti-aircraft positions, and on one occasion, a British submarine! The fighter pilots of II./J.G. 2 downed scores of British, American and French aircraft, especially during the first three months of 1943, and Kurt Bühligen and Erich Rudorffer became two of the top scorers in the Tunisian campaign.
II./J.G. 2 Aerial Victories
The following is an account of a classic combat between FW 190s of II./J.G. 2 and Spitfires of the American 31st Fighter Group in central Tunisia.
Monday 8 March 1943
During the morning, four Spitfires of the 307th FS/31st FG took off from their Le Kouif base to fly a reconnaissance mission over the front. At 09:35, they were bounced by at least five FW 190As from 4./J.G. 2. At the moment when the Germans attacked, the American formation was re-forming, and Lt. Woodlief A. Thomas had slowed down to return to his position as wingman to Lt. Jerry D. Collinsworth. Lt. Collinsworth recalls the early moments of the combat:
"Unknown to any of us, at least three FW 190s were coming up off the 'deck' from behind to attack us ... I was just barely past Woody [Thomas] when I heard guns and upon looking toward him I discovered he was already on fire and, without uttering a word, he crashed to the ground about 500 feet below".
Thomas had fallen victim to 4./J.G. 2's Staffelkapitän, Oblt. Kurt Bühligen. Bühligen recorded the victory as occurring at 09:38, about 35 km north-north-west of II./J.G. 2's base, Kairouan. Two of the Spitfire pilots (including Collinsworth) tried to escape by flying into cloud, but the American formation leader, Lt. Merlin P. Mitchell, engaged in a low-level, turning dogfight with a few of the FW 190s. However, he was outnumbered and was shot down by Oblt. Bühligen, Lt. Lothar Werner, or Uffz. Heinz Schülze, all of whom made claims for Spitfires at low-altitude between 09:39 and 09:43. Meanwhile, Lt. Collinsworth was dogfighting with Uffz. Erich Engelbrecht. He recalled:
"Fortunately, when I came out of the clouds I was behind him about 500/800 feet. I immediately 'shoved everything to the firewall' and headed down for him. I knew exactly when he saw me for black smoked poured out of the FW, and I knew he had gone to full throttle. But, since I had accelerated earlier than he and had 300/400 feet of altitude on him, I was gaining on him. He went to the 'deck' but that was only about 400 or 500 feet. I wanted to avenge Woody's death if possible so I left Mitchell and the other two FWs to their fight ..."
Engelbrecht tried to escape his pursuer, and flew towards Kairouan, but he did not make it back to base:
"The FW 190 headed in a generally southerly direction with me gaining on him. We were flying less than 50 feet above the terrain. Shortly thereafter, as I was getting closer, the German pilot entered a steep left turn. I turned inside of him and started firing.
Uffz. Engelbrecht perished in the crash. Erich Engelbrecht had just turned 23, and had shot down two enemy aircraft in Tunisia. Uffz. Alfred Sonntag also fell victim to the USAAF Spitfires, and was probably shot down by Merlin Mitchell. Sonntag was flying FW 190A-4 'White 7 + -', and was wounded (he was later killed in combat in France on 25 June 1944).
One of my two 20 mm cannons jammed immediately and the effect was to make my Spit 'see-saw' back and forth with only one cannon firing from out on my wing. I don't know for sure if I hit his a/c or not but, in any event, he snapped inverted. I was so scared and up-tight that I thought, 'He is going to do a Split-S and try to come up behind me'. Of course, he crashed into the ground doing about 350 mph. And then, I realized that a fighter can't do a Split-S from less than 50 feet about the ground and a speed of 350 mph!"
Merlin Mitchell survived the combat, and was captured by the Germans. He spent some time with II./J.G. 2 at Kairouan, and was photographed sitting at a table with Kurt Bühligen and other pilots from the FW 190 unit.
C.F. Shores, H. Ring, & W.N. Hess, Fighters Over Tunisia, Neville Spearman, 1975
491 pages, photos throughout, four maps and eight appendices. This book is highly recommended, although it is very hard to get hold of. Although much of the information from the German side of things is outdated, the Allied material is very useful. A rewrite of this book is planned by Chris Shores.
The header is by Dan Taylor. The Jerry Collinsworth interview material comes from www.dogfighter.com.