Hermann Graf (left) and Alfred Grislawski .

Alfred Grislawski and JG 52 Airmen

Over the Kuban Bridgehead


The following is an excerpt from the dual biography on the two JG 52 aces and friends Hermann Graf and Alfred Grislawski: "Graf & Grislawski: A Pair of Aces". The book was written in cooperation with Alfred Grislawski.

When Alfred Grislawski returned to his unit in early April 1943, it again was based in northwestern Caucasus - where German Army Group A had dug in to hold its positions in the so - called "Kuban bridgehead." The 7. Staffel had received a new Staffelkapitän, Oberleutnant Walter Krupinski, an absolutely reckless fighter pilot who nevertheless took great care in his subordinates.

Grislawski immediately was briefed of the situation. III./JG 52 had recently been shifted to Taman Airdrome from Nikolayev in the Ukraine, where it had been re-equipped after its heavy losses in equipment during the retreat from the Terek sector down south in the Caucasus. II./JG 52, based at Anapa, had held the positions in the air over the Kuban bridgehead since February 1943; its pilots had shot down a large number of Soviet aircraft, but it also had cost the Gruppe severe losses.

One of the II. Gruppe's pilots, Leutnant Helmut Lipfert, later recalled: "Things did not go well for II Gruppe at Anapa. There were few contacts with the enemy but many losses. And it was not just the beginners and young pilots who failed to return, but some of the old hands as well." It was obvious that the Soviets were gaining in on the German fighter pilots' initial advantage in air combat.

Grislawski knew that the first period at the frontline after a home leave was hazardous-that he had become slightly "rusty" - and he decided not to take any risks. He was very cautious during his first combat sorties after his return from his home leave. Most missions were free hunting or Stuka escort against the Soviet bridgehead at Myshako, behind the German main line west of Novorossiysk on the Kuban Bridgehead's southern coast. Although the Germans had concentrated a powerful air corps in the Kuban Bridgehead, achieving a numerical superiority, they were unable to assume control of the air as during the previous years.

The first encounters with Soviet pilots after his return from home leave convinced Grislawski that what he had been told by Krupinski was right, that the air fighting on the Eastern Front had grown more dangerous than ever.

On 17 April 1943 the Germans made a powerful attempt to neutralize the Soviet bridgehead at Myshako, Operation Neptun. The attack was preceded by a massive operations by 450 Stukas, bombers and ground-attack planes against the Soviet landing grounds. Throughout the day, German Fliegerkorps I carried out 1,560 sorties over the Kuban Bridgehead, mainly against Myshako. The Soviets, who by this time were inferior in numbers, could only mount 538 sorties that day. Nevertheless, the concentration of antiaircraft batteries that the Soviets had shipped in to Myshako since February 1943 met the assaulting German aircraft with a wall of steel and fire. Seven Stukas were shot down or returned to base with severe damage.

Two days later, Grislawski brought down his first Soviet aircraft - number ninety-five in total - since his return from home leave. On 20 April, the men of JG 52 found some reason to celebrate, as 8./JG 52's famous Staffelkapitän, Oberleutnant Günther Rall, brought home his personal 116th and the Jagdgeschwader's five thousandth victory.

But although the most experienced fighter pilots continued to achieve impressing victory scores--II./JG 52's Leutnant Heinrich Sturm was credited with five kills on 20 April--the air fighting grew more and more difficult each day. The Soviets were bringing in a steady flow of new aviation units, and they started to achieve a numerical superiority in the air. It also was evident that the Red Air Force had concentrated some of its most skillful airmen to this sector.

In the evening of 20 April, Grislawski was hanging around in the Staffel's command post. He had just written down the combat report of his ninety-sixth victory, which had been achieved against a LaGG-3 after a prolonged and most difficult air combat near Myshako. The telehone rang. An Unteroffizier replied, and then turned to Grislawski:
"Sir, it's for you."

Grislawski stood up and grabbed the receiver. He heard a voice in the other end of the line:
"This is Kabisch."

Somewhat perplex, Grislawski replied impatiently:

"So? And what can I do for you?"
"This is Kabisch - Helmut Kabisch!"
Grislawski froze. Helmut Kabisch! He couldn't believe it. He swallowed, and then he asked in a weak voice:
"Yes, Schleswig!" the other one replied.
Helmut Kabisch was Grislawski's old friend from the recruit training in Schleswig, back in the late 1930s. How could he be phoning Grislawski out there in Russia?
"Man, Kabisch, where are you calling from?"
Helmut Kabisch replied with a confident tone:
"Well, from the first Gruppe. I've been posted here!"
Grislawski immediately felt that this was not good at all.
"Helmut, I'll come over to you immediately!" he said and hung up.

I./JG 52 was stationed at the other end of Taman Airdrome. Grislawski grabbed a bicycle and rapidly made it to the first Gruppe's command post, located in a bus. He found his old friend Kabisch waiting for him outside. They hugged, and it felt as if the past four years were gone. Grislawski felt tears in his eyes, but not tears of joy.
"Man, Kabisch!" he gasped. "Why have you come here?"
Kabisch just shrugged his shoulders. "You know-war. . . I volunteered for pilot training, just like you. . ."
"But that's different!" Grislawski exclaimed with discontent.
Kabisch looked hurt.
"What do you mean? I'm a Feldwebel now, and. . ."
"That doesn't matter!" Grislawski interrupted him. "How many sorties have you made?"
"About twenty-five."
Grislawski shook his head.
"Helmut," he almost whispered. "You stand with one foot in the grave. This is no game, and things are no longer what they used to be here in Russia."
"Oh, come on, Alfred!" Kabisch patted Grislawski's back: "I just got my seventh. . ."
Feldwebel Helmut Kabisch, the old recruit trainer who had become a fighter pilot, was immensely proud of his seven first victories. The last one had been achieved against a LaGG-3 at 1620 hours on 20 April 1943.
But his rash attitude only increased Grislawski's preoccupation. "These damned greenhorns," Grislawski thought. "And now Kabisch too!"
"Look, Helmut!" Grislawski yelled. "Forget about all that rubbish with easy victories! You have to be damned cautious!"
Then he pulled Kabisch, who looked both disappointed and surprised, aside. When he was sure that no one was listening, he said:
"I have a suggestion, and I hope you will follow it. This is no place for a beginner! But I've got some connections. I can contact Hermann Graf, and he will use his influence to have you transferred to my gang. There I will be able to watch over you! You have to get at least fifty combat sorties before you've got any chance at all!"
But Kabisch wasn't intrigued at all by his old friend's suggestion. "Come on, Alfred," he said and sighed. "I don't need any babysitter. And besides of that, I've been with the second Staffel for a couple of weeks, and they all are swell guys."
With a feeling of hopelessness, Grislawski made another try: "Helmut, those swell guys will all be gone in fourteen days, or you will be gone! You might just as well go pick a suitable coffin right now. I guarantee that only under my wings will you be able to survive fifty sorties!"
But Kabisch's pride would not allow him to accept the proposal. Grislawski felt deeply sad when he returned to his biletting.


21 April 1943 was filled with heavy air fighting over Myshako. It was evident that Operation Neptun was a failure. Shortly before six in the morning, 7./JG 52 tangled with a formation of the new Soviet La-5 fighters. Grislawski managed to single out one and sent it plummeting to the ground as his ninety-seventh victory.

On the Soviet side, the Lend-Lease Airacobra fighter planes of 16 GIAP (former 55 IAP, which had been adopted a Guards unit) and 45 IAP were in the forefront during the air combats throughout the day. These unit was two of III./JG 52's old enemies, since the battles over the Mius Front in late 1941, the Kerch Peninsula in May 1942, and the war in southern Caucasus during the previous fall. By now, both units had developed into two of the most experienced VVS regiments. The two most famous 45 IAP aces were the two Glinka brothers, Boris and Dmitriy. The latter, a Starshiy Leytenant, had been shot down by 7./JG 52's Jupp Zwernemann on April 15, 1943. But Dmitriy Glinka soon was back in action again. He had already been recommended to be appointed a Hero of the Soviet Union, and on 21 April, he bagged his twenty-first German aircraft. 16 GIAP, mustering the later so well-known Kapitan Aleksandr Pokryshkin, Grigoriy Rechkalov, and Starshiy Leytenant Vadim Fadeyev in its ranks, chalked up fifty-seven victories in the Kuban skies between 9 and 20 April 1943.

Soviet fighter pilot Vadim Fadeyev achieved 21 personal victories before he was shot down and killed by a Bf 109 on May 5, 1943.

On 21 April, 2./JG 52's Feldwebel Helmut Kabisch barely survived a hail of bullets from a Soviet fighter during an air combat north of Kabardinka. It is possible that he fell victim of 16 GIAP's Vadim Fadeyev, who claimed a Bf 109 3 - 4 km north of Kabardinka. Grislawski received information that Kabisch had been sent to hospital with severe wounds. . .

After his recovery, Feldwebel Kabisch returned to 2./JG 52 on the Eastern Front. Grislawski's dismal prophecy would come true. On 1 September 1943 a Soviet Il-2's rear gunner put an end to Helmut Kabisch's life. . .

Bergström, Vlad Antipov 2001

More by Christer Bergström -

the detailed history of the air war on the Eastern Front 1941 - 1945:

Black Cross/Red Star: Air War Over the Eastern Front


© Christer Bergström, Vlad Antipov 2001


© Christer Bergström, Vlad Antipov 2001 - 2003