Ferdinand’s Army

The structure of Ferdinand’s army: Wallenstein

In theory, Ferdinand, as Kaiser, had at his beck and call a Reichsarmee but this concept was not worth the paper on which it was written. The German princes who made up the patchwork of the Holy Roman Empire had long had local forces to support their own interests but the ‘right’ of the Kaiser to require the supply of a contingent was a frequent source of contention. The circumstances of the Reformation forced the Kaiser to appoint two Field Commanders, one Catholic and one Protestant.

Such contradictions did not make any easier the so-called Simplum whereby a minimum of 40,000 soldiers were in theory available to the Emperor. Other difficulties arose from the fact that the local nobility and the Church were reluctant to part with their staff and workers who contributed so much to the upkeep of their estates. As a result, the Landesaufgebot (contingent) rarely materialised.

Thus the Kaiser was really only able to establish his own army if he was prepared to finance it exclusively himself. But such an army required logistics and money, both of which were lacking as Ferdinand II at the beginning of his reign found himself confronted with a vast conflict. Unsurprisingly he panicked and called for international support, thus helping transform a local dispute into a full-scale European war.

The presence of the ‘usurper’ Frederick of the Palatinate and his English wife, Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England (the Winter Queen, as she became known) on the throne of Bohemia further widened the conflict. Frederick’s father-in-law sent two British regiments to support him though they never ventured beyond Berlin where they became, fortunately for Ferdinand, ‘horribly drunk’.

As these forces gathered against him, the absence of the essentials of war put the Habsburg in a precarious position. He had either to remain a dependant of the Catholic League, whose leader the King of Bavaria was a Wittelsbach and therefore also potentially a rival of the Habsburg family, or he had to make peace somehow with the rebels. Or there was a third way: he could find a warlord prepared to organise his war effort in return for Imperial ‘favour’.

In Alfred Eusebius Wallenstein (1583–1634), who was raised to the rank of Duke of Friedland in 1625, Ferdinand was fortunate to find a man who was prepared to build an army for the Emperor from entirely private funds. Wallenstein, the scion of a cadet branch of the Waldstein family, had fought against the Turks and had converted to Catholicism under Jesuit instruction. Marrying a wealthy widow with impeccable connections he had defected to the Imperial cause in 1619, shortly after Dampierre’s cuirassiers had saved Ferdinand in Vienna.

Through the Jesuits, Wallenstein came to be trusted by the Archduke. The first encounter between this inscrutable monarch and the blunt warlord cannot have been easy for either party. Wallenstein had a reputation for violence: he had flogged half to death one of his servants when he was a student. Ferdinand, on the other hand had learnt from the events of June 1619 that in an age of violence he was defenceless without troops. Might Wallenstein be the answer to his prayers?

This ‘soldier under Saturn’, as a later biographer called him, as well as being the greatest commander of his age also offered the Habsburgs a way of making war which was truly new, relying on artillery and cavalry to an unprecedented extent. Discipline and leadership were organised along strict lines of command indifferent to the religious controversies of the time. In return Wallenstein sought not money, for Ferdinand’s treasury was empty, but the one thing the Habsburg had in abundance, thanks to the turmoil in Bohemia: land and titles.

As the conflict in Bohemia progressed through the 1620s it provided a once in a lifetime opportunity for a radical reorganisation of wealth and a comprehensive redrawing of the aristocracy. The revolt of the Bohemian nobles brought the House of Habsburg the power of redistribution on a vast and hitherto unprecedented scale. It is estimated that some 670 estates changed hands as vast tracts of Bohemian territory were stripped from the rebels and given to 200 adventurers and officers prepared to embrace the Catholic faith. These included such men as the Friulan Collalto and Strassoldo, the Italian Gallas, Colloredo, Montecuccoli and Piccolomini (who received respectively Reichenberg, Nachod and Opočno) as well as such Celtic miscreants as Leslie and Butler (Neustadt and Hirschberg).

None benefited more from this unique redistribution than Wallenstein himself, who set about erecting at the heart of Europe, along the strategically vital Bohemian and Saxon frontier, a territory which would furnish him not only with prestige but with the wealth in agriculture and minerals needed to sustain a vast army. No costs were to be incurred by the Imperial house. All Wallenstein sought was the required charter of authority and the freedom to choose his officers and recruitment depots. The charter was quickly granted by Ferdinand, who also gave Wallenstein the impressive designation of ‘General-Colonel-Field-Captain of the Imperial Armada’.

Armed with this title and his logistical genius, Wallenstein set about granting recruitment patents to various warlords and landowners who pledged to equip and dress their ‘regiments’, whereupon they would be assembled for the Kaiser’s strategic wishes. At this point the Kaiser undertook to pay the soldiers. But even when the Kaiser failed to pay, Wallenstein, supported by a network of financiers, raised the vast sums necessary to create the conditions which enabled him to be the closest Europe north of the Alps had ever seen to the ‘Condottiere’ warlords of the early Renaissance. Throughout the 1620s, Wallenstein’s financial architecture kept the bankers of Europe in business.

With money came a new organisation. Each regiment had its Obristen or colonels, each of whom was assigned an area for recruitment. The local civilian administration was ordered by the Emperor to support the recruitment as best they could. Once the recruits had received their ‘hand-money’ they were no longer under civilian law but governed by the rules of war. This system proved most effective but it led invariably to abuses. The financing of the system through the 1620s commercialised every aspect of the art of war. Equipment and soldiers became commodities to be speculated with by consortia of usually canny civilian tradesmen who well knew that the colonels had an interest in keeping their numbers of recruits as high as possible. Perhaps this explains why some accounts have tended to set the size of the armies at about 35 per cent above the actual figure.

The feats of logistics hinted at here could not have been achieved without the help of the tax system, which fell with remarkable consistency through the 1620s on the crown lands of the House of Habsburg. For example, Upper Austria needed to pay 53,000 gulden (in modern values $53 million, at a rate of 10 gulden = $1,000). Silesia needed to finance the equipment for 28 regiments while in Lower Austria a poll tax was levied which cost every landowner 40, every priest 4, every doctor 30 and every craftsman 6 gulden. Even servants contributed, though only15 kreutzer (100 kr. = 1 gulden). In this way a regiment of foot soldiers cost about 260,000 gulden a year while a regiment of cavalry was 450,000 gulden a year, each regiment consisting of between 1,200 and 2,000 men. Each foot soldier cost the Kaiser 8 gulden while each cavalry-man cost a staggering 20 Reichthaler ($20,000: 10 gulden = 1 Reichthaler). These costs were of course dwarfed by that of the new technology: artillery. Twelve guns and their crews cost at least 600,000 gulden a year.

Wages reflected rank but were modest. The Colonel received 185 gulden, his Lieutenant-Colonel 80 and so on down to the ordinary foot soldier who received 3.5 Reichthaler a year. According to a document dated 1623 from Znaim (Znojmo) each foot soldier received 2 pounds of bread, one pound of meat, 2 pints of beer or one pint of wine each day. A cavalry captain by contrast was entitled to 20 pounds of bread and 12 pounds of meat, two hens, half a sheep or cow, 8 pints of wine and 12 pints of beer (!). These ‘rations’ of 1623 contain the concluding sentence signed by Field Marshal Tilly that troops ‘requiring more than this should pay for supplies out of their own money’.

Tilly and the evolution of tactics

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.

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Reconnaissance Battalion Nizza

AB41 appatenant à la Nizza Cavalaria et à la Monferrato.

While reading Panzer Commander, the memories of Colonel Hans Von Luck I can across an interesting few paragraphs.

“Some days later Rommel’s HQ informed me that I was to be sent an Italian armored reconnaissance battalion, the Nizza. At first, I was not very pleased, as I had no great opinion of Italian weapons or morale. They duly arrived, well spread out and apparently still at normal fighting strength. Their commander, a tall, fair haired Major, presented himself. As he told me later, he had been given the posting “for disciplinary reasons,” because of an affair with a member of the Royal House. The officers and men came exclusively from the north. They were proud Piedmontese and Venetians. They wanted to show that they knew how to fight.

“May our patrols go on reconnaissance with your?” I was asked by the commander and his officers. “That would be the best way to learn.” I inspected their armored cars and weapons. “More sardine tins,” said our men, who were standing around inquisitively. Indeed, the equipment didn’t approach the standard of that which we had at the start of the Polish campaign. It was hopelessly inferior to the British Humbers and anti-tank guns. And yet, the Italians wanted to be sent into action at the front. IN the difficult weeks that followed, my feeling waved between admiration and pity for these brave men, who despite heavy losses, didn’t give up and so remained to the end, our good friends.

He (The Italian) doesn’t take war with deadly seriousness and ends it for his part when he considers it to be hopeless. Hitler’s pathetic, cynical maxim, “the German soldier stands or dies,” is, to the Italian profoundly alien.

It is against this background that the active service and performance of our allies is to be seen. So much more highly did we value the service of the Nizza Battalion, whose officers and men fought bravely beside and with us to the bitter end”

Then near the end in Africa he received the Medaglia d’Argento, by request of the Nizza Battalion commander.

3rd Battalion Nizza Cavalleria (AB41 Armoured cars) part of Italian 132 Armoured Division Ariete.

Baltic Harassment Squadrons, Russia’s Liberation Air Force, and Ukrainian Pilots I

Go.145
Unit: Erg.NSGr.Ostland
Serial: 6X+LT
The plane was transferred to Erg.NSGr.Ostland (Erganzungs-Nachtschlachtgruppe Ostland = Complementary Night-Attack Group of ROA) from air training school, overpainted unit badge is visible. The machine has silver colour.

Why do we still fly for Germany, even though our homeland is probably lost forever? Because Estonia lives as long as we still fight. Enjoy the war as long as it lasts, because the peace is going to be really horrible! -Karl Lumi, Estonian fighter pilot with 7./JG 4, killed in action April 17, 1945

Of all the Luftwaffe’s foreign allies, none had less auspicious origins than those from which sprouted Estonia’s air force. Despite these humble roots, it eventually blossomed into several Baltic squadrons of over 1,000 men, with more than 200 flight crews highly esteemed by their German comrades-in-arms. Estonia possessed several fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance groups of its own before the Russians arrived in 1940, but these were entirely absorbed by the Red Army after June, and its personnel forcibly entrained for the USSR. Most escaped, fleeing into the countryside, where they formed partisan bands with other patriots of various backgrounds operating against the Soviet invader.

Among these “forest brothers” was Gerhard Buschmann, a member of the Eesti Aeroklubi, a semicivilian flying society controlled by the Estonian Army, who achieved the amazing feat of concealing no less than five aircraft from the Communist occupation authorities. His four PTO-4s were two-seat, low-winged monoplanes, their fixed undercarriages fitted with wheels or skis, plus open or enclosed cockpits, and powered by a 120-hp De Havilland Gypsy engine. Somewhat more substantial was Estonia’s only RWD-8, a rugged, steel-canvas-plywood, two-place high-wing monoplane from Poland, notable for stability and good handling characteristics, but more especially because of its ability to take off and land on rough, unworked fields. With their single, four-cylinder, air cooled, 120-hp PZIn2. Junior engines, RWD-8s were the last Polish machines still flying during October 1939, when, pressed into service as “bombers;’ their crews threw hand grenades at advancing German troops.

Buschmann realized his hidden airplanes could not hope to survive any confrontations with the enemy, and therefore kept them under wraps until real opportunities arose for meaningful resistance. The moment came in early summer 1941, when a German attack swept Stalin’s forces from the Baltic States and Buschmann, like many of his fellow countrymen, joined the anti-Communist crusade. He placed himself, his fellow flying enthusiasts, and their handful of old trainers as a “private squadron;’ an “Estonian unit” at the disposal of their “liberators:” Wehrmacht officers dismissed his proposal with amusement, but Buschmann was not without influence.

A Volksdeutsche, or ethnic German, born in Tallinn, he was a covert pre-war member of German military counterintelligence. Thanks to this Abwehr connection, he was able to confer with the SS Police Commander for Estonia, who was so impressed with possibilities for an indigenous, anti-Soviet air force, he forwarded the notion to his superiors in Berlin. Permission to form the volunteers into their own detachment was soon after received with the proviso that it function as a kind of flying “police unit” responsible only to Heinrich Himmler himself. The Reichsfuhrer believed it would be, if nothing else, at least an important example of “Aryan cooperation against the common enemy: Jewish Bolshevism.”

Thus was born Sonderstaffel Buschmann, “Special Squadron Buschmann;’ on February 12, 1942. Wing, fuselage, and tail surfaces of its trainers were repainted with the Iron Cross and swastika, but their propeller hubs bore the blue-black-white national colors of Estonia, and some pilots retained their Estonian uniforms. Others wore civilian dress or German flight suits minus all indications of rank. Before these motley crews could undertake their intended anti-partisan operations, they were essentially commandeered by high-ranking Kriegsmarine officers for the Gulf of Finland, where the German Navy lacked any liaison aircraft of its own. The unarmed Estonian volunteers flew incessant coastal patrols out of Reval-Ulemiste airfield over the next five months, in all kinds of weather conditions, providing invaluable reconnaissance for German shipping.

Their reliability and developing importance impressed Kriegsmarine observers, the quartet of worn-out PTO-4s, and lone RWD-8 were replaced in mid-summer by another Polish trainer in better shape: five Belgian Stampes, one British Miles Magister, and an ex-RAF Dragon Rapicle. The Stampe SV4 was a two-seat trainer, only 35 examples of which were built before the Stampe et Vertongen Company was closed in May 1940. Somewhat more powerful than the Estonians own PTO-4, the SV. 4 possessed a 145-hp Blackburn Cirrus Major III engine marginally better than the inverted, in-line piston De Havilland Gipsy Major I rated at 130 hp that equipped every Miles M. 14 Magister. The spruce and plywood “Maggie;’ as it was popularly known, was an open-cockpit, two-seat, low-wing cantilever monoplane. Another “prize” captured during 1940’s Blitzkrieg was the de Havilland DH. 89 Dragon Rapicle, a short-haul passenger airliner powered by two de Havilland Gipsy Six inline engines rated at 200-hp each.

While these replacements represented some measure of trust the normally parsimonious Germans evidenced for their Baltic allies, they did not constitute much of a real improvement. But the airmen of Sonderstaffel Buschmann were heartily grateful for the relatively “new” machines and carried out their reconnaissance operations with vigor. Meanwhile, their squadron’s namesake was busy rounding up real warplanes for his comrades to be used against Russian submarines prowling the Gulf of Finland in greater numbers. After New Year’s 1943, his tiny eclectic “Special Squadron” had grown to 50 aircraft, mostly cast-off Arado and Heinkel floatplanes, which, although no longer up to frontline service, could more seriously undertake patrols over coastal waters.

The Arado 95 was a single-engine biplane, well liked for its hardihood on rough seas and pleasant handling characteristics in flight, while capable of payloading either 1,102 pounds of bombs or a single 1,764-pound torpedo slung in its own rack under the fuselage. Less beloved was the Heinkel He. 60, made sluggish by a 660-hp BMW VI 6.0 V12 engine and too underpowered to carry anything more than a single 7.92-mm MG 15 machine-gun in a flexible mount for the rear observer. Both types were nevertheless put to vigorous use by their crews, who used Ulemiste Lake for takeoffs and landings.

Their enthusiasm and usefulness had at last come to the notice of Luftwaffe brass, who incorporated the Estonians into the German Air Force. Sonderstaffel Buschmann now became 16./Aufkl. Gr. 127 (See). It immediately lived up to its expectations, directly contributing to the sinking of five enemy submarines trying to break out of the Red Navy base at Kronstadt into the Baltic Sea between May 21 and June 1. Thirteen more Soviet submarines were reportedly destroyed before the unit was withdrawn from its positions. By April 1943, the Reconnaissance Group 127 had attracted so many volunteers, it broke into three squadrons, only one of which continued to perform its duties at sea. The other two formed the Nachtschlachtgruppe 11 (estnisch), the “Night Battle Group 11th Estonian:”

Far more significant than the term implies, Storkampfstafeln, “night harassment squadrons” initiated attacks on enemy positions-often airfields or troop concentrations under cover of darkness or amid conditions of low visibility in slow, obsolete, virtually defenseless aircraft. The attackers would strike just before dawn, at dusk, or during moonlit nights. Sometimes, their arrival was immediately preceded by other aircraft dropping magnesium flares to illuminate the target area. The night harassment fliers depended primarily on surprise for the success of their raids. If caught in the blinding arms of searchlights, they fell as relatively easy prey to ground fire or interceptors. Accordingly, two thirds of the Estonian crews had their floatplanes replaced by no less doddering Heinkel dive-bombers.

Originally designed back in 1931 for the Imperial Japanese Navy, the two-place fabric covered Heinkel He 50 was powered by a 650-hp Bramo 322B radial engine to a miserable top speed of just 146 mph, but it could deliver a 551-pound bomb over 620 miles. Older still were several examples of the Fokker C. V seized after the Germans took Holland. Designed in 1924, it bore every resemblance to a standard World War I-era pursuit airplane fitted with four 110-pound bombs.

A better aircraft provided to Estonian pilots was the Arado Ar. 96, a modern, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. More than 1,150 copies of the Luftwaffe’s standard advanced trainer were produced from 1939 to 1945. But the most common sight in the Storkampfstafeln was the Gotha 145. It equipped all six Axis “harassment squadrons;’ operating in strength until the last day of the war. Altogether, more than 9,500 of the biplane trainers were built for service with the Slovakian, Spanish, and Turkish air forces, as well as the Luftwaffe and Nachtschlachtgruppe. Famous during World War I for the production of large, multiengine bombers, the Gotha Company closed down immediately thereafter, but reopened after Hitler came to power in 1933. Its first new design that year was the Go 145, outstanding for an ability to absorb otherwise crippling punishment and pleasant flight characteristics that made it ideal for covert sorties. Like the Heinkels, Fokkers, and Arados, each Gotha was equipped with a flame-damper over the exhaust manifold to aid in concealment.

Notwithstanding this precaution, after-dark missions undertaken by the crews of these patently outdated aircraft were particularly hazardous for Russia’s changeable weather conditions. Sudden storms or unpredictable cloud cover obscuring the moon could be deadly, and disorientation, even on clear nights, was common. Pilots needed to be highly skilled and just as lucky to survive. But their perilous sorties paid off in handsome dividends, as untold numbers of Soviet warplanes parked in the open were destroyed wherever the NSGr. 11 (est) was stationed. Other victims included trucks, ammunition dumps, fuel storage areas, repair depots, locomotives, railroad stations, and troop concentrations.

Because such operations were conducted at night, the extent of their effectiveness was difficult to ascertain, but it was clearly felt on the battlefield. Success led to the creation of another Storkampfstafel, which came as quite a surprise to the Estonians. In December 1943, the 1. Ostfliegerstafel (russisch) was formed entirely of Russian volunteers. Their duties were identical to those of the other Nachtschlachtgruppen, and they flew the same Arados and Gothas, with a singular addition of the Polikarpov U-2. This was the aircraft that had introduced the very concept of aerial night harassment shortly after the start of Operation Barbarossa.

The rickety Ndhmaschine, or “Sewing Machine;’ as the Germans called it, buzzed their positions in the dead of night, keeping them from their rest and fraying their nerves already worn thin by stressful combat conditions. A U-2 typically came in less than 50 feet above the ground, made a steep climb just before the enemy camp, then leveled off and cut its engine to glide in on the target. All that the sleep-deprived Germans could do was listen to the ghostly whistling of the wind in the biplane’s wire bracing, as prelude to an explosion. After the intruders dropped their bombs, they gunned the engine and sped away, usually with impunity. They caused rare material damage almost entirely by chance, but their impact on the invaders’ mental well-being was significant.

What made such raids all the more vexing was that they were carried out by women. Pilots, even ground crews of the Red Army Air Force’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment, were exclusively female, and cursed by their opponents as Nachthexen. Among the most notorious of these “Night Witches” were Nadya Popova and Katya Ryabova, who successfully completed 18 harassment sorties in just one night. Strangely, the U-2, of 1927 vintage, was virtually impervious to state-of-the-art Luftwaffe fighters or even flak. Cruising at just 68 mph, the little “Sewing Machine” was hard to shoot with a 379-mph Messerschmitt Bf-109G because the target was in and out of firing range within seconds. The Ndhmaschine could also absorb tremendous punishment due to its few vital parts, and its Shvetsov M-11D five-cylinder radial engine was very small.

Moreover, the “Night Witches” flew not only after dark, but at treetop level, rendering interception additionally difficult. Reliable and easy to operate, the Polikarpov U-2 first proved its versatility in agriculture, earning it the nickname Kukuruznik. During the “corn duster’s” military career, it supplied partisans behind the frontlines. In addition to its role as a night-attack aircraft, variants were fitted with sledges or floats, while others could be armed with 265 pounds of bombs and four RS-82 rockets. An air-ambulance version carried a physician, two covered containers for wounded men on stretchers slung under the lower wings, plus provision for two more patients able to sit upright in the fuselage. A later Kukuruznik, the Po-2GN, was known as the “Voice from the Sky” for its powerful loudspeakers that shouted Communist propaganda at Axis troops. With over 40,000 U-2s manufactured between 1929 and 1959, it was the most numerous biplane in aviation history and second only to the more than 43,000 American Cessna 172s as the most mass produced aircraft of all time.

Baltic Harassment Squadrons, Russia’s Liberation Air Force, and Ukrainian Pilots II

Ju.87D-8
Unit: Schlachtstaffel 8, ROA
Spring 1945. It was transformed to Nachstchlahtstaffel 2 soon and operated since 13th April 1945.

The Germans transformed its largely psychological role by assigning it tactical bombing duties. Some anti-Soviet airmen of 1. Ostfliegerstafel (russisch) were naturally familiar with the Kukuruznik, and used it no less effectively in the 500 missions they carried out against their fellow countrymen still fighting for Stalin. The irony of these Russians defending northeastern Europe in February 1944 was not lost on other Baltic volunteers who, that same month, formed the 1./NSGr. 12 (lett.).

Its commander-Captain Alfreds Salmins-was Latvian, as were all but 5 of its 124 pilots and support personnel. They operated 18 examples of the Arado Ar. 66c with modified elevators and larger rudder for improved stability in slow flight, and bigger tires for the muddy or rock-strewn flats that were supposed to pass for airfields. The slow, ugly Arado was distinctive for its awkward tail plane configuration, and demanded iron nerves from pilots attempting to score against targets often defended by concerted ground fire. Under cover of darkness as their only real protection, the Latvians flew between unprepared Axis forces and a Red Army buildup going on 30 miles behind the front. Over eight nights of unremitting attacks during mid-May, they delivered more than a thousand 154-pound bombs to the enemy, causing sufficient chaos and casualties, and delaying the Soviet advance long enough for Wehrmacht commanders to ready a successful counterattack.

The Latvians’ timely intervention won fulsome praise from the Germans and a surge of recruits resulting in the formation of another Baltic “Harassment Squadron” The 2./NSGr. 12 (lett.) came into being on June 22, 1944, the third anniversary of Operation Barbarossa. The Axis situation had substantially deteriorated since those early, heady days of irrepressible triumph. Now, immense hordes of Russians and Mongols were poised to descend on the Lithuanian capital. A Soviet steamroller began to move against Vilnius during early July, when all the Baltic Storkampfstafeln engaged in unremitting ground attacks from dusk until dawn, regardless of weather conditions. On the 23rd, 7 of the Second Squadron’s 16 Arados were lost in an unpredicted storm, although all but three pilots eventually found their way back to Gulbene airfield, in northeastern Latvia.

Two days later, men of the 2./NSGr. 12 (lett.) completed their 1,000th mission but were afforded little time for celebration. They were especially busy on August 1, when 35 Arados undertook almost 300 missions in just one night to drop over 50 tons of bombs on Soviet supply concentrations in the vicinity of Jelgava, a city some 30 miles southwest of the Latvian capital. Devastating as these raids were, they could stall but not stop the momentum of a million enemy troops, and the Baltic squadrons withdrew to Salapils airfield, outside Riga. Baltic night-flight operations climaxed after mid-September 1944. Their toll on Soviet forces-especially parked aircraft-relieved pressure on Army Group North, allowing the German command opportunities for effective resistance and civilian evacuation.

By October 8, the two Latvian Harassment Squadrons had completed 5,658 missions over the previous seven months. The bloodied Soviet juggernaut had been slowed, then stopped, but only temporarily. With Stalin’s re-occupation of their homeland, some Estonians lost heart for the fight and defected with their aircraft to Sweden. Although only five Nachtschlachtgruppe pilots dropped out of the war, alarmed Wehrmacht commanders, concerned the trickle of desertions might break out into a flood, disbanded NSGr. 11 (est) over the protests of its more than 1,200 personnel, who affirmed their steadfast loyalty. Both 1. and 2./NSGr. 12 (lett.) were likewise decommissioned, even though no Latvian personnel were guilty of desertion. No less than 80 percent of them had been awarded the Iron Cross and other German and Latvian certificates for valor.

Their flying days were not entirely over, however. A few outstanding airmen were chosen for the creation of two, new Baltic squadrons. The same month that the Night Harassment Groups were disbanded, Latvian pilots of I./JG 54 Grunherz went from the open cockpits of prewar biplanes to the controls of state-of-the-art Focke-Wulf FW. 190A- 8 fighters. Operating first out of Courland, their bases continuously shifted westward into Germany, where they engaged many hundreds of USAAF P-51 Mustangs near Greifswald and over the Eifel Mountains.

Later, the Latvians participated in Operation Boclenplatte, the Luftwaffe’s last hurrah. Its leaders gathered up virtually every surviving aircraft for the Third Reich’s final air offensive on the morning of January 1, 1945, when 1,035 German fighters and bombers struck Anglo-American targets across the Netherlands. Some 300 Allied warplanes were destroyed and at least as many damaged, while enemy airfields were knocked out of commission for the next two weeks. The Luftwaffe lost 280 aircraft, mostly because its new pilots lacked the luxury of time for proper training. One Latvian airman was shot down during the attack. Injured after surviving a forced landing near St. Denis-Westrem, in East Flanders, Lieutenant Arnolds Mencis was set upon and beaten to death by Belgian civilians.

Estonian veterans missed Operation Bodenplatte. They took part in air battles over besieged Berlin during late April and early May 1945, flying FW. 190 fighters to score their final “kills:” From its inception as a flying “police unit” directly responsible to Heinrich Himmler, development into “Harassment Squadrons;’ and final manifestation as the “Night Battle Group 11th Estonian;’ their crews had undertaken more than 7,000 missions on the Eastern Front between February 1942 and October 1944. They contributed importantly to early Axis successes at the Baltic and destroyed enough enemy materiel on the ground through their daring raids in obsolete aircraft to make a difference on the battlefield.

After July 1944, 1. Ostfliegerstafel (russisch) was disbanded, then reorganized as Night Harassment Squadron 8. Its pilots went into action for the first and last time on April 13, 1945, attacking a Red Army bridgehead on the Oder River at Erlenhof, in northern Germany. Their efforts had no effect on the war, which would be over in the next few weeks, but represented instead the Too-Little-Too-Late Problem that undermined Axis hopes for final victory. Long before, the opening guns of Operation Barbarossa had no sooner begun firing, when growing numbers of Red Army Air Force officers and whole crews deserted to the Germans, joining their comrades already taken prisoner, as Luftwaffe volunteers.

They assumed a wide variety of roles, from mechanics and flak gunners to truck drivers and flight instructors. Russian pilots were entrusted with particularly important tasks, such as ferrying aircraft from repair shops behind the lines-and even from Messerschmitt plants inside the Reich itself-directly to waiting Geschwader personnel at the front. By August 1942, so many ex-Soviet airmen had put themselves at the Luftwaffe’s disposal, they formed a unit for the express purpose of creating a new Russian air force aimed at fighting the USSR. Theoretical training began at once, and many Wehrmacht officers became impassioned champions of the proposal. They argued that the Russians proved themselves trustworthy and dutiful. In the hands of these enthusiastic and motivated volunteers, the 1,500 serviceable Red Army aircraft captured by the Germans during the first year of their campaign could help offset the enemy’s terrible numerical advantage. Russian participation on so significant a scale ran against Hitler’s postwar plan to colonize the Ukraine for the permanent relief of Europe’s food crisis and over population. Obtaining this living space would not be possible in the face of justifiable objections made by too many Russians who helped win the war. But all dreams of Lebensraum evaporated in Germany’s steady retreat from crushing defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk, until a confidant of the Fuehrer’s inner circle decided that the Russian volunteers should be mobilized after all.

On September 16, 1944, Reichsfuehrer der SS Heinrich Himmler officially recognized the Russkaya osvoboditel’naya armiya, the independent Russian Liberation Army and its National Air Force, which operated separately from but in close cooperation with the Luftwaffe. As some measure of the high esteem in which the Germans held their new ally, select pilots were put through familiarization courses with the top-secret Messerschmitt Me. 262 Sturmvogel for the creation of an all-Russian jet fighter unit. This plan, however, plus months of necessary training, equipping, and organizing, came too late.

At the time of their deployment 17 days before Hitler’s suicide, pilots of Fighter Squadron 5 Kazakov-their Focke Wulf FW. 190s decorated with the ROA insignia of a blue cross in a white disc on a red shield-vainly, if gallantly, opposed Soviet hordes crossing the Oder. What impact they might have had on the course of events in the East, had they been mobilized earlier, remains one of the persistent speculations of World War II. Nor were they the only Eastern Bloc people who served in the German Air Force.

More than 1,000 Galician youngsters volunteered for ground personnel duty with the Luftwaffe. When they turned 18, some transferred to engine mechanics’ school, labor battalions for airfield maintenance, or medical corps. Beginning after New Year’s 1943, Ukrainians with language skills attended translator courses in German, Russian, and English at Prague. They graduated as officers with their own Luftwaffe uniforms, including ceremonial daggers, and a special cuff title emblazoned with their country’s blue-gold national colors and the word, Dolmetsche, for “Translator”.

Eastern Europeans with extraordinary physical and intellectual abilities were eligible for flight training, and some became exceptional pilots in the Luftwaffe. Paul Pianchuk flew 31 combat missions against the Soviets; and Ivan Sushko, together with several other Ukrainian fighter pilots, received the Iron Cross First Class. Serafyma Sytnyk, a former Ukrainian major in the Red Air Force, was the only female pilot in the German Air Force serving at the front.’ Anton Kyivskyj became a wing leader, but the highest-ranking officer of his kind was Major Severyn Saprun, who commanded all Ukrainians in the Luftwaffe. They were distinguished by a blue-gold shield sewn on the shoulder sleeve, signifying the Ukrayins’ke Vyzvol’ne Viys’ko, or Ukrainian Liberation Army, which numbered 80,000 volunteers by war’s end.’

Earlier, many Ukrainians had enlisted in the air arm of the Komitet Oborony Narodov Rossii (“Army for a Free Russia”), created by the former Red Army General Andrei Andreyevich Vlassov, to unite all former Soviet-dominated nations against the USSR, although 20 Ukrainian flight officers signed a petition to Hermann Goering, requesting the formation of a separate all-Ukrainian fighter squadron. The Luftwaffe chief regarded them so highly, he assigned Pavel Olejnyk to command an all-jet unit of Messerschmitt Me-262 Stormbirds for the defense of Berlin, but their operational life was cut short by the close of hostilities in early May.

Imperialist versus Rebel – Thirty Years’ War

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia

The Battle of Stadtlohn was fought on 6 August 1623 between the armies of Christian of Brunswick and of the Catholic League during the Thirty Years’ War. The League’s forces were led by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly.

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Imperial pikemen, Thirty Years War

Wallenstein’s ‘system‘

At Aschersleben, Wallenstein created a depot for some 16,000 troops. More would follow. By 1628 the Imperial armies would number 110,000, of whom a fifth would be cavalry. From 1628, Wallenstein’s prestige grew and he was given control of all forces in the Empire with the exception of those in the crown lands and Hungary. Many foreign soldiers of fortune, including English, Irish and Scottish officers and even well-known German Protestants such as Arnim, joined Wallenstein as the Imperial army rapidly expanded. Despite the religious feuds of his era, the ‘Generalissimus’ was indifferent to the faith of his commanders. What he valued above all was loyalty and ability.

Wallenstein is largely credited with mastering the logistics of war on a scale hitherto not achieved. By forcing officers to be responsible for the upkeep and pay of their men, Wallenstein obliged villages and towns to contribute to war, thus allowing the impoverished Ferdinand to wage war without regard to the sorry state of his treasury. By levying contributions from enemy states his forces occupied, Wallenstein systematised plunder. In addition, thanks to his own vast resources, he constructed an elaborate system of loans and financing to assist his hand-picked officers with their quotas and his senior commanders with their expenses. By 1628 a colonel in one of Wallenstein’s regiments was receiving 500 florins (approx. $500) a week, more than an officer in other armies received in a month. The normal pay for a foot soldier was at this time barely 8 florins a month.

The imposition on the local population defied both convention and even Imperial law. According to this soldiers could demand lodging but were expected to pay for food. In practice this was impossible, owing to the scale of Wallenstein’s forces and their vast cohort of camp-followers. The villages and unfortified towns were ruined, with those houses refusing to pay levies often being torched. More funds could be acquired by ‘tributes’ from wealthy parts of the country, which could be exempted from supplying troops or occupation in return for large payments. Many of these sums were significant; for example Nuremberg paid half a million florins. But the cost, however great, was considered preferable to the destruction that accompanied occupation. Large swathes of Germany thus existed in a state of near-perpetual extortion in which Imperial decrees and laws appeared utterly overtaken by the rules of war. From Saxony to Brandenburg and Pomerania, from Mecklenburg to Württemberg expropriation became the order of the day. Elsewhere, in the crown lands, the ‘Soldier Tax’ became a weekly feature of urban life.

This ‘system’, such as it was, could be open to abuse. At a time of mercenary recruitment the commercial possibilities of all these activities were not lost along the many links of the chain. Bribes, ‘Spanish’ practices such as drawing supplies for non-existent soldiers, flourished in an era where the drawing up of accounts left much to be desired. Nor were these crimes the exclusive prerogative of any one army. For the populace of Germany, the Thirty Years War was truly a terrible era.

Elsewhere in the Habsburg domains taxation was used to preserve the great armouries in the cities of Inner Austria and maintain the Military Frontier which had developed in the late 1570s into a ragged line of frontier posts stretching some fifty miles alongside the Ottoman frontier. This was extended to include the approaches to Graz along the Drave around Varaždin and the area around Karlstadt (Karlovac) in Croatia proper as well as the three sections of the Hungarian frontier. Central funds from the Reichstag covered the costs of the principal garrisons (1.2 million florins a year) but elsewhere families were encouraged to take on the responsibility of particular areas of land, leading eventually to the creation of a warlike caste of military families with their own laws, customs and indeed dialect (Militärgrenze-Deutsch, for example ‘Ist Gefällig’ for ‘Izvolite’, which was heard around Koprivnica in eastern Croatia/Slavonia up to the mid-1970s).

That Wallenstein’s ‘system’ was capable of functioning at all was the result of his bankers, notably Jan de Witte who deploying an extensive network raised money for Wallenstein in sixty-seven cities between London and Constantinople. The powerful financiers of the time, de Witte and Fugger, would lend to Wallenstein when they would never lend to a Habsburg, their fingers having been burnt too often in the past by Ferdinand’s family’s hopelessness with money. But the financial architecture these resourceful and able men now constructed was only possible through generous interest rates and as their financing system came more and more to resemble a giant pyramid scheme it could be sustained only by the sale of vast estates enabled by royal prerogative. Ferdinand dealt with Wallenstein’s bills the only way he could – by ceding yet more land to the warlord.

Imperial musketeer and caliverman of the Thirty Years’ War.

The strategic tide was flowing in Ferdinand’s direction. Everywhere the anti-Habsburg coalition was faltering. As the 1620s wore on, Tilly dealt with the Danes at Lutter where in 1626 for 700 casualties he routed an army under Prince Christian, inflicting thousands of dead, wounded and captured. At one point the battle appeared to be turning in the Danes’ favour but the dispatch of 700 of Wallenstein’s heavy cavalry turned the tables with dramatic effect.

Wallenstein meanwhile had negotiated a truce with the Hungarian rebel leader Gabor Bethlen, a zealous Calvinist who claimed to have read the Bible twenty-five times and who had led an anti-Habsburg insurrection one of whose victims indeed had been the cavalry officer Dampierre. But though the Hungarian Protestants harboured many grievances against the Habsburgs, without external support there was little they could hope to achieve.

At the same time the Danes had retreated, leaving Saxony and Silesia to Wallenstein’s mercy. In May 1627 Wallenstein received the Duchy of Sagan instead of 150,850 florins owed to him by the Emperor, who now continued to write off any further debts to Wallenstein through granting him land. Titles fell to Wallenstein as rapidly as his opponents on the battlefield. He was elevated to Reichsfurst (with its concomitant right of access to the Emperor) and enfeoffed as a duke (Mecklenburg). Even his own coinage began to circulate, to the irritation of the court in Vienna.

Fighting Forces—A Global Overview 300-1000 CE

The Byzantine Navy, 300–1000 CE

Naval power was inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Byzantine empire in the period 300-1000. Under emperors Constantine (r. 324-337) and Justinian (r. 527-565), the Byzantine fleet was modern and large and could project power to the far corners of the Mediterranean Sea, maintaining the flow of goods and the prosperity of the empire. The standard Byzantine warship was the dromon, a galley with two banks of oars and an average crew of 200 oarsmen and 70 marines. Swifter and lighter warships called the pamphylos and the ousiakos were also used, and special transport ships were used for carrying horses (onerarai) and for projecting Greek fre (siphonophores). Byzantium faced a new naval threat with the emergence of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries. Muslims seized important naval bases along the Mediterranean littoral and islands and placed the Byzantine capital under siege twice (674-678 and 717-718). In the ninth century, Byzantine emperors Michael III (r. 842-867) and Basil I (r. 867-886) revived the eastern Roman Navy. But this revival was short-lived, as future emperors increasingly employed mercenary Venetians fleets to police their waters. When a Russo-Swedish navy attacked Constantinople in 1042, the Byzantines pressed into service aging hulks and refitted transports to defend the city, and in 1204 there was no Byzantine navy present to meet the Catholic crusaders during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).

Globally, the period 300-1000 CE witnessed both change and continuity in warfare largely due to increased reliance on cavalry, advances in technology, and often- except in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas-increased reliance on navies.

In Eurasia, migrations and invasions of steppe peoples into civilization zones precipitated the decline and fall of great civilizations in China, India, and Europe, changing the way these civilizations made war and raising the value of cavalry during this period. In China, the infantry-based armies of the late Han dynasty began to include more cavalry in their tactical mix to meet the persisting threat of horse nomads on their northern frontier. Han commanders even went so far as to hire nomadic horsemen as mercenaries because of their skill as mounted archers using powerful composite bows. After the fall of the Han dynasty in 220, Chinese armies were heavily influenced militarily by the influx of central Asian peoples who brought with them saddle and stirrup-stabilized cavalry, both of these inventions coming from horse nomads. But policing the vast territories of China required large multiethnic infantry contingents, so footmen remained an integral part of the Chinese military system throughout the later Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.

Indian military structures were also impacted by the influx of steppe peoples into the subcontinent in the period 300-1000. During the Kushan Kingdom (ca. 150 BCE-ca. 200 CE) Indian warfare was influenced by central Asian martial practices, dispensing with the war chariot so popular in earlier periods and emphasizing cavalry tactics over large infantry engagements. The rise of the indigenous Gupta dynasty (320- ca. 550) returned India to more traditional ways of warfare, stressing combined-arm cooperation using heavier cavalry, infantry, and war elephants. The Gupta infantry could stand against the cavalry from the central Asian steppe because they used the bamboo and steel longbow that could shoot armor-penetrating missiles. The Gupta dynasty was nearly destroyed by another steppe people, the Huns, whose cavalry armies swept into India from the northwest in the late fifth and sixth centuries, but an alliance of Hindu armies drove the Huns out of India in 528. The conquest and occupation of the Sind by Arab Islamic armies in the early eighth century introduced Islamic martial practices to Indian war making, while the northwestern frontier of India was threatened again in the tenth century with the coming of Turkic Ghaznavids (963-1187) who utilized steppe warfare showcasing lighter horses and mounted archery. Turkic martial organization and tactics would continue to influence Indian warfare through the numerous dynasties that made up the later sultanates of Delhi (1206-1527).

Persian warfare under the Sassanids (224- 651) mirrored that of their chief adversary, the Byzantines, with sophisticated armies using well-armored heavy cavalry cataphracts with infantry support being the norm, although the Persians were also famous for their elephant corps. The rapid rise and expansion of Islam destroyed the Sassanids and quickly put the Byzantines on the defensive. Early Arab Muslim armies were not adept at siege warfare like their Chinese, Indian, and Byzantine counterparts, preferring to use their camel corps to cross deserts, bypass fortifications, and raid the countryside. But later Islamic armies adopted the technologies and tactics of their conquered peoples, transforming Muslim armies with heavier Persian-styled heavier cavalry and better siege trains, while in North Africa, Berber martial practices mixed with Arab practices as Islamic armies crossed into Europe and conquered the Iberian Peninsula after 711. The conversion to Islam of the Ghazni and Seljuk Turks brought light cavalry archers into Muslim warfare often with spectacular effect, as the Seljuk defeat of Byzantine forces at Manzikert in 1071 illustrated.

In Europe, the Roman Army was in decline beginning in the fourth century and was unable to defeat Germanic tribes penetrating the Roman frontiers in raiding expeditions, a process that accelerated in the fifth century. Drill and discipline suffered as Germanic troops were allowed to join the Roman military, often with their own commanders, and by the fall of the western Roman empire in 476, the Roman Army was indistinguishable from its barbarian enemies. Cavalry, rather than infantry, was the featured military arm of emerging Germanic kingdoms, especially after the diffusion and widespread use of built-up saddles and stirrups created more efficient lancers in the ninth century. This West European heavy cavalry provided Catholic Europe with the strategic mobility to meet the threat of the Magyar and Viking menace, and by the beginning of the eleventh century heavy cavalry was the dominant military arm in western Europe.

Martial practices in North Africa in the period 300-1000 were heavily influenced by Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, and later Islamic warfare, while in sub-Saharan Africa tribal warfare was the norm. Between 700 and 1000 the kingdom of Ghana emerged as the dominant political and military force in sub-Saharan Africa and was the first of the western Sudanese empires to establish a large professional army. During this period, cavalry was not a featured military arm as it would be in the later kingdoms of Mali and Songhai. Instead, infantry armed with short-handled wood, stone, and iron-tipped thrusting spears, javelins, and iron swords and protected by bamboo shields was the main fighting force. These light troops were ideally suited for fighting in the varied topography of the Sahel, savannas, and jungles that surrounded this West African kingdom. War revolved around protecting the gold, ivory, and salt trade; iron mining; and the seizure of captives for the growing slave trade with the Mediterranean world. The expansion of Islam into West Africa after 1000 changed military structures, highlighting the role of professional soldiers and creating large standing armies as well as highly disciplined cavalry forces.

CLASSICAL MAYA WARFARE, 300 – 900 AD

In the New World, patterns of warfare in the period 300-1000 continued to be centered around tribal conflicts using small armies with stone age martial technologies like atlatls, bows, spears, and clubs for control over people, trade routes, and limited natural resources like fresh water, arable land, and access to obsidian and chert, strategically important materials for constructing tools and weapons for societies that did not use copper, bronze, or iron. Where states did exist, warfare was highly ritualized, and there is still debate among scholars on the role of human sacrifice as a motivation for raiding and conquest. One of these states, the Teotihuacan civilization in the Valley of Mexico, was capable of fielding an army of nearly 20,000 men when augmented by allied communities. This army utilized battle standards (a first for pre-Columbian armies), and there is indication that soldiers were equally adept in shock combat using thrusting spears and clubs as they were using standoff missile weapons like javelins and atlatls (bows were not used). or protection, quilted helmets and shields were utilized. Farther east the classical Maya (ca. 250- ca. 900) organized their society in city-states like ancient Greece and continuously fought civil wars for control over the region’s resources. Archaeology reveals that the Maya built fortifications around their urban centers, but modern scholars are still deciphering sources to understand Maya tactics and military organization. Most martial activity seemed to be done by a military caste that most probably fought in open formations and used missile weapons like bows, atlatls, and spears and then closed for hand-to-hand combat with thrusting spears and clubs. Textual and archaeological evidence supports increased Maya warfare at the end of the millennium, perhaps due to increased competition for dwindling resources. Less is known about the military capabilities of the central Andean civilization of the Moche (ca. 100-ca. 800). The Moche were organized like the Maya in loosely connected communities, and limited archaeological evidence suggests that Moche warriors fought without armor and with atlatls and clubs, while defensive works at the end of the civilization point toward internal social unrest, possibly because of climate change.

At sea, Old World navies from East Asia to Europe continued to use wooden ships powered by oar and sail. In China, the Han dynasty’s so-called Tower Ship Navy was improved upon by later Tang and Song rulers, and the Chinese proved masters of seaborne and riverine operations. Farther west the Gupta empire maintained a navy and was able to control regional waters around the subcontinent, while the Sassanids in Persia used their navy to attack across the Persian Gulf to Arabia before the advent of Islam. In the Mediterranean, Byzantine and Arab Muslim warships were usually smaller derivatives of earlier Roman galleys and carried contingents of marines for ship-to-ship fighting and amphibious operations. The incendiary known as Greek fire was used to good effect by the Byzantines to destroy a large Muslim fleet in 678 and was soon in the arsenal of most civilizations in the region. Farther north, Scandinavian shipwrights constructed large clinker-built long ships capable of extraordinary transoceanic journeys and deep river penetrations, becoming the Vikings’ favorite tool for raiding and invading Europe from Ire land to the Ukraine and colonizing Iceland, Greenland, and, for a short period by 1000, parts of the northeastern coast of North America. There is no evidence to support the existence of large organized navies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas in this period.

Wartime German Destroyers: From Narvik to the Capitulation I

The Battle of Biscay, 28 December 1943.

In the wake of the disaster at Narvik on 13 April 1940, the four existing Z-Flottillen were disbanded and reformed under a caretaker FdZ, Fregattenkapitän Alfred Schemmel, between 18 April and 14 May 1940. Kapitän zur See Erich Bey was appointed on the latter date, and he held the post until his death aboard the battleship Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943.

The two new flotillas were numbered 5 and 6. 5. Z-Flottille consisted of the former 1. Z-Flottille based at Swinemünde—Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt. 6. Z-Flottille comprised the remaining survivors, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 6 Theodor Riedel, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, Z 10 Hans Lody and Z 20 Karl Galster. These flotillas had little real significance because the small number of ships and their lack of operational readiness led to units being sent wherever the necessity for them arose. During 1940 three new destroyers, Z 23, Z 24 and Z 25, entered service, but they were not combat-ready until March 1941.

No destroyer operations were carried out in the Baltic east of the Kattegat in 1940, and there were no further German destroyer losses during 1940.

The immediate priority following the occupation of Norway was to close down the Skagerrak, and on 28 April Z 4 Richard Beitzen and Z 8 Bruno Heinemann took part in the first day’s operation to lay the Sperre 17 mine barrage in company with the minelayers Roland, Kaiser, Preussen and Cobra. The torpedo boats Leopard, Möwe and Kondor were also present, though Leopard was sunk in a collision with Preussen. After an improvement in the weather, the work was completed on 17 and 19 May, Z 4 being accompanied by Z 7 Hermann Schoemann on these two latter occasions.

At the beginning of June an operation codenamed ‘Juno’ was begun, the objective of which was to penetrate to the end of Andfjord and attack the town of Harstad, which British forces had invested as a naval base with a view eventually to re-taking Narvik. At 0800 on 4 June a German formation led by the battleship Gneisenau, flagship of Admiral Marschall, set out northwards from Kiel. In line astern followed the battleship Scharnhorst, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the destroyers Hans Lody, Hermann Schoemann, Erich Steinbrinck and Karl Galster. The attack on Harstad was planned for the early hours of 9 June, but once it had been confirmed that the British and French occupation force had abandoned the town, and a full evacuation from Norway was in progress, Gruppe West ordered Marschall to attack a reported convoy instead. A scouting line with 10nm between each ship was formed, and at 0605, in position 67°20’N 04°00’E the sweep encountered a westbound tanker, Oil Pioneer (5,666grt), escorted by the 530-ton ‘Tree’ class corvette Juniper—’an unwelcome stop in our search for the valuable convoy with its cruiser and destroyer escort’, Marschall recorded. While Gneisenau dealt with the tanker, leaving Hermann Schoemann to rescue the eleven survivors, Admiral Hipper finished off the corvette. Juniper’s depth charges exploded as she sank, leaving only one survivor to be picked up by Hans Lody.

The search line re-formed, and shortly after 1000 Lody reported smoke from several ships to the north which proved to be the hospital ship Atlantis, which was allowed to proceed unmolested, and the empty troop transporter Orama (19,840grt). The latter was suspected to be an AMC, and when, at 1104, movement on deck was interpreted as an attempt to man her guns, Hipper turned broadside-on and opened fire with tailfused salvos from all her main turrets at a range of 13,000yds. Lody began shooting at the same time, and, just as she was being ordered via ultra-short wave radio to cease firing, Hipper’s, foretop rangefinder operator reported that the Orama had struck her flag and was being abandoned by her crew. Lody had the Orama on a bearing from which it was not possible to see the transport’s lifeboats being lowered—and her ultrashort wave radio was not functioning. She therefore received neither the order from Hipper to cease firing nor one from the fleet commander not to fire torpedoes. Hans Lody unfortunately continued to shell the stricken ship and, to hasten her demise, loosed off two torpedoes. Both of these were rogues, but although one was a surface-runner which hit a loaded lifeboat at 40 knots and failed to explode, the other deviated and detinated prematurely close to Hipper. At 1220 the Orama sank by the stern, leaving fourteen survivors to be picked up by the heavy cruiser and 98 by the destroyer. An hour later the cruiser and destroyers were sent into Trondheim to refuel.

On 10 June the cruiser sortied in company with the battleship Gneisenau and the same four destroyers— Z 7, Z 10, Z 15 and Z 20—to attack British shipping, but as a result of adverse Luftwaffe reconnaissance reports were back at their moorings the next day. Bomber aircraft attacked the German units on several occasions.

Between 14 and 17 June, in an operation codenamed ‘Nora’, the cruiser Nürnberg, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and a minesweeping flotilla escorted the troopship Levante with 3. Gebirgsjager Division from Trondheim to Elvegardsmoen in Narvikfjord, returning with the paratroop force relieved there.

On 20 June the battleship Scharnhorst, which had been torpedoed during the action in which she and her sister-ship Gneisenau sank the aircraft carrier Glorious and three destroyers, left Trondheim for Kiel flanked by Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 10 Hans Lody and several torpedo boats; that same evening Admiral Hipper and Gneisenau sailed from Trondheim escorted by Z 20 Karl Galster and a seaplane on an operation to ‘roll up’ the British Northern Patrol, this having the secondary purpose of distracting attention from the departure of Scharnhorst. Shortly before midnight, at the entrance to Trondheimfjord, the submarine Clyde torpedoed Gneisenau forward of ‘A’ turret and the German force had to turn back.

On 25 July Hipper left Trondheim in company with the homebound damaged Gneisenau and her escort, consisting of the cruiser Nürnberg, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn and Z 20 Karl Galster. As arranged, Hipper was soon detached and steered north alone for anti-contraband reconnaissance in polar waters, and the force for Kiel was reinforced the next day by the torpedo boats Seeadler, Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs and T 5. Luchs was sunk when she intercepted a torpedo intended for Gneisenau from the British submarine Swordfish, but the remainder of the convoy reached Kiel on 28 June.

Between 31 August and 2 September Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 20 Karl Galster and four torpedo boats assisted the minelayers Tannenberg, Roland and Cobra to lay the Sperre 3 barrage in the south-western North Sea.

From 13 September 1940 Admiral Hipper was on standby at Kiel for Operation ‘Seelöwe’ (Sealion), the planned invasion of Britain, for which her task was to make a diversionary break-out to the north of either Scotland or Ireland to lure the Home Fleet out of the English Channel. All operational destroyers were sent to the French Channel ports of Brest and Cherbourg during September and October for ‘Seelöwe’ : Z 6 Theodor Riedel, Z 10 Hans Lody, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster sailed from Germany on 9 September, followed on the 22nd by Z 5 Paul Jacobi and Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck. Z 6 Theodor Riedel was of little use on account of persistent problems with her port engine. Z 4 Richard Beitzen arrived on 21 October.

The principal operations carried out against the British south coast occurred on the night of 28 September, when Falmouth Bay was mined by Paul Jacobi, Hans Lody, Friedrich Ihn and Friedrich Eckholdt; on 17 October, when Hans Lody, Friedrich Ihn, Erich Steinbrinck, Karl Galster and 5. Torpedobootflottille skirmished briefly with a mixed force of Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers in the Western Approaches (Lody was struck twice by shells); and in the early morning of 19 November when, off Plymouth, Richard Beitzen, Hans Lody and Karl Galster engaged the destroyers Jupiter, Javelin, Jackal, Jersey and Kashmir, Galster suffering light splinter damage and Javelin being torpedoed forward and aft.

With the abandonment of ‘Seelöwe’ in October, German destroyers had begun to trickle away from Brest and Cherbourg to Germany to refit and repair, and by early December Z 4 Richard Beitzen, at Brest, was the only German destroyer operational anywhere.

Six new destroyers (Z 23–28) became operational during 1941, and, as no destroyers were lost, the total available for duty at the end of the year rose to sixteen. Z 4 Richard Beitzen remained the only destroyer active off the French coast until March. She escorted Admiral Hipper out of Brest at the commencement the cruiser’s second raiding operation and met her on her return to the French port on 14 February.

Z 4 left for Germany on 16 March and was replaced in early April by Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn and Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, which were based at La Pallice. From 22 to 24 April these destroyers escorted Thor across Biscay to Cherbourg on the completion of the raider’s successful Atlantic cruise. In May Z 8 and Z 15 repeated the exercise for the naval oiler Nordmark after her six-month sojourn in mid-Atlantic replenishing the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. In the morning of 1 June all three destroyers met the cruiser Prinz Eugen as she put in at Brest astern of Sperrbrecher 13 at 1525 to conclude the disastrous ‘Rheinübung’ operation (in which the battleship Bismarck was sunk).

In mid-June the new destroyers Z 23 and Z 24 arrived at Brest and together with Z 8 and Z 15 ran escort for the battleship Scharnhorst on her occasional movements down the Breton coast. On 24 July, while engaged in gunnery practice off La Pallice, Scharnhorst was bombed and had to return to Brest for repair. From 21 to 23 August Z 23, Z 24, Erich Steinbrinck and Bruno Heinemann escorted the raider Orion across the Bay of Biscay and into the Gironde estuary after her epic seventeen-month cruise (all incoming prizes and steamers headed for St-Nazaire or the Gironde estuary using the so-called ‘Prize Channel’. By the end of October all the destroyers based in France had returned to Germany.

Meanwhile, further north, between 26 and 28 March Z 23 escorted Admiral Hipper into Kiel after the latter’s break-out from Brest, and the same destroyer met Admiral Scheer returning from the Indian Ocean on 30 March, the voyage finishing at Kiel on 1 April. At 1125 on 19 May, off Cape Arcona, Rügen Island, the battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen moved off astern of a protective screen formed by Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 23 and two Sperrbrecher for the southern entrance to the Great Belt, where Z 10 Hans Lody, several minesweepers and eight aircraft joined for the crossing of the Skagerrak. At 0900 the next morning Prinz Eugen and the destroyers put into Korsfjord and refuelled in Kalvenes Bay. At 2000 the battle group assembled behind the destroyer screen, reaching the open sea by way of Hjeltefjord at 2200 on 21 May. The destroyers were released into Trondheim at 0510 the following morning.

On 11 June 1941 the light cruiser Leipzig, the destroyers Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster, three torpedo boats, two U-boats and a large air escort set out from Kiel to accompany the heavy cruiser Lützow (formerly the pocket battleship Deutschland) on the first stage of Operation ‘Sommerreise’, a raiding cruise to the Indian Ocean. The naval escort terminated at Oslofjord, and Lützow continued alone. She got as far as Egersund before being crippled by an RAF torpedobomber. Z 10 Hans Lody and Z16 Friedrich Eckholdt escorted her back to the yards at Kiel on 14 June.

With the opening of the campaign against the Soviet Union—‘Barbarossa’—a two-part Baltic Fleet was formed. On 23 September 1941 the northern group, comprising the battleship Tirpitz, the cruisers Nürnberg and Köln and the new destroyers Z 25, Z 26 and Z 27, left Swinemünde for the Gulf of Finland to intercept Russian warships seeking internment in Sweden. On 27 September the force appeared off the Aba-Aaland skerries, but, as it turned out, the Red Fleet had no intention of leaving Kronstadt.

Shortly after the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union, 6. Z-Flottille (Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs), consisting of Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 10 Hans Lody, Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster, set out for northern Norway, arriving on 10 July at Kirkenes, a port in the Barents Sea close to the Kola peninsula and Murmansk. On 12 July the force split into two groups and on the first foray attacked a small Russian convoy of tugs, sinking the Soviet patrol ship Passat and a trawler. In a three-day sortie near the port of Iokanga on the Kola peninsula near the mouth of the White Sea, Z 4, Z 7, Z 16 and Z 20 sank the Soviet survey ship Meridian, but a similar raid which set out on 29 July was broken off after the Luftwaffe reported an approaching British force of two carriers, two cruisers and four destroyers which subsequently attacked Kirkenes.

On 9 and 10 August 1941 Beitzen, Lody and Eckholdt operated in the Kildin-Kola Inlet area, where, in a short engagement, the Soviet patrol vessel SKR-12 was sunk. Beitzen was straddled by enemy fire but not hit. When Z 4 and Z 7 returned to Germany for repairs in August, the remaining three destroyers were limited to escort duties following the British attack on the Bremse convoy of 6 September.

By November the Seekriegsleitung had recognised the frequency of the British Murmansk convoys and decided to adopt a far more aggressive policy in the Arctic. For this purpose 8. Z-Flottille (Kapitän zur See Gottfried Pönitz), composed of five new destroyers together with four E-boats and six U-boats, was sent to Kirkenes to relieve 6. Z-Flottille, the heavy ships following shortly afterwards.

From 16 to 18 December Z 23, Z 24, Z 25, and Z 27 — Z 26 turned back with engine trouble—sailed to lay a minefield north of Cape Gordodetzky on the Kola peninsula at the entrance to the White Sea but were disturbed by the Murmansk-based Halcyon class minesweeping sloops Speedy and Hazard, which had set out to escort convoy PQ.6. Speedy was hit and seriously damaged by four 15cm shells, but the German destroyers broke off the action when two Russian destroyers and the heavy cruiser Kent steamed out of the Kola Inlet to engage. On Boxing Day Z 23, Z 24, Z 25 and Z 27 operated off the Lofoten Islands following the British commando raid there at Christmas when an important radio mast had been destroyed and the small German naval base at Vaagso attacked.

During the course of 1942 Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann and Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt, plus Z 26, were lost, and Z 29, Z 30 and Z 31 became operational, as did ZG 3 Hermes in the Mediterranean. By the end of the year sixteen destroyers were available—the same number as on 31 December 1941. Throughout 1942 all destroyer operations were concentrated in Norwegian waters: even Operation ‘Cerberus’ — the ‘Channel Dash’ — in February having as its primary object the removal of three heavy units from Brest to Norway.

The year opened with the laying of a 100-mine EMC field by the Kirkenes-based destroyers Z 23, Z 24 and Z 25 on 13 January in the western channel of the entrance to the White Sea near Cape Kocovsky. Meanwhile the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen had been at Brest for between six and nine months, and it was decided to extricate them by sailing them through the English Channel in broad daylight—the so-called ‘Channel Dash’. Final discussions on the planned break-out from Brest were held in Paris on 1 January, those present including Admírale Saalwächter, Schniewind and Ciliax and the commanders of the three heavy units. Hitler gave his consent to the operation on 12 January. Towards the end of the month seven destroyers were despatched to Brest, but on 25 January, off Calais, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, sailing in a group with Z 4, Z 5 and Z 7, struck two mines and sank—the first German destroyer lost since Narvik. Later Z 14, Z 25 and Z 29 arrived at Brest without incident. It was suspected that the principal target during the ‘Channel Dash’ would be Prinz Eugen, because of her part in sinking the battlcruiser Hood the previous May, and she was fitted with an extra five quadruple AA guns and allocated Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, which carried an unusual amount of sophisticated technology, as escort. Notice for steam was given for 2030 on 11 February. In command of the squadron was Vizeadmiral Ciliax, on board the flagship Scharnhorst.

Sailing was delayed by an air raid warning, and when the ships weighed anchor at 2245 their departure went unnoticed, the British submarine keeping watch off the port being engaged in recharging her batteries offshore. Escorting the three heavy ships—steaming in the order Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen—were the destroyers Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 25 and Z 29; the torpedo boats T 11, T 2, T 5, T 12 and T 4 of the 2nd Flotilla, T 13, T 15, T 16 and T 17 of the 3rd Flotilla and Seeadler, Falke, Kondor, litis and Jaguar of the 5th Flotilla; and the 2nd, 4th and 6th E-boat Flotillas. Luftwaffe air cover comprised 176 Bf 110s and fighters.

The British were not alerted to the passage of the German armada until it was beyond Calais. The wind was south-west force 6 and the sea state 5. The first MTB attacks began at 1320, after the ships were beyond the range of the Dover batteries. Next came a suicidal low-level attack by six Swordfish torpedo bombers, all of which were shot down, one by the Luftwaffe, two by Friedrich Ihn and three by Prinz Eugen firing in barrage. In the North Sea the German units had the advantages of favourable weather and a heavy air umbrella.

In the entire action, 42 of the 600 British aircraft engaged were destroyed. When Scharnhorst was mined off the Scheldt, Ciliax transferred to Z 29, but, finding she had engine and other battle damage, he raised his flag aboard Z 7 Hermann Schoemann for the run to port.

At 0245 on 20 February Prinz Eugen (flagship of Vizeadmiral Ciliax) and Admiral Scheer left Brunsbüttel for Norway accompanied by Beitzen, Jacobi, Schoemann and Z 25. When reported by air reconnaissance before midday, the group reversed course for a while to throw the enemy off the scent. An unsuccessful air attack resulted in one aircraft being shot down. The ships put into Grimstadfjord on 22 February and left for Trondheim the same evening, but the escort was reduced by 50 per cent when Beitzen and Jacobi were forced into Bergen on account of damage cause by the heavy weather.

At 0702 the next morning, Trident—one of four British submarines positioned off the coast—hit Prinz Eugen’s stern with a torpedo which knocked off her rudder though left her propellers undamaged. The after section was almost severed, and the cruiser was unmanoeuvrable. Defensive measures prevented further attacks, and the unfortunate vessel limped into Lofjord during the night of 24 February. The scale of the damage was such that repairs in a German shipyard was dictated, and emergency work was begun at once alongside the workshop vessel Huascaran.

On 5 March German aircraft south of Jan Mayen reported a fifteen-ship convoy sailing on an eastward heading. This proved to be PQ. 12, and at the same time convoy QP.8 was sailing westwards for Iceland. The battleship Tirpitz, in company with Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann and Z 25, sailed from Trondheim to intercept the merchantmen but missed the convoys in storm and fog, their only victim being the straggling Soviet freighter Izora, sunk on 7th March by Ihn.

On 19 March Admiral Hipper sailed north from Brunsbüttel in company with the destroyers Z 24, Z 26 and Z 30 and the torpedo boats T 15, T 16 and T 17 and on the 21st joined the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen in Lofjord near Trondheim. In the evening of 28 March the Kirkenes destroyers Z 24, Z 25 and Z 26 took on the role of light cruisers to attack convoy PQ.13. After having sunk the straggler Bateau—which was stopping to rescue her crew and that of the Empire Ranger found adrift in lifeboats—the trio were surprised in poor visibility in the morning of 29 March by the cruiser Trinidad (8,000 tons, 33 knots, 12×6in guns, 2 torpedo tubes) and the destroyer Fury (1,350 tons, 36 knots, 4×14.7in guns, 8 torpedo tubes). Z 26 was seriously damaged and set on fire after hits from Trinidad but found refuge in a snow squall. When contact was renewed, the British cruiser attempted to torpedo Z 26. Her tubes were iced over, however, and the only torpedo to come free was a rogue which circled back and hit the ship which had fired it. Z 24 and Z 25 missed the cruiser with torpedoes. Short exchanges occurred in the poor visibility between snow showers, culminating in a second British destroyer, Eclipse (1,375 tons, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes) shooting Z 26 to a standstill. Z 24 and Z 25 rained shells down on to Eclipse but eventually allowed her to escape, preferring to save Z 26’s crewmen before the destroyer sank in waters which the human body could not survive for more than a minute or so. Even so, the death toll aboard Z 26 was grievous: 283 men failed to return home.

On 9 April 1942 Z 7 Hermann Schoemann sailed for Kirkenes as a replacement for the sunken Z 26, and on 1 May she sortied with Z 24 and Z 25 to attack convoy QP. 11, which had already been intercepted by U-boats. The convoy was relatively well protected. Close in was the light cruiser Edinburgh (10,000 tons, 32 knots, 12×6in guns) and the destroyers Forester and Foresight (1,350 tons, 36 knots, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes), the remaining escort being composed of the destroyers Bulldog and Beagle (1,360 tons, 35 knots, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes), Amazon (1,352 tons, 37 knots, 4×4.7in, six torpedo tubes) and Beverley (1,190 tons, 25 knots, 3×4in, 3 torpedo tubes), plus four corvettes and a trawler. Well to the rear were some Soviet vessels coming up from Murmansk. Edinburgh had been torpedoed by U 456 on 30 April.

In thick snowfall and drift ice, the three German destroyers clashed first with the four outer destroyers, damaging Amazon. Shortly afterwards they came across the motionless Edinburgh. Her guns were still intact, and she soon had Hermann Schoemann wallowing, one of the first hits knocking out the destroyer’s main steam feed, causing her current and both turbines to fail. Attempts by Z 24 and Z 25 to finish off Edinburgh with torpedoes were frustrated by iced-up tubes, only one torpedo getting clear. After laying a smoke screen to protect Z 7, they then took on Forester and Foresight, inflicting serious damage on both, but Z 25 had four dead in her radio room as a result of a direct hit. Edinburgh later sank. After picking up what survivors from Schoemann she could find, Z 24 scuttled Z 7 with explosives. U 88 found a number of the destroyer’s survivors in boats and on rafts, her final tally of dead being eight.