Fighters Over Poland

P11 VERSUS THE LUFTWAFFE

During the summer of 1939 the Polish air force found itself dealing with repeated violations of its airspace by photoreconnaissance Do17s of the Luftwaffe, and the experience of the P11c, the principal Polish fighter, was not encouraging. Unable to reach either the speeds or the altitudes of the German intruders, the P11c was clearly obsolescent by this time, and the intruders were able to evade the Polish fighters’ attempted interceptions virtually at will. In preparation for the conflict which by this stage was widely anticipated, the Polish Air Force had been reorganized in the spring, with around a third of the available fighters concentrated around Warsaw and the remainder allocated to the various armies. By the end of August most of the operational aircraft had been dispersed to concealed airfields in preparation for the assault, which duly began before dawn on September 1. Because of heavy fog on the opening day of the war, German plans were changed, with the intended mass attack on Warsaw postponed in preference to raids against airfields and other tactical targets. Flying low to locate the airfields, the bombers of Luftflotte 4, allocated to the advance against Kracow in the south, gave the defending fighters a chance at interception.

Built by the Pánstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze (National Aviation Establishment) and first flying in August 1931, the PZL P.11 was the descendant of a series of clean monoplanes designed by Zygmunt Pulawski, incorporating a unique gull wing that was thickest near the point where four faired steel struts buttressed it from the fuselage sides. When the first PZL P.1 flew on September 26, 1929, it thrust Poland to the forefront of progressive fighter design. In 1933 Poland’s air force, the Lotnictwo Wojskowe, became the first in the world to be fully equipped with all-metal monoplane fighters as the improved P.6 and P.7 equipped its eskadry. When the production P.11c, powered by a 645-horsepower Škoda-built Bristol Mercury VI S2 nine-cylinder radial engine, entered service in early 1935, it still rated as a modern fighter, with a maximum speed of 242 miles per hour at 18,045 feet and a potent armament of four 7.7mm KM Wz 33 machine guns, although its open cockpit and fixed landing gear were soon to become outdated. By 1939 the P.11c was clearly obsolete, and efforts were already under way to develop a successor to replace it within the year. Poland did not have a year, however—on September 1, time ran out as German forces surged over her borders.

A morning fog over northern Poland thwarted the first German air operation, as Obltn. Bruno Dilley led three Junkers Ju 87B-1 Stukas of 3rd Staffel, Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 (3./StG 1) into the air at 0426, flew over the border from East Prussia and at 0434—eleven minutes before Germany formally declared war—attacked selected detonation points in an attempt to prevent the destruction of two railroad bridges on the Vistula River. The German attack failed to achieve its goal and the Poles blew up the bridges, denying German forces in East Prussia an easy entry into Tszew (Dirschau). The “fog of war” also handicapped a follow-up attack on Tszew by Dornier Do 17Z bombers of III Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 3 (III./KG 3).

Weather conditions were better to the west, allowing Luftflotte 4 to dispatch sixty Heinkel He 111s of KG 4, Ju 87Bs of I./StG 2, and Do 17Es of KG 77 on a series of more effective strikes against Polish air bases near Kraków at about 0530, Rakowice field being the hardest hit. Assigned to escort the Heinkels was a squadron equipped with a new fighter of which Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring expected great things: the Messerschmitt Me 110C-1 strategic fighter, or Zerstörer.

The Me 110 had evolved from a concept that had been explored during World War I but which was only put into successful practice by the French with their Caudron 11.A3, a twin-engine, three-seat reconnaissance plane employed as an escort fighter in 1918. The strategic fighter idea was revived in 1934 with the development of the Polish PZL P.38 Wilk (Wolf), which inspired a variety of similar twin-engine fighter designs in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States.

Göring was particularly enthralled by what he dubbed the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer), and in 1934 he issued a specification for a heavily armed twin-engine multipurpose fighter capable of escorting bombers, establishing air superiority deep in enemy territory, carrying out ground-attack missions, and intercepting enemy bombers. BFW, Focke-Wulf, and Henschel submitted design proposals; but it was Willy Messerschmitt’s sleek BFW Bf 110, which ignored the bombing requirement to concentrate on speed and cannon armament, that won out over the Fw 57 and the Hs 124. Powered by two Daimler Benz DB 600A engines, the Bf 110V1 was first flown by Rudolf Opitz on May 12, 1936, and attained a speed of 314 miles per hour, but the unreliability of its engines required a change to 680-horsepower Junkers Jumo 210Da engines when the preproduction Bf 110A-0 was completed in August 1937.

Although more sluggish than single-seat fighters, the Bf 110A-0 was fast for a twin-engine plane, and its armament of four nose-mounted 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns and one flexible 7.9mm MG 15 gun aft was considered impressive. Prospective Zerstörer pilots were convinced that tactics could be devised to maximize its strengths and minimize its shortcomings, just as the British had done with the Bristol fighter in 1917. The Bf 110B-1, which entered production in March 1938, was even more promising, with a more aerodynamically refined nose section housing a pair of 20mm MG FF cannon. Later, in 1938, the 1,100-horsepower DB 601A-1 engine was finally certified for installation, and in January 1939 the first Messerschmitt Me 110C-1s, powered by the DB 601A-1s and bearing a new prefix to mark Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW, entered service. By September 1, a total of eighty-two Me 110s were operating with I Gruppe (Zerstörer) of Lehrgeschwader (Operational Training Wing) 1 (I(Z)./LG 1) commanded by Maj. Walter Grabmann, and I Gruppe, Zerstörergeschwader 1 (I./ZG 1) under Maj. Joachim-Friedrich Huth, both assigned to Luftflotte 1; and with I./ZG 76 led by Hptmn. Günther Reinecke, attached to Luftflotte 4 along the Polish-Czechoslovakian border.

Intensely trained for their multiple tasks, the Zerstörer pilots, like those flying the Stuka, had been indoctrinated to think of themselves as an elite force. Therefore, the Me 110C-1 crewmen of the 2nd Staffel of ZG 76 were as eager as Göring himself to see their mettle tested as they took off at 0600 hours to escort KG 4’s He 111s. To the Germans’ surprise and disappointment, they encountered no opposition over Kraków.

During the return flight, 2./ZG 76’s Staffelführer, Obltn. Wolfgang Falck, spotted a lone Heinkel He 46 army reconnaissance plane and flew down to offer it protection, only to be fired at by its nervous gunner. Minutes later Falck encountered another plane, which he identified as a PZL P.23 light bomber. “As I tried to gain some height he curved into the sun and as he did I caught a glimpse of red on his wing,” Falck recalled. “As I turned into him I opened fire, but fortunately, my marksmanship was no better than the reconnaissance gunner’s had been, [for] as he banked to get away I saw it was a Stuka. I then realized that what I had thought was a red Polish insignia was actually a red E. I reported this immediately after landing and before long the colored letters on wings of our aircraft were overpainted in black.”

As the Stukas of I./StG 2 were returning from their strike, they passed over Balice airfield just as PZL fighters of the III/2 Dywizjon (121st and 122nd Eskadry), attached to the Army of Kraków, were taking off. By sheer chance one of the Stuka pilots, Ltn. Frank Neubert, found himself in position to get a burst from his wing guns into the leading P.11c’s cockpit, after which he reported that it “suddenly explode[d] in mid-air, bursting apart like a huge fireball—the fragments literally flew around our ears.” Neubert’s Stuka had scored the first air-to-air victory of World War II—and killed the commander of the III/2 Dyon, Kapitan Mieczyslaw Medwecki.

Medwecki’s wingman, Porucznik (Lieutenant) Wladyslaw Gnys of the 121st Eskadra, was more fortunate, managing to evade the bombs and bullets of the oncoming trio of Stukas and get clear of his beleaguered airfield. Minutes later, he encountered two returning Do 17Es of KG 77 over Olkusz and attacked. One went down in the village of Zurada, south of Olkusz, and Gnys was subsequently credited with the first Allied aerial victory of World War II. Shortly afterward, the wreckage of the other Do 17E was also found at Zurada and confirmed as Gnys’s second victory. None of the German bomber crewmen survived.

In spite of the adverse weather that had spoiled its first missions, Luftflotte 1 launched more bombing raids from East Prussia, including a probing attack on Okacie airfield outside Warsaw by sixty He 111Ps of Lehrgeschwader 1, escorted by Me 110Cs of the wing’s Zerstörergruppe, I(Z)./LG 1. As the Heinkels neared their target, the Polish Brygada Poscigowa (Pursuit Brigade), on alert since dawn, was warned of the Germans’ approach by its observation posts, and at 0650 it ordered thirty PZL P.11s and P.7s of the 111th, 112th, 113th, and 114th Eskadry up from their airfields at Zielonka and Poniatów to intercept. Minutes later, the Poles encountered scattered German formations and waded in, with Kapral (Corporal) Andrzej Niewiara and Porucznik Aleksander Gabszewicz sharing in the destruction of the first He 111. Over the next hour, the air battle took the form of numerous individual duels, during which Kapitan Adam Kowalczyk, commander of the IV/I Dyon, downed a Heinkel, and Porucznik Hieronim Dudwal of the 113th Eskadra destroyed another.

The Me 110s pounced on the PZLs, but the Zerstörer pilots found their nimble quarry to be most elusive targets. Podporucznik (Sub-Lieutenant) Jerzy Palusinski of the 111th Eskadra turned the tables on one of the Zerstörer and sent it out of the fight in a damaged state. Its wounded pilot was Maj. Walter Grabmann, a Spanish Civil War veteran of the Legion Condor and now commander of I(Z)./LG 1.

In all, the Poles claimed six He 111s, while the German bombers were credited with four PZLs; their gunners had in fact brought down three. Once again, Göring’s vaunted Zerstörer crews returned to base empty handed. When the Germans sent reconnaissance planes over the area to assess the bombing results at about noon, Porucznik Stefan Okrzeja of the 112th Eskadra caught one of the Do 17s and shot it down over the Warsaw suburbs.

As the weather improved, Luftflotte 1 struck again in even greater force, as two hundred bombers attacked Okecie, Mokotow, Goclaw, and bridges across the Vistula. They were met by thirty P. 11s and P.7s of the Brygada Poscigowa, which claimed two He 111Ps of KG 27, a Do 17, and a Ju 87 before the escorting Me 110Cs of I(Z)./LG 1 descended on them. This time the Zerstörer finally drew blood, claiming five PZLs without loss, and indeed the Poles lost five of their elderly PZL P.7s. One Me 110 victim, Porucznik Feliks Szyszka, reported that the Germans attacked him as he parachuted to earth, putting seventeen bullets in his leg. The Me 110s also damaged the P.11c of Hieronim Dudwal, who landed with the fuselage just aft of the cockpit badly shot-up; two bare metal plates were crudely fixed in place over the damaged area, but the plane was still not fully airworthy when the Germans overran his airfield.

For most of September 1, the Me 109s were confined to a defensive posture, save for a few strafing sorties. For the second bombing mission in the Warsaw area, however, I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 21 was ordered to take off from its forward field at Arys-Rostken and escort KG 27’s He 111s. The Me 109s rendezvoused with the bombers, only to be fired upon by their gunners. When the Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander), Hptmn. Martin Mettig, tried to fire a recognition flare, it malfunctioned, filling his cockpit with red and white fragments. Mettig, blinded and wounded in the hand and thigh, jettisoned his canopy—which broke off his radio mast—and turned back. Most of Mettig’s pilots saw him head for base, and being unable to communicate with him by radio, they followed him. Only upon landing did they learn what had happened.

Not all of the Gruppe had seen Mettig, however, and those pilots who continued the mission were rewarded by encountering a group of PZL fighters. In the wild dogfight that followed, the Germans claimed four of the P.11cs, including the first victory of an eventual ninety-eight by Ltn. Gustav Rödel. The Poles claimed five Me 109s, including one each credited to Podporuczniki Jerzy Radomski and Jan Borowski of the 113th Eskadra, and one to Kapitan Gustaw Sidorowicz of the 111th. Podpolkovnik (Lieutenant Colonel) Leopold Pamula, already credited with an He 111P and a Ju 87B earlier that day, rammed one of the German fighters and then bailed out safely. Porucznik Gabszewicz was shot down by an Me 109 and, like Szyszka, subsequently claimed that the Germans had fired at him while he parachuted down.

In addition to challenging the waves of German bombers and escorts that would ultimately overwhelm them, PZL pilots took a toll on the army cooperation aircraft which were performing reconnaissance missions for the advancing panzer divisions. Podporucznik Waclaw S. Król of the 121st Eskadra downed a Henschel Hs 126, while Kapral Jan Kremski shared in the destruction of another. After taking off on their second mission of the day to intercept a reported Do 17 formation at 1521 hours, Porucznik Marian Pisarek and Kapral Benedykt Mielczynski of the 141st Eskadra spotted an Hs 126 of 3.(H)/21 (3 Staffel (Heeres), Aufklärungsgruppe 21, or 3rd Squadron Army of Reconnaissance Group 21), attacked it and sent it crashing to earth near Torun. The pilot, Obltn. Friedrich Wimmer, and his observer, Obltn. Siegfried von Heymann, were both wounded. Shortly afterward, two more P.11cs from their sister unit, the 142nd Eskadra, flew over the downed Henschel, and one of the Poles, Porucznik Stanislaw Skalski, later described what occurred when he landed nearby to recover maps and other information from the cockpit:

The pilot, Friedrich Wimmer, was slightly wounded in the leg; his navigator, whose name was von Heymann, had nine bullets in his back and shoulder. I did what I could for them and stayed with them until an ambulance came. The prisoners were transferred to Warsaw. After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September, they became prisoners of the Russians, but were released at the end of October. When they were interrogated by the highest Luftwaffe authorities, Wimmer told them of my generosity. The Germans, who later learned that I had gone to Britain to fight on, said if I should become their prisoner, I would be honored very highly.

The observer, von Heymann, died in 1988. . . . I tried to get in touch with the pilot for three years. The British air attaché and Luftwaffe archives helped me to contact Colonel Wimmer. I went to Bonn to meet him in March 1990, and the German ace Adolf Galland also came over at that time. In 1993, Polish television went with me, to make a film with Wimmer. Reporters asked why I did it—why I landed and helped the enemy, exposing my fighter and myself to enemy air attack. I was young, stupid and lucky. That is always my answer!

I came back late in the afternoon and I had to land on the road close to a forest—Torun aerodrome had been bombed already. I then gave [General Dywizji Wladyslaw] Bortnowski, commander of the Armia Pomorze, the maps that I had captured from the Hs 126, which gave all the dispositions and attack plans of German divisions in Pomerania. He kissed me and said this was all the information his army needed.

On the following day, Skalski came head on at what he described as a “cannon-armed” Do 17 in a circling formation of nine and shot it down, then claimed a second bomber minutes later. Dorniers were not armed with cannon; but Me 110s were, and Skalski subsequently recalled that the Poles were completely unfamiliar with the Zerstörer—nobody had seen them in action until September 1. Moreover, I/ZG 1 lost a Bf 110B-1, its pilot, Hptmn. Adolf Gebhard Egon Claus-Wendelin, Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg, commander of the 3rd Staffel, being killed, while his radioman, Gefreiter Hans Weng, bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). Skalski’s “double” was the first of four and one shared victories with which he would be officially credited during the Polish campaign. Later, flying with the Royal Air Force, he would bring his total up to 18 1/2, making him the highest-scoring Polish ace of the war.

Although Poland was overrun in three weeks, its air force occasionally put up a magnificent fight, though its efforts were rendered inconsistent by poor communications and coordination. Polish fighters were credited with 129 aerial victories for the loss of 114 planes, and many of the pilots who scored them would fight on in the French Armée de l’Air and the Royal Air Force.

The fall of Poland terminated the career of the PZL P.11c, but only marked the beginning for the Me 110, which, after a further run of success, finally met its nemesis in the form of the Hurricane and Spitfire. Relegated to fighter-bomber and photoreconnaissance duties after the Battle of Britain, the Zerstörer would undergo a remarkably productive revival as a night fighter.

Poland’s main front-line fighter in September 1939 was the PZL P11c. Obsolete in comparison with the German Me109s, it nevertheless gave a good account of itself before Poland fell.

Poland was first in the firing line. Early in the morning of September 1 a force of about 120 Heinkel He111s and Dornier Do17s, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf110 fighters, were reported by Polish ground observation posts to be heading for Warsaw. The Luftwaffe had made giant strides since the first German pilots went into action with the Condor Legion in 1936. It now possessed 3652 first-line aircraft comprising 1180 medium twin-engined bombers (mostly He111s and Do17s), 366 Stuka dive bombers, 1179 Me109 and Me110 fighters, 887 reconnaissance aircraft and 40 obsolescent ground-attack Hs123s. Transport was provided by 552 Ju52s, and there were 240 naval aircraft of various types. For the Polish campaign the Luftwaffe deployed 1581 of these aircraft.

German intelligence had estimated the front¬ line strength of the Polish air force at some 900 aircraft. In fact on 1 September the figure was nearer 300, made up of 36 P37 `Los’ twin-engined medium bombers, 118 single-engined `Karas’ P23 light reconnaissance bombers and 159 fighters of the PZL P11c and P7 types. Light gull-winged monoplanes, with open cockpits and fixed undercarriages, they had been an advanced design in the early 1930s but were now hopelessly outclassed by the Luftwaffe’s modern aircraft. Neither the PZL P11c nor the P7 could get high enough to intercept the high-flying Do17 reconnaissance aircraft.

On the opening day of hostilities, however, the German attack came in at low level, aiming to knock out the Polish air force on the ground. The Luftwaffe failed to achieve its objective as during the last days of peace the Polish air force had dispersed its aircraft to a number of secret airfields. On the morning of September 1 not one Polish squadron remained at its pre-war base. As a result only 28 obsolete or unserviceable machines were destroyed at Rakowice air base.

The first air combat of WW2 took place during this action when Captain M Medwecki, commanding officer of III/2 Fighter `Dyon’ was shot down by a Ju87 soon after he took off. Another pilot, Lieutenant W Gnys attacked the Ju87 and later shot down two low-flying Dornier 17s – the first Polish kills. Warsaw too was attacked by Luftwaffe bombers and the first to be shot down, a low-flying He111, was destroyed by Lieutenant A Gabszewicz.

A more spectacular victory occurred later that day during a running air battle above Warsaw. Second Lieutenant Leopold Pamula shot down a He111 and a Ju87 but ran out of ammunition when the fighter escort came down on the P11s. Pamula rammed one Me109 before parachuting to safety. In the same battle Aleksander Gabszewicz had his P11 set on fire and had to bale out. On his way to the ground he was shot at by a fighter, an event experienced by other parachuting Polish pilots as the battles continued.

Despite the inferiority of the Polish fighters, they achieved at least a dozen victories on the first day of WW2, although they lost 10 fighters with another 24 damaged. This gave the Polish pilots some confidence. Even with their outmoded aircraft they seemed able to cope with the Germans. Their pilots found that one good method of attack was to dive head-on where a tail-chase was more or less out of the question. This collision-course tactic unnerved the German bomber pilots and was most effective in breaking up formations and inflicting damage on the Heinkels and Dorniers. The Polish fighter pilots unexpectedly found the twin-engined Me110s more dangerous than the single-engined Me109s. The first German kill of WW2 was in fact scored by a 110 pilot, Hauptmann Schlief, who shot down a P11 on September 1.

By mid-September German pincers from north and south had closed around Warsaw. Then on September 17 the Red Army intervened from the east, destroying the last Polish hopes. Warsaw surrendered on September 27 and the last organized resistance collapsed in the first week of October. Despite the obsolescent equipment of the Polish air force, and its inferiority in numbers, it had inflicted heavy damage on the Luftwaffe, which had lost 285 aircraft with almost the same number so badly damaged as to be virtually noneffective. Polish fighter pilots were officially credited with 126 victories, which indicates modest claiming by them, for Polish anti-aircraft fire claimed less than 90, leaving an unclaimed deficit of some 70 aircraft. The last German aircraft shot down by a Pole in this campaign was claimed on September 17 by Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Koc. The highest-scoring Polish pilot was Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Skalski, with 6 1/2 kills. The highest-scoring German, and Germany’s first `ace’ of WW2, was Hauptmann Hannes Gentzen, who scored seven victories in a Me109D.

A total of 327 aircraft were lost by the Polish Air Force. Of these 260 were due to either direct or indirect enemy action with around 70 in air-to-air fighting; 234 aircrew were either killed or reported missing in action. One of the chief lessons learned by the German bomber force operating over Poland (and as the RAF bombers were soon to discover) was that they were susceptible to fighter attack. The immediate requirement, therefore, was for the bombers to have heavier defensive armament and additional armor protection for their crews.

STANISLAW SKALSKI

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Stanislaw F Skalski was in his early 20s. and a regular Polish Air Force officer, flying PZL fighters with 142 Squadron. On the second day of the war, he destroyed two Dornier 17s, and by the end of the brief Polish campaign was the top-scoring fighter pilot with 6 1/2 victories. He escaped to England, and joined 501 Squadron RAF in the Battle of Britain, scoring four victories. In June 1941 he was made a flight commander in 306 Polish Squadron and shot down five more German aircraft. He received the British DFC, having already won the Polish Silver Cross and Cross of Valor. He then had a spell as an instructor before commanding 317 Squadron in April 1942, winning a bar to his DFC.

In 1943 he led a group of experienced Polish fighter pilots into the Middle East, flying Spitfire IXs attached to 145 RAF Squadron. This ‘Fighting Team’ or ‘Skalski’s Flying Circus’ as it was also called, operated during the final stages of the Tunisian campaign, Skalski adding three more personal kills. He was then given command of 601 Squadron – the first Pole to command an RAF fighter squadron. He received a second bar to his DFC as well as the Polish Gold Cross before returning to England.

As a Wing Commander in April 1944 he commanded 133 (Polish No 2) Fighter Wing, flying Mustangs, raising his score to 19 victories when he forced two FW190s to collide on June 24. He ended the war as a gunnery instructor, decorated additionally with the British DSO. Returning to Poland after the war he was imprisoned by the Russians; and, following his release, drove a taxi in Warsaw.

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The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units I

Frogmen at a display for Grossadmiral Dönitz (second right) showing an interested admiral – possibly Heye – his watertight Junghans diver’s watch/compass.

Development, Training, Structure

As with other light naval units, the MEKs were formed late in the war. As commandos and naval sabotage troops they operated behind enemy lines close to the coast, attacking harbour installations, bridges, ships, supply depots, ammunition dumps and other worthwhile targets.

The idea was never discussed at OKM until 16 September 1943, the motive for the deliberations being the operations by their British counterparts. During the period from February to July 1942, British forces had launched three commando raids of this kind between Boulogne and Le Havre and collected important intelligence on German defences. In the course of these raids a number of enemy personnel had been captured and paperwork confiscated by the Wehrmacht. This led to certain conclusions being drawn regarding the development, structure of commando units and the tactics of their operations. The evaluation laid the foundations for the equivalent German squads (MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos).

The first MEK came into being at Heiligenhafen on the Baltic at the end of 1943. The training camp was barracks immediately behind the beach. Later, as the company grew in size, the artillery barracks was used as a training ground. Oblt (MA) Hans-Friedrich Prinzhorn was the first commando leader. In the summer of 1942 he had been a member of an assault squad which crossed the Strait of Kerch in the Crimea to attack Soviet positions on the Kuban Peninsula. Before his move to the K-Verband, Prinzhorn had been an instructor at the Kriegsmarine flak training school. By the end of 1943 the first thirty officers and men of all ranks were installed at Heiligenhafen, and the training lasted into the spring of 1944. It followed the British commando-training manual very closely, a fact to be kept strictly secret. Each man was required to sign a pledge to this effect. There was no leave and it was not permitted to leave the confines of the camp. All civilian contacts had to be broken off.

The instructors were infantrymen and engineers with frontline experience particularly against the Soviets. Training in sniping and explosives handling was made as realistic as possible. Sports, swimming and judo instructors taught methods of unarmed combat and how to overwhelm enemy sentries silently: experts gave instruction in motor vehicles and radio, specialists taught the use of life-saving devices and oxygen breathing gear, linguists passed on their knowledge of the vernacular used by enemy soldiers. Each man had to be an all-rounder. Candidates who flunked the course were returned to their unit without ever having really understood the purpose of what had been taught at Heiligenhafen. After completing training, the successful men were distributed between the various MEKs.

The authorized strength of an MEK was one officer, 22 men and 15 vehicles (3 radio cars, two amphibious and one catering vehicle, the other vehicles being for transport, equipment and ammunition). Rations and ammunition was to be sufficient for six weeks. In January 1944 Kptlt (S) Opladen’s men were instructed in their missions and the first three units (MEK 60 – Oblt (MA) Prinzhorn, MEK 65 – Oblt Richard and MEK 71 – Oblt Wolters) transferred to waiting positions in Denmark and France. Subsequently each MEK, depending on its assignment, received an influx of personnel for special missions, e.g. one-man torpedoes, midget submarines, Linsen and assault boat pilots, canoeists and frogmen. An MEK might eventually be 150 strong.

MEKs existed before the K-Verband did. They had been set up by the Hamburg Abwehr office, to which they were accountable. These units were: MAREI (Kptlt (S) Opladen) and MARKO (Oblt Broecker). Both units were absorbed into the K-Verband as MEK 20.

As time went on other MEKs were formed. MEK 30 (Kptlt Gegner); MEK 35 (Kptlt Breusch, November 1944–March 1945, Kptlt Wolfgang Woerdemann, March 1945–End); and MEK 40 (Kptlt Buschkämper, August 1944–March 1945, Oblt Schulz, March 1945–End). This unit was formed at Mommark in Denmark on the island of Alsen (Gelbkoppel) with 150 men for special assignments.

Others were:

MEK 70 – nothing known

MEK 75 – KptzS Böhme

MEK 80: Kptlt Dr Krumhaar (March 1944–End)

MEK 85: Oblt Wadenpfuhl (January 1945–End)

MEK 90: Oblt Heinz-Joachim Wilke

There are said to have been other MEKs, e.g. MEK Werschetz and MEK zbV. Leaders of these units may have been Oblt Rudolf Klein, Lts Alexander Spaniel and Wilhelm Pollex amongst others.

The training of MEK men was carried out at a training establishment at Kappeln and Heiligenhafen. Hand-to-hand infantry fighting training was held at Bad Sülze/Rostock, Stolp and Kolberg in Pomerania. Kappeln had the following officer corps:

Commander: KKpt Heinrich Hoffmann

Chief at Staff: Kptlt Erich Dietrich

Adjutant: Lt Günther Schmidt

National Socialist Leadership Officer (after 20.7.1944): Lt Gustav Weinberger

Medical Officer: Kptlt Dr Rudolf Neuman

Company chiefs: Kptlt Friedrich Adler; Oblts Werner Schulz, Hermann Ibach, Eckehard Martienssen, Hans-Günter Beutner; Lt Gerhard Zwinscher

Training Officer: Oblt Hans Diem

At Heiligenhafen the training staff was:

Commander: Kptlt Friedrich Jütz

Camp commandants: Kptlt Heinrich Schütz, Oblt Eberhardt Sauer

Instructors: Oblt Hans-Friedrich Prinzhorn; Lts Erich Kohlberg, Hainz Knaup, Herbert Vargel, Kurt Wagenschieffer, Hermann Baumeister; Oberfähnriche Georg Brink and Anton Ibach.

MEK Operations in the West

In June 1944 the Allies at Caen in Normandy succeeding in crossing the Orne and Orne-Sea Canal to the east, and built a bridgehead posing a severe threat to German units. The Allies ‘pumped’ 10,000 men into this bridgehead. Their supplies were brought up over two intact bridges. Their AA defences were so strong that no attack by the impoverished Luftwaffe stood any chance of success. German engineers were unable to reach the bridges cross-country.

On Thursday 22 June 1944 the Battle for Caen began. It was General Montgomery’s intention to encircle Caen by crossing the high land with its dominant landmark Hill 112 south-west of the city and then the River Odon. This important sector was being stubbornly defended by 12 SS-Panzer Division Hitler Jugend led by SS-Oberführer Kurt ‘Panzermeyer’ Meyer. The demolition of the strategically important bridges was to be the proving test for MEK 60. Oblt (MA) Prinzhorn was given a platoon of frogmen from Venice. As the result of a road traffic accident, this platoon had been reduced in size from ten men to six. Its leader, LtzS Alfred von Wurzian, had been forbidden to take part in the operation because he was too valuable as an instructor.

The assignment was to destroy two bridges at Benouville which British airborne troops had captured in the early hours of the Invasion. The commandos consisted of two groups of three frogmen: Group One – Feldwebel Kurt Kayser, Funkmaat Heinz Brettschneider and Obergefreiter Richard Deimann; Group Two – Oberfähnrich Albert Lindner, Fähnrich Ulrich Schulz and a third man whose name has not been remembered.

The operation was scheduled to begin from Franceville at 2300 on the night of 14 August 1944. Each group was to take a torpedo – actually a time bomb package inside a torpedo-shaped container – to a specific bridge. Things started badly and got worse. When the 800 kg torpedoes were let down to the surface of the river on pulleys, they sank at once. No allowance had been made for the changed specific gravity in fresh water. Floats were improvised from empty fuel barrels to salve the torpedoes. The frogmen now entered the water, two to tow, one to steer, a torpedo.

Prinzhorn’s group, which was to attack the further bridge over the Orne, passed carefully below the enemy-held first bridge. It was another 12 kilometres to the main bridge, which all believed to be the crucial structure. Here they were to anchor their torpedo to the central pillar. After strenuous effort they attained their objective, moored the torpedo about a metre above the bottom on the central pillar and set the timer. Four hours later they were back at MEK. Too soon, as Prinzhorn was to discover. A revision of the map had brought to light the sorry fact that a third bridge, the real objective, had been omitted. The explosive had been set below the wrong bridge. It detonated punctually at 0530 hrs.

Events were equally dramatic for Lindner’s group. Towing the torpedo was sheer torment. Suddenly the third man lost his nerve as they swam past the enemy on the bankside. He could not be convinced to go on and swam to shore. The two midshipmen proceeded with the operation alone. After passing a wooden hindrance designed to intercept drifting mines they reached the first bridge, anchored the torpedo and set off for MEK on foot. When this bridge also blew up at 0530, the British scoured the area for the saboteurs. Once Lindner and Schulz had to hide up in a latrine trench to avoid capture. It was the following evening before they reached the canal, where a weaker current allowed them to swim back. The third man had attempted to make his way back independently, had been shot by the British and died of his wound in captivity.

At the end of August 1944 the Allies had pushed onwards and eastwards. They took Honfeur near Le Havre with its formerly German coastal battery Bac du Hode sited on the south bank of the Seine between Honfleur and Trouville. This battery now menaced the German garrison in Le Havre. A Naval artillery assault squad had set out cross-country to retake the battery and had been wiped out in a firefight with the British. MEK 60 now received orders to destroy the battery. After Prinzhorn had been frustrated by engine breakdown in an attempt to cross the Seine aboard an infantry assault boat, he obtained two Linsen speedboats from K-Verband. These were fitted with double noise-suppressors and could make eight knots at slow ahead.

On the night of 26 August 1944 the operation began. Aboard the Linsen were Prinzhorn, seven MEK men and a naval artillerist who knew the locality well. At 0050 the agreed light signals flashed out from Le Havre, and they paddled their rubber dinghies through a minefield to land. They came ashore too far west and had to negotiate the beach area on foot. By 0230 they were within 100 metres of the battery. The men slipped past the sentries and got into the bunkers. Hastily they set their explosives on the three heavy guns and in the magazine and fled. Four minutes later the charges exploded and the battery was destroyed.

At the end of August 1944 the German military resistance in France collapsed. Within a few days, fast Allied units had broken through northern France and into Belgium. Antwerp fell after a short battle and would not serve the British as a useful port for supplies. Although Antwerp lay well inland at the eastern end of the Scheldt, it was tidal and this influenced the port operations to a considerable extent. Besides an open harbour the city had a large network of docks. The Kruisschans Lock ensured that the water in the main harbour remained at a constant height. All ships arriving and departing had to pass through it.

MEK 60, now re-located in the Low Countries, was called upon again. Its task this time was to destroy the two principal locks – Kruisschans and Royers. Putting them out of commission would seriously disrupt Allied supply, reducing unloading capacity by five-sixths while it lasted.

After assessing the situation, it was clear that only an attack by frogmen held out any hope for success. The enemy had sealed off the last kilometre of the lock approaches with net barriers. The difficult currents in the Scheldt made it impossible for swimmers to do the whole journey there and back swimming. It was therefore decided to transport the frogmen to the lock entrance aboard Linsen boats. Both river banks were held by the enemy, but it was essential that the passage remained undetected. A dark, overcast night, or fog would be best. Moreover a foodtide was needed, the noise made by the engines pitted against the strong ebb would be too great. This would also ensure that the frogmen saboteurs would arrive at the lock gates at high water, enabling them to work below the walkway, beneath the feet of enemy sentries.

To blow up the 35-metre wide lock gate, K-Verband had developed a torpedo-mine. The necessary tonne of underwater explosive was to be carried in an elongated aluminium container the filling of which mostly ammonia gas – was calculated to ensure that the torpedo mine would float with 30 to 40 grams negative buoyancy just below the surface, where it would be easily manoeuvrable in calm water. Two men would swim towing the torpedo while the third steered it from astern. At the appropriate time the mine would be flooded by opening a pressure valve, sinking to the river bed: a button would start the timer running for the detonator.

The operation began on the night of 15 September 1944. The pilots of the two Linsen were Prinzhorn and Oblt Erich Dörpinghaus of K-Flotilla 216. With motors suppressed for noise the boats set off towing the torpedo mines. Visibility was barely 30 metres and both Linsen were soon lost to sight in the murk. The boats motored slowly upstream and separated in search of their individual locks. At the ten kilometre mark Dourpinghaus’ crew began peering through the gloom and thought they could make out the lock entrance.

While Dörpinghaus moored his Linse to a convenient post the three frogmen, Fieldwebel Karl Schmidt, Mechanikermaat Hans Greten and Maschinenmaat Rudi Ohrdorf slipped into the water and prepared the torpedo mine. With great effort they swam the last kilometre underwater towing their elongated charge. Suddenly Schmidt’s clothing snagged on a submerged object and tore. Now he had to wage a constant battle against buoyancy loss. The first major obstacles they overcame were a net barrier then a steel-mesh net: two more hindrances and they were at the quay wall. They moved along it until striking their heads against the lock gate, their objective.

They flooded the torpedo mine and accompanied its descent to the bottom, about 18 metres below. After activating the detonator they surfaced and swam off. Returning to the Linse Schmidt became so exhausted that he had to be towed by boat hook. Some 75 minutes later they were back with Dörpinghaus. Once the Linse set off a motor boat approached them suddenly from the fog. Dörpinghaus put the Linse to full ahead and quickly lost sight of the stranger. It was in fact Prinzhorn’s boat, his men not having succeeded in finding the Royers lock gate. At 0500 a tremendous explosion shook Antwerp harbour. The lock gate was wrecked and the passage of seagoing vessels had to be suspended for several weeks until the damage had been repaired.

In September 1944 the Allies concentrated on capturing the Dutch towns of Arnhem and Nijmegen by means of strong airborne operations.2 This was to be the springboard for the Allied advance to the north and west into the heartland of Germany. Whereas at Nijmegen 82 US Airborne Division had taken intact the bridges over the Waal (the main tributary of the Rhine delta), the British 504th Parachute Regiment had run into stiff opposition at Arnhem, and only on the north bank of the Waal had they been able to establish a bridgehead. On the road to Arnhem they were in possession of an area about three kilometres deep, but south of Elst their progress had been stopped by SS panzer units.

In order to destroy the important bridges, men from MEK 60 (Oblt Prinzhorn) and MEK 65 (Oblt Richard) were to form a special operational team to included Linsen and frogmen. After a thorough evaluation both officers concurred that 3 tonnes of explosives would be required for each of the mighty bridge pillars. This would need to be brought up in two 1.5-tonne torpedo-mines, each loaded with 600 kg of the special dynamite Nebolith. The pillars were over 11 metres tall and almost four metres in diameter. They would have to be forced upwards out of the jambs in which they were embedded, and only two simultaneous, violent explosions on opposite sides of the pillars could provide the necessary turning movement.

Two torpedo mines had to be joined for each tow: at the destination they would be separated and a packet of explosives placed either side of a pillar. Three bridges, one railway and two road bridges, were to be attacked. Two frogmen were sent to reconnoitre the length of the approach. They reported that the current was too strong for swimming in the return direction and they had had to walk back. An Abwehr liaison officer now arrived on the scene. Hauptmann Hummel was also known by the name Helmers and had been active as a commando leader at Valdagno and Venice. He mounted a major reconnaissance with two assault boats from Jagdkommando Donau crewed by Lt Schreiber, Bootsmaat Heuse and two junior NCOs, Krämer and Kammhuber. The loud engine noises betrayed them, and in an exchange of fire Heuse was killed. The British were now alerted and set up a foodlight barrier. The bridges were illuminated, the sentries reinforced and searchlight beams roved the region.

It seems probable that Hauptmann Hummel was the Hauptmann Hellmer mentioned in Skorzeny’s memoirs who not only led the operations but swam a reconnaissance himself:

The bridgehead extended for about seven kilometres either side of the bridge. The left bank of the Waal was occupied completely by the British. One night Hauptmann Hellmer swam the required reconnaissance alone … fortified by good luck, he swam between river banks occupied both sides by the enemy, and then returned to his own men.

On the night of 29 September twelve frogmen entered the Waal about ten kilometres upstream from Nijmegen and began towing the torpedo mines towards the bridges. The first group consisted of the experienced Funkmaat Heinz Brettschneider (MEK 60, Orne bridges operation) and senior privates Olle, Jäger and Walschendorff. The team was almost at the railway bridge, their objective, when they discovered about 200 metres before it a pontoon bridge, complete but for the central section, which was in the process of erection across the breadth of the river. They passed by the sentries unnoticed, and between the pontoon bridge and the railway bridge Brettschneider gave the signal to separate the explosive packets. The lines fore and aft were cut, the only tie being the long line which had to go round the pillar. Once all was set the swimmers set out on the walk back to base. An hour later the mines exploded – but the bridge held.

The two other groups towing four mines towards the road bridges fared no better. These eight men were: Obermaat Orlowski, Bootsmann Ohrdorf, Bootsmann Weber, Fieldwebel Schmidt, Steuermannsmaat Kolbruch, Obergefreiter Dyck and Gefreiten Gebel and Halwelka. One group drifted into a jetty, drawing the immediate fire of a British sentry. The attempt to link up the mines between the bridge columns failed because of the strong current. One of the men managed to open a valve and so sink the mine which exploded an hour later, blowing a hole of 25 metres diameter in the bridge. Of the twelve frogmen in the three groups only Brettschneider and Jäger reached the German lines at Ochten. The other ten were taken prisoner by the Dutch Resistance who were covering the south bank of the Waal.4

This action did not close the Nijmegen chapter. On 15 and 16 October 1944 two Marder one-man torpedoes and two Linsen set out with six torpedo-mines in tow. This force turned back nine kilometres short of the road bridge on account of technical problems. A second attempt with two operational and one reserve Linse on the night of 24 October was also called off after the mines sank one kilometre into the tow and exploded harmlessly five hours later. Subsequently paratroop-engineers made a bold attempt to destroy the road and pontoon bridges. The idea was to use mines to blow a channel through the Waal net barriers after which a float loaded with explosives would be moored to the bridge to blow a hole in the roadway overhead. The attack began on 20 November. Thirty-six mines were set adrift in the water between 1815 and 2000. Echo measuring devices would confirm the explosions in the net and the cable tension. The first operation failed because of a storm, and was repeated with eleven mines. At 0530 the float followed through and at 0657 an explosion occurred. Luftwaffe air reconnaissance photographs showed that a torpedo net had disappeared while large sections of the second and third barriers were no longer visible. The road bridge, though damaged, held however.

The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units II

A Linse unit before an operation.

Earlier, on 15 November 1944, MEKs 60 and 65 had launched an attack on the Moerdijk Bridge between Dordrecht and Breda. Nothing is known regarding this operation or its outcome. Otto Skorzeny5 described another frogman operation on the Rhine which did not proceed beyond the planning stage:

After the Invasion succeeded, the concern was expressed at the highest levels of Government that the Allies despised Switzerland’s neutrality and might invade Germany from Swiss territory. This idea emerged when the German western front came to a standstill in September 1944. At that time the front ran more or less along the Reich border. On orders from Führer HQ I had to begin preparations for such a contingency within a few days. My frogmen were to be held at readiness on the Upper Rhine in order to destroy the Rhine bridges at Basle the moment Allied troops set foot in Switzerland. This purely defensive measure would help the German leadership gain time to erect a front line opposite Switzerland and parry a future attack from this neutral territory. It was a region which had never been occupied heavily by German troops. A few weeks later the whole scheme was cancelled and the men recalled when it became clear that under no circumstances would the Allies embark on the feared adventure through Switzerland.

On the night of 12 January 1945, MEK 60 put 240 mines into the water at Emmerich, it being hoped that these would do the trick and destroy the bridges at Nijmegen. The mines were to be towed by 17 Biber midget submarines, the periscopes of which would be camoufaged as drifting moorhen-nests. Each Biber had to tow 272 kgs of explosives which would be cast off below the bridges. The mines were fitted with light-sensitive cells and as soon as the charges were overshadowed by the bridge, the change of light intensity would set off the detonators. The operation was planned by KptzS Troschke. Herr Bartels, master of the ferry Lena, which shuttled between Emmerich and Warbeyer, towed the Biber out of the harbour every day for their practice runs.

Kptlt Noack, a senior midshipman, a leading seaman and Obergefreiter Josef van Heek sailed the first mission each submerged with eight mines in tow. They failed to reach the bridges. Next evening, Noack, again leading a team of four Biber, made a second unsuccessful attempt. On the third occasion eight Biber got to within a kilometre of the nearest Nijmegen bridge but tangled in the net barriers. Seven Biber stuck fast on the river bed, two of the boats had to be destroyed. Eight of the pilots in the operations froze to death in the ice-cold water. The road bridges at Nijmegen remained standing to the end.

In March 1945 the situation in the West was unpredictable because the front was so fluid. On 9 March K-Verband Command informed OKW that for the purpose of defending the Rhine crossings in the Wesel-Arnhem area, two Linse-groups with 24 remote-controlled boats and 100 spherical drifting mines together with an MEK of 80 men was at readiness to destroy the Rhine bridge pillars at Lohmannsheide. For the railway bridge at Remagen, 11 frogmen with 700 kg mines were at their disposal. The Command itself had been hit by fighter-bombers but was still operational. Around 17 March, Lt Wirth’s squad of frogmen, who had made their way from Venice with two or three Italian remote-controlled SSB torpedoes, arrived.

Lt Schreiber led the operation, seven frogmen took part. The swimmers had to cover almost 17 kilometres of the Rhine in a temperature of only 7°C. They succeeded in damaging the Ludendorff Bridge so severely that it remained impassable for some time. The operation claimed four dead, two of whom died from hypothermia, and the others were made prisoner. Otto Skorzeny wrote:6

On 7 March 1945 a catastrophe occurred on the Western Front. The bridge over the Rhine at Remagen fell intact into the hands of the Americans. One evening I was ordered to Führer HQ at the Reich Chancellery. Generaloberst Jodl gave me orders to send my frogmen to destroy the Rhine bridge at Remagen immediately … the water temperature of the Rhine at this time was only 6 to 8°C and the American bridgehead already extended almost 10 kilometres upstream. I therefore stated that I saw only a small chance of success. I would bring my best men to the locality and leave it to them to decide if we should take the risk. Untersturmführer Schreiber was leader of Jagdkommando Donau. He decided to go ahead with this almost hopeless endeavour. It was a few days before we brought the essential torpedo mines from the North Sea coast to the Rhine … when everything was ready, the bridgehead upstream was already 16 kilometres broad. The men swam off into the night: many of them went shivering with the cold. The Americans raked the water surface with searchlights. Soon the group came under fire from the river banks, and some were wounded. The disappointment of the frogmen must have been enormous when, not far short of the objective, they came up to several pontoon bridges which the US Army had erected. Despite that they brought up the explosive charges. Whether despite the cold they were still able to move their fingers only the survivors know, and they are not talking. Half-dead they hauled themselves to the river bank – and into captivity.

On 11 March 1945 FKpt Bartels took over command at Lower Rhine HQ Lederstrumpf. A second unit under Kptlt Uhde code-named Panther was responsible for the Rhine-Moselle triangle. Oblt Dörpinghaus’ unit received the codename Puma. To destroy the Rhine crossings in the Sauerland an additional frogman platoon (one officer, 15 men) and three Linsen groups from K-Flotilla 218 with 36 boats had been made available.

On 26 March 1945 Army Group H reported that K-operations had no point having regard to the way in which the situation was developing in the West. Sonderkommando Puma was transferred to Aschaffenburg: Dönitz agreed that K-Flotilla 218 should be moved from Lederstrumpf to reinforce the defence of the River Ems as far as Groningen. At the request of 12 Army, on 20 April 1945 two Lederstrumpf groups were transferred to Magdeburg. The frogmen were to operate against the Elbe bridges at Barby using drifting mines and special explosives. Nothing further is known.

With regard to MEK 40 which operated in the West, the only information available is as follows: MEK 40 was 150-strong, trained at Gelbkoppel and had been formed for a special assignment at Mommark on the Danish island of Alsen. From August 1944 to March 1945 it was led by Kptlt Buschkäumper, and from then until the war’s end by Oblt Schulz. At the beginning of November 1944, MEK 40 was in the Scheldt area. From 8 to 12 December it perfomed espionage missions and during reconnaissance on the Drimmen peninsula, Holland Diep, north of Breda, took out a sentry and machine-gun nest. On the night of 22 January 1945, MEK 40 worked with Army units. With artillery support its saboteurs blew up a water tower and brought in prisoners after an operation at Anna Jakoba Polder east of Schouwen Island.

Operations in Hungary

By the end of 1944, Soviet troops in Hungary had reached the Danube. To prevent them crossing the river, Army Group South requested K-Verband for their support to destroy important bridges. As a result, the Kriegsmarine ordered K-Einsatzstab Adria to prepare the necessary explosive materials, and to plan and execute the operation. They were also to investigate the possibilities of operations by MEKs in the Apatin-Batina region.

On 1 December 1944, 1 and 3 Groups, MEK 71, reported to Army Group South in Hungary. At Paks, about 100 kilometres south of Buda, the MEK made its first reconnaissance sorties and set mines adrift in the Danube. On 2 December the Army Group made an urgent request for an operational unit with twelve Linsen. They were to go immediately to Gran on the Danube and report to Brükostaffelstab 939. The military situtation in that area then changed unfavourably with such abruptness that the Wehrmacht plan to operate the unit was cancelled.

Separate from these developments, on 10 December 1944 Sonderkommando Glatze led by Kptlt Friedrich Benthin, a Linse group for use on Lake Balaton, was set up. An Oblt commanded the Group, Lt Gerhard Weidlich commanded the remote-control team. The title of the operation is not known. Commando operations were given cover-names which – for security reasons – were often changed in the preparation phase. As a rule in the MEKs they were never written down and were known only to those immediately involved. Sonderkommando Glatze was ready to leave from Plön on 15 December 1944.

On 12 December Einsatzstab Haun informed SKL that the Army would welcome a Linse presence on Lake Balaton but only for its disruptive effect: the boats would find no worthwhile targets for their explosive cargo and were too light to mount artillery. Admiral Heye requested a decision from the Commander-in-Chief as to whether he should send his valuable Linsen under these circumstances. Dönitz decided in favour, but Lake Balaton then froze over, and the operation was called off.

A report dated 20 January 1945 states that a group from Sonderkommando Glatze was sent to Dunaföldvar, 100 kilometres south of Budapest, to destroy a bridge in the sector controlled by 4 SS-Panzerkorps. After the Army had demolished a bridge in the vicinity, the Russians had put up an improvised crossing which was now required to be blown up by Linsen. What came of this intention is not recorded.

In February 1944 a Linse group was sent to Zagreb in Croatia to destroy a Soviet pontoon bridge about 30 to 40 kilometres south of the city. The attempt failed because boats and crews were diverted for other purposes. More successful was an operation in Hungary in which two Danube bridges were blown at Budapest, while on 29 March 1945 the Wehrmacht communique reported the sinking of four river-ships by Linsen at Neusatz on the Danube.

Operations in Southern France, Italy and the Adriatic

In the sectors of Wehrmacht C-in-C South and Admiralty Staff South the principal naval sabotage units operational were MEKs 20, 71 and 90. These were directed by the operational staff of KptzS Werner Hartmann whose HQ was at Levicio, about 100 kilometres north-west of Padua. On 7 October 1944 the boundaries of jurisdiction and German Naval Command Italy were changed, and KKpt Haun with Staff HQ at Opicina, a suburb of Trieste, became responsible for K-Verband in the Adriatic.

Despite Italy’s capitulation in 1943, elements of the X-MAS Flotilla fought on the German side to the war’s end. After Prince Borghese had relinquished command of the Decima, in 1944 his flotilla splintered into several independent groups, some of which sided with the partisans. K-Verband Command brought those remaining loyal to Germany into a special fighting unit under its K-Verband control. Because it had distinguished itself in anti-partisan warfare, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler wanted to equip the unit with radio and integrate it into the German network, but Naval Command Italy and Dönitz were both opposed to the idea.

K-Verband units in the Adriatic operated mainly from Pola against the British, New Zealanders and Tito-partisans occupying the Dalmatian islands. These were almost exclusively sabotage raids, either made independently or under the protection of German S-boats. About MEK 20, which originated from the Abwehr, very little is known. In the summer of 1944 it was at Cavallo in Italy, and in September at Sibenick and Split in Yugoslavia. Subsequently it was withdrawn from the Dalmatian islands. MEK 90 under Kptlt Jütz fought at Dubrovnic in Yugoslavia in September 1944 and escaped from the encirclement of the city. On 27 October it arrived at Metkovic with four dead, two wounded and no vehicles. Subsequently the unit left Trieste and made its way back via Zagreb and Vienna to Lübeck Steinkoppel.

MEK 71 was en route from Germany to Italy when it received orders to engage the Maquis in southern France. On 9–10 August 1944 MEK 71 captured two large French Resistance camps near Aix without loss to itself and made safe large quantities of materials. The unit then proceeded as planned to La Spezia, the most important naval base. After the Badoglio capitulation, the Italian Navy had scuttled there the submarines UIT-15 (ex-Sparide), UIT-16 (ex-Murena), UIT-20 (ex-Grongo) and some Type CB midget submarines. MEK considered that the boats could be raised and towed to Genoa. On 4 and 6 September all were destroyed in an RAF air raid. Whether CB midget submarines were ever used by the German side is not known.

On 1 October, MEK 71 was ordered to transfer to the Adriatic 75 men with full equipment and five Linsen for operations against the Dalmatian islands. Early in October 1944 groups of eight to ten men exercised at Monfalcone in the Adriatic. On 20 October MEK 71 moved up to Trieste, and on 24 October the Abwehr’s 5 Marinekommando from Lehrkommando 700 frogman unit at Venice arrived at Haun’s operations HQ Opicina to scout the islands of Clib, Silba and Premnuda to prepare reports for possible MEK operations. Fishing boats and canoes were to be used.

Leader of operations was Oblt Ross, the Group was headed by Fieldwebel Mitschke. His first objectives were Komica Bay and Lissa on 17 October. A boat from 24 S-boat Flotilla was to carry the group from Pola to Sibenik from where on the second night they would attack the harbour. The men would enter in folding boats and attach explosives to destroyers, MTBs and freighters. They were to be brought out by S-boats, if this was not possible they were to paddle to Cape Plocca. The operation was called off because of winter storm Bora.

On 27 October Oblt Wolter arrived at Trieste with MEK 71. On the way he had tangled with partisans and had nine wounded plus two damaged Linsen. A section of his force left at once for Lussin, and Group Mitschke came under Wolter’s command. On 31 October Mitschke began scouting with a platoon of five. On the night of 20 November at Sibenik he found no large ships or military targets of importance. After blowing up the Gruzzo light tower he returned to base.

On 9 January 1945 naval saboteurs of MEK 71 were taken by S-boats to the Dalmatian and east Italian coast. At Zadar they sank two freighters and on the Italian Adriatic coast demolished three bridges.7

At the beginning of December 1944 Kptlt Frenzel, a former U-boat commander, was appointed head of MEK Adriatic. Group commander Oblt Hering,8 a German born in Italy, had 48 men at his disposal. On the night of 16 December MEK men blew up a lighthouse and harbour installations on the island of Metada. Between 8 and 10 January 1945 the men of Kommando Hering attacked bridges and roads in the Tenna estuary area on the Italian coast south of Ancona. S-33, S-58, S-60 and S-61 of 1 S-boat Division transported the men there.

The first group, Lt Kruse and Bootsmaat Sterzer, went ashore at Tenna from folding boats. They had orders to create havoc in the MTB base and blow up the bridge at the entrance to the Fermo ammunition factory. The other assault groups, each of four men, were to demolish the railway/road bridge over the Tenna and so halt Allied shipping along the Adriatic coast.

The second group (Obermaat Gericke) reached the railway bridge and goods yard at Porto San Elpidio. Oblt Hering and a midshipman, Stille, set the charges inside a bridge room. At 0245 all men were aboard S-boats for the return less two taken prisoner near Tolentino. Violent explosions were heard from the bridges, and an ammunition train erupted.

In another attack, 18 paired charges caused nine explosions on the base at Isto Island. Two tonnes of provisions were seized, a British officer and 20 men occupying the island were taken off by British MGB. In another raid at Zara, two coasters in the harbour were reported blown up. At Ruc Como, about 40 kilometres north-east of Milan, Sonderkommando Zander under Kptlt Nikolaus von Martiny was active, but active in what is unknown.

Operations on the Eastern Front

From November 1944 when the Red Army was already in East Prussia, naval sabotage units were used on the Eastern Front with increasing frequency. The swift Soviet advance was aided by numerous bridges and other facilities over and near inland waterways. These now became the target of K-Verband saboteurs. The MEKs could not halt the Soviets, but they could at least seriously disrupt their lines of supply. Frogmen and Linsen had been on the Eastern Front previously, at the Baranov bridgehead, on the Peipus and in the Baltic.

A few weeks before the capitulation, in March 1945 K-Verband Command fitted out a schooner as a Q-ship for Russian submarines operating between Windau and Memel and the tongue of land known as the Kurische Nehrung. For this purpose the schooner had explosives aboard with which the attacks were to be made. This interesting operation, Steinbock, was not proceeded with.

In early December 1944, Army Group A requested from SKL naval K-forces to destroy the bridges over the Vistula. The major Soviet breakout from the three Vistula bridgeheads was impending, speed was of the essence. K-Verband Command formed six operational groups with a total of 84 Linsen for Operation Lucie, but on 17 December when the Vistula froze over in a sudden cold snap, the planned operations became doubtful, and when the thickness of the ice was found to have increased on the 21st of the month Sondergruppe Lucie was stood down, the 84 Linsen were moved back to Fedderwardsiel and then onwards to help out in the west.

On 12 March 1945 MEK 85, formed in January that year under Oblt Wadenpfuhl with 90 men, was fully motorized and sent to Swinemünde to operate in the lower reaches of the Oder and Oderhaff. Suitable craft such as cutters, motor boats and canoes were pressed into service. In charge of the operation was Kptlt Meissner.

Besides MEK 85, Sonderkommando Rübezahl and Kampfschwimmergruppe Ost were stationed along the Oder. The latter frogman unit had been with Lehrkommando 700 at Venice in the previous autumn and transferred to List on Sylt, moving to the Eastern front in February 1945 via Berlin at the request of the OKW and Reichsführer-SS. In February the 16-strong platoon led by Lt Fred Keller transferred to the Oder river near Fürstenberg. In the first operation on the 25th of the month the group towed two torpedo-mines to the Soviet supply bridge for the Vogelsang bridgehead near the small village about two kilometres north-east of modern Eisenhüttenstadt. The attempt failed because the strong current forced the torpedoes against the river bank. On 13 March 1945 the bridge was destroyed by two Linsen.

On 1 March 1945 Admiral Heye reported that explosive charges placed around the pillars of the Oder bridge at Aurith had failed to detonate. It was hoped that a back-up detonator on a 24-hour timer would work. The frogman team returned. The same day the attempt to demolish an Oder bridge at Küstrin also failed when the explosive charge, a so-called ‘tree trunk packet’ drifted away from the bridge and exploded at the bankside.9

On 5 March, OKW informed Admiral Heye that Hitler had given Luftwaffe Oberstleutnant Baumbacher orders to lead the attack on all Soviet crossing points over the Oder and Neisse rivers. All Wehrmacht arms of service were to place at his disposal all appropriate means to execute his assignment. It is assumed that he was to coordinate the Luftwaffe attacks.

On 7 March Sondergruppe Rübezahl attacked two Oder bridges. The bridge at Kalenzig was destroyed over fifty metres of its length, the ground supports and lower structure of the bridge at Rebus were ruined over thirty metres of its length so that the bridge was rendered unusable.

On the night of 13 March Linsen attacked the Oder bridge at Zellin. In order to cover the engine noise, four Ju 88s circled the operational zone. The air reconnaissance photographs taken later that day showed that the bridge had been demolished over 270 metres of its length. The Soviets then rebuilt it, together with a pontoon bridge. On 16 April Luftwaffe suicide pilots attacked the crossings at Zellin. Fähnrich Beichl dived his Fw 190 filled with high explosive and carrying a 500 kg bomb into the bridge and destroyed it. The 40-strong Luftwaffe Sondergruppe destroyed in all seventeen Oder bridges between 16 and 17 April 1945.10

In the latter part of April 1945 the Soviet armies broke out of the Oder bridgeheads. On the evening of 24 April, Lt Keller reconnoitred the small island of Dievenow near Wollin which was still in German hands. After discussions with the island commandant the frogmen entered the water and drifted with their torpedo mines to the bridge linking the island to the Soviet-occupied mainland. Ashore they primed their charges. At 0417 hrs on 25 April 1945 the bridge was no more.

That same 24 April, Lt Albert Lindner (Lehrkommando 700 and the Orne bridges attack) led his naval saboteurs and three frogmen to destroy the pontoon bridges at Nipperwiese and Fiddichow. Two men were to blow up four pontoons from under the bridge. For this purpose they were equipped with small 7.5 kg explosive packs called Sprengfische. They set out from the infantry trenches at Oderdamm, southeast of Schwedt. The frogmen were discovered by a sentry, a Russian grenade hit one of the Sprengfische which exploded at once leaving several dead and wounded. The operation was repeated the following evening and succeeded. At 0500 explosive charges ripped the pontoon bridge apart, but the four frogmen involved finished up as Soviet prisoners of war.

The last frogman operation on the Eastern Front was at Stettin. On the night of 25 April 1945 the last German troops evacuated the city. Only a section of the harbour remained in German hands. The Soviets held the high ground at Altdamm, on the far bank of the eastern arm of the Oder, and were firing into the city. They had infltrated the harbour at a number of places. While setting a torpedo mine on a bridge pillar, Bootsmaat Künnicke was fired upon by a sentry. The mine drifted away and was lost. As it was already dawn, Künnicke hid in a barn and rejoined his unit next day. Two other frogmen who were Stettiners laid low in a swampy meadow between the east and west arms of the Oder while the Red Army rolled past them. The hiding place was on the bank of the Möllnfahrt, the Stettin regatta course. The pair had obtained for themselves a fine motor boat, Aristides, in which they were proposing to transport their torpedo mines. In their hiding place on 8 May they heard explosions and shooting. On 11 May, after selecting an Oder bridge as their target, they met a German civilian who gave them the news that the war was over. The two frogmen hid their equipment and obtained civilian clothing, then joined local people clearing the streets of rubble. Unfortunately they did not escape the attention of the Russians, and a long and arduous captivity followed.

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung I

A mass jump from a Ju 52. The photo clearly shows how the outer canvas bag is pulled off by the ripcord.

During the increasing political tensions in Central Europe and after the outbreak of armed conflict around them, the Scandinavian states of Norway, Denmark and Sweden had attended to a policy of strict neutrality, as in the First World War. This neutrality was much to the liking of Hitler and the OKW, as it had made the sea-lanes along the Norwegian coast safe for unarmed German ships1 and had shut off the Baltic Sea for British and French naval forces. But in September 1939 Churchill, at that time First Lord of the British Admiralty, had forwarded deliberations to the governments of the Western Allies and their general staffs to cut Germany off from Swedish iron ore stocks and from the nickel mines at Petsamo in Finland, both of which were vital for the German war industry. However, his proposals were not accepted by the Chamberlain government because they could only be achieved by violating the neutrality of the Scandinavian states. Nevertheless, Churchill doggedly pursued his aims. In a memorandum dated 16 December 1939, he stressed the need to temporarily lift the validity of the principles of the League of Nations during the struggle against Germany, and in particular the violation of the Scandinavian states’ neutrality by the Allies. The British cabinet again turned down any military action in Scandinavia, but did instruct its chiefs of staff to develop contingency plans for a potential occupation of Norway.

In Germany Großadmiral Raeder, commander-in-chief of the Navy, for the first time laid down his opinions in writing. He argued that for naval-strategic reasons the coast of Norway must not come under the control of the enemy and therefore any such attempt by the Allies must be forestalled. His concerns that Great Britain could quickly interrupt German imports from Norwegian/Swedish territory and seal off the German Navy’s access into the Atlantic Ocean had not been shared by Hitler or by the high commands of the Wehrmacht. Apparently upon request by Raeder the Navy Directorate for Naval Warfare [Seekriegsleitung] had commenced to examine whether bases for the Navy could be established in Denmark and Norway.

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Finland on 30 November 1939, the OKW had concluded that the Western allies could use military support for Finland as pretence to occupy the Norwegian port of Narvik and the Swedish ore deposits.

To a small degree as a result of his conversations with the Norwegian politician, Quisling, on 16 and 18 December 19393 but mainly on the insistence of Raeder, Hitler had ordered the development of a study to examine options for military actions against the Western powers regarding Norway. After it had become known that, on 6 January 1940, the British had tried to gain the approval of Norway and Sweden for the operation of British naval forces within Norwegian territorial waters in January 1940, the study had been passed to the high commands of the Wehrmacht services. The OKH and the OKL, who were fully occupied with the planning for the campaign in the west, paid little attention to the study, yet the OKM had looked at it in more detail and arrived at two important conclusions:

1)Surprise would have to be a prerequisite for success of the operations in Norway:

2)Elements of the initial occupation forces of the Heer would have to be transported to their objectives by fast warships.

On 23 January Hitler ordered the withdrawal of the study and tasked the OKW with the supervision of all future planning. This planning was to be conducted under the code name Weserübung. On 5 February the planning staff for Weserübung was formed and consisted of representatives of all three services of the Wehrmacht under direction of Kapitän zur See Krancke.

  • For the development of the operation plan speed had become necessary for the following reasons:
  • On 29 January the Finish Marshal Mannerheim urgently had asked the Western allies for military intervention and had received a positive reply.

With the attack against the German tender Altmark on 16 February the British high command had indicated that it was willing to close the sea lanes along the coast of Norway for German merchant ships even under violation of this country’s neutrality.

In spite of the difficulties in planning an operation which involved all three services of the Wehrmacht for the first time, Krancke’s staff succeeded in solving this task within three weeks. The plan would involve the simultaneous landing of troops in Oslo, Kristiansand, Årendal, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim, which were considered the economic hubs of Norway and the home to the majority of the country’s population. The plan was, as such, bipartite as it was built upon the chance to get hold of these hubs without resistance from the Norwegian armed forces. This, however, would mean convincing the Norwegian government beforehand of the preventative nature of the occupation. The task force organization had planned for the assignment of five parachute battalions of Fl.Div.7 as part of the first wave of troops. Within the first three days 22.(LL)Inf.Div. was to follow by airlift.

The commanding general of XXI.Armee-Korps, General der Infanterie von Falkenhorst, was designated commander-in-chief for Operation Weserübung upon proposal by Generalmajor Jodl. Von Falkenhorst had accepted the assignment and already on 22 February had approved Krancke’s work.

Concerning Denmark, Krancke had assumed that the bases required at the northern tip of Jutland could be obtained by diplomatic pressure, or by the threat of military actions. Von Falkenhorst’s study group which was called together in Berlin on 26 February, however, had assessed the inherent risk as too high. Therefore on 28 February General von Falkenhorst submitted a draft plan to the chief of the OKW, which pre-empted the military occupation of Denmark as well.

Prior to further planning, however, a solution had to be found to avoid complications regarding the prioritization of resources for the forces assigned to Fall Gelb and to Weserübung.

The problem was particularly relevant for the aviation formations of the Luftwaffe and the parachute and air-landing troops, which altogether had already been assigned to the campaign in the west. A proposal by Generalmajor Jodl, approved by Hitler on 28 February, had solved these issues and from thereon had formed the basis for all on-going preparations. Jodl suggested preparing both operations in such a manner that they could be conducted independent from each other.

In the light of the tasks for the parachute and air-landing forces at the beginning of the campaign in the west, the OKW had also recommended the use of just four parachute companies in Weserübung and to retain a single regiment of 22.(LL)Inf.Div. as reserves. On 29 February Hitler had approved von Falkenhorst’s plan, after the changes suggested by the OKW had been integrated. On 1 March he had enacted the directive for case Weserübung. Although the forces assigned for the undertaking were strong enough to enforce the occupation of both Norway and Denmark, the basic aim was still for the “peaceful occupation of both countries in order to safeguard their neutrality with arms.”

Denmark and Norway were to be occupied simultaneously by Weserübung Süd and Weserübung Nord. General von Falkenhorst was placed directly subordinate to Hitler.

The uncertainty for planning this operation, related to the sequence of undertakings in the West and Scandinavia, for which the provision of forces had burdened the OKL, was to some extent reduced when, on 3 March, Hitler declared that Weserübung was to take place first. Nevertheless Hitler pointed out that the period of time between both attacks had to be minimal so as to prevent counter-attacks by the enemy. As Weserübung was to be called a preventive measure, its execution prior to the campaign in the West would also remove the risk of the Western allies using the violation of Holland’s neutrality as a reason to occupy Narvik.

The objections that were raised against Weserübung by the Heer and the Luftwaffe, whose commanders-in-chief had almost completely been left out of the planning process, had been ignored by Hitler. Instead he pointed at the shortly anticipated intervention of the Western powers in Finland and in this context requested the operational readiness of all Weserübung forces by 13 March for their potential employment in Norway around 17 March.

The original operational command of the formations of the Luftwaffe by the chief command for Weserübung, which was designated as Gruppe XXI, had been omitted after vehement protests by Göring. Instead they were placed under the command of X.Flieger-Korps, which was provided by Luftflotte 2 for the operations in Denmark and Norway. Thereby the intention to generate a joint command structure for the first time had failed.

On 5 March Operation Order No. 1 for the occupation of Norway was published by Gruppe XXI. Section 9a stated that the Luftwaffe, who had been assigned on the basis of cooperation [auf Zusammenarbeit angewiesen], was to assume responsibility for the air transport of paratroopers to Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen as well as for parachuting at these locations.

The order did not contain a date for the start of operations. For the Navy the original plan had remained unchanged, as a result, its larger warships continued to be committed to Weserübung. Their participation in Fall Gelb had been excluded in the eventuality that the latter, as planned, would commence shortly after the venture in Scandinavia.

The start of armistice negotiations between the Soviet Union and Finland on 12 March had surprised both the Allied and the German governments. In reaction the Western powers attempted a last minute change of events in northern Europe in order to bring to bear their intentions against Germany.

A telephone conversation between the Finish ambassador in Paris and his Minister of Foreign Affairs on 12 March was picked up by Göring’s signal reconnaissance, combined with intelligence gathered by the signal reconnaissance of the Seekriegsleitung, left no doubt as to the advanced state of preparations of the Western powers for the occupation of ports in middle and northern Norway.

The peace treaty signed on 13 March between the Soviet Union and Finland deprived the Western allies of a pretence for the deployment of troops in Scandinavia. For the German side too, the reason for military action in Norway had lost its urgency. Nevertheless Hitler remained convinced that his plan was the necessary course of action and insisted on the implementation of Weserübung. This was an assumption which proved to be correct as the British did not abandon their plan to interrupt German imports from Sweden. The command relations, and thus the bounds of competence between the services of the Wehrmacht had principally been settled in a directive dated 14 March. The decision that the commanding general of X.Flieger-Korps, General der Flieger Geissler (HQ in Hamburg), was to be in command of all air operations during Weserübung was also obligatory. This also included the transportation of troops and material by air.

The command of the operations of the Wehrmacht in Denmark was delegated to General der Flieger Kaupisch. It was directly subordinate to Gruppe XXI.

Due to the geographical situation of the countries to be occupied, and because of the need for surprise, the air transport forces allocated had to be considerable in strength. In order to prevent a reduction of the air transport formations appropriated for the operations in the West, combat groups for special purposes were formed – Kampfgruppen z.b.V. – KGr z.b.V. 101–107. Each of these was made up of a staff and four squadrons with 53 Ju 52; they were formed of personnel and aircraft from the aviation schools which were run by the chief of training of the Luftwaffe. Additionally KGr z.b.V.108 was formed with long-range aircraft including Ju 90, Fw 200 and G 38. All of these combat groups as well as I. and II./KG z.b.V.1, were placed for employment under the command of an ‘air transport ground chief’ [Lufttransportchef Land]. Those aircraft which were suitable for landing on water (the He 59, some Ju 52 and the sea planes of the Navy) were concentrated in three groups under an ‘air transport chief sea’. Both of the newly created air transport chiefs were made directly subordinate for employment in Weserübung under X.Flieger-Korps. The KG z.b.V.1 (Oberstleutnant Morzik) and the still-forming KG z.b.V.2 (Oberst Conrad) remained organic to Fl.Div.7.

The operation Order No. 1 of Gruppe XXI for the occupation of Denmark was published on 20 March. Its section 3.(a) stated that the airfields and the Lagerak crossings at Ålborg had to be seized at the earliest possible time by paratroopers and by the air-landed III./InfRgt.159. In Section 8.(cc) it was stated that for this mission the air transport units for III./InfRgt.159 and the parachute company were to be subordinate to X.Flieger-Korps.

On the same day X.Flieger-Korps also published its operation order for the initial phase of Weserübung. In Section 5.(d) it requested that the paratroopers must secure the airfields at Oslo-Fornebu, Stavanger and Ålborg prior to the landing of troops by transport aircraft. As a result X.Flieger-Korps altered Operation Order No. 1 of Gruppe XXI in such that the parachute assaults at Bergen and Kristiansand were abandoned. This measure became a necessity as a result of a shortage of parachute units and had probably been coordinated in advance with Gruppe XXI.

Hitler remained hesitant to fix a date for Weserübung. He intended to justify the launch of military actions in Norway and Denmark as being enforced by the enemy, thereby hoping to avoid being accused as a usurper by world opinion. On 26 March he was urged again by Großadmiral Raeder to get ahead of the Western powers by immediately occupying Norway. Raeder had reasoned that dark nights were mandatory for the operations of his naval forces due to the overwhelming strength of the enemy’s fleets. In view of the meteorological conditions in the northern part of Norway, and the adjoining sea, he believed that 7 April was the latest possible date for naval transport operations under cover of darkness.

Hitler received the report stating the preparations for Weserübung were complete on 1 April. So, after one more conference with Göring, Keitel, Raeder and von Falkenhorst, he finally ordered the occupation of Norway and Denmark to begin on 9 April (‘Weser day’) at 0515 hrs (‘Weser time’). Fast merchant ships with heavy materials and logistic goods had left the jump-off ports heading for Norway on 3 April. At midnight on 6 April the warships, most of them with troops aboard, set sail.

In spite of the still valid intelligence regarding the preparations of the British navy for actions directed toward northern Norway, the German side remained convinced that it could steal a march upon the enemy. Because of this positive assessment precautions for the case of Allied landings ahead of friendly forces had not been laid down in any of the directives and operation orders for Weserübung.

However, there is no doubt that Raeder was fully aware of the risk posed to his warships for the return to home stations after the landing of troops at the ports of central and northern Norway. At about this time he had to anticipate the appearance of the vastly superior British Home Fleet in the sea region close to the Norwegian coast.

On 8 April several groups of British destroyers, covered by a task force around the battle cruiser Renown, arrived for mining operations in the West Fjord between the Lofoten islands, the Norwegian mainland and the sea region south of it. The movements of German warships, which were reported by British reconnaissance aircraft in the Skagerrak toward Norway, were initially assessed by the British Admiralty as an attempted breakthrough of the Shetland-Norway passage into the Atlantic Ocean.

On 6 April the first battalion of FschJgRgt.1, under Hauptmann Walther was released from its assignment to Fl.Div.7 and was placed under command of X.Flieger-Korps. The order to achieve full combat readiness within four hours indicated that it was to be used for parachute operations at short notice. The battalion was alerted on 8 April 0500 hrs while at its peacetime garrison of Stendal. At 0930 hrs the Ju 52 of II./KG z.b.V.1 with the men of I./FschJgRgt.1 aboard took off from Stendal-Borstel to their designated jump-off airfields in three groupings:

  • Staff, 1st Company (Oberleutnant Schmidt), and 2nd Company (Oberleutnant Groetschke) to Schleswig;
  • 3rd Company (Oberleutnant von Brandis) to Ütersen;
  • 4th Company (Hauptmann Gericke) to Ütersen.

Upon arrival the units received their missions:

  • I./FschJgRgt.1, less two companies, were to be dropped over the Oslo-Fornebu airfield to seize it for the air-landing of follow-on troops of the Heer;
  • 3rd Company was to seize the airfield at Stavanger-Sola by parachute assault and keep it open for the air-landing of follow-on forces;
  • 4th Company, less one platoon, was to be dropped on the island of Masnedǿ, which it was to seize and retain undamaged until the arrival of Heer forces the Storstrǿmmen Bridge which connects, via Masnedǿ, the two large islands Falster and Seeland. The remaining platoon of the company was to seize the important airfields Ǻlborg-East and Ǻlborg-West by parachute assault and to defend them alongside the air-landed infantry battalion until relief ground forces arrived.

Each of the groupings was to be accompanied by some heavy fighters – Me 110 from I./ZG 76 – for protection during parachuting and for close air support during the assault.

On 9 April the German military actions for the occupation of Denmark and Norway were initiated according to the operation orders. Yet, for the troops on the way to their objectives, the attitude of the Danish and Norwegian armed forces remained unknown.

As a result of unfavourable weather conditions the 9 Ju 52 of 8./KG z.b.V.1 arrived over Masnedø around 20 minutes behind schedule. There, close to the Storstrømmen bridge, they dropped 4./FschJgRgt.1, less one platoon, at 0635 hrs. A part of the parachute force came down close to the coastal fort which covered the southern approaches to Masnedø and was equipped with 8 heavy guns and a searchlight battery. Without picking up their main individual arms from the weapon containers these paratroopers immediately entered the fort and captured the two Danish naval soldiers and a civilian forestry official who were present there.

On confiscated bicycles a few of the paratroopers rode onto the bridge in a southerly direction and captured the astounded soldier who was guarding the bridge. While they examined the bridge for explosive charges they met the advance party of reinforced III./InfRgt.305. This battalion was approaching from Gjedser at the southern tip of Falster, to where it had been ferried over from Warnemünde.

In the meantime another parachute platoon had moved over the bridge in a northerly direction and entered the small town of Vordingborg at the northern bank of the Storstrømmen. There it took possession of the railway station and the post office. Steamers and boats attempting to flee from the town’s harbour were stopped with a few shots in the front of their bows. The small garrison of Vordingborg, the staff of 5th Infantry Regiment and soldiers from the still assembling 19th Infantry Battalion, mostly recruits, surrendered without resistance, but not before the regimental commander had reported the landing of German parachute forces on Masnedø by telephone to the Danish high command in Copenhagen.

Later in the morning Hauptmann Gericke’s troops were relieved by ground forces. They were brought to Gjedser on confiscated vehicles and ferried over to Warnemünde. There transport aircraft were already waiting, to carry the paratroopers back to Stendal. The mission had been accomplished without losses.

The third platoon of 4./FschJgRgt.1, which was dropped from the remaining 3 Ju 52 of 8./KG z.b.V.1 on 9 April at 0700 hrs near Ålborg, seized the two airfields as well as the bridge across the Limfjorden to the northern tip of Jutland without losses. Shortly afterward the first group of /KG z.b.V.1 landed II./InfRgt.159 on the airfields Ålborg-East and Ålborg-West. From the south, 11.Schützen-Brigade Mot., which was formed specifically for the relief of the parachute and air-landing forces at Ålborg, was approaching. Fortunately for the air transport of troops to the Ålborg area the order of the Danish high command, early in the morning of 9 April, to move all combat aircraft of the Army from Copenhagen-Vaerloese to Ålborg could no longer be executed after of an air-raid by I./ZG 1, against Vaerloese at 0545 hrs.

Late in the morning of 9 April, the forward elements of 11.Schützen-Brigade reached Ålborg. During its advance through the western part of Jutland the brigade had quickly overcome the little resistance the Danish forces offered.

Around noon the airfields at Ålborg were operational for use by the Luftwaffe against Norway. By 10 April they were also protected against possible British air attacks by an anti-aircraft detachment. The platoon of 4./FschJgRgt.1 left the Ålborg area by train on 9 April to return to its home garrison.

King Christian X of Denmark had already directed his armed forces on 9 April at 0720 hrs to cease all further resistance, after the citadel of Copenhagen had been occupied by a reinforced battalion of InfRgt.308 without a shot being fired. As the Danish government had so quickly bent to the German demands the losses in personnel on both sides were only light. 4./FschJgRgt.1, the only parachute unit involved in Weserübung Süd, had not been forced to prove its value in combat.

For the first phase of Weserübung Nord, the 7./KG z.b.V.1, with 3./FschJgRgt.1 aboard, took off from Stade on 9 April at 0530 hrs in dense fog for the airfield at Stavanger-Sola 590 km away. A Ju 52 with specific long-range radios, designated a ‘signals Ju’ [Nachrichten-Ju], was also assigned to the squadron. The transport aircraft with the company’s 8th squad aboard was held back due to technical difficulties. The Ju 52 with the 3rd squad was forced to conduct an emergency landing in Denmark and was as a result separated from the squadron. Finally the aircraft carrying 9th squad returned to Schleswig because of dense fog.

Following closely behind the two escorting Me 110 fighters which strafed the airfield with their machine guns, the air transport squadron, approaching from the east, dropped the parachute infantry company from 70m height at 0845 hrs. The sequence of the parachuting was command section – heavy weapons platoon – first to third platoon, the latter just with the platoon command, and one squad.

The preceding air raid had been rather ineffective but had alerted the defenders of the airfield, and the paratroopers came under machine gun fire during their descent from two bunkers which had not been detected beforehand; one at the eastern edge of the airfield and the other at its south-eastern edge. Nevertheless the 7th squad succeeded in quickly neutralizing the heavy machine gun emplacement at the south-eastern edge of the airfield where it captured eight Norwegian soldiers. Covered by the fire of two machine guns which were directed by the leader of third platoon, who had hurt himself on landing, the squad-leader and one of his men subsequently assaulted a nearby house and took an officer and 24 soldiers as prisoners.

The 1st Platoon, which came down on the runway, attacked, under fire, the airfield HQ. During its advance the platoon was erroneously strafed by one of the Me 110s, whereby one paratrooper was killed and five others were wounded. After seizing three machine gun positions and capturing the deputy commandant of the airfield, the platoon took possession of the departure building.

The 5th squad came down directly in front of the bunker at the eastern edge of the airfield and two men were killed and three wounded by fire from its defenders. The remainder of this squad, and some men of the 4th squad, under the command of the squad-leader of the 5th squad, attacked the bunker with hand grenades and pistols. This was because there had been no time to pick up their main arms from the weapon containers. Nevertheless they quickly overcame the resistance of the bunker crew.

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung II

Fallschirmjäger of 4./FschJgRgt.1 who have been relieved by forces from the Heer on the island of Masnedǿ and at Vordingborg await their transport back to Germany.

In the meantime the command section had cleared the runway of barbed wire rolls and the canopies of parachutes, and laid out recognition flags and landing crosses. At the same time the reinforced 5th squad seized a large house about 500m from the airfield from which it was fired upon. The 6th squad occupied a beach hotel which had been abandoned by the enemy.

Fifty minutes after the begin of the parachute assault, the first transport aircraft of KGr z.b.V.104, with soldiers of I./InfRgt.193 aboard, landed on the runway which had survived the preceding air raid intact. During these initial air-landings another German soldier, a Feldwebel of a radio team, was killed by fire from a Me 110.

3./FschJgRgt.1 had paid for its successful coup de main against the airfield at Stavanger-Sola with three killed and eight wounded. About half of these losses were caused by friendly fire. Of the Norwegian forces located on or near the airfield, 57 soldiers, among them 4 officers, were made prisoners of war. By noon the killed and wounded men of 3./FschJgRgt.1 were being flown out to Germany and around 1300 hrs the missing 8th squad arrived from Stade.

By the evening of 9 April the headquarters of InfRgt.193, I. and II./InfRgt.193, two Nachrichten-Ju, six heavy Me 110 fighters, six dive bombers of I./StG 1, a squadron of He 111 bombers and an air transport squadron with aviation fuel had landed at the airfield.

An airfield service company and elements of Luftgau-Stab 200 [Air Region Command 200], which was air-landed by KGr z.b.V.105, were able to render the airfield fully operational by the afternoon of 9 April.

On 10 April at 0800 hrs, 3./FschJgRgt.1 handed over the security of the airfield to 1./InfRgt.193 and at 1300 hrs was airlifted back to Stade. They arrived at 1650 hrs and were transported by rail to Stendal-Borstel, arriving on 11 April.

On 9 April 0530 hrs. the staff and the 5th and 6th squadrons from II./KGz.b.V. 1 and an assigned Nachrichten-Ju, altogether 29 Ju 52s took off from Schleswig with I./FschJgRgt.1, less its 3rd and 4th companies, bound for the airfield at Fornebu situated about 6 km west of Oslo. The operation order of Gruppe XXI for the occupation of Oslo, dated 14 March 1940, section 8.(c) stated that the mission for this battalion was to secure after parachuting the air-landing of the first air transport squadron with follow-on forces provided by the Heer, thereby gaining a start position for the occupation of Oslo from the west. The sole responsibility for the seizure of the airfield was assigned to the commanding officer of I./FschJgRgt.1, Hauptmann Walther. In Section 8.(f), the operation order contained a possible subsequent mission for I./FschJgRgt.1. This was the seizure of the airfield at Kjeller, which lay about 17 km north-east of Oslo, in order to accelerate the air-landings.

Dense and low cloud over the Skagerrak made it necessary, for security reasons, to break up the flight formation of the two squadrons of II./KG z.b.V.1 into individual flights of three aircraft each. When some of the aircraft lost visual contact within the formation its commanding officer, Oberstleutnant Drews, against the heavy protest of Hauptmann Walther, ordered his formation to return to Schleswig. Drews reported his decision via radio to the air transport ground chief but received confirmation directly from the command of X.Flieger-Korps. All aircraft of the formation were now on their way back, except the flight of two Ju 52, with the battalion staff aboard, and the Nachrichten-Ju.

The air movement toward Fornebu was also continued by 8 Me 110 fighters of I./ZG 26 under Oberleutnant Hansen, which were detailed for close air support during the parachute assault and for protection against enemy fighters.

About 60 km west of the airfield the cloud cover began to break up. Plainly visible now, the approaching aircraft received air-defence fire from Fornebu airfield. Consequently the Nachrichten-Ju now turned away. The Me 110s which were flying ahead were engaged in a lengthy aerial combat with nine Norwegian Gloucester Gladiator biplane fighters which had taken off from the airfield. The fighters succeeded in shooting down one of their agile opponents and in destroying two more on the ground after these had landed on the airfield to refuel. Two of the Me 110s were also lost. After the remaining Gladiators had withdrawn the Me 110s began to suppress the anti-aircraft weapons on the ground. The crews of two anti-aircraft machine guns at the northern edge of the airfield quickly abandoned their positions, whereas the three anti-aircraft guns in the emplacements at the eastern edge continued to fire, unconcerned.

At 0933 hrs the two Ju 52 carrying the staff of I./FschJgRgt.1, Oberleutnant Götte, a medical officer, nine non-commissioned officers and five other ranks touched down on the airfield. The landing was successful, as the anti-aircraft guns had no view over its western part. Quickly the soldiers, who had got rid of their parachutes and picked up their arms from the weapon containers during the approach flight, occupied the buildings with the direction finder and the switchboard, after they had overcome the weak resistance of the Norwegians of a searchlight platoon west of the runway.

About this time the first of 53 Ju 52 of KGr z.b.V.103, with II./InfRgt.324 aboard, which was following 20 minutes behind I./FschJgRgt.1, arrived at the airfield. The commanding officer of this group, Hauptmann Wagner, had also received an order to return to base from the command of X.Flieger-Korps. As this order was not submitted by the “air transport ground chief”, as arranged beforehand, Hauptmann Wagner suspected a ruse by the enemy and had carried on with his original mission.

The first Ju 52, piloted by Hauptmann Wagner, was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the descent. In this attack Wagner and four of the plane’s passengers were killed. As a result this Ju 52 left formation, but the aircraft right behind it managed to land undamaged and unloaded its infantrymen. In short intervals more and more transport aircraft followed.

In the meantime the first of the Me 110s, which were running out of fuel, also landed. Their crews joined in the combat on the ground, firing the rear machine guns of their aircraft at the anti-aircraft guns. These stopped firing at 1000 hrs because their crews withdrew about 3 km along the road leading to the north. Here, in positions favourable for defence, they waited for reinforcements.

By 1100hrs the majority of II./InfRgt.324 was on the ground. The battalion took over the protection of the airfield from the paratroopers. In this brief engagement these had captured six Norwegian soldiers and seized two anti-aircraft guns and two anti-aircraft machine guns and destroyed two searchlights.

As ordered by the chief of staff of Gruppe XXI, Hauptmann Spiller, the Luftwaffe attaché at the German embassy in Oslo, arrived and temporarily took over the function of the airfield commandant. At this time Spiller had no telephone or radio communication with the embassy and therefore was not informed of the costly failure of the Navy’s coup de main in the Oslo Fjord. Here, the cruiser Blücher, which was leading Gruppe 9 into the fjord, capsized after heavy bombardment from coastal guns and torpedo batteries of the Norwegian coastal command. It sank in the Døbrak defile. Around 1,500 of the 2,500 soldiers and naval personnel aboard the cruiser perished in this catastrophe. Among the troops embarked had been elements of the staffs of Gruppe XXI and 163.Inf.Div. as well as the shock troop who was supposed to arrest the Norwegian king and government.

Utilizing the considerable confusion on the Norwegian side, Götte and his men, riding in confiscated motor vehicles, managed to reach the German embassy around noon. After he had reported the seizure of the airfield at Fornebu, the embassy’s naval attaché guided his group to a Norwegian anti-aircraft position at the edge of Oslo in order to seize it. However the position had already been abandoned by its crew. Two heavy anti-aircraft guns, two anti-aircraft machine guns, a radio transmitter and a range finder were captured undamaged. On the way back to Oslo Gruppe Götte met with German infantry approaching from Fornebu and was informed about the capitulation of the Norwegian garrison of Oslo.

The shock troop, under Oberleutnant Götte, was tasked with the pursuit of the Norwegian king and government and was reinforced with a heavy machine gun half-platoon of an infantry battalion and received marching orders for Hamar. Its mission was to arrest the political leaders there and bring them back to Oslo.

About 30 km north of Oslo the shock troop came up against a Norwegian cavalry unit. An officer and 22 cavalrymen were taken prisoner and later two motorcycle dispatch-riders were also captured. However when superior Norwegian forces were detected, Oberleutnant Götte decided to withdraw his forces. During the ride back he quite unexpectedly met 2./ FschJgRgt.1 accompanied by Hauptleute Walther and Spiller. Hauptmann Walther, who had received the same mission as Oberleutnant Götte, ordered the latter to turn around and to take the point of the detachment with his shock troop. Quickly the question about the sudden appearance of Hauptmann Walther and his 2nd Company was answered.

After the commanding officer of II./KG z.b.V.1 had ordered the two squadrons of his command with him to return to Schleswig, his own aircraft and those with the majority of 2./FschJgRgt.1 aboard had landed on one of the airfields at Ålborg around 1030 hrs. Upon hearing the news that Fornebu was in German hands these aircraft were refuelled. At 1300 hrs they had taken off for Fornebu with Hauptmann Walther and his paratroopers who had left behind their jump gear and picked up their arms from the weapon containers. Together with the aircraft transporting III./InfRgt.307, Walther’s detachment landed on Fornebu at 1500 hrs. 2./FschJgRgt.1 was made up less four squads, as their Ju 52 had joined the aircraft of 1./FschJgRgt.1 and those of the battalion’s signals platoon back to Germany and finally to Stendal. On this flight one Ju 52 with a squad of 1./FschJgRgt.1 aboard collided with another Ju 52 and crashed into the sea. Its crew and all 12 paratroopers aboard were killed. With confiscated vehicles Hauptmann Walther and the reduced 2./FschJgRgt.1, accompanied by Hauptmann Spiller, drove from Fornebu to Oslo and took billets in the city hall. Shortly afterwards Hauptmann Spiller conveyed the mission to Hauptmann Walther to bring back to Oslo the Norwegian king and government, who were presumed to be still in Hamar. Hauptmann Spiller then stayed with the detachment.

Due to the priority of the new mission, but probably also in view of the weak personnel strength of 2./FschJgRgt.1, Gruppe XXI avoided undertaking the originally planned employment of I./FschJgRgt.1 against the airfield at Kjeller. The two battalions of InfRgt.324, parts of which were still on the move to Oslo, were considered indispensable for the occupation of the Norwegian capital and for the protection of Fornebu. At this time they were the only fully available units of combat troops after the failure of the coup de main from the sea. After all, elements of the Norwegian 1st and 2nd divisions were known to be positioned in the vicinity of Oslo and could well attempt actions to retake the city.

After some vehicles had been confiscated – the majority of 2./FschJgRgt.1 had to ride on two buses – Abteilung Walther moved out at 1700 hrs in the evening darkness and after a while picked up Stoßtrupp Götte.

Just before midnight on 9 April the point of Walther’s column was stopped at a barricaded bridge at the southern entrance to Hamar and was fired on by infantry. Half an hour later the obstacle was removed after the Norwegian pickets had withdrawn. One squad of paratroopers remained in Hamar, tasked with the mission to occupy the public buildings and to interrupt telephone communications from the town to the outside. On 10 April 0045 hrs the detachment moved on in the direction of Elverum on receipt of information that the Norwegian king and government had settled down there for the night.

Around 0110 hrs the detachment came up against a road barrier at the farmstead at Midtskogen, about 4 km south of Elverum. From there it was fired at with machine guns and rifles. During the advance of 2./FschJgRgt.1 against the road barrier one paratrooper was killed and Hauptmann Spiller was mortally wounded. The heavily defended farmstead was taken after half an hour of combat and two Norwegians were captured. Due to the growing resistance in front of Elverum, Hauptmann Walther decided to break off the engagement and to return to Oslo. After picking up the squad left back in Hamar the march continued under sporadic rifle fire from the surrounding terrain.

About 30 km south of Hamar the detachment encountered a large column of motor vehicles manned by Norwegian soldiers and approaching from the opposite direction. By bold and resolute action the paratroopers succeeded in disarming a few hundred of their surprised opponents, among them about 30 officers and the commander, a colonel. The Norwegian unit was the 1st Regiment of Dragoons. Its equipment comprised some field guns. The officers were taken prisoner and the vehicles were integrated into the column. The hundreds of Norwegian other ranks were sent away into the adjoining terrain with some shots fired in the air, after they had shown some signs of resistance in the face of the few Germans. After that, Walther’s column, now considerably larger and with many of the captured vehicles being driven by inexperienced paratroopers, moved on.

Shortly after a Norwegian anti-aircraft position was taken out, the point of the detachment at about 1100hrs came up against another column of Norwegian troops in front of a bridge some 30km south of Minnesund. However, this time the Norwegians were combat ready. A few shots fired in front of them prevented the leading German vehicles from crossing the bridge. The commanding officer of the Norwegian force seemed to be well informed about the low strength of Walther’s detachment and so he dispatched an officer with a flag of truce. He referred to three infantry regiments and artillery following close behind the Norwegian column and requested Walther to surrender. However the German commander refused to believe this ruse. He called a bluff on his part, making the negotiator believe that three parachute infantry regiments had been dropped right behind his detachment, poised for attack in the case that the road was not cleared of the Norwegians. As a consequence he requested their capitulation. Eventually a mutual silence of weapons was agreed upon and Walther’s detachment, made up of about 50 vehicles, including the captured officers, passed the Norwegian column without incident. At around 1700 hrs it arrived at a German outpost on the edge of Oslo. Besides the previously captured prisoners and the vehicles, the booty comprised 3 field guns, 7 heavy and 21 light machine guns, 600 rifles and 220,000 rounds for infantry weapons. On the way into the city, Hauptmann Walther stopped at the fortress of Akershus in order to report to the commander of the 162.Inf.Div., Generalmajor Engelbrecht, who in the meantime had been placed in charge of all troops of the Heer around Oslo. For the first time Generalmajor Engelbrecht received information about the recent actions of the paratroopers. Walther’s soldiers, who had not slept in the past 48 hours and had lived under conditions of continuous strain, were now able to spend the night of 10/11 April resting in their quarters in Oslo City Hall.

In the course of the morning of 10 April the remainder of the troops, who had originally been allocated for the occupation of Oslo from the sea, had been landed in the city’s port. Some of them were immediately employed against Norwegian forces identified north and south of the capital. Abteilung Walther was also drawn upon for reconnaissance. 2./FschJgRgt.1 received a mission early in the morning of 11 April; together with two companies of infantry it was to advance into the hinterland of Oslo to the North and East.

The company moved out at 0730 hrs in the direction of Lillestrøm-Fedsund. At a destroyed bridge across the Vorma River west of Mes the point platoon, under Leutnant Zuber, met with its first resistance. The balance of 2./FschJgRgt.1 bypassed the contested area, moved on in a northerly direction, crossed the Vorma over an undefended bridge at Swanfossen and advanced along the river. The new point platoon under Leutnant Graf von Blücher, consisting of two squads, soon encountered an abatis in front of Bastuolen and was fired at from a nearby hill by riflemen in civilian clothes. A shock troop, ordered forward by the company commander stormed the hill, where most of its defenders were killed in the firefight. In the meantime, other sub-units of the company had overcome the weak resistance in Bastuolen. The two infantry companies which had been transported in buses took almost no part in the engagement at Bastuolen. Their transports had continuously broken down and therefore had not caught up with the paratroopers.

On 11 April 2./FschJgRgt.1 returned to Oslo. During the mission one soldier was seriously wounded. It brought back 20 Norwegians as prisoners, two of whom wore civilian clothing. A heavy machine gun with 3,000 cartridges, 10 rifles and various entrenching tools had also been captured.

Leutnant Zuber and 11 other ranks from 2./FschJgRgt.1 were detailed to an infantry battalion on 12 April, in order to instruct its personnel about the experience gained so far in combat against the Norwegians. The infantry battalion was to conduct a reconnaissance in force into the area of Spyderberg where, it was suspected, there were elements of a Norwegian division. When the infantry was engaged, Zuber’s men were ordered to outflank an enemy force which had tied down an infantry platoon. The mission was undertaken successfully but on their way back the paratroopers were hit by concentrated machine gun and artillery fire. A Feldwebel and another paratrooper were seriously wounded. The latter died during his evacuation.

With the reconnaissance mission accomplished Zuber’s detachment reported back to the company at 1600 hrs.

On 13 April 2./FschJgRgt.1was again employed. It was to reconnoitre via Dammen and Titusberg against Porsgrunn, about 40 km south-west of Oslo, and to destroy a broadcasting station there. For the mission the company was reinforced with the three captured 8.5cm field guns and with 25 artillerymen as crews. The inexperience of the driver caused a truck to overturn near Dammen, causing two soldiers to be seriously hurt and five others lightly. Only once had the company come up against a road guard of six Norwegians, who had been captured. It reached Porsgrunn and destroyed the broadcasting station, as ordered. In spite of the fatigue of the drivers, the road march back through partly mountainous terrain was accomplished without further incidents. The detachment arrived in Oslo on 14 April 0100 hrs. Here the soldiers had a well-deserved rest.

1./FschJgRgt.1, together with the battalion’s signals platoon and four squads of 2./FschJgRgt.1, had been flown back to Schleswig as decided by Oberstleutnant Drews. On order of X.Flieger-Korps these paratroopers had been airlifted to Stendal on 12 April and had arrived at about 1300 hrs. On the same day at 1530 hrs X.Flieger-Korps was ordered to convey 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon to Oslo. The squad of the company which was lost over the North Sea had been replaced by one of the four squads of 2./FschJgRgt.1 which were also returned to Stendal. After a stop-over in Schleswig, 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon were airlifted to Oslo-Fornebu, where they arrived on 13 April at 1900 hrs and took billets near the airfield.

On this evening a meeting was convened at the headquarters of Gruppe XXI in a hotel in Oslo, to which Hauptmann Walther had also been ordered to attend. The subject of the meeting was a parachute operation in the area of Dombås. Some time earlier, the OKW had conducted deliberations about the employment of parachute forces in central Norway. These deliberations were probably triggered by intelligence about preparations for the landing of troops of the Western allies at Trondheim and Bergen which had been gathered by German signal and air reconnaissance.

On the morning of 14 April consultations about parachute operations in central Norway were continued, but now under the direction of the liaison staff of the Luftwaffe at Gruppe XXI under Oberst Knaus. The basis for a decision was a directive from the OKW, which arrived at Gruppe XXI headquarters in the morning and contained an order for the employment of Fallschirmtruppen in the area of Dombås. This town, halfway between Oslo and Trondheim at the northern exit of the Gudbrandsdal and about 250 km north-west of Oslo, constituted an important traffic hub. Here the railway and the road from Oslo bifurcated in a westerly direction toward the coast at Åndalsnes, and in a northerly direction toward Trondheim. Whoever wanted to exercise control over central Norway therefore had to be in possession of Dombås.

The conference beside Oberst Knaus was attended by the commanding officer of II./KG z.b.V.1, Oberstleutnant Drews, responsible for the transport of the paratroopers to the drop zone, Hauptmann Walther; Oberleutnant Schmidt, the commanding officer of 1./FschJgRgt.1, Oberleutnant Diley from 3./StG 1, which was to fly interdiction against the railway from Åndalsnes and Hauptmann Flakowski, the commandant of the airfield at Fornebu.

Shortly after noon, the operation order for the liaison staff was ready. It stated:

1.British naval forces had landed troops at Åndalsnes in the course of 13 April.

2.Friendly motorized forces advance to Dombås via Lillehammer. Bombing attacks from Stavanger against British naval forces and troops around Åndalsnes can be counted upon.

3.In order to prevent the advance of the British landing force from Åndalsnes to Dombås

I./FschJgRgt.1 (two companies)

II./KG z.b.V.1

3./StG 1

will be employed and placed under command of Gruppe XXI.

4.Execution:

a)3./StG 1 is to destroy the railway Åndalsnes-Dombås at vulnerable points as far to the north-west as possible;

b)I./FschJgRgt.1 is to seize the traffic hub at Dombås;

c)II./KG z.b.V.1 is to reconnoitre, together with I./FschJgRgt.1, suitable terrain for the parachuting near Dombås; is to drop I./FschJgRgt.1 (two companies), and is to prepare to supply the dropped parachute units from the air.

More precise information about the situation was not available to the liaison staff. The Germans, however, had also recognized the landing of British troops at Namsos about 220 km north of Trondheim, during the night of 13/14 April and probably had also detected the approach of naval convoys with additional troops toward the Norwegian coast.

As was found out later, the Allied supreme war council, after some deliberation, had decided to renounce a direct attack against Trondheim. Instead, by Operation Maurice, the British 146th Brigade (2 bns) and the 5e demi-brigade of the French 5th Light Division were to be landed at Namsos. It had been the advance-party of these forces, some 350 British marines and armed sailors, whose landing in Namsos on the night of 13/14 April was detected by the Germans. At Åndalsnes, about 350 km south-west of Trondheim, the British 15th and 148th brigades (3 bns each) were to be landed shortly thereafter in Operation Sickle. In cooperation with Norwegian troops Maurice Force and Sickle Force subsequently were to seize Trondheim from two sides.

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung III

Part of the airfield at Fornebu, near Oslo, during the ongoing invasion of Norway by the Wehrmacht. At this time it was used as a stop-over base for transport aircraft, delivering troops and supplies to the northern part of the country, where fighting was continuing.

The command of Gruppe XXI was now aware of the threat to the garrison at Trondheim. For the time being the town could only be reinforced and resupplied from the air and possibly by submarine because of the appearance of strong British and French naval forces along the coast of central and northern Norway and of the resulting closure of the land lines of communication. Therefore it ordered 163.Inf.Div. to advance along the Gudbrandsdal via Lillehammer to Dombås and from there along the Romsdal Valley to Åndalsnes. Simultaneously 196.Inf.Div. was to advance along the Østerdal Valley east of the Gudbrandsdal and then through the Glomma Valley directly toward Trondheim. It was intended to crush the Norwegian troops in central Norway to prevent Allied forces from establishing themselves there and to open the land lines of communication to Trondheim. The employment of parachute forces with the aim of at least delaying the advance of Allied troops into central Norway and their union with the Norwegians, had obviously been part of the plan which in its principal feature was developed by the OKW.

Apparently, upon agreement of all parties participating in the conference on 14 April in the morning, 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon of I./FschJgRgt.1 were designated to conduct the parachute operation at Dombås, altogether 4 officers and 173 other ranks.

This allocation had constituted not only a divergence from the directive of the OKW, which, in its operation order 3.(c), had stated that Dombås was to be seized and held by all available parachute troops. It had also deviated from the operation order of Gruppe XXI, which had foreseen the employment of both companies of I./FschJgRgt.1.

Regarding the operational environment, two serious restrictions had spoken against the execution of the mission still on 14 April:

Firstly there were extremely unfavourable weather conditions. Dense fog came down to less than 100m over the Fornebu airfield and at times icy sleet rained down. Additionally, for the flight route from Fornebu to Dombås, the weather service reported that the mountains were shrouded in low cloud and that there was a risk of icing-up of aircraft in heights over 1,000m. Secondly there was still a total lack of information about the situation in the operation area around Dombås.

Therefore at 1300 hrs Oberst Knaus decided that the following requirements had to be fulfilled by aerial reconnaissance prior to the execution of the mission:

There was to be a clear picture about the weather conditions over and in the area of operation, the location of suitable drop zones was to be noted and the options for the enemy to interfere with the operation needed to be recorded

None of these requirements, however, would be met. At 1430 hrs Oberstleutnant Drews reported to Oberst Knaus that the reconnaissance aircraft was unable to take off because of the weather. At 1500 hrs Generalmajor Süßmann appeared at the airfield. He introduced himself as the chief-of-staff of General der Flieger Kitzinger, the designated territorial commander of the Luftwaffe for Norway, who had arrived with his staff in Oslo just a few hours earlier.

Generalmajor Süßmann took over command for the execution of the parachute mission after the liaison staff had been disbanded on short notice. He exerted considerable pressure on the commanders of the aviation elements, who had been hesitant to execute their missions because of the weather conditions and the lack of ground intelligence from the operation area. Eventually they had to comply with Süßmann’s order for immediate take-off, lest that they were accused of insubordination. No objections against the immediate execution of the mission had been brought forward by Oberleutnant Schmidt. Hauptmann Walther took no further part in the decision making process that afternoon.

The paratroopers of 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon arrived at the airfield at 1630 hrs. Only marginally instructed about the mission by the platoon leaders, who lacked appropriate maps of the operation area, and with Oberstleutnant Drews now pressing for take off in view of the approaching darkness, the paratroopers mounted the 15 Ju 52. The aircraft took off in flights of three aircraft in the sequence, command section and heavy weapons platoon – signals platoon – 3rd, 2nd, 1st Platoon between 1700 and 1730 hrs.

The first two flights flew in cloud using instruments only. In the airspace over Lillehammer one of the Ju 52s, which carried men of the signals platoon, was shot down by Norwegian anti-aircraft weapons but managed to conduct an emergency landing. All passengers and crew survived. In the ensuing firefight with investigating Norwegian infantry the dispatcher was killed. The other soldiers, some of them wounded or injured, were taken prisoner.

At about 1830 hrs the Ju 52 of Oberstleutnant Drews descended from the cloud cover over Dombås. As the aircraft received fire from this direction, Oberleutnant Schmidt and his command section were dropped about 8 km south of the town. Advancing toward Dombås in terrain covered in deep snow the section was engaged by a Norwegian outpost. Oberleutnant Schmidt was seriously wounded and an Oberjäger was slightly wounded. The men now withdrew again to the South, carrying the company commander along. At some distance from Dombås an all-round defence position was set up in the snow. The original arrangements, to lay out signal panels and to fire very lights as identification for the other aircraft, were not carried out.

The two other Ju 52 of the first flight, with a heavy weapons platoon aboard, lost contact with the leading aircraft. They dropped their passengers about 25 km east of Dombås close to the hamlet of Lora along the railway and road leading to Åndalsnes. The platoon leader, Feldwebel Uhlig, ordered the occupation of Lora and placed outposts around the hamlet. At 2100 hrs the machine gun outpost at the eastern entrance to Lora was engaged in a firefight with a Norwegian reconnaissance patrol. Their leader succeeded in driving off the Norwegians but one of his soldiers was killed. As the platoon’s position had now been detected by the enemy and was too exposed, Uhlig decided to withdraw to a farmstead away from the road and set up there for the defence.

The two Ju 52s which carried 24 soldiers of the signals platoon, among them the platoon leader, Oberleutnant Gerhold, dropped their passengers just below the peak of an almost 1,600m high mountain which was about 10 km east of Dombås. With great efforts in the deep snow on the slope and in an upcoming snow storm, the men managed to assemble and to recover their equipment. As everybody was exhausted and orienteering was impossible in the darkness, Oberleutnant Gerhold ordered the building of snow caves for the men to spend the night in.

After the two aircraft which carried members of 1st Platoon had crossed the Dovre-Fjlell mountains, the 23 paratroopers, among them their platoon leader, Leutnant Becker, jumped into the basin of Dombås, close to a railway. In the snow storm seven of the soldiers were dragged over the ground by their parachutes, causing some of them to be seriously injured. As a result the assembly of men took considerable time. Moreover, some of the weapon containers remained undiscovered due to the drifting snow. As adequate maps were unavailable, it was only after searching some huts close to the railway, that the location of the drop zone could eventually be found. It was at Fostua, which lay about 10 km east of Dombås. Due to the inclement weather and the bad condition of some of his men, Leutnant Becker decided to spend the night in the available huts. The missing squad of 1st Platoon jumped south east of Dombås. After they had recovered their weapon containers, the 12 men started moving in order to establish contact with other elements of the company.

The two rear flights of Ju 52s, with the 2nd Platoon led by Leutnant Mößinger and the 3rd Platoon under Feldwebel Bobrowski, had approached Dombås, in low level flight, along the railway from Oslo. Over Hamar the aircraft which carried 2nd Platoon received heavy anti-aircraft fire which slightly wounded the platoon leader.

Two of the Ju 52s, with Leutnant Mößinger and 23 paratroopers of the 2nd Platoon aboard, dropped their passengers about 2 km south of Dombås. Only some of their weapon containers could be found. As they advanced in the direction of Dombås, the platoon came up against a column of Norwegian soldiers about 400m in front of the town. In the ensuing fight one paratrooper was killed. An Oberjäger who was missing after the encounter had been captured by the Norwegians. The platoon disengaged and on its way south established contact with the command section. Led by Leutnant Mößinger, both sub-units in the darkness continued the withdrawal to the farmstead at Hagevoll, about 3 km south of Dombås, located by the road leading to Dovre. There they set up an all-round defence.

The missing squad of 2nd Platoon, a Feldwebel and 11 other ranks, conducted an emergency jump about one kilometre southeast of Dombås, when their Ju 52 began to go down after it was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot and the observer of the aircraft were killed in the resulting crash, the other two members of the crew were injured. The squad which had escaped the crash by its emergency jump was completely on its own. Its men tried in vain to recover their weapon containers from the wreck of the Ju 52.

The last flight, with the 3rd Platoon aboard, dropped the paratroopers of two aircraft and five of the third, on a hill about 5 km east of Dombås. Their assembly in the deep snow took quite some time and was very strenuous. Moreover, some of the weapon containers remained lost. Advancing toward Dombås, Bobrowski’s men came up against superior numbers of Norwegian soldiers approaching from the town. After a short fire-fight they managed to disengage, but one paratrooper was killed and an Oberjäger was recorded missing. A reconnaissance patrol was now dispatched in order to avoid being surprised again and to establish contact with the balance of the company. After some time the patrol met a few men from 2nd Platoon, returning from a demolition mission at the railway north of Dombås. These guided the 3rd Platoon to the farmstead at Hagevoll.

The missing paratroopers from the third aircraft, a Feldwebel and 6 other ranks, had jumped too soon right over Dombås and were attacked while landing. During their desperate resistance with only pistols and hand grenades, the Feldwebel and one man were killed, and two other paratroopers were wounded. All five survivors of the firefight were subsequently captured.

By nightfall of 14 April the reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 was split up into five isolated groups over an area of 30 by 15 km. Of the 15 Ju 52s which had flown the unit to its operation area two had been shot down. Three others, including the aircraft of the group commander, had been forced to conduct emergency landings on the way back. Three Ju 52s had reached the airfield at Trondheim-Stjørdal, which was by now in German hands. The remaining seven aircraft, some of them damaged, made it back to Fornebu.

The Norwegian troops around Dombås had arrived prior to the German parachute undertaking. They were by now fully alerted and combat ready to a high degree. Reports about German paratroopers had quite certainly also been sent to the military command in Dombås by inhabitants of the settlements around this town, as the telephone net had still been operational. This enabled it to direct counter-measures quickly and effectively.

Early in the morning of 15 April the leaders and men of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 set out to accomplish their mission, despite the unfortunate start of the undertaking. Dombås was still to be the primary objective.

The 12 paratroopers of 2nd Platoon, who had managed to jump from the falling aircraft 12 km south-east of Dombås and were armed only with pistols and hand grenades, were confronted at first light by vastly superior Norwegian troops. After a short engagement they were forced to surrender.

Leaving the injured soldiers behind in one of the huts, 1st Platoon moved out from Fokstua at about 0500 hrs. On the railway the paratroopers discovered four small drays which they rode on the track toward Dombås. As there had been no contact with enemy forces up to now, they were unaware of the presence of Norwegian troops in considerable strength in and around the town. Accordingly they were far from cautious on the ride. About 2 km north of Dombås the paratroopers unexpectedly took fire from both sides of the track. From the drays, which had collided with each other, they returned fire but were, from the very first moment of the ambush, in a hopeless situation. Increasingly surrounded by the Norwegians, Leutnant Becker ordered his men to give up the fight and to surrender. Shortly afterwards the Norwegians also took prisoner the injured paratroopers left behind at Fokstua.

In the early morning, after only a little rest in the snow caves at an altitude of almost 1,500m, the signals platoon moved out in the direction of the sound of some explosions, coming from an eastward direction. The platoon was joined by the squad of 1st Platoon, which had been dropped, isolated south-west of Dombås but had reached the location of the signals platoon. The troops were heavily burdened with the communication equipment and so moved downhill in the deep snow with great difficulty. Turning northward, they reached a few huts after several hours of marching. Stopping for a rest and totally exhausted, they observed a column of Norwegian trucks halting on the road from Dombås to Åndalsnes about 5 km away. During the further move, the Feldwebel, who was reconnoitring some distance ahead, was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless the platoon struggled along until at 1800 hrs. Still about 1.5 km south of the hamlet at Bølia and 3 km away from the road leading to Åndalsnes, it was fired at by machine guns. When these stopped firing, an Oberjäger of the 1st Platoon and Norwegian soldiers approached under a flag of truce. The Oberjäger reported that he was to demand the surrender of the platoon, as it was surrounded by Norwegian ski-troops. After a Norwegian officer declared that the paratroopers would remain in Norwegian custody and not be turned over to the British, Oberleutnant Gerhold ordered his men to destroy their radios and weapons and give themselves up.

The elements of 1./FschJgRgt.1 assembled in the farmstead at Hagevoll on the morning of 15 April totalled 2 officers and 61 other ranks. Oberleutnant Schmidt, who was unable to move and was being taken care of by a medical Oberjäger in the farm’s cow-shed, decided to stay at the present location for the time being. From here, the railway tracks were to be demolished. The telephone lines and the circuits in the vicinity of the farm were to be destroyed. Oberleutnant Schmidt ceded tactical command to the two platoon leaders.

Around the farmstead, field positions were built. The road through Hagevoll was barred in both directions. The demolition of the railway immediately north-east of Hagevoll was successful. However, it remained impossible to establish communications with Oslo from the radio which had been taken along by the HQ section. Therefore the paratroopers wrote into the snow in large letters ‘Munition! Verpflegung! Wir halten aus!’ [‘Ammunition! Food! We hold out!’] for friendly aircraft to see. Nevertheless very little time remained to prepare for the defence at Hagevoll. On 15 April, at about 1100 hrs, Norwegian soldiers on skis and in snow-camouflage clothing appeared in front of the farmstead. As they were just a reconnaissance party they were easily driven off but the position of the paratroopers had now been detected. Around noon a single Ju 52 appeared over Hagevoll. It was heavily fired at from the surrounding terrain as it dropped containers with ammunition. As these came down without parachutes they became badly dented on impact with the ground, so that most of the ammunition was unusable.

At about 1300 hrs the Norwegians again advanced toward Hagevoll, this time in trucks along the road from Dovre. After the Norwegian recognized the situation at Hagevoll, they dismounted and continued the advance on foot. From their forward positions, the paratroopers opened fire at close range. The Norwegian captain in charge and six of his men were killed. All others, about 30 soldiers, some of them wounded, were taken prisoner by the paratroopers rushing forward.

At about 1700 hrs, the defenders of Hagevoll defeated another attack by the Norwegians, this time supported by heavy machine guns and mortars. After a reconnaissance patrol had reported the arrival of a trainload of troops from Åndalsnes in Dombås, a demolition party was sent out at 2200 hrs in order to block the railway west of Dombås. The party returned around midnight with nothing achieved. It reported that Hagevoll was completely encircled by Norwegian troops.

During the night of 15/16 April the positions held by the paratroopers were under continuous fire from the surrounding terrain. At dawn another demolition party moved out against the railway west of Dombås and a small reconnaissance patrol was tasked with gaining a picture of the situation in the area near the town. Both teams failed to return (it was later discovered that one of the soldiers of the demolition party had been killed and both teams had been captured).

During a counter-thrust of paratroopers against closely advancing Norwegians, on the morning of 16 April, more prisoners were taken, increasing their overall number to almost forty. Shortly thereafter some motor cars, which were approaching on the road from Dombås, were ambushed by fire from an outpost of the paratroopers. Leaving behind the dead, the wounded and the vehicles, the survivors fled. A shock troop, led by Leutnant Mößinger, which investigated the vehicles, discovered that one of them was filled with bundles of money totalling around two millions of Norwegian Crowns. More important for the shock troop, however, were the rucksacks full of food which had been left behind – the nourishment of the defenders and their prisoners had become a problem. In addition the medical treatment of the many wounded became increasingly difficult, as, against the principle, no medical officer had been assigned to the company’s HQ section and the medical Oberjäger, though accomplishing his tasks to the best of his ability, was clearly overcharged.

At about 1400 hrs the Norwegian troops attacked again. This time they also employed light artillery. Hagevoll now became untenable and the commanders of the paratroopers agreed to move to another position after nightfall. In order to outlast the time until then, and to keep the surrounding enemy busy, one of the Norwegian prisoners was sent to their commanding officer with a demand for surrender. After a short while, however, a captured parachute Feldwebel appeared at Hagevoll, with a demand from the local Norwegian commander to give up further resistance. The latter’s announcement, to have all captured paratroopers shot if his demand was not accepted, was regarded as an empty threat. The request therefore was refused by Oberleutnant Schmidt.

When the bombardment of Hagevoll, which had commenced at 2100 hrs, was interrupted, the evacuation of the position began at 2230 hrs. The wounded and the prisoners were transported in captured vehicles along the road to the south. About 1 km away the point group of the paratroopers came up against a road block south of the hamlet of Arnkleiv, from which it received machine gun and rifle fire. In a lightning action the barricade was stormed and about 20 Norwegians were taken prisoner. A short distance to the south, the company settled down for the night in some buildings along the road, protected by strong security elements. The rearguard, which was using the captured Norwegian machine guns, soon caught up with the rest of the company. During the various engagements in the course of 16 April, two more paratroopers had been killed and four wounded, among them, for the second time, Leutnant Mößinger.

On this day the commitment of the heavy weapons platoon came to an end. It had left its billets in the early hours of 16 April and had moved along the valley of a brook south of the railway in the direction toward Dombås. After a march of 13 km, for which the 21 soldiers, loaded with heavy machine guns, anti-tank rifles and ammunition cases, had spent six hours in deep snow before being surrounded by Norwegian ski-patrols. As it was impossible to set up firing positions for the two heavy machine guns and resistance consisted of just four rifles, Feldwebel Uhlig decided to surrender his platoon at 1500 hrs after the men had made their weapons unusable.

In the early morning hours of 17 April the paratroopers around Oberleutnant Schmidt and their prisoners continued their movement and set up a new position about 3 km to the east in the farmsteads at Lindsø. From here the railway and the road which led from Dombås to Dovre could be dominated by fire. The railway close to the new position was once more blown up. Outposts did manage to capture some Norwegian soldiers who attempted to bypass Lindsø in a northward direction, among them a staff officer.

Soon the enemy was moving forward against this new position. During fire-fights with patrols a paratrooper was killed, another was wounded, as were several of the prisoners. The defenders also ran out of field dressing material. During the night of 17/18 April a Norwegian shock troop was warded off, similarly an attack by stronger forces at first light on 18 April.

At around 1100 hrs a Ju 52 appeared over the contested area. Probably attracted by the very-lights of the paratroopers, it dropped a container with machine gun ammunition, warm clothing, rations and medical material. Also dropped was information about the frequency by which radio communication with the aircraft could be established from the ground. Fortunately, this method worked. Now the crew of the Ju 52 could be informed about the situation at Lindsø and was asked about the arrival of relief forces. After the question by the crew about landing sites for aircraft with infantry aboard was answered in the negative from the ground, it bid farewell, announcing that relief by ground forces could be expected in one or two days.

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung IV

Men from FschJgRgt.1 at the airfield of Fornebu near Oslo, Norway, April 1940.

However the resupply drop had also alerted the Norwegians. In the afternoon they commenced another attack and for the first time a heavy gun was employed. The defenders of Lindsø were forced back to their ultimate positions. After another paratrooper was killed and some more had been wounded, the number of combat effectives was reduced to about forty. As a result the prisoners had to be guarded by the less seriously wounded men. There was also the problem of about 50 inhabitants from the farmsteads who were still present in the defended buildings.

At 1700 hrs a Norwegian officer under a flag of truce delivered a demand for surrender. When this was turned down again the commanding officer of the Norwegians let Oberleutnant Schmidt know that the Norwegians would from now on shell the position without regard for the prisoners and the civilians. During the negotiations a Norwegian medical doctor, who had arrived together with the officer, treated the most seriously wounded of both sides.

The shelling was maintained through the night of 18/19 April and in the morning the Norwegians, supported by artillery and mortars, attacked Lindsø from three sides. Yet again, ultimate success was denied to them. A new demand for surrender was again refused by Oberleutnant Schmidt, who gambled for time by the announcement that a German bombing attack was underway.

In the course of the renewed battle, a Ju 52 with resupply stores once more approached Lindsø. However, the aircraft was directed by the radio on the ground to turn away, as the ring of enemy around the position was considered too tight to allow for the recovery of dropped material.

After two more paratroopers were killed and three wounded by the increasingly precise fire of the enemy, their ammunition running out and a successful breakout considered impossible, Oberleutnant Schmidt, in agreement with his two platoon leaders, around noon decided to end the fight. After the remaining ammunition was used up, the radio and the weapons were destroyed and the position was handed over to the Norwegians at 1400 hrs.

The paratroopers at Lindsø were taken prisoners. Initially they were taken to Dombås, where they were also interrogated by British officers. In the evening the men who were considered fit for transport were brought to Åndalsnes. There they joined the previously captured paratroopers. During the transport to Åndalsnes, an Oberjäger and a private managed to escape, however they were caught by British soldiers and were later sent to Canada under British custody.

The 3 officers and 126 other ranks of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 deemed fit for transport were then loaded on a trawler and brought to Kristiansund, an island about 60 km north of Åndalsnes. There they were confined in a school building under strong guard. When Kristiansund was completely destroyed by a German bombing attack on 28 April, the paratroopers were moved to a heavily guarded prison camp on the isle of Averøy, not far from the previous location. There one of the men was shot in the camp, without any reason, by a soldier of the guard from outside the camp. His was the twenty- fourth death since the start of the company’s commitment in the Dombås mission.

On 5 May a detachment of motorcycle infantry from Regiment General Göring reached Averøy and liberated their fellow soldiers. The paratroopers, who by this action had been saved from being shipped to Great Britain, were brought back to Oslo, where they arrived on 9 May. Still marked by the past combat and captivity they were ordered, quite incomprehensibly to them, to remain there. A few days earlier the seriously wounded of the company had arrived by means of a medical transport, but had immediately been moved to military hospitals in Germany. They had been taken care of by Norwegians in a medical installation in Alesund (about 80 km west of Åndalsnes) until the arrival of German troops.

Abteilung Walther was airlifted back to its home garrison at Stendal on 18 April, after Gruppe XXI had launched the offensive into central Norway and the operations against remaining Norwegian forces in north-eastern Norway.

Upon the return of Abteilung Walther to Stendal the employment of I./FschJgRgt.1 in the initial phase of Weserübung had officially been terminated. The 3rd and 4th companies of the battalion had accomplished their tasks as had been planned. Their commitment had been totally unexpected by the enemy. Therefore, almost no defensive measures had been prepared at their objectives. The losses in personnel of the staff and of 2nd and 3rd companies were replaced and all units which returned to Stendal were refitted as required. Immediately upon notice of the fate of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 the rebuild of the company and the signals platoon was initiated.

The parachute assault foreseen for the 1st and 2nd companies of I./FschJgRgt.1 at Fornebu, would have been as successful as those of its sister units. However it had failed because of the weather or, to be more precise, due to lack of preparation in allowing the air transport to the objective independent of weather conditions.

To the same degree as Operation Weserübung as a whole, the successful employment of parachute troops had been a matter of achieving surprise as well as trust in the lack of appropriate preparations of the enemy for the defence and in his irresoluteness in waging war. With reference to Denmark, the risks for airborne actions had been rather low as relief forces of the Heer had already been close to the objectives at the time of their execution. These objectives could probably have been taken from the ground as well. Organized resistance by Danish troops or the interference of British air forces could, however, have threatened the quick success of the airborne operations against the airfields at Ålborg, the early utilization of which was necessary for initial air operations against Norway.

The seizure of the airfield at Stavanger-Sola by parachute assault had allowed for the unhindered air-landing of combat and service support troops, following close up with the initial units. These had been required for two highly important reasons:

  • The fast occupation of the seaport of Stavanger and its hinterland, as fast warships of the Navy for the transport of troops had not been available;
  • The build-up of the spacious airfield as a main base for the interdiction of the Luftwaffe against British and French naval forces operating in the sea regions along the coast of southern and central Norway, and as a stopover for short-range combat and transport aircraft destined to operate over and from Trondheim.

3./FschJgRgt.1 had accomplished its mission with relatively low losses as the enemy had not been prepared to counter a parachute assault. Nevertheless, by the high standard of their training and vigour these men had fully confirmed the confidence placed in them.

Fornebu, too, had been more of an example of incomplete and belated defensive preparations, in conjunction with a Norwegian lack of equipment for modern warfare, than of a well thought of contingency plan on the German side. A single unit the size of a battalion, equipped with adequate numbers of automatic weapons, fighting resolutely, could have defeated the improvised initial air-landing of German troops. Thereby, as the coup de main of German naval forces in the Oslo Fjord had failed, an extremely unfavourable situation for southern Norway could have developed for Gruppe XXI.

The parachute attack at Dombås was ordered by the OKW after the intention of the Allies to land troops on the coast of central Norway had been detected. This measure had to be regarded as expedient, as, under the prevailing circumstances, it was the only one promising to delay the anticipated (and then executed) thrust of Allied troops into central Norway and their uniting with Norwegian forces sufficiently long to allow for the interference of German divisions from Oslo. In the light of the OKW’s intention, the question needs to be answered as to why X.Flieger-Korps, upon receipt of the OKW directive, dated 14 April, had not moved the 3rd and 4th companies of I./FschJgRgt.1 to Norway for commitment in Dombås, thereby complying with number 3.(c) of the directive? One reason may have been that, by the time the directive was received and exploited, reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 had already been underway to Dombås or, possibly, had even jumped there. The principal reason for denying the commitment of these companies at Dombås, however, must be seen in the fact that about this time the start of the offensive in the west was ordered for 13 May. Every man was now required to accomplish the tasks planned for the parachute force in Holland. This was also true for the aircraft of I. and II./KG z.b.V.1. Moreover X.Flieger-Korps may have considered itself no more competent for the commitment of parachute forces in the Norwegian area of operations, as it had been placed under command of Luftflotte 5 which in the meantime had been generated in order to direct all air operations in Norway, in cooperation with the likewise formed Luftwaffe territorial command for Norway.

The reason why the Luftwaffe liaison staff with Gruppe XXI had bent its own order as to the number of parachute units to be committed at Dombås, has already been mentioned. That Generalmajor Süßmann had insisted on the execution of the operation on 14 April may have been based on additional information about the enemy and the operational intentions of Gruppe XXI which he may have brought along from Oslo. In view of the approaching darkness, he had obviously seen no more opportunity to meet the missing prerequisites for the undertaking and therefore had taken the risk to neglect them. His attitude, as the events had shown, had decisively contributed to the failure of the mission. On the other hand, the fact that all transport aircraft had managed to take off safely from Fornebu despite the inclement weather had spoken for the General, who had based his order to fly on his experience as commander of an aviation formation in his previous position.

The narrow time frame between the order to conduct a parachute attack at Dombås and its execution clearly indicates that the higher commands involved still lacked experience about the lead time which was required for operations of this kind. Generalleutnant Student, too, seems to have been ignorant about the importance of the prerequisites for successful airborne operations and even more so about the inevitable head-start in time for the technical and logistical preparations of such operations. This had become visible during the course of the prosecution against Generalmajor Süßmann, who was suspected of a dereliction of the duties of a superior after the operation at Dombås. When called up, Student, as an expert witness, had stated that mission and time pressure could make it necessary to conduct a parachute attack without prior complete intelligence-gathering, and reconnaissance of the drop zone.

The views of the staff of Fl.Div.7 differed from those of Student; they had raised a warning about the operational shortcomings during the commitment of parachute and air-landing troops in Norway, with a view on the future commitment of forces of this kind. Its secret report about the experiences of the employment in Scandinavia, dated 23 April 1940, had requested binding orders by the highest command involved and had stated verbatim that it was impossible to place the responsibility for the take-off of transport aircraft or its cancellation into the hands of individual commanders by phrases such as “according to the weather conditions.” In subsequent sections of this report the warnings were even more drastic, pointing out that the employment of parachute troops in unknown terrain without preceding reconnaissance would result in failure and in high losses. It had also requested that parachuting in the immediate vicinity of an enemy airfield had to be the exception.

As to what extent the commander of the parachute force and his superiors paid attention to these statements in future operations?!

The first performance of the German parachute force in its very own mode of employment during the initial phase of Operation Weserübung had shown that the aims intended for it had been achieved. All of them had been operational-level in nature. The Norwegian and Danish armed forces had been totally unprepared for the dimensions of the use of air power on the German side as well as for parachute attacks and air-landings of ground forces. After Weserübung, however, the secret about the parachute force, which had still been guarded during the campaign in Poland, was lifted with the exception of that of the glider. The principal opponents of Germany and the military commands of Holland and Belgium had been provided with the opportunity to take precautions against this kind of warfare. Whether this opportunity was used will also be examined later.

The actions of the paratroopers in Denmark, at Stavanger and around Oslo but also the dogged endurance of the still combat ready elements of 1./FschJgRgt.1 after the unfortunate start of the undertaking at Dombås, gave proof to the superior military commands, that the newly created troops had confidence in themselves to master the tasks presented. There had been no lack in resoluteness, ingenuity and will to fight among both, leaders and men. Therefore the high command could confidently look forward to more missions for the parachute force.

The risky employment of almost all of the surface craft of the German Navy and the airborne undertakings at Stavanger, Fornebu and Trondheim had resulted in the desired surprise success, but had not ended the fighting in Norway. Only after the lines of communication into central Norway had been opened against Norwegian and British troops, forcing the latter to hastily embark again, did the German command consider its gains in the Norwegian theatre of war safe up to Trondheim. However, the situation in northern Norway, where a task force of about 2,000 soldiers from the 3.Gebirgs-Div. under Generalmajor Dietl had been landed by ten destroyers at Narvik, remained critical. After successful actions by British naval forces against the German destroyers in the fjords at Narvik, the loss of most of the vessels with supplies and heavy weapons on the way to Narvik and the closure of the sea lanes around the Lofoten and Vesterålen islands by the British Home Fleet, Dietl stood isolated and inadequately supplied. Units of the Norwegian 6th Division moved toward Narvik from two sides through the mountainous terrain. Moreover, since 16 April strong Allied ground forces were landing at the port of Harstad, on the northern tip of the Hinnoya islands, about 60 km north-west of Narvik. Preliminary operations of both Norwegian and Allied troops aiming to retake Narvik and to eliminate Kräftegruppe Dietl were launched on 24 April. Allied warships entered the fjords and fired in support of the ground forces, thereby considerably hampering the movements of the defenders.

After 13 April Hitler saw the operation against Narvik as a failure and looked for possibilities to rescue Kräftegruppe Dietl. The resolute attitude of Generalmajor Jodl and the confidence displayed by Generalmajor Dietl, however, had won over Hitler’s fears, so that the operation had been carried on despite tremendous difficulties.

Since the end of April it had become possible to resupply Dietl from the air and to provide air support, although to a very limited extent due to the distance of more than 600 km between Trondheim and Narvik, the adverse weather, the air threat from the airfield at Bardufoss and from British carrier groups, which turned out to be most obstructive.

For relief operations on the ground, elements of 2.Gebirgs-Div., under Generalmajor Feurstein, were brought to Trondheim. However for the relief to become effective several weeks of waiting had to be reckoned with.

Of the air transport formations, only KGr z.b.V.107 and 108 remained in Norway, primarily for the support of the garrison at Narvik. KG z.b.V.1 and 2 were speedily refitted in Germany for the campaign in the west. Two of the special purpose air transport combat groups were returned to the training command of the Luftwaffe in order to again enlarge the training capacity for pilots and aircrews.

After his strongest doubts about Narvik had been dispersed, Hitler turned his attention fully back to Fall Gelb. British documents, dated early April 1940, which had been captured in Norway, were considered extremely useful for political action. They clearly laid open the planning of the Allies to occupy ports in Norway, to get ahead of similar German actions. These documents were now widely used for propaganda purposes and Ribbentrop, the German minister of foreign affairs, published a white paper in order to convince the German people and the world at large that the Allies were unwilling to respect the neutrality of smaller European countries. The deeper idea behind this step obviously had been to make the impending military actions against the Benelux states appear to be preventive measures upon their execution.

On 27 April Hitler disclosed his intentions to his personal entourage to begin Fall Gelb between 1 and 7 May. He passed the command of the Norwegian theatre of war entirely to Gruppe XXI, Luftflotte 5 and the Office for Naval Warfare. On 29 April he determined that the Luftwaffe had to be ready for Fall Gelb on 5 May. The following day he ordered that from the 4 May the Wehrmacht, as a whole, must be able to commence the attack on 24 hours’ notice.

The decisive factor for the beginning of the offensive in the west now became the weather. It remained unfavourable for the employment of the Luftwaffe, which was regarded as the key to success in the initial phase of Fall Gelb; consequently the date for the attack was moved back on a day-to-day basis. As the weather forecast was more favourable on 9 May, and Holland, because of serious warnings, had commenced with measures for civil defence, Hitler decided to fix the ultimate date for the attack as 10 May. Announced to the public as a visit to Oslo, on the evening of 9 May he and his personal staff travelled in his special train to the command post for the campaign in the west, which had been prepared near Münstereifel.

The attack forces of all three services of the Wehrmacht had, like in the preceding days, again received two code words for 10 May, one for the beginning of the attack and the other for its cancellation. Sturmabteilung Koch and the Luftlande-Korps stood ready at their jump-off airfields with the highest degree of readiness.