Photo: Robert Michulec "Me 109 cz. 5", Aj-Press 1998.
"Doras" and "Cezars" of Gentzen JGr 102 on Gross-Stein airfield in August 1939. Messerchmitts just under preparing for invasion against Poland...
When at the end of the September Campaign the Luftwaffe counted the successes of the German fighter units it appeared that in the air battles 90 Polish aircraft were shot down. In the second place in respect of the air wins was Jagdgruppe 102, the leader of which, Hauptmann Johannes Gentzen, claimed shooting down of as many as seven opponents. Altogether, his unit claimed the destruction of 78 Polish planes, of which 28 were destroyed in the air, and Gentzen appeared at the top of Luftwaffe shooters in the new conflict.
The photo of Gentzen from prewar newspaper Anh. Kurier 31.8.1938. Kindly forwarded by Hans-werner Müller. Many thanks!
Hannes Gentzen was born in 1906 and succeeded in obtaining full training in the pre-war Germany, and at the end of the 20’s in the area of the USSR in Lipeck to the south west of Moscow. On Hitler’s seizure of powers, for people such as him the green light turned on and as a proffessional officer he undertook the training and organizing of new units. On the 1st of May 1939, in the rank of Hauptmann, he takes charge of Jagdgruppe 102 equipped with one-seated Messerschmitts Bf109D, which stayed at Bernberg airfield. At the end of August the unit was moved to Gross Stein (Kamień Wielki) near Opole (Opeln), from where it made attack on Poland.
For the first three days of the war the Jagdgruppe 102 pilots had no luck and they failed to meet Polish aircraft despite their performing of many flights to the close support of German bombers and Stukas’s. However, on the 4th of September the account of the unit was opened by Hauptmann Gentzen, who at about 9.30 a.m. shot down a lone Polish bomber PZL P37B Łoś (factory number 72.18). It was a machine of the 211th Eskadra Bombowa (211th Bomb Squadron) pursuing a reconaissance flight, and its crew was por. obs. Górniak, sierż. strz. Zejdler, plut. pil. Bonkowski, and kpr. strz. Puchała. And the crew fell down in flames around the mansion Gieczno near Rychłocice. Then Górniak and Puchała died.
It was not the end of the lucky day of Gentzen. Just after noon he led to ‘Freie Jagd’ in Lodz region the 1st Staffel of his unit and he succeeded one more time. Here is how he later remembered the flight:
“The Polish fighters were not tracked down without problems. However, bringing them to the ground is extremely important. Every Polish pilot is a master of acrobatics, and the green-brown color of their airplanes is an ideal camouflage. The Poles flying in their machines often were able to so color-wise remind a burning forest that it was very difficult to spot them.
However, in the first air fight my Staffel had a great success. We were flying over Lodz in the ‘stairway’ formation at the height of about 1000 meters, when we saw two Polish fighters climbing up in our direction. A part of the Staffel at once began the diver’s flight. I myself attacked one of the two Poles. My missiles must have hit in the engine because he immediately went down in the slide fight. We went after him, and to our surprise we saw that the field he wanted to land on was a perfectly disguised airfield. What a surprise! We would have certainly not found their hiding place were it not for the escaping pilot who led us to the airfield. During landing the shot down aircraft stood ‘on its head’ and then caught fire. The pilot jumped out of the machine and hid very quickly. Of the nine Polish aircraft that we discovered on the airfield, five stood in a row. We flew right above the ground and we shot them all and burned. Four others were standing with their ‘mouths’ in haystacks. It was not difficult – after a few machine gun series into the stacks they caught fire and four planes burned.
Meanwhile another Pole appeared above us. My friend jumped on him but he slid away and escaped. Anyway, he was attacked by another one and shot down.
The airfield Widzew near Lodz, base III/6 of Fighter Division belonging to the ‘Lodz’ Army Air Force fell victim to Jagdgruppe 102. Five fighters PZL P11 and P7 burned on land and further three were damaged. The unlucky pilot shot by Gentzen was ppor. Zadrozinski of 161th Fighter Squadron, and another Pole shot down was por. Jeziorowski. However, for Gentzen the day was not over. He keeps on saying this way:
“During our return flight we met three Polish bombers, of which two were sent to the ground by us, and the third found refuge high in the sky. Three flyers jumped out in parachutes. Unfortunately, one of them touched the fin and fell down with the plane. Another one was soaring right behind him and landed slightly aside.’’
The flight of the three Los’s belonged to the 212th Bomber Squadron and all of them were shot down by Jagdgruppe 102 pilots. Among them, one of the shot down was taken by Hauptmann Gentzen. During that flight the Jagdgruppe 102 pilots claimed destroying of four Los’s and two P24’s in the air as well as destroying nine further Polish planes on the ground. In this way Gentzen gained during one day three victories in two fighting flights.
For the two following days Jagdgruppe 102 fought Polish airplanes claiming victories almost everyday. The unit moved to Krakow on 9th September, but only two days later it seized the airfield in Dębica. Another Gentzen’s great day came on the 14th September, when a German reconaissance aircraft discovered in Hutniki near Brody (40 miles from the Russian border) the airfield of the VIth (Light) Bomber Squadron of Bomber Brigade. Knowing the moveability of the Polish fighting units the Germans decided to immediately force an attack expecting a strong defense of the Polish fighters. They decided to direct the first Jagdgruppe 102 before Heinkel He111 of KG 4, and the first Jagdgruppe 102 dispatched to flight its 1 Staffel of eight planes Bf1109D. When the Germans were approaching the airfield a group of light bombers PZL P23 Karaś appeared, which group was immediately attacked. Johannes Gentzen remembered the flight this way:
“One time, near Brody, as far as I remember we met Polish two-seated ground attack planes, where the shooter sits at the back. Of fourteen enemy airplanes, against our eight, only one escaped.’’
The pilots of 1st Staffel stopped air fight at the news of the closing bombers, claiming to have shot down five Karaś’s, of which Gentzen shot four in only ten minutes. It should be mentioned that the Polish planes flying on the remaining amount of fuel sat down on the ground where they could as they had not enough fuel to escape or defend from the attacks. As a result four PZL P23’s were shot down – two of them of the 64th Bomber Squadron as well as two of Reserve Reconaissance Squadron SPL Dęblin. On the ground were destroyed seven Karaś’s and two unarmed Los’s, and all the remaining P23 were damaged as well as one high-wing monoplane R.XIII. Gentzen enriched his account to seven shot downs and took lead among the German pilots in the September Campaign. As soon as the next day he received at the hands of Hermann Göring the Eisern Kreuzen First Class.
No later than 18 September Jagdgruppe 102 moved to Breslau (Wrocław), to quickly take the airfield Lachen/Speyerdorf near the western German border. Its Bf109D appeared to be obsolete against the modern allied fighters, which was confirmed on the 6th November, when in fight against Curtiss H75A’s of GC II/5’s, in spite of a great advantage numberwise the Germans lost four aircrafts and four others were seriously damaged. Gentzen alone shot down one of the opponents, and he was threatened by court martial for such high losses of his unit. However, he defended himself, and in February 1940 Jagdgruppe 102 was moved to Bonn, where it was given new two-engine aircraft Messerschmitt Bf110C as well as a new mark I/ZG 2. Gentzen was granted with a promotion to a Major’s rank, which he celebrated as well as he could by shooting one more Curtiss H75A on 7th April, this time together with a GC I/5.
After starting the offensive in the West, Major Hannes Gentzen in less than two weeks made his account of shot downs amount to 18. That successful career began in the Polish sky was suddenly abrupted on the 26th May 1940. During the takeoff from Neuchateau airfield to take over a group of British light bombers Battle his Bf110C crashed as a result of loss of power in one of the engines. Both Gentzen and his shooter, Oberleutenant Domeier, died. Gentzen was at that time the most efficient pilot of Luftwaffe.
Messerscmitt Bf 109 D-1 of the JGr 102 commander, mjr Hannes Gentzen, Lachen-Speyerdorf airfield, Germany, October 1939. Please note 7 white victory bars near swastika.
2001.05.14, © WW II Ace Stories.