WW2 - The Latvian Squadrons in the Luftwaffe


The Latvian Squadrons in the Luftwaffe



THE FIRST SQUADRON
- In March, 1944 the first unit was trained and ready. It initially consisted of:
    • 9 officers and 10 NCO aviators
    • approximately 70 ground crew members
    • 1 German liason officer and 5 German administrative personnel
    • 18 Arado 66 aircraft
- March 22, 1944 - the first squadron aircraft depart Liepaja-Grobini and are flown to the Vecumi aerodrome. The ground support follows on March 29. The unit had already made its first operational sorties on March 28.
- May 14 - 22, the unit is seconded to the Estonian forces and spends these nights bombing objectives very close to the front lines, rather than the more strategic targets which they usually targeted.
- On May 26 the squadron moved to Salas airfield, about 50 km to the south.
- Their assigned task was the night bombing of enemy strongpoints, HQs, supply lines, supply depots and other targets of opportunity.
- The Arado 66 was a two-seater but for most of these night operations they were flown by the pilot alone.
- A typical bombload would include 2-3 70 kg. anti-personnel or firebombs, which would usually be dropped from an altitude of approximately 1000 metres. They would fly as far as 50 km behind enemy lines and, in case of forced landing in enemy territory, each flier carried a pistol and machine gun.
- May 1944 - the Estonian aviators are reassigned to a unit in Pernau.



THE SECOND SQUADRON
- In June, 1944 the second unit was trained and ready. It initially consisted of:
    • Commander: Capt. A.Graudins
    • 4 officers and 13 NCO aviators.
    • 65 ground crew members
    • 1 German liason officer and 3 German administrative personnel.
    • 19 Arado 66 aircraft.
- With the creation of this second squadron, the Latvian Units were officially designated as Nachtschlacthgruppe 12 (NSG 12). The first commander of this Unit was Capt. Rademacher (German).
- June 26, 1944 - the second squadron departs Libau-Grobini and joins the first at Salas aerodrome, near Vecumi.


Arado 66 at Leipaja
THE THIRD SQUADRON
- In July, 1944 the third unit was trained and ready. Capt.Greizis was named commander of the unit but, due to a shortage of aircraft, they did not become operational. Instead, at the end of July, the 3rd Squadron and its eight aircraft were sent to Riga-Skulte where it was broken up and divided between the two already existing units.



OPERATIONAL HISTORY
- July 29, 1944 - the Latvian units are transferred to Riga-Skulte.
- July 30, 1944 - both units begin operational flights from Riga-Skulte against the Soviet forces. They took part in the intensive battles occuring in the Sauli-Jelgava-Tukums region, and flew many sorties each night. For example, the 35 aircraft of both units combined completed almost 300 sorties attacking Soviet units south of Jelgava on the night of July 31 - August 1, 1944. This was possible only because at this time their airfield at Skulte was only 40 km from the front. The sky was so crowded with aircraft on that night that they flew with their navigation lights turned on to help them avoid collisions. They flew at an altitude of 800-1000 metres which was out of the range of soldier's rifles and, as the Soviets did not yet have anti-aircraft batteries in this region they were not concerned that their navigation lights would be seen.
- During the period of July-September 1944 the nightly flights continued to be quite intensive. The perilous situation at the front required them to fly in almost any weather. Occasionally, this led to chaos and losses. One such example occured on the night of July 23rd, when it was raining heavily and they had to fly almost entirely by instruments. On that night, the ground targets were located 150 km from their base and, of the 16 aircraft which departed on that mission, only 9 returned. Most were later accounted for, but three disappeared without a trace. All three aircraft lost were from the 2nd Squadron, whose pilots were less experienced that those of the 1st. Another such incident took place on the night of August 12-13, when they launched a mission despite thunderstorm activity with wind speeds of up to 90 km/hr. On this night a pilot of the 1st Squadron was killed in a crash and one aircraft of the 2nd Squadron simply disappeared.
- During the summer of 1944 their primary base was Riga-Skulte, but they occasionally operated from secondary airfields in Idrica, the Blomes estate (near Smiltene), Cesis and Salaspils. Ordinarily, the units would stay at these bases for only a night or two, but in mid-August the 1st Squadron transferred to Salaspils and remained there until early September, when they re-based to Tukums.
- In early August the Latvian Units were re-formed into Luftwaffen Legion Lettland, which consisted of:
    • The Training Unit at Liepaja-Grobini.
    • The units of NSG 12
    • One fighter squadron (yet to be formed)
    • One anti-aircraft unit
- Luftwaffen Legion Lettland was placed under the command of Lt.Col Rucels.
- August 22, 1944 - Lt.Col.Bulmanis is designated to command NSG 12 and, after a brief flight refresher course at Cesis, he officially takes command on September 18.
- September 18, 1944 - Major Tomass is designated to take over command of the Liepaja-Graubini Training Unit. However, by the time he arrives at his new post the unit is already being transferred to Germany to be disbanded and, as a result, the German commander never really relinquished command of the unit.
- With the creation of the Latvian Aviation Legion, the number of Germans in the unit decreased to only five - Communications/liason officer 1st.Lt. Bindhak, and four administrative personnel.
- September, 1944 - as a result of the fuel shortage, the operational sorties of the Latvian units is greatly curtailed.
- September 27, 1944 - the Liepaja-Grobini Training Unit is ordered to Stettin. The aircraft depart immediately, and the ground crew follow a few days later by ship. Latvian aviation personnel gathering at Stettin are assigned to the Altdamm aerodrome.
- October 8, 1944 - the Soviets have advanced as far as Kekava, and their fighter aircraft patrol over the Riga aerodromes seemingly unchallenged. Both Latvian sqaudrons, one from Tukums and the other from Riga-Skulte, are withdrawn to Liepaja-Grobini. The following morning, October 9, they flew to the north airfield at Liepaja (Libau-Nord) and, later the same day, they departed for Konigsberg in Germany.
- October 8, 1944 - the ground crew personnel from the 2nd Squadron are ordered to travel to Germany. They travel by ground to Liepaja from where, on October 28, they are transported by ship to Germany. On Nov.1 they arrived at Stettin.
- October 10, 1944 - the aircraft fly on to Sorocki aerodrome, near Bromberg, where the aircraft are handed over and the units disbanded. After handing over their aircraft, the flying personnel were transferred to Hohensalz, about 24 km SW of Torna.
- October 11, 1944 - the 1st Squadron ground crew personnel are ordered to travel by road to Germany. With great difficulty, and coming under fire near Klaipeda, they arrive at Hohensalz on October 20.
- October 29, 1944 - the remaining aviators and ground personnel from NSG 12 are gathered at Hohensalz. From here they were redistributed in a number of different ways, often being separated from Latvian units and assigned to German units according to their skills and specialties. Futher details about this distribution and the outcomes can be found in Silgailis' book, "Latviesu Legions"



CONCLUSION
- With the transfer to Germany, the Latvian Aviation Units in the Luftwaffe ceased to exist as such.
- From March - October 1944 the 1st Squadron had completed about 3,500 operational sorties.
- From June - October 1944 the 2nd Squadron had completed 2,658 operational sorties.
- The two units suffered a total of six casualties (J.Karklins, Daiga and Jacis from the 1st Squadron, Gailis, Jansevics and Kirsteins from the 2nd Squadron - the three pilots lost on July 23).
- About 80% of the aviators from the Latvian units were awarded the Iron Cross.




Sources
  • Bruvelis, Edvins Latvijas Aviacijas Vesture
  • Hazners V. and Berzins, J. (ed) Latviesu Karavirs Otra Pasaules Kara Laika Vol.7
  • Krastins, K. Latviesu Lidotaji 2. Pasaules Kara in Daugavas Vanagu Menesraksts 1979 No.1- 1980 No.1.
  • Malins, V. Latviesu Aviacijas Izformesana in Daugavas Vanagu Menesraksts 1978 No.1
  • Millers, E. Latviesu Naktsbumbvezu Eskadrilas Darbiba Otra Pasaules Kara Laika in Daugavas Vanagu Menesraksts 1975 No.1
  • Rucels, J. Latvijas Kara Aviacija Gadu un Laikmeta Mainas in Daugavas Vanagu Menesraksts 1969 No.2
  • Silgailis, Arturs Latviesu Legions
  • Varpa, Igors Latviesu Karavirs Zem Kaskrusta Karoga
  • Vinegers, L. Jura Pie Liepajas in Daugavas Vanagu Menesraksts 1996 No.1
  • Weal, J. Luftwaffe Schlachtgruppen




- HOME -