‘Luftwaffe Eagles’ – Chris Goss 1 Staffel/Jagdgeschwader 53 (1/JG 53) had initially been led by Hans Karl Mayer and then came under the leadership of Werner Molders. Both pilots were veterans of the Spanish conflict. When I/JG 53 arrived at Rennes on the 23rd June 1940 it had twenty three kills to its name and was an experienced unit. Over France the unit had enjoyed air superiority and had flown short range missions. To fight over England meant the Bf109s would be flying at extreme range. The first mission took place on the 11th August, it was uneventful. The next day the Staffel shot down three Hurricanes off the Isle of Wight. The jubilant mood these kills brought continued for the next twelve days during which the Staffel claimed a further sixteen RAF fighters.
On the 15th August a Spitfire flew over the airfield, was surrounded by BF109s and forced to landed, the Staffel had a perfect example of the RAF fighter.
The Staffel suffered its first loss on the 25th August when one of their pilots (Gefrieter Josef Broker flying his second mission) went missing during a conflict with Hurricanes over Dorset, Broker became a POW, the Staffel claimed seven RAF fighters shot down. The following day saw more kills and another loss (Feldwebel Heinrich Bezner suffered engine failure, plunged into the sea and was killed) for the Staffel. Two days later the Staffel moved to the Pas de Calais where they were billeted in a hotel near the beach. By now it was September and Hans Karl Mayer was sent to command 1 Gruppe/JG 53, his experienced deputy Hans Ohly took command of 1/JG 53. On the 2nd September Werner Karl’s Bf109 was initially attacked by Hurricanes and then on his way back to France was shot down by Ginger Lacey (this was Ginger Lacey’s thirteenth kill), Karl became a POW. Another pilot, Heinrich Ruhl, had been forced to ditch in the channel but had been rescued by a German boat.
On the same day two other Bf109s from 1/JG 53 were lost with both their pilots being killed, another Bf109 was badly damaged and two other pilots were in hospital. On the 9th another pilot, Heinrich Hohnisch, was shot down and became a POW. The climax to the Battle of Britain took place on the 15th September, on this day the 1/JG 53 lost two pilots. The rest of the Gruppe did not fare well with two pilots from 2/JG 53 being killed and two from 3/JG 53 being shot down, one was killed and the other became a POW. I/JG 53 claimed six RAF fighters shot down on this day. By now the strain of constant missions was beginning to tell. Over the next nine months 1/JG 53 did not claim another kill but their own losses continued. Two experienced pilots were shot down on the 5th October, both became POWs. On the 17th October Hauptmann Mayer was killed, his loss was a severe blow to JG53. On the 19th December the pilots and aircraft of 1/JG 53 returned to Germany, two more pilots had been shot down before they left France. During the Battle of Britain the Staffel claimed fifty one RAF fighters shot down for the loss of eight pilots, seven of whom had become POWs. In February 1941 the Staffel returned to the Channel Front with Me109 F-1s, no kills took place and one pilot was killed and another wounded. In June 1941 1/JG 53 was withdrawn from France in preparation for the invasion of Russia.