CB Lutzow

17lutzow-july1943

17lutzow-july1943

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Deutschland was the lead ship of her class of heavy cruisers (often termed a pocket battleship) which served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. Ordered by the Weimar government for the Reichsmarine, she was laid down at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel in February 1929 and completed by April 1933. Originally classified as an armored ship (Panzerschiff) by the Reichsmarine, in February 1940 the Germans reclassified the remaining two ships of this class as heavy cruisers. In 1940, she was renamed Lützow, after the Admiral Hipper class heavy cruiser Lützow was handed over to the Soviet Union.

The ship saw significant action with the Kriegsmarine, including several non-intervention patrols, during which she was attacked by Republican bombers in the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of World War II, she was cruising the North Atlantic, prepared to attack Allied merchant traffic. Bad weather hampered her efforts, and she only sank or captured a handful of vessels before returning to Germany. She then participated in Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway. Damaged at the Battle of Drøbak Sound, she was recalled to Germany for repairs. While en route, she was torpedoed and seriously damaged by a British submarine.

Repairs were completed by March 1941, Lützow returned to Norway to join the forces arrayed against Allied shipping to the Soviet Union. She ran aground during a planned attack on convoy PQ 17, which necessitated another return to Germany for repairs. She next saw action at the Battle of the Barents Sea with the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, which ended with a failure to destroy the convoy JW 51B. Engine problems forced a series of repairs culminating in a complete overhaul at the end of 1943, after which the ship remained in the Baltic. Sunk in the Kaiserfahrt in April 1945 by Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers, Lützow was used as a gun battery to support German troops fighting the Soviet Army until 4 May 1945, when she was disabled by her crew. Raised by the Soviet Navy in 1947, she was subsequently sunk as a target in the Baltic.

World War II

On 24 August 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland, Deutschland set sail from Wilhelmshaven, bound for a position south of Greenland. Here, she would be ready to attack Allied merchant traffic in the event of a general war following the attack on Poland. The supply ship Westerwald was assigned to support Deutschland during the operation. Deutschland was ordered to strictly observe prize rules, which required raiders to stop and search ships for contraband before sinking them, and to ensure that their crews are safely evacuated. The ship was also ordered to avoid combat with even inferior naval forces, as commerce disruption was the primary objective. Hitler hoped to secure a negotiated peace with Britain and France after he overran Poland, and he therefore did not authorize Deutschland to begin her raiding mission against British and French shipping until 26 September. By this time, Deutschland had moved south to hunt in the Bermuda-Azores sea lane.

On 5 October, she found and sank the British transport ship Stonegate, though not before the freighter was able to send a distress signal informing vessels in the area of Deutschland ’s presence. She then turned north to the Halifax route, where on 9 October, she encountered the American ship City of Flint. The 4,963 gross register tons (GRT) freighter was found to be carrying contraband, and so was seized. A prize crew was dispatched to the ship; they took the ship with the original crew held prisoner to Germany via Murmansk. The ship was seized by Norway when she anchored in Haugesund, however, and control of the ship was returned to the original crew. Meanwhile, on 14 October, Deutschland encountered and sank the Norwegian transport Lorentz W Hansen, of some 1,918 GRT. The same day, she stopped the neutral Danish steamer Kongsdal, though when it became apparent that she was headed for a neutral port, the prisoners from Lorentz W Hansen were placed aboard her and she was allowed to proceed. Kongsdal would eventually report to the British Royal Navy the incident and confirm Deutschland as the raider operating in the North Atlantic.

Severe weather in the North Atlantic hampered Deutschland ’s raiding mission, though she did tie down several British warships assigned to track her down. The French Force de Raid, centered on the battleship Dunkerque, was occupied with protecting convoys around Britain to prevent them from being attacked by Deutschland. In early November, the Naval High Command recalled Deutschland; she passed through the Denmark Strait on 15 November and anchored in Gotenhafen on the 17th. In the course of her raiding mission, she sank only two vessels and captured a third. In 1940, the ship underwent a major overhaul, during which a raked clipper bow was installed to improve the sea-keeping qualities of the ship. At this time, she was re-rated as a heavy cruiser and renamed Lützow. Hitler in person made the decision to rename the ship, recognizing the propaganda value of the sinking of a ship that bore the name of its country. Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander in chief of the Kriegsmarine, also hoped that renaming the ship would confuse Allied intelligence; the Admiral Hipper-class cruiser Lützow was designated for sale to the Soviet Navy, and it was hoped that the usage of her name for Deutschland would hide the transaction. The refit lasted until March 1940, after which it was intended to send the ship on another commerce raiding operation into the South Atlantic. In April, however, she was assigned to forces participating in the invasion of Norway.

Operation Weserübung

Lützow was assigned to Group 5, alongside the new heavy cruiser Blücher and the light cruiser Emden, under the command of Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz. Kummetz flew his flag in Blücher. Group 5 was tasked with capturing Oslo, the capital of Norway, and transported a force of 2,000 mountain troops from the Wehrmacht. Lützow embarked over 400 of the soldiers for the voyage to Norway. The force left Germany on 8 April and passed through the Kattegat. While en route, the British submarine HMS Triton attacked the flotilla, though her torpedoes missed. German torpedo boats attacked the submarine and drove her off.

Shortly before midnight on the night of 8 April, Group 5, with Blücher in the lead, passed the outer ring of Norwegian coastal batteries. Lützow followed directly behind the flagship, with Emden astern. Heavy fog and neutrality requirements, which required the Norwegians to fire warning shots, permitted the Germans to avoid damage. The Norwegians, including those manning the guns at the Oscarsborg Fortress were on alert, however. Steaming into the Oslofjord at a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), the Germans came into range of the Norwegian guns; the 28 cm, 15 cm and 57 mm guns opened fire on the invaders. During the ensuing Battle of Drøbak Sound, Blücher was hit by many shells and two torpedoes. She quickly capsized and sank with the loss of approximately 1,000 sailors and soldiers. Lützow was hit three times by 15 cm shells from Oscarsborg’s Kopås battery, causing significant damage.

Lützow ’s forward gun turret was hit by one of the 15 cm rounds, which disabled the center gun and damaged the right barrel. Four men were wounded. A second shell struck the ship’s deck and penetrated the upper and main armored decks; starting a fire in the cruiser’s hospital and operating theater, killing two soldiers and severely wounding six others. A third struck her superstructure behind the port-side aircraft crane. One of the aircraft on board was damaged, and four gunners were killed by the third shell. The ship was only able to fire her secondary battery in return. The heavy damage forced Lützow and the rest of the squadron to reverse course and exit the fjord. She eventually landed her troop complement in Verle Bay, after which she used her operational 28 cm guns to provide fire support. By the afternoon of 9 April, most of the Norwegian fortresses had been captured and the commander of the remaining Norwegian forces opened negotiations for surrender. The delay had, however, allowed enough time for the Norwegian government and royal family to flee Oslo.

The damage Lützow sustained prompted the Kriegsmarine to order her to return to Germany for repairs. The rest of Group 5 remained in Norway, so Lützow cruised at top speed to avoid submarines. Regardless, the British submarine HMS Spearfish attacked the ship and scored a serious hit. The torpedo destroyed Lützow ’s stern, causing it to collapse and nearly fall off, and blew off her steering gear. Unable to steer, she was towed back to port and decommissioned for repairs, which lasted for nearly a year. During the attack on Norway, the ship suffered nineteen dead, and another fifteen were killed by the torpedo strike. Despite the setback, KzS August Thiele, Lützow ’s commander, was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Drøbak Sound, during which he took command of the task force after the loss of Blücher.

She was recommissioned for service on 31 March 1941, after which the Kriegsmarine initially planned to send the ship on the commerce raiding operation planned the previous year. Her sister Admiral Scheer was to join Lützow for the operation, and on 12 June, she departed for Norway with an escort of destroyers. British torpedo bombers attacked the ship off Egersund and scored a single hit that disabled her electrical system and rendered the ship motionless. The crew effected emergency repairs that allowed her to return to Germany; repair work in Kiel lasted for six months. By 10 May 1942, the ship was finally pronounced ready for action.

Deployment to Norway

Lützow left Germany on 15 May 1942 for Norway; by 25 May she had joined Admiral Scheer in Bogen Bay. She was made the flagship of the now Vizeadmiral Kummetz, the commander of Kampfgruppe 2. Fuel shortages restricted operations, although Lützow and Admiral Scheer were able to conduct limited battle training exercises. Kampfgruppe 2 was assigned to Operation Rösselsprung, a planned attack on the Allied convoy PQ 17, which was headed to the Soviet Union. On 3 July, the force left their anchorages, and in heavy fog Lützow and three destroyers ran aground and suffered significant damage. The British detected the German departure and ordered the convoy to scatter. Aware that surprise had been lost, the Germans broke off the surface attack and turned the destruction of PQ-17 over to the U-boats and Luftwaffe. Twenty-four of the convoy’s thirty-five transports were sunk. Lützow returned to Germany for repairs, which lasted until the end of October. She began a brief set of trials starting on 30 October. She returned to Norway in early November with a destroyer escort, arriving in Narvik on the 12th.

On 30 December, Lützow, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, and six destroyers left Narvik for Operation Regenbogen, an attack on convoy JW 51B, which was reported by German intelligence to be lightly escorted. Kummetz’s plan was to divide his force in half; he would take Admiral Hipper and three destroyers north of the convoy to attack it and draw away the escorts. Lützow and the remaining three destroyers would then attack the undefended convoy from the south. At 09:15 on the 31st, the British destroyer Obdurate spotted the three destroyers screening for Admiral Hipper; the Germans opened fire first. Four of the other five destroyers escorting the convoy rushed to join the fight, while Achates laid a smoke screen to cover the convoy. Kummetz then turned back north to draw the destroyers away. Captain Robert Sherbrooke, the British escort commander, left two destroyers to cover the convoy while he took the remaining four to pursue Admiral Hipper.

Lützow meanwhile steamed toward the convoy from the south, and at 11:42 she opened fire. The harsh conditions negatively affected her shooting, which ceased by 12:03 without any hits. Rear Admiral Robert Burnett’s Force R, centered on the cruisers Sheffield and Jamaica, standing by in distant support of the Allied convoy, raced to the scene. The cruisers engaged Admiral Hipper, which had been firing to port at the destroyer Obedient. Burnett’s ships approached from Admiral Hipper ’s starboard side and achieved complete surprise. Lützow was then ordered to break off the attack on the convoy and reinforce Admiral Hipper. Lützow inadvertently came alongside Sheffield and Jamaica, and after identifying them as hostile, engaged them, though her fire remained inaccurate. The British cruisers turned toward Lützow and came under fire from both German cruisers. Burnett quickly decided to withdraw in the face of superior German firepower; his ships were armed with 6 in (150 mm) guns, while Admiral Hipper and Lützow carried 20.3 cm (8.0 in) and 28 cm (11 in) guns, respectively.

Operations in the Baltic

Hitler was furious over the failure to destroy the convoy, and ordered that all remaining German major warships be broken up for scrap. In protest, Raeder resigned; Hitler replaced him with Admiral Karl Dönitz, who persuaded Hitler to rescind the order to dismantle the Kriegmarine’s surface ships. In March, Lützow moved to Altafjord, where she experienced problems with her diesel engines. The propulsion system proved to be so problematic that repairs in Germany were necessary. She briefly returned to Norway, but by the end of September 1943, a thorough overhaul was required. The work was completed in Kiel by January 1944, after which she remained in the Baltic Sea to conduct training cruises for new naval personnel.

On 13 April 1945, twenty-four Avro Lancaster bombers attacked Lützow and Prinz Eugen without success due to cloud cover. The RAF made another failed attack two days later, but on 16 April, a force of eighteen Lancasters scored a single hit and several near misses on Lützow with Tallboy bombs in the Kaiserfahrt. The water was shallow enough that her main deck was still 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above water, permitting her use as a stationary gun battery against advancing Soviet forces under control of Task Force Thiele. She continued in this role until 4 May, by which time she had expended her main battery ammunition. Her crew rigged scuttling charges to destroy the hull, but a fire caused the explosives to detonate prematurely. The ultimate fate of Lützow was long unclear, as with most of the ships seized by the Soviet Navy. According to historians Erich Gröner and M. J. Whitley, the Soviet Navy raised the ship in September 1947 and broke her up for scrap in 1948–1949. Historians Hildebrand, Röhr and Steinmetz, in their book Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe, state that she instead sank off Kolberg, claiming that the Lützow broken up in the late 1940s was instead the Admiral Hipper-class cruiser Lützow that had been sold to the Soviet Union in 1940. The historian Hans Georg Prager examined the former Soviet archives in the early 2000s, and discovered that Lützow actually had been sunk in weapons tests in July 1947.

Units: Deutchland (Lutzow), Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf Spee

Type and Significance: German heavy cruisers that are popularly called pocket battleships owing to the size of their primary weaponry.

Dates of Construction: Laid down between 1929 and 1932. All were completed by January 1936.

Hull Dimensions: 610′ 3″ x 70′ 10″ x 19′

Displacement: 11,700 tons

Armor: A belt between 2.25 and 3 inches thick, a deck 1.5 inches deep, and turret armor up to 5.5 inches thick.

Armament: Six 11-inch guns in two triple-gunned turrets, one each being located fore and aft. Also armed with eight 5.9- inch guns, six 4.1-inch pieces, eight 20.8-inch torpedo tubes, an assortment of antiaircraft guns, and two aircraft.

Machinery: Diesel engines that generated 54,000 horsepower.

Speed: 28 knots

Complement: 619-1,150

Summary: Although these vessels caused a great deal of concern in other countries such as France due to their armament, the protection was that of a regular cruiser rather than a more powerful vessel suggested by the nickname pocket battleship. None survived World War II. The Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled on 17 December 1939 after the Battle of the River Plate. The Admiral Scheer was sunk on 9 April 1945 by an Allied bombing raid. The Deutchland, renamed the Lutzow, was scuttled on 4 May 1945 after being badly damaged in an Allied bombing raid.

Normandie Groupe Air War: Kursk I

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Wishing to avenge the defeat at Stalingrad and at the same time show the German nation that its armies could triumph over the Communist hordes, Hitler ordered the German High Command (OKW) to prepare an attack against the Kursk salient, an operation that would carry the code name ‘Citadel’. With orders to go back on the offensive the German Army started a massive build-up of men and matériel in the Kursk region in preparation for a major pincer attack against Soviet positions in the Kursk and Orel salient. Soviet intelligence had already gained information from its ‘Lucy’ spy ring, a group of Soviet spies operating from Switzerland. They had informed Stalin that the Kursk operation Citadel was planned to take place between 3 and 6 July. Then on 4 July 1943 a reluctant Yugoslav draftee from the German Army deserted to the Russian lines and informed his Russian interrogators that a massive German attack was due for the next day (5 July) at 2 a.m. He also identified the location where the main armoured force was gathering for the big thrust forward. The Soviet Army, already well prepared, now knew the actual time and place where the main enemy attack would start.

The German offensive in the Kursk salient would be the last major tank battle of the Second World War. It was to be the largest clash of armour ever to take place; it has been described as the biggest land battle in history. At the start of the battle the German forces consisted of 900,000 men, 2,700 tanks and 1,800 aircraft. The Soviets had over 1 million men, 3,300 tanks and over 2,000 aircraft. Both sides would send in heavy reinforcements as the battle progressed; in one instance a German train full of new factory-delivered tanks was caught by the Soviet Air Force and destroyed before its cargo could be unloaded. It was here the new Ferdinands, heavy-calibre guns mounted on massive tank chassis, would be given their baptism of fire. As well, the updated Tiger tanks would be deployed for the first time in large numbers; over 100 would go into action at Kursk. The Soviets deployed the new Yak-9T attack aircraft, which were to prove that the Red Air Force had yet another superb aircraft, this time with a heavy-hitting 37mm cannon firing through the aircraft’s nose cone.

By 7 July the Germans had penetrated about 7 miles. Then after a long dry period the rain started to fall during the battle fought at Prokhorovka, where the Germans lost 400 tanks and 10,000 men in one day. Guderian, the German general, watching from his command vehicle, remarked that he could see the Soviet T-34 tanks streaming like rats over the battlefield in numbers that were simply overwhelming. Another black day for the enemy was 10 July, when the Germans lost 200 tanks and over 25,000 infantry killed. The Kursk battle continued with unabated ferocity. On 12 July the Soviets launched a counter-offensive in the north on the right flank against Orel where they were facing Model’s 9th Army with 3rd Panzer Corps and numerous infantry divisions. To the south of Kursk, Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army, which included Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps, was heavily engaged. It was near the town of Prokhorovka that a further 400 German tanks were destroyed during this desperate and determined clash with Soviet armour. Overhead the battle for control of the sky had become an important part of the overall conflict. Just as the ground battle below was being determined by the numerical might of the Soviet’s heavy armour, so the aerial combat strength of the Soviet Air Force was proving to be a decisive factor as the Soviets sent in mission after mission of bombers against the German tanks and massed infantry forces. Soviet covering fighters stormed in against the attacking Bf-109s and Fw-190s; the enemy had put up a massive aerial protective shield to assist their advancing ground forces. It has been estimated that 65 per cent of the Luftwaffe in Russia were involved in the Kursk battle, but what turned out to be the real disaster for the enemy was that 70 per cent of his tank forces on the Eastern Front were now engaged in this greatest of all land battles.

The Soviet Air Force was determined to defeat the enemy and win control of the sky over the battle area of Kursk and Orel. This it did, in the process destroying over 200 Luftwaffe aircraft on 10 July alone. During combat missions flown over the battle region, Normandie was constantly involved in escorting and protecting Pe-2 and Il-2 bombers. These heavily armoured aircraft had orders to attack the German forces around the Orel salient, where Model’s 9th Army was leading the attack in this northern sector. In the course of these covering missions Normandie was continually in combat with large groups of German fighters over the whole Northern Front. Normandie’s aggressive and successful fighting abilities were to prove second to none, although the price paid was high, with six pilots lost in combat during the Orel campaign. Kursk was a terrible and wasteful defeat for the Germans; their entire tank reserves were spent in this futile battle. Their tank production was never to make good these massive losses. The Soviets claimed 70,000 German dead and the destruction of 3,000 enemy tanks. The Soviet tank losses were equally heavy, but Soviet factory production was geared to replace them. The Germans claimed they had destroyed 1,800 Russian tanks in the southern sector alone.

At the end of the battle the Soviet forces had captured more ground and were poised to advance into the Ukraine. By 6 August they had liberated Bielgorod. On the 23rd the city of Kharkov was liberated. The Normandie Groupe was mentioned in the Soviet ‘Orders of the Day’ for its successful part in this momentous battle. For its contribution to the victory, Normandie gained the battle honour orel, an honour title that would now appear on its regimental colours.

AERIAL RAMMING OF ENEMY AIRCRAFT

It was at this time that the French pilots started to hear of startlingly heroic actions undertaken by individual Soviet pilots during the air battles above Kursk. A new form of ferocious aerial combat was taking place that involved ramming enemy aircraft. The main aim was to slice the tail off the German aircraft with the propeller, a procedure that was to be known as the ‘falcon or taran attack’ (sokolnyjudar). All Soviet air regiments kept a record of these heroic and drastic events. During the Kursk campaign, which lasted eight weeks, aerial ramming of German aircraft was successfully carried out on forty-seven occasions. If the ‘falcon’ ramming attack was executed at sufficient altitude, there was always a chance for the Soviet pilot to parachute to safety. Of the forty-seven successful falcon attacks during the Kursk campaign, fifteen of the pilots did actually get their aircraft back or made forced landings, and nine managed to parachute to safety, but records show that twenty-three pilots were killed after these dramatic engagements. This form of aerial attack was not new to Russian aviation; in 1915 Kapitan Pyotr Nesterov rammed the German aircraft flown by Baron von Rosenthal, both pilots dying in this falcon attack.

The Soviet statistics for these heroic attacks are quite staggering: 595 confirmed falcon attacks took place during the Second World War: 558 by fighters, 19 by Il-2s (Stormoviks) and 18 by Pe-2 bombers. One Soviet ace of twenty-eight victories, pilot B. Kovzan, was the leading exponent of this feat; he had accomplished no fewer than four successful taran attacks. On his last ramming he lost his left eye, but after surgery and recovery he went back on combat missions to claim a further six German aircraft destroyed, shooting them down in traditional combat. Records confirm that two pilots each performed three successful taran attacks, and thirty-four pilots accomplished this form of deadly attack twice. Some of these rammings took place after guns had jammed or ammunition had run out; the frustration caused in the heat of the moment could lead to these heroic last-ditch actions. Eventually this form of suicidal attack was forbidden by direct orders from Stalin. In 1994 the Russian Federation struck a Nesterov medal to be awarded to Air Force personnel for exceptional service; on the obverse of the medal is the portrait of Kapitan Nesterov.

NORMANDIE’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE OREL OFFENSIVE

The Normandie Squadron Diary written at the time tells that from 10 July, starting at 10 p.m., an artillery bombardment of great violence was unleashed on the Orel front; bombers passed over all night long and the sky was illuminated by large explosions and flares. Artillery bombardments lasted all the next day and the following night; explosions formed a continuous rumbling. A truly big offensive was under way. At 8 a.m. on 12 July Normandie sent up fourteen Yaks; they were split into two groups and accompanied eighteen Pe-2 bombers, while a further 28 Pe-2s joined the mission, which was to bomb positions just a few kilometres behind enemy lines. The pilots reported that the anti-aircraft fire was still very heavy and German lines were hidden under a cloud of smoke. From the Soviet side of the lines Normandie pilots saw dozens of artillery blasts occurring at the same time. At the first passage of the bombers the anti-aircraft fire was very violent as the armoured Stormoviks, which were flying at low altitude, attacked the enemy batteries; at the second passage the Pe-2s found that the anti-aircraft fire was now much weaker. All the aircraft returned without having been hit. Enemy fighters did not intervene. Towards noon, shortly after the Pe-2s’ attack, artillery fire ceased and the Soviet counter-attack with tanks and infantry was unleashed. As the tanks rolled forward they were covered with Red Army soldiers, who clung to any hand grip available around the tanks’ turrets.

During the Orel offensive on 12 July, a German fighter pilot, who appeared to be suffering from exhaustion and combat fatigue, came in to land and surrendered his Fw-190, which was in perfect condition. This small drama took place on the landing strip immediately next to Normandie, whose French pilots on the strip at the time were amazed by the unexpected visitor. Later, those who were interested in the German Fw-190 went over to examine the enemy aircraft closely. Early that evening the same Fw-190 was taken up and flown by an experienced Soviet pilot, who executed combat exercises in company with two Yak-9s flown by pilots of the 18th Guards Air Regiment serving on the strip next to Normandie. On 31 July this same German Fw-190 was extensively comparison-tested against a Yak-9 at Katiounka.

In the evening Normandie sent up fifteen more Yaks to accompany ten Il-2s that were heading for the bridge at Tsin, which was being used by scores of German tanks and heavy equipment moving into action. This important objective was covered and defended by about twenty-four Bf-110s forming two defensive circles, one above the other, and circling in opposite directions. The Bf-110s got ready to attack the Stormoviks but the Yaks attacked first and forced the enemy to break the circle, after which the Bf-110s became vulnerable. And so it was that Littolff, Castelain and Durand each shot down a Bf-110. The Normandie pilots observed the Stormoviks successfully attacking enemy troop concentrations in and on the edge of the woods. All the Il-2s and Yaks returned to base safely. On 12 July the Red Army claimed that more than 300 German tanks had been destroyed during the day, and Normandie was told the Soviet counter-attack was going to continue throughout the night.

Normandie Groupe Air War: Kursk II

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The battle for Kursk had taken a massive toll of German men and armour. With the best part of 3,000 tanks destroyed and reserves now depleted, Hitler was forced to order a halt to the offensive. The enemy started pulling troops and equipment out of the salient. It appeared that the Wehrmacht needed to redeploy troops and tanks to Italy. As the Allies had just landed in Sicily, Italy was going to become another front, forcing Hitler to deploy his extended forces. During the last days of the battle a train-load of German reserve tanks including some Tigers arrived straight from the factories to reinforce the crumbling front line, but this much-needed delivery was caught while it was being unloaded from flat railway wagons. Soviet bombers found and destroyed them before they could even leave the railhead.

Hitler’s gamble of a pincer movement around the Soviet forces at Orel and Kursk had failed and, with his dwindling reserves of heavy armour now further depleted, Hitler had no option but to end the battle and withdraw. This failed operation had lost so many tanks that factory production, suffering from Allied bombing and material shortages, would never again be able to catch up with operational needs. Although the Soviets lost about the same number of T-34 tanks, the Soviet factories were in full production and, not suffering from air attacks, made up the losses within six weeks. The destruction of German tanks had become such an important objective for Red Army tank crews that drastic measures were taken to achieve this end. Some individual tank crews, out of ammunition or with guns disabled, would ram the tracks off German panzers; they would do anything to stop the German tanks advancing. Here again Red Army foot soldiers took heroic risks to destroy the advancing enemy tanks. At the Anniversary Victory celebrations in Red Square in June 1985, Viktor Kanoyev reminisced, his story reflecting the heroic determination of the ordinary Red Army soldier during those crucial days. While Kanoyev was serving in the defence of Stalingrad, he used a desperate method of dealing with advancing German tanks when anti-tank guns or ammunition were not available. Placing himself squarely in front of an approaching tank in a crouching position, at the last moment he threw himself on his back between the two massive tracks, and as the tank passed over he attached a heavy limpet mine to the underside; a few yards further on the tank blew up. He repeated the same procedure on a second tank. His commander awarded Kanoyev the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class. He was wearing that same decoration forty years later at the soldiers’ tomb beside the walls of the Kremlin.

On 14 July at 7.30 a.m. a parade took place on the base in honour of the national day. French and Soviet personnel were gathered together in a clearing beside the landing strip. Paul de Forges read a fine order of the day from Commander Tulasne. Because of Normandie’s busy activity during the Orel offensive, the simple ceremony lasted only 10 minutes; on this day the tricolour flew over this little corner of French soil. The new dining room was inaugurated and, thanks to Aspirant Corot, the menu was varied and copious. In the afternoon seven Yaks commanded by Pouyade left to fly escort protection for Stormoviks that were going to attack enemy troop concentrations in the Balkov region. Four Bf-110s that were covering the enemy positions were immediately attacked by Pouyade, Préziosi, Béguin, de Tedesco and Albert. As a result two Bf-110s were shot down, one jointly by Pouyade and Béguin, the other by Albert; these two victories were confirmed by Red Army troops on the ground. Lieutenant de Tedesco did not return from the mission. A Yak-9 was seen by Albert to dive towards the ground trailing smoke, but searches in the area have so far not had any positive results. All the Stormoviks returned safely to base.

Castelain (Littolff’s winger) was attacked by three Fw-190s and was separated from his patrol chief. He assaulted an Fw-190 that spiralled upwards into the tail of an unknown Yak, whereupon it was fired on and exploded in a ball of flames. Castelain also attacked a Ju-87, part of a formation that was bombing Soviet troops. Castelain had to break off the engagement as he was very low on fuel, and was forced to land some distance away from the strip. He was collected and returned to base in the much-used U-2 liaison aircraft. Thus on 14 July Normandie honoured France with three certain victories and twenty-five combat sorties. Unfortunately, on this festive evening Lieutenant de Tedesco was not among his comrades; his gaiety and spirit were missed. General Zakharov, Commander of 303rd Air Division, together with about twenty Soviet officers were invited to dinner. During the evening Zakharov read a telegram of congratulations from General Gromoff, Commander of the Soviet First Aerial Army, addressed to the Normandie Groupe.

The next day, during late afternoon, eight Yaks commanded by Durand flew protecting escort with six Il-2s in the Krasnikovo region. The Stormoviks attacked convoys of armour and mixed vehicles travelling along roads heading for the Orel front, also hitting some that were returning. There was no sign of any enemy aircraft. At 7 p.m. eight Yaks commanded by Tulasne accompanied Stormoviks to the Balkov region, north of Krasnikovo. On arrival at the target the Stormoviks were attacked by two Bf-110s coming in from the front at low altitude. Tulasne and de Forges dived at them and opened fire. The Bf-110 attacked by de Forges left his mate while trailing smoke; the commandant pursued the second, which was hedge-hopping, for about 10 minutes until finally it landed on its belly in a cloud of smoke and dust some 4km north-east of Orel. All the Yaks and Il-2s returned safely to base.

At 10 a.m. on 16 July, twelve Yaks left on a covering mission for troops on the ground in the Krasnikovo region. Three Bf-110s were spotted and attacked by Littolff and Castelain; Littolff shot down one, which landed on its belly. Castelain assaulted the second several times; the Bf-110 was hit and crashed to the ground in multiple pieces. During this time Pouyade, Préziosi, Béguin, Durand, Risso and Vermeil attacked a Fw-189 as it bombed Soviet troops. The assault of the six Yaks continued for quite a while and finally the Fw-189 was shot down, as confirmed by the troops in the area. All the fighters returned without having been hit. At 2 p.m. eight Yaks commanded by Tulasne left on a covering mission in the Krasnikovo area. On arrival in the region they noticed a group of fifteen Ju-87s heading for Krasnikovo. The Littolff, Castelain and Léon patrol, with the sun behind it in a classic attack mode, fired into the last group of the Ju-87s; the Pouyade and Bernavon patrol also attacked the Ju-87s; the Tulasne and Albert patrol stayed alert as protection at a higher altitude. The Littolff and Castelain patrol was attacked by three Fw-190s and three others made a strike on Léon, who turned in time and brought one down in a shower of sparks and flames. Léon was drawn upwards by the two remaining Fw-190s and found four Fw-190s awaiting him. He escaped by diving and returned towards Soviet lines by hedge-hopping, pursued closely by the four enemy fighters, which attacked him in turn. In the course of these assaults Léon succeeded in shooting down his second Fw-190 in the same sortie and returned safely to ground. On landing the groundcrew pronounced his aircraft a real mess, having been hit by so many bullets.

In his strike on the Ju-87s Pouyade shot one down in flames and was in turn attacked by an Fw-190, but although damaged he escaped by diving and was forced to make a heavy landing. At the moment when the Littolff– Pouyade and Tulasne–Albert patrols attacked the Ju-87s, they were in turn attacked by two Fw-190s coming from below. Tulasne climbed fast towards the sun and shot one of the Fw-190s down in flames. Attacked once again, he dived towards the ground and assaulted another Fw-189, without obvious results. Finally on his return he met four Fw-190s, attacked one without observing any results, and returned to the ground. In the course of these battles de Forges, now isolated, met two Bf-109s; he fired on one of them, which seemed to have sustained damaged. Littolff, Castelain and Bernavon did not return. Searches the next day did not disclose to the Groupe its comrades’ fate. The battle for Orel was increasing Normandie’s total of victories and also its casualties, which mounted day by day.

At 5 a.m. the following day, 17 July, nineteen Yaks took off to escort and protect nine Pe-2 bombers, which were part of a group of thirty-six bombers and thirty-eight fighters whose target was the railway station at Biela–Berega on the railway line from Briansk to Orel. The bombing of heavy armour moving along the railway to the Orel front was very successful; the bombs hit the loaded flat railway wagons. During this mission fifteen Bf-110s were spotted but for some reason did not intervene. Tulasne attacked one of them without obvious results. The anti-aircraft fire defending the rail target area was very heavy, but all the aircraft returned safely. At 8.40 a.m. ten Yaks left on a covering mission for troops in the Iagodnaia and Krasnikovo region. An engagement took place with some Fw-190s. Albert fired on three and shot one down in a ball of flames. All the fighters returned safely. At 1 p.m. ten Yaks executed a new sorties to protect heavily pressed Soviet ground forces. No enemy aircraft were encountered during this action.

At 5.10 p.m. nine Yaks took off to accompany Stormoviks in the Znamenskaia sector; these ground assault aircraft were ordered to attack lines of vehicles on the road from Boloto to Orel. Léon was attacked by two Fw-190s that he succeeded in escaping. Albert and Préziosi came to his aid, shooting down one Fw-190; Aspirant Bon attacked an Fw-190 without apparent results. At the moment when the Fw-190 appeared, Tulasne was seen for the last time gaining altitude; thereafter no information reached the Groupe about his fate. The patrol of Béguin and Vermeil, providing protection of the rear, was attacked by six Fw-190s. At the first burst of gunfire Béguin’s plane received a shell in a wing near the fuselage and another in the horizontal tail fin. Wounded by a shell splinter in his thigh, Béguin manoeuvred and succeeded in firing a burst of gunfire for two seconds at an Fw-190 from 50m behind. He was attacked again and, despite receiving a shell in the engine, returned by hedge-hopping. As he made his way back, in pain from the shell splinter, he was amazed at the sight of the massive Orel tank engagement taking place below him. Because of severe damage to his aircraft he was forced to fly at only 40 feet above the battlefield. His mind was briefly taken off the pain of his injury as he became aware that the ground below him was covered as far as the eye could see with the black shapes of endless German tanks, each followed by clouds of smoke and dust, yet not one of the many enemy guns only feet beneath seemed interested in his failing Yak. As he made his way further forward another spectacular sight presented itself: the German tanks were being engaged head-on by what seemed like several hundred Soviet T-34 tanks, all moving forward at speed through a blue haze of smoke, heading for the advancing enemy panzers. With his aircraft badly damaged and losing height, Béguin at last gained friendly lines but was forced to land his Yak just behind the Soviet advance. His damaged engine had forced him to fly so low over the battlefield that he probably had one of the best close-up sightings of this massive historic tank battle ever recorded.

Vermeil, lost from sight at the start of the battle, did not return and there was no news of him. At the time of these hectic aerial battles, Normandie was facing about thirty Fw-190s in this sector.

Commandant Pierre Pouyade, known in the Regiment as ‘Pepito’, had luck on his side when he survived a crash landing on the evening of 16 July 1943. After his aircraft had been badly damaged in the engagement he was forced to put down on very rough land. In the five days of furious action at Orel and Kursk, with 112 sorties carried out, six of the Groupe had been lost or killed: Commandant Tulasne, Capitaine Littolff, Lieutenant de Tedesco, Sous-lieutenant Castelain, Sous-lieutenant Bernavon and Aspirant Vermeil. Every day the Groupe hoped to hear news of them but, alas, no information about what had happened to the missing pilots was forthcoming. The Normandie victories included 9 Bf-110s, 6 Fw-190s, 1 Fw-189, and 1 Ju-87; of the 109 enemy aircraft entered in the log as damaged some would later be confirmed by Soviet ground forces as destroyed. These victories cost the Groupe dear, with six Normandie pilots missing in action during the first five days of the Orel–Kursk battle.

At 7.50 a.m. on 19 July seven Yaks commanded by Pouyade executed a covering mission for advancing troops in the Krasnikovo region; no enemy aircraft were encountered. At 12.30 p.m. six Yaks commanded by Albert once again left on a covering mission. Two Ju-88s were encountered; immediately Léon, de Forges. Albert, Risso and Bon attacked, one twin-engine Ju-88 burst into a cloud of smoke and flames before diving towards the ground, and crashed in a dramatic fireball. Troops watching the engagement from their positions confirmed the result. This was entered in the diary as the thirtieth victory for the Normandie Groupe on the Eastern Front. The next day General Zakharov, Commander of the 303rd Division, ordered Pouyade not to execute any battle missions without his direct authorisation for a period that was to be dedicated to rest and training.

Everyone was pleased to see Roland de La Poype return to the Groupe on 28 July. At 1 p.m. seven Yaks commanded by Albert took off to cover troops on the ground some 20km north-east of Karachev; no enemy aircraft were encountered. At 3.45 p.m. six Yaks once again commanded by Albert executed a similar mission, but this time a group of 30 Ju-87s protected by about six Fw-190s was encountered. A whirling battle began, in the course of which Albert, Durand, Risso and Mathis fired on the Fw-190s. No obvious results were confirmed. Préziosi was lost from view in the battle and did not return; there was no news of his fate. In the afternoon Lefèvre returned from Moscow, bringing with him Aspirant Largeau, a new pilot for the Groupe.

4.Armee Escaping Operation Bagration

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A large pocket had formed near Pekalin, south of Smolovichi to the east of Minsk, and this held three complete divisions, 57th, 267th and 31st, and remnants of 260th, 25th Panzer Grenadier and 78th Sturm Divisions – in fact most of the original formations of XII Corps. The six divisional com- manders were all present, together with the corps commander Lieutenant-General Vincenz Müller and the commander of XXVII Corps, General of Infantry Paul Völckers. There were also elements of XXVII Corps in the pocket. Some of these divisions were still strongly armed: 25th Panzer Grenadier Division had brought a staggering total of no less than 32 assault and 20 self-propelled guns. But although there had been an air resupply of fuel, ammunition was very short – not more than 5-10 rounds per gun.

On 5 July 1944 the two corps commanders held a General Officers’ conference to assess the situation and to decide upon future action. The overriding fact was that the nearest German lines were more than 100 kilometres to the west, and this seemed an impossible distance for their weary troops to cover without strong Luftwaffe support. Without fuel or ammunition they could not use their heavy weapons so the idea of a breakout seemed hopeless, but the thought of falling into Russian hands made any risk seem worthwhile. Major-General Adolf Trowitz, who had escaped from the Cherkassy pocket with his 57th Infantry Division during the previous winter, agreed to this, as did Major-General Günther Klammt of 260th Division. Lieutenant-General Hans Traut was undecided because of the wounded, probably numbering as many as 5,000, who would have to be abandoned. The decision was made to break out in two corps groups, XXVII Corps to the west and XII Corps to the north-west. The remaining formations of XXXIX Panzer Corps were allocated to the other two Corps. The decision was taken during the evening, despite General Völcker’s strong recommendation to stand and fight.

The breakout began at 2359 hours with 25th Panzer Grenadier Division striking out to the west towards Dzerzhinsk, south-west of Minsk. The wounded were left in charge of a doctor with a letter appealing to the Soviet commander to treat the wounded in accordance with the Rules of War. It is not known whether this had any effect. Having fired their last rounds, the gunners destroyed their weapons. The three groups charged with the bayonet shouting ‘Hurrah!’ Despite very heavy fire, Lieutenant-General Paul Schürmann got out with his group after overpowering a Soviet battery, but with only 100 men left out of his original 1,000. The Soviets now counter-attacked and the groups were split up into smaller groups, all trying to make their way to the west. Apparently some succeeded because Schürmann was not captured and the division was reformed in Germany later in the year.

General Trowitz’s 57th Infantry Division broke out the same evening but was almost immediately hit by heavy fire. The columns retained their cohesion and joined up with the remnant of ‘Feldherrnhalle’ Division at dawn on the 6th. The two divisional commanders decided to act together to cross the Cherven—Minsk road which was held by Soviet forces. The two divisions waited until nightfall before moving. ‘Feldherrnhalle’ was scattered and most of its men were captured. Once across the road 57th Division, which still numbered 12—15,000 men, split up into smaller groups. The divisional commander’s group, the last to cross the road, had two VW Schwimmwagen to carry the wounded. At daylight the group found itself in the midst of a network of Soviet positions and decided to wait for nightfall before moving again. They took cover in a field of rye and the exhausted men fell asleep until early evening when they were woken by rifle and mortar fire. One by one the small groups were taken prisoner. General Trowitz and the remaining groups were rounded up during the next two days.

General Traut’s 78th Sturm Division had a similar fate. A survivor gave the following account: ‘The troops formed up for the assault at 2300. Individual units began to sing the ‘Deutschlandlied’ [the German national anthem]. The survivors will never forget that night. Burning villages, howitzer and rifle fire, dull explosions mixing with the thunderous shouts and singing of the attacking units. Enemy forces which tried to resist were overrun and surrounded again. The breakout succeeded …

‘By dawn of 6 July the enemy encircling positions had been left behind. However, the scattered Russian units quickly regrouped. Enemy motorized forces arrived. The larger breakout groups were soon caught and surrounded again. The only chance was to break up into very small groups.’ Most of 78th Sturm including their divisional commander General Traut were captured.

This story was repeated with different emphasis by all the divisions that tried to break out from the pocket. The order issued by Lieutenant-General Otto Drescher to his 267th Infantry Division read: ‘Soldiers of my victorious 267th Infantry Division. While enemy penetrations in the sector of Army Group Centre made a withdrawal inevitable, the enemy brought forward strong forces on 3rd and 4th July against XII Corps. Our division acted as the rearguard of the Corps and successfully repelled all attacks, allowing the other divisions to withdraw safely. You, the soldiers of my division, have proved your valour and heroism in your commitment to the soldiers in the other Divisions.

‘During this battle the enemy succeeded in encircling our troops. This encirclement must be broken and we must fight our way to freedom and to our homeland. If we are to see our homeland and families again, we must fight. I want no one to doubt that the way will be difficult and great sacrifice will be required. Whoever prefers the dishonourable fate of captivity will be subjected to the habitual cruelty of the Bolshevik murderers. I have no doubt that the choice will not be difficult. On comrades! On to the decisive attack, back to freedom and our homeland! Drescher.’

Among the measures ordered by General Drescher were careful evaluation of reconnaissance reports; preparation of copies of a good scale map with wide distribution; silent destruction of vehicles, guns and even the battalion cooking equipment; and the formation of a cavalry squadron from artillery horses. All troops, where ever they came from, were taken into the combat groups, and weapons were distributed equally.

The 267th Infantry Division broke out in three columns, their first objective being to cross the Orsha—Minsk railway, and then the main road, which was protected by infantry posts. The left-hand column crossed both the railway and the highway, but Soviet armour arrived and fired at random into the dense mass of troops. Resistance was pointless and this column sur- rendered. Some of them later managed to escape to the west. The rout of the right-hand column led through dense forest infested with partisans, and the column split into smaller groups. Those that were captured were marched by the partisans along the highway to Borisov.

The remaining groups struggled on to the north-west. Some were attacked by two Soviet infantry companies supported by mortars. The Germans, who had only their rifles with not more than ten rounds per man, fought valiantly but to no end; all were either killed, or captured and sent to Borisov.

A Soviet senior lieutenant who was captured by the Germans made this statement: ‘East of Minsk, I saw two columns of German prisoners of war, about 400 to 600 men, marching in the direction of Moscow. The majority of the prisoners were barefoot. In spite of the heat, they were allowed no water from the local streams during the march, therefore they drank muddy water. Whoever staggered was beaten, if a prisoner collapsed, he was shot. Once I saw a row of executed German prisoners lying in a roadside ditch. When they passed through a town, they would beg for bread, but the civilians did not dare give them any. I saw a German senior lieutenant sitting on the edge of a trench. He wore a uniform shirt with shoulder insignia and bravery awards, but he had no trousers and was barefoot. The guards removed the better clothes from the prisoners, in order to trade them for liquor with the civilian population.’

The central column under personal command of General Drescher fared rather better. They crossed the railway as well as the highway and on the first day made considerable progress to the north-west in the direction of Molodechno. As food was now in very short supply and everyone would have to exist on what could be found in the forest, General Drescher decided to split the columns to make foraging easier. He then laid down the direction to be followed by each group and ensured that each had a commander with some experience of orienteering. Even the divisional chaplain was given a group of 100 men to lead. During the march many groups were split up even more, either of their own volition or because of swamps or partisan activity. Most of them were killed or captured, but as comparatively few captives returned the details of their fate will never be known.

One of the most successful columns was that of 25th Panzer Grenadier Division led by General Schürmann, the first to leave after the commanders’ conference. As we have seen, the main group split up during the actual breakout, but his group went on to cross the Bobruisk—Minsk railway line which was already covered by the Soviets. He then attempted to cross more outpost lines without success and decided to turn eastwards and bypass Minsk to the north. This was successful and he managed to lead his ever dwindling detachment, which now numbered only 30 men, to the German lines north of Molodechno and south of Vilnius. His was the largest group to reach the German lines. The remnant of the Division was withdrawn to the training area in Bavaria. It was then employed in the west until the Ardennes offensive failed when it was sent to help defend Berlin. General Schürmann remained with the Division until February 1945.

It is interesting to look at the breakout phase from the Soviet point of view. The following is an extract from the Soviet Military History Journal published in 1984, which describes the outline of the reduction of the German encirclements and breakout groups: ‘The actions to eliminate the surrounded enemy in the area to the east of Minsk can be conditionally divided into three stages which are characterized by the use of different methods. Thus, in the first stage [from 4 to 7 July] the enemy endeavoured to break out to the west in an organized manner, with the chain of command still intact and receiving some air supply. During this period our troops made concentrated attacks to split the enemy groups into smaller parties, and forced them to abandon heavy military equipment and weapons. In the second stage [to 9 July] individual Nazi detachments were still endeavouring to put up organized resistance, advancing along forest roads and paths and attempting to escape from encirclement. The Soviet troops destroyed these isolated groups by intercepting them on advantageous lines and destroying them with fire and attack by the main forces of divisions and regiments. In the third stage [9 to 11 July], the scattered small enemy groups, now chaotic and without organized resistance, endeavoured to break out of the snare to the west. The Soviet forces ‘combed’ the forests and fields and captured small enemy groups, using small composite detachments (a rifle company or battalion reinforced by a tank platoon, a battery of anti-tank guns and a mortar company) mounted on motor vehicles.’

In the various accounts the impression is given that some of the German generals were lukewarm about continuing the unequal struggle. This appears to be the line they took at the commanders’ conference on 5 July. The foremost among these appears to have been General Vincenz Müller, the commander of XII Corps and acting commander of Fourth Army. One day, during the breakout, a German officer carrying a white flag appeared in the Soviet lines saying that an important German general wished to meet a Soviet general of equal seniority, to discuss the surrender of his troops.

This was General Müller who gave ‘the impression of a sullen, depressed man in untidy uniform with only one shoulder-strap and his boots were dirty. General Smirnov, the commander of the Soviet 121st Infantry Corps, asked him if he wanted to tidy himself up. He answered “Yes, thank you.” The general was taken to a separate house. After he had tidied himself, he came out accompanied by his orderly.’ It was then suggested to General Müller that he write an order instructing his soldiers to lay down their arms. This would then be scattered over the area by Soviet aircraft. Müller agreed with this and added that he did not want the blood of his soldiers to be spilt.”

 

Panzerjäger

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7.5 cm PaK 40 Antitank Gun.

The first weapon of the German Panzerjäger ( armour hunters or tank hunters) was the humble Panzerbüchse which was in service from 1917 through to 1943. Panzerbüchse literally means “armour rifle” and German anti-tank rifles originated back in 1917 with the Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr, the world’s first anti-tank rifle. It was created as an immediate response to the appearance of British tanks on the Western Front. A single shot manually operated rifle, it enjoyed moderate success, with approximately 15,800 rifles eventually produced. The Panzerbüchse 39 (PzB 39) was the main German anti-tank rifle used in World War II. It was an improvement of the unsuccessful Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38) rifle.

German Panzerbüchse development resumed in the late 1930s. In an effort to provide infantry with a man-portable lightweight anti-tank rifle. The task fell to Dipl.-Ing. (certified engineer) B. Brauer at Gustloff Werke in Suhl who designed the Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38). It was a manually loaded single-shot weapon with a recoiling barrel. When fired, the barrel recoiled about 9 cm, which opened the breech and ejected the spent cartridge casing. The breech block was then arrested in the rear position, remaining opened for the gunner to manually insert a new cartridge. The gunner then released the cocked breech with a lever at the grip. The breech and barrel would then move forward again and the trigger was cocked in preparation to fire. This rather complicated mechanism was prone to jamming as the system easily fouled in field use.

Although manufactured with pressed steel parts that were spot-welded, because of the complicated vertical breech block mechanism the Panzerbüchse 38 was difficult to manufacture and only a small number of 1,408 PzB 38 rifles were built in 1939 and 1940 at the Gustloff Werke plant; only 62 of these weapons were used by German troops in the invasion of Poland in 1939.

The Panzerbüchse 39 was the next development, and was found to be a major improvement as a result the Panzerbüchse 38 declared obscelescent and production was immediately switched to the Panzerbüchse 39. However it too featured a vertical breech block mechanism and used the same cartridge. It retained the barrel of the PzB 38 and had an only slightly increased overall length of 162.0 centimetres (63.8 in); weight was reduced to 12.6 kilograms (28 lb). Its performance data was basically the same as that of the PzB 38. To increase the practical rate of fire, two cartridge-holding cases containing 10 rounds each could be attached to both sides of the weapon near the breech – these were not magazines feeding the weapon, they simply enabled the loader to extract the cartridges (that he still had to manually insert into the gun) from the conveniently placed magazines. 568 PzB 39 were used by the German army in the invasion of Poland; two years later, at the beginning of the war against Russia, 25,298 PzB 39 were in use by German troops; total production from March 1940 to November 1941, when production ceased, was 39,232 rifles. The PzB 39 remained in use until 1944, by which time it had become hopelessly inadequate against all but the lightest armored vehicles.

OKW recognised the need for a more powerful form of anti-tank weapon and the design of a horse-drawn, 3.7 cm anti-tank gun (designated 3.7 cm Pak L/45) by Rheinmetall commenced in 1924 and the first guns were issued in 1928. However, by the early 1930s, it was apparent that horse-drawn artillery was obsolescent, and the gun was modified for motorized transport by substituting magnesium-alloy wheels with pneumatic tyres for the original spoked wooden wheels. Re-designated the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36, it began to replace the 3.7 Pak L/45 in 1934 and first appeared in combat in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. It formed the basis for many other nations’ anti-tank guns during the first years of World War II. The KwK 36 L/45 was the same gun but adapted as the main armament on several tanks, most notably the early models of the Panzer III.

The Pak 36, being a small-calibre weapon, was outdated by the May 1940 Western Campaign, and crews found them inadequate against allied tanks like the British Mk.II Matilda, and the French Char B1 and Somua S35. Still, the gun was effective against the most common light tanks, such as the Renault FT-17 and saw wide service during the Battle of France and the T-26 during Operation Barbarossa. The widespread introduction of medium tanks quickly erased the gun’s effectiveness; miserable performance against the T-34 on the Eastern Front led to the Pak 36 being derisively dubbed the “Door Knocker” (Heeresanklopfgerät, literally “army door-knocking device”) for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor.

Not surprisingly The Pak 36 began to be replaced by the new 5 cm Pak 38 in mid 1940. The addition of tungsten-core shells (Pzgr. 40) added slightly to the armour penetration of the Pak 36. Despite its continued impotence against the T-34, it remained the standard anti-tank weapon for many units until 1942. It was discovered that Pak 36 crews could still achieve kills on T-34s, but this rare feat required tungsten-cored armour piercing ammunition and a direct shot to the rear or side armour from point-blank range.

As the Pak 36 was gradually replaced, many were removed from their carriages and added to SdKfz 251 halftracks to be used as light anti-armour support. The guns were also passed on to the forces of Germany’s allies fighting on the Eastern Front, such as the 3rd and 4th Romanian Army. This proved particularly disastrous during the Soviet encirclement (Operation Uranus) at the Battle of Stalingrad when these Romanian forces were targeted to bear the main Soviet armoured thrust. The Pak 36 also served with the armies of Finland (notably during the defence of Suomussalmi), it was also deployed in Hungary, and Slovakia.

In 1943, the introduction of the Stielgranate 41 shaped charge meant that the Pak 36 could now penetrate any armour, although the low velocity of the projectile limited its range. The Pak 36s, together with the new shaped charges, were issued to Fallschirmjäger units and other light troops. The gun’s light weight meant that it could be easily moved by hand, and this mobility made it ideal for their purpose.

The replacement for the outdated Pak 36 was the 50cm Pak 38. The longer barrel and larger projectile produced the required level of kinetic energy to pierce armour . The PaK 38 was first used by the German forces during the Second World War in April 1941. When the Germans faced Soviet tanks in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the PaK 38 was one of the few early guns capable of effectively penetrating the 45 mm (1.8 in) armor of the formidable T-34. Additionally, the gun was also equipped with Panzergranate 40 APCR projectiles which had a hard tungsten core, in an attempt to penetrate the armor of the heavier KV-1 tank. Although it was soon replaced by more powerful weapons, the Pak 38 remained a potent and useful weapon and remained in service with the Wehrmacht until the end of the war.

The 7.5 cm PaK 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was the next generation of anti-tank gun to see service. This German 7.5 centimetre high velocity anti-tank gun was developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used extensively from 1942-1945 during the Second World War. It was the PaK 40 which formed the backbone of German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II. Development of the PaK 40 began in 1939 with development contracts being placed with Krupp and Rheinmetall to develop a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. Priority of the project was initially low, but Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the sudden appearance of heavily armoured Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, increased the priority. The first pre-production guns were delivered in November 1941.

In April 1942, Wehrmacht had 44 guns in service. It was remarkably successful weapon and by 1943 the PaK 40 formed the bulk of the German anti-tank artillery.The PaK 40 was the standard German anti-tank gun until the end of the war, and was supplied by Germany to its allies. Some captured guns were used by the Red Army. After the end of the war the PaK 40 remained in service in several European armies, including Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Hungary and Romania.

Around 23,500 PaK 40 were produced, and about 6,000 more were used to arm tank destroyers. The unit manufacturing cost amounted to 2200 man-hours at a cost of 12000 RM. A lighter automatic version, the heaviest of the Bordkanone series of heavy calibre aircraft ordnance as the BK 7,5 was used in the Henschel Hs129 aircraft.

The Pak 40 was effective against almost every Allied tank until the end of the war. However, the PaK 40 was much heavier than the 50 cm PaK 38, It was difficult to manhandle into position and its mobility was limited. It was difficult or impossible to move without an artillery tractor on boggy ground.

The PaK 40 debuted in Russia where it was needed to combat the newest Soviet tanks there. It was designed to fire the same low-capacity APCBC, HE and HL projectiles which had been standardized for usage in the long barreled Kampfwagenkanone KwK 40 main battle tank-mounted guns. In addition there was an APCR shot for the PaK 40, a munition which eventually became very scarce.

The main differences amongst the rounds fired by 75 mm German guns were in the length and shape of the cartridge cases for the PaK 40. The 7.5 cm KwK (tank) fixed cartridge case is twice the length of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 (short barrelled 75 mm), and the 7.5 cm PaK 40 cartridge is a third longer than the 7.5 cm KwK 40.

The longer cartridge case allowed a larger charge to be used and a higher velocity for the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap round to be achieved. The muzzle velocity was about 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) as opposed to 750 m/s (2,500 ft/s) for the KwK 40 L/43. This velocity was available for about one year after the weapon’s introduction. Around the same time, the Panzer IVs 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 gun and the nearly identical Sturmkanone (StuK) 40 L/43 began to be upgraded with barrels that were 48 calibers long, or L/48, which remained the standard for them until the end of the war.

In the field, an alarming number of L/48 cartridge cases carrying the hotter charge failed to be ejected properly from the weapon’s semi-automatic breech, even on the first shot (in vehicles). Rather than re-engineer the case, German Ordnance reduced the charge loading until the problem went away. The new charge brought the muzzle velocity down to 750 m/s, or about 10 m/s higher than the original L/43 version of the weapon. Considering the average variability in large round velocities from a given gun, this is virtually negligible in effect. The first formal documentation of this decision appears on May 15, 1943 (“7.5cm Sturmkanone 40 Beschreibung”) which details a side by side comparison of the L/43 and the L/48 weapons. The synopsis provided indicates very little difference in the guns, meaning the upgrade had little if any benefit.

All further official presentations of the KwK 40 L/48 ( “Oberkommando des Heeres, Durchschlagsleistungen panzerbrechender Waffen”) indicate a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s for the gun. As for the PaK 40, the desire for commonality again appears to have prevailed since the APCBC charge was reduced to 750 m/s, even though case ejection failures apparently were never a problem in the PaK version of the gun.

For reasons which seem to be lost to history, at least some 75 mm APCBC cartridges appear to have received a charge which produced a muzzle velocity of about 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). The first documented firing by the U.S. of a PaK 40 recorded an average muzzle velocity of 776 m/s for its nine most instrumented firings. Probably because of these results, period intelligence publications (“Handbook on German Military Forces”) gave ~770 m/s as the PaK 40 APCBC muzzle velocity, although post war pubs corrected this (Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 30-4-4, “Foreign Military Weapons and Equipment (U) Vol. 1 Artillery (U) dated August of 1955-this document was originally classified).

In addition, German sources are contradictory in that the Official Firing Table document for the 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and the PaK 40 dated October, 1943 cites 770 m/s on one of the APCBC tables therein, showing some confusion. (“Schusstafel fur die 7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40”).

The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the war. Development of the original models led to a wide variety of guns.

The name applies to a series of guns, the first one officially called the 8,8 cm Flak 18, the improved 8,8 cm Flak 36, and later the 8,8 cm Flak 37. Flak is a contraction of German Flugzeugabwehrkanone meaning “anti-aircraft cannon”, the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the Acht-acht (“eight-eight”), a contraction of Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter (“8.8 cm”). In English, “flak” became a generic term for ground anti-aircraft fire.

The versatile carriage allowed the eighty-eight to be fired in a limited anti-tank mode when still on wheels, and to be completely emplaced in only two-and-a-half minutes. Its successful use as an improvised anti-tank gun led to the development of a tank gun based upon it. These related guns served as the main armament of tanks such as the Tiger I: the 8.8 cm KwK 36, with the “KwK” abbreviation standing for KampfwagenKanone (“fighting vehicle cannon”).

In addition to these Krupp’s designs, Rheinmetall created later a more powerful anti-aircraft gun, the 8,8 cm Flak 41, produced in relatively small numbers. Krupp responded with another prototype of the long-barreled 88 mm gun, which was further developed into the anti-tank and tank destroyer 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun, and turret-mounted 8.8 cm KwK 43 heavy tank gun.

Destroy Tirpitz! Part I

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From an Post-WWII Report

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There was nothing sensational about the design of Tirpitz; she was merely a very large battleship, designed on conventional lines, propelled by three screws driven by steam turbines and mounting eight 38 cm. (approx. 15-in.) guns in twin turrets, arranged in the conventional way, two forward and two aft. This German mastodon was designed to a standard displacement of 42,600 tons, although the displacement reported for Treaty conditions was 35,000, the same as that of the King George V and Washington classes of battleship, which were genuinely designed to this size. In the deep condition she displaced 50,000 tons and had a draught of nearly 34 ft. Other things being equal this greater displacement would have been accompanied by greater ability to withstand damage. Although she measured 822 ft. overall, her most impressive dimension was her beam of 118 ft. which would have prevented her from passing through the Panama Canal. It was always thought that this implied a very deep “bulge” for protection against underwater attack, but it is now known that there was nothing remarkable about her underwater protection which was, in fact, inferior to that fitted in both British and American contemporary Capital Ships. The very large beam was adopted to provide an abnormally high initial stability. Such measures, however, may often reduce the resistance of the ship to the more severe states of damage. It is doubtful whether Tirpitz was at all better than her allied counterparts in this respect.

Information gained from a survey of the wreck and numerous drawings brought from Germany confirm that Tirpitz’s reputed fine watertight subdivision, and consequent “invincibility”, were a complete myth; her subdivision was very similar to that of our own Capital Ships, and indeed those of all major sea Powers. Her watertight integrity was in several ways subordinated to requirements of convenience; for example, every transverse watertight bulkhead in the ship was pierced by watertight doors on the lower and middle platform decks, a menace which has been eliminated from H.M. ships for many years, and the engine rooms seemed to contain far more space than was needed.

Some of the available weight was used to secure a very high speed. Tirpitz was designed to develop 150,000 shaft horse-power which enabled her to make over 30 knots in the average action condition, and she was capable of developing 165,000 shaft horse-power for sudden bursts of over 31 knots. Her range based on an oil fuel capacity of 5,000 tons was over 10,000 sea miles. More fuel could be carried in an emergency.

More of the extra displacement in Tirpitz was accounted for by the fact that her 38 cm. guns were mounted in twin turrets rather than the weight saving triple and quadruple arrangements used in modern American and British Capital ships. Also the Germans fitted separate low angle and high angle secondary batteries rather than the dual purpose mountings used in Allied ships. She thus had twelve 15 cm. (5.9-in.) low angle guns in twin turrets, three on either side of the amidships superstructure, and sixteen high angle 10.5 cm. (4.1-in.) guns in twin mountings – four on each side. A further battery of sixteen 3.7 cm. (1.46-in.) mountings for close range anti- aircraft work was also provided.

This powerful armament was controlled by range-finders and director sights on the forward and after conning towers, and on the fore top. There were smaller range-finders for the secondary armament, one on each side of the bridge. The 10.5 cm. H.A. armament was controlled by four special gyro stabilized directors, one to port and one to starboard of the bridge, and two on the centre line abaft the main mast.

Tirpitz’s general layout is illustrated by the small-scale drawing (Figure 2) which has been prepared for this report from larger scale drawings found in the Naval Arsenal at Kiel. It will be seen from the drawing that the machinery spaces, consisting of six boiler rooms, three engine rooms and miscellaneous compartments housing auxiliary machinery, the magazines and shell rooms, and other vital compartments such as fire control rooms, were well protected by a long armoured citadel. The sides were of 320 mm. (12.6-in.) thick cemented armour plates from 8 ft. below the waterline up to the battery deck and thinner plating of 145 mm. (5.7-in.) thickness to the upper deck. In addition, the third deck down was armoured with 80 mm. (3.15-in.) non-cemented plating over the machinery spaces and 100 mm. (3.94-in.) over the magazines between the torpedo bulkheads, while the sloping deck armour between the centre portion and the base of the side armour was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in way of machinery spaces and 120 mm. (4.72)-in.) in way of magazines. There were extensions of the citadel by thinner armour, the lower belt being 60 mm. (2.36-in.) plating forward and 80 mm. (3.15-in.) aft and the upper belt being 35 mm. (1.38-in.) forward and aft. While there was no deck armour before the forward magazines, deck protection aft over the steering gear compartments was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in thickness. This armoured citadel, re-inforced by a strength deck (the upper deck) which was 50 mm. (1.97-in.) thick generally, afforded efficient protection against splinters and all but the largest bombs dropped from a considerable height. Barbettes, and turret sides and roofs, and conning towers were protected by armour on the same generous lines.

Four sea-planes which were carried for spotting and reconnaissance were accommodated in special hangars abreast the funnel and under the main mast. They were launched by a fixed athwartships catapult between the funnel and the main mast.

Attack by Fleet Air Arm Torpedo Bombers

On 6 March, 1942, H.M. Submarine Sealion, on patrol off the northern entrance to Trondheim, reported an enemy heavy ship proceeding on a north-easterly course. As a convoy on passage from Iceland to North Russia had been shadowed by a Focke-Wulf aircraft on the previous day, it was thought possible that the battleship Tirpitz might have left Trondheim to attack it. The C.-in-C., Home Fleet, in the King George V, with the Duke of York, Renown and Victorious, were at sea covering the convoy. On the following day C.–in-C., Home Fleet, intercepted a distress message from the Russian Ijora in position 72° 35’ N, 10° 50’ E. Early on 9 March six Albacores were flown off Victorious to search the area in which Tirpitz was believed to be operating. She was sighted at 0800 and a striking force of 12 Albacores armed with torpedoes, which had been flown off Victorious at 0735, was guided to the target by the shadowing aircraft. At 0842 Tirpitz was sighted by the torpedo planes which attacked in two waves, one on each side of the ship. The torpedoes appear to have been dropped at an excessively long range which enabled Tirpitz to “comb the tracks”, turning sharply first to port and then to starboard. No hits were scored, but the German command seemed to have been somewhat scared because Tirpitz retired at high speed to her safe anchorage in the Foetten Fjord near Trondheim.

Early Bomber Command Attacks

In the Foetten Fjord she was immune from most forms of attack; she lay surrounded by mountains and was moored close in to the cliffs on one side and surrounded by torpedo nets on all others. On the occasional fine day which made air attack just possible she had only to put up a smoke screen to rectify the climatic defect. Despite these difficulties she was attacked by Bomber Command aircraft during the early hours of 31 March, and 28 and 29 April, 1942. The weather conditions during the first of these attacks were so bad that only one aircraft succeeded in finding Tirpitz at all, the usual smoke screen was in use and the attack was abortive. During the second and third attacks, most of the aircraft despatched, 32 and 30 respectively, managed to find the ship but again the smoke screen prevented useful results from being achieved. The Germans who were interrogated after the surrender reported that in one of these attacks the bombs (probably hydrostatically fused mines) rolled down the cliff into the sea – a mode of attack which they regarded as worthy of more success than it achieved.

Although the difficulties of carrying out an attack against a Capital Ship under these conditions are fully appreciated, the 4,000 lb. blast bombs with instantaneous fuses which seem to have constituted the major part of the bomb loads carried in these early attacks, were rather unsuitable. A hit would have caused only superficial damage to superstructures, while near misses would have detonated on the surface with little fragmentation and practically no effect on such a heavy ship. 2,000 lb. A.P. bombs dropped in level flight would have been a better choice, since twice as many of these bombs could have been carried and any hits would have had a direct effect on the vessel’s fighting efficiency. The small Mk.XIX mines containing 100 lbs. of explosive and fitted with hydrostatic fuses to operate at 30 ft. depth had an almost negligible target, and the 500 lb. and 250 lb. G.P. bombs had little chance of producing serious damage against a ship of this size.

Operation Source

Tirpitz had a very quiet time from April, 1942, until March, 1943, during which period nothing useful was accomplished. At the end of this period Scharnhorst and Lutzow joined forces with her in the Altenfjord; these three ships with their attendant destroyers constituted a serious menace to the Russian convoys, which were suspended during the long daylight of the summer months for this reason. In early September, 1943, the squadron made a raid on Spitzbergen, showing that it was beginning to feel somewhat more aggressive, then returned to the anchorages in various branches of the Altenfjord. Tirpitz lay moored in Kaa Fjord – an arm of the Altenfjord some fifty miles from the sea – completely protected by torpedo nets. Though he disposed a superior Naval Force, it was extremely difficult for the C.-in-C., Home Fleet, to tempt the three ships to action from over 1,000 miles away, or to lay on a successful air or submarine attack against such secluded foxholes. It was finally decided to attack them with the new midget submarines officially known as X-Craft, which each carried two special ground mines, and which had been evolved after a careful study of the specific problem of attacking enemy units in such anchorages.

Six of these novel craft (X5 to X10) which had recently joined the Fleet, set out on the night of 11/12 September, 1943, on the hazardous journey to a position off the Norwegian coast, towed by ‘S’ and ‘T’ Class submarines. Two of them, X8 and X9, failed to complete this passage but the remaining four reached their rendezvous on 20 September, slipped their tows and proceeded independently to the attack.

X10’s periscope and compasses immediately began giving much trouble and eventually failed completely; as a result, she had to retire from the attack. (The plan had been for X5, X6 and X7 to attack Tirpitz, X8 to attack Lutzow and X9 and X10 to attack Scharnhorst). During 20, 21 and 22 September, X5, X6 and X7 successfully negotiated the Altenfjord as far as the anchorage of Tirpitz in Kaa Fjord, passing en route mine fields, enemy surface vessels and the anti-submarine boom defence at the entrance to the Kaa Fjord.

X6 entered the torpedo net enclosure around Tirpitz at about 0705

G.M.T. using the official entrance which was open at the time for the passage of store ships (see Figure 3). After a series of instrumental defects had caused her to surface three times (she was mistaken for a porpoise on the first occasion, correctly identified on the second (at 0710) and attacked with machine-gun fire and hand grenades on the third), X6 succeeded in releasing her two charges under the ship abreast ‘B’ turret. As escape was then impossible, she was scuttled and her crew surrendered. Meanwhile, X7 endeavoured to penetrate the net defence by passing under it. She experienced a number of setbacks but eventually succeeded in entering the anchorage. Passing down it under the keel of Tirpitz, from forward to aft, she released one charge abreast ‘B’ turret and the other further aft, under the after Engine Room. This X-Craft left the enclosure at 0740, this time sliding over the nets, and then dived. During the manoeuvre she was sighted by the Germans and hit several times with machine-gun bullets. At 0812, while still submerged, the crew heard a tremendous explosion which they thought to be due to the explosion of the X-Craft charges. X7 subsequently became uncontrolled; it was decided to scuttle her and at 0835 she was brought to the surface, but sank again with her hatch open after only one member of the crew had managed to escape. The full movements of X5 are not known but she was seen at 0835 on the surface some 500 yards outside the nets, when she was fired upon by Tirpitz and appeared to sink.

There were thus four charges laid under or near Tirpitz, namely, one placed by X7 under the after engine room and three from X6 and X7 abreast ‘B’ turret.

From the German point of view, the first intimation that an attack was in progress came at about 0713 when a small craft (X6) – correctly identified as a submarine – was observed to break surface momentarily inside the torpedo nets about 200 to 250 ft. off the port beam. The submarine alarm was sounded, watertight doors were brought to the action state and the anti- aircraft guns were manned. The submarine was sighted again at 0720 and was attacked with 20 mm. and 37 mm. fire from Tirpitz and hand grenades thrown from a motor boat which had been despatched to attack her. The X-Craft was eventually brought to the surface and abandoned in a sinking condition by her crew. The motor boat tried to tow the submarine, which the Germans suspected might contain explosives, away from the battleship but it sank at 0732, some 50 to 60 yards off the port bow.

The Germans were aware of the existence of British midget submarines but had no information as to their armament. They were, therefore, undecided as to whether an attack by torpedoes, mines, or limpet charges had been made. To clear any limpets which might have been attached to the bottom, they pulled from stem to stern a wire strop slung around the ship under the keel. At the same time, preparations were made to get underway but, in view of the unknown menaces awaiting the ship in the fjord, it was ultimately decided to remain inside the nets. However, Tirpitz’s bow was moved away from the submarine known to have sunk off the port bow by tightening and slackening the port and starboard forward mooring cables. Unbeknown to the Germans this had the effect of clearing the forward part of the ship from the three charges placed abreast ‘B’ turret. The single charge aft remained effective.

Shortly after this evolution was complete at least two heavy explosions occurred in quick succession; spray was thrown up over the ship which shuddered violently. The other two X-Craft were destroyed in turn soon after this. An intensive depth charging of the fjord followed.

Although only one of the six charges originally intended for Tirpitz was effective, the results were undoubtedly worthwhile. Only a relatively small quantity of water entered the ship but damage to main machinery was enough to immobilize her for six months. It is doubtful whether the repairs carried out in Kaa Fjord restored the ship to her original standard of mechanical efficiency.

Destroy Tirpitz! Part II

Gillies-Cole, Ralph; Operation Tungsten, 3 April 1944; Fleet Air Arm Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/operation-tungsten-3-april-1944-40617

Gillies-Cole, Ralph; Operation Tungsten, 3 April 1944; Fleet Air Arm Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/operation-tungsten-3-april-1944-40617

Operation Tungsten

The repair of damage caused by the X-Craft attack was complete by the beginning of March, 1944; Tirpitz then began a series of trials to test the efficacy of these repairs. These were to have culminated in prolonged sea trials in early April.

The first movements in Altenfjord were observed by our reconnaissance aircraft and C.-in-C. Home Fleet was therefore asked to lay on a bombing attack using Fleet Air Arm Aircraft. This attack took place on 3 April. Forty Barracudas were escorted by 81 Corsair, Hellcat and Wildcat fighters. Enemy reconnaissance was avoided by sending the Carrier force about a day behind a large Russia bound convoy. Complete surprise was achieved, the striking force reached the ship just as she was about to get underway for the open sea trials. Weather conditions were good.

The first strike began its attack at 0530 just as the second anchor was being weighed. Before a smoke-screen could be developed and before the flak batteries had been fully manned, the accompanying fighters were strafing the upperworks with machine-gun fire. Diving attacks by Barracudas carrying 1,600 lb. armour-piercing, 500 lb. semi-armour-piercing, and medium capacity bombs followed. A few 600 lb. anti-submarine bombs were also used. In all, nine hits (with one profitable near miss) were scored by this strike on the German ship. The second strike attacked at 0630 but found Tirpitz obscured by smoke, this time five hits and three near misses were obtained.

Unfortunately, owing to the low height from which the bombs were released (the Germans gave figures between 300 and 1300 ft.) none succeeded in penetrating the armour deck – in fact only two reached it. Two other bombs ricochetted off the 2-in. thick upper deck, and one lodged half-way through this deck. As all the vital parts of a large capital ship lie below armour, only superficial damage to living spaces and other unessential compartments was caused by the direct hits. This damage, however, was fairly extensive and several large fires resulted. Heavy casualties were caused both by the bombs and by the fighters. The greatest nuisance value was achieved by a bomb, probably 1600 lb. A.P., which struck the water a few ft. from the ship’s side, penetrated the side plating beneath the armour belt and detonated near the main longitudinal protective bulkhead. This bomb flooded bulge compartments nearby and extensive work by divers was required to effect a repair.

In about a month Tirpitz was again operationally fit, no significant damage to armament or main machinery having been sustained in the attack. About two more months were required to complete the less important repairs.

Fleet Air Arm Attacks

Although Tirpitz showed no signs of leaving the Kaa Fjord it was suspected that the attack on 3 April had not inflicted any vital damage as it was realised that the bombs might not have been dropped from a height sufficient to enable them to penetrate the thick deck armour. Intelligence reports and reconnaissance photographs also indicated that the battleship was ready for further action. Attacks on the above dates were therefore made by bomber forces flown from Carriers of the Home Fleet in an attempt to prolong Tirpitz’s stay in the Kaa Fjord.

The first of these attacks developed during the early hours of 17 July, the Arctic summer being then at its height. Warning of the attack had been received about half-an-hour before the planes arrived and all necessary preparations, including the smoke-screen, had been made in Tirpitz. The aircraft dropped 1600 lb. armour piercing and 500 lb. bombs; no hits were scored.

Two attacks made at noon and in the evening of 22 August were also anticipated; again Tirpitz was enveloped in a smoke-screen, and no hits were registered. 500 lb. semi-armour-piercing bombs were used in these strikes. The attack on 24 August was made during the afternoon, 80 aircraft being employed. The defences were once more in fully effective operation when the planes reached the Tirpitz, but this time, despite the difficulty of aiming through smoke, two of the 23 large armour-piercing bombs and 10 smaller semi-armour-piercing bombs which were dropped, scored hits. One of these detonated on the armour roof of ‘B’ turret which was only slightly damaged but the other – a 1600 lb. armour-piercing bomb – hit the port side of the upper deck abreast the forward conning tower, and penetrated through the armour deck to the lower platform (inner bottom) where it came to rest but – because of a fuse failure – did not detonate. Had this bomb been effective the main fire control rooms, switchboard rooms, etc., would have been put out of action. The resultant flooding would probably have extended to the forward auxiliary boiler room. In their official report on this attack the Germans stated:

“The attack on 24 August, 1944, was undoubtedly the heaviest and most determined so far experienced. The English showed great skill and dexterity in flying. For the first time they dived with heavy bombs. During the dive-bombing, fighter planes attacked the land batteries which, in comparison with earlier attacks, suffered heavy losses. The fact that the armour-piercing bomb of more than 1,540 lbs. did not explode must be considered an exceptional stroke of luck, as the effects of that explosion would have been immeasurable. Even incomplete smoke screening upsets the correctness of the enemy’s aim, and it has been decided from now on to use smoke in wind strengths up to 9 m. per second irrespective of possible gaps.”

The last of this series of attacks made on 29 August by 26 Barracudas, seven Hellcats, 10 Fireflies and 17 Corsairs from Indefatigable and Formidable, was carried out in exactly similar conditions. No hits were obtained.

Attack by Bomber Command Lancasters

A great improvement in technique was made on 15 September, 1944, when Tirpitz was attacked with the newly-developed Tallboy bombs. These massive bombs contained 5100 lbs. of desensitized torpex in a comparatively thin streamlined case and were fitted with fuses having a slight time delay of 0.07 sec. Although it was anticipated that they might be damaged in passing through the heavy deck armour, it was hoped that the very large charge would compensate for any loss of efficiency and that even near misses would have considerable destructive value.

The operation was carried out by about 30 Lancasters which had previously flown from Scotland to North Russia, where they were based for the attack. The aircraft approached the target at high altitude from the South-East, descending to about 12,000 ft. for their attacks which they made in groups of about six, in close formation. The battleship was found moored at her berth; she had been given warning by shore radar installations so that shortly after the attack commenced an extensive and effective smoke-screen covered the greater part of the fjord, leaving only the boom surrounding Tirpitz and small portions of the ship visible. The main armament, directed by the shore radar installations, was used for putting up a barrage in way of the attacking aircraft.

Out of the 21 heavy bombs dropped, only one fell sufficiently close to Tirpitz to damage her. This bomb hit the upper deck on the extreme starboard side some 50 ft. abaft the bow, passed out through the flare of the forecastle into the water and detonated below keel level close to the ship. The explosion wrecked a large portion of the fore end, particularly that part below the waterline, and as a result of this damage the first 120 ft. of the ship became flooded to the waterline. Although this single hit did not seriously affect either machinery or armament, the damage to the fore end of Tirpitz could not be repaired without docking her, and she was henceforth unfit to undertake a voyage in the open sea and in consequence ceased to be an effective fighting unit.

The following resume, extracted from the translation of a captured German document shows the German reaction to this attack:–

“It was estimated that repairs, if they could be carried out without interruption, would take at least nine months.”

“It was eventually decided at a conference on 23 September, 1944, at which the C.-in-C. and Naval War Staff were present, that it was no longer possible to make the Tirpitz ready for sea and action again. It was therefore considered that, in order to preserve the remaining fighting efficiency of the ship, she should be used as a reinforcement to the defences in the Polar Area. For this purpose Tirpitz was to be moved as soon as possible to the area west of Lyngenfjord, moored in shallow water and brought into the operation as a floating battery. A suitable berth had to be selected which would be reasonably secure and would offer favourable operational possibilities for the ship’s armament. Adequate anti-aircraft, smoke-cover and net protection were to be provided. Makeshift repairs were to be made and the Tirpitz moved with the assistance of powerful tugs.”

“The operation of moving the Tirpitz was carried out on 15 October, 1944. A berth was selected near Tromsø, Haakoy net enclosure, by F.O.I.C., Polar Coast in co-operation with Flag Officer, First Battle Group. The ship was protected against underwater attacks and aerial torpedoes by means of a double net barrage. Shore anti-aircraft guns and smoke-screen units were moved from Kaa Fjord to Tromsø. As the ship was only partially seaworthy, the crew, particularly the engine room complement, was decreased. It was found that there were varying depths of water at the selected berth; in particular there was a hollow below the midship section. Too many difficulties would have arisen if the ship were to be moved again, so it was decided to fill in the hollow till the water was 2 m. deep below the keel. Work was commenced by dredgers on 1 November, and by 12 November about 14,000 cm. had been filled in at both sides below the midship section.”

Second Bomber Command Tallboy Attack

On 29 October, 1944, the lame Tirpitz now moored at Tromsø off Haakoy Island was again attacked by Bomber Command. A force of 32 Lancasters flying this time from British bases and carrying one Tallboy each, began bombing her at 0850. The target was seen obliquely as the aircraft approached, but low clouds obscured her from view during the bombing runs and made accurate bomb-aiming impossible. Once again, prior warning of the approaching raid was received and the ship was in a high state of readiness when the attack commenced. No direct hits were scored but the end was brought one stage nearer by a near miss off the port quarter, which damaged the port shaft and rudder and flooded about 100 ft. of the aft end of the ship on the port side.

Final Bomber Command Attack

The struggle between the British armed forces and Tirpitz came to an end on 12 November, 1944, when Bomber Command aircraft executed what was undoubtedly one of the most effective British air operations of the late war. 29 Lancasters, again carrying one 12,000 lb. M.C. bomb each, attacked the ship as she lay in her anchorage at Tromsø. Bombing commenced at 0941 and finished eight minutes later in clear weather and excellent visibility. Tirpitz had received ample warning by radio of the approach of the bombers and was again prepared when the attack developed. Intense anti-aircraft fire was augmented from nearby flak ships and shore batteries, but there was no effective smoke-screen. The bombing runs were made at heights varying between 12,500 ft. and 16,500 ft. Tirpitz received severe structural damage from, at least, two direct hits and one near miss, and as a result of this damage she capsized to port about ten minutes after the first bomb was dropped. Part of the starboard side of her hull is still to be seen above the surface – a reminder of the inability of a capital ship without adequate fighter cover to resist a determined and concentrated attack with modern airborne weapons.