A member of the Luftwaffe exchanges gifts with a native in North Africa, 1941.

A member of the Luftwaffe exchanges gifts with a native in North Africa, 1941.

Luftwaffe Oberleutnant exchanges gifts with a native black Arab in North Africa. Original inscription: On the other side of the Mediterranean. “Signal”, U/Nr. 12/41. Photo taken by Kriegsberichter Sturm from PK-W (Propaganda-Kompanie Wehrmacht).

The Luftwaffe squadron (wing) that fought during the Northern Africa campaign was Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27). Synonymous with the Afrika Korps and the campaign in North Africa, JG 27 provided Rommel’s army with fighter protection for virtually the whole ‘roller coaster ride that was the war in the Western Desert from 1941-43.

Formed in Germany on 1 October 1939 (with Adolf Galland as CO of I.Gruppe), JG 27 saw considerable action both during the Battles of France and Britain, downing 146 aircraft in the latter campaign alone. Sent to North Africa in April 1941, the Geschwader had an immediate impact on the campaign, which had up until then been dominated by the Allies.

Fighting against the Desert Air Force’s generally inferior Hawker Hurricanes and Curtiss P-40s, which were often flown by inexperienced and under-trained pilots, the German Bf 109s inflicted heavy losses, although serviceability in the harsh conditions and chronic fuel shortages greatly reduced the effectiveness of the Geschwader. On March 24, 1942, Lieutenant Korner shot down a Douglas Boston, the 1,000th victory for the Geschwader.

The squadron achieved: kills 3,142 and lost in 1,400 machines. 725 pilots deceased between 1939 and 1945. 24 pilots of the squadron received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Of these nine pilots were awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross.

Three of them also received the Swords to the Knight’s Cross. Hans-Joachim Marseille, the squadron’s ace, was also a winner of the Knight’s Cross with diamonds. This award has only been awarded 27 times.

The Geschwader units on the Eastern Front had claimed over 270 aircraft during operations in 1941, for just 16 aircraft lost in air combat.

(Photo credit: Bundesarchiv).