The problem was that Curtis LeMay had become an altered man. The young colonel who had been so open-minded and keen to learn that he had risked personal humiliation by convening all-ranks, freewheeling criticism sessions in the mess hall after a raid on Nazi-occupied Europe had become the four-star general who was no longer willing to hear anything that did not fit his preconceptions. He was the classic example of a man made arrogant by power. Years of commanding with unchallenged authority had rendered him rigid. He had become a figure of obsessions and had lost his sense of proportion. His former restraint had also been replaced by a quick temper, a short fuse as it was called in the military, which further inhibited his ability to listen.

The change was conspicuously apparent in his correspondence with Nathan Twining in the mid-1950s. Formed as he was by the gruesome, no-quarter-given air battles with the Luftwaffe in 1943, he was fixated in the belief that the Soviets were also going to build an air force powerful enough to challenge his SAC in a similar death struggle for supremacy of the skies. He had such profound and unquestioning faith in the bomber that he could not imagine someone else might resort to an alternative weapon to rain nuclear fire on an opponent. The fixation resonated in a March 21, 1955, memorandum to Twining and in a covering letter of the same date. Both assessed with uninhibited criticism a plan by Twining’s headquarters that laid out a proposed structure for the Air Force through 1965. “Before 1965 Soviet Forces will probably attain a delivery capability and a [nuclear] stockpile of sufficient size and configuration to completely destroy any selected target system within the U.S.,” LeMay stated on the opening page of his memorandum. Some of this “delivery capability,” he conceded, may consist of future Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, but he was convinced that the predominant element would be intercontinental bombers. (The prototype of the first strategic bomber of original Soviet design, not a copy of the B-29, had been detected in 1954. It was the Miasishchev Mia-4, dubbed the Bison by NATO intelligence, with swept-back wings and four jet engines.)

Therefore, he emphasized again and again in the memorandum and in the covering letter, the Air Force had to structure itself so that its “primary objective … should be to win the battle against Soviet Air Power.” This meant a bigger and better SAC because “the bomber airplane is the best delivery vehicle” to triumph in this “battle against Soviet Air Power,” a phrase he repeated constantly. He asserted that his bombers would catch the Russian planes on the ground and destroy them and their bases as well as the industries that produced them. He wanted 1,440 of the new B-52s by 1965. To keep this bomber fleet aloft with midair refueling, he asked for 1,140 of the forthcoming Boeing KC-135 four-engine jet tankers, which were to replace the propeller-driven KC-97s. (The KC-135, ample-bodied to carry as much aviation fuel as possible, initiated one of the most spectacularly successful commercial spinoffs from military hardware. The entrepreneurs in Seattle saw in its dimensions a passenger jet and with the installation of seats and other civilian accoutrements it became the famous Boeing 707 jetliner, over a thousand of which were sold to American and foreign airlines. The plane transformed international air travel.) With the cost of this stupendous bomber and tanker fleet in mind, he objected to the number of jet fighter-bombers and air superiority fighters the Air Force planned to buy to fulfill the Tactical Air Command’s mission of providing close air support over a battlefield for Army ground troops. Assisting the Army was not a mission that interested LeMay. He even argued that the bomber was the best weapon to neutralize any ICBMs the Soviets might field by 1965 because of its ability “to destroy their launching sites as a matter of high priority.” (Since it would take hours for SAC’s bombers to reach the launching sites and only half an hour for a Soviet ICBM to reach its target in the United States, the logic of bombing empty launching sites hardly seems to follow.)

LeMay’s attachment to the bomber and his fixation on winning the air battle he anticipated with a Soviet version of SAC led him to what was perhaps his most astonishing proposal to Twining. He wanted to abolish conventional armaments and go entirely nuclear. “Atomic and thermonuclear weapons have made conventional weapons obsolete, and the United States should cease stockpiling of conventional weapons,” he wrote. “The expense of developing and maintaining a limited conventional capability in the face of the critical need for skilled personnel and resources to man and equip strategic units can no longer be justified.” He proposed henceforth to use only nuclear weapons in wars both big and small. In other words, it was just as appropriate to let fly with nuclear weapons in a small-scale war like the recent conflict in Korea as it was in a full-scale one with the Soviets. “The distinction between localized and general war is political rather than military,” he said, and the United States should “always use the best weapons available in either general or limited war.”

There was a further advantage to moving straight to nuclear weapons in small wars, he maintained. They would bring quick victory and, apparently with the example of Korea in mind, avoid having the war drag out and public opinion turn against it. Therefore, “to insure the favorable outcome of a localized war in a short period of time, it was necessary that any political or psychological restraint in employing atomic weapons be erased.” Precisely what Twining thought of LeMay’s proposal is unknown and there is no record of a reply in the correspondence. Presumably he understood, as the changed LeMay did not, that for the U.S. Air Force to publicly advocate something like this would set off a political firestorm at home and abroad of nuclear dimensions.

His memory of those terrifying skies over Germany was also the root cause of LeMay’s most striking loss of a sense of proportion—his unquenchable desire for more and more megatons of nuclear explosive to drop on his Soviet opponents and more and more bombers with which to loose it. (A megaton is the equivalent of a million tons of TNT.) He feared that when war came, unnerved crews would not strike with the accuracy they attained in practice exercises in peacetime. Some planes would also not find their targets because of navigational errors, others would be shot down, still others would turn back because of mechanical failures. The answer was to make up for these errors and omissions with bigger and bigger bombs and enough planes to double and triple the number of strikes programmed for a single target.

He was extremely pleased in late 1954 to get the first practical hydrogen bomb, designated the Mark 17, a “weaponized” version of a dry thermonuclear device, fueled by lithium deuteride, which the Los Alamos laboratory had set off at Bikini Atoll earlier that year in a test called Romeo. This first “droppable” H-bomb weighed 42,000 pounds, which meant that only a B-36 in the current SAC fleet could carry it, but it exploded with a doomsday blast of eleven megatons, the equivalent of 524 Nagasaki, first-generation plutonium bombs, and 880 times the force of the smaller atomic bomb that had devastated Hiroshima. LeMay began pressing right away for lighter hydrogen bombs of equal or greater megatonnage. With them he wanted to turn his B-47s, which had a 25,000-pound payload, into thermonuclear bombers and fit more than one hydrogen bomb into the new B-52, with its 43,000-pound capacity (soon increased to 50,000), in order to obliterate multiple targets. When the Mark 21 hydrogen bomb, which weighed 15,000 pounds and yielded 4.5 megatons, appeared in 1955, he immediately mated it to the B-52 as the central component of SAC’s striking power for the next couple of years. The Mark 21’s “bang” did not satisfy LeMay, however, and so he pressed for an upgrade. This was to be the Mark 36, which would be produced the following year. It was somewhat heavier than the Mark 21 at 17,500 pounds, but yielded more than twice the force when it exploded.

In another memorandum to Twining that November of 1955, LeMay raised the ante on bombers. He now said he needed approximately 1,900 B-52s and some 1,300 KC-135 jet tankers to midair refuel these bombers by 1963. (Eisenhower was eventually to cap B-52 production at 744 aircraft by the fall of 1962, a decision the Kennedy administration was to uphold, with the comment: “I don’t know how many times you can kill a man, but about three should be enough.”) Nor did LeMay succeed in persuading the Eisenhower administration to build an H-bomb, except for the original Mark 17, beyond ten megatons, but not for lack of trying. In 1953, he asked the Nuclear Weapons Panel of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to look into the feasibility of a hydrogen bomb of twenty megatons or greater, an idea Eisenhower is said to have vetoed as beyond common sense. The massive megatonnage and the doubling and tripling on targets was to lead to fantastic overkill. SAC was to end up programming for Moscow alone more than twenty-five megatons. Pressure from LeMay was to be the major impetus in driving the yield of the American stockpile of nuclear warheads up to the record 20,491 megatons peak it was to reach in 1960, enough to provide each of the approximately 180 million inhabitants of the United States at the time with bomb material equivalent in explosive force to 110 tons of TNT.

While LeMay wished to be absolutely certain that enough planes got through with enough big bombs to “kill” every target on his list, it is clear from his correspondence and statements over the years that he also simply wanted to blast the Soviet Union, and any targets he thought worthy of his attention in Eastern Europe and China, with as much explosive force as he could muster. He apparently did not understand how different in nature nuclear weapons were from the conventional explosives he had dropped on Nazi-occupied Europe. He seems to have thought of hydrogen bombs essentially as just vastly more powerful bombs. He had a pitiless, smug vision of what he was going to do to the peoples of the Soviet Union with them, a vision he described in a lecture to the National War College in April 1956:

Let us assume the order had been received this morning to unleash the full weight of our nuclear force. (I hope, of course, this will never happen.) Between sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow morning the Soviet Union would likely cease to be a major military power or even a major nation.… Dawn might break over a nation infinitely poorer than China—less populated than the United States and condemned to an agrarian existence perhaps for generations to come.

What LeMay did not realize was that if he ever launched the war for which he had prepared, the result would be national suicide. It would hardly matter should the Soviet Union fail to strike the United States with a single nuclear bomb. If he dropped all of this megatonnage on the Soviets, the American people would perish too. And he would also be condemning to an agonizing perdition the peoples of Canada, Europe, and most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere through the Middle East and Asia. The puny, by comparison, bombs that had shocked the world in demolishing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been fused to burst in the air. (The Little Boy Uranium-235 bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been detonated at 1,900 feet above the courtyard of one of the city’s hospitals.) The air burst technique had been deliberate in order to focus the maximum pressure and heat of the bomb’s blast on the buildings and people below, obliterating both in an instant. While there was extensive radiation, it did not extend far beyond the area covered by the blast, because comparatively little dirt and debris was blown up into the atmosphere.

LeMay, however, as he wrote to Twining, was going to fuse a lot of his monster bombs for ground or near-ground bursts to be certain of crushing underground bunkers and so-called hardened targets, such as concrete revetments with thick overhead cover used to protect aircraft. These ground-level bursts would hurl massive amounts of irradiated soil and the pulverized remains of masonry and concrete structures high into the upper atmosphere. The clouds of poisoned soil and debris would spread as they were carried around the earth by the upper atmospheric winds. One result would be a nuclear winter, a catastrophic change in climate of unknown duration, with frigid temperatures at the height of summer, because the dirt in the upper atmosphere would block out the sun’s rays. Agriculture, on which human beings depend for sustenance, would become impossible. Most animal and bird life would be extinguished because the plants, shrubs, and trees on which so many of these creatures depend would also die from the cold and lack of sunlight, without which plants cannot perform the photosynthesis process that nourishes them. And as precipitation brought down the irradiated particles, humans and animals and birds would be stricken with fatal radiation sickness. The water resources would be contaminated too as this deadly residue from LeMay’s thermonuclear devices was gradually absorbed into them. Civilization as we know it in the Northern Hemisphere would cease to exist.

To give the man his due, he created a force that posed a formidable deterrent to Soviet military adventurism in Western Europe, had the Soviet dictator been so inclined. That Stalin had no intention of launching such adventures, as was revealed with the opening of the Soviet Union’s archives after its collapse in 1991, did not negate the fact that the threat was perceived as real by Americans in the early 1950s. And the promise of overwhelming retaliation from SAC undoubtedly kept Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, from being more rash than he was. LeMay’s deterrence mission was thus a legitimate one, given the thinking of the period. Although he would later express regret that the United States missed an opportunity in the early 1950s to unleash SAC and destroy the Soviet Union at what he believed would have been little or no cost to itself, there is no evidence that LeMay actively sought to provoke what was referred to at the time as “preventive war.”


Luftflotte 4, 5 July 1943

By 0500 hours on the morning of 5 July, despite the Soviet attempt to disrupt the opening of Zitadelle, the Ninth Army was attacking in the north, and the Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf in the south. The offensive began with the Germans’ own preliminary bombardment, with the artillery and massed nebelwerfer batteries targeting the trenches and bunkers of the Soviet forward defences. The aim was not so much to destroy Soviet positions and kill the defenders – the 50 minute bombardment was far too short for that – but to dislocate and unbalance the enemy. Model and Manstein wanted to ensure that Soviet guns were neutralized, their command and control was disrupted and the infantry’s heads were tucked firmly below the parapet as their tanks and infantry began to attack. Nevertheless, by the time the bombardment lifted, the artillery had fired more shells than they had during the campaigns in France and Poland combined. ‘At last,’ says heavy gunner Johan Müller, ‘we were taking the initiative. After weeks and months of map work and firing tables, it was good to be in action again. We had plenty of shells to fire and got through them quickly. We were told that our work had been tremendously successful and its accuracy had been remarked upon by headquarters.’ The attacking formations eased themselves forward, covered at first by the ground-based artillery and then by the Luftwaffe in the form of He-111 and Ju-88 medium bombers. Despite the best efforts of the Soviet Air Force to destroy the German aircraft on the ground that morning, ground-support missions were being flown in support of the offensive with near impunity.

The Luftwaffe had been alerted to the Soviet threat by the enemy’s early preliminary bombardment, and then by seeing aircraft approaching their airfields on the radar. The 800 aircraft of Luftflotte 4 were spread over several airfields and in the process of being fuelled and loaded with bombs for their first sorties of the day when the sirens began to wail their warnings at 0330 hours. Many of the aircrews were in briefings or at breakfast but they immediately rushed to their machines and took off into the breaking dawn. Oberstleutnant Walter Lehwess-Litzmann, the commander of a German bomber group, recalls:

I had just gathered my commanders to assign them with their last instructions when I received an excited phone call which gave me revised orders. We were to take off immediately, although it was still dark, and attack the Soviet artillery positions.

The sky quickly filled with German aircraft. Over the radio, crews were told about the approach of a massive raid – it actually comprised 132 Il-2 Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft with a close escort of 285 La-5 and P-39 fighters. The German fighters were to intercept the Soviets, and the aircraft detailed to support the offensive were to start their missions immediately. So began the crucial battle for air superiority on 5 July. Within minutes, Miklós Keyneres, a Hungarian pilot of a Messerschmitt Bf-109, was locked in combat with Il-2s as German flak burst among the Soviet aircraft. He recalled:

In their great excitement, the flak gunners don’t pay any attention to the close proximity of our own aircraft. But we ignore their fire. We have our eyes only for the four red-starred aircraft . . . The machine [a twin-seat Il-2 with a rear gunner] on the left side peels off from the rest, with me in hot pursuit. The hunt begins. The Russian pushes close to the ground and escapes, hopping over trees. But we remain clung to his tail. On my right hand side, three Germans are pursuing too. One of the Germans dives on it, but fails to bring it down. Now my turn has come. I pull up slightly and, from the far side, I aim ahead of the engine but hold my fire for another moment. The distance is still too great. Then I squeeze both firing buttons. I pull up in an instant to avoid colliding. I skid out to the right. I get on its left side again and from above and behind I shoot at the cockpit. By now the Russian gunner does not return fire. From a close distance I open up with the cannon. The machine shudders and hits the ground with its right wing tip. It slides along a creek, violently burning.

German anti-aircraft defences caused the incoming Soviets considerable problems, as Nikolay Gapeyonok, the pilot of a Pe-2 dive bomber, remembers, when they attacked an airfield west of Belgorod: ‘We ran into a heavy AAA [anti-aircraft artillery] barrage, which disrupted our bombing. Two Pe-2s exploded in mid-air as a result of direct hits, and a third bomber was damaged.’ It was a similar situation in the north where Senior Lieutenant T. Simutenkov, flying an Il-2, ran into a curtain of fire:

As we approached our target I could see the anti-aircraft fire ripping through the sky. I held my course and could just make out some enemy aircraft taking off. This was a shock as we were convinced that we would achieve surprise and record a major success, but before I had a chance to make my attack my aircraft was hit in the fuselage and then the right wing. Smoke began to seep into the cockpit and I struggled to remain in control . . . I feared that the engine would burst into flames but it did not, but it stuttered and lost power. I instinctively swung the aircraft south and within seconds was making a forced landing somewhere within our lines . . . It was still dark and I hit the ground with a fearsome crash which ripped the undercarriage off. But the aircraft skidded to a halt in a field and I was able to push back the cockpit and walk away shaken, but unharmed.

The Soviets had hoped to catch the Luftwaffe cold but instead took considerable losses in an air battle that developed into one of the greatest of the war. The Germans gained air superiority that morning and destroyed 176 enemy aircraft for, perhaps, as few as just 26 machines of their own fleet. Rather than removing a crucial element of the Wehrmacht’s offensive ability, Stalin’s airforce had provided the Germans with the opportunity to weaken the Red Army’s defences. This meant that the Luftwaffe was able to fly nearly 4,500 sorties in support of the ground forces on 5 July, and despite flying 3,385 sorties of their own, the Soviets could not breach the German fighter screen in any numbers. A Moscow-sponsored report into the situation commented later in the year: ‘Our aviation fought air battles primarily against enemy fighters along the approaches to the battlefield, while enemy bombers were operating almost continually against our defending forces immediately over the battlefield along the main axis.’

As the fight for the sky unfolded, Hitler’s army began what was to become its own titanic attempt to crack the Red Army’s defences.


Kikusui “Floating Chrysanthemums”

In Japan the chrysanthemum is probably the most beloved of all flowers, woven into wreaths for weddings and funerals alike, decorating graves or dropped by grieving pilots onto waters in which their dearest comrades had plunged to their death. Thus, in conformance with this custom among the flower-loving Nipponese, Admiral Matome Ugaki decided to give the scheduled Ten-Go aerial attacks on American shipping the name of kikusui, or “Floating Chrysanthemums.”

Although Ugaki’s aerial strength on Kyushu had been seriously weakened by Halsey’s strikes of mid-October 1944, and especially by Spruance’s sweeps of March 18-19, 1945, he still had well over three thousand planes—both conventional and suiciders—in his command after the Americans landed on Okinawa.

Ugaki had few reservations about his ability to shatter the enemy fleet and so delay or even prevent the invasion of Japan proper, but he did occasionally despair about the absence of coordination and cooperation among the Army and Navy subordinate air commanders on both Formosa and Kyushu. Though the Japanese command structure was probably better unified for Okinawa than for any other operation thus far, it was still a most casual chain of command in which the last thing a subordinate commander in, say, the Army, would think of doing was to obey an order from a superior in the Navy. At best to them an order was no better than a suggestion. Thus Army and Navy commanders on those two great island fortresses neither Cooperated with each other nor followed directives from the Combined Fleet or Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo. Although there was indeed intense and divisive rivalry between the American Army and Navy in the Pacific, orders from superiors were never—or at least seldom—ignored. If Fleet Admiral Nimitz issued orders to Admiral Turner off Okinawa, he transmitted them to General Buckner, who obeyed them without question.

Admiral Ugaki enjoyed no such luxury. If he wanted Lieutenant General Michio Sugahara, commander of the Sixth Air Army on Kyushu, to take some action, he would not issue an order but rather send a diplomatic officer to Sugahara’s headquarters to explain in the least offensive language what was being required of him. Such deference, of course, did not forge the Japanese chain of command with iron links, and it also wasted valuable time, for Ugaki was based at Kanoya and Sugahara at Chiran. Nor could he ask Admiral Toyoda’s fleet to issue an order binding on both of them. All that Ugaki could do was to send orders to a pair of Army air divisions that made most of the Okinawa attacks, although even here they were sometimes ignored. It is possible that this deference by senior officers to their subordinates was the result of Japanese misunderstanding of the character of Western military officers. When Japan decided to build the Imperial Navy, the model was the British Royal Navy, and the innate courtesy of its officers was mistaken for reticence. Thus an admiral might hesitate to insist that a commander give unbending obedience to his orders lest it be considered rude.

Ugaki had a second problem in organizing his forthcoming kikusui attacks: how to strike a balance between under-training and over-training his kamikaze. Overtraining a pilot in the sense of turning him into a skillful combat flyer would be a wasted effort when all that was needed was to guide an obsolete aircraft to its target and then crash-dive it. But suicide attacking wasn’t that simple, especially in the North Pacific springtime when the weather was so variable, with conflicting wind currents, poor visibility, and low ceilings. In such weather even an experienced pilot could become lost. For a rookie pilot to keep a bomb-loaded crate on a direct course was not enough, for he still might not find his target. In such unreliable planes, engine trouble was frequent, and the student pilot needed to be trained enough to return successfully to base. But a new recruit would not emerge as a qualified suicider until months later. This requirement put an unbearable burden on Ugaki’s attempt to build up a powerful air armada; the suicide tactic for which this force was being formed was not only innately self-destructive but also time-consuming. Japan in the spring of 1945 could not afford to lose more months of what had become a fast-vanishing resource. Finally, the American seaborne aerial attacks on Kyushu and Formosa, as well as the Mariana-based B-29 strikes on Kyushu and to a lesser degree of MacArthur’s Fifth Air Force on Formosa, along with the willingness of the suicide-saviors to take their own lives, had left Ugaki with nothing like the minimal four thousand aircraft he needed to destroy or cripple Spruance’s Fifth Fleet. That was one reason why Ugaki’s airplanes did not immediately strike the Americans the day the invasion began, and it was not until that very day that Admiral Toyoda in Tokyo ordered Kikusui 1 to be launched on April 6.

That morning dawned overcast, with northeast winds whipping a mackerel sea into a white-crested gray mass, pushing layers of smutty clouds scudding along at altitudes of three thousand to seven thousand feet. It was good kamikaze weather, providing them with excellent cover. Yet Rear Admiral Toshiyuki Yokoi, whom Ugaki had placed in charge of the kikusui attacks, waited until around noon before sending his squadrons aloft, hoping thereby to catch patrolling American fighters at that most dangerous moment of refueling—either on carrier decks or the aprons of Yontan and Kadena Airfields. It was a good idea that may have come to Yokoi by his recollection of how Yamamoto’s carriers at Midway were struck at exactly that moment. But there would be no such surprise, for Spruance’s task force commanders had long since installed the routine of keeping defensive fighter patrols aloft from sunup till sundown. Nor did Yokoi’s ruse of dropping “window”—aluminum strips to create false blips on radar screens to lure American fighters away from the impact area—for radar operators picked them up almost as soon as they were dropped.

Both Spruance and Turner were aware that a massive enemy aerial strike would arrive that day, not only from warnings from intelligence officers reading messages in the broken Japanese code, but through combat instincts sharpened by years of experience: once the enemy had collected enough planes, he would strike. To thwart him, Turner had deployed a wide circle of sixteen radar picket destroyers like irregular-length spokes in a wheel winding around Okinawa and some of its surrounding islands. These spokes extended from “Point Bolo,” a reference point on that Zampa Cape he had so ardently desired, and which had been presented to him by the Sixth Marine Division. Each radar picket could give early warning of an enemy attack, and also carried a five-member radar direction team trained in vectoring patrolling fighters onto “bogies,” unidentified targets. As might be expected, the pickets would become prime targets of the attacking enemy, especially Radar Picket Stations 1 through 4, on duty on an arc about thirty miles north of Okinawa—the point over which enemy planes from Kyushu were most likely to fly.

On that morning of April 6 all was quiet in the skies above the Great Loo Choo, although Japanese scout planes in the northern Ryukyus had discovered TF 58’s Fast Carrier Forces and brought hundreds of fighters and bombers down on them. Half of them missed their target and flew on to Okinawa while the other half zeroed in on Rear Admiral Joseph “Jocko” Clark’s Task Group 58.1. They hit the carrier Hancock and two destroyers, and a kamikaze Judy bomber almost sent the big flattop Bennington to a watery grave. Plunging at the American’s stern, the suicider was shot to bits by all of Bennington’s ack-ack that could be brought to bear. When the Judy exploded astern, parts of her engine fragments fell in a shower on the carrier, temporarily disabling her rudder.

Later in the day Yokoi’s fighters arrived off Okinawa’s airfields and were intercepted by American fighters on patrol above them. At three o’clock, with the Yankee fighters presumably driven from the area, the suiciders struck. They dove on the pickets of the radar screen and that forest of masts in Hagushi Anchorage. Some 200 of them came plummeting down for five hours until darkness veiled the sea or magnified the funeral pyres of stricken American ships.

Destroyers Bush and Colhoun were sunk, Colhoun hit and staggered so frequently that she had to be abandoned and sunk by friendly fire. The ammunition ships Logan Victory and Hobbs Victory also went down, creating a temporary ordnance shortage for the Tenth Army. Nine other destroyers were damaged, as were four destroyer-escorts and five mine vessels.

It was an impressive day’s work for the first sally of the kikusui even though they had lost 135 planes. But the kamikaze reports were as usual exaggerated, rivaling even those of the Thirty-second Army, claiming thirty American ships sunk and twenty more burning. Such bloated estimates so encouraged Admirals Ugaki and Toyoda that the Navy chief began to think that perhaps the world’s first suicide battleship—great Yamato—might really stagger the Americans during its one-way voyage to Okinawa and eternal glory.


Kikusui 2: Kamikaze Crucible

Admiral Matome Ugaki was still convinced that his April 6-7 strikes at the Americans had seriously damaged TF 58, an estimate not shared by his colleague, Lieutenant General Michio Sugahara of the Sixth Air Army. A report made by Sugahara’s staff somewhat sourly concluded: “Despite many attacks, the Navy cannot block the enemy’s carrier force, which still is operating east of Okinawa.”

Nevertheless Sugahara was eminently cooperative in preparing for Kikusui 2, which Ugaki hoped would so shatter Spruance’s fleet that it might seek sanctuary in the open sea. But both he and the army general realized that the second Floating Chrysanthemum would never equal the strength of the first, if only because of the serious losses it had suffered. They were also concerned to learn that Marine Corsairs had indeed arrived at Yontan and Kadena, thus menacing their own aircraft with ground-based fighters that, because of their proximity to their base, were more to be feared than carrier-based interceptors.

Their apprehension was somewhat eased, however, with the arrival on Kyushu of a new weapon: the Oka, or “Cherry Blossom” glide bomb, a rocket-boosted, piloted suicider capable of speeds of 500 knots and carrying a huge wallop of 2,645 pounds of trinitroanisol. The Oka was slung beneath a mother plane, usually a heavy Betty or Peggy bomber, and flown to within about a dozen miles of its target, when it was released with the pilot firing its rockets and directing it toward its target. Moving at pistol-bullet speed, the Oka was believed to be almost immune to enemy gunfire, but its very velocity made it extremely difficult for its pilot to keep his 16½-foot missile on target. American intelligence was aware of the appearance of this new weapon, but considered it so ineffective that it was christened baka, or “foolish.”

Although Kikusui 2 was scheduled for April 12, Admiral Ugaki tried to destroy “the remnant” of TF 58 on the day before, hurling a daylight suicide attack of about fifty-two planes against Admiral Mitscher’s carrier force. Typically glowing reports claimed three carriers sunk, a cruiser set ablaze, another cruiser holed, and two destroyers hit with torpedoes. The next day Ugaki’s pilots, still mightier with pen than bomb, reported sinking two battleships and a light cruiser. Actually very little damage was done to Mitscher’s ships on either day. Some damage was inflicted on the veteran flattop Enterprise, and a kamikaze crashed the majestic new battleship Missouri, but succeeded only in scratching her deck and blistering some paint. Destroyer Kidd was hit on picket duty and badly hurt, with thirty-eight sailors killed and fifty-five wounded, the worst casualty of the day. Waggish bluejackets aboard another picket destroyer, exasperated by repeated strikes at their station, erected a huge sign on deck with an arrow pointing aft and reading: CARRIERS THIS WAY.

Both Ugaki and Sugahara hoped to neutralize the enemy Corsairs by planning a series of bombing raids on their airfields the night before the scheduled attacks of April 12, while Sugahara also organized a decoy flight of fighters to lure TF 58’s Hellcats and Corsairs away from the impact area. In the bombing operation, 22 Japanese aircraft struck Yontan and Kadena shortly before dawn of the twelfth, damaging 5 enemy planes but losing 5 of their own to American gunners of all services. Next, Sugahara’s decoys attracted nothing but birds rising for dawn breakfasts, so that it was not until eleven o’clock in the morning that the Kyushu main body of about 120 late-model fighters arrived over both Kikai Jima and the Hagushi Anchorage to try to clear the strike area for following flights of 76 kamikaze, plus 20 suiciders roaring up from Formosa.

Although the Nipponese fighters were more successful than usual against the more skillful Americans flying better planes—claiming a probably exaggerated 20 kills—the Navy and Marine pilots from the carriers of TF 58 reported a much higher 126 enemy planes downed during fighter sweeps. This also was probably exaggerated—not by intent like the starry-eyed enemy—but from the inevitable duplication occurring when more than one fighter was firing on the same enemy, or even when a “flamer” plunging toward a watery grave might have the winds caused by his velocity blow the fires out, enabling him to return successfully to base. “Kill” estimates like body counts were much like American taxpayers’ income-tax returns: so full of deductions for charity that the churches of America would all be rich “beyond the dreams of avarice.”

But the American interceptors did effectively prevent the enemy fighters from protecting the kamikaze. Although the suiciders succeeded in damaging eight American ships—mostly destroyers and destroyer-escorts of the radar picket line, as well as some smaller craft—and causing high casualities, only one warship was sunk: the new picket destroyer Manert L. Abele, the first kill on record by a baka bomb.

Abele was on Picket Station 14 about thirty miles west of Okinawa when it was jumped by a pair of suicide Vals. Abele’s AA opened up, each burst seemingly scoring a hit but with the planes reappearing through the smoke. One of the attackers was sent into the sea, but the second struck the destroyer’s after engine room, spreading death and destruction and causing Abele to buckle visibly. Just then one of two Betty bombers circling like scavengers overhead released its baka bomb, which came shrieking at the stricken destroyer at five hundred knots. The pilot kept his missile perfectly on course, striking Abele exactly amidships. A tremendous blast lifted the American out of the water to be slammed back again. Many men were blown overboard, among them Lieutenant s.g. George Wray, who swam back to his ship, clambering aboard to tear open a jammed escape hatch allowing the entire watch of the forward engine room to scramble to safety. In less than another minute, Wray might have been too late, for Abele sank five minutes after the baka struck. Most of her officers and crew were rescued by a nearby LSM, but six men were killed and seventy-three missing.

Simultaneous with the agony of Abele, a flight of conventional kamikaze found Rear Admiral Deyo’s gunfire support force patrolling waters off the Motobu Peninsula. When they struck, Deyo fortunately had his ships concentrated and they were ready for the Divine Winds, which could do little more than stagger a destroyer and crash a 40 mm mount aboard battleship Tennessee. One sailor who was blown into the air landed atop a five-inch gun turret, where he crouched while calmly stripping off his burning clothing to await a cold bath from the nearest fire hose. Marine Corporal W. H. Putnam either fell or was blown overboard, surfacing near a big life raft. He clambered aboard, finding unusual company in the presence of the headless torso of the kamikaze who had crashed his ship.

Thus the scourging of the American fleet off Okinawa continued unabated, but once again the kamikaze had failed to strike the paralyzing blow so eagerly sought by Admiral Ugaki. Losses among the suiciders are not exactly known, although 185 of them had participated in the assault—an enormous decline from the 355 making the first attacks. The decrease would continue until on June 21-22 Ugaki could scrape together only 45 decrepit Divine Winds—the shriveled petals remaining on the deadly Floating Chrysanthemums.



The RAF had established a Coastal Command to support the Royal Navy. Its primary mission was to provide the Navy reconnaissance on German capital ship movements in the North Sea and elsewhere. Although land-based aircraft had positively sunk only one U-boat in all of World War I, it was believed that Coastal Command could serve effectively in an ASW role. But Coastal Command pilots had not drilled in submarine spotting, and the hardware had also been neglected. In September 1939, Coastal Command had 300 aircraft in its inventory, most of them obsolete, and only about half the pilots were fully trained. Only three squadrons were equipped with modern aircraft: two with long-range four-engine flying boats (Sunderlands); one with medium-range twin-engine American-designed, British-built wheeled aircraft (Hudsons). The Hudsons (replacing obsolete Ansons) were not yet fully operational.

The brand-new U-55, a Type VIIB,  commanded by Werner Heidel, age thirty, who had done well in the duck U-7, also went directly into action. Rounding the British Isles, Heidel sank two small neutrals (a Dane and a Swede), then proceeded to the Western Approaches. On the tenth day of the patrol, January 29, 1940 Dönitz alerted Heidel to a convoy, which had been detected by B-dienst. Heidel responded by sinking the 5,000-ton British tanker Vaclite and a 5,000-ton Greek freighter.

One of the convoy escorts, the sloop Fowey, left the convoy and pursued U-55 in foggy seas. Fixing the boat on sonar, Fowey attacked with depth charges, driving Heidel to 328 feet. Fowey dropped five charges, three set for 500 feet by mistake, two for 350 feet. The two set at 350 feet exploded very close to U-55, causing severe flooding and panic. Heidel temporarily contained the damage and panic and slipped away, but Fowey continued to hunt aggressively through the fog and called for help. Two British destroyers, Whitshed and Ardent, and a French destroyer, Valmy, responded, as did a four-engine Sunderland flying boat of Coastal Command Squadron 228, piloted by Edward J. Brooks.

The four ships and the aircraft hunted the damaged U-55 relentlessly. Whitshed got sonar contact and attacked with depth charges. By that time the U-55 crew could no longer contain the flooding. Believing he might escape in the fog, Heidel gave orders to surface and man the deck gun. Fowey sighted U-55 making off in the fog and opened fire. Valmy and the Sunderland joined. The Sunderland dropped a bomb and, helpfully, a smoke float and then made a strafing run. Heidel returned the fire—until the breechblock of the gun jammed.

Gunless, unable to dive, Heidel was left no choice but to scuttle. The first watch officer and chief engineer volunteered to help Heidel open the vents. When the boat started under for the last time, there was no sign of Heidel. The survivors believed he chose to go down with the boat. The other forty-one men of the crew launched a rubber life raft, jumped into the icy water, and were picked up by Fowey and Whitshed.

The loss of U-55 was known immediately to Dönitz. Eager to give a lift to the Coastal Command aviators who had patrolled the seas endlessly for months with no confirmed success, the RAF publicly claimed credit for the kill on January 31. The surface forces grudgingly conceded that the Sunderland may have helped—but not all that much. However, a British assessment committee gave Coastal Command partial credit for the kill along with Fowey and Whitshed. Doubtless some fault for the loss lay in Dönitz’s decision to send U-55 against an escorted convoy before she was adequately trained.

Early Attacks

The U-26, commanded by Heinz Scheringer, reached the Western Approaches in late June with serious engine problems. Despite the deficiencies, Scheringer patrolled aggressively, sinking three freighters and damaging another, the British Zarian, in convoy. One of the convoy escorts, the new Flower-class corvette Gladiolus, pounced on U-26 in favorable sonar conditions, dropping thirty-six of her forty-one depth charges set at 350 to 500 feet.

The charges badly pounded U-26, causing leaks but not fatal damage. In the early hours of July 1, Scheringer surfaced to charge his depleted batteries and to escape in the fog. By that time, the British sloop Rochester and a Sunderland of Coastal Command’s Australian Squadron 10, piloted by W. M. (“Hoot”) Gibson, had come on the scene in response to Gladiolus’s alert. Seeing U-26 surface, Rochester commenced a high-speed run to ram. Had the U-26’s diesels and motors been working properly and had Scheringer been able to charge batteries, the boat might have escaped. But with Rochester (believed to be a “destroyer”) bearing down firing her forward gun and the Sunderland overhead, he was forced under again.

The Sunderland saw the “swirl,” or disturbed water, where U-26 had submerged and ran in for an attack. Hoot Gibson dropped four 250-pound antisubmarine bombs, which exploded very close and rocked the boat. The bombs did no real damage, but Scheringer had no battery charge left and the boat was still leaking in the stern as a result of the depth-charge attack from Gladiolus. Fearing U-26 would be fatally damaged by the apporaching “destroyer,” Scheringer surfaced, intending to scuttle. When the boat appeared, the Sunderland dropped four more bombs, but by then U-26’s chief engineer had set in motion scuttling procedures and the crew was leaping into the water.

The U-26 went down quickly with all hatches open. Rochester came up with guns trained. After allowing the survivors to swim a while in order to scare them into talking more freely, Rochester fished all forty-eight men from the water. There were no casualties, but the scare tactic did not work. The U-26 crew was one of the most reticent to be captured, British intelligence reported.


Three of the five boats engaged in the attack on Halifax 79 returned to Lorient: U-38 (Liebe), U-47 (Prien), merely eight days out, and U-100 (Schepke), merely eleven days out. The other two, U-46 (Endrass) and U-48 (Bleichrodt), proceeded to Germany for scheduled yard overhauls and modifications. While passing near the coast of Norway on October 25, 1940, Endrass in U-46 was caught on the surface by three Hudson aircraft of Coastal Command Squadron 233. One aircraft, piloted by Arthur T. Maudsley and a Canadian, Everett Baudoux, was riddled by U-46 gunners but dropped ten 100-pound bombs; another, flown by Pilot Officer Winnicott, dropped two 250-pound bombs; the bombs of the third plane, commanded by Pilot Officer Walsh, failed to release. The bombs fell close, inflicting severe damage on U-46 and fatally injuring one crewman. Unable to dive, Endrass limped into Kristiansand, Norway, escorted by the German minesweeper M-18. From there he went on to Germany with an air and surface escort. The high-scoring U-46 and U-48 were to remain in German shipyards for the next three months.

New Equipment

Coastal Command, led by Frederick Bowhill, had matured considerably since the beginning of the war, but it was still a poor stepchild of the RAF. Its daylight aircraft patrols with Sunderlands and Hudsons had been useful in forcing down U-boats, but no aircraft of Coastal Command had yet sunk a German U-boat unassisted by a surface craft. From July 1940, when the U-boats shifted to night surface attacks, these Coastal Command air patrols had been virtually useless inasmuch as it was almost impossible to spot a U-boat at night by eye.

What was needed was ASW radar. At the beginning of 1940, the Air Ministry had provided a few 1.5-meter-wavelength ASV (airborne radar sets) for a handful of Coastal Command and Navy aircraft types (Hudson, Swordfish, Walrus) to be used to track big enemy surface ships. However, since these sets were not capable of detecting U-boats, Coastal Command and the Royal Navy had requested the “crash” production of 4,000 improved 1.5-meter-wavelength sets (ASV-II). “Unfortunately,” Admiralty historian J. David Brown wrote recently, “the Air Ministry bureaucracy failed to recognize the importance of the program” and pigeonholed the request, giving priority to Fighter Command for Air Interception (A-I) radar to help find enemy bombers. The upshot was that by the end of 1940, only forty-nine Coastal Command aircraft and a few experimental Navy Swordfish biplanes had the improved ASV-II radar sets, an appalling lapse second only to the British failure to prevent the building of U-boat pens in French Atlantic ports.

Even when properly calibrated and working at peak efficiency, the improved 1.5-meter-wavelength Mark II ASV radar in these Coastal Command aircraft was almost useless for killing a U-boat at night. For complicated electronic reasons apart from ground or sea “clutter,” the radar went “blind” when the aircraft got within a mile of the U-boat. An alert U-boat watch thus had time to maneuver left or right off the flight path of the “blind” aircraft, avoiding its bombs or depth charges.

What the aircrews needed was some means of “seeing” during that last mile to the U-boat. In late October 1940, an officer in Coastal Command headquarters, Humphrey de Verde Leigh, proposed one possible solution: a very powerful, steerable searchlight, mounted on a retractable bed in the underside of the fuselage. Bowhill enthusiastically endorsed the proposal and detached Leigh to work on it full time. But owing to technical problems, bureaucratic inertia, and indifference, it was to take Leigh a full eighteen months to work out the bugs, to gain full approval from the Air Ministry, and to get the searchlight into combat, yet another serious British lapse.



The Condors Arrive

In the North Atlantic, Dönitz’s son-in-law Günter Hessler in the new IXB U-107 found convoy Outbound 279 on February 3, 1941. After flashing an alert, Hessler attacked, sinking a 4,700-ton freighter, then shadowed during the day. Dönitz relayed the report and ordered six other boats to converge on the convoy. Still shadowing, on the following evening Hessler sank a second ship of 5,000 tons. No other boats found the convoy, but while searching for it, Salmann in U-52 and Moehle in U-123 came across the inbound Slow Convoy 20, from which they sank one ship each, as did Hessler in U-107, responding to their reports. Korth in U-93 polished off another ship from this convoy with his deck gun, a 2,700-tonner which had been damaged by a Condor.

The Admiralty got wind of the breakout of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst from the North Sea and positioned powerful Home Fleet forces (Nelson, Rodney, Repulse, etc.) south of Iceland to intercept them. A British cruiser, Naiad, got a fleeting glimpse of the German vessels southbound in the Denmark Strait, but the British disbelieved—or discounted—the report. Equipped with primitive radar, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst evaded Naiad at high speed and withdrew northward into the strait to prepare for a second try on February 3-4.

The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had orders to attack Halifax convoys in the area west of Iceland. Assuming the attack would again draw out the Home Fleet, the OKM directed Dönitz to lay a submarine trap south of Iceland to ambush its ships. On February 8, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst intercepted convoy Halifax 106, but upon seeing that the convoy was escorted by the battleship Ramillies, the Germans, who were under orders to avoid battles with capital ships, broke off the attack. As anticipated, the Home Fleet sailed west in pursuit of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. Dönitz, meanwhile, had positioned eight German U-boats to the submarine trap south of Iceland. One of these, Herbert Schultze in U-48, sighted—and reported—a “battle cruiser and a light cruiser,” but he was unable to get into shooting position. On February 10, a Whitley of Coastal Command Squadron 502, piloted by J. A. Walker, caught Korth in U-93 on the surface and bombed the boat, hastening her return to Lorient. The repairs to U-93 were to take three months. No other boats intercepted Home Fleet units. The submarine trap was thus a failure.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk VII – 502 Sqn

Dönitz was not displeased by this diversion. He believed the Condor reconnaissance flights near Rockall Bank had forced the British to divert convoys well to the north to avoid aerial detection. Later, when the OKM released the boats of the submarine trap, he left six boats on patrol lines due south of Iceland. Since this area was beyond range of the Bordeaux-based Condors, Dönitz requested that Condor flights be staged to that area from Norway.

Southbound to African waters, on the morning of February 9, Nikolaus Clausen in U-37 ran into convoy Home Gibraltar 53. Comprised of twenty-one ships, the convoy was thinly escorted by one destroyer and one sloop. Clausen gave the alarm, then attacked, claiming three ships for 13,500 tons sunk, but again he inflated the tonnage. His confirmed score was two ships for 3,300 tons.

There were no other German U-boats in Iberian waters, but the heavy cruiser Hipper, southbound from Brest to join Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, was within easy reach, as were the Condors basing at Bordeaux. Sensing a “historic” opportunity to mount a combined U-boat, aircraft, and surface-ship attack on the same convoy, Dönitz directed Clausen to shadow the convoy and to send beacon signals. Meanwhile, Dönitz instructed Gruppe 40 to fly as many Condors as possible to the scene and invited the OKM to bring up Hipper. Five Condors took off. The OKM initially refused to commit Hipper but, on second

Homing on U-37’s beacon signals, audible at 150 miles, the Condors reached the convoy late in the afternoon of February 9. In this first successful joint aircraft/submarine operation, the Condor pilots reported damage to nine ships for 45,000 tons. The confirmed score was five ships sunk. One Condor was damaged and crash-landed in Spain, but the crew survived and eventually returned to Bordeaux.

Still shadowing the shattered convoy for Hipper’s benefit, in the early hours of February 10, Clausen in U-37 struck again. His targets this time were two “big tankers.” His six torpedoes missed the tankers but, Clausen believed, struck and sank two ships behind the tankers for 7,500 tons. Actually, he hit only one ship, a 1,473-ton freighter, which sank, making his total confirmed score three ships sunk for 4,773 tons.

The riddled convoy Home Gibraltar 53 was scheduled to merge with an inbound unescorted convoy of nineteen ships from Sierra Leone. Racing up from the southwest, Hipper came upon this convoy on February 12 and sank seven ships for 32,800 tons, her first clear success in the Atlantic. She then found another freighter which had separated from the Gibraltar convoy. She took off the crew and sank the freighter, but was then compelled to abort to Brest with engine problems for the second time. Condors escorted her into port.

Dönitz was enormously pleased with this unique operation. The combined German forces had savaged two convoys, sinking sixteen confirmed ships: eight by Hipper, five by the Condors, three by U-37. Foreseeing the possibility of combined submarine and surface-ship operations with Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, he directed that three IXBs (U-105, U-106, U-124) prepare for departure to West African waters to be followed by the U-A, which was sailing from Germany. Having expended all torpedoes, Clausen in U-37 aborted his trip to Africa and returned to Lorient, where he received unstinting praise and the news that the famous but weary U-37 was to patrol home for retirement to the Training Command.

The diversion of Condors to the U-37-Hipper operation and a decision to put Condor crews through a crash course in navigation and communications delayed the staging of these aircraft from Norway. Hence the boats hunting south of Iceland had no help from the Condors for many days.

On the afternoon of February 19, 1941, a lone Condor staging from Norway found a convoy, Outbound 287. Dönitz ordered five boats to converge on the position and Gruppe 40 to send out more Condors at first light the following morning. But the operation was a failure. Three Condors reached the area, but all gave different positions, leading to the belief that a second or perhaps even a third convoy had been detected. Adding further confusion, B-dienst picked up distress calls from a ship reporting a Condor attack in yet another position. One boat, Lehmann-Willenbrock’s U-96, homed on a Condor beacon signal, came upon the convoy in foul weather, and sank a straggler, the 7,000-ton British tanker Scottish Standard. But no other boats could find the convoy.

Several days later, on February 22, a Norway-based Condor reported a convoy near the Orkneys. Dönitz directed two boats, outbound from Germany in the North Sea, to the scene: the VIIB U-46, commanded by Engelbert Endrass, returning from a long overhaul, and a new VIIC, U-552, commanded by Erich Topp, whose duck, U-57, had been rammed and sunk in the Elbe. But, many hours later, the airmen corrected the contact report: The convoy was not near the Orkneys but two hundred miles or more west of the Orkneys, en route to Halifax. It was Outbound 288.

Upon receiving the corrected position report, Dönitz ordered four boats to intercept the convoy and, if possible, three additional, including the weather boat, Moehle’s U-123. The operation was temporarily thrown into confusion when B-dienst reported another distress call from a ship being attacked by a Condor in a position that in no way corresponded to the “corrected” position report. Dönitz rightly dismissed this last report, logging in his diary that B-dienst reports could no longer be relied upon.

A new VIIB from Germany, U-73, commanded by Helmut Rosenbaum, age twenty-seven, from the duck U-2, made contact with the convoy Outbound 288 and flashed a report. Dönitz instructed Rosenbaum to radio beacon signals and hang on “at all costs” while the other boats—and more Condors—attempted to converge. During the night of February 23-24, five German boats and the Italian Bianchi attacked. Lehmann-Willenbrock in U-96 sank three ships for 18,400 tons, including the 11,000-ton auxiliary cruiser Huntingdon. Gerd Schreiber in the VIIC U-95 sank three ships for 13,900 tons. Moehle in U-123 sank one, as did Metzler in U-69, Rosenbaum in U-73, and Adalberto Giovannini in Bianchi. In retaliation, a Sunderland and three corvettes delivered a determined depth-charge attack on the green U-69, but the damage was not serious.

During this melee, the Italian submarine Marcello, commanded by Carlo Alberto Teppati, arrived on the scene. One of the convoy escorts, the ex-American four-stack destroyer Montgomery, merely a month out of her overhaul and upgrade, spotted Marcello and attacked with guns and depth charges. The attack was successful; Marcello sank with all hands. She was the first Axis submarine to fall victim to one of the American warships transferred to the Royal Navy in the “Destroyer Deal.”


Gunther Prien in U-47 sailed directly up the west coast of Ireland. On the afternoon of February 25 he ran into convoy Outbound 290, composed of thirty-nine ships and seven escorts. Prien reported, shadowed, and broadcast beacon signals. Dönitz ordered Kretschmer in U-99 and two boats on first patrols to join: Heilmann in U-97, who was out of torpedoes en route to Lorient, and Rosenbaum in U-73, who was on weather station. He alerted Gruppe 40 to fly Condors on the following day.

Shortly after midnight on February 26, Prien attacked the convoy alone. There was no moon, but the northern lights provided excellent visibility. His first salvo sank a 5,300-ton Belgian freighter and damaged an 8,100-ton British tanker in ballast. After reloading his tubes, he came in and fired a second salvo, sinking two more freighters, a 3,200-ton Swede and a 3,600-ton Norwegian. While again reloading his tubes he continued to track and send beacon signals, adding that he had sunk 20,000 tons. But no other U-boat came up that night.

“Hunter becomes the hunted” A Sea Hurricane chases Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condors from KG 40.

Later that day, February 26, guided by Prien’s beacon signals, the Condors found and attacked the convoy. One Condor appeared at noon; five in late afternoon. Astonishingly, they sank seven ships for 36,250 tons and damaged another one of 20,755 tons. All the while Prien doggedly and bravely tracked and sent beacon signals. In his last message of the day, Prien reported that he had been “beaten off’ by Allied aircraft and had been depth-charged by escorts. He revised his sinking report upward slightly to 22,000 tons. In actuality, Prien had sunk 12,000 tons.


Early Seaplanes

With balloons having been used for observation purposes by the U. S. Navy in Mississippi during the siege of Island No. 10 in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, the Russian and Japanese navies in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, and the Italian Navy in the Tripolitan War of 1911-1912, it is not surprising that the major naval powers were quick to realize the advantage that aircraft could bring in extending vision beyond the immediate horizon and identifying enemy ship movements. Although successful experiments had been made in taking off and landing on ships prior to World War I, the limitations of both aircraft performance and ship design made ship-to-ship flight haphazard until the launching of the first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the Royal Navy’s H. M. S. Argus, in 1918.1 As a result, naval powers relied upon two main types of seaplanes: floatplanes employing externally attached floats or flying boats. These seaplanes operated either from coastal naval air stations or from ships, which either towed them or carried them onboard and used a winch and beam system to hoist them into or out of the water. During World War I, seaplanes would prove to have just as important an impact-albeit not as spectacular or as glamorous-upon naval warfare as did land airplanes upon land warfare. Seaplanes played an important role in transforming naval warfare by helping fulfill the traditional naval objective of establishing control or command of the seas, protecting coastlines and shipping lanes, and offering the possibility of projecting naval power inland through the air. Had the war continued into 1919, the British would have been able to mount carrier-based air attacks against the German Fleet. Such an ability was far beyond the capacity of 1914 seaplanes, thus demonstrating the impact that the war had upon technology.

The first aircraft that would now be identified as maritime patrol aircraft were flown by the Royal Naval Air Service and the French Aéronautique Maritime during World War I, primarily on anti-submarine patrols. France, Italy and Austria-Hungary used large numbers of smaller patrol aircraft for the Mediterranean, Adriatic and other coastal areas while the Germans and British fought over the North Sea. At first, blimps and zeppelins were the only aircraft capable of staying aloft for the longer 10 hour patrols whilst carrying a useful payload while shorter-range patrols were mounted with landplanes such as the Sopwith 1½ Strutter. A number of specialized patrol balloons were built, particularly by the British, including the SS class airship of which 158 were built including subtypes.

Three distinct categories of combat aircraft emerged: long-range overwater reconnaissance and antisubmarine aircraft operating from shore bases, shorter-range floatplane reconnaissance and fighter aircraft, and ship-borne aircraft. Long-range flying boats (so called because their fuselages were shaped like the hull of a boat) were used extensively by the British. These pioneered the technique of searching for submarines with methodical, mathematically developed search patterns. The German navy made extensive use of reconnaissance and fighter floatplanes from Belgian coastal bases to counter Allied air patrols and coastal naval operations. Some of these, notably Hansa-Brandenburg machines designed by Ernst Heinkel, rivaled their land-based equivalents in performance.

Later in the war, aircraft were also developed specifically for the role including small flying boats such as the FBA Type C as well as large floatplanes such as the Short 184 or flying boats such as the Felixstowe F.3. Developments of the Felixstowe served with the Royal Air Force until the mid 20s, and with the US Navy as the Curtiss F5L and Naval Aircraft Factory PN whose developments saw service until 1938. During the war, Dornier did considerable pioneering work in all aluminium aircraft structures while working for Zeppelin and built four large patrol flying boats, the last of which, the Zeppelin-Lindau Rs.IV influenced development elsewhere resulting in the replacement of wooden hulls with metal ones, such as on the Short Singapore. The success of long range patrol aircraft led to the development of fighters specifically designed to intercept them, such as the Hansa-Brandenburg W.29