Messerschmitts Over Sicily: Diary of a Luftwaffe Fighter Commander
By Johannes Steinhoff
Softcover, 271 pages, bibliography, and index
Published by Stackpole Books August 2004
Dimensions: 6.0 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff was one of the legends of the Luftwaffe, having flown throughout the entire war from beginning to end on every major front and surviving. He flew a total of 993 sorties and was credited with 176 victories. He was shot down himself on twelve occasions but only bailed out once, preferring to crash land his aircraft due to a mis-trust of parachutes. He achieved most of his successes flying with JG 52 against the Soviets in the East but in March 1943 he was transferred to North Africa to lead JG 77 as Geschwaderkommodore. He arrived just in time to move what remained of the Geschwader (Wing) from North Africa to Sicily.
Messerschmitts Over Sicily is Steinhoff’s autobiographical account of JG 77’s fight against the Allies during the summer of 1943. The Luftwaffe faced over 5,000 American and British aircraft with only 350 of their own. The German airfields were well within range of Allied fighters and were subjected to almost daily bombings by medium bombers. This kept the German fliers on the move and resulted in material shortages, the Germans were often forced to utilize improvised landing fields to escape the attentions of prowling Allied aircraft.
A problem which the Luftwaffe never solved in the Italian Theater was how to deal with the American heavy bomber formations. While Jagdwaffe units defending the Reich enjoyed some notable successes, American Flying Fortresses operated over Italy with relative impunity. The proximity of Allied bases greatly reduced warning times which frustrated German attempts to mass and direct intercepting fighters, and the bomber boxes were able to be escorted by defending fighters all the way to their targets. These obstacles, exasperated by the generally poor logistical situation, were not appreciated by the Luftwaffe high command. Reichsmarschall Göring attributed the lack of success to cowardice on the part of his pilots which only served to reduce morale further.
This is an interesting study of command and leadership under adversity. It reveals the complexities of managing the daily administrative responsibilities of managing a military unit while dealing with unrealistic expectations from superiors and also leading men in combat. An interesting book and well worth a read, recommended.