Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Luftwaffe Soldiers Near the Burning Wreck of American P-38 Lightning

German Luftwaffe soldiers near the burning wreck of an American Lockheed P-38 Lightning "ES-J" fighter aircraft that shot down in Tunisia, early 1943. The plane belong to the USAAF's 48th Fighter-Squadron / 14th Fighter Group. This picture was first published in the SIGNAL magazine, May 1943 edition. Operation Torch (the invasion of North West Africa) was the first major Anglo-American operation of the Second World War. It was also the first time the P-38 saw significant action against the Luftwaffe. The only indication of how the P-38 would cope against German fighter aircraft came from a test flight against a captured Fw 190. Two P-38 equipped Fighter Groups – the 1st and 14th – were allocated to Operation Torch, with a third (the 78th) kept in reserve in Britain. They did not play a part in the initial landings on 8 November 1942 – the 14th FG did not go operational in North Africa until 11th November. At first they were based in western Algeria, as part of the Central Task Force that had occupied by Oran, but in the days that followed the Germans built up an impressive presence in Tunisia, and the P-38 groups were moved east, initially to Algiers. The 14th FG was first, moving to the recently captured airbase at Youks-les-Bains, with the first squadron moving on 21 November. This base was close to the Tunisian border, and the P-38s soon found themselves coming up against the increasingly strong Luftwaffe presence in North Africa. Over the next two months the 14th FG carried out a mix of ground attack, bomber escort and air superiority missions. At first they had been involved in supporting the first, unsuccessful, attempt to capture Tunis, which had occupied most of late November 1942. The front line was 150 miles east of Youks, not a problem for the P-38, but there were never enough aircraft. P-38 formations on fighter sweeps over Tunisia were often outnumbered by formations of Bf 109s and Fw 190s. The 14th FG suffered very heavy losses during this period. Between November 1942 and 28 January 1943 the group lost 32 pilots (out of an original complement of 54) and had been reduced to only seven operational aircraft. During its first period of service in North Africa, the 14th FG claimed 62 victories. Even though North Africa had been given the highest possible priority for new P-38s, there simply weren’t enough aircraft being produced in late 1942 to sustain such heavy losses. On 28 January the 14th FG was withdrawn, and replaced by the 82nd Fighter Group, also equipped with the P-38.

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