" ..The day was rounded off with a demonstration of captured American aircraft, in particular a P-51 Mustang. It was stressed that our Bf 109s and Fw 190s were generally superior to this type. We soon realised on our first combat sortie that this statement was not entirely accurate....” Uffz. Kurt Scherer II./JG 4
In 1943, Hauptmann 'Ted' Rosarius was tasked with forming a Versuchsstaffel of captured enemy aircraft that would serve to familiarise pilots of the Reichsverteidigung (Defence of the Reich) with the strengths and weaknesses of Allied fighter aircraft. This unit, 2.Staffel of the Versuchsverband Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (Trials and Research Unit of the Luftwaffe High command) received all captured aircraft. Once flown and tested, they toured frontline fighter units. This unusual formation became known as the Wanderzirkus Rosarius (Rosarius' travelling circus). Thanks to the 'Rosarius Circus', German pilots had the opportunity to take a closer look at their principal opponents and hopefully gain better knowledge of the equipment pitted against them.
The increasingly difficult tactical situation the Luftwaffe was experiencing during 1944 meant that demonstrating and carrying out what would be known today as 'dissimilar combat training' had become a necessity. Fighter pilots tend to fly mock aerial combats against their own - men trained in the same fashion and flying the same aircraft. Such training, while useful, cannot replace actual combat experience. In his memoir, Walther Dahl wrote of the ever decreasing number of experienced pilots in the Luftwaffe ;
"...despite the successes we had enjoyed over the course of our recent sorties, a number of gaps had started to appear in our ranks. Seasoned Staffelkapitäne, experienced Schwarmführer, Leutnante, Feldwebeln and Unteroffiziere - pilots who were the backbone of our unit - had all been posted missing in action . Men such as Oblt. Hirschfeld of 6./JG 300 who was lost in combat on 28 July 1944 and posthumously awarded the Knight's Cross. There were plenty of new young replacements, all volunteering to fly with the Sturmgruppe but virtually none with any front-line experience. Despite the constraints on time, fuel and aircraft availability, it was down to us to complete the training of these youngsters, to " fly them in " under operational conditions as it were..."
(translation by this blog author)
The lack of experience of the younger pilots could be partly compensated for by the demonstrations of the Rosarius Circus - the unit toured the airfields defending the Reiche demonstrating how enemy aircraft performed and how they could be beaten or countered.
The fact that Rosarius' Circus was composed of not only different models, but foreign models - with no spare parts supply to speak of - meant that maintaining the aircraft in 'service' must have been a mechanical and logistical nightmare. However, the unit seemed to maintain a decent readiness record, good enough to allow it to fulfill its mission. While Dahl and JG 300 were based at Wörishofen airfield, they were visited by the 'Circus';
"...one morning enemy fighters such as P-51s, P-47s, Lightnings along with the heavy bomber types, could be seen peacefully arrayed alongside our own machines, when their appearance over the field would normally have provoked anything but a friendly reaction.. formation leaders (Verbandsführer) were given the possibility of flying these machines in mock combat and thus becoming more closely acquainted with their characteristics, a factor that was not to be under-estimated in air combat with our opponents. Following this session, flight leaders would hold a series of training lectures with their men and were able to pass on recommendations from their own observations and experience at the controls of these aircraft..".
A B-17 was also used on such tours to show the Luftwaffe's pilots what the aircraft's strength were, and, more to the point, what its weaknesses were. By studying what the defensive guns' firing arcs were, where the armour and fuel tanks were located, German pilots gained invaluable knowledge.
The 'new' image show-cased here depicts P-51 B Mustang 'T9+ HK' parked on Husum airfield during late 1944. Pilots and personnel of JG 1 crowd around the machine. The image is currently offered on Ebay here
Ideally, pilots would have been able to test all of the aircraft flown in by the Circus. However, submitting fragile and rare aircraft to inexperienced pilots was not always a practical option; equally, unseasoned pilots would not have been able to judge the aircraft as quickly and efficiently as the more experienced fliers.
The 'Zirkus' may have partially compensated for the Luftwaffe's increasing technical, tactical and "human" inferiority. However, the tide of the air war had already turned.