Luftwaffe’s Secret KG 200 in World War II
The history of the German Luftwaffe in World War II has been examined by scores of authors and eyewitnesses. The case of Kampfgeschwader (Battle Wing) 200, or KG 200, is a different story, however. The real story of this special Luftwaffe unit has remained shrouded in mystery, and most members maintained their silence after the war. The commander of the unit, Colonel Werner Baumbach, a winner of the Knight’s Cross and a celebrated Junkers Ju-88 bomber pilot, did not even mention KG 200 in his memoirs, Broken Swastika.
KG 200 was a unique unit, which operated a wide variety of aircraft–from the Blohm und Voss Bv-222 Wiking (the largest flying boat of the era) to the Junkers Ju-52, Ju-90, Ju-290 and Ju-188, the Heinkel He-111, and even captured British and American aircraft such as the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
The earliest incarnation of KG 200 was Special Squadron Rowehl, a unit subordinate to the Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization. Colonel Theodor Rowehl, who had been a reconnaissance pilot in World War I, heard rumors that Poland was building new forts along its border with Germany. Now a civilian, Rowehl began flying photoreconnaissance missions over Poland in civilian aircraft. (Military planes were not allowed to fly in that area.) The Abwehr was impressed with Rowehl’s photographs and paid him to continue his flights. From 1930 to 1934, Rowehl flew solo reconnaissance flights as a civilian. A short time later, he put together a squadron of airmen that was given an official military designation. His efforts led to the creation of a unit operating for the Luftwaffe’s 5th Branch (air intelligence). The new unit flew high-altitude photoreconnaissance missions over all of Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union in a wide variety of military and civilian aircraft.
During the late war period, when the Abwehr fell under a cloud of mistrust due to anti-Hitler activities, the prestige of the squadron suffered through its association with the intelligence arm. Captain Karl Edmund Gartenfeld, a specialist in long-range reconnaissance and navigation and in inserting agents behind enemy lines, formed his own new unit in the summer of 1942. By 1944 his squadron, the 2nd Test Formation, had grown to a group of four squadrons.
KG 200 was officially formed by order of the air force high command on February 20, 1944. In March 1944, the 2nd Test Formation was united with the 1st Test Formation, a research squadron. This combined unit came under the command of then Lt. Col. Werner Baumbach and was renamed KG 200. The 2nd Test Formation became the first group of the new KG 200, and Gartenfeld was replaced by Major Adolf Koch. Within days, 32 types of aircraft were ready for use, complete with 17 fully trained crews. Heavy training began at once, and by the end of July 1944, five new crews were ready, and refresher classes had been provided for 75 additional crews. Even at this early stage special missions were already being flown.
KG 200 was divided into several sections, each of which had subsidiaries across the German empire. The first group (I/KG 200) handled agent work; the first squadron (1/KG 200) handled long-distance operations; 2/KG 200 covered short-range operations from various ‘outstations’; 3/KG 200 was concerned with transport and training duties and was based at the Baltic island of Ruegen, later Flensburg; 4/KG 200 handled technical matters. The second group (II/KG 200) provided pathfinders, radar-jamming aircraft, bombers and Mistel composite aircraft; 7/KG 200 handled replacement and training for II/KG 200.
The first two groups of KG 200 were the only ones ever fully developed, although several other projects were planned. III/KG 200 was to have fitted Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighters with torpedoes but was never inaugurated. IV/KG 200 was the training and replacement group for KG 200 and trained the nearly 100’self-sacrifice’ pilots who flew the Reichenberg modified V-1 suicide weapons. KG 100, which handled Fritz X and Hs 293 guided missiles, was also associated with KG 200. The fifth long-range reconnaissance group flew Ju-90s and Ju-290s on their missions. The test unit of the Luftwaffe commander flew high-altitude reconnaissance and testing aircraft and also conducted evaluation flights of captured Allied aircraft.
2/KG 200 covered different combat fronts from various outstations. The headquarters of each outstation was located in a wooded area, and the airfield had to appear abandoned during the day in order to avoid unwanted Allied scrutiny. Outstation Carmen, in northern Italy, covered the western Mediterranean, the southern Mediterranean, and North and West Africa. Outstations Klara and Toska handled the Eastern Front, and Detachment Olga covered Western Europe, England, Ireland and Iceland (and later took over Carmen’s areas as well).
By 1944, because of the increasing action on the Western Front, Detachment Olga at Frankfurt am Main was very busy. Olga was commanded by P.W. Stahl, an experienced pilot who had flown supply missions in the fall of 1942 to Finnish long-range reconnaissance units operating deep in Soviet territory. His book, KG 200: The True Story, is one of the few accurate accounts of the unit.
Despite its importance, Outstation Olga was little more than a rough runway beside a forest. The command post consisted of two huts hidden in the woods. The operational aircraft included six Junkers Ju-188s and a pair of captured and renovated Boeing B-17s, redesignated Dornier Do-288s. Enemy ‘Jabos,’ as the Germans called Allied ground-attack aircraft, were overhead so often that personnel took the precaution of dodging from tree to tree, never appearing in the open during daylight.
Detachment Olga was responsible for landing agents in France, which was under Allied control. The KG 200 pilots usually dropped agents by parachute, but on some flights they would drop a personnel drop device–a metal and plywood container holding three agents and their equipment that would parachute to earth. The KG 200 pilots made supply runs to keep their covert activities in operation.
Agents were trained at the Reich Main Security Office’s well-fortified luxury hotel, on a mountain in southwestern Poland. The hotel was ringed by guards and could be reached only by cable-car. Upon graduation, the new agents were sent to KG 200 for transport to their areas of operation.
These secret missions were only flown at night, and the runway lights were turned off as soon as the aircraft had taken off or landed. Under cover of darkness, as they dropped their passengers or acted as airborne listening posts, the KG 200 pilots and planes were relatively safe from attack. Landing was another matter; the airfields often came under attack and were extensively damaged while the KG 200 pilots were in the air, making landing impossible and leading to the loss of airplanes and crews.
Pressed by a shortage of long-range aircraft, KG 200 used captured Allied aircraft–given German markings–to fly their missions. Phyllis Marie, a Boeing B-17F, was one example. Phyllis Marie went down with battle damage on March 8, 1944, at Werben, Germany. The plane was captured and repaired from the large stock of B-17 spare parts that the Germans had amassed during the years of heavy daylight bombing attacks by U.S. planes. Maltese crosses were painted on the wings and a raked swastika on the rudder, but otherwise Phyllis Marie remained unchanged. U.S. forces recaptured the plane on a runway at Altenburg on May 4, 1945.