Initially I./JG 52 was retained in the West, guarding the Northern European coast, while Hpt Woitke's II./JG 52 were seconded to JG 27, claiming 270 kills in the first few months of the offensive. III./JG 52 were the southern-most Gruppe on the whole Russian front, along the Black Sea coast, where action was limited at this time. During 1941-1942, with the Luftwaffe constantly on the offensive against the vast numbers of the ill-equipped and poorly trained Soviet Air Force, conditions were perfect for the experienced well-equipped JG 52 fighter pilots to build up huge personal scores of aircraft shot down. In the period 22 June - 5 December 1941 the unit destroyed 881 Soviet aircraft, in return for 49 losses in aerial combat and five aircraft on the ground.
By early 1942 the Geschwader (with JG 3) provided the fighter support along the vast Southern sector of the Eastern front. A measure of JG 52's success during 1942 was the fact that over 20 Ritterkreuz awards were made (with 7 'Oakleaves' awards) to its ace pilots in the year. On 8 May 1942, JG 52 scored its 1,500 kill. By 3 June it had reached 2,000.
Although JG 52 were not directly involved in the final stages of the Battle of Stalingrad, III./JG 52 were used during the push towards the Caucasian oil fields in the south during August-September 1942, and II./JG 52 supported the attempted break-through by 4th Panzer Army in late 1942. During this time the 4,000 kill mark was reached on the 10 December 1942.
The first half of 1943 saw action centred around the Strait of Kerch and the Crimea. By mid March II. and III. Gruppen had the vital task of protecting 17th Army's main line of retreat. On 20 April 1943, Hptm. Günther Rall scored the Geschwader's 5,000th victory.
By this time however, the new generation of advanced Soviet fighter aircraft (such as the Yak-9 or La-5 of the La-5FN version) and improved battle field tactics were taking an ever higher toll of the overworked veteran Luftwaffe pilots.
By November 1943, the loss of Kiev threatened the stability of the entire Southern sector front, the whole of JG 52 being brought together again to help bolster defences. By December 1943 JG 52 had reached 8,000 victories. Over the Uman region III./JG 52 claimed 50 victories in 60 days. III./JG 52 became its most successful Gruppe, claiming its 3,500 kill on 21 March 1944. By the end of the month III./JG 52 was based in Poland.
On 10 May 1944 the 9,000th claim was made, with the 10,000 mark passed on 2 September 1944 by Adolf Borchers. The last German troops left the Crimea in May 1944, II./JG 52 retiring from battle a week earlier. Artillery fire and constant air raids had caused steady aircraft losses. A retreat to Romania followed soon after. A new opponent appeared at this stage, with elements of the USAAF 15th Air Force bombing the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania. During JG 52's six-week defence, some 15 US aircraft were shot down, but by this time, attrition had reduced II./JG 52 to just nine operational fighters.
With the Normandy invasion underway, JG 52 were weakened by the removal of three Staffeln for service in the West. New 2, 4 and 7 Staffeln would be activated later in the year, with each JG 52 Gruppen now expanded to four Staffeln.
III./JG 52 were now seconded to the Central front, attached to elements of JG 51. By the spring of 1945, I. and III./JG 52 were stationed within Czechoslovakia, with II./JG 52 based in Austria. Although the units surrendered to the American forces at the end of the war, most of the I. and III. Gruppe personnel were controversially handed over the Soviet Army, resulting in several show trials for JG 52 officers and years of prolonged imprisonment for many officers and men.
The final actual kill tally of JG 52 cannot accurately be assessed, as unit records from late 1944 to May 1945 were destroyed. Over 10,000 kills were certainly claimed, for some 678 pilots killed in action.
JG 52 produced some of the highest scoring aces of all time. Many of its pilots were imprisoned for up to ten years by the Soviets after the war had finished. Major Erich Hartmann (352 kills) was kept in Soviet captivity until his release in 1955.
Whilst inevitably there was some degree of over-claiming (as happened in all air combat in World War 2) JG 52 was the top scoring unit in a Luftwaffe fighter force that was outnumbered and therefore had plenty of targets (on all fronts). For the first half of the war at least they were also tactically and technologically superior to all of their opponents, and flew far more missions than most Allied pilots, (up to 1,000 operations) and were thus the most experienced veterans of all the combatant nations. Luftwaffe aircrew did not have rest periods, tours of operations or 'rotations' like Allied Air Forces- they flew until they were incapacitated, taken prisoner or were killed.
|Name||Knight's Cross||Oak Leaves||Swords||Diamonds|
|Leesmann, Karl-Heinz||23 Jul 1941|
|Steinhoff, Johannes||30 Aug 1941||02 Sep 1942||28 Jul 1944|
|Köppen, Gerhard||18-Dec 1941||27 Feb 1942|
|Graf, Hermann||24 Jan 1942||17 May 1942||19 May 1942||16 Sep 1942|
|Steinbatz, Leopold||14 Feb 1942||02 Jun 1942||23 Jun 1942|
|Dickfeld, Adolf||19-Mar 1942||19 May 1942|
|Roßmann, Edmund||19 Mar 1942|
|Wachowiak, Friedrich||05 Apr 1942|
|Zwernemann, Josef||23 Jun 1942||31 Oct 1942|
|Gratz, Karl||01 Jul 1942|
|Grislawski, Alfred||01 Jul 1942||11 Apr 1944|
|Simsch, Siegfried||01 Jul 1942|
|Steffen, Karl||01 Jul 1942|
|Barkhorn, Gerhard||23 Aug 1942||12 Jan 1943||02 Mar 1944|
|Dammers, Hans||23 Aug 1942|
|Schmidt, Heinz||23 Aug 1942||16 Sep 1942|
|Rall, Günther||03 Sep 1942||26 Oct 1942||12 Sep 1943|
|Semelka, Waldemar||04 Sep 1942|
|Süß, Ernst||04 Sep 1942|
|Resch, Rudolf||06 Sep 1942|
|Graßmuck, Berthold||19 Sep 1942|
|Hammerl, Karl||19 Sep 1942|
|Bennemann, Dr. med. dent. Helmut||02 Oct 1942|
|Füllgrabe, Heinrich||02 Oct 1942|
|Krupinski, Walter||29 Oct 1942||02 Mar 1944|
|Miethig, Rudolf||29 Oct 1942|
|von Bonin, Hubertus||21 Dec 1942|
|Freuwörth, Wilhelm||05 Jan 1943|
|Wiese, Johannes||05 Jan 1943||02 Mar 1944|
|Denk, Gustav||14 Mar 1943|
|Nemitz, Willi||24 Mar 1943|
|Trenkel, Rudolf||19 Aug 1943|
|Korts, Berthold||29 Aug 1943|
|Hartmann, Erich||29 Oct 1943||02 Mar 1944||02 Jul 1944||25 Aug 1944|
|Quast, Werner||31 Dec 1943|
|Waldmann, Hans||05 Feb 1944|
|Petermann, Viktor||29 Feb 1944|
|Obleser, Friedrich||12 Mar 1944|
|Batz, Wilhelm||26 Mar 1944||20 Jul 1944||21 Apr 1945|
|Fönnekold, Otto||26 Mar 1944|
|Sturm, Heinrich||26 Mar 1944|
|Bunzek, Johannes||06 Apr 1944|
|Hoffmann, Gerhard||14 May 1944|
|Düttmann, Peter||09 Jun 1944|
|Sachsenberg, Heinz||09 Jun 1944|
|Bachnick, Herbert||27 Jul 1944|
|Birkner, Hans-Joachim||27 Jul 1944|
|Wolfrum, Walter||27 Jul 1944|
|Schall, Franz||10 Oct 1944|
|Lipfert, Helmut||05 Apr 1945||17 Apr 1945|
|Resch, Anton||07 Apr 1945|
|Ewald, Heinz||20 Apr 1945|
|Haas, Friedrich||26 Apr 1945|