Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2 trop

Black 2, flown by Leutnant Arnim Köhler, 2./JG 77, Fatnassa/Tunisia, 24 March 1943

The Jagdwaffe was hard-pressed in Tunisia in their attempts to counter the Allies' growing air dominance. The odds were stacked against them and in this war of attrition their effectiveness was steadily being ground down. When the popular Kommandeur of JG 77 Major Joachim Müncheberg was killed in action on 23 March 1943, pilots' morale sank even further.

The pressure was now so great that even unit commanders' frustration broke into open anger. For example, the next day, 24 March, 13 Bf 109s of I./JG 77 scrambled at 09:40 to intercept 18 B-25s of the 321st BG escorted by P-40s of the 58th and 59th FS. The Gruppe caught up with the US formation just short of their target, however two of the P-40s must have been flown by very experienced pilots as although being outnumbered they put up a stiff fight which went on for several minutes.

Finally, Hptm. Heinz Bär, furious with his pilots, lost his temper and yelled over the R/T: 'Get out of the way you stupid bastards!' Bär then went in himself and dispatched both fighters in less than a minute. During this clash the Gruppe's pilots finally pulled themselves together and managed to shoot down three P-40s and two B-25 bombers for the loss of one Bf 109 G-2 and another damaged.

One of the successful pilots this day was Lt. Armin Köhler who downed two of the American aircraft, the first a B-25 and two minutes later a P-40, both shot down northwest of Fatnassa.

The Luftwaffe's top brass in Berlin were also angry and especially Reichsmarschall Göring who was furious when he heard of his fighter pilots' poor performance in the theatre. In his anger he demanded that pilots should be brought before a court-martial for cowardice.

To set things straight, Göring sent General Adolf Galland, commander of the fighter arm, to Tunisia to investigate and assess the situation there. However, leaders like JG 77's new commander Major Johannes Steinhoff refuted the accusations coming from Berlin and instead complained to Galland that his pilots were most upset with the accusations and that Göring's demands were unfair.

In the end it all fizzled out and not a single pilot had to face the court. Göring himself did nothing to alleviate the desperate situation in Tunisia with the result that pilots' demoralization continued.

Not even the new Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, the G-6 subtype, pleased the fighter pilots. Lt. Köhler had a less than enthusiastic comment about it: "I went up for a practice flight in one of the new G-6s. Nothing to be happy about. It handles well, but performance is sorely lacking. With each new variant these Messerschmitts get slower not faster. I had the underwing armament removed from mine, otherwise I wouldn't even dare pull it off the ground."

Later promoted to Major, Armin Köhler would end the war as the commander of II./JG 77 with a total of 69 confirmed victories including 14 claimed in the East.

This Bf 109 wears an elaborate pattern of thin meandering lines of RLM 80 snaking over its entire upper camouflage of RLM 79. Note the "Zylinderhut" (Top Hat) marking behind the white fuselage theater band. This emblem, first seen on aircraft of I./LG 2 and later used by I./JG 77, was in fact originally the crest of 2.J/88 from the Condor Legion during its operations in the Spanish Civil War.

This is one of 130 profiles that is include in my Profile Book No 12

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