German Fighter Organisation
Designed from the outset for offensive action the Luftwaffe was organised into "Luftflotte" or "Air-fleets", these were self contained airforces with their own bomber, dive-bomber and fighter components. These were similar to the Tactical Air Forces (TAF) the Allies developed when they took the offensive. It meant that there was no direct German equivalent to the RAF's Bomber Command, and an organization for the strategic defence of Germany, equivalent to Fighter Command, only developed later in the war.
The largest tactical grouping was the Geshwader with well over a hundred aircraft. When equipped with fighters it was called a Jagdgeshwader (JG)from the German term for a fighter; Jager, or hunter (perhaps the most over-used word in the German language). The Jagdgeshwader was divided into three Gruppen (Gr), which were in turn split into three or four Staffeln. Each Staffeln would have between 9 and 16 aircraft. When flying they split up into "Shwarms" of four aircraft made up of two "Rotte" of two aircraft. In addition the leader of each Gruppen had his own staff formation of four aircraft known as a Stabsschwarm. Likewise the leader of the Geshwader had his own Schwarm, this had the advantage of ensuring these valuable officers flew with the same wingman, someone they could trust.
Comparisons can be misleading but the German organization was close to the RAF at the lower level. A Rotte was directly equivalent to a Section and a Schwarm to a Flight. A fighter Staffeln when flying at full strength was roughly equivilent to an RAF Squadron, but an RAF Squadron would usually have more reserves of pilots and aircraft. With higher formations the analogies become even less clear-cut. An RAF wing might be three Squadrons but it could be just two and sometimes a lot more, so comparison with a Gruppen is approximate. Likewise an RAF Group could be close in strength to a Luftwaffe Geshwader but it could be much bigger.
RAF wing and Group strengths were flexible and dictated by the force thought needed to do a particular job, for example 11 Group, responsible for the defence of south east England, had its strength set by the number of Squadrons it was felt were needed to accomplish that task. In the RAF the Squadron was the all-important unit, to which a pilot felt most allegiance. The Squadron could be moved from one Wing or Group to another. In the Luftwaffe pilots felt much more to be part of the larger units. This is seen in the way they adorned their aircraft, it is not unusual to see aircraft painted with the separate badges of the Geshwader, Gruppen and Staffeln, to which it belonged. The smallest unit detached for service in a particular geographic location was usually a Gruppen.
The system for identifying the various units is a bit involved. Each jagdgeshwader had its own number, and an "honour-name", such as JG26 Schlageter, JG54 Grunherz, JG2 Richthofen, or JG3 Udet. The Gruppe number would be given in Roman numerals so I/JG3 would be number I Gruppe in number 3 Jagdgeshwader, III/JG53 would indicate III Gruppe of Jagdgeshwader 53. The staffel number is given in arabic numerals, thus, 6/JG53 is the sixth Staffeln of Jagdgeshwader 53 and we can deduce it must be in the second (II) Gruppen. Likewise 10/JG2 would indicate the tenth Staffeln of Jagdgeshwader 2, we would need to know how many Staffeln made up each Gruppe to work out the Gruppe it belonged to.
Of course a 109 could fly with Geshwader other than fighter Geshwader. For example there were night fighter Nachtjagdgeshwader (NJG) and the operational training and trials Lehrgeschwader (LG). Ground attack and army support was the mission of the Schlachtgeshwader (SG).Reconnaissance units only went up to Gruppe strength and were known as Aufklarungsgruppe (Aufkl Gr). During the early part of the war 109s also equipped much of the Zerstorergeschwader (ZG), these were the heavy "destroyer" units formed to take the twin-engined Bf110 and given the 109 as a stop-gap until the new aircraft was available.
Back to BF109 home
Wikipedia article on Luftwaffe organisation