The Luftwaffe’s Junkers Ju 88 was a twin-engine, multi-role aircraft. Among the most versatile planes of the war, it was used as a bomber, close-support aircraft, nightfighter, torpedo bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. A solid aircraft with great performance, it went on to be one of the Luftwaffe’s most versatile aircraft. It carried out almost every kind of mission ever imagined, even as a giant flying bomb. It was used in every theater, with many nations, including nations allied against Germany.
Kampfgeschwader 40 (KG 40) was a Luftwaffe medium and heavy bomber wing of World War II, and the primary maritime patrol unit of any size within the World War II Luftwaffe. It is best remembered as the unit operating a majority of the four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol bombers. The unit suffered from the poor serviceability and low production rates of the Fw 200 bombers, and from repeated diversion of its long-haul capability aircraft to undertake transport duties in various theatres, especially for the airlift operations to supply encircled forces in the Battle of Stalingrad. Later in the war, KG 40 became one of several Luftwaffe bomber wings to use the Heinkel He 177A heavy bomber.
The wing was formed in July 1940 at Bordeaux-Merignac under the control of Fliegerfuhrer Atlantik. The unit flew reconnaissance missions in the North Atlantic searching for Allied convoys and reported their findings to the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat fleets. On October 26th,1940, Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope bombed the 42,000 ton liner Empress of Britain, the ship later being sunk by U-32. Between August 1940 and February 1941, the unit claimed over 343,000 tons of ships sunk. The newer Fw 200C-2 was then available and differed only in having the rear ventral areas of the outer engine nacelles recessed with dual-purpose bomb racks fitted to carry a pair per aircraft of the quarter-tonne SC 250 bombs, or standard Luftwaffe 300 litre (79 US gallon) drop tanks in the bombs’ place for longer ranged patrols.
On February 9th, 1941, five Focke-Wulf Fw 200 of I/KG 40 in cooperation with the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and U-37 attacked the British convoy HG 53. The convoy lost 967-ton Norwegian freighter Tejo and British freighters Jura, Dagmar I, Varna, and 2490-ton Britannic to aerial attacks.
With the lack of suitable long-range air cover to counter KG 40 in mid 1941 the Allies converted several merchant ships to CAM ships (‘catapult aircraft merchant’ ship) as an emergency stop-gap until sufficient RN escort carriers became available. The CAM ship was equipped with a rocket-propelled catapult launching a single Hawker Hurricane, dubbed a “Hurricat” or “Catafighter”. KG 40 crews were then instructed to stop attacking shipping and avoid combat in order to preserve numbers. Their objective was to locate and shadow convoys and continually report by radio their composition and course changes to allow the Kriegsmarine to direct the ‘wolf-packs’ of U-boats to close, intercept and engage.