Hilfskreuzer 33 Breakout Part I

Hilfskreuzer 33 (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) – Pinquin

Käpitan-zur-See Ernst-Felix Krüder

The sinking of HMS Andania by the patrolling submarine U-A was assumed by the Admiralty to be a deliberate diversionary action to cover the breakout of another German auxiliary cruiser. Three of these, Atlantis, Widder and Thor, all converted merchantmen, had already escaped into the Atlantic. While the Admirals may have been wrong in the interpretation they put on U-A’s actions, they were right in assuming another raider was about to emerge.

As the Andania slipped beneath the waves off Iceland at dawn on 16 June 1940, a thousand miles to the south-east, in the Gulf of Danzig, the sun was well above the horizon and giving the promise of a fine, warm day to come. Swinging to an anchor in a quiet reach of the gulf close to the South Middle Bank, the German cargo liner Kandelfels was in the final stages of her metamorphosis from harmless merchantman to ship of war. Her company livery was last to go, the smart black hull and gleaming white upperworks disappearing under a coat of sombre wartime grey.

The 7766-ton Kandelfels, built at Bremen in 1936 for Deutsche Dampschiffarts Gesellschaft, better known as the Hansa Line, had arrived in Hamburg from India on 1 September 1939, just as German troops crossed the border into Poland, signalling the start of the second European bloodbath in the space of twenty-five years. As soon as the last sling of cargo from the East was winched up from the Kandelfels’ holds, she was requisitioned by the German Navy.

A modern, twin-screw ship with a service speed of 17 knots and a low silhouette, the Kandelfels was ideally suited for recruitment to the Kriegsmarine’s elite squadron of Hilfskreuzers (auxiliary cruisers) soon to be unleashed on Allied merchant shipping in the distant oceans beyond the reach of the U-boats. Unlike the highly vulnerable British AMCs, stop-gap ships used for patrol and convoy escort work, the role of the Hilfskreuzers – there would be nine in all – was predatory. Fast and heavily armed, they would emulate the buccaneers of old, hiding in the shadows out of reach of the enemy’s warships and aircraft, picking off victims wherever and whenever the opportunity arose.

Unfortunately, the German grand plan for the conquest of Europe was initially so successful that an adjustment of priorities was necessary. The Kriegsmarine’s ‘grey wolves’ went to the back of the queue. Conversion of the Kandelfels from merchant ship to auxiliary cruiser was originally scheduled to take three months, but, owing to more urgent demands on dockyard space and workers, it was 6 February 1940 before she emerged from the Bremen yard of Weser AG. as Hilfskreuzer 33. Outwardly, she was still a merchant ship, but behind counterweighted steel shutters, capable of being raised in two seconds, were six 5.9-inch guns. Concealed by false ventilators, watertanks or packing cases were one 75-mm, one twin 37-mm and four 20-mm guns. Similarly hidden were two twin 21-inch torpedo tubes, two 3-metre range finders, two 60-cm searchlights, and in her holds two spotter aircraft. A quick change of identity could be effected by telescoping the foremast, raising collapsible bulwarks to heighten the forecastle and raising or lowering collapsible sampson posts.

In theory HK 33 was a formidable warship, but in reality her 5.9s were 40-year-old guns taken from the obsolete pre-dreadnought battleship Schlesien, her smaller guns of similar vintage. Her scout planes, too, were obsolescent; single-engined, open-cockpit Heinkel HE 59 floatplanes, known to be notoriously unstable on the water. To ensure her future success, she was in need of a dedicated and experienced crew, men willing to take the calculated risk without too much thought for their own self-preservation. In this respect, at least, she was well blessed.

In command of HK 33 was 43-year-old Käpitan-zur-See Ernst-Felix Krüder, a slim, taciturn man, who had risen to command from the ranks – rare achievement in anyone’s navy at the time. Krüder, with twenty-five years service in the German Imperial Navy, was an expert in mine warfare and had seen action at Jutland and in the Black Sea in the First World War. Between the wars he had served in the Inspectorate of Officers’ Training and Education, where he had gained a great deal of experience in handling men. With a clear, analytical mind and the ability to improvise, Ernst-Felix Krüder was an excellent choice to take an auxiliary cruiser with a crew of 345 into the unknown. Many of that crew were naval reservists from the merchant ships; Krüder’s first lieutenant, Leutnant Erich Warning, had been Staff Captain of the North German Lloyd liner Bremen, while his navigator, Leutnant Wilhelm Michaelson, was lately in command of the 14,700-ton liner Steuben. Expertise in the way of the sea and ships Krüder’s men had in abundance, but whether they had the aggression and determination to make war remained to be seen.

It was the custom for commanders of German auxiliary cruisers to name their own ships, and when HK 33 was commissioned on 6 February 1940, in a brief ceremony on board Krüder christened her Pinguin (Penguin). It was a choice which puzzled his crew, but then, unlike their captain, they were not yet fully aware of their ship’s ultimate destiny.

Over the seven weeks that followed, the Pinguin carried out trials on the River Weser, testing her engines, exercising her guns and initiating her as yet untried crew into the strange world of a ship that was half merchantman and half warship. Any faults found in the ship and her equipment were rectified and, having taken on ammunition, coal and provisions, the Pinguin passed through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic. There, in sheltered waters away from prying eyes, Krüder drilled his gun and torpedo crews relentlessly, until they reached the peak he judged would give them a fighting chance against the best guns of the Royal Navy. At the same time mine-laying exercises were carried out and boats’ crews were sent away at every possible opportunity, so as to perfect the launching, handling and retrieval of their craft. These men would play a vital role in the Pinguin’s coming adventure.

The raider, her skills honed to perfection, returned to Kiel on 26 May for a few persistent faults in her gear to be corrected and to top up her oil, water and stores. She also took on board five live pigs, which would be fattened up on scraps from the galley during the voyage. As many crew members as possible were given shore leave, their last on German soil for many months, perhaps years, to come. She sailed on 10 June and again headed east into the Baltic, arriving in the Gulf of Danzig on the following day. She was given a berth in the naval base of Gotenhaven – as the Polish port of Gdynia had been renamed by Hitler – and worked under the cover of darkness taking on mines and torpedoes. On 17 June, anonymous in her new grey livery, the Pinguin left the Gulf of Danzig with 380 mines and 25 torpedoes in her holds. She was on her way to war.

In the early summer of 1940, although Britain stood alone and under threat of invasion, she had not lost control of the North Sea. Cruisers and destroyers of the Home Fleet constantly patrolled these waters, while the RAF kept watch overhead and submarines cruised below the surface. The primary object of these forces was to keep a lookout for an enemy invasion fleet, but any German ships venturing out into the North Sea, particularly lone merchantmen, did so at extreme peril. They could expect no help from their own navy; Germany’s capital ships remained firmly tied up in port, and her light naval forces had taken such a severe mauling at the hands of the Royal Navy in the Norwegian campaign that they could offer little protection.

The Pinguin, with all her potential to wreak havoc on the high seas, was a special case, and on the morning of the 18th she rendezvoused off Gedser, southern point of the Danish island of Lolland, with the minesweeper Sperrbrecker IV and the torpedo boats Jaguar and Falke. The latter were powerful, well-armed ships of over 900 tons. The Wolf-class Jaguar carried three 5-inch and four 37-mm guns, and the Falke, a Möwe-class boat, mounted three 4.1-inch and four 37-mm. Both carried six 21-inch torpedo tubes and had a top speed of 34 knots.

The small convoy passed through the Great Belt, the main channel between the Danish islands, in tight formation, entering the Kattegat at around 2100. At midnight, off the island of Anholt, Sperrbrecker IV left, and the Pinguin continued north at 15 knots with Jaguar and Falke keeping close company. British submarines were reported to be very active in this area and there could be no relaxing of vigilance.

The sun had already risen again when, at 0400 on the 19th, the three ships rounded the northern tip of Jutland and moved into the Skagerrak. It was a perfect early summer’s day, with a clear blue sky and a fresh easterly breeze kicking up white horses on the water. The air was clean and salt-laden, and, after the long months of preparation, the unrelenting pressures of the rigorous training programme, the crew of the raider faced the open sea eagerly, masters of their own destiny at last.

Air cover in the form of a Dornier 18 flying boat and two fighters materialized at the seaward end of the Skagerrak and remained overhead until darkness closed in again. At midnight Pinguin’s escort was reinforced by two M-class minesweepers, who brought with them a Norwegian pilot. The enlarged convoy then entered the deep-water channel behind the maze of islands that fringe the Atlantic coast of Norway. Protected by the islands, Pinguin was safe from Allied warships, but the channels, although deep, were narrow and tortuous, requiring careful navigation.

The port of Bergen was abeam to starboard at 0800 on the 20th and here Jaguar and Falke parted company, their escort duties over. The Pinguin and the two M-boats continued north, entering Sörgulen Fjord, some 50 miles north of Bergen, at 1630 that afternoon. The raider went deep into the fjord to an anchorage, while her escort remained on guard off the entrance.

Hidden from the prying eyes of enemy aircraft by the densely-wooded, steep-sided slopes of the fjord, the Pinguin took on the disguise it was hoped would see her clear of the coast and into the Atlantic. Over the next thirty-six hours, with the help of shore labour, the raider was transformed into the Russian cargo ship Petschura, port of registry Odessa, her hull black with the Soviet hammer and sickle prominent on her sides. When the work was finished, the disguise was convincing, but, should suspicions be aroused, German intelligence had established there was a real Petschura, conveniently laid up in Murmansk and unlikely to put to sea for some time.

The Pinguin left Sörgulen Fjord at 0100 on 22 June. She was now under the control of the Operations Division of the Seekriegsleitung (SKL), the German Naval Staff in Berlin. Her orders were to break out into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait and from there to proceed south to a position off Cape Verde, where she would rendezvous with and refuel and provision Hans Cohausz’s U-A. Fresh from his success in sinking the Andania, Cohausz had already moved south to cover the approaches to Freetown, now being used as an assembly point for Allied convoys.

Having serviced U-A, Krüder’s orders were to round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean, and there begin his campaign against Allied merchant shipping. It was anticipated that his harvest would be a rich one, for, in the absence of U-boats, the British considered the Indian Ocean to be a safe area and most merchantmen were sailing unescorted. Additionally, Krüder hoped to create further mayhem by mining the approaches to ports on the south and east coasts of Australia, and, later, the west coasts of India and Ceylon. And, as if this programme was not ambitious enough, at the end of the year the Pinguin was to sail south into the chill waters of Antarctica to attack the British and Norwegian whaling fleets. It was with this most southerly operation in mind that Krüder had named his ship.

The night was very black when the Pinguin weighed anchor and was escorted out of Sörgulen Fjord by her minesweepers. Under a heavily overcast sky with rain squalls sweeping in from the sea, the darkened raider made her way carefully down the fjord following the dimmed blue stern lights of the M-boats. Within the hour she was face to face with her first enemy of the war, the open sea. Clearing the mouth of the fjord at about 0200, she found herself heading into the teeth of a strong SW’ly wind, which rapidly increased to a full gale. Rain squalls severely restricted the visibility and, in a rising sea and swell, the ship took on an awkward corkscrewing movement. For many of her crew, having spent too long ashore or in sheltered waters, the curse of seasickness was an unwelcome visitor.

As for the ship herself, although she rolled and pitched heavily, the weather held no real dangers. The same could not be said for her escorts. M-17 and M-18 were both under 700 tons and narrow in the beam, and, while they may have been at home in the comparatively quiet waters of the Baltic, out here in the open Atlantic their seaworthiness was tested to the extreme. Plunging from crest to trough, rolling violently and shipping green water overall, the minesweepers took a severe pounding as they struggled to keep up with the bigger ship. Some 16 miles out of Sörgulen, after consultation with Krüder, they turned back and ran for shelter.

There is little complete darkness in these high latitudes in summer and by 0230 the sun was again climbing to the horizon, bringing a grey half-light to the overcast and revealing row upon row of white-topped waves marching in from the south-west. Pinguin, steering due west, had the wind and sea on the port bow, a distinct advantage, but Krüder, anxious to clear the coast before full daylight, was pushing his ship hard. With her twin 900 horsepower diesels thrusting her through the water at full revolutions, she had worked up to 15 knots, but was pounding heavily as she met the oncoming waves. Krüder feared he might soon be forced to slow down to avoid damage to his forward guns.

The decision was made for him when, just before 0300, a sharp-eyed lookout on the bridge spotted a periscope breaking the surface half a mile on Pinguin’s port bow. It was followed seconds later by the submarine’s conning tower. This looked like an accidental surfacing, for almost immediately both conning tower and periscope disappeared again in a welter of foam. Krüder sent his men to their action stations.

Prior to sailing from Sörgulen Fjord, Krüder had been assured by SKL that all German U-boats in the area had been warned to keep well clear of the Pinguin’s track. In which case, this could only be a British boat lying in wait for German blockade runners. Mindful that the Pinguin was currently disguised as the Russian Petschura, Krüder hauled around to the north, hoping to give the impression he was heading for the North Cape and Russian waters. Ignoring the weather, he rang for emergency full speed and the Pinguin, now beam-on to the seas, surged forward, rolling heavily.

Almost immediately the submarine came to the surface again and gave chase, black smoke pouring from her exhausts. She was about 2 miles astern of the Pinguin, wallowing in the heavy seas, which broke clean over her, so that from time to time she almost disappeared from view. An Aldis lamp winked from her conning tower. ‘What ship?’ Pinguin’s yeoman read from the impatient flashes. Krüder, acting out his role as a non-English speaking Russian merchant captain, ignored the signal. A few minutes later the lamp flashed again. ‘Heave to, or we open fire!’

Krüder chose to ignore the order. He had the submarine dead astern, thereby presenting the smallest possible target. Moreover, the enemy’s movements in the sea were so violent as to make her a very poor platform from which to take aim. Pinguin pressed on at full speed and the submarine began to drop astern.

The German captain’s assessment of the situation proved correct when, a few minutes later, three underwater explosions were heard. No torpedo tracks had been seen, but it was certain that the enemy sub had fired a salvo, three torpedoes either hitting the bottom or missing the Pinguin and exploding at the end of their run. And that was that. The submarine held on doggedly for another hour, but she could not match the Pinguin’s speed. She fell further and further astern until she gave up and turned away.

Assuming that the British submarine would have reported sighting a suspect enemy ship, Krüder held a north-easterly course throughout the day, running parallel to the Norwegian coast at a distance of about 70 miles. At 0843 a Heinkel 115 float plane passed low overhead, the same aircraft, or another of the same type, appearing at 2100. Pinguin was being watched over from the air, otherwise she had the sea to herself.

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Hilfskreuzer 33 Breakout Part II

Krüder now had a choice of two routes in his attempt to break out into the North Atlantic. He could either take the shortest way out, passing between the Faeroes and Iceland or continue north to round Jan Mayen Island, and thence south-west through the Denmark Strait. The latter route would add something like 700 miles to the passage, but Krüder, unaware that the Faeroes Channel was temporarily unguarded following the sinking of the Andania by U-A, opted for the longer northerly route. He was also not aware that, as a direct result of the loss of the AMC, the Admiralty had ordered the cruisers Newcastle and Sussex to reinforce patrols in the Denmark Strait.

At 2300, when on the latitude of Trondheim, Krüder altered course to 320° to head for Jan Mayen. It was Midsummer’s Night, with no real darkness, and, perversely, the foul weather that had provided invaluable cover for the Pinguin since sailing now took a turn for the better. The wind dropped to a mere fresh breeze, the sea went down and the rain cleared away. The heavy overcast remained, but visibility improved dramatically. Then, early on the 23rd, the wind veered to the north-east and the sun broke through.

With no darkness to hide his ship Krüder felt dangerously exposed to his potential enemies, but he had little choice. The only course of action open to him was to make all possible speed for Jan Mayen and take cover in the fog banks normally found shrouding the island at this time of the year. Once hidden in the fog, he could then bide his time, waiting for suitable murky weather to cloak his breakout through the Denmark Strait.

Krüder was to be disappointed, for the weather beyond the Arctic Circle is as unpredictable as in any other part of the globe. As the day progressed and the Pinguin pushed north-westwards, although the wind was light and the sea a flat calm, the hoped-for fog did not materialize. The air was in fact crystal clear, so clear that at 0400 on the 24th, when it was fully light, the tip of the 7,500-ft Beerenberg, Jan Mayen’s volcanic peak, was visible at a distance of almost 100 miles.

Although Jan Mayen was said to be uninhabited, except for a Norwegian weather station, Krüder was reluctant to close the land, but he had no other alternative. Pinguin rounded the northern side of Jan Mayen at noon with all her guns’ crews stood-to and the ship in a state immediate readiness. The weather remained stubbornly fine and clear, but if the raider was seen from the shore she provoked no reaction. Once clear of the island, Krüder set course due west, running for the ice edge off the east coast of Greenland, where the warm summer air flowing over the frozen sea was guaranteed to bring dense fog.

To the great relief of all on board, not least her commander, the Pinguin ran into falling visibility when she was within 100 miles of the Greenland coast. By 1925 she was in thick fog and feeling her way towards the ice edge at slow speed. The ice was sighted just after 2100 and Krüder altered to run south-westwards, parallel to the coast and keeping just to seaward of the ice. Visibility in the fog had improved to around 500 yards, just sufficient for careful navigation, but it was a nerve-wracking business. There were icebergs about and, although the ship was down to a crawl, the danger of collision with one of these drifting monsters was very real, but this was a risk Krüder was prepared to take in the interests of a quick breakout into the Atlantic. For the moment he was grateful for the sanctuary of the fog.

Pinguin’s luck ran out on the morning of the 25th after she had steamed only 75 miles to the south-west. The fog suddenly thinned, then lifted altogether, giving way to the unseasonal clear weather experienced earlier. Krüder was now sorely tempted to make a dash for the Denmark Strait at full speed, but, with British cruisers in the offing, this could be suicidal. The weather forecasts he was receiving from SKL, based on reports sent in by German weather ships which lurked in these waters disguised as trawlers, indicated that conditions were likely to worsen over the next few days as a warm front moved up from the south. Krüder reversed course and steamed back into the fog to await the promised deterioration in the weather. Once hidden in this silent world of swirling mist, he informed SKL of his decision, using a special shorthand code devised for auxiliary cruisers. A ten-second burst of morse was sufficient to pass his message, a signal so brief that it had faded before any of the network of British W/T direction finding stations constantly monitoring the airwaves could home in on it.

The waiting was long and tedious, with the Pinguin, her engines idling, patrolling up and down off the ice edge, her crew largely unoccupied but unable to relax, for the hidden dangers in this fog-shrouded wilderness were many. It was a morale-sapping situation that Krüder had hoped not to meet this early in the voyage. He was very much relieved when, on the morning of the 28th, the barometer began to fall steeply and the wind picked up, sweeping away the fog. In its place came low, overhanging clouds laden with heavy rain. The warm front had arrived.

Running on one engine and making 9 knots, the Pinguin moved south again. The wind settled down in the east, rising to force 6 and building up an ugly beam sea that soon began to send freezing spray flying over the raider’s bridge. The skies came even lower, so that morning became night again, and it seemed that the Pinguin had drifted from one bad dream into another, this one far more malevolent. The sea was short and she rolled jerkily, adding to the misery of those on board. And then the ice came back. It began with isolated floes, which posed no danger to the ship, but soon growlers, and then full-sized bergs, came looming out of the murk. It was a nerve-jangling experience that lasted an agonising twenty-four hours. When the wind eased and visibility improved on the afternoon of the 29th Krüder was exhausted and greeted the clearance with immense relief, even though it did leave his ship exposed to detection by British ships, who might now be patrolling this area in strength.

Krüder need not have concerned himself, for the Royal Navy was elsewhere engaged. When France signed an armistice with the German invaders on 16 June, it immediately became clear that something must be done to avoid her substantial navy falling into enemy hands. The French ships, which included six battleships and two battlecruisers, were tied up in Oran, Dakar and Martinique, and were given the choice of surrendering to the Royal Navy or being sunk where they were. In order to provide the show of force necessary to back up this ultimatum, units of the Home Fleet were called in, leaving much of the North Atlantic, including the Denmark Strait, without adequate cover.

Pinguin emerged from the Denmark Strait on the morning of 1 July, having sighted nothing more threatening than a few isolated icebergs. She was now relatively safe, free to lose herself in the broad reaches of the North Atlantic. Her rendezvous with U-A off Dakar was planned for 18 July, which gave her time to spare. Krüder decided to put this to good use, steaming south along the meridian of 35° West at reduced speed, thereby conserving fuel, and at the same time being on the lookout for any unescorted Allied merchantmen taking the northern route between Canada and Britain. His luck was not good, for in five days he sighted only one ship, and this turned out to be the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania. Believing the Carmania to be faster and more heavily armed than the Pinguin, Krüder turned away and ran. There was no reaction from the other ship, which seemed not to have sighted the raider.

By midday on the 7th the Pinguin was approaching the USA–UK convoy route and it was necessary to proceed with extreme caution. Over the next two days clusters of masts and funnels were seen on the horizon from time to time and evasive action was taken. The weather was fine, with excellent visibility, and, in spite of the Pinguin’s low silhouette, there was always the risk that an inquisitive convoy escort might sight her and come racing over the horizon. The appearance of a Russian ship in these waters would certainly arouse suspicion and could easily result in a gun fight Pinguin might lose. Another disguise was needed, and on the 10th, in fine warm weather, all hands turned to with paint brushes and the Petschura’s bogus voyage ended as it had begun. By nightfall Pinguin had taken on the identity of the Greek cargo vessel Kassos.

As the Pinguin sailed on southwards to her rendezvous with the U-boat, 5000 miles away in the Indian Ocean an encounter took place which would have a profound effect on the war at sea.

On the morning of 11 July the 7506-ton British ship City of Bagdad, outward bound from the UK with a full cargo for Penang, was approaching Sumatra and nearing the end of her long voyage. At 0730 she sighted what appeared to be another British cargo vessel on her starboard beam. There was nothing unusual about this; she was near one of the crossroads of the Indian Ocean frequented by British merchantmen. Then, suddenly, the other ship went hard over and headed straight for the City of Bagdad. She passed close astern and then came round to run on a parallel course, keeping about 1½ miles off. A flag signal fluttered from her yards, but this was unreadable from the British ship, despite the close proximity. However, the suspicions of Captain Armstrong White, master of the City of Bagdad, were already aroused. He ordered his wireless operator to transmit the ‘QQQQ’ signal, indicating that they were being attacked by a disguised enemy merchant ship.

The ‘enemy merchant ship’ was in fact the Atlantis, ex-Goldenfels, sister-ship to the Pinguin, which had sailed from Germany in March under the command of Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge and had already caused considerable disruption to Allied shipping in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The Atlantis ran up her shutters and opened fire as soon as the first urgent notes of the City of Bagdad’s transmission were heard. The raider’s guns pounded the British ship with salvo after salvo of 6-inch shells, until she was stopped and on fire with three of her crew lying dead and two others injured. A boarding party from the Atlantis then sank her with explosive charges.

The City of Bagdad might have been just another victim for the Atlantis to add to her mounting score but for one important omission by the British ship’s crew. In the confusion of the attack they failed to dump overboard the vital BAMS (Broadcasting for Allied Merchant Ships) code books. These were seized by the boarding party and sent back to Germany via Japan at the first possible opportunity. Within weeks Berlin was reading all coded signals to and from Allied merchant ships. It was some months before the Admiralty became aware that their ciphers had been compromised.

On 12 July, at the request of SKL, the Pinguin broke radio silence to report her position. She was then 700 miles north-west of the Cape Verde Islands, having been continuously at sea for almost three months. SKL’s reply contained the latitude and longitude of the proposed meeting with U-A on the 18th.

The rendezvous position was reached at noon on the 17th. It was a lonely spot midway between Africa and the West Indies and well away from the shipping lanes. Krüder stopped his ship and waited, growing increasingly anxious as the hours dragged by, for, although the Pinguin was in an empty ocean, there was always the risk that a British warship might appear on the horizon. He heaved a sigh of relief when, at first light on the 18th, a long, low grey shape materialized out of the morning mist. U-A was on time.

Unfortunately, the U-boat brought with her an unwelcome change in the weather. A fresh NE’ly wind blew up, raising a choppy sea that made it impossible for the transfer of supplies to take place. Krüder decided to head south in search of calmer waters, on the way passing 70 tons of diesel oil to the submarine, so that she would have sufficient fuel to reach Biscay should it not be possible to store her.

On the 20th the two ships reached a position 720 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, where the sea was calm enough to bring U-A alongside the Pinguin. This was the first time ever that a U-boat had been stored at sea by a raider and the inevitable problems arose. It was soon discovered that the submarine’s hydroplanes prevented her from coming close alongside and most of one day was lost in rigging sheer legs to bridge the gap. The torpedoes, eleven in all, were ferried across using flotation bags. It was a slow operation, and it was not until the afternoon of the 25th that the transfer was completed.

The Pinguin then took U-A in tow and set course to the southeast to meet up with the track followed by Allied ships between South American ports and Freetown. Once on this line, U-A had orders to make for the approaches to Freetown and there lie in wait for ships entering and leaving the harbour. Freetown was the assembly point for UK convoys, so Cohausz anticipated he would find more than sufficient targets for his newly-acquired torpedoes.

The opportunity for action presented itself sooner than expected. At 2300 on the 25th the lights of a ship were sighted to port and on a converging course, and U-A at once cast off to investigate. Krüder, being only an interested spectator at this stage, held the Pinguin back in the dark to await developments.

After about an hour had passed, Cohausz returned to report failure. He had identified the ship as an Allied tanker, an easy enough target, but his first torpedo had been a ‘rogue’. It ran in circles before turning back to home in on the U-boat that fired it and Cohausz was forced to take violent evasive action to avoid being sunk by his own torpedo. By the time he regained control, the tanker had disappeared into the night, probably not even aware of its brush with disaster.

U-A was taken in tow again, but a heavy swell developed the next day and the towrope snapped. From then on the U-boat proceeded under her own power with the Pinguin keeping company. Cohausz took his leave at noon on the 28th when they were 850 miles to the west of Freetown. The raider, her supply and escort duties at an end, was now free to begin her own war.

Rudel’s Stukas

When World War II broke out in September 1939, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber was obsolete. However, during the Blitzkrieg campaigns in Europe between 1939 and 1942 it established itself as a weapon that struck fear into the hearts of enemy soldiers and civilians alike. Even when the tide of war turned against Germany after 1943, the Stuka continued to take to the skies in an anti-tank role. The most famous Stuka pilot was Hans-Ulrich Rudel, whose bravery established him as one of the Luftwaffe’s greatest airmen.

One of the enduring images of the German Blitzkrieg is of swarms of dive-bomber aircraft swooping down on hapless Allied columns. The ultimate dive-bomber was the Junkers Ju 87 Sturzkampfflugzeug, or Stuka. Not surprisingly, the name took on a life of its own and entered popular culture.

The dive-bomber was a purpose-built aircraft, designed to drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy on frontline battlefield targets. To support their panzer offensives, the Germans developed close air support into an art form and the Stuka was central to this effort. The secret of German successes in this field was the close integration between air and ground units. Stuka squadrons worked hand-in-hand with ground units so they could intervene rapidly at the decisive point of the battlefield. These highly specialist squadrons were in the thick of the action and developed an impressive reputation. The need to fly deep into the heart of battle meant Stuka pilots suffered some of the highest casualty rates in the Luftwaffe, and as a consequence became some of the most highly decorated German servicemen. Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most famous Stuka pilot and squadron commander of the war. He was also the most highly decorated German soldier of the war, being the only serviceman to receive the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds.

The Stuka

Experience with close air support during World War I led many German officers in the newly formed Luftwaffe in the 1930s to develop plans to build a specialist aircraft for this key role. The result was the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which first flew in 1935. Although progressively upgraded, the Stuka retained its distinctive gull-winged silhouette that became famous in the early years of World War II.

The single-engined Stuka was fitted with a specialized bomb sight to enable the aircraft to dive vertically on its target, and to automatically open air brakes after bomb release to allow the aircraft to safely pull up when it was 450m (1470ft) from the ground. As a result of this device, the Stuka could drop its bombs within 100m (330ft) of its intended target, and a good pilot could drop his bombs within 10m (32ft). Two wing-mounted 7.92mm machine guns allowed the Stuka to return after dive-bombing runs to strafe their targets. The normal Stuka bomb load was a 1000kg (2200lb) bomb under the fuselage or a 500kg (1100lb) bomb under the fuselage and four 50kg (110lb) bombs under the wings.

To complement this capability the Stukas were fitted with sirens, so-called “Jericho Trumpets”, which produced a frightening whine. This, coupled with its vulture-like appearance, made being on the receiving end of a Stuka attack a terrifying experience.

If the Stuka had shortcomings it was in its short range, only 448km (227 miles) in normal close air support operations, and poor air-to-air capabilities. Whenever Stukas came up against determined fighter resistance they were at a distinct disadvantage, and were dependent on the Luftwaffe maintaining air supremacy to allow them to operate freely.

When the war began, just over 330 Stukas had been built and it remained in production until late in 1944, with some 5000 being built in 15 different versions.

From 1942, the Germans began to find themselves faced by huge Soviet tank formations made up of hundreds of T-34s. These were difficult to destroy with traditional dive bombing techniques, so work began to provide the Stuka with more accurate weaponry. The result was the Ju 87G-1, which sported two 37mm high-velocity cannons mounted in underwing pods. These could punch through the armour of any Soviet tank in service, and allowed Stuka squadrons to directly engage the massed tank waves used by the Red Army. It was with this version of the Stuka that Rudel became famously associated. The Germans also developed an early version of what are now known as cluster bombs to counter the large Soviet tank formations. The 500kg (1100lb) SD-4-H1 contained 78 hollow-charge submunitions that could penetrate the thin roof armour of even the heaviest Soviet tank, including the heavily armoured Josef Stalin II.

German close air support tactics were first put into practice during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), when the first generation of Luftwaffe pilots had a chance to experience modern combat. While the Stuka’s top speed of 400kph (250mph) compared poorly to the 574kph (359mph) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Luftwaffe’s top-line fighter, this was far from a disadvantage in the close air support role. Too much speed would have reduced the time Stuka pilots had to find their targets. The loitering presence of a Stuka squadron hunting for its targets and then swooping down, could be very terrifying for those on the receiving end of such an attack.

In Spain, Stuka pilots learned that the key to providing successful close air support was having good communications with friendly ground troops, who could pinpoint enemy positions and then direct air strikes against them. Combat experience in Poland and France later reinforced this and confirmed the validity of Stuka tactics. This saved the Stukas valuable time finding targets and also ensured that only targets that would influence the ground battle were engaged. So-called Stukaleiters, or Stuka controllers, were posted to each panzer division by the Luftwaffe. These men were usually serving Stuka pilots from the squadrons assigned to that sector of the front, to bind together the Stukas and panzers into a single force. Stukaleiters were given armoured halftracks to work in so they could keep up with the panzer commanders and had air-to-ground radios so they could talk-in attack aircraft to their targets. The Stukas have been described as the panzers’ “flying artillery”, but they brought more to the Blitzkrieg than just firepower. The Stukas ranged far ahead over hostile territory and provided German ground forces with early warning of troop strengths, movements and terrain obstacles.

While the Stukas reigned supreme in the Blitzkrieg battles of 1939 and 1940, when Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering sent them into action against British airfields during the Battle of Britain the thin German fighter cover available meant they suffered heavy losses.

Over the Mediterranean in 1941 the Stuka came into its own as an anti-ship weapon. Luftwaffe air superiority meant Royal Navy warships could be attacked without interruption by Stuka squadrons flying from Italian and Greek air bases. The Stuka’s dive-bomber systems proved highly effective against British warships, revisiting the successes enjoyed during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, when almost 250 Allied ships had been lost to German air power. The high point of the Stuka campaign in the Mediterranean theatre was the support for the airborne invasion of Crete in May 1941. After blasting open the Allied defences for the German paratroopers, who lacked tank or artillery support, the Stukas turned their attention to the Royal Navy warships sent to evacuate the defenders. Nine British warships went to the bottom and 15 were heavily damaged after becoming victims of dive-bombing.

The most famous Stuka pilot of the war did not begin his career at all auspiciously. In 1938, Hans-Ulrich Rudel was posted to one of the first Stuka squadrons, but was a slow learner, and far from popular with his peers because he did not join in the boisterous mess life typical of the prewar Luftwaffe. The 32-year-old Rudel was a teetotaller who did not smoke and spent all his time when not flying playing sport. A few months later he was shipped out to be trained as a reconnaissance pilot. After flying reconnaissance missions during the Polish campaign, he pressed to be transferred back to Stukas. His wish was granted, but it meant he missed the French campaign because he was undergoing flight training. Rudel was now assigned to perhaps the most famous Stuka wing of the war, Stuka Group 2 (SG) Immelmann, named after the famous World War I fighter ace. An argument with his commanding officer resulted in Rudel being grounded during the Greek and Crete campaigns, and being employed instead as a maintenance officer.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel in 1944.

Rudel on the Eastern Front

Rudel was determined to get into the action, and eventually a friend who commanded one of the wing’s squadrons relented, allowing him to fly as his wingman between his maintenance work on the flight line. He flew on the first day of the invasion of Russia and was in action on almost every day for the remainder of the war, except when he was in hospital or receiving medals from his Führer. The wing was in the thick of the action on the central sector of the Eastern Front, supporting panzer columns heading towards Smolensk and Moscow. Rudel became renowned for his determination to press home his dive-bombing runs, pulling up only at the very last minute to ensure his bombs landed on target.

In August 1941, Rudel’s wing was transferred to the Leningrad Front where German troops were besieging the cradle of the Soviet revolution. With Germans on the outskirts of the city, several Soviet Navy ships trapped in the Gulf of Finland regularly turned their big guns on their enemies. The Immelmann wing was given the task of knocking out the warships. Its main target was the 26,416-tonne (26,000-ton) battleship Marat. The wing’s first attack on 21 September with 500kg (1100lb) bombs failed to penetrate the warship’s armour, in spite of Rudel putting a bomb square on target after flying through an anti-aircraft barrage thrown up by 1000 guns.

When 1000kg (2200lb) bombs arrived at the wing, Rudel led a new attack on the Marat. He pressed home the attack with his typical determination and only released his bomb 300m (980ft) above the target. Rudel’s bomb penetrated the warship’s magazine. As it exploded in a massive fireball, Rudel struggled to regain control of his aircraft after blacking out, and only managed to pull it up 4m (12ft) from the sea. If that was not enough of a problem, three Soviet fighters now jumped the Stukas. The attack won Rudel the Knight’s Cross.

The Soviet winter offensive of 1941–42 saw the Immelmann wing supporting hard-pressed German defences in central Russia. When a Soviet tank column broke through the front and threatened the wing’s airfield, Rudel led air strikes that drove them back. For three days, the Stukas kept the Soviets at bay until the Waffen-SS Das Reich Division arrived to relieve the situation. By now Rudel had notched up more than 500 missions and was posted home to train a new Stuka squadron. Not wanting to be out of the action, he soon managed to pull a few strings and got his squadron transferred to southern Russia, where the Germans were pushing south to seize Stalin’s Caucasus oil wells. In the middle of the battle for Stalingrad, Rudel was diagnosed with jaundice but after spending a few days in a field hospital, he absented himself, returned to the front and took command of a squadron of the Immelmann wing. These were desperate days for the Luftwaffe in southern Russia. As Soviet tanks moved to surround the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad, units such as Rudel’s Stukas were needed to hold back the Red Army. The Soviet advance was rolling up one German airfield after another, making it more difficult for the short-range Stukas to help the trapped German soldiers.

Cannon Birds

Erich Rudel was now recalled to Germany to form the first experimental anti-tank Stuka unit equipped with the 37mm cannon-armed Ju 87s, dubbed “Cannon Birds’’ by their crews. Rudel took the unit to the Crimea to help counter a Soviet amphibious landing on the Kuban peninsula. The Cannon Birds proved to be an outstanding success against Soviet landing craft bringing troops and supplies ashore, with Rudel alone claiming 70 destroyed. Personally awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross by a grateful Führer for his work in the Kuban, Rudel was now posted back to the Immelmann wing in charge of its Ju 87 G-1 anti-tank squadron, in time to lead it during the July 1943 Kursk Offensive.

As expected, his squadron was in the thick of the action supporting II Waffen-SS Panzer Corps as it attacked on the southern axis of Operation Citadel. His Cannon Birds ranged ahead of the panzers, intercepting and destroying Soviet reserve tank columns moving to the front. Scores of tanks were claimed destroyed by Rudel and his wingmen, with the squadron commander alone claiming to have destroyed 12 T-34s on a single day. Experience taught the Stuka pilots to aim for vulnerable parts of the Soviet tanks, such as engine bays and turret roofs. The exhaust smoke of the Soviet tanks proved a useful aiming point for the Stuka gunners, and a hit against the engine often resulted in a catastrophic explosion. The Soviet practice of loading extra fuel drums on the rear of their tanks made them very vulnerable to Stuka cannon fire. To get a good shot at the T-34s, Rudel recommended dropping down to 15m (50ft) to give the Stuka pilot a good look at the target. Here the slow speed of the Stuka came into its own, because it gave the pilot plenty of time to lay his guns on target.

These attacks proved devastating to the morale of Soviet tank columns and the infantry who rode into the battle on the rear decks of the T-34s. To counter the Stuka threat the Soviets started to move anti-aircraft guns close to their tank columns. In turn, Rudel began to have a pair of bomb- and machine-gun-armed Stukas circling overhead as his Cannon Birds lined up for their attacks. The supporting Stukas would strafe and bomb Soviet anti-aircraft batteries that attempted to open fire. They also provided early warning of the appearance of Soviet fighters that were starting to challenge German air superiority on the Eastern Front. In spite of this covering fire, Rudel’s aircraft routinely returned to base full of bullet holes.

After Hitler’s Kursk Offensive stalled, the Soviets immediately opened a huge offensive against the northern wing of the German forces around Orel, opening a huge breach in the front. Rudel’s tank-killing Stukas were rushed northwards to help stabilize the situation and give ground reinforcements time to mobilize. In the midst of this chaos, Rudel’s aircraft was badly shot up, but he managed to make a forced landing behind German lines and return to the fray. Soviet offensives continued to require the close attention of the Immelmann wing, and Rudel was appointed to command its 3rd Group after his predecessor was killed in action. He had now flown some 1500 sorties and personally destroyed 60 Soviet tanks, earning him the Oak Leaves and Swords to his Knight’s Cross.

Time after time, his Stukas saved the day during the Soviet winter offensive in the Ukraine, culminating in a decisive intervention during the Battle of Kirovograd in November 1943, when Rudel and his pilots blunted an attack by hundreds of T-34s. By now Rudel and his Stuka pilots had been turned into national heroes, featuring almost daily in Nazi propaganda broadcasts announcing more tank kills, desperate situations saved and medals won. To the ordinary German soldiers, Rudel’s tank-killing Stukas were known as the “front fire brigade” because they were always called on to dampen down the most combustible sections of the front. While other Stuka units had switched to flying the two-engine Henschel Hs 129 armed with a 75mm cannon, or ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Rudel stuck with his trusty Ju 87. Rudel’s squadron operated from rudimentary forward air strips, and his leadership was instrumental in keeping his ground crews working in freezing weather to put damaged aircraft back in the air time and time again, with minimal spares, tools and facilities. Once in the air, Rudel’s pilots followed him into attack after attack. He appeared fearless. Even when shot down over enemy territory, he somehow managed to escape and return to the cockpit of a Stuka. This incident followed a successful attack to destroy a bridge over the River Dnieper in March 1944. Twenty Soviet fighters swooped on his squadron, forcing one of Rudel’s pilots to land in territory held by the Red Army. Rudel landed to try to pick up his man, only to have his aircraft get stuck in mud. Russian soldiers captured Rudel and his two comrades. He swam a river and walked 50km (31 miles) in an escape bid. Two days later, he reached German lines and was soon back in the air.

Tank killing with the G-1 model Stuka became a Rudel speciality, and by August 1944 he claimed his 320th tank kill. The collapse of the German Army Group Centre in July 1944 brought the Immelmann wing northwards to the Courland peninsula, where it was thrown into one desperate battle after another. In October Rudel was promoted lieutenant-colonel and given command of his beloved Immelmann wing. There was little time to bask in the glory, and he had to lead his fliers to Hungary to help Waffen-SS panzer divisions blast a corridor through to 100,000 German troops besieged in Budapest. Soviet fighters were now swarming over the Eastern Front, making it highly dangerous for the lumbering Cannon Birds to go into action. In the space of a few days Rudel was shot down twice, but returned to the cockpit of a Stuka with his leg in a plaster cast. With more than 2400 missions in his log book and 463 tank kills claimed, Hitler made him the only recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds in January 1945. Hitler tried to ground Germany’s most highly decorated soldier, but Rudel insisted on returning to combat duty leading his wing.

Russian tanks were now advancing into Silesia, and Rudel’s wing was transferred to try to contain the situation. Flying from German soil, Rudel’s Stukas were able to rescue several German units cut off trying to retreat westwards to safety. When the Soviets pushed a bridgehead over the River Oder in February 1945, Rudel threw his Stukas into action. He alone destroyed four Soviet tanks, before having an aircraft shot out from under him. After struggling back to base, Rudel took off again to continue knocking out more than a dozen Josef Stalin tanks. In the midst of another attack run his aircraft was blown apart by Soviet flak. Rudel woke up in a field hospital to find out his left leg had been amputated. Despite being told his flying days were finished, Germany’s top Stuka pilot had other ideas. Only six weeks later he was back flying from bases in Czechoslovakia. When Germany surrendered in May, he led the remnants of his Immelmann wing on a last flight to American-controlled airfields in southern Germany.

Tank Killers

Rudel was instrumental in developing the tactics of using cannon-armed aircraft in the anti-tank role. The exploits of his Stukas during the Battle of Kursk was the inspiration used by the United States Air Force in designing the A-10 Warthog tank-busting aircraft at the height of the Cold War, when there was a requirement to counter massed divisions of Soviet tanks in central Europe. This aircraft was built around a multi-barrelled cannon specifically to counter enemy tanks.

As a leader of warriors, Rudel was unsurpassed. He led from the front and set a pace that few could equal. In the course of 2530 missions, Rudel personally destroyed 517 Soviet tanks – the equivalent of five Soviet tank brigades. This was on top of a battleship, cruiser, 70 landing craft, 800 trucks, 150 artillery pieces, as well as numerous bunkers, bridges and supply dumps. He also managed to achieve nine confirmed air-to-air kills. Perhaps more striking was the fact that Rudel was shot down 30 times by ground fire, and wounded five times. On top of this, he successfully rescued six of his pilots who had been shot down behind enemy lines. This was the mark of the man, who ranked leading his men into battle as the highest duty of any soldier.

Creation of the German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force) Part I

Defeated in World War I due in no small measure to the allied tank forces, and denied tanks by the treaty of Versailles’ article 171, the new Reichsheer was very conscious of the importance of these revolutionary weapons. The question of what kind of tanks, what unit organization, and what operational concepts would be appropriate to create a German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force), however, would divide the German military as these issues divided the militaries of other nations—and in Germany’s case in 1919 they were a moot point anyway.

While the Daimler A7V was the only German tank model actually put into production and committed to combat in World War I, a variety of additional types of tanks were being constructed or had reached prototype stage when the war ended. These included the A7V-U, which had overhead tracks similar to the British Marks, and the super-heavy Grosskampfwagen (or “K-Wagen”) weighing 165 tons, having a twenty-two-man crew, and mounting four 7,7cm guns in side sponsons along with six machine guns. The K-Wagen was so large it could only be transported in twenty 5-ton sections. Two prototypes were built, both powered by Daimler-Benz engines. Conversely, the Krupp–built LK II, which looked like the British Whippet, weighed 10 tons and mounted either a 5,7cm gun or two machine guns in a fixed turret, and the prototype LK I had a revolving turret. While some of these models were destroyed under the treaty terms and the remaining wartime A7Vs were given to Poland, the LK II design and two prototypes were sold to Sweden. Ten light tanks were assembled from component parts there under the supervision of Josef Vollmer, the German engineer who had designed the LK II and the A7V, and were organized into the first Swedish tank unit in 1920. The LK II was produced by the Landsverk Company of Landskrona in southern Sweden as the M 21 (improved later as the M 21/29).

With the Rapallo Agreement and the establishment of the tank center at Kazan in the Soviet Union by 1926, the Reichsheer produced and tested “agricultural tractors,” among them the 10-ton Leichter Traktor with a 3,7cm gun in a revolving turret and Rheinmetall’s Grosstraktor of 20 tons mounting a 7,5cm or 10,5cm gun in a revolving turret and two machine-gun turrets. In 1933 Rheinmetall also produced the multi-turreted Neubaufahrzeug, or New Model Vehicle (NbFz); this prompted the Russian T-28, which became the standard Russian medium tank by 1939. Prototype A had a short 7,5cm gun and a 3,7cm coaxially in the turret, while the B version mounted 10,5cm and a 3,7cm guns. Both had machine-gun turrets, one fore and one aft. However, these formidable-appearing tanks had only thin 14.5mm (.5-inch) armor, thus weighing only 23 tons. The Germans subsequently produced a total of just six of the NbFz, though when they were offloaded at the Oslo docks during the 1940 Scandinavian campaign they created quite a sensation.

Later German panzer commanders who trained at Kazan (code-named “Kama”) included Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, subsequently commander of the panzer component of the Legion Condor sent to Spain and finally the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) in North Africa. The Rapallo relationship ended after Hitler and his NSDAP came to power in January 1933, and by autumn of that year the German bases in Russia were closed. Nonetheless Marshal Mikhail Tukachevsky, head of the Red Army, helped facilitate the return of some of the prototypes to Germany, including six of the large and three of the light “tractors.” The cooperation had been mutually beneficial for both the German and Russian armed forces, though ultimately they would clash as opponents.

In Germany, thanks to the favorable atmosphere created by von Seeckt’s policies, progress toward mechanization was carried out by the Inspektion der Kraftfahrtruppen (Inspectorate of Motorized Transport Troops) under Oberst (later General der Infanterie) Erich von Tschischwitz. He requested a general staff officer from the Truppenamt, which assigned Hauptmann Heinz Guderian—the man who would become “Vater der Panzerwaffe” (Father of the Armored Force)—effective 1 April 1922. Born 17 June 1888 at Kulm (Polish Chelmno) on the Vistula, Guderian trained with the 10. Hannöversch Jäger Bataillon (Hannoverian Light Infantry Battalion) and was commissioned an officer in 1908. During World War I he served on the Western Front as a staff and signals officer, including at the battles of Verdun and the Aisne, where he learned the importance of communications.

After the war, it was determined that Guderian should acquire some practical experience with transport troops, so in 1922 he was attached for three months to the 7. Bayerische Kraftfahr Bataillon (Bavarian Motorized Transport Battalion) in Munich. This unit was commanded by Maj. Oswald Lutz, with whom Guderian was to work closely in the years to come. While serving in various positions with the Motorized Troops Department, Guderian quickly became aware of the operational possibilities of mobile warfare, especially when Oberstleutnant Walther von Brauchitsch, later commander in chief of the army, organized maneuvers during the winter of 1923–24 to test possible coordination between mobile ground forces and tactical airpower. While Reichsheer maneuvers had to be conducted with canvas and wood mock-ups over wheeled vehicles to simulate “tanks” (at least for the world news media), Guderian was familiar with the tank warfare developments at Kazan and in 1929 witnessed the German-influenced Swedish developments. Guderian was “particularly delighted” to be sent to Sweden for four weeks in 1929, where he actually drove an LK II and witnessed tank maneuvers of the Strijdsvagn Battalion of the Gota Guards. He was also developing the concept of tactical armored formations being balanced formations of tanks and mobile infantry and artillery, the concept of the combined arms team:

In this year, 1929, I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies, the exercises carried out in England and our own experiences with mock-ups had persuaded me that tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until the other weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross-country performance. In such a formation of all arms, the tanks must play the primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to allow the tanks to fight with full effect.

Major Guderian’s conclusions were also the result of his reading the flood of writing on tanks and mechanization of the 1920s, and he acknowledged the work of the English thinkers such as Fuller, Martel, and Liddell Hart. (While some writers also credit the work of Charles de Gaulle as being an influence, de Gaulle’s major book was published in 1934, at a time when Guderian had already formulated his concepts and the first three panzer divisions were already being organized.)

Yet even in the German military there was resistance to mechanization. Tschischwitz’s successor at the Transport Troops Inspectorate, Oberst Oldwig von Natzmer, told Guderian motorized units were only “supposed to carry flour!” and after the 1929 maneuvers the new inspector, Gen. Otto von Stülpnagel, said that whole panzer divisions were a “Utopian dream.”8 But the chief of staff of the Inspectorate was Guderian’s friend, now Oberst Lutz, who secured Guderian command of the 3. Preussisch Kraftfahr Bataillon (Prussian Motorized Battalion) in 1930. Guderian reorganized the unit as a panzer reconnaissance battalion with armored cars, motorcycles, (dummy) tanks, and (wooden) antitank guns. In the following year Lutz, promoted to general, was named chief of the Inspectorate, and he made now Oberstleutnant Guderian his chief of staff. As in other countries, resistance to mechanization came from the infantry and cavalry branches. The Inspector of Cavalry, General von Hirschberg, was committed to developing heavy horse cavalry, although he was willing to pass reconnaissance operations to the motorized troops; but General von Knochenhauer, who succeeded him, sought to regain control of any such units.

Nonetheless, because of the Versailles constraints, the advocates of mechanization in the Reichswehr had support in various departments. In addition, denied tanks, these men could contemplate the types of tanks required to implement the evolving doctrine and organization, rather than fabricating operational and organizational concepts around inventories of (increasingly obsolete) tanks. To equip the battalions of the eventual panzer divisions, a light tank with a 3,7cm gun and a medium tank with a 7,5cm gun were envisioned. Guderian says that he and Lutz felt that the lighter tank should mount a 5cm gun with an armor-piercing shell given the trend toward heavier guns and thicker armor abroad, but the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Office) insisted on the 3,7cm because it was already in production as an antitank weapon.

The tank types would be similar, however: they had their weight limited to 24 tons (as German field engineer bridging weight limits were a factor), a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph), and a five-man Besatzung (crew) consisting of a Kommandant (commander), Richtschütze (gunner), and Ladeschütze (loader) in the turret, and Fahrer (driver) and Funker (radio operator and bow gunner) in the front hull. Crew intercommunications would be by larynx microphones, and all tanks would have radios. Thus while other national armies too often concentrated on firepower and armor—leading to tanks with poor communications systems and a tank commander acting also as gunner—the German concept would emphasize tactical coordination of tank platoons and tank companies, with individual tank commanders receiving orders and controlling the firing and maneuvering of their tanks. Though German tanks would be outgunned by heavier enemy tanks in 1940 and 1941, their tactical flexibility would enable panzer units to prevail.

In the interim, a small training tank could be more quickly produced, and in 1933 the Heereswaffenamt put out orders to Krupp, MAN, Henschel, Daimler-Benz, and Rheinmetall-Borsig to submit designs under the designation of Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper (LaS) or “agricultural tractor.” In December 1933 the Krupp chassis and the Daimler-Benz turret and superstructure were selected for development, and production began in 1934. The small, two-man, 5.3-ton tankette had two 7,92mm machine guns mounted in its turret. The LaS model A used a girder to steady the outboard ends of the suspension wheel axles. The B model had a more powerful engine (100 bhp to 57 bhp) and an additional bogie wheel on each side.

When an experimental vehicle was accepted for service, it was given a specific Ordnance inventory number as a Sonderkraftfahrzeug (special-purpose motor vehicle), abbreviated as Sd.Kfz. After Hitler’s Germany announced rearmament, this “agricultural tractor” was redesignated as the Panzerkampfwagen I (armored fighting vehicle) or Pz.Kpfw. I (Sd.Kfz. 101). While it served well its initial purpose as a trainer, it was also available to equip the first panzer divisions. “Nobody in 1932,” Guderian later said, “could have guessed that one day we should have to go into action with this little training tank.” Panzer or Wagen became the term for a tank, though “panzer” in its broader sense came to mean armored forces as a concept.

On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Kanzler (chancellor) of a nationalist coalition government. Whatever his ultimate racial and geopolitical policies, there is no question that mechanization of the German armed forces received dramatic stimulation through the personal interest and encouragement of the leader of the government. Guderian first sensed this when the chancellor himself opened the Berlin Automobile Exhibition at the beginning of February. In early 1934 Hitler inspected new equipment at Kummersdorf, sponsored by the Heeresamt, and Guderian was able to demonstrate the components of a panzer force: a motorcycle platoon, an antitank platoon, Panzer Is, and armored reconnaissance cars. The speed and precision movements of these units prompted Hitler to exclaim: “That’s what I need! That’s what I want to have!”

Meanwhile the insistent demands of Hitler’s brown-uniformed Sturmabteilungen (SA), or Storm Troop Detachments, for the “Second (Socialist) Revolution” and the replacement of the Reichswehr with a “people’s army” culminated in the bloody purging of Ernst Röhm and the SA leaders on the night of 29– 30 June 1934. While the suppression of the turbulent storm troopers was generally greeted with relief, many German officers were uneasy when Hitler assumed the office of the president with the death of Feldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August and they had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Führer himself.

By 1935 German rearmament was underway. Conscription was introduced and the Reichswehr was renamed the Wehrmacht (armed forces) by the Law for the Creation of the Armed Forces of 16 March 1935. On 27 September 1935 the cover name Inspektion der Kraftfahrtruppen was redesignated Kommando der Panzertruppe (Armored Troop Command), and on 15 October the first three panzer divisions were established: the 1. headquartered at Weimar, the 2. at Würzburg, and the 3. at Berlin. These first panzer divisions were originally organized with a panzer brigade of two regiments of two battalions with four companies each, totaling sixteen panzer companies with 561 Panzer Is. The infantry component was a motorized Schützenbrigade (rifle brigade) of a truck-borne rifle regiment of two battalions, and a motorcycle battalion, totaling nine rifle companies. The motorized artillery regiment had twenty-four truck-towed 10,5cm howitzers in two battalions of four-gun batteries. There was an antitank battalion of towed 3,7cm guns, an engineer battalion, a reconnaissance battalion of armored cars and motorcycles, a signals battalion, and medical, maintenance, and supply units. As artillery carried out fire missions from fixed positions, however, its full potential was retarded, subordinated to the overriding focus on mobility. (Self-propelled field artillery would not come into service until 1942.)

This organization resulted in a ratio of sixteen panzer companies to nine infantry companies, and peacetime maneuvers demonstrated a need for more infantry. Thus the next three panzer divisions—4., 5., and 10., created in 1938 and 1939—had a rifle brigade with a pair of two-battalion regiments, while the rifle regiment in the first three divisions was increased from two to three battalions each. The Cavalry branch also created armored forces in 1938, with four Leichte (Light) divisions (1., 2., 3., and 4.) very similar to the panzer divisions but with only one tank battalion. Subsequently they passed to the Kommando der Panzertruppe, and after the 1939 Polish campaign were reorganized as panzer divisions 6., 7., 8., and 9. In the 1939 organization the panzer divisions had a panzer brigade of two regiments with two battalions each. The battalions had seventy-eight panzers in a medium/mixed company (nineteen Pz. IIIs and IVs) and two light companies (twenty-four Pz. Is and IIs), and the ratio was now a more balanced one of twelve panzer to twelve infantry companies. With command panzers, the 1939 panzer division had 328 panzers, 3,183 troops in the rifle brigade, 24 artillery pieces, and with other elements had a total strength of 11,792 personnel.

Meanwhile the Panzer II (Sd.Kfz. 121), designed in 1935, entered production in 1937. The first prototypes weighed 7.5 tons and mounted a 2cm cannon and a machine gun in the turret. Though soon outclassed, the Panzer II was the primary panzer of the panzer divisions into 1940. It was characterized by having four or five large road wheels and four return rollers on each side (the drive sprocket being in front), and the chassis would later be utilized for self-propelled artillery, tank destroyer, and reconnaissance vehicles. The three-man crew consisted of a driver, the commander (who also traversed the little turret and loaded and fired the 2cm gun and MG), and a radio operator.

Other types of armored vehicles were developed to complement the panzers in the panzer division, including Panzerspähwagen (armored scout cars) in the Aufklärungsabteilung (reconnaissance battalion). Abteilung meant “detachment,” but also meant Bataillon, the two terms not being interchangeable. Thus a panzer battalion was an Abteilung (Abt.), while an infantry battalion was a Bataillon (Btl.). Like other nations, Germany had wheeled armored cars evolved from World War I. By 1939 the two basic types were the four-wheeled Sd.Kfz. 221 series and the eight-wheeled Sd.Kfz. 231 series. The four-wheeled scout car weighed some 4.8 tons, had a speed of 53 km/h (30 mph), and mounted a 2cm gun in an open turret. The thin armor was well-angled ballistically, the average being 55 degrees. The eight-wheeled armored car, the “Acht-Rad,” also mounted a 2cm gun but was larger, weighing 11 tons, with a top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph). Both Panzerspähwagen had full-wheel drive, self-sealing bulletproof tires, and unlike those of other nations, could be driven backward equally well as it could be driven forward, the rearward-facing radio operator serving as rear driver. Variants had the large-frame radio antenna apparatus; later versions of the Acht-Rad mounted a short or a long 7,5cm gun on the hull, while the Puma (Sd.Kfz. 234/2) mounted a high-velocity 5cm gun in an enlarged turret.

Creation of the German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force) Part II

In keeping with the panzer division concept of a balanced combined arms team, the infantry and artillery would be motorized to keep pace with the tanks, and capable of cross-country mobility. This was the genesis of the Halbkettenfahrzeuge (half-track vehicles) of the German Army that played a significant role in World War II. Only the United States developed similar vehicles as armored personnel carriers. In addition, field artillery was initially to be towed by half-tracks. The Halbkette principle was to have front wheels for steering and for road movement, while the weight of the chassis was carried on tracks for cross-country movement. Research conducted during World War I had resulted in Daimler’s “Marienwagen” and Benz’s “Kraftprotze,” though the war ended before these went into production.

In 1932 the Ordnance Office awarded at least six contracts for half-track vehicles of different sizes for specific purposes: a 1-ton series by Demag, a 3-ton series by Hansa-Lloyd-Goliath, a 5-ton series by Büssing-NAG, an 8-ton series by Krauss-Maffei, a 12-ton series by Daimler-Benz, and an 18-ton series by FAMO. Maybach supplied most of the six- or twelve-cylinder engines for these half-tracks. Turning of the steering wheel by the driver turned the front wheels, while turning more sharply braked one of the tracks. High road speed required lubricated track links and rubber track pads, though later wartime shortages of rubber resulted in steel tracks and greater track wear.

The 1-ton series vehicles were designated “leichter Zugkraftwagen 1t” (light traction vehicle 1 ton) and allocated Ordnance inventory number Sd.Kfz. 10. It was intended to tow the 3,7cm antitank gun, a light infantry howitzer, or an ammunition trailer. Later mounting the 2cm Flak 38 gun, the Sd.Kfz. 10/4 was the primary self-propelled flak gun. In 1939 it was modified to carry armor while shortening the chassis and eliminating one road wheel on each side. As the “leichter Schützenpanzerwagen” or light armored personnel carrier (Sd.Kfz. 250), at least ten versions later emerged, including command, communications, reconnaissance, mortar, antitank (3,7cm Pak—Panzerabwehrkanone), and fire support (short 7,5cm) vehicles. As combat vehicles these half-tracks weighed some 6 tons and had a road speed of 74 km/h (46 mph), though the 8–14mm (.3–.5-inch) armor only gave protection from small-arms fire, and the open compartment was susceptible to artillery fire.

The 3-ton series (Sd.Kfz. 11) was intended to tow the 10,5cm howitzer or an ammunition trailer. The Schützenpanzerwagen model (Sd.Kfz. 251) was produced in the largest numbers during World War II, with roughly 15,000 being produced in some twenty-three versions including engineer, mortar, medical, flamethrower, antitank, and flak versions. The SPW was the mainstay of the mechanized rifle units (redesignated panzergrenadier units in 1942) of the panzer division. As such it weighed 8.5 tons, mounted one or more machine guns, had a road speed of 52 km/h (32 mph), and carried a ten-man infantry squad who could quickly dismount through rear hull doors or over the sides. Its armor, however, was a thin 8–14mm, and it was open-topped because its function was as a troop carrier, not a fighting vehicle (although in combat, such as in France in 1940, it would often be used as such). The 251 series were technically sophisticated according to collector Guy Franz Arend of Belgium, but were rather underpowered. The American M3 half-track was mechanically more reliable, but the German version’s steel tracks gave it better cross-country mobility than did the American vehicle’s rubber tracks.

The 5-ton series Zugmaschine (Sd.Kfz. 6) towed engineer bridging equipment trailers or artillery, and later versions were self-propelled mounts for flak or Nebelwerfer (10-barrelled rocket launchers). This was also true of the 8-ton series (Sd.Kfz. 7), the prime mover for the 15cm howitzer or the versatile 8,8cm flak gun, also found to be effective in the antitank role. (In 1944 some were employed to tow the launching platform for the V-2 ballistic rocket and as fire guidance units.) Daimler-Benz produced the first heavy 12-ton half-track in 1931 in collaboration with the Russian government, and later versions of this Sd.Kfz. 8 towed the heavy 21cm mortar, the 24cm long-range gun, or the 10,5cm flak gun, at corps or army level.

The heaviest half-track was the 18-ton Sd.Kfz. 9 series, which provided the standard tank retriever for the army. A spade lowered from the rear gave ground purchase for winching power, and it could tow an eight-wheeled low-bed trailer that could carry the 24-ton Panzer IV. (By 1943, however, the heavier Tiger and Panther tanks required a Panther chassis modified as a Bergepanzer, or tank recovery vehicle.) The lightest tracked vehicle produced was the “Kettenkrad,” Kettenkraftrad or tracked motorcycle of 1940, type HK 101 (Sd.Kfz. 2). This 1.7-ton tracked vehicle with motorcycle steering could go 80 km/h (50 mph) and proved especially useful for negotiating rugged terrain and forest trails to resupply forward troops with ammunition and rations and evacuate wounded.

Most troops and supplies of the panzer divisions, however, were transported in Lastkraftwagen (Lkw, trucks). Contracts had been let to at least eleven different manufacturers, including Ford-Werke, Borgward, Mercedes-Benz, Büssing-NAG, Magirus, and MAN. An attempt at standardization was made with the 6×6 Uniform Diesel, but it proved too heavy and too expensive. The Lastkraftwagen were produced with a cargo weight capacity between 1.6 and 6.5 tons. The most numerous Lkw was the 3.6-ton Adam Opel Blitz Typ 3,6-36S, with a six-cylinder 3.6-liter gasoline engine. It proved reliable, and Daimler-Benz also produced the model under license. Some 95,000 of the standard Blitz-S were built, albeit only with two-wheel drive. In 1940 the Opel Blitz Typ 6700A appeared, and 25,000 would be built. This had 4×4 all-wheel drive, with two driving axles. Staff and officers generally rode in a Personenkraftwagen (Pkw, personnel vehicle), such as the medium Horch Kfz.15 (Kraftfahrzeug, motor vehicle) and the light Volkswagen Kfz.1.

Given the deep mud conditions in Russia during that campaign, wheeled Opel, Ford, and Magirus Lkws were also converted as half-tracks by Daimler-Benz. While wheeled vehicles bogged down in the Russian mud, fatally slowing the 1941 German campaign, the production and improvisation of half-tracks gave the Wehrmacht significant capability in subsequent campaigns.

Ordnance in the panzer division included Pak (Panzerabwehrkanone, antitank guns), Flak (Fliegerabwehrkanone, antiaircraft guns), and Artillerie (artillery). The standard antitank gun was the 3,7cm Pak 36. Its maximum range was some 4,000 meters (4,400 yards) though its muzzle velocity at 762 meters per second (2,500 fps) gave it an armor-piercing capability of only 36mm (1.4 inches) at 500 meters (545 yards) against armor inclined 30 degrees to the vertical with a Panzergranate (armor-piercing round). The Pak 36 was adequate against the slab-sided, thinly armor-plated tanks of the early war period, but after 1939 it was recognized that heavier tanks made better antitank guns necessary. The heavy French Char B1bis had 60mm (2.4-inch) frontal armor, and the British Matilda Mark II and Valentine had up to 76mm (3 inches). The 5cm Pak 38 gave a penetration at 500 meters of 61mm (2.4 inches), and the 7,5cm Pak 40 would penetrate 104mm (4 inches) at 500 meters or 89mm (3.5 inches) at 1,000 meters. In comparison, the standard US antitank gun used later in the war, the 57mm M1, penetrated 68mm (2.7 inches) at 1,000 yards. The Russians initially depended on the 14.5mm (.58-caliber) PTRD antitank rifle, but by 1943 had upgunned to a 57mm antitank gun. The Paks were on a two-wheeled carriage and towed, but were also mounted on Panzerjäger (tank destroyer) chassis. Most deadly against enemy tanks would be the 8,8cm (3.5-inch) Flak gun in a ground-firing role, famous as the “Acht-komma-acht” or “Acht-acht” (“eighty-eight” or 88mm to the Allies).

In addition to machine guns, air defense was provided by flak units (under the Luftwaffe). The 2cm automatic gun might be mounted as Zwillingsflak (twin guns), Drillingsflak (triple guns), or Vierlingsflak (quadruple guns). Next larger was the 3,7cm, the 5cm Flak 41, and then the 8,8cm flak gun. As an antitank gun, the 8,8cm Flak 36 was mounted in the later Tiger I panzer; it had a muzzle velocity of 792 m/s (2,600 fps), and when produced as the Pak 43 and mounted in the Königstiger (King Tiger), its muzzle velocity was 1,000 m/s (3,280 fps)—a speed that could penetrate any tank used during the war. The Russians and Americans used machine guns and automatic cannon as antiaircraft guns, though they do not seem to have used the heavier-caliber AA guns in an anti-armor role to the extent the Germans used the ubiquitous Acht-komma-acht. Larger German flak guns were the 10,5cm Flak 38 and the 12,8cm Flak 40.

The standard German divisional field artillery howitzer in the light artillery battalions of the artillery regiment was the 10,5cm leichte Feld Haubitze (light field howitzer) 18. The le.F.H. 18 had a maximum range of 12,250 meters (13,400 yards). In comparison the American 105mm howitzer M2 ranged 11,150 meters (12,200 yards). In 1941 the gun was fitted with a muzzle brake to control recoil. This permitted a longer-range charge to be fired, increasing the range by 1,600 meters (1,899 yards).

The standard German medium battalion howitzer was the 15cm schwere Feld Haubitze (heavy field howitzer) 18. The 15cm s.F.H. 18 had a range of 13,300 meters (14,630 yards). The later s.F.H. 18/40 had a muzzle brake and higher velocity, increasing the range to 15,000 meters (16,500 yards). The US medium 155mm howitzer M1 ranged a comparable 16,400 yards. The Russian 122mm howitzer M1938 ranged 11,800 meters (12,800 yards), and the 152mm gun-howitzer M1937 ranged 17,620 meters (18,000 yards). Of the longer-ranged Kanone (guns) with higher velocities, the 10cm K 18 had a range of 18,900 meters (20,850 yards) and the 15cm K 18 ranged 24,600 meters (27,000 yards). By comparison the Russian 122mm cannon M1931/37 had a range of 20,800 meters (22,600 yards), while the American 155mm (“Long Tom”) used in corps artillery ranged 23,600 meters (26,000 yards).

In Russia the Germans would encounter the “Katyusha” (“Little Kate”) multiple rocket launcher M13, organized in separate rocket regiments. Though inaccurate, a salvo of sixteen rockets from each launcher flared through the air with a terrifying scream, earning the launcher the nickname “Stalins Orgel” (“Stalin’s Organ”) from the German Landsers. The Russians used the Katyushas as short-range (9,000 meters or 9,800 yards) field artillery, firing massed salvos to saturate a target area, the flaring smoke trails arcing across the sky. Western armies, with their more precise fire-control computing and better communications, could fire accurate concentrations of regular artillery and carry out fire missions within minutes, even if they could not match the massive bombardments of the Russians.

Nonetheless the Germans had also developed multiple rocket launchers, including the Nebelwerfer, or chemical smoke mortar (to be feared in turn by American GIs as the “Screaming Meemie”). The Nebelwerfer was originally the larger 10cm version of the 5cm and 8cm infantry Granatwerfer (mortar) smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, projectile-firing ordnance. But the Nebelwerfer, first designed by Dr. Walter Dornberger (“father” of the later V-2 ballistic missile), were rocket-firing by 1931, evading the restrictions on artillery of the Treaty of Versailles because rockets were not covered.

The rockets were later organized in separate battalions and even regiments. Werfers ranged from the six-tubed 15cm NbW 41 firing its meter-long rockets in sequence, to larger 21cm, 28cm, and 32cm Werfers. A regiment of heavy Nebelwerfer could saturate a target area with 6 tons of explosive in five seconds, and repeat the barrage every minute. The rockets were also fired from frames mounted on the sides of half-tracks, and in 1944 they were mounted on the small 2-ton Opel Maultier (Mule). The Americans later utilized rocket launchers, including a sixty-tubed structure atop the M4 Sherman tank, and in landing craft supporting amphibious operations.

In 1939 the German Schützenkompanie (rifle company) had some 157 personnel in three rifle platoons. Each Zug in turn numbered forty-nine in three squads, and each Gruppe numbered thirteen. The standard Gewehr (rifle) was the reliable Mauser Karabiner 98k (kurz, or short carbine). It was a bolt-action 7,92mm rifle with a five-round magazine capacity. Other nations also had bolt-action rifles, such as the British Lee-Enfield and the Russian Mosin-Nagant. The Americans, however, were equipped with the semiautomatic M1 Garand firing an eight-round clip. But unlike American and British squad tactics, which emphasized marksmanship and support by a bipod-mounted automatic rifle, the German concept was volume of fire based on the squad light machine gun.

The American Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the British Bren Gun, and the Russian Degtyarev automatic rifles fired from a removable box or drum magazine. The Mauser Werke air-cooled Maschinengewehr 34 was also bipod-mounted, but was a belt-fed machine gun, yet light enough to be carried by one man. It had a rate of fire of over 850 rounds per minute. (It would be succeeded by the even better MG 42 with a rate of fire of over 1,200 rpm, with a quick barrel-change feature given the excessive heat generated.) On a more stable tripod mount both functioned as a schwere (medium) machine gun in weapons companies like those of other infantries.

German officers and vehicle crewmen, in addition to being issued the 9mm Walther Pistole 38, were authorized the submachine gun Maschinenpistole 38, later the MPi 40. Commonly misnamed the “Schmeisser,” the 9mm Ermawerke MPi fired at 500 rpm from a thirty-two-round box magazine, and was nicknamed the “Kugelspritzer” (“bullet-squirter”). Panzer crews and motorized infantry (later Panzergrenadiers) appreciated the metal folding stock of the MPi in the confines of a panzer or a Halbkette. The infantry also used antipersonnel and antitank Handgranate (hand grenades). Little changed from World War I was the Stielhandgranate 39 stick grenade (“potato masher” to the Western Allies), lobbed some 30 meters (33 yards) to explode within four to five seconds. Variants included a fragmentation sleeve, smoke, and illumination versions, as well as the lighter Eihandgranate 39 (egg-shaped grenades). Grenades could also be launched from the Karabiner 98k with a muzzle attachment and a propelling cartridge, extending the range to some 240 meters (265 yards).

Standard infantry-support weapons included mortars, flamethrowers, and mines. The muzzle-loaded 5cm leichte Granatwerfer (light mortar), comparable to the US 60mm mortar, had a range of 518 meters (570 yards). The 8cm schwere Granatwerfer, similar to the US 81mm mortar, had a range of 2,400 meters (2,625 yards). Encountering the large Russian 120mm mortar on the Eastern Front, the Germans copied it as the 12cm Granatwerfer 42, which had a range of 6,000 meters (6,700 yards).

Against fortifications the Pioniere (combat engineers) used hollow-charge explosives and flamethrowers. The Hohlladung (hollow- or shaped-charge) explosive was point-initiating and base-detonating, the blast focused by a cone forward at a standoff distance, “shaping” a jet stream to penetrate armor or concrete, and was used in a variety of munitions. The Flammenwerfer 35 was succeeded by the Flammenwerfer 41. This had two cylinders, one with compressed nitrogen for projection, the other with fuel, ignited by triggering hydrogen. Duration of the fire was ten seconds, in short bursts.

There were a variety of antipersonnel and antitank mines. The Schü-Mine (Schützen, or defense mine) was a bounding type. The 4-kilogram (9-pound) S-Mine 35 was triggered either by 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of foot pressure or by trip wire pull igniter, and a canister was propelled one meter (one yard) above the ground, spewing 360 steel balls or scrap steel with a killing radius of 10 meters (12 yards). The small half-kilogram (one-pound) Schü-Mine 42 was a handy booby trap that would cripple a soldier. Varieties of these AP mines were encased in wood or glass to foil metallic mine detectors, and usually had explosive anti-lifting devices; the only sure way to clear minefields was to probe for them with a bayonet on hands and knees.

There were some forty types of antitank mines. Typical was the 10-kilogram (21 lb) Teller (plate) Panzermine 35 triggered by 180 kilograms (400 pounds) of pressure on the pressure plate. This would disable a tank by breaking the track and often damaging a road wheel. The Soviets would be the most prolific at laying minefields, utilizing their TMB-2 and TM-41 antitank mines. Minefields were most effective with a pattern of AP and AT mines underground, and covered by defensive fire.

Tactically, German infantry procedures were closely related to their artillery operations, though these varied greatly depending on the mission, enemy forces and capabilities, available troops, and terrain and weather. Ideally there were four levels to a linear defense in depth manned by infantry units (though this formation was seldom employed until later in the war when German forces were increasingly on the defensive). The HKL (Hauptkampflinie) was the main line of resistance (US MLR), meant to repulse an enemy attack. The Gefechtsvorposten (combat outposts) were 1,800–4,500 meters (2,000–5,000 yards) ahead of the HKL, within range of the main line’s light artillery (10,5cm le.F.H. 18) batteries; these were more thinly manned than the HKL and intended to absorb the enemy attack. In front of the combat outposts was the Vorgeschobene Stellung (advanced position), some 4,500–6,000 meters (5,000–7,000 yards) beyond the HKL and covered by the longer-range medium artillery (15cm s.F.H. 18); it was manned by light forces tasked with delaying the enemy attack and perhaps forcing premature deployment. A Reserve position was to be several thousand meters behind the HKL, beyond range of enemy artillery, forcing a delay in their displacing batteries forward, and served as a position to which forces could fall back from the HKL and from which counter attacks could be mounted.

Defensive frontage width for an infantry unit was about double the attack frontage. A Kompanie (company) defended 400–1,000 meters (440–1,100 yards), a Bataillon defended 800–2,000 meters (880–2,200 yards), a Regiment defended 2,000–3,000 meters (2,200–3,300 yards), and a Division defended 6,000–10,000 meters (6,600–11,000 yards) or about 6–10 kilometers (4–6 miles). Defensive positions entailed entrenchments, wire entanglements, cleared fields of fire, and primary direction of fire and final protective lines for machine guns. Since World War I, minefields, laid with both AP and AT mines, had strengthened a defensive position. Mortars, AT guns, and artillery would also be sited. More permanent fortifications like the Westwall along the German border had steel-and-concrete bunkers (British “pillboxes”), gun positions, and antitank obstacles built by Organisation Todt (OT) construction units. Preferably field positions were disposed in depth for an elastic defense utilizing counterattack forces to restore a penetrated position, not a strictly linear defense.

Attack tactics had evolved since World War I, moving from the British “wave” tactics slaughtered by the machine guns on the Somme in 1916 to a new model of infiltration and surprise artillery tactics. This approach was developed by artillery Oberst Georg Bruchmüller and Gen. Oskar von Hutier in the Riga attack in 1917 and employed in the Westfront offensives of 1918. The new Panzerwaffe would play a significant role in this tactical evolution, though there were divergent concepts as to what this role would be. Some thought it should decisively strengthen an infantry breakthrough of an opponent’s main defenses. Others believed the primary role should be flanking, flank-and-frontal envelopment, and encirclement maneuvers and attacks. Political and international events in the 1930s began to be factors that determined what the role of the Panzerwaffe would be.

The Warsaw Ghetto I


‘Stroop,’ hissed Heinrich Himmler like a snake down the telephone line from Berlin, ‘you must at all costs bring down those two flags.’

SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop straightened himself, his gloved hand tightening around the receiver in anger.

‘Zu befehl, Herr Reichsführer,’ he snapped back stiffly, before replacing the telephone in its cradle. Walking a few hundred yards from his command post to the ‘front line’, Stroop narrowed his blue eyes and stared up at a tall building in Warsaw’s Muranowski Square. Black smoke was drifting across the sky from the many burning buildings, but in the breaks between each gust Stroop could make out the two flags that had Germany’s second most powerful man in a rage. Two young Jewish boys who had fearlessly braved the German gunfire had erected the flags the day before. One was the red and white Polish national flag, the other the banner of the Jewish resistance organization known as ZZW (Jewish Military Union). It consisted of a blue Star of David on a white background, today’s Israeli flag. Stroop, personally appointed by Himmler to crush the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, pulsed with fury. He knew the power of flags. ‘It reminded hundreds of thousands of the Polish cause, it excited them and unified the population of the General Government, but especially Jews and Poles,’ he wrote afterwards. A flag was worth a hundred machine guns in a situation like this. Stroop would topple those flags, just like he would crush the Jews who had had the temerity to make a stand against the Third Reich. The ragtag army of Jewish ‘terrorists’ who had already managed to throw the Germans out of the ghetto would be utterly destroyed. This was Stroop’s almost pathological determination. That he was also fighting women and children made no impression on him in the slightest. With such cold-hearted warriors, Himmler prosecuted his destruction of the Jews.

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the many ghettos created for the Jews by the Germans. A tiny part of the Polish capital that measured only 1.3 square miles had been fenced and walled off and housed between 300,000 and 400,000 people in squalid, overcrowded conditions. Disease and malnutrition had already killed thousands before the Nazis decided to reduce the population dramatically by shipping tens of thousands of inmates east under Aktion Reinhard. SS-und-Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik, Nazi police leader in the Lublin district of the General Government, had been ordered to progressively clear the ghetto, assisted by the head of the SiPo and SD in Warsaw, SS-Standartenführer Ludwig Hahn.

Globocnik’s surname gave away his non-German origins. Born in Trieste in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1904 to parents of Slav origin, Globocnik served in the Austrian and Yugoslav armies before becoming a member of the banned Austrian Nazi Party. To say that Globocnik was a fanatical Nazi would have been an understatement, and he served time in prison for his political beliefs and activities, which endeared him to Himmler. A key player in the German takeover of Austria in 1938, Globocnik was rewarded by promotion to Gauleiter of Vienna, a position he utilized to both persecute Jews and enrich himself. Caught by SS investigators with his hand in the till in 1939, Globocnik was convicted of foreign currency speculation, dismissed from his position and reduced to a corporal in the Waffen-SS. Sent to the front in Poland, Himmler ensured that his old friend was rapidly reinstated as a top Nazi leader less than a year later, when he appointed Globocnik SS-Brigadeführer and assigned him to Lublin province as Higher SS and Police Leader. Himmler placed him in charge of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and a series of other major Jewish population centres, and Globocnik excelled at these tasks.

The aristocratic SS-Oberführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, who had been in command of the Warsaw area since 1941, commanded Grossaktion Warschau on the ground, as the Germans termed the ghetto clearances. Globocnik maintained overall charge from a safe distance.

The turning point for the ghetto inhabitants occurred on 18 April 1942, when the SS began a process of executing inmates it deemed ‘undesirables’ before commencing with its clearance of the ghetto. On 22 July, the head of the Judenrat, or Nazi-appointed Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow, was called to a meeting headed by the German ‘Resettlement Commissioner’ SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, where he was informed that mass deportations to camps in the east would commence shortly. Czerniakow, feeling that he was helpless to protect his people from what looked to be an increasingly homicidal Nazi programme, committed suicide rather than cooperate and was replaced by Marc Lichtenbaum. It made no difference to Höfle’s timetable. Over eight weeks during the summer of 1942, cattle trains left the ghetto railway collection point twice daily, carrying between 5,000 and 7,000 people on each occasion east to camps, primarily the extermination centre known as Treblinka II. The SS recorded that a total of 310,322 Jews were ‘evacuated’ from the ghetto when this action ended on 3 October 1942. Although the population of the ghetto was greatly reduced, the Germans planned a second round of deportations for later in the year, and it was at this point that some of the more militant Jews decided to act.

The Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB) was formed in October 1942 with the intention of resisting further deportations. Led by an idealistic 24-year-old named Mordechai Anielewicz, its members were under no illusions as to their fate should they rise up against the SS police state. But they felt that they had nothing to lose, as the news filtering back from the eastern camps suggested that the Germans were murdering the evacuees. The ZOB received some weapons, ammunition and supplies from the well-organised Polish Home Army, a non-Jewish national resistance movement that was heavily supported by Britain. But the weapons were nowhere near plentiful enough for the ZOB to be considered a serious threat to the Germans. The ZOB only had 220 committed fighters in Warsaw, who were armed with a miscellany of handguns, grenades, rifles and home-made Molotov cocktails.

Anielewicz divided the ghetto into sectors, sending his small number of fighters to garrison each one. So short were they of arms that each sector only had three rifles, and within the entire Warsaw Ghetto the ZOB possessed just two land mines and one sub-machine gun with limited ammunition. More weapons would be smuggled into the ghetto once the revolt started, some were captured from the Germans and a few were even manufactured in secret arsenals, but the ZOB would remain vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Germans throughout the revolt.

A second ghetto resistance organization, the right-wing ZZW, received large quantities of arms, ammunition and supplies from the Polish Home Army’s affiliated National Security Corps (PKB), and on several occasions the Home Army would launch attacks on German forces that were assaulting the ghetto, trying to take some of the pressure off the ZOB and ZZW forces inside the walls that were resisting bravely. One PKB unit led by Henryk ‘Bysty’ Iwanski even fought inside the ghetto. Many of the resisters would be young women, who, the Germans noted grimly, fought as fiercely as their menfolk.

Himmler, who visited Warsaw in January 1943, ordered that the numerous armaments factories that had been established inside the ghetto, along with their Jewish labourers and machines, should be transferred to Lublin. The process began early on the morning of 18 January, when the temperature was minus 20°C. Grey army trucks loaded with 200 SS and 800 Ukrainian and Latvian SS auxiliaries roared into the centre of the ghetto. The round-up was timed to catch the 35,000 Jewish slave labourers on their way to work in the factories. The SS fired indiscriminately into the crowds before beginning to corral large numbers of people preparatory to marching them to the railhead. The sudden Nazi Aktion caught the Jewish resistance organizations completely off-guard. Trying to recover, they broke out their meagre supply of weapons or armed themselves with pipes, sticks and bottles. The Germans soon had long columns of Jews being herded towards the train depot when Anielewicz’s fighters suddenly opened fire. Whilst the stunned SS reacted to completely unexpected Jewish resistance, another group of SS stormed a building where a ZOB commander, Yitzhak Zuckerman, and forty of his fighters were holed up. Zuckerman had placed two armed lookouts in the large building’s foyer and they carefully took no notice as the SS swaggered through the main door and started for the staircase. Suddenly, one of the lookouts pulled out a revolver and shot two of the Germans in the back. The rest of the SS men, shocked and suddenly wrong-footed by this act of resistance, retreated from the building in some disarray, with the rest of Zuckerman’s fighters in pursuit. One more SS man was wounded in the intense gunfight that followed.

At Gestapo headquarters, there was considerable consternation. The Aktion was a complete failure, the Germans only managing to snatch 5,000 Jews instead of the 50,000 they had planned. Von Sammern-Frankenegg was humiliated. The Germans were aware that Poland’s resistance organization, the Home Army, numbered over 380,000 well-armed personnel, and throughout the occupation they feared what would happen if it rose against Nazi rule. The fear was that this sudden resistance by Jewish ‘terrorists’, as the SS labelled them, could spread to the non-Jewish Polish population. The Home Army was indeed watching events in Warsaw with interest, and was impressed by the bloody nose that a handful of poorly armed Jewish fighters had managed to inflict on Hitler’s ‘master race’. But the Home Army would refuse all entreaties to join in with the ghetto rising, preferring to wait until events favoured them – that is, until the Red Army arrived close to the Polish capital, an event that in January 1943 was judged to be a long time off. The Jewish leadership demanded weapons and ammunition to supplement what they had bought or manufactured, and in February the Home Army gave the ZOB fifty pistols and some hand grenades.

The ZOB organised itself for the defence of the Warsaw Ghetto. The problem for the fighters was that the ghetto was not contiguous; rather, since the mass deportations of 1942, large areas were empty of people and businesses. The ghetto was now divided into three separate parts, separated by depopulated zones. The ZOB split into three regiments, one for each sector, with the regiments subdivided into squadrons of varying sizes. Nine squadrons under the command of Anielewicz garrisoned the large centre ghetto, eight under Zuckerman the area of the Tobbens and Schulz armaments factories, and five under Mark Edelman in the smaller Brushmaker’s District on the western edge of the centre ghetto. In total, the ZOB fielded about 500 fighters.

During the daytime, the fighters joined the other ghetto Jews in labouring in the big German armaments factories that had been established inside the ghetto, while at night they practised fighting techniques and gathered supplies. Such was the dire shortage of weapons that at this stage only one-in-ten of the fighters actually had a firearm. Messages were sent again to the Polish Home Army asking for more weapons, whilst teams went around the ghetto collecting old bottles and burned-out light bulbs to be converted into Molotov cocktails. Drainpipes were cut up and converted into rudimentary grenades and a trickle of guns were bought off the Polish black market and smuggled into the ghetto.

The ZOB and ZZW had also conducted some house-cleaning. They had executed those members of the quisling Jewish Ghetto police that remained, and also any Gestapo or Abwehr intelligence agents that had infiltrated the ghetto, a number that sadly also included a member of the Judenrat.

The Jewish resistance leaders knew that the Germans would return and avenge their loss of face, as well as try to round up the workers they demanded. So it was essential that the fighters construct bunkers from which to mount a prolonged defence of the ghetto. Anielewicz criticized the bunker mentality of many of his co-leaders, and instead pressed that the Jews use the upper storeys and roofs of tall residential buildings to dominate the Germans. His argument prevailed and ZOB units took post high up over the streets, as well as helping to construct bunkers and tunnels down below.

Von Sammern-Frankenegg was under considerable pressure from his superiors to get on with clearing the ghetto. Perhaps overconfident of his troops’ ability to complete the task, and with little combat experience of his own, von Sammern-Frankenegg decided to break into the ghetto on 19 April and complete the task that he had been set. On the morning of 19 April, the ZOB and other Jewish resistance groups were on high alert after word had reached them of German troops massing near the ghetto entrances. This time the Jews would not be taken by surprise. From their posts on the edge of the Brushmakers’ District, Jewish lookouts reported an awe-inspiring and terrifying sight. Hundreds of SS troops were forming up into companies, the ring of their jackboots on the streets was loud and portentous, while behind them came a fleet of army trucks, a couple of tanks, some armoured half-tracks, light artillery pieces and motorcyclists. The Germans clearly meant business. Even further back, the lookouts reported SS ambulances and field kitchens setting up. Communications trucks with tall radio masts were also observed. For the handful of Jewish fighters it was a terrible moment – these poorly armed civilians, with only the most rudimentary training, were about to face highly disciplined and motivated SS troops who outnumbered them many times over and had an awesome array of support weapons available. As the lookouts watched and listened to the crunch of marching boots, the growl of diesel and petrol engines and the squeal of tank tracks on city roads, the SS started singing. The Nazi Party anthem, the Horst Wessel song, carried into the ghetto – the sound of death approaching.

The SS assault commenced at precisely 6.00am – though perhaps the word ‘assault’ is a little misleading. Maybe von Sammern-Frankenegg thought that a show of force would cow the Jews into submission, for the 1,000-man SS column came on in parade ground formation, marching six abreast. What the SS didn’t realize was that they were marching straight into a trap. The walling in of the ghetto actually created problems for the Germans when it came to storming the place, for it meant any attacking force would have to be funnelled through one of the gates into the ghetto. The Jewish resistance leaders realized that they could turn this to their advantage, and they stationed most of their fighters and weapons to cover these gates. They had also buried in the roads home-made Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that could be set off electrically. Once the SS had been permitted to advance through the gate and down the main street, lined on each side by tall buildings, the IEDs were detonated with devastating results. Several SS men were literally blown to pieces and the explosions and flying shrapnel wounded many. From the tall buildings, the Jews unleashed heavy fire. The Germans were stuck inside a man-made canyon, and any movement forwards or backwards attracted fire. About 500 yards away, near the north end of Cordial Street, an identical battle was soon raging. The SS also attempted to breach the ghetto wall on Muranow Street, while yet more SS tried to get onto Zamenhof Street, the main route to the railway terminus where the Jews would be loaded onto trains and shipped east. Four Jewish units defended Zamenhof Street, determined to prevent any more of their people from being sent out of the ghetto by train.

Cordial Street was swept by Jewish fire, and grenades were hurled down at the SS. In desperation, von Sammern-Frankenegg only made things worse by ordering forward reinforcements, which simply increased the number of targets for the Jewish fighters. German casualties mounted. Fighters on Zamenhof Street even managed to knock out a German tank with firebombs and explosive charges.

Von Sammern-Frankenegg watched his force being poleaxed by the Jews from the safety of a nearby hotel balcony. This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to the SS. Moving inside, he walked up to the tall, lean officer whom Himmler had sent to find out what was going on.

‘We can’t get into the Ghetto,’ said von Sammern-Frankenegg, shaking his head with disbelief as he spoke. SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop curled his lip in disgust at his colleague’s defeatist attitude. ‘What are your casualties?’ Stroop enquired.

‘Twelve dead at the last report. The Jews have also wrecked a panzer and burned out two half-tracks,’ replied von Sammern-Frankenegg in a low voice.

A few minutes earlier, Stroop had been on the phone with von Sammern-Frankenegg’s superior in Krakow, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Kruger. Kruger was furious with the aristocratic von Sammern-Frankenegg’s desultory performance and talked of having him arrested for impugning the honour of the SS.

‘I’m assuming command,’ snapped Stroop coldly to von Sammern-Frankenegg. ‘Mobilize all forces at once.’ Stroop was cut from very different cloth to von Sammern-Frankenegg, and had the personal confidence of not just Kruger but Heinrich Himmler himself.

Born into a strict, even fanatical, Catholic family in 1895, Stroop had served as a combat soldier during the First World War. He received the Iron Cross 2nd Class for bravery in 1915, and after the war took a job in a land registry. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and was soon commissioned in the SS, working in Münster and Hamburg. During the German occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938, Stroop, by now an SS-Standartenführer, continued to impress his superiors. In Poland in 1939–40, Stroop commanded the notorious Selbstschütz in Poznan, where the unit committed numerous atrocities. Between July and September 1941, Stroop commanded an infantry regiment of the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf on the Eastern Front, being awarded the Clasp to his Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Infantry Assault Badge. Promoted to SS-Brigadeführer on 16 September 1942, Stroop commanded the SiPo and SD of the Higher SS and was Police Leader in Russia South, later becoming SS and Police Leader in Lvov in February 1943. It was from this post that Himmler selected the 48-year-old Stroop, who remained a virulent and extremely vocal anti-Semite until his death, to suppress the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt.

The Warsaw Ghetto II

Although Jewish fighters had successfully beaten off von Sammern-Frankenegg’s ill-coordinated assaults, they remained extremely short of arms and ammunition. Further appeals were made to the Polish Home Army, but they only offered to help evacuate Jewish fighters from the ghetto and have them join up with Home Army units in the forests around Warsaw. This was something that the fighters had no intention of doing at this stage of the battle.

Stroop reorganized the units that he inherited from von Sammern-Frankenegg and put together a fresh assault during the afternoon of 19 April. To liquidate the ghetto, Stroop had at his disposal 36 officers and 2,054 men from several parts of the Third Reich’s armed services. The main assault forces consisted of Waffen-SS troops from two training units. These men had received about a month’s training, though their NCOs and officers were all seasoned combat veterans. SS Panzer Grenadier Training Battalion III Warschau numbered 444 men and supplied replacements to the 3rd SS Panzer Grenadier Division Totenkopf. The 386-man SS Cavalry Training Battalion Warschau (part of the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer) was well armed and ideologically conditioned for the task at hand. The Ordnungspolizei (Order Police) provided two small units for the operation: 1st Battalion, SS Police Regiment 22 (97 men) and 3rd Battalion, SS Police Regiment 23 (137 men). The regular German Army was also involved in the battle, providing a light flak battery and two combat engineer units. Perhaps the most feared of the units that Stroop deployed were the 337 men of the Trawniki 1st Battalion, an auxiliary SS unit composed mostly of Latvians, many former Soviet prisoners-of-war noted for their barbarity towards the Jews. Trawnikis staffed concentration camps under regular SS officers and NCOs and had a well-deserved reputation for violence and murder. Stroop was particularly pleased with his Trawnikis, noting that they couldn’t speak Polish, so they could not communicate with the Jews.

Stroop’s men assaulted the gate area at the intersection of Zamenhof and Goose Streets. This time, instead of blindly marching into the ghetto, Stroop ordered a careful advance, with units covering each other as they moved forward by rushes. The idea was to deal with one strongpoint at a time, then move on to the next, street fighting as they went.

Before the troops went in, Stroop ordered a short artillery barrage, causing a serious distraction that allowed his forward units to move into position unmolested. The Germans then erected a temporary barricade out of hundreds of mattresses taken from a warehouse on the corner of Goose and Cordial Streets. By now the Jewish fighters had opened up a heavy fire, and grenades and Molotov cocktails soon set the barricade on fire, the SS retreating with one man wounded. In their fury, some SS entered the ghetto hospital and began shooting the patients in their beds.

It was during that first day that two Jewish boys climbed up on to a tall building in Muranowski Square and hoisted the Polish national flag and the Star of David banner of the ZZW. The flags managed to fly for four days, despite repeated German efforts to capture the building upon which they flew, the flags clearly visible to the rest of the Polish population in Warsaw. It was a call to arms to all Poles, regardless of their religion. The last thing Himmler wanted was the non-Jewish Poles joining in the revolt against the harsh German occupation of their country.

Stroop had discovered, much to his shock and disgust, that the Germans who were supposed to have managed and overseen the armaments factories inside the ghetto had actually allowed the Jewish workers a great deal of autonomy in running the concerns. This meant that in the months leading up to the uprising, Jews had access to chemicals for manufacturing explosives, and even army clothing and equipment. Large amounts had been stolen and cached ready for use when the rebellion broke out. ‘The managers knew so little of their own enterprises that the Jews were able to produce arms of every kind,’ wrote an amazed Stroop to Himmler, ‘especially hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, etc., inside these shops.’

The factories and enterprises became strongpoints during the uprising, the Jews setting up resistance bases and continuing to manufacture weapons and explosives during the course of the struggle.

Stroop changed his tactics, deploying units separately through previously defined fighting zones. In this manner, the Germans ‘combed out’ each sector of the ghetto, killing or rounding up Jewish fighters as they went. The fighters were forced from their positions on the rooftops to the basements, bunkers and sewers. The fighters, largely composed of young Jews aged between 18 and 25, kept popping up to fight. Some decided to fight their way out of the ghetto. The SS recorded one incident where a group climbed from a sewer basin in Prosta on to a truck and escaped with the vehicle. The group, which numbered thirty to thirty-five people, was well armed. One fighter threw two hand grenades while the rest, armed with carbines, pistols and one light machine gun, climbed on to the truck and drove off. The Germans never recovered the truck or apprehended the fighters.

The SS closed off the sewer system to try and prevent Jews from escaping into the rest of Warsaw, and then attempted to flood the system. But the Jews managed to blow up the turn-off valves, defeating Stroop’s attempt to drown them beneath the city.

During 20 and 21 April, following bitter fighting, the SS gained control of most of the residual ghetto. The basement and sewer bunkers that the Jews had constructed were large and well-equipped, with enough space for entire families to shelter. Some had washing and bathing facilities, toilets, arms and munitions storage bins and food stocks for several months. SS and army troops stormed one bunker after another, using maximum force and causing maximum destruction and casualties.

Resistance in the factory complexes was also fanatical. One particularly difficult strongpoint was located inside the Army Quartermaster’s Office. SS troops tackled it on 18 April by bringing forward Wehrmacht combat engineers armed with flamethrowers. Artillery was also used against the building. But the Jewish fighters inside wouldn’t give up, the whole edifice eventually being burned to the ground on 19 April with the fighters still inside.

After five days of fighting, the ghetto was badly damaged, many buildings were on fire or already gutted shells, the rattle of small arms echoing down the ruined streets, the occasional thump of a grenade or IED booming across the city. The Germans discovered that flamethrowers were particularly effective at dealing with Jewish positions. Stroop was under considerable pressure from above to contain the revolt and crush all resistance as quickly as possible. The whole episode was becoming an embarrassment for the SS, and particularly for Himmler. They all knew that only a few hundred poorly armed Jews were running rings around the much-vaunted SS. Even the regular army was starting to make disparaging comments about the fighting abilities and leadership of the SS. More than one was comparing what was occurring inside the Warsaw Ghetto to the monumental battle for Stalingrad, coining the name ‘Ghettograd’.

Although the Germans managed to overrun Cordials Street, they were met by heavy resistance off Muranowski Square on the ghetto’s northern edge. The building where the flags flew became a ‘fort’ to Stroop. Trying to take it cost Stroop one officer killed and fifty-two men wounded. Stroop changed tactics and decided to concentrate his efforts on capturing the smallest part of the ghetto, the Brushmaker’s District. When the SS tried to storm through the main gate, the Jews detonated a huge IED that they had buried there, killing and wounding many SS. The Germans pulled back in some disarray.

On 22 April, following days of bitter fighting, Stroop offered the Jewish fighters surrender terms, which they disdainfully rejected by opening fire on the two SS officers who came forward under a white flag to offer them. They remained under no illusions about what would happen to them if they fell into German hands, regardless of Stroop’s attempts to trick them into giving up. Stroop, with Himmler breathing down his neck, and aware of how his predecessor von Sammern-Frankenegg had fallen from grace, urged on his troops to complete the destruction of the ghetto with renewed brutality. The fate of von Sammern-Frankenegg would stand as a stark warning of the consequences of failure before Himmler. Just two days after Stroop’s surrender offer to the ghetto defenders, von Sammern-Frankenegg was court martialled for ineptitude and accused of ‘defending Jews’, an interesting charge considering that he had been responsible for shipping over 250,000 of them east from Warsaw for ‘resettlement’. Found guilty, von Sammern-Frankenegg was transferred to a frontline anti-partisan unit and later killed in an ambush in Croatia in September 1944.

On 22 April, after reorganizing his men, Stroop launched another attack on the Brushmaker’s District, but the defending Jewish units concentrated all of their firepower on the SS force. Stroop was rapidly becoming disillusioned with combat operations. It was clear that the Jews were using the kinds of tactics that the Soviets had utilized so successfully at Stalingrad against the overwhelming manpower and firepower of the German Sixth Army. The Soviets called it ‘hugging the enemy’, conducting very close-quarters street fighting where the Germans could not use their support weapons or aerial superiority without fear of hitting their own men, and simultaneously draining away the Germans’ numerical strength and morale. Stroop quickly determined that to continue to launch conventional attacks on the various sectors of the ghetto would only result in ‘Ghettograd’ and his probable removal from command.

Himmler was also growing increasingly nervous about the revolt. On 23 April, he ordered Stroop to clear the ghetto with ‘the greatest severity and ruthless tenacity’. This was good news for Stroop as it freed him from any concerns about causing damage to the city and its infrastructure. He quickly formulated a fresh plan and telephoned Kruger in Krakow. ‘I have therefore decided,’ said Stroop, ‘to embark on the total destruction of the Jewish quarter by burning down every residential block, including the housing blocks belonging to the armament enterprises.’ Kruger approved.

Stroop’s new method for ending the revolt was to burn down all of the houses and buildings inside the ghetto using flamethrowers and to dynamite basements, cellars and sewers in an effort to eradicate what both sides termed ‘bunkers’. Massive fires swept through the ruined ghetto streets, with many Jews perishing in the flames or being shot down by German troops as they fled the conflagrations.

The sewer system proved difficult to capture. SS, Police or Wehrmacht troops entering sewers were often met by heavy fire. The Germans resorted to hurling smoke grenades down open manholes in an attempt to force the Jews out. In a more coordinated effort, 193 sewer entrances were opened at the same time and smoke bombs thrown in. Many of the ghetto fighters suspected gas and fled to the centre of the ghetto, while explosives or gunfire killed numerous others.

After a few days the ghetto was reduced to a pile of smoldering ruins. It looked as though it had been carpet-bombed by aircraft. On 27 April, Stroop ordered a large, well-coordinated mopping-up operation. A force of 320 German and Latvian SS, two tanks and some half-tracks managed to clear out most of the remaining pockets of resistance around Muranowski Square. But the Germans continued to be ambushed from behind, often by Jews dressed in captured SS uniforms, which made the Germans very nervous and hesitant. One tank was knocked out in an ambush and the Jews managed to hold out until nightfall before either being killed or retreating.

Whilst the fighting continued, the German destruction policy had netted results. Thousands of Jews fled the fires and were rounded up by the SS for immediate transportation to the east. By 2 May, Stroop was able to report to Kruger that he had apprehended a total of 40,237 Jews.

On the same day, the Germans assaulted Mark Edelman’s position. Army engineers managed to blow a way into the large bunker. Taking charge, Edelman organized its defence. The fighting lasted for seventy-two hours, with seven German casualties reported. Half of the Jewish fighters were killed and the rest managed to escape. On 6 May, the Germans withdrew from the vicinity and Edelman and the survivors moved to another bunker on Pleasant Street, a vast underground complex that had been carefully constructed over the space of a year. Here, Mordechai Anielewicz and 300 ZOB and ZZW fighters were holed up. The bunker was soon completely surrounded by the SS. Many of the fighters, including Anielewicz, killed themselves with poison on 8 May to avoid capture, while Edelman and a handful of survivors somehow made it out and escaped apprehension and death.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising officially ended on 16 May 1943. The occasion was marked when Stroop personally pushed the plunger to trigger explosives that the SS had rigged in Warsaw’s Great Synagogue. With the synagogue’s symbolic destruction, Stroop could report to Himmler that Jewish resistance in Warsaw had been brought to an end. The SS and Wehrmacht had destroyed a total of 631 ‘bunkers’ throughout the ghetto. With typical Teutonic efficiency, the SS collected and catalogued all the weapons that they had captured or recovered after the battle. It was not an impressive haul, considering the doggedness of the resistance that the Germans had encountered. Of course, many weapons were not recovered, being buried under collapsed buildings, destroyed by fire or taken out of the ghetto by the surviving fighters. The SS listed just seven Polish, one Russian and one German rifle captured, along with fifty-nine pistols of various makes, several hundred hand grenades, Molotov cocktails and home-made explosives. The SS also recovered 1,240 German uniforms that the resisters often used to travel around the ghetto during the fight or to launch ambushes against the SS.

The destruction to the centre of Warsaw was staggering – just eight buildings were left intact after the uprising. Sporadic resistance continued and it was not until 5 June that the last shots were exchanged between the remnants of the ghetto fighters and German forces.

For those Jews who were captured or remained in the ghetto at the conclusion of the uprising, their fate was transportation to camps in the east. Over 13,000 ghetto inmates had perished during the uprising and 50,000 were herded onto cattle trains and shipped out. Of 7,000 Jews who had been transported to Treblinka II on 19 April, shortly before the uprising started, many would be involved in fomenting a fresh revolt that occurred in the camp on 2 August 1943. According to SS records, the Germans lost seventeen men killed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and 101 wounded, though these figures may be on the conservative side.

The non-Jewish Polish population of Warsaw, with some notable exceptions in the Home Army, did not rise up in support of the ghetto fighters. ‘The Polish population by and large welcomed the measures taken against the Jews,’ alleged Stroop in his official report to Himmler. How much truth there was in Stroop’s statement cannot be ascertained. It was certainly true that Poles had killed Jews en masse under German encouragement earlier in the occupation. At Radzilow, Polish peasants had murdered 800 Jewish inhabitants. And at nearby Jedwabne, the entire Jewish population had been herded into the only synagogue and burned alive. It had been fear of a Polish-led pogrom that had first fired the ghetto Jews into forming self-defence militias. But though most Poles passively watched the events of 1943, they would rise up in Warsaw in 1944, with tragic consequences.

Stroop records that a total of 265,000 ghetto Jews were transported from Warsaw to Treblinka between 22 July and 12 September 1943,24 closing the ghetto. Himmler was pleased with Stroop’s leadership during the operation to liquidate the ghetto and he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.

For the major perpetrators, justice for the uprising came in many forms. The Polish underground instituted the British-sponsored Operation Bürkl in October 1943, deliberately targeting Franz Bürkl, a senior Nazi official in the General Government, who was cut down by assassins from the Polish Home Army in Warsaw. As mentioned, Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg was killed in an ambush in Croatia by Yugoslav partisans in 1944. Odilo Globocnik committed suicide in May 1945 to avoid war crimes charges. Jürgen Stroop, the man who had orchestrated the crushing of the uprising with the utmost brutality, was arrested by the US Army in 1945 and subsequently handed over to the Poles. Stroop was hanged in Warsaw in March 1952, totally unrepentant to the end. Another Warsaw Ghetto administrator, SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Conrad, whom the ghetto inmates had nicknamed ‘The King of the Ghetto’ as he had consistently enriched himself by stealing valuables off the Jews, was also hanged by the Poles in Warsaw in 1952. But by and large the SS and Trawnikis who did the actual killing either didn’t survive the war or managed to reintegrate into post-war society and never faced prosecution. The brave and determined stand of the Warsaw Jews showed the world that the Jews were not prepared to submit to destruction without a fight, and the fight had both alarmed and deeply unsettled the Germans. But the Germans also learned many valuable lessons from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, lessons that they would put to good use when it came to liquidating the other major Jewish ghettos.