German Naval Aviation War II 1939 Part I

When war was declared with Great Britain and France on 3 September 1939, the Heinkel He 115 was beginning to enter service. However, owing to the imperfections of the LT F5 torpedo, the new floatplane was unable to carry the weapon as it was incapable of flying slowly enough to launch it successfully without stalling. During October 1939, trials conducted by the TVA in altering the torpedo’s aerial rudder to allow use by the He 115 resulted in an unacceptable 50 per cent failure rate. Nevertheless, the He 115 began operational missions, relegated to reconnaissance and bombing roles. By 2 September the Kriegsgliederung der Luftwaffe reported the See-Luftstreitkräfte standing at a strength of thirty-one He 59s (thirty of them operationally ready), eighty-one He 60s (sixty-six operationally ready), sixty-three Do 18s (fifty-four operationally ready) and eight He 115s spread among its squadrons; the carrier group 4./Tr.Gr. 186 numbering twelve Ju 87s, and 5. and 6./Tr.Gr. 186 twenty-four Bf 109s between the two Staffeln.

Two distinct operational commands were established to allow smoother control over operations in the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. These were Führer der See-Luftstreitkräfte West and Führer der See- Luftstreitkräfte Ost respectively; each tactically subordinate to the relevant Marinegruppenkommando (MGK) that had been established to co-ordinate surface forces within the same regions. At the formation of the two posts Generalmajor Hermann Bruch, former Chief of Staff to Zander at Luftwaffenkommando See, commanded the western branch, while Generalmajor Joachim Coeler headed that in the east, both men having been former naval officers before transfer to the Luftwaffe. However, their positions changed almost immediately war was declared, when the two officers swapped posts. The allocation of available Staffeln to each regional command was made by the Kriegsmarine; Ritter was responsible for all related administration and logistical support pertaining to the deployment in his role as Gen.d.Lw.b.Ob.d.M.

F.d.Luft West

Küstenfliegergruppe 106, Obstlt. Hermann Jorden, Norderney

Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 106: no aircraft

1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106: He 60, He 115 (Hptm. von Schrötter)

2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106: Do 18 (Oblt. Bischoff)

3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106: He 59 (Hptm. Stein) (based at Rantum)

Küstenfliegergruppe 406 Maj. Heinrich Minner, List

Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 406: no aircraft

1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406: He 115 (Hptm. Lienhart Wiesand)

2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406: Do 18 (Maj. Bartels)

3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406: He 59 (Hptm. Bergemann)

Bordfliegergruppe 196, Wilhelmshaven

1./B.Fl.Gr. 196: He 60/Ar 196 (Maj. Lessing)

F.d.Luft Ost

Küstenfliegergruppe 306, Obstlt. Heinz von Holleben, Dievenow

Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 306: 1 x He 60, 1 x He 59 (moved to F.d.Luft West command on 4 September, based at Hörnum)

1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 306: He 60 (Hptm. Heyn) (moved to F.d.Luft West command on 4 September, based at Hörnum)

2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 306: Do 18 (Hptm. Hartwig)

Küstenfliegergruppe 506, Obstlt. Wolfgang von Wild, Pillau

Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 506: 1 x Ju 52, 3 x He 59

1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506: He 60 and He 114 (Hptm. Hermann Busch)

2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506: Do 18 (Hptm. Herbert Hartwig) (moved to F.d.Luft West command on 4 September and placed under staff of Kü.Fl. Gr. 306)

3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506: He 59 (Hptm. Ludwig Fehling) (moved to F.d.Luft West command on 12 September)

Küstenfliegergruppe 606, Kamp (Formerly 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 706)1

2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 606: Do 18 (Hptm. Hans Bruno von Laue – temporarily replacing Hptm. Rudolf Wodarg on attachment to Staff/ Luftwaffenkommando East Prussia) (moved to F.d.Luft West and placed under the staff of Kü.Fl.Gr. 306)

Küstenfliegergruppe 706, Obstlt. Hermann Edert, Kamp

Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 706: 1 x Ju 52

1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 706: He 60 and He 114 (Maj. Kaiser) (based at Nest)2

3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 706: He 59 (Hptm. Gerd Stein) (moved to F.d.Luft West and placed under the staff of Kü.Fl.Gr. 106

Bordfliegergruppe 196, Holtenau

5/B.Fl.Gr. 196: He 60 (Hptm. Wibel)

II./Trägergeschwader 186 (established in Kiel-Holtenau), Maj. Walter Hagen

Stab II/Tr.Gr. 186:

4./Tr.Gr. 186: Ju 87B (based at Stolp)

5/Tr.Gr. 186: Bf 109B (based at Brüsterort)

6/Tr.Gr. 186: Bf 109B (based at Brüsterort)

Outside of direct Kriegsmarine tactical control, Luftflotte 2 had been allocated the task of investigating aerial naval operations, and Felmy ordered the creation of a specific command for maritime operations using high-performance land-based aircraft, the 10.Fliegerdivision, established in Hamburg on 5 September 1939, commanded by Generalleutnant Hans Ferdinand Geisler and based initially at Blankenese. Geisler took aboard as his Chief of Staff the gifted and experienced Maj. Martin Harlinghausen of AS/88 fame. Within less than a month Geisler’s command was renamed X.Fliegerkorps. Stationed in North Germany, the main force incorporated Heinkel He 111H bombers of Generalmajor Robert Fuchs’ KG 26 and, from November, the new Junkers Ju 88 bombers of KG 30 under the command of Geschwader Kommodore Generalmajor Hans Siburg (replaced by Obstlt. Walter Loebel in January 1940). Until 1941, most of KG 26’s observers were either members of the Kriegsmarine or Seeluftstreitkräften, and the crews as a whole had already been introduced to a new training regime incorporating the techniques required for nautical warfare; ship identification and marine navigation, as well as weather patterns and their relative sea state. They began their first small-scale joint manoeuvres with Kriegsmarine units in waters south of Norway.

During September, Hptm. Edgar Petersen began to lobby for the adoption of a relatively new aircraft to enable long-distance maritime reconnaissance. The former Army flight instructor and Staffelkapitän of 1./KG 51 had been moved to the staff of Geisler’s fledgling 10.. Fliegerdivision as a navigation specialist, and began pushing for the use of the Focke-Wulf Fw 200. He had initially favoured the Junkers Ju 90, but was swayed by the fact that only two prototype aircraft existed and there was, as yet, no established production line for more. The Fw 200, on the other hand, had already proved its endurance during peacetime.

The prototype Fw 200 V1 (initially civil registered as D-AERE and named Saarland, then re-registered D-ACON and named Brandenburg in the summer of 1938 in preparation for its record flight to New York that August) had first flown at Neulander Field in Bremen, the Focke-Wulf factory airfield, on 27 July 1937. At the controls was Kurt Waldemar Tank, a former First World War cavalry officer who had become a leading aeronautical engineer and test pilot. Tank was working for the prestigious Albatros Flugzeugwerke when the company was merged with Focke-Wulf in 1931, and during 1936 began design work on the Fw 200 Condor long-range commercial transport to specifications agreed with Lufthansa. British and American airlines were developing and using large four-engine flying boats for transatlantic journeys from Europe to South America, though their weight and bulk prevented them from carrying large payloads. Instead, Tank developed a sleek, lighter landplane; an all-metal, low-wing monoplane crewed by four and capable of carrying twenty-six passengers. The aircraft was designed to operate at a maximum ceiling of 3,000m, allowable without the use of oxygen and a pressurised cabin.

To prove the aircraft’s potential, at 7.30am on 10 August 1938 D-ACON lifted off from Flugplatz Berlin-Staaken to begin a Great Circle course across the North Atlantic, and landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, at 1.50pm local time the following day. The flight, which had carried no passengers, had covered 6,371.3 kilometres in just a fraction under twenty-five hours, and marked the first non-stop flight between the two points by a heavier-than-air aircraft. The crew comprised Lufthansa pilot Kapitän Alfred Henke, Luftwaffe Hptm. Rudolf Freiherr von Moreau (co-pilot), Paul Dierberg (flight engineer) and Walter Kober (radio operator). Two days later the aircraft made a return crossing, shaving five hours off owing to more favourable winds.

The Condor had proved itself as a long-distance aircraft, and made a series of demonstration flights, including Berlin to Hanoi, French Indo-China, during November, during which it set a new speed record, though the aircraft was eventually wrecked after ditching near Manila on 6 December 1938 due to fuel starvation, either through crew error or mechanical malfunction. There were no casualties, and though the Condor was recovered it was deemed beyond repair.

Nonetheless, a military variant of the Condor, the Fw 200 V10, had been requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and at the outbreak of war four such aircraft were near completion in Bremen. They were purloined by Petersen and combined with six existing civilian models for the formation of his new unit on 1 October 1939: the Fernaufklärungsstaffel (long-distance reconnaissance squadron), initially under the direct command of Ob.d.L., though non-operational until 1940. During the pre-war development of the Luftwaffe the late Walther Wever had been a strong advocate of strategic bombing by long-range aircraft, leading to the Dornier Do 19 and Junkers Ju 89 prototypes. However, following his death the concept of strategic bombing had been abandoned by men who favoured tactical aircraft, particularly the dive-bomber. This frustrated German bomber design thereafter; even development of the heavy He 177 was delayed through an irrational desire to incorporate a dive-bombing capability. The Fw 200 was a compromise between the two camps, but although its later reputation among the Allies as the ‘Wolf of the Atlantic’ was born from some reality, the aircraft was never entirely suitable for its intended role, and one wonders what could have been achieved if Wever’s original vision had been allowed to flourish. Among the deficiencies of the Fw 200 were lack of a proper bombsight and relatively poor forward vision, particularly compared with the Heinkel He 111H and its extensively glazed cockpit. This forced Condor crews to attack at low level, approaching targets at a height of around 50m before releasing bombs only 240m or so from the target. Crews came to know this manoeuvre as the ‘Swedish turnip tactic’, allowing the highest chance of a damaging hit or near miss, but also rendering the relatively fragile airframe vulnerable to small-calibre anti-aircraft weapons that were soon issued to merchant ships. Furthermore, the barometric altimeters in use at that time were notoriously unreliable at low altitude, requiring instead good spatial judgement and timing on behalf of both pilot and observer for a successful attack.

On the front line in the days leading up to war the Seeluftstreitkräfte was engaged in reconnaissance of the North and Baltic Seas. As the Wehrmacht began its invasion of Poland on the morning of 1 September the floatplanes were immediately in combat, its first casualties being suffered less than twenty-four hours after fighting began, in an accident when He 60 M7+NH of 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 crashed while taking off for a reconnaissance of the Bay of Danzig. Pilot Uffz. Hans August Damrau misjudged his take-off run and the aircraft’s floats struck the harbour mole in Pillau-Neutief. The Heinkel crashed into the sea and caught fire after impact, killing Damrau and observer Lt.d.R. Hoffmann. In the West, Do 18 M2+JK ‘I’ of 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106 crashed in darkness and bad weather on 3 September. The wreckage was later recovered by the Seenotdienst ship Günther Plüschow, which had been despatched to investigate a large oil patch believed to be from the missing aircraft, and the bodies of observer Oblt.d.R. Georg Müssig and pilot Uffz. Friedrich Römermann were found six days later.

Newly trained observer Lt.z.S. Paul Just later recalled the beginning of hostilities in his post-war autobiography:

I am ordered from the school to the front: Küstenaufklarüngsstaffel 1./306 on the North Sea island Norderney. But the English remain inactive like the French. We landed our float biplane on a lake in Pomerania and prepared for combat missions. With the single-engine Heinkel He 60 we are to bombard the last Polish units in small bunker positions on the Hela peninsula . . . We wear leather aviator overalls, with hood and glasses. The observer has binoculars, and in the on-board compartment are the nautical chart, compass and navigation triangle, in front of his knees the radio. With Morse signals he can relay reconnaissance information to the command post.

The initial tasks allocated to the naval fliers during the first days of war with Poland revolved around attacks on the Hela Peninsula and its heavy gun emplacements, and in bombing the garrison at Gydnia. Just and his He 60-equipped Staffel joined in the attack, a task for which the He 60 was not designed:

But here we are supposed to be a bomber. The explosive bombs with detonators in place weigh five kilos each. To prime them, I have to remove a safety pin. Bomb mountings are not available in the He 60, so I put the bombs under the seat. If they roll around, I have to hold them with my feet

More appropriately, the dive-bombers and fighters of the Graf Zeppelin’s Trägergeschwader 186 had also been taken on to the strength of F.d.Luft Ost, and were in combat from the outbreak of hostilities. Indeed, the first Luftwaffe loss attributed to enemy action was a Junkers Ju 87B-1 of 4./Tr.Gr.186 that had been thrown into action against Polish targets. Equipped with heavy SC500 bombs, the Stukas were provided with air cover by Bf 109 fighters of Trägergeschwader 186, both squadrons operationally subordinated to Jagdgeschwader 1, commanded by Obstlt. Carl Schumacher.

During the last days of peace the carrier squadrons of Trägergeschwader 186 had moved from Kiel-Holtenau to the east: the fighter squadrons 5./186 and 6./186 on 22 August and 24 August respectively to Brüsterort, the Stuka Staffel 4./186 to Stolp-West in Pomerania. Major Walter Hagen, the commander of Trägergeschwader 186, was a highly experienced pilot, having served with the Seeflieger during the previous world war and spent years in the interim as a pilot and test pilot for the German airline industry. Joining the Luftwaffe in 1935, he had continued his role as test pilot before being appointed commander of the Graf Zeppelin’s aircraft group. Stuka pilot Helmit Mahlke later wrote of him:

A modest individual, he was a superb pilot who had played a pivotal role in the earliest days of naval aviation. He was also an incomparable leader of men who treated those under his command with respect, consideration and absolute fairness. We could not have wished for a better commanding officer.

A mixture of naval and Luftwaffe personnel had flowed into Hagen’s command during the weeks leading to war. They were hurriedly formed into operational units at Kiel-Holtenau, with a few He 50s available for training alongside the newly available modified Stuka Ju 87Bs finishing production. The squadron was treated as an extension of the Graf Zeppelin complement, and by 1 September only one Stuka Staffel was fully equipped and operational, having been posted to Stolp for what the men believed were impending exercises.

Hauptmann Erich Blattner’s 4./Tr.Gr. 186 was in fact the strongest single unit within Generalmajor Hermann Bruch’s F.d.Luft Ost command, which had established its headquarters at the Seefliegerhorst Dievenow (Pomerania), on the north-east corner of the island of Wolin. Blattner, a former Lufthansa pilot, led his squadron into action, initially against Polish naval bases, beginning with a one-and-a-half-hour attack on Gdynia Harbour beginning at 0215hrs on 2 September. The next morning Uffz. Wilhelm Czuprina and his gunner/radio operator Funkmaat Erich Meinhardt were killed when their Stuka was hit and brought down by flak during an attack against the Hela Peninsula. During this bombing raid the Stukas severely damaged the 2,250-ton modern minelayer Gryf, hits on her bow setting her ablaze, as well as 1,540-ton destroyer Wicher, which was hit amidships, the tender Smok, and a patrol boat.

The Polish minelayer Gryf had already been attacked by Stukas of the Luftwaffe’s Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG1, formerly Lehrgeschwader Greifswald) on the first day of hostilities, while travelling in company with six minesweepers from Gydnia to lay mines at the entrance of the Bay of Danzig. With the Gryf damaged by several near misses and with twenty-two men killed, including the commander, Captain Wiktor Kwiatkowski, the 290 mines were jettisoned, and the ship was taken to the Hela Peninsula to serve as a flak platform. There German destroyers briefly shelled them, Gryf being hit twice before a return hit on Z1 Leberecht Maass forced the Germans to retreat. Moved to the floating dock for repair, she was then hit repeatedly by the carrier squadron’s Stukas, and left burning and partly submerged. The coup de grâce did not come until 4 September, when the Staffelkapitän of 3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 706, Hptm. Gerd Stein, led his He 59 aircraft in an attack that afternoon and finished the ship off with more hits, the hulk continuing to burn for two days. The He 59 seaplanes of both Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 and Kü.Fl.Gr. 706 were added to the offensive against the Hela Peninsula by this stage of the battle, though Obstlt. Wolfgang von Wild, commander of Kü.Fl.Gr. 506, harboured grave doubts about the aircraft’s suitability for what would be a conventional night bombing role against artillery positions. In his War Diary, the entry from 5 September clearly records his opinion:

Kdr. Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 repeatedly informed F.d.Luft several times by telephone of his doubts concerning the military expediency of planned attacks by bomber squadrons on 6 September 1939. A successful attack cannot be counted on as the small target can only be properly targeted from low level. The attacking crews will meet very heavy flak (ten heavy anti-aircraft batteries and between thirty and forty anti-aircraft machine guns). The battery has so far been bombarded with 50 tons of bombs, of which 20 tons were SC500s, without any success whatsoever. Considering the defence, the operation seems unwarranted and a waste of ammunition, especially since the Gruppe’s request to attack the Westerplatte was originally rejected in order to save ammunition.

Nonetheless, the attacks went ahead between 0400hrs and 0420hrs on 6 September, and Lt.z.S. Claus Münscher’s He 59 M7+XL of 3./ Kü.Fl.Gr. 506, was brought down by flak from a height of 500m, all four crewmen being killed. The aircraft hit the sea, and a Polish patrol boat despatched to the site collected a pilot’s glove, collar, and pieces of the wing for identification.

Attack carried out according to orders. Heavy defensive fire. Aircraft ‘X’ shot down. Success of attack equal to zero. Request F.d.Luft: Should the ordered additional attacks be carried out?

Response from F.d.Luft: No further attacks.

Too late for Münscher and his crew, on 6 September, SKL prepared the following order to Group Baltic, to be issued four days later:

Multipurpose aeroplanes are no longer to operate against heavily protected objectives on land. The use of multipurpose aeroplanes for long-range reconnaissance operations in the North Sea is more urgent: thus, the aeroplanes are to be spared during operations in the Baltic Sea which are still necessary for the time being.

The Stukas of Trägergeschwader 186 had been despatched to sink Polish gunboats which fired on German positions around Rewa, before spending an extended period in support of ground operations, two aircraft making forced landings after being hit by ground fire, and another being shot down in flames during the battle for the marshlands at Oxhöfter-Kämpe on 14 September; Oblt. Hans Rummel and Oberfunkmaat Fritz Blunk were both killed. Stuka crewmen reported enemy machine-gun fire from the quarantine station east of Amalienfelde (marked by a large red cross on white ground), returning fire in what they considered a violation of international convention.

After the British declaration of war on 3 September, several units were removed from the Baltic battlefield and transferred west, creating a confused tangle of administrative hierarchy as individual Staffeln were placed under different Gruppe commands. On 12 September, 3./ Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 was the latest assigned to F.d.Luft West and ordered to transfer to the North Sea. Following the expected defeat of Gdynia Blattner’s Stuka squadron, redesignated two days previously from 4./ Tr.Gr. 186 to 3.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186, was also to be placed at the disposal of Marinegruppenkommando West (MGK West), leading SKL to issue notice to Ritter that ‘for reasons of tactical command Naval Staff no longer needs a Commander, Naval Air, Baltic, for the Baltic Sea due to the reduction of staff and senior personnel’.

Following the subjugation of all Polish naval bases and the clearingup of defensive minefields that had clogged Danzig Bay, Commanding Admiral, Baltic, considered the minimum allocation of aerial forces suitable for his requirements to be one long-range reconnaissance squadron, one Stuka squadron and three multipurpose squadrons for the effective maintenance of reconnaissance and combat operations for control of the Baltic Sea. However, on 20 September the Luftwaffe’s Chief of General Staff, Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek, expressed ‘the urgent desire’ for Blattner’s Stukas to be removed from naval control and transferred to Luftflotte 1. The Naval Liaison Officer attached to Luftwaffe General Staff, Fregattenkapitän Mössel, received the following reply to Jeschonnek from SKL:

a. Naval Staff considers that there is still a limited number of tasks for the Stuka squadron in the Baltic Sea area at present, not only as support for the fight on Hela, but also for possible employment in the fight against submarines etc.

b. Some time ago Naval Staff issued an order that this squadron is to be assigned to Group West for tasks in the North Sea as soon as there are no more tasks in the Baltic Sea.

c. The Naval Staff believes that if this squadron were assigned to Luftflotte 1 in the course of the general transfer of air forces from the east to the west, the Stukas would not immediately be able to operate against land targets there. On the other hand, the Naval Staff sees possibilities for using this squadron in the North Sea theatre against sea targets. As a matter of fact, possibilities for such operations have already presented themselves.

d. However, if it appears in the further progress of the war against Great Britain that, owing to limited range of the Stukas or to lack of opportunities for attack, the squadron is in the wrong place, Naval Staff will at once make it available.

e. Naval Staff therefore asks to have 3.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186 left with the Navy at present.

Within five days the Kriegsmarine had their answer, as Göring himself ordered the Stukas immediately placed under the command of Luftflotte 2. Raeder and his staff were predictably and justifiably outraged at yet another incursion into what small amount of control the Kriegsmarine still exercised over aerial units:

The withdrawal of this squadron is opposed to the demand of Naval Staff, who will feel the loss of the squadron for breaking resistance on Hela Peninsula as well as for operations against naval targets in the North Sea all the more, as by order of Armed Forces High Command the naval air units are tactically assigned to Commander in Chief, Navy, and the order of Commander in Chief, Air Force, is, therefore, contradictory to the basic instruction issued in agreement with the Führer.

Nonetheless, the decision was taken, and the highly effective Stuka unit was shortly removed to purely Luftwaffe control. Blattner’s squadron transferred briefly to Danzig, from where it continued to batter the Hela Peninsula, before moving to Radom, south of Warsaw, for two days, where it was temporarily subordinated to Stukageschwader 77. By 28 September Blattner and his men and machines had returned to Kiel-Holtenau. As the inter-service wrangling continued in the higher command echelons, the men of 3.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186 were pragmatic when informed of their impending reassignment.

Our personnel had come exclusively from the ranks of the Navy before being transferred to the Luftwaffe. But because it was not known at this juncture just how long it would be before our aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin, entered service – which, in the event, she never did – the Luftwaffe was demanding that, in the interim, our Gruppe should be placed under the control of its own Luftflotte 2. The Navy’s opposition to this demand – made mainly as a matter of prestige, I suspect – was put to the OKW, which came down firmly on the side of the Luftwaffe. Naturally, we knew nothing of these goings-on at our lowly level. We were simply surprised and delighted when, at the beginning of November 1939, we received orders to transfer to Wertheim, near Würzburg, for service under Luftflotte 2. On 8 November 1939 we landed at Wertheim, thereby taking our place as a tactical unit on the Luftwaffe’s operational order of battle alongside all its other Stukagruppen. The move was very welcome from a flying point of view, but it did pose a number of problems for our ground staff, which would continue to plague the Gruppe for a long time to come. Still nominally a carrier-based unit, we had been furnished with very little transport of our own. The Gruppe itself had been allocated a single Ju 52 transport aircraft, while the HQ and each Staffel was provided with one 3-ton lorry, one small car and one motorcycle for use while lying in harbour. Obviously, this was totally inadequate for a normal Stuka unit’s day-to-day operations, let alone for a rapid transfer from one airfield to another.

German Naval Aviation War II 1939 Part II

While the aircraft of Trägergruppe 186 were soon removed from F.d.Luft Ost, the remaining squadrons continued their activities over Poland and the Baltic Sea. On 16 September SKL suggested that boarding commandos be formed from personnel of both 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 306 and 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 706 to augment the naval forces already tasked with the interdiction of merchant ships carrying contraband to Great Britain. Each small commando unit would comprise a naval officer observer supported by a Luftwaffe radioman and one or two soldiers drawn from the ground staff. They were to be carried into action aboard an He 59, which was capacious enough to accommodate the extra men, two float-equipped Ju 52s able to carry larger parties of men if required also being added to the complement. The officers received basic training in the intricacies of Prize Law and were soon operational within the Baltic Sea. The interdiction missions were mounted by pairs of aircraft, one maintaining a protective circle above while the other landed near the target vessel, which had been requested to stop by gunfire, a thrown message from the Heinkel, or flashed Morse signals. Once alongside, the officer was able to inspect the ship’s manifest. Any vessel suspected of carrying contraband was directed to Swinemünde, where it would be more thoroughly inspected and possibly interned as a legitimate Prize of War. Following their brief training in the art of boarding merchant ships, on 24 September SKL recorded that: ‘Naval air forces are permitted to carry out war against merchant shipping in compliance with prize regulations’.

It was soon found that prevailing winds often prevented safe landings, and that the most effective method of inspection involved signalling the suspect vessel while remaining aloft, directing the ship toward a German port or one of the Vorpostenboote waiting in predetermined locations. Once again, Paul Just was at the forefront of this new Küstenflieger initiative, this time as observer and aircraft commander aboard a Kü.Fl. Gr. 306 Heinkel.

The He 59 is a good aircraft, but the two 600hp BMW engines can only give a maximum speed of 240km/h, the highest cruising speed only 205 km/h. The He 59 was intended for four men: Pilot and navigator up front, the radioman who doubled as an air gunner behind, and another gunner, the flight engineer, astern in the lower hull . . . Eight to ten aircraft are constantly on the move, and every day sixty to eighty merchant ships are inspected by the Vorpostenboote. It puts a great strain on the crews, with no possibility of collecting military glory . . .

My pilot, Bootsmann Brötsch, sits behind and above me. If I want to enter the control dome for a turn at the stick, I knock on his leg. He trims the machine, we understand each other with a look, and he drops out of his seat in the hull, I pull myself up. Of course, the change is prohibited, but the He 59 sails so well through the air, that probably nothing can happen; until the day it happens. When I’m up in the pilot’s seat, I unexpectedly see a crooked horizon. The machine is suddenly leaning almost 45 degrees to port. Brötsch is back in his seat in a flash. The machine straightens up, but the drone of the port motor is missing; the propeller has stopped. Theoretically, one engine should be sufficient to keep the He 59 airborne. Brötsch gives the starboard engine full power. The flight engineer, who also takes constant care of the aircraft when on the ground, feverishly searches for the cause of the failure. We can only hope that he is successful, because the aircraft has started to lose height.

Brötsch doesn’t need to say anything: we will be down soon. Worried, I look at the sea state, which is quiet, but with a few foam heads. Two steamers are all that are in sight, and as we go further down they disappear behind the horizon. We turn to face against the wind and wave direction. With the slow-running starboard engine we hold ourselves on course above the sea. But the He 59 lurches powerfully and it looks for a moment like the ends of the floats could hit the water and submerge. The fierce vibrations of the floating aircraft puts a great strain on us . . .

We radio a distress signal, because if the motor stops we will not be able to get it going again on our own. [The engineer shouts] ‘Everything is okay, I can’t find anything. Brötsch, give it another try!’ The starter makes the [port] engine pop and puff, the propeller turning in fits and starts before suddenly the engine runs again. We are amazed, and the pilot is happy.

In the west, co-operation between Admiral Alfred Saalwachter (MGK West) and both Joachim Coeler’s F.d.Luft West, Felmy’s Luftflotte 2 and Geisler’s 10.Fliegerdivision was initially very positive. Despite the fact that the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine had failed to co-ordinate the most basic tenets of cohesive maritime war (each used different map grids, there was no established mutual communications net, no common code or cypher system, and inadequate telecommunications between operational headquarters and command stations), an element of goodwill had been fostered, not least of all due to Coeler’s obvious enthusiasm for his aircraft to begin maritime operations. Overcoming the difficulties imposed by the joint control of naval air units, local organisational measures were taken between the various headquarters: Saalwachter based in Wilhelmshaven, Coeler in Jever thirteen miles to the west, Felmy in Brunswick, and Geisler’s office located in Hamburg, which boasted a highly developed signals net. The Luftwaffe and Naval offices immediately exchanged grid-square charts, enabling a composite overlay to be created to ease operational co-ordination. Communications systems were rapidly improved upon, and a Luftwaffe liaison officer was quickly assigned to Saalwachter’s staff. Felmy requested that a U-boat be assigned the task of sending direction-finder signals to aid aircraft navigation, but this was refused by B.d.U. on the grounds of meagre U-boat strength available for the war against British trade, a converted trawler Vorpostenboot being allocated instead for the same purpose.

Over the North Sea, aircraft controlled by F.d.Luft West mounted continuous reconnaissance missions to form a picture of shipping movements and the distribution of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet. Aircraft also monitored the entrance to the Skagerrak for any indications of enemy minelaying, as well as any British naval forces despatched to reinforce Poland. First blood was drawn by one such reconnaissance flight within two days of the start of war with Great Britain. During the morning of 5 September eight He 115s of 1./ Ku.Fl.Gr. 106 took off from Norderney to fly their parallel search patterns. At approximately 0600hrs the crew of Lt.z.S. Bruno Bättger’s M2+FH sighted Avro Anson Mk.I K6183, VX-B, of 206 Sqn, RAF, south of the Dogger Bank, and attacked. The Anson was also engaged on maritime reconnaissance, as part of the new Coastal Command, having taken off from its home airfield at Bircham Newton to hunt for U-boats. Pilot Officer Laurence Hugh Edwards, a New Zealander who had trained with the RNZAF, engaged the He 115, and a fifteenminute battle followed. The Anson’s dorsal gunner, 22-year-old LAC John Quilter, was killed by gunfire. Edwards was unable to bring his forward machine gun to bear, and the Anson was soon on fire as it went down into the sea. Two other occupants, 23-year-old Sgt Alexander Oliver Heslop (of 9 Squadron, RAF) and 18-year-old AC1 Geoffrey Sheffield, were both killed, but Edwards manage to swim free of the wreckage despite suffering burns to his face and other minor wounds. The victorious He 115 alighted and rescued Edwards, who became the first RAF officer to be captured during the Second World War. Bättger’s triumph was to be short-lived, however, as his aircraft was shot down on 8 November by a 206 Sqn Anson. Bättger was posted as missing in action, but the bodies of pilot Uffz. Friedrich Grabbe and wireless operator Fkmt. Schettler were later recovered.

However, Coeler’s F.d.Luft West staff also suffered casualties during the first week of war. On 5 September a Junkers Ju 52 transport carrying six passengers was misidentified by flak gunners aboard the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Scheer and shot down. All aboard were killed, including Hptm. Günther Klünder, former commander of AS/88, who had been seconded to the staff of Führer der Seeluftstreitkräfte.

Only three He 60s were lost during the period between the opening of hostilities with Poland and the end of the year, all during September 1939. As well as the fatal crash in Pillau on 3 September, a second He 60 from 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 crashed in the harbour on 11 September, shortly before alighting, after the pilot was momentarily blinded by sunlight. However, both he and the observer escaped unscathed. On 22 September an He 60 made an emergency landing off Kaaseberga near Kivik, Sweden, owing to engine problems during a reconnaissance sweep of the Bay of Danzig. Drifting toward Swedish territorial waters, the aircraft was subsequently taken in tow by the Swedish destroyer Vidar and landed at Ystad. Both the pilot, Oblt. Gerhard Grosse, and observer Lt.z.S. Helmut von Rabenau were initially interned but repatriated on 8 June 1940. The aircraft was not returned to Germany until 4 November of that year.

On 26 September the second He 59 destroyed during the month was lost when M2+SL of 3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106, one of nine patrolling the North Sea, was forced down by failure of the port engine. Observer Oblt.z.S. Deecke could see that the aircraft was steadily losing height and stood no chance of making landfall, and so ordered pilot Fw. Worms to put the Heinkel down, a strong breeze running the sea to a moderate and potentially dangerous swell. Unfortunately, as soon as the aircraft touched down, the starboard float struts broke on the choppy water and the wing cut under the sea surface. The aircraft was completely written off, its wreckage being recovered by the salvage ship Hans Rolshoven and the crew rescued and landed at Borkum.

Three of the few unsatisfactory He 114s in service were also lost during September. On 6 September T3+NH was destroyed while being lifted aboard the supply ship Westerwald, which was idling near Greenland in support of the ‘pocket battleship’ Deutschland. The aircraft smashed against the ship’s hull and was dropped back into the water, its engine later being salvaged. Five days later, observer Lt.z.S. Ralph Kapitzky and his pilot, Uffz. Nowack of 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506, were both slightly injured while alighting at their home base at Putzig following action against Polish troops at Grossendorf. During the attack on infantry positions, rifle and machine-gun fire had damaged the aircraft’s control system, causing Nowack to lose control during the landing run. Theirs was one of ten He 114s operated by the Staffel. A second was lost a week later when it crashed while alighting owing to an unexpectedly strong tailwind, though there were no casualties.

Six of the long-range reconnaissance Dornier Do 18s were also lost during September. Four days after the fatal crash of Do 18 M2+JK in Baltrum, an aircraft of 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 606 capsized during a night alighting at 2304hrs at Hörnum, after being diverted from Witternsee because of fog. Of its crew, observer Oblt.z.S. Helmut Rabach was posted as missing, his body never being recovered, flight engineer Uffz. Karl Evers was killed, pilot Uffz. Ernst Hinrichs was badly injured, and wireless operator Hptgfr. Herbert Rusch slightly injured. The aircraft, 8L+WK, was virtually destroyed and later written-off, and Hinrichs died of his injuries in hospital two days later. The Staffel 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106 lost two aircraft within a day of each other, the first following an emergency alighting with engine trouble in the North Sea. Kapitänleutnent Karl Daublebsky von Eichhain rescued the crew, adrift in their lifeboat, with his coastal Type II U-boat U13. He also attempted to take the aircraft in tow, but repeated attempts failed in a worsening sea state. During the following morning the seaplane tender and Seenotdienst ship Günther Plüschow reached their position and also attempted to take the crippled Dornier in tow, but the waterlogged aircraft subsequently flooded and was finally sunk by gunfire at 1230hrs on 13 September.

That same day, near the sand dunes of Ameland, Do 18 M2+LK of the same Staffel washed ashore after being damaged by Dutch Fokker D.XXI fighters of 1st JaVA. Unlike the other Low Countries, The Netherlands actively defended their territorial air and sea space, and the Dutch fighters had been scrambled after a naval reconnaissance Fokker T.VIII-W floatplane was attacked six miles outside territorial waters off Schiermonnikoog Island by a German He 115 floatplane of Küstenfliegergruppe 406. The German crew had not recognised the approaching aircraft as Dutch, maintaining that, as it came out of the sun towards them, the national insignia of tricolour roundels looked either British or French. The Heinkel crew opened fire and brought the aircraft down, whereupon the T.VIII-W capsized. Recognising their error too late, the Heinkel crew descended alongside the upturned Fokker to assist the crew, some of whom were slightly injured. However, the He 115 was also slightly damaged by a short steep sea, and further assistance arrived in the form of the Do 18 flying boat commanded by Lt.z.S. Horst Rust. This too suffered minor damage upon alighting, but the Heinkel was eventually able to take off and transport the injured Dutch crew to hospital on Norderney. Meanwhile, alerted to the drama unfolding at sea by observers ashore, a patrol of three Fokker D.XXIs took off from Eelde, intending either to force the German aircraft to remain stationary and await naval interception, or attack should they attempt to flee. By the time they arrived at the scene the Heinkel had already left, but they sighted the stationary Dornier and fired initial warning shots ahead of the floatplane to prevent take-off. Pilot Fw. Otto Radons initially set course for the flying boat to head towards the Dutch coast, but then attempted to lift off and escape. A second strafing attack hit the Dornier, puncturing its hull, which began to leak in the heavy swell. Abandoned, the aircraft drifted ashore and was virtually destroyed by the surf, while Rust and his crew, who had taken to their lifeboat and paddled to the coastline, were captured and interned at Fort Spijkerboor, being taken to Great Britain as prisoners of war in May 1940.

Although the Luftwaffe immediately apologised for the incident, Dutch authorities also admitted some measure of culpability, and in an attempt to minimise such an event recurring, the Dutch Air Force substituted an orange triangle for their tricolour roundels, and their established red, white and blue rudder markings being changed for orange overall. This, however, did not prevent the misidentification of a Dutch DC-3 on 26 September, which was attacked by an He 115 of 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406, damaging the airliner and killing Swedish passenger Gustav Robert Lamm.

The forces available to F.d.Luft West were steadily increased as the war in Poland progressed in Germany’s favour. Gydnia fell on 14 September, Polish forces withdrawing to the Oksywie Heights, which in turn fell within five days. The Hela Peninsula was isolated and finally battered into submission by 2 October, and four days later the final Polish military units surrendered following the battle of Kock, marking the end of the German’s Polish campaign.

While ‘Fall Weiss’ neared completion in the east, the units of F.d.Luft West shared with Luftflotte 2 responsibility for the reporting of shipping movements and naval activity within the North Sea. The picture that was forming at MGK West instigated an intensification of operations against merchant shipping sailing in defiance of the declared blockade of Great Britain, in which both Kriegsmarine surface forces and naval aircraft could co-operate. The Luftwaffe crews of Luftflotte 2 still lacked the required naval training to guide German destroyers effectively towards suspicious merchant vessels, so the onus fell to F.d.Luft West, with its contingent of Kriegsmarine observers.

On 26 September 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 306, 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406 and 2./Kü.Fl. Gr. 506 were scheduled to mount eighteen separate reconnaissance flights over the North Sea in what had become a familiar routine. However, on this occasion they located strong elements of the Royal Navy Home Fleet that had thus far eluded them. Three main groups were reported and, to maintain contact, aircraft of 1./Kü.Fl.Gr. 406 and 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 506 (transferred from the east and placed under the direction of Karl Stockmann’s Stab/Kü.Fl.Gr. 406) were also despatched to strengthen the reconnaissance sweep. The first group (Home Fleet) was observed heading east, and comprised two battleships, one aircraft carrier and four cruisers. The second (Humber Force), was sailing west, and consisted of two battlecruisers, (mistakenly) one aircraft carrier and five destroyers, and the final group, ‘heading for the west at high speed’, comprised two cruisers and six destroyers. Rather than spread the aircraft too thinly, contact was maintained on the two heavy groups only, and all W/T transmissions from the shadowing aircraft were immediately forwarded by F.d.Luft West to 10.Fliegerdivision so that they could prepare a bombing attack. Furthermore, Coeler ordered two multipurpose torpedo-carrying Staffeln to prepare an attack to follow-up the bombers, though the time taken to prepare the aircraft delayed take-off until 1330hrs.

At 0830 on 25 September the Home Fleet, comprising the battleships HMS Nelson and Rodney (of the 2nd Battle Squadron), the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (with the Blackburn Skuas of 800 Sqn, the Blackburn Skuas and Rocs of 803 Sqn, and the Fairey Swordfish of 810, 818, 820 and 821 Sqns embarked), and the destroyers HMS Bedouin, Punjabi, Tartar and Fury, had sailed from Scapa Flow, steering a westerly course to provide cover for the cruisers and destroyers of the Humber Force returning to British waters, escorting the submarine HMS Spearfish which had been damaged by German depth charges. The destroyers HMS Fame and Foresight were already at sea, and soon joined the main force, followed later by the destroyers HMS Somali, Eskimo, Mashona and Matabele.

At 1100hrs GMT three of the distant shadowing Dornier flying boats were sighted by Swordfish reconnaissance aircraft from Ark Royal, and nine Skuas were flown off in groups of three at hourly intervals to intercept. The first flight had trouble locating the shadowing aircraft, finally sighting 2./Kü.Fl.Gr. 306 Do 18 K6+XK and engaging in a protracted air combat, hitting the Dornier thirty-six times before it escaped using its superior speed. A second Do 18 of the same Staffel survived forty minutes in combat against Skuas of 803 Sqn, suffering fifty-five hits before managing to escape and later making an emergency landing. It was later recovered successfully. However, Leutnant zur See Wilhelm Frhr. von Reitzenstein’s Dornier Do 18, M7+YK of 2./ Kü.Fl.Gr. 506, was attacked by a flight from 803 Sqn at approximately 1203hrs GMT. Reitzenstein was sighted flying close to the surface of the water, and Lt B.S. McEwan RN and his air gunner, Acting Petty Officer Airman B.M. Seymour, disabled the Dornier’s engine, forcing it to make an emergency descent. All four crewmen took to their liferaft and were captured by HMS Somali, their crippled aircraft being sunk with gunfire. The shooting-down of Reitzenstein’s Dornier was the first confirmed German aircraft lost in aerial combat. A second Do 18 of 3./Kü.Fl.Gr. 106 was also lost, but to engine malfunction rather than enemy action. It made an emergency descent near Juist, whereupon the starboard float struts broke apart and the wings hit the water. Although it was later recovered by the Seenotdienst ship Hans Rolshoven, the Dornier was written-off. Nonetheless, the Küstenflieger aircrafts’ dogged perseverance in maintaining contact allowed a co-ordinated bombing attack to be made on the Home Fleet.

In the morning our air reconnaissance contacted heavy enemy forces north and west of the Great Fisher Bank. Despite strong enemy fighter defence and anti-aircraft gunfire, the shadowing aeroplanes succeeded in guiding four dive-bombing Ju 88s and one squadron of He 111s of 10 Fliegerdivision to the attack by sending out direction-finder signals.

The ships’ positions had been successfully reported and at 1345hrs, when the British Home Fleet was approximately 120nm west of Stavanger, HMS Rodney’s Type 79Y radar reported aircraft approaching. Nine He 111H bombers of the only operational ‘Löwen Geschwader’ Staffel, 4./ KG 26, from their forward airfield at Westerland, and four Ju 88A-1 bombers of 1./KG 30 from Jever airfield, were closing on their target at an altitude of 2,000m, attacking in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire of all calibres but no fighter cover. All of the defending British aircraft had landed and been struck down to defuel, as dictated by Royal Navy policy at the time, which relied on anti-aircraft fire for fleet protection. Despite the strong defensive fire, no attacking bombers were hit, although it at least prevented German success.

All four Ju 88s targeted the Ark Royal, that flown by Uffz. Carl Francke, a former aeronautical engineer, being one of the last to make his dive-bombing attack with Ark Royal manoeuvring below him. A single SC 500 bomb exploded off the port bow, sending a huge column of water higher than the flight deck and causing the ship to whip and list alarmingly. Aboard the Ju 88 the water column was sighted along with a visible flash, though none of the crew could confirm whether it was an actual hit or simply the flash of gunfire obscured by smoke and water. One of the two bombs dropped was an established miss, but the second Francke reported as a ‘possible hit on bows; effect not observed’. Overoptimistically, MGK West counted the hit as definite, and by the time Francke had landed the wish had solidified into fact.

Result: One 500kg bomb hit by a Ju 88 on an aircraft carrier; two 250kg bomb hits by He 111 on one battleship. One miss by a Ju 88 on a cruiser. Results of hits by a Ju 88 on another battleship and a second aircraft carrier(?) were not observed owing to interception of the aeroplane. The fate of the hit aircraft carrier, which was not sighted again by further air reconnaissance, is unknown. If not sunk, at least heavy damage is presumed by the effect of the 500kg bomb. Own losses: Attacking formation; none. Reconnaissance formation; two Do 18s.

No British ships had actually been damaged, though HMS Hood had suffered a glancing blow from a bomb dropped by Lt. Walter Storp’s Ju 88 that bounced off the armoured hull plating, a large patch of grey paint being removed to show the red primer beneath. A second wave of bombers from KG 26 and KG 30 was cancelled, as arming the aircraft had taken too long, while F.d.Luft West was soon informed that his own He 59 torpedo bombers, which were almost ready to take off, would be unable to operate against the enemy owing to the extreme range. Nonetheless, the Germans believed that they had been triumphant. Further reconnaissance missions located heavy ships but failed to find any trace of HMS Ark Royal, though she docked in Scapa Flow two days later. In fact, the Kriegsmarine were not inclined to believe that the carrier had been sunk. They instead correctly reasoned that, as a result of incorrect location fixing, the aircraft had in fact sighted the Humber Force, which they no longer believed included an aircraft carrier. Nonetheless, the co-operation of the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine in this operation had proceeded smoothly and without significant issues. SKL recorded their summary of the event:

The success of the aerial attack by the operational Luftwaffe without any losses, entailing a distance of over 300 miles, is most satisfactory. It must be rated all the higher since it was the first operation of the war by the British Fleet in the North Sea, which has shown it in a very impressive manner the dangers of an approach to the German coast and, beyond that, the striking power of the Luftwaffe which threatens it. Any attempt by surface forces to penetrate into the Heligoland Bight or through the Kattegat and Baltic Sea entrances into the Baltic Sea must appear completely hopeless to the British Fleet after today’s experience – if it should be included at all in its operational plans.

The disposition of the bomber formations of the operational Air Force – providing for only four dive-bombing Ju 88 aeroplanes on Westerland at present, out of the small number so far available – rendered a more extensive use of the particularly suitable dive-bomber formations impossible. This must be regretted all the more as, after today’s experience, the British are not likely to repeat the operation, and the use of stronger Stuka formations would probably have had an annihilating effect. The co-operation of the reconnaissance formations of the Naval Air Force with the attacking formation of the operational Air Force, which is still rather inexperienced in flying over the sea, is particularly satisfactory: they stubbornly maintained contact with the enemy with remarkable persistence and despite the strongest fighter defence. Our Radio Monitoring Service worked well. In addition to the observation of heavy enemy forces in the North Sea yesterday, it was possible to gain important information as to course and speed of certain enemy groups by the decoding of enemy radiograms to enemy aeroplanes. The enemy anti-aircraft defence was of medium strength. The enemy fighters proved inadequate as to speed and daring.

German propaganda seized on the thin evidence of success and triumphantly reported the sinking of the Ark Royal, the Völkischer Beobachter and the Luftwaffe magazine Der Adler both publishing graphic artists’ impressions of the carrier wreathed in smoke and flames. Francke received a telegram of congratulations from Göring, and was promoted and awarded the Iron Cross First and Second Class, though at no point did he claim to have actually sunk the ship.

However, while the Kriegsmarine appeared content with the result of the combined operation, the resulting analysis by Luftwaffe staff had far-reaching consequences, as it contributed to an overinflated view of the effectiveness of Luftwaffe forces acting in isolation in action against enemy naval units. A report forwarded to Göring on 30 September by his Operations Staff Officer summarised that:

a. It can be assumed according to available data that the aircraft carrier was probably sunk. (The aircraft carrier not visible on the second comprehensive reconnaissance.)

b. According to the observations of the Ju 88 which attacked the carrier, it seemed that the strongly-cased 500kg SD delayed-action bomb caused an explosion inside the carrier among the oil reserves. (Apparent fires, smoke clouds.)

c. Even small Luftwaffe forces (thirteen aircraft) are in a position to inflict considerable damage on heavy naval forces.

d. In the rough sea (state four to five) the ships’ anti-aircraft guns were unable to break up the attack.19

Göring published an order on 29 September that all long-range reconnaissance over the North Sea was henceforth to be handled by Luftflotte 2, and frequent mistakes in Luftwaffe navigation resulted in an increased number of erroneous sighting reports which, though generally considered unreliable by MGK West, still required investigation by naval air units. The resultant waste of resources in duplicated and fruitless missions served to upset the uneasy calm that had been reached over operational jurisdiction between Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine tactical control.

On 3 October SKL enquired to Luftwaffe General Staff, Operations Division, about the possibility of the operational Luftwaffe conducting war against merchant shipping in accordance with prize regulations, and any plans for the conduct of war against merchant shipping during the ‘siege of Britain’. The answer, noted in the SKL War Diary, was both disappointing and predictable:

1. War against merchant shipping in accordance with prize regulations cannot be carried out by the units of the Luftwaffe.

2. Luftwaffe General Staff regards the main objective of the fight against Great Britain up to about spring 1940 to be against British Air Force armament factories. Suitable aircraft in sufficient numbers for effective participation in the blockade of Britain by sea west of Ireland will not be available until the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941. Up to that time the blockade in the North Sea area by the Luftwaffe remains a task of secondary importance. It is planned effectively to support the blockade by combined attacks on the main enemy ports of entry and naval bases.

Meanwhile, elements of the Küstenflieger were also engaged in support of German destroyers attempting to intercept contraband merchant shipping in the Kattegat and Skagerrak bound for Great Britain, though this resulted in few seizures of cargo ships. In the Baltic the Naval Air Units continued to maintain their own blockade by stopping and searching steamers. Thirty-one had been intercepted by 9 October, and six taken as prizes to Swinemünde. Beginning on the evening of 27 September, aerial reconnaissance reported many ships hugging the coasts of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, sheltered by those nations’ neutrality. Only four steamers were successfully seized as prizes out of a total of forty-four stopped and searched, the majority travelling in ballast. However, the German concentration of aircraft, U-boats, S-boats and armed trawlers in the Skaggerak approaches had all but paralysed Danish export trade to Great Britain, and gave rise to Royal Navy Admiralty orders for a special reconnaissance patrol of Lockheed Hudsons to search the entrance to the Skagerrak to confirm reports of continuous German aerial patrolling, and ‘attack if circumstances prove favourable’. However, bad weather intervened during the following day, and most of the planned missions were cancelled. Grimsby fishing trawlers reported frequently sighted German flying boats; never more than two flying together, flying very low over the fishing fleet at between 200 to 500ft, though thus far no trawlers had been attacked.

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