Schlachtgeschwader 77 Massacre at Kamenz - 17 April 1945

Thanks to Dave Wadman and Jim Perry for kindly allowing me to use the loss information that forms the basis for this article. Thanks also to David Middlecamp for the information he has provided from the American side.

The title of this article, Massacre at Kamenz, may seem a little dramatic. However, when a single Gruppe and Geschwaderstab lose six pilots and 16 FW 190s to an Allied low-level attack, the title does seem appropriate. Although a great tragedy for Schlachtgeschwader 77, the 17 April attack at Kamenz was just one of many effective ground-attack missions carried out by the Allied air forces in Germany in 1945.

Schlachtgeschwader 77
Schlachtgeschwader 77 was formed from Stukageschwader 77 in October 1943, and the unit saw action on the Eastern Front from creation to disbandment. On 17 April 1945 the Stab and III./S.G. 77 (which consisted of 7., 8., and 9. Staffel) were based at Kamenz airfield, some 35 km north-east of Dresden. Commanding III.Gruppe was Hptm. Gerhard Stüdemann, and the Geschwaderkommodore was Oberstleutnant Mossinger. III./S.G. 77 had a pair of Ritterkreuzträger pilots; Oblt. August Lambert and Lt. Gerhard Bauer. Lambert had received the Ritterkreuz on 14 May 1944 as a Leutnant with 5./S.G. 2, and was victor against 116 Soviet aircraft. Bauer was a 28-year old Thüringen, who had won the Ritterkreuz as an Oberfeldwebel with 8./S.G. 77 in February 1944. He had stayed with the Staffel and had been commissioned.

Table 1: S.G. 77 Aircraft Strengths, 9 April 1945 [1]
Unit Type Total Serviceable
Stab S.G. 77 FW 190 8 8
III./S.G. 77 FW 190 47 46

On 3 March 1945, 9./S.G. 77 was ordered to re-equip its FW 190 F-8s with Panzerblitz 80 mm anti-tank rockets.[2] These weapons, adapted from the air-to-air R4M, were carried under the outboard wings. Additionally, a bomb could be carried on the underfuselage rack, giving a single FW 190 powerful ground-attack capabilities.

The Final Soviet Offensive
On the morning of 16 April the Soviets launched their final offensive against Berlin, and just 60 km to the east of Kamenz, tanks and infantry of Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front were attacking German positions. S.G. 77 - along with remnants of other Schlachtgeschwader - was tasked with engaging the Soviets, even though Allied victory was by this stage, inevitable. This was the scene on the afternoon of 17 April 1945, when the massacre at Kamenz occurred.

On 17 April 1945, the P-51Ds of the 55th Fighter Group escorted 410 B-17s of the 3rd Air Division to the Dresden area. After completing their mission, at 14:45 the American fighters descended to low-level to attack targets of opportunity, particularly airfields, to the north of Dresden. The unit's C/O, Colonel Righetti, led some aircraft to attack Riesa/Canitz, while other P-51s flew over the airfields at Bautzen and Kamenz. At Kamenz, the Americans spotted German aircraft on the airfield preparing to take-off. [3] These were the FW 190s of S.G. 77.

At least three S.G. 77 FW 190s were about to fly a mission to attack advancing Soviet forces when the American fighters dove to attack. Capt. Robert E. Welch led the attack on Kamenz, flying the first pass with 2/Lt. Philip A. Erby. Welch describes the attack:
"Lieutenant Erby was on my wing when we made the bounce on two FW 190s that had just taken off from Kamenz airfield. I took the one on the left and he took the one on the right. They were flying line abreast at 1,000 m. We came down on them from 3,000 m and attacked, from dead astern. We both knocked them down at about the same time. I watched his 190 crash, just south of mine, in a woods near a lake. It exploded and burned upon crashing.

Suddenly I was hit by flak, so I called Lieutenant Erby and told him I was heading for Russian lines. He called over and said, 'Wait for me, I've been hit and am leaking coolant'. He called about four minutes later and said he was going to bail out. I couldn't see him due to a bad haze that greatly limited visibility. He never called again and I could not raise him after repeated attempts
Welch believes Erby bailed out about 36 km north-west of Kamenz, but Erby was never heard from again.[4] Capt. Walter Strauch was another of the 343rd FS/55th FG pilots to attack at Kamenz. He recalled:

"Just as I called them in, four of them [FW 190s] took off in elements of two, in two different directions. I dropped my tanks and gave chase. I overtook one of the FW 190s from the rear, got him in my sights and gave him a squirt. I saw quite a few strikes along the fuselage and he broke violently to the right, dropping two bombs at the same time. By now we were both at 500 m, and I maneuvered into firing position and gave him a shot from 135 metres into the cockpit. The FW 190 burst into flames, did a nose over, exploding as it hit the ground".
1/Lt. Richard Gibbs also took part in the massacre at Kamenz on 17 April 1945:

"Two enemy aircraft were seen taking off so Tudor Leader, Captain Welch, and his wingman, Lieutenant Erby went in pursuit. I followed after them, but seeing lots of flak and only two FW 190s, I pulled back up to 1,500 m and circled around to the south and east side of the field. My wingman got seperated from me in dodging the flak. I got to the north side, saw two more FW 190s taking off to the west, picked out one and waited until he flew beyond the flak perimeter. Diving on him from 1,000 m, I closed to 450 metres, and opened fire. I was on his tail and closed all the way to 36 metres, firing all the time. The 190 burst into flames and did a half roll into the trees. We were both at 33 to 66 metres when he dove to the ground.

My aircraft got covered with oil so I pulled up to check it out. It was oil from the downed Focke-Wulf, I figured, so I started doing climbing turns looking around for something else to latch onto. I spotted another 190 about 1,300 metres up from me coming in at ninety degrees, so I raised my nose and when 270 metres away, I fired, hitting on his wing. Passing under him and turning hard to starboard, doing a slight diving turn, I came in behind him, firing, and hitting him along the fuselage. The FW 190 continued in his dive and I passed him up at 333 metres, noting holes in the tail, and the canopy gone, with the pilot looking over at me. By the time he hit the ground he was smoking badly. The pilot tried to belly land, but was not very successful
Lt. Gerhard Bauer, Oblt. August Lambert, and another pilot were taking off from Kamenz for a mission to the front when the American fighters appeared. The FW 190s had jettisoned their bombs (as Walter Strauch observed), and tried to escape. Bauer's FW 190 F-9 'Black 1 + ' was quickly shot down north of Kuckau, about eight kilometres east-south-east of Kamenz. August Lambert and another 8./S.G. 77 pilot tried desperately to get away, but could not lose their pursuers. Lambert was shot down in FW 190 F-8 'Black 9 + ' just north of Hoyerswerda, a town some 20 km N.N.E. of Kamenz. The other FW 190 pilot made it to Welzow, 34 km north of Kamenz, before he bailed out due to damage sustained.

At Kamenz airfield the P-51s went in to strafe at low-level, despite some accurate anti-aircraft fire. Seven S.G. 77 FW 190s were destroyed or badly damaged on the ground at Kamenz by the P-51s, including three from the Geschwaderstab, three from 7. Staffel, and one from Oblt. August Lambert's 8. Staffel.

Table 2: S.G. 77 FW 190s destroyed on the ground at Fl.Pl. Kamenz, 17.04.45
Unit Type W.Nr Markings %
Stab S.G. 77 FW 190 F-9 440 127 'White < A + ' 60
Stab S.G. 77 FW 190 F-9 428 440 'White C + ' 40
Stab S.G. 77 FW 190 F-9 428 161 'White Z + ' 100
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-9 424 125 'White 4 + ' 99
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 A-8 980 36. (9?) 'Red 3 + ' 99
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 A-8 961 112 'Red 12 + ' 99
8./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 638 010 'Black 4 + ' 100

Alarmstart !
While Lambert and Bauer struggled to survive, other S.G. 77 pilots scrambled to intercept the Mustangs. However, they were outclassed by their American opponents. An FW 190 F-8 of the Gruppenstab of III./S.G. 77 was engaging the P-51s when it was hit by German anti-aircraft fire. The pilot bailed out unwounded. To the north of Zescha, Ofw. Wilhelm Porth was attacked by enemy fighters, and his 'Black 11 + ' was seen to crash into the ground, the 7. Staffel pilot dying. From the same Staffel, Uffz. Ernst Vollkardt’s 'Black 13 + ' was downed by a Mustang at Schmerlitz, north-east of Kamenz, and he too died in the ensuing crash (possibly a victim of 1/Lt. Richard Gibbs). Another FW 190 F-8 force-landed at Doberschütz. 7. Staffel suffered two more casualties, both pilots killed by P-51s. Uffz. Olaf Koers was shot down at Baselitz, and at nearby Am Thonberg, Fw. Wolfram Sczymanski died in the crash of his FW 190 F-8 'White 11 + '.

Table 3: S.G. 77 FW 190s shot down on 17 April 1945
Unit Type W.Nr Markings Pilot & Fate Remarks Location % F/H
Stab III./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 588 721 '< + ' ? Hit by own anti-aircraft fire, pilot FSA 6 km S. Kamenz (42713) 100 F
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 586 816 'White 8 + ' ? Force-landing Doberschütz (42588) ? F
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 584 575 'White 11 + ' Uffz. Olaf Koers + Shot down Gr. Baselitz (42576) 100 F
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 961 173 'Red 13 + ' Fw. Wolfram Sczymanski + Shot down Am Thonberg (42579) 100 F
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 638 057 'Black 11 + ' Ofw. Wilhelm Porth + Shot down N.E. Zescha (42586) 100 F
7./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 938 503 'Black 13 + ' Uffz. Ernst Vollkardt + Shot down Schmerlitz (42581) 100 F
8./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-9 426 043 'Black 1 + ' Lt. Gerhard Bauer + Shot down 1 km N. Kuckau (42721) 100 F
8./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 584 043 'Black 9 + ' Oblt. August Lambert + Shot down 1.5 km N.E. Hoyerswerda 100 F
8./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 586 841 'Black 6 + ' ? Pilot FSA Welzow (42381) 100 F

Please follow this link to a map by Dennis Peschier showing the locations where the FW 190s went down.

Three III./S.G. 77 aircraft were lost on missions to the front on 17 April 1945. Two were victims of anti-aircraft fire, and Fw. Olschweski went missing in the Jerischke area, 30 km south-east of Cottbus.

Table 4: Other III./S.G. 77 losses on 17 April 1945
Unit Type W.Nr Markings Pilot & Fate Remarks Location % F/H
9./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 932 581 'Yellow 7 + ' ? Belly-landing due to anti-aircraft fire 2 km S.E. Mulkwitz (42399) 30 F
8./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 426 047 'Black 2 + ' ? Force-landing due to anti-aircraft fire 1 km N. Strefurt 100 F
9./S.G. 77 FW 190 F-8 588 722 'Yellow 8 + ' Fhr. Joachim Olschweski M Cause unknown Jerischke area (4244-43-46) 100 F

Table 5: 55th Fighter Group Losses, 17 April 1945
Unit Name Aircraft Serial Markings Cause Location MACR No.
343rd FS/55th FG 2/Lt. Philip A. Erby (KIA) P-51D 44-15025 "Beautiful Lavina" AA fire Fl.Pl. Kamenz 13920
343rd FS/55th FG 2/Lt. George A. Apple (KIA) P-51D 44-15735 AA fire near Dresden 13918
343rd FS/55th FG 2/Lt. Daniel A. Langelier (KIA) P-51D 44-72349 N. Bautzen 13915
HQ/55th FG Lt.Col. Elwyn G. Righetti (KIA) P-51D 44-72227 "Katydid II" AA fire Fl.Pl. Riesa/Canitz 13916
338th FS/55th FG 1/Lt. Robert K. Thacker (POW) P-51D 44-15639 AA fire Fl.Pl. Riesa/Canitz 13919

Analysis of Claims and Losses
The 55th FG claimed a total of nine aircraft destroyed in the air, and 36 on the ground at Kamenz, Bautzen-Litten and Riesa-Canitz on 17 April 1945.[5] The 55th FG P-51Ds almost certainly accounted for all the S.G. 77 losses in the Kamenz area on 17 April. Additionally, a 6./S.G. 2 FW 190 was shot down by enemy fighters fifteen kilometres east of Bautzen, and was probably another 55th FG victim.

On 17 April 1945, the Geschwaderstab and III. Gruppe of S.G. 77 suffered the loss of nineteen aircraft, along with one pilot missing and six killed. A majority of these losses were due to a single low-level attack by American fighters. This attack demonstrates the complete air superiority enjoyed by the Allies in the final days of World War II. The Germans may have had highly advanced aircraft types like the Ta 152 and Me 262, and advanced weapons like the Panzerblitz, but these were rendered ineffective because British and American fighters could prowl unopposed across all German-occupied territory, even an airbase some 60 km away from the advancing Russian army.

Kamenz Airfield Today
There is still an airfield at Kamenz, and I assume it is at the same location as the wartime field. The modern 1,100 m airstrip runs S.W. - N.E., and a few kilometres to the north-west is a wooded area [6]

[1] A. Price, Luftwaffe Data Book
[2] M. Holm, Schlachtgeschwader 77,
[3] Freeman, p.490; Gray, p.120
[4] R.M. Littlefield, p.195
[5] Gray, p.124
[6] For a map, please follow this link.

R.A. Freeman, A. Crouchman & V. Maslen, The Mighty Eigth War Diary, Motorbooks International, Osceola, 1993

J.M. Gray, The 55th Fighter Group vs the Luftwaffe, Specialty Press Publishers, ..., 1999

W.N. Hess & T.G. Ivie, Fighters of the Mighty Eighth, Motorbooks International, Osceola, 1990

M. Holm, The Luftwaffe, 1939-1945,

R.M. Littlefield, Double Nickel - Double Trouble: KIAs, MIA, POWs & Evaders of the 55th Fighter Group in WWII, self-published, 1993

Loss information via D. Wadman and J.L. Perry