Jagdgeschwader 53

Jagdgeschwader 53
Active 1939–45
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch  Luftwaffe
Type Fighter Aircraft
Role Air superiority
Size Air Force Wing
Nickname(s) Pik As ("Ace of Spades")

Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53) Pik-As was a Luftwaffe fighter-wing of World War II. It operated in Western Europe and in the Mediterranean. Jagdgeschwader 53 - or as it was better known, the "Pik As" (Ace of Spades) Geschwader - was one of the oldest German fighter units of World War II with its origins going back to 1937. JG 53 flew the various models of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 throughout World War II.

World War II

Campaign in the West

Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-1's of Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53) "Pik As" c. 1939/1940

The Geschwader commenced its wartime operations with a high proportion of its personnel experienced ex-Condor Legion pilots including Oblt. Werner Mölders, Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 53 based at Wiesbaden. On 14 May 1940, JG 53 claimed some 43 victories in one day. The Battle of France thus saw the Geschwader score heavily during May and June 1940, with some 275 claims against Armee de l'Air and Royal Air Force forces, Mölders claiming 25 kills thus far, and Lt. Friedrich-Karl "Tutti" Müller with 8 kills. Geschwaderkommodore of JG 53 during the spring and summer of 1940 was Major Hans-Jürgen von Cramon-Taubadel. While JG 53 was making a reputation for itself during the Battle of Britain, according to RAF Air Ministry intelligence summary no. 60, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was informed that Major Jurgen von Cramon-Taubadel's wife was Jewish. Göring then ordered the whole of Stab/JG 53[1] to remove the "Pik As" emblem from their planes, and replace it with a red stripe around the engine cowling as punishment. All of Stab./JG 53's planes immediately were stripped of their "Pik As" insignia, and soon after the whole of the Stab./JG 53 had also stripped the swastikas off the tails of their planes in protest.[2] During this phase of the Battle of Britain, Stab.JG 53's planes were easily recognizable because of the red band and the absence of a swastika on the tail of their Bf 109's. On 30 September Major Günther Freiherr von Maltzahn became Kommodore and the Stab.JG53 was allowed to paint the "Pik As" back on their Bf 109's, removing the red band from their cowlings.

The Geschwader was one of the most effective during the Battle, claiming 258 kills for 51 pilots killed or POW, with Hpt. Hans Karl Meyer the top scorer with 21 kills, Hpt. Bretnutz 18 and Lt Schmidt 17 claims. JG 53 claimed its 500th victory in November 1940.

Eastern Front

In April 1941 the Geschwader then transferred to the Eastern Front for Operation Barbarossa. Under the control of Luftflotte 2 commanded by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, The Geschwader, now equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109F, flew operations from Warsaw-Bielany. On 31 July 1941 JG 53 shot down its 1,000 aircraft. In the period 22 June 1941 5 December 1941 JG 53 claimed to destroy 762 Soviet aircraft, losing 35 in aerial combat, and two on the ground.[3]

Campaign in the South

Later in the year JG 53 moved to bases in Sicily for operations against Malta (though elements also served in the Netherlands from July to November 1941). The III. Gruppe was transferred to North Africa for a short time in December 1941 while the rest of JG 53 was eventually moved to Comiso in Sicily for operations against Malta, which ended in May 1942. In the summer of 1942, II./JG 53 operated from the island of Pantelleria for operations over Malta and as escort missions for attacks on British supply convoys. Almost 200 kills are recorded by JG 53 during those five months, the majority of victims Hurricanes and Spitfires. Oblt. Franz Schiess (67 victories) recorded 11 victories over Malta, including his 20th, a Spitfire shot down on 18 July 1942. Hpt. Gerhard Michalski was the most successful German fighter pilot over Malta, claiming 26 victories. Michalski became Gruppenkommandeur II./JG 53 in June 1942 and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for 41 victories in September. On 15 October Michalski was shot down by the No. 126 Squadron RAF Spitfires of F/L. Jones and F/Sgt Varey. He bailed out of his Bf 109 G-2, landing in the sea, and was rescued by the German air-sea rescue service.

In May 1942 after the termination of the German air offensive against the British island fortress of Malta the "Pik As" Geschwader was split up, with its three Gruppen scattered over three theatres of operation. III./JG 53 again saw service in North Africa supporting Rommel's planned advance on Cairo. Stab and II./JG 53 which were left behind on Sicily after the end of the "Malta Blitz" in May for service over the central Mediterranean, and I./JG 53 was moved to the Eastern front, where it was to take part in the German summer offensive in the southern sector aimed at Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

Battle of Stalingrad

Together with the whole JG 3 and JG 52, plus Stab and II./JG 77, I./JG 53 was deployed in Luftflotte 4's Fliegerkorps VIII to support Operation Blau. Led by Major Herbert Kaminski, during the period May–September 1942 in the Eastern Front, I./JG 53 claimed 918 victories but suffering in return the loss of 34 Bf.109s, 18 pilots killed in action and nine wounded.[4]

In August, I. Gruppe 's Hauptmann Friedrich-Karl "Tutti" Müller claimed 25 Soviet Air Force victories, and between 1 September 1942 19 September 1942, claimed another 35 victories. On 19 September, he claimed his 100th and 101st victories resulting in the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. He was awarded the Oak Leaves on 23 September. Leutnant Walter Zellot was also very successful in August 1942, claiming 44 out of his 86 victories that month. Ofw. Wilhelm Crinius recorded the 1,000th victory for I./JG 53 on 27 August. Flying with Wolfgang Tonne and "Tutti" Müller in I./JG 53, Crinius was particularly successful during this period, recording 40 victories in August and 46 victories in September, including his 100th victory on 22 September. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub on 23 September and promoted to Leutnant. The Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 53, Oberleutnant Wolfgang Tonne also was credited with his 100th, 101st and 102nd kills on 22 September 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad.

In spite of all these impressive achievements, during the Stalingrad campaign the I./JG 53 faced stiff resistance of the Soviet VVS and PVO both in the air and the ground, and several of the unit's aces were shot down, wounded, captured or killed.

North Africa

Messerschmitt Bf 109G's of Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53) "Pik As" in southern Italy

On 1 November 1942, Hauptmann "Tutti" Müller was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 53 and led the unit back to the Mediterranean Theater. By November 1942 the entire Geschwader was again concentrated on Sicily for a belated offensive against Malta, in this case an abortive and short-lived blitz foiled by the much-strengthened defenders. During its 1942 operations over North Africa, Sicily and Malta JG 53 had claimed a total of at least 388 aircraft shot down. Hauptmann Gerhard Michalski claimed 25 over Malta (the Luftwaffe's top scorer) Major Günther von Maltzhan claimed 13, while Oblt Franz Schieß claimed 10. With the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November, the Geschwader again found its components separated.

The Tunisian theatre saw several Luftwaffe fighter units thrown into battle ; II./JG 2, III./ZG 2, I./JG 53, II./JG 51 and JG 77 with the Regia Aeronautica’s 155° Gruppo C.T . The Wehrmacht launched its offensive on Kasserine on 14 February 1943, and although the Luftwaffe did its utmost and scored heavily against the Allied fighter cover, lack of resources doomed the Afrika Korps to defeat. The Bf 109Gs of JG 53 and JG 77 were left alone to defend Tunisia.

III./JG 53 returned from North Africa to Sicily in November, having claimed another 113 air kills, to add to the 61 claimed over Malta earlier in the year. Losses, however, had been heavy, with 14 pilots killed, 3 POW and 7 more badly injured. Obfw. Walter Stumpf (47 kills) was the unit's top scorer, though he was killed by flak on 13 October 1942.

With Allied navies dominating the sea lanes, a vast air supply route was organized between Tunisia and Sicily, I./JG 53 being one of the units organizing escort for the slow transport Junkers Ju-52 aircraft. Here Lt. Crinius quickly recorded another 14 victories, until 13 January 1943, when in combat with RAF Spitfires Crinius’ aircraft was hit and, wounded in the thigh, he ditched his Bf 109 G-2 and was rescued by French sailors, becoming a prisoner of war. Oblt Franz Schieß also claimed 20 kills over Tunisia.

The second half of 1943 saw German forces retreating north through Italy. During these months JG 53 saw continuous action over Italy with losses mounting alarmingly to an unprecedented level coupled with diminishing success. Oblt Franz Schieß, now Staffelkaptän of 8./JG 53 and with 67 claims, was killed in action versus P-38s on 2 September 1943.

"Defense of the Reich"

II./JG 53 was withdrawn from Italy in October 1943, and was the first Gruppe of the Geschwader to be employed in the Defense of the Reich operations, stationed near Vienna from October 1943 to March 1944, before moving to south Western Germany. The winter of 1943/44 saw bitter fighting over Italy.

II./JG 53 was the sole ‘Pik As’ gruppe to see action against the Allied invasion forces on 6 June 1944. The Luftwaffe fighter units in France suffered catastrophic losses, and II./JG 53 was no exception. In just one month of operations, the Gruppe reported 42 aircraft lost through enemy action, 18 in accidents, 20 abandoned and a further 20 through other causes; approximately 200% of its operational strength. On 22 August while escorting low-level operations against the American XV Corps near Mantes, II gruppe were surprised by a large formation of P-38's and suffered seven aircraft lost.

III./JG 53 also returned from Italy in June 1944 and after a short period refitting was active in the Defence of the Reich. When the Allies launched Operation Market Garden both II. and III./JG53 were called into action. Autumn 1944 also saw the addition of a new IV. Gruppe to the Geschwader with Stab, II., III, IV./JG 53 based along the south western sector of the Western Front.

I./JG53 was later moved to Romania to protect the vital oilfields of Ploiești and also saw further action in Hungary, where it was to take part in the fierce fighting on the South Eastern part of the Russian Front in late 1944 and early 1945, eventually retreating into Czechoslovakia and Austria before it was finally disbanded in April 1945 - its remnants amalgamated into II./JG 52.

For the remainder of the war the Geschwader (minus I. Gruppe) stayed in the southwest where it fought until the end, retreating into Southern Germany and finally disbanded days before VE Day.

Commanding officers


  1. IAP—Istrebitelny Aviatsionny Polk (Fighter Aviation Regiment—Истребительный Авиационный Полк)


  1. See Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II
  2. "Jagdwaffe The Battle of Britain Phase One" by E Mombeek, D Wadman & EJ Creek.
  3. Bergström 2007, p.116.
  4. Bergstrom, Dikov and Antipov (2006) p.163
  5. 1 2 3 4 Prien, Stemmer, Rodeike, Bock (2006)
  6. Bergström, Dikov, Antipov (2006) p.61-62
  7. Vykov, Mikhail (2008) p.211
  8. Bergström, Dikov, Antipov (2006) p.143
  9. Bergström, Dikov, Antipov (2006) p.143-144
  10. Bergstrom, Dikov and Antipov (2006) p.146
  11. Bergstrom, Dikov and Antipov (2006) p.147
  12. Goodpaster (2007) p.27


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