The Tczew (Dirschau) Bridge destroyed by the Poles.

Wehrmacht soldiers in Dirschau / Tczew Poland 1939.

The Battle for Dirschau [Tczew]

The importance of Dirschau to the German leadership was the geographical position of the Vistula Bridge. In the plans for war with Poland, the 837m long double railway and road bridge presented a decisive connection between East and West Prussia. This bridge was described as a “most important point” in the “Military and Geographical Description of Poland” given out by the OKW in 1939, which informed the leaders of the three parts of the Wehrmacht accordingly: “In the initial stages of the attack, the preservation of surprise remains imperative for the taking of the Vistula Bridge.” It was clear that Poland knew the strategic importance of the bridge, and would therefore have taken suitable precautions. That is why everything had to be done from East Prussia to take the bridge intact. These efforts were to be supported from Danzig. That Poland knew the importance of the bridge can be seen by the fact that earlier in the year units particularly qualified as reliable were brought to strengthen the bridge. Poland had also begun to fortify the bridge, for example, with wire entanglements and machine gun nests, in 1938.

In East Prussia, Oberst Medem was picked for the “Dirschau” mission. He created the “Gruppe Medem”, which consisted of:

  • 1 Battalion of Grenzwacht-Regiment 1
  • 1 Infantry Replacement Battalion
  • 1 Light Artillery Detachment
  • 1 Armoured Train

From the north, on the eastern side of the Vistula, SS-Heimwehr Danzig and from the air a Stuka wing of Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 were to support the Gruppe Medem.

The plan was that the Gruppe Medem, with the co-operation of the Luftwaffe, should prevent the destruction of the Vistula Bridge and capture it, so that a connection could be created between the German troops coming from the west and the East Prussian units. The SS-Heimwehr Danzig received the order to attack Dirschau from the north, make contact with the East Prussian soldiers and protect the bridge and the city of Dirschau against possible Polish counter-attacks. The bridge was to be taken by a goods train filled with East Prussian soldiers, which would cross the bridge at a specified time, while the Luftwaffe bombarded important points in Dirschau such as the barracks and the power station. The action involving the freight train was arranged to take advantage of the good working relationship which was then obtained between the Polish and German railway authorities. Poland was responsible for the area of the Free City of Danzig. If a train from East Prussia was to travel to Danzig or the German Reich, Poland took control of the transport, and would use a Polish locomotive. At the border, it was uncoupled, and a German engine would be used again. This happened in this case as well: Poland was asked to pick up an empty goods train at 0445 hrs on 1st September 1939 and take it to the western border. When the Polish locomotive arrived at Marienburg, East Prussia, the Polish train drivers were overpowered, replaced by German officials in Polish uniforms, and the Gruppe Medem was loaded into the empty goods trucks. The first setback happened at Simonsdorf Station in the Danzig territory. The following Armoured Train was steered into a siding by Polish railway officials. It had now to be tediously shunted, and valuable time was lost. The Polish officials reacted accordingly, and shot a flare as a warning for the bridge garrison. Thus when the goods train tried to cross the bridge, it found an iron gate blocking its way. Completely contrary to plan the train now sat outside the gate while the Luftwaffe had already started the bombardment. The Poles opened fire immediately on the train and blew up the bridge. The East Prussian soldiers jumped from the train and took cover in the embankment.

Parts of SS-Heimwehr Danzig, about 1,200 strong, went to their stand-by area north of Dirschau on the night of 31st August 1939-lst September 1939. They arrived at around two in the morning. The stand-by area stretched around the village of Rambeltsch, one of the last towns in Danzig territory before the border. At 0300 hrs, the commander, Goetze gave the order: “Make and keep contact with the East Prussian units.” The SS-Heimwehr Danzig went over the border and turned south-east to the Polish village of Mühlbanz.

From here it marched south without incident to the village of Damerau. The attack was then confined to the railway embankment between Dirschau and Danzig, after strong Polish resistance afforded from the city suburbs. The distance to this was around 1,500 m. Due to the concentric fire, a crossing of the railway embankment to the south, in the direction of Dirschau, was not possible without substantial losses. Even an anti-tank gun and a shock troop set up to engage the Polish positions were unsuccessful.

The former SS Officer Leo Wilm in the HQ Staff Goetze witnessed this action: “… The Poles had concentrated their fire on the embankment and the railway underpass there, so that crossing the embankment or storming the underpass would only have been possible with heavy losses. After a thorough observation by the Commander himself from the embankment, he gave me the order: “Bring Adjutant Westermann here, a platoon leader with an anti-tank gun, and as many hand grenades as possible, for a shock troop to be set up under his leadership: objective to attack recognised resistance nests and destroy them”. Despite heavy opposing fire it managed to get through the underpass at the first attempt and immediately to find cover in the ditch under construction in Dirschau. The anti-tank gun followed on the road to Dirschau and supported the shock party from a completely unprotected firing position. Through the loss of the gun it was very difficult to get to the houses and resistance nests. The attack of the shock party failed having had no effect…”

Almost the whole battalion stayed in its initial position at the embankment until the afternoon of the 1st September. The plan to take Dirschau by surprise was unsuccessful. Only with further support from the Luftwaffe and heavy artillery could SS-Heimwehr Danzig get into Dirschau in the afternoon. In the city itself there was only isolated resistance, which occasionally flared up until 5th September 1939. The new command post in Dirschau was set up in the kindergarten.

The former member of SS-Heimwehr Danzig, Wenzel Woldrich reports on the severity of the fighting: “I was number 1 on the light machine gun and was wounded on the very first day of battle. Ours, the 1st company, whose 1st platoon I belonged to, suffered the most losses on this day. Five dead and five wounded in the 1st platoon alone…” Similarly, Päpper, the former Section Leader in the 1st Platoon, 2nd Company remembers: “… I was likewise with my section on the embankment before Dirschau on the morning of the 1st of September, only I had advanced with my men over the embankment to near a garden settlement left of the underpass, because the order to proceed only as far as the embankment had not reached me. There, Gunner Behrend was wounded. As I established there was no progress to be made from here over the open plain due the enemy fire, I went with my whole group back to the embankment again. There was almost the whole battalion stuck fast in its initial position… The Poles defended themselves bravely…”

Willy Fischer, a volunteer from Danzig, experienced the battle for Dirschau as follows: ” I was born in 1917. From 1936 to 1938 I was a recruit in the 1st Cavalry Regiment in Insterburg. Since I felt my homeland threatened by Poland, I joined the Heimwehr with quite a few other reservists. Firstly we went to Berlin for training, then back to Danzig. One day there was an alarm. Three trains with Polish soldiers had pulled into the main station. We went to our position on the Bischofsberg. The Poles probably noticed this, and pulled out again after two hours. I was wounded on the first day before Dirschau. A shot to the spine. Immediately I was taken to the hospital in Danzig, and then to Berlin-Hohenlychen in a plane. There I was operated on by Dr. Sauerbruch. Back in Danzig I was visited in hospital by our Commander Goetze and my company leader, Baier. Here I was also awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class. Before the French campaign I went to the Bayerisch-Zell sanatorium…”

Charlotte Kuthning, nee Grätsch and sister of SS-Heimwehr Danzig member Herbert Grätsch recalls: “I was a nurse in the city hospital in Danzig and got to know everything from the other side. On the first day of battle, vehicles carrying the wounded were coming in one after the other. A 20 year old from East Prussia had lain for two hours in the water at the Dirschau bridge: a shot to the cervical vertebrae – completely paralysed. He lived two more days. The most seriously wounded were tended to first. Sometimes even a Pole. I always shook when some came from the Heimwehr. Could have been my brother. Then in the afternoon the Poles from the Polish Post Office. Burned black, shaking with fear and pain. We wrapped their whole bodies in bandages with pain-relieving ointment. They got morphine injections, tetanus and poison gas serum. On the next day it was somewhat calmer. I could watch the Stuka attack on the Westerplatte from our roof…”

The action of SS-Heimwehr Danzig had not fulfilled the goal of the mission from the German point of view: the Vistula Bridge was destroyed. German sappers began to build a pontoon bridge from east to west, to re-establish contact. The SS-Heimwehr was ordered from Dirschau back to Danzig-Zoppot. Here it was made subordinate to the Landespolizei, and with the exception of occasional scouting party operations, clashes did not take place. The motorcycle messenger Leo Wilm also took part in an operation of this type: “… Since the Poles were retreating and contact with the enemy was broken, a new shock party was formed from the HQ Staff Goetze – Adjutant Westermann and three men in a Kübelwagen, as well as me on my motorcycle. After around 15 km we came upon brief resistance, but the enemy retreated. Here we saw a terrible, bloody atrocity. A man was crucified on a barn door and a family of seven killed in their home with their tongues nailed to the table…” The SS-Heimwehr suffered most of its losses before Dirschau through head shots by Polish sharpshooters. 26 members of SS-Heimwehr Danzig fell: that was a third of their total losses. Around a half of these were Danzig volunteers. Whether this was to do with very short training we cannot say, since the Wehrmacht had just as high losses.

SS Heimwehr “Danzig” was an SS unit established in the Free City of Danzig (today Gdańsk and environs, Poland) before the Second World War. It fought with the German Army against the Polish Army during the invasion of Poland, and some of its members committed a massacre of Polish civilians. After this it became part of the 3rd SS Totenkopf Division and ceased to exist as an independent unit.

On 8 September members of the SS Heimwehr Danzig killed 33 Polish civilians in the village of Ksiazki.


German Army – Junior Commanders

This picture shows what appears to be the command detachment of a German infantry platoon. In the foreground, to the left of the radio operator, sits the Zugführer or platoon commander. His shoulder straps are obscured, but it can be assumed he is either an Oberleutnant or a Leutnant. His second in command, an Oberfeldwebel (Master Sergeant), can be seen sitting on an ammunition box in the centre, while one of his squad leaders (an Unteroffizier, or Sergeant – wearing an Iron Cross) sits on the edge of the trench smoking a cigarette and taking notes. From the captured Russian PPSh-41 submachine guns dotted around the position it can be assumed that these men are somewhere on the eastern front.

Far from being automatons, German junior officers were trained to be adaptable to deal effectively with the enemy and the terrain over which they conducted operations. They were the cement that held the German Army together and kept it fighting.

On the outer ramparts of the Third Reich in the final days of the war, the burden of holding together the battered remnants of the army fell upon the shoulders of a small band of veteran colonels and majors. When divisions were decimated time and again by massive Allied firepower or rolled over by Soviet tank hordes, small groups of German soldiers led by determined commanders formed ad hoc battle groups to try to close the breach in the frontline.

The German Army’s junior officer corps, i.e. between the rank of Oberst (colonel) and Leutnant (2nd lieutenant), was the backbone of Hitler’s war machine, and it was the vital link between the Führer, the Wehrmacht’s high command, and the ordinary soldiers. It was largely due to the junior officers that Hitler’s army kept fighting in spite of the overwhelming odds it faced.

Throughout the war the German Army was keen not to dilute its officer corps by directly promoting noncommissioned officers (NCOs) from the ranks, although in extreme conditions field promotions did occur. All potential officers first served in the ranks prior to selection for officer training before being given the appointment as “aspirant officer.” The basic educational qualification was set high, which meant that many NCOs were unable to progress into the officer corps. Potential officers who were selected during their basic recruit training had to have passed the university entrance examination, but more senior potential officers were exempt from this requirement. After serving several months in a unit under supervision, the aspirant officer would be dispatched to the Officer Training School at Doberitz near Berlin for a six-month basic officer training course. The majority of officers commissioned prior to the start of the war were conscripts, who were released to return to civilian life after their two years of national service.

In the early war years, the majority of colonels and majors had been professional soldiers in the old Reichswehr. They were the last of the old guard, and many were either aristocrats or the sons of career military families. The rapid expansion of the army and first wave of heavy casualties in Russia and Africa in 1941–42 meant that by the time Germany was forced on the defensive after Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943, these men were leading divisions or serving as staff officers at high-level headquarters. As they rose in command their places were taken by men who had risen through the ranks to now lead frontline battalions and regiments.

The burden of leadership thus fell on men who had been commissioned as young lieutenants in the early years of Hitler’s rise to power and then progressed through officer training during the 1930s. This infusion of reserve officers after 1943 transformed the German Army officer corps from a peacetime professional force into one that reflected German society as a whole. The reserve officers were almost all from lower-middle-class stock, or university-educated professional classes. Nazi control of the German education system in the 1930s meant that this generation of officers was almost totally indoctrinated with the Führer’s racist ideology. In some divisions, this meant that more than a quarter of all officers were members of the Nazi Party.

Mission Command

A major contributing factor to the battlefield success of the German Army was the fact that its officer corps was trained in what is now known as Mission Analysis or Auftragstaktik. German officers of all ranks were trained to be able to fight without detailed orders, to make do with just a brief statement of their commander’s intentions. The commander told his subordinates what he wanted achieved, not how to do it. Subordinate officers were expected to be able to think on their feet and adapt their brief orders to meet the requirements of the situation on the ground.

German Auftragstaktik techniques differed fundamentally from the more rigid command procedures adopted by the Allies. The latter relied on what the Germans called Befehlstaktik, or detailed direction of all troops. The differences in command procedures were largely responsible for the ability of the Germans to recover from the brink of disaster time and time again.

After 1943, Allied forces regularly broke through German lines in massive set-piece attacks involving huge artillery barrages and air support. These were tightly choreographed operations and junior subordinates were allowed little freedom of action. However, these attacks invariably became bogged down or deflected. Allied commanders often showed little initiative. They just waited for further orders, for reinforcements, or for new supplies to come forward, leaving the weakened attacking troops vulnerable to counterattack.

This was the point at which the German command doctrine came into its own. It gave the commander on the ground the freedom of action to do what was necessary to stop the attack, without reference to higher command. In many cases, of course, such reference upwards was actually impossible, because the artillery bombardments or air strikes had severed communications with higher headquarters.

For the execution of Auftragstaktik, command procedures required highly trained, experienced, and confident commanders. Central to German officer training at this time was the concept that the aspiring commander should be trained to take over the job of his immediate superior. So company commanders had to be ready to take over command of their battalion if its commander was incapacitated. Likewise, platoon leaders had to be prepared to take over from their company commander if he was killed or injured.

Periods of work in staff posts then prepared officers to command a combined-arms battle group or Kampfgruppe. A working understanding of how infantry, tanks, antitank guns, artillery, mortars, combat engineers, and aviation could work together was developed through staff training and on maneuvers. Training courses started with instruction on the capabilities of the various arms and equipment found in the Germany Army, then progressed to training exercises without troops where students were given tactical problems to solve, and they walked the ground with instructors discussing the best solution. Students then graduated to full-scale field exercises with demonstration troops. On these exercises students were swapped around between command appointments to give them experience of working with different arms and equipment.

The Kampfgruppe concept was so successful for the Germans because it grew from an all-arms combat doctrine, centered on the idea of unity of command, or Einheit. The German Army had long since dropped the idea of single-service combat units. Every corps, division, regiment, and battalion contained different types of weapons and sub-units. On the battlefield it was routine for further mixing of weapons and types of unit to occur as Kampfgruppen were formed for specific missions and then disbanded when they were completed. In the Allied and Soviet armies the forming of all-arms units was constantly being frustrated by arguments about command relationships, such as tank commanders not wanting to be under the orders of the infantry. In the German Army, the role of the Kampfgruppe commander was clear cut: he was the boss, period.

There were well-practiced procedures for establishing Kampfgruppen and transferring command of sub-units to them. It was usual to build a Kampfgruppe around an existing battalion or regimental headquarters to ensure all the necessary planning and communications capabilities were readily available for the Kampfgruppe commander. While a specific Kampfgruppe might be centered on a specific battalion or regiment, it was usual for a variety of supporting sub-units to be thrown in the pot to round out its combat capabilities. These generally included combat engineers, communications units, antitank guns, assault guns, medical support, logistic units with additional ammunition and combat supplies, reconnaissance troops, military police for traffic control, intelligence specialists, heavy mortars, rocket launchers, artillery planning staff, and observers. The latter were of particular importance because they determined the level of fire support available for a specific operation.

The most successful German battalion and company commanders were usually in their late twenties or early thirties. They motivated their men by leading from the front, sharing the privations of their frontline troops. Examples of these men included Dr. Franz Bake, who achieved fame as the commander of a Kampfgruppe of Panther tanks that led the rescue attempt to open a route to the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket in February 1944. They also had to convince their troops that they had their interests at heart and were not going to waste their lives in stupid or fruitless operations. But in the extreme conditions on the Eastern Front, commanders also had to act ruthlessly to maintain discipline. The point at which units cracked under pressure was difficult to judge, but if panic was to be nipped in the bud then sometimes waverers had to treated harshly. This was particularly the case when units were in danger of being surrounded. After Stalingrad in 1943, ordinary German soldiers were very frightened of being trapped in pockets, or Kessels, and units occasionally collapsed when Soviet troops got behind them. This symptom became known as “Kessel stress,” and the Germans thought it had to be dealt with carefully if commanders were to keep their units fighting to give them a chance to break out or launch a counterattack against the enemy.

Although desertions were rare, especially in Russia where the local population was almost universally hostile to the Germans, officers were regularly urged to take harsh measures against ill-discipline. Field court martials were increasingly common as the war progressed. Junior officers were empowered to shoot on sight any soldiers who wavered in the face of the enemy, or were spotted crossing over to enemy lines. However, at the end keeping the troops fighting was an increasingly difficult task as the ordinary soldier’s faith in the Führer started to waver.

Danzig 1939

Soldiers of the SS-Heimwehr Danzig round up “undesirables” in the free city of Danzig. The SS had clandestinely sent troops into Danzig before the invasion ready to seize key objectives once war was declared.


Soldiers of SS Heimwehr Danzig, an SS unit recruited in Danzig, take cover behind an ADGZ armored car during an attack on Polish troops in a post office. SS Heimwehr Danzig was incorporated into the 3rd SS Totenkopf Division after the Poland campaign.

The Battle for the Polish Post Office in Danzig

On 19th December 1921, Poland received the former Danzig Garrison Sick-bay on the Heveliusplatz from the International Arbitration Commission for use on postal duties. The Polish Post Office was called “Gdansk 1” from 1st August 1926. The former military hospital had already been robustly built, but the Poles began to strengthen and extend the building in the 1930s. 38 special ex-service reserve officers of the Polish Army were made postal officials. They were enlisted by Ridz-Smigly for defence of the Post Office until the promised relief by Polish cavalry.

A group of a hundred VGAD, which was formed from SA men, joined the 1st half platoon of the 3rd platoon of the 13th Coy., SS-Heimwehr Danzig in the battle for the Post Office under Hauptmann der Schutzpolizei Tornbaum, as well as the barracked police of the 2nd Police Precinct.

The members of SS-Heimwehr received their order into action in the early morning hours. A swift, surprise seizure of the Post Office by the police units failed due to the unexpected readiness of the Polish postal officials, and the German attackers were left around 20 metres in front of the building under well-planned defensive fire. Both light infantry guns of SS-Heimwehr were only partially used, since they would have endangered the population. The SS men were therefore used as infantry for the short term. Further attempts to storm the Post Office quickly and without losses failed due to the dogged defence by the Poles. In contrast to the Post Office, the other Polish quarters in Danzig were occupied by the afternoon. The SS-Heimwehr Danzig was however not involved.

Place; Found:

  1. Main railway station a light MG
  2. Polish railway post office a MG, four rifles, 18 pistols, and two cases of hand grenades
  3. Polish railway office 45 pistols
  4. Polish customs post 15 rifles
  5. Diplomatic agency a light MG, five rifles, four pistols
  6. Polish scout hall a machine gun
  7. Polish living quarters some rifles
  8. Polish student hostel some rifles
  9. Polish grammar school some rifles

A new attack was planned for 1700 hrs. One of the two Minenwerfers which had been set up on the Westerplatte was taken from there and brought to the Post Office. This was to shell the brick building until it was ripe for the storming. After the guns had together shot a large hole in the wall, the Poles retreated to the cellars. When the Fire Brigade finally managed to pump gas into the cellar and ignite it, the confused defending Poles gave up. The well-built Post Office came in useful while the German soldiers and police had to move around in the street without cover. At 1830 hrs, the swastika flag was raised. The battle was over. After the end of the battle for the Post Office, further weapons were found: 3 light machine guns with 44 full and 13 empty rounds, 30 army pistols, 1 drum revolver, 1 sack of infantry and pistol ammunition and 150 hand grenades. (Source: Auswärtiges Amt. Weißbuch Nr. 2/1939/ Dokumente zur Vorgeschichte des Krieges.)

The then SS Officer Anton Winter experienced the battle for the Polish Post Office: “I experienced the outbreak of war on 1st September 1939 as a member of the 3rd platoon of the 13/SS-Heimwehr Danzig. Our orders were to immediately go to the Bischofsberg above Danzig. The infantry gun company consisted at the time of three platoons each of two infantry guns, called “gypsy artillery”. The guns of the 1st and 2nd platoons were rubber-tyred so as to be suitable for motorised deployment. Because of the lack of purpose-built artillery tractors they could only be pulled by the Opel Blitz truck which was present. Our 3rd platoon had only iron-wheeled guns, for horses to pull, but we had no horses, so we had to move the guns ourselves. Later we loaded our artillery into requisitioned civilian vehicles. In our case it was a margarine factory truck. Apart from the infantry guns we received another two Minenwerfers from World War I. The manpower stayed the same and since we were not trained in these heavy Minenwerfers, we had serious difficulties in using them later. The calibre of this mortar was, as I recall, 150 mm (6-inches)[1]. Our platoon was transferred to the Danzig mess hall from Bischofsberg shortly before 1st September 1939. From here we were ordered, most nights, to guard the harbour area of the new shipping route with our “margarine gun”. On 31st August 1939 the units of the Heimwehr were put on stand-by. Only we, the 3rd platoon of the 13th company, remained in the mess hall for the time being, for defence and possible deployment in the city. In the early morning hours of the 1st September 1939 we were wakened by a muffled rumbling. The shelling of the Westerplatte had begun. We listened until our platoon leader came to us with the order into action. We crawled to our gun in the truck and drove to the Polish Post Office, where we moved our gun into an open firing position. The distance to the Post Office was about 60 metres. Despite the heavy rifle and machine gun fire against us, we fired shell after shell directly on and into the building. At every shot from the cobbled street, however, our gun recoiled out of position, which definitely made our shooting more difficult. We had to take the cobbles up, during which our comrade Taynor was killed by a shot to the head, and our platoon leader was seriously injured on the arm. With the help of an armoured scout car from the police, we tried to storm the Post Office again, but failed, and we had further losses. It was just impossible to get through the strong wall and bars and take the building. After the attack with the armoured scout car had also failed, there was a pause in the battle. Even shelling with the recently-arrived heavy 15mm howitzer of the Wehrmacht could not bring the defenders to surrender. The Poles defended their Post Office with extraordinary bravery, even in the belief that they would be relieved by Polish cavalry, which was expecting to be in Berlin in seven days. Only in the late afternoon did we succeed, under heavy defensive fire, in getting flammable material into the rooms and cellar, igniting it and thus smoking out the defenders. Only then did they give up, and we pulled our gun back to the mess hall through a mass audience of people drawn up in a row. In the evening our gun company was ordered to see Generalmajor Eberhardt, who wanted to praise us for our “selfless action against the Polish Post Office”. On the next day, our company was taken off and deployed in the battle for the Westerplatte.”

Kurt Boldt from Danzig lived near the Polish Post Office in 1939: “… When SS-Rottenfiihrer Taynor fell with a head wound, I was stood about 60 to 80 metres away and observed how a comrade, with complete disregard for his own life, moved the body to the shelter of the houses, on the corner of Heveliusplatz…” The Polish postal officials, as they wore no military uniforms, were tried and executed in October 1939 as guerrillas.

Small quantity of ADGZ armoured cars was used by Germans. The most familiar example is a combat record of two ADGZ’s in Danzig, early 1939. Both of them organisationally belonged to a local “Heimwehr” and took part in assaulting the Polish post office in the city. It’s important however that instead of their original Austrian armament consisting of the 20mm Tankgewehr M35 and Schwarzlose M07/12 MMG’s the Germans re-armed their ADGZ’s with MG 34’s and reduced the vehicle crew to four crewmen (the vehicle was designed to accommodate a crew of six).

The 2 ADGZ used in Danzig where in fact cars of a police unit (together with 2 old Erhardt armoured cars), despite being marked with SS runes and a skull. They where supporting the Heimwehr troops. It had been planned to storm the Polish post office with Police men of the local German police, whose office was in a side floor of exactly that building. But both police and Heimwehr where not able to get into the main building for several hours. They succeeded only after the ADGZ held down the Polish defenders and fuel was pumped into the building and ignited.

The Polish post office in Danzig had successfully resisted the first German assaults and the 30 or so Poles had retreated to the cellar, where they refused to surrender. Rather than suffer more casualties, the Germans ordered the Danzig Fire Brigade to pump domestic gas into the cellar. The asphyxiated Poles duly gave themselves up.

The Poles were later shot for wearing civilian clothing whilst bearing arms. The Danzig firemen were presumably not shot for the more serious offence of using gas while in civilian uniform.

General Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt

Kampfgruppe Eberhardt 1939

I think it was officially known as Brigade Eberhardt. It later became the core of 60th Motorised Infantry Division.

There is a book entitled something like “Heimwehr Danzig” about the SS contribution beside Brigade Eberhardt in Danzig in 1939.

The OB I have for Brigade Eberhardt comes from a Polish book on the fighting along the seacoast during the German invasion in September 1939. It is the only source I have ever found that gives an OB for the brigade. It is as follows:

Police Brigade Eberhardt: 1st and 2nd Police Regiments

SS Heimwehr Danzig Infantry Battalion

Battalion Hacker (a Grenzwacht battalion)

Danzig Artillery Battalion

Eberhardt Cavalry Squadron

Eberhardt Construction Engineer Battalion

The book Sid mentioned is a history of the SS Heimwehr Danzig Battalion during the early days of the campaign, but that’s about it. There is nothing about the rest of the brigade in the book.

” Die Geschichte der SS Heimwehr Danzig” by Rolf Michaelis


In June 1939, the III./SS-Totenkopf-Standarte was redesignated as the “SS-Heimwehr Danzig”.

Headquarters SS-Heimwehr Danzig — Feldpostnummer 24 611

— Signal Plt.

— Pioneer Plt.

— Medical Plt.

— Motor Transport Company (motorized) [3 truck Plt.]

1st Infantry Company — Feldpostnummer 24 293 [4 infantry Plt.]

2nd Infantry Company — Feldpostnummer 31 292 [4 infantry Plt.]

3rd Infantry Company — Feldpostnummer 31 700 [4 infantry Plt.]

4th Machine-Gun Company — Feldpostnummer 32 304 [3 MG Plt.; 1 mortar plt.]

13th Infantry Gun Company — Feldpostnummer 33 475 [2 lt IG Plattons w/ 4 lt IG; 1 mixed plt. (2 lt IG + 2 mortars)]

14th Anti-Tank Company — Feldpostnummer 33 832 [4 Plt. w/ 3 ATG]

15th Anti-Tank Company — Feldpostnummer 34 799 [4 Plt. w/ 3 ATG]

The SS-Heimwehr Danzig was an infantry (non-motorized) battalion-sized unit. It certainly did NOT have an “Panzer-Nachrichten” units.

Gemischter Verband Danzig (aka Brigade Eberhardt) [3. Armee]

Danziger Infanterie-Regiment 1 (Landespolizei) (I. – III.)

Danziger Infanterie-Regiment 2 (Landespolizei) (I. – III.)

Danziger leichte Artillerie-Abteilung

Grenzabschnitt Hacker (3 cos.)

Arbeitsdienstgruppe Eberhardt (6 cos.)

Aufklaerungs-Kompanie Eberhardt

Brigade NetzeIII. Armeekorps, 4. AOK]

2x Grenzwachtabschnitt (#’s unknown) of Grenzwachtabschnitt 2

It is impossible to compile a complete accurate composition of all companies and individual weapons, as many records have been destroyed. The above is a compendium of many sources, not all original, and some conflicting.

Polizei-Panzerkampfwagen ADGZ

The Steyr ADGZ was originally developed as a heavy armored car for the Austrian army (its designation was “M35 Mittlere Panzerwagen”) from 1934 and delivered from 1935-37. Series production was under consideration, but the events of 1938 precluded the completion of this possibility. In 1941, Steyr received an order from the Reichsfuhrer-SS to complete a further 25 new ADGZ for the SS. These were delivered during 1942. An interesting feature of this vehicle was that there was no “rear:” either end was capable of driving the unit.

The original fourteen” ADGZ served with police detachments in Danzig in September 1939. The ADGZ delivered in 1942 were used by the SS to fight partisans in the East. After the invasion of the USSR a few ADGZ armored cars were rearmed with turrets from the Soviet T-26 model 1933 light tank.

Verstärkter Grenzaufsichtsdienst (VGAD, Reinforced Border Surveillance Service)

A very little known unit deriving from the SA was the Verstärkter Grenzaufsichtsdienst (VGAD, Reinforced Border Surveillance Service) created in 1939 at Danzig (today Gdansk in Poland) from the SA Brigade VI. As the title implies, the VGAD was intended as a paramilitary unit for patrolling the frontiers around the Free City of Danzig and as an extra defence against the Poles. Members of the VGAD usually wore standard German army uniform with a black collar displaying the SA collar patch and a sleeve title reading Grenzwacht (Border Guard). During the invasion of Poland in September 1939 members of the VGAD fought as part of the Sonderverband Danzig (Special Detachment Danzig), also named Brigade Eberhardt after its commanding officer Generalmajor Friedrich Eberhardt. This unit is principally remembered for capturing the central post office of Danzig after heavy fighting.

„Küstenschutz Danzig“

This unit was formed by Marine-SA (~naval SA) and Zollbeamte (customs officers).

Some 250 men formed two Coastal Artillery Batteries and one Harbour Barrier/Blockade Group.

„Küstenschutz Danzig“ was attached to „Gruppe Eberhardt“.

It seems as the „Küstenschutz Danzig“ was a kind of a naval version of the SS Heimwehr Danzig, each battery comprised four 88mm pieces.

The task of Küstenschutz Danzig was to make provisions for operation of SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN. They were also responsible for closing (blocking) the Danzig harbour, or unblocking it – depending on situation.

On 4th September 1939 one battery of Küstenschutz Danzig shelled Westerplatte.

in “Die Yacht” Jg, 1939 ist ein schönes Soldatenfoto mit Mützenband



Bombed Up Fw 190 inTunisia

Many fighter versions of the Fw 190 but the earliest examples to be tested with bomb-carrying equipment appear to have been two from a second batch of preproduction aircraft – WNr. 0022, coded SB+IB, and WNr. 0023, coded SB+IC. They flew test flights with either a 500kg bomb or 300 litre drop tank fitted beneath their fuselages up to June 30, 1941. This This basic bomb-carrying configuration was given the designation A-0/U4. Another prototype was used to test different arrangements of SC 50 bombs carried either beneath the fuselage or under the wings.

The first attempt to create a dedicated Schlachtflugzeug (ground-attack aircraft) was the Fw 190 A-3/U3, devised in May 1942. The /U3 denoted Umrüstbausatz (Umbau for short), a kit of parts that could be fitted to any standard Fw 190 fighter immediately following its manufacture at the factory.

The Fw 190 A-3/U3 had extra armour plates fitted around and beneath the engine, on the sides of the fuselage and on the undercarriage doors. A variety of different armament options were proposed, ranging from bombs to under-wing cannon pods but just 12 aircraft received these modifications.

Next came the A-4/U3, featuring the same armour and weapon options as its predecessor. In addition, the A-3/U3’s centreline ETC 501 bomb rack featured the ER-4 adapter, which allowed the Fw 190 A-4/U3 to carry a set of four SC 50 bombs. Again, only a handful, perhaps a dozen, are believed to have been made.

Next came another small-run type, the A-5/U3. This had two ETC 50 racks under each wing and a hefty total armour weight of 794lb. The A-5/U3 was scheduled for limited production in December 1942 with the ultimate goal of using it as the pattern aircraft for the full production Fw 190 F ground-attack aircraft, scheduled to enter production in June 1943.

Although the successes of the Jabo raids had been relatively insignificant, the Germans resolved to intensify them as 1942 drew to a close.

It was decided that a new sort of unit should be established to specialise in these attacks – the Schnellkampfgeschwader or `fast bomber wing’. SKG 10 was to have three Gruppen, each comprising four Staffeln, compared to the more usual three.

Since existing Fw 190 pilots were all needed elsewhere, SKG 10 would be manned by ex-III./Z.G. 2 which was a former Bf 109 Jabo unit, and the rest of S.K.G. 10 was formed from former Bf 109 and later FW 190 Jabo units.

Meanwhile, the first Fw 190 unit had arrived in North Africa – III./ZG 2. Heavy losses inflicted by the British in the theatre had prompted Göring to promise that 40 of the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers would be transferred there to help.

III./ZG 2 arrived in Tunisia, having flown there via Italy and Sicily, in early to mid- November and flew its first mission against Bone harbour, held by the Allies, on November 12 and numerous clashes with enemy ground forces and Spitfires ensued. Five days later, II./JG 2 began to join III./ZG 2 at Sidi Ahmed. Its pilots were soon battling P- 38 Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group and B-17s of the Twelfth Air Force.

In December 1942, it was decided that III./ZG 2 would be renamed III./SKG 10 to become the third Gruppe of the new Geschwader, though it continued its bombing operations in North Africa – attacking Allied ground targets ranging from ships to tanks and motor vehicles and supporting German ground forces.

In March of the following year, a third Fw 190-equipped unit moved to North Africa, II./Schl. G 2. In April, III./SKG 10 was issued with the Fw 190A-5/U8, the predecessor of the Fw 190G, but was deeply unimpressed with it, regarding the twin under-wing 300 litre drop tanks as perilously vulnerable to ground fire.

However, it then began to receive the Fw 190F predecessor, the A-5/U3s with added armour protection, and found that these were much better suited to the fighter-bomber role. Intense fighting followed, with hundreds of sorties being flown against advancing British forces but to no avail. All of the Luftwaffe’s surviving Fw 190s in North Africa were evacuated on May 8, 1943.


As the first of the Fw 190s entered service with the ground-attack arm, two new Hsl29-equipped units were raised for operations in the Middle East and the first, 4/Sch. G 2, alternatively known as the Schlacht und Panzer-fliegerstaffel ‘Afrika’, left Poland on 2 November with fourteen aircraft. At the end of the first week’s operations from Staraset, however, only two aircraft survived and the unit’s personnel, evacuated to southern Italy, were refitting at Bari when. The Jabostaffeln of J.G. 27 and J.G. 53 had been used to form Jabogruppe Afrika in the autumn of 1942, a unit that was subsequently amalgamated into I./Sch.G. 2.. This unit was more successful than its predecessor but could make no substantial or distinctive contribution to the Tunisian fighting. Based at the large airfield at El Aouina, 8/Sch. G 2 joined the Ju87s of St. G 3 and the Fw 190s of III/SKG 10 (formed on 20 December by redesignating III/ZG 2). During the British October-November offensive from El Alamein, St. G 3 lost approximately 125 aircraft during 960 sorties mounted in support of the Afrika Korps against troop columns, tank concentrations and troop transport generally. Thereafter the number of Stuka sorties dropped, mainly due to low serviceability and the vital necessity of avoiding losses in view of the overall situation. Also, increasing use was now being made of the Fw 190s in the ground-attack role and between 11 November and 11 February, III/SKG 10 claimed 449 vehicles destroyed and a further 196 damaged during 51 operations undertaken in a vain effort to stem the Allied advance. In January, however, III/SKG 10 lost about half of the 30 Fw 190s transferred to Gabes when the airfield was heavily bombed by the RAF, and further losses occurred from extremely accurate AA when the unit attacked the airfield and harbour at Bone. From 10 November, battered Luftwaffe units encountered a new hazard when RAF Beaufighters from Malta made numerous night and day raids against the airfield at El Aouina, destroying hangars and setting workshops and parked aircraft alight. As the Allies closed in on the remaining Axis units in Tunisia, III/St. G 3 was badly shot up over El Guetter by newly-arrived American Spitfires on 3 April and had to be finally withdrawn to Sicily. The remaining Fw 190s could not redress a hopeless situation and on 12 May the North African campaign came to an end with the final surrender of German and Italian troops.


Review  Focke Wulf Fw 190 in North Africa

Andrew Arthy & Morten Jessen

Published by Classic Publication in 2004

176 pages

111 photos

15 colour profiles (incl. 2 plan view)

9 x 12″


ISBN: 1903223458

For someone with a special interest in the operational history of Germany’s superb radial-engined fighter of WWII, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the brief period this fighter spent in the North-African theatre of operations has always been a bit mysterious to me. Very little has been written on this subject and it seems that even fewer photos were available. And those that were available tended to be re-published countless times. Who haven’t seen the classic shots of Fw 190A-5 KM+EY?

I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I read on Andrew Arthy’s Fw 190 website that a book on this subject was forthcoming. At first opportunity I bought it.

Let me start by concluding that this is a masterpiece of aviation writing! As a scientist I am very, very pleased to see the academic approach taken by the authors when writing this book. By this I mean that not only is the research conducted thorough and extensive but it is also presented in the best possible manner, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. The authors use footnotes extensively throughout their work and this is conveniently placed below each page. I would strongly urge all aviation authors to use this system as it is very easy to find the required reference and a great aid in one’s own research. Fortunately, it seems to be a trend in aviation writing of late.

The authors present their work in a chronological day-to day manner, another approach I must admit I am inclined to favour! The book is broken down into ten chapters, five appendices, a reference section (in addition to the aforementioned footnotes) and thankfully a personnel index. The chapter breakdown is as follows:

  1. The early desert war – brief introduction to Luftwaffe operations in North-Africa, tactics and command structure.
  2. Erprobungskommando 19 – brief chapter on the first Fw 190 unit in North-Africa (all of which was news to me)
  3. III./ZG 2 in North Africa – chronological war diary November-December 1942
  4. II./JG 2 in Tunisia – chronological war diary November-December 1942
  5. III./SKG 10 – chronological war diary December 1942 – February 1943
  6. A successful period for II./JG 2 – chronological war diary January – February 1943
  7. Kasserine – 14. – 24. February 1943, the famous battle described
  8. II./JG 2 leaves North-Africa – chronological war diary Late February – March 1943
  9. Axis reversals – chronological war diary Late February – March 1943
  10. The final days – April – May 1943

Even if emphasis is on Fw 190 operations the allied perspective is not forgotten and combat reports and war stories from several participating American and British are presented. Together with the German view these are an interesting documentation of an air war that has often been overlooked in the past. At the end of each chapter the authors present their “conclusions”, an assessment of the Fw 190 units’ significance and achievements during the time period just described. An interesting way to end each chapter, I think! There are also a few bibliographies in the book, like that of Kurt Bühligen and Erich Rudorffer. Interspersed among the text are various small tables, like summaries of Fw 190 claims or losses for a given period or of unit commanders.

Moving on to the aircraft profiles all that is needed to say is that they are by Claes Sundin! Everyone with an interest in aviation art knows what that means. The profiles included in the book are some of the very best I have seen, indeed some of the best from Sundin’s hand, even if I am not entirely partial due to my interest in the Fw 190. Naturally the emphasis is on the Fw 190 (12 of the 15 profiles are devoted to the fw 190, including the two plan views) but there are one of a Bf 109G-4/R-6 (Franz Schiess’ Black 1, probably thrown in for the Bf 109 guys!), an American Spitfire V and a French P-40F. Sundin has also made three maps in colour of the areas of operations.

A crucial aspect of any Luftwaffe book, at least it is the one aspect I tend to consider the most, is the choice of photos. I am sure that the authors have done their utmost to find new photos and there were several here that were new to me. Of course there are old “friends” like the abovementioned shots of KM-EY, but they have also managed to find a few new ones of this machine that I have not seen before. There are not really any big surprises as far as photographs are concerned, although the Gruppeemblem of III./SKG 10 was one that I have not seen in print before. Furthermore, I find the shots of White 1/White E fascinating, especially since this machine apparently belonged to Eprobungskommando 19, the first fw 190 unit in North-Africa who only carried out non-operational tests. There are also four pages (appendix V) devoted solely to presenting more photographs, including many of KM+EY and four of a captured Fw 190A-4 with strange red-white-blue tricolor markings painted over the German national insignia.

If I have to find a negative point with this book it is that the photos are far to small for my comfort. At least some of them are deserving of much more space than they have been allocated. The majority of the photographs are only approximately 9×6 cm or smaller and that is not enough. I have been told that this is the choice of the editor and not the authors. Good thing that the profiles span an entire page and are reproduced with excellent clarity.

The appendices include the obligatory claims and loss lists but also a section on Jabo escort missions and, for modellers, a section on camouflage and markings. Perhaps surprisingly for many, the majority of the Fw 190s depicted in the book did not carry tropical camouflage, but the regular greys. Finally, there’s a list of Fw 190s captured in Tunisia.

This then, is my impression of this work. If it is not clear already let me say it again, this book is excellent, it represents marvellous scholarship and is obviously the result of a passion for the chosen subject and I can only look forward to any future titles from these authors.

Kjetil Aakra

The Demise of the Luftwaffe Bomber Units

The Hütter Hü 211 was a German prototype long-range reconnaissance and heavy night fighter commissioned by the Reich Air Ministry in late 1944. The project stopped after an air raid destroyed the prototypes before they were finished.


The Blohm & Voss Bv P 188 was a long-range, heavy jet bomber design project by the Blohm & Voss aircraft manufacturing division during the last years of the Third Reich. It featured a novel W-wing planform with variable incidence.The project was rejected in favour of the Junkers Ju 287 and no aircraft was ever built.


The Junkers Ju 287 was an aerodynamic testbed built in Nazi Germany to develop the technology required for a multi-engine jet bomber. It was powered by four Junkers Jumo 004 engines, featured a revolutionary forward-swept wing, and apart from the wing was assembled largely from components scavenged from other aircraft. It was one of the first jet propelled aircraft built with fixed landing gear.

The unfinished second and third prototypes, which far more accurately reflected the design of the eventual production bomber, were captured by the Red Army in the closing stages of World War II and the design was further developed in the Soviet Union after the end of the war as the basis for the two OKB-1 EF 131 airframes, and later developed by the Soviets into the OKB-1 140.

In August 1944 OKL (Luftwaffe High Command) announced the future equipment of Luftwaffe squadrons for the period to December 1945. The nine and one-third bomber Geschwader in late summer 1944, most equipped with the Ju 88 and Ju 188, would be cut to eight, and in all probability two more would be disbanded during 1945 so that by the end of 1945 only six Geschwader would survive, equipped with the Ju 388 K-1. All Do 217-equipped units were to be disbanded by October 1944 at the latest. Ju 388 K-1s would replace the Ju 88 A-17s at KG 26. Between December 1944 and May 1945 three Gruppen of that unit were meant to get improved Ju 188s and Ju 388s for torpedo-bomber operations over the North Sea and Arctic waters. The fourth Gruppe would probably not come to operational strength because of the production situation at September 1944. The Gruppen to be disbanded were those flying the He 177 A-5 with remote control installations and the Do 217 K-3 with the Hs 293 A Kehl missile guidance system. As it could not be determined to what extent these aircraft would be required for missions in future, all 135 bombers would go provisionally into the OKL Reserve. A number of these were decommissioned on airfields in Denmark and Norway after the heavy losses suffered over Normandy and western France, some being cannibalised for their DB-605 engines for re-use in new machines. There would also be no further Fw 200 C units operating.

The further reduction of He 111 front-line groups would depend on demand: since the production of the He 111 H had been discontinued, the only fresh aircraft being delivered to units would arrive from the repair shops. III./KG 3 would receive ten aircraft monthly in connection with the V-1 flying bomb programme. If and how the He 111 H -20s with other bomber groups would be operational on the Eastern Front was left open.

OKL wanted the Me 262 A-1a/bo or A-2 available in two bomber Geschwader. From December 1944 a third Geschwader would be formed, and this strength would be maintained. The Me 262 Blitzbomber would be reduced to two Gruppen at the latest by March 1945 since KG 76 was being expanded into the first jet bomber Geschwader. III./KG 76 was planned as the first operational Gruppe with the Ar 234 C-3 or C-5. The first Do 335 bomber Gruppe was expected to be ready in July 1945: the Luftwaffe planners believed that this would be the first, and probably only bomber unit to have this aircraft before the year was out. The Ju 287 was to be the first heavy jet bomber with the Luftwaffe. The first Gruppe was expected to be ready from July 1945, the second to follow at the year’s end by the latest. Although up to 20 per cent shortages due to delivery problems had been allowed for, it would have needed a great effort to meet these estimates by the scheduled dates, not least because some Ju 88 S-3s, Ju 388 K-1 s, Me 262 A-1 s and Do 335 A-1 s were needed as training machines.

The dismantling and partial re-equipping of the bomber squadrons would continue to the end of 1945. Two Gruppen of LG 1 would receive the Ju 388 K-1 instead of Ju 88 A -4. KG 2 would be disbanded if the Do 335 A-1 was not available short-term: 14./KG 3 would be disbanded by October 1944 , the V-1- equipped III./KG 3 by September 1945 at the latest. The same went for KG 4, whose I. to III. Gruppen, mostly flying the He 111 H-20 and H- 16, would cease to operate between April and June 1945. KG 6 would lose its Ju 88 S-3 s and Ju 188s in favour of the Ju 388 K-1 in stages from February 1945, remaining operational until at least December 1945, while KG 26 would receive the Ju 388 M-1 for torpedo operations replacing its Ju 88 A-17s and Ju 188 A-3s.

OKL wanted the remainder of KG 27 disbanded by January 1945 and KG 30 by the end of that year. KG 40 was to remain in reserve, where the former bomber groups would be converted to the Me 262 fighter. The operational period of KG 51 with the Blitz bomber would be short: by the end of 1945 the recently converted units would be disbanded and replaced by KG 76.

KG 53 equipped with He 111 H-11, H-16 and H-22 would be dissolved in March 1945. It was intended to replace the Ju 88s of at least two Gruppen of KG 54 with the Me 262. KG 55 was to be disbanded by November 1945. I./KG 66 was the only Luftwaffe pathfinder unit and would remain in service, receiving the Ju 388 K-1 from August 1945. II. and III./ KG 76 would test the Ar 234 B-2 for its suitability as a fast bomber. KG 100 with its He 177 A-5 s would remain intact although no immediate operations were on hand for its PC 1400 X or Hs 293 missiles. As the last test unit, mostly equipped with the He 111 H-20, TGr 30 was to remain operational into the summer of 1945 although nobody could decide what should happen subsequently.

On account of lack of fuel and new replacement machines, the transport units were required to keep going with clapped-out original-issue machines or converted He 111 bombers. The surviving Gruppen of TG 1 to TG 4, except IV.TG 1, which flew the He 111 H-1 to H -5, were to keep the lower but more robust Ju 52/3m. IV.TG 4 would continue to fly heavy machines such as the four-engined Bv Pi 188, Fw 200 and Ju 290 and the three-engined Ju 252 and Ju 352. For transport missions over the battle zones, such as supply drop to encircled troops, TGr 20 would be used with He 111 H-6s, H -16 and principally H-20 s and H-22s.

Further changes were foreseen for 1946. From the end of 1945, the air offensive would be pursued using the Do 335 in four Gruppen at KG 2, while two Gruppen at KG 76 and 12 other Gruppen elsewhere would fly the Ar 234. It was hoped to fit out two Gruppen at LG 1 with the Ju 388 high-altitude bomber, and KG 6 would remain in commission with the Ju 388 beyond January 1946, as would pathfinder Gruppe I./KG 66. Three Gruppen of torpedo bombers were planned for KG 76.

From the summer of 1944, Jabos were only operational as sections of ZG 26 and ZG 76. Both could field a single Gruppe, I./ZG 26 and II./ZG 76. Since the production of the Me 410 had been cancelled in the interim, the only fresh arrivals were from the repairers. This state of affairs was not expected to continue beyond February 1945. To replace these Gruppen, at least eight Gruppen were to be equipped with the Do 335 by the end of 1945, provided this aircraft proved superior to the RAF Mosquito. It was believed that two ]abo Gruppen could be formed between August and the end of December 1945 using Ju 388 J-1s or J-3s.

In the later summer of 1944, 21 long-range reconnaissance Staffeln were operational flying the Ju 88 D or Ju 188 F. Another three flights had the Me 410. For night reconnaissance Aufklārungsgruppe Nacht had three Staffeln. 1. and 2. Staffel of Fernaufklārungsgruppe 5 flew maritime reconnaissance sorties, Aufklārungsgruppe 123 had two Staffeln equipped with Bf 109s. The majority of these units, 29 in all, were to be retained and would fly operations by day, 3 using the Ar 234 B-1, 14 the Do 335 A-4 and 10 the Ju 388 L-1, Ju 388 L-1s or L-3s would replace the Do 217s and Ju 188s of night reconnaissance units. A total of eight Staffeln of Ju 88 G-1s and G-6s would fly weather reporting, amongst them Wekusta OKL 1. He 177s of Wekusta OKL 2 flew long range reconnaissance. Later consideration was given to using the Ju 635 or perhaps the Hü 211.

The extent to which these extremely optimistic plans were called into question by the end of 1944 is demonstrated by the idea of operating KG 51 (Me 262 A-1a/A-2) and the Ar 234 B-2 at KG 76. Even after all Ju 388 production had been abandoned in favour of the jets, and the Do 335 and Ju 287 were put on hold, neither of the ambitious schemes for KG 51 and KG 76 ever came to fruition, not even partially.

Once the rearrangement of the bomber formations was given up as impossible, the fighter and Jabo units were given absolute priority. Since small piston-engined aircraft and jets were easier to manufacture, the schedule was drawn up for large numbers by the end of 1944. It was clear to the squadrons that the Fw 190 D-9 or the Bf 109 K-4 together with the Me 262 jet fighter, coming off the lines in ever greater numbers, were the likely new deliveries. JG 1 wanted to exchange its Fw 190 A-8s and Bf 109 G-10s for the Fw 190 A-9. JG 2 also required a complete changeover to the Fw 190 D-9. At JG 3 to JG 6, JG 11, JG 26, JG 27, JG 51 to JG 54 and JG 77, the existing Bf 109 G-6s, G-10s and G-14s were to be exchanged for G-10s and G-14s and principally K-4s. These machines would be delivered to squadrons from the beginning of 1945 to replace the Bf 109 G-6. All units flying the Fw 190 A-8 would make a gradual change to the A-9 and then D-9. Only a few units, in particular the three Gruppen of JG 26, were chosen to receive the Fw 190 D-12 instead of the A-9 or D-9 from the beginning of 1945.

All-weather units JG 300 and JG 301 had a special role. It was considered that the Fw 190 A-6 to A-8 and Bf 109 G-6 to G-10/R6 of JG 300 should be traded in for the Fw 190 A-6 to A-8 with A -9/R11 and then the Fw 190 D-9/R11. Later III./JG 301 would receive the Ta 152.

The only rocket-fighter Geschwader, JG 400, would continue to use the Me 163, and perhaps later the Me 263 (Ju 248). The only jet-fighter Geschwader, JG 7, would retain the Me 262 A-1a. All bomber Geschwader operating in the fighter role would receive the Bf 109 G-10 to K-4 or, to a lesser extent, the Fw 190 A-9/R 11, while all units awaited delivery of the Me 262.

Jabo formations were to be equipped with the Fw 190 F-8 and F-9 to await mass production of the Ta 152 when it was intended that many of these machine would be fitted to carry the Panzerblitz I to III or the Panzerschreck, both efficient anti-tank rocket. The Ta 152 would have been an outstanding ground-attack aircraft with it more powerful engine. However, mass production had not begun by the end of 1944. For the moment a few units with Hs 129 B-3 and Ju 87 D-5s still flew missions mostly over the Eastern Front.

The night Jabo Gruppen 1 SGr I to X flew mainly the Ju 87 D-3 and D-5 until the end of 1944 except 4./NSGr II, NSGr V, and NSGr VII equipped with the Fiat CR 42. Most of these unit also operated Ar 66 Cs and Ds, Go 145s, Fw 58s and Si 204 training aircraft converted to auxiliary night Jabos. All of these units flew initially with what was available. There is no indication of advance planning.

The seaworthy Do 24 T-1 flying boat dominated amongst the few remaining air-sea rescue units. For aerial protection and search missions some Ju 88 C-4s and C-7s, Fw 190 A-8s and Jabos such as the Me 410 were on hand. No forward plans are known of and are hardly to be expected in the light of the situation in 1945. In mid-December 1944 the general outlook was such that the intentions might still be forced through, though with delay. Once the Western Allies were advancing to the Rhine, and the Russians had begun their major offensive from Poland, the final collapse, perhaps within months, would become apparent.

From February 1945 – at steadily decreasing intervals – one emergency plan after another replaced the former policy. At the beginning of the year, the Ar 234, Do 335, He 162 and Me 262 were in the frame. Then the Do 335 was dropped. On 27 March 1945 Hitler put SS-Obergruppenführer Kammler in charge of the development, testing and completion of all jet aircraft. As ‘General Plenipotentiary for Jet Aircraft’ in April 1945 he ordered that the Me 262 alone was to be produced in the greatest numbers possible. In that decision he saw the one last chance, and a small one, of providing a local air defence. It was a vain hope, for the war had long been lost.

Luftwaffe – The Battle of the Atlantic

Fw 200, “SG+KS” of I.Gruppe/KG 40.

Three He 111 bombers were flying westwards just above the surface of the North Sea, their slipstreams lashing the water and their pilots tensely concentrated on avoiding the single careless movement that would plunge them to destruction. For at flying speed water is as hard as stone.

They were flying low so as to duck beneath the British radar beams and thus achieve surprise for their attack on the convoy that had reportedly left Pentland Firth at noon, and was now steaming south along the Scottish coast. The autumn sun had set and twilight had descended. Only in the west was the sky still bright, and that meant favourable conditions: the bombers would attack from a dark horizon, and surprise should be complete.

In the leading Heinkel, as observer and commander, sat Major Martin Harlinghausen, X Air Corps’ chief of staff. Beside him, as pilot, was his staff operations officer, Captain Robert Kowalewski. The three machines represented X Air Corps’ staff section, an institution peculiar to the German Luftwaffe. The Corps, still under the command of Air General Hans Ferdinand Geisler, had now as formerly the task of attacking Britain’s shipping. But its leaders were not “chair-borne”. By leading the attack, they demanded nothing from the Geschwader and Gruppen that they were not prepared to undertake themselves.

Harlinghausen had developed a special method of attacking enemy ships, known as the “Swedish turnip” system. It was based on the old naval axiom that ships present the best target when approached directly from the beam. And the lower an aircraft’s approach, the higher the target stands out of the water, and the clearer becomes its silhouette against the horizon. The last applies particularly at dusk, but also on starlit or moonlit nights.

They sighted the convoy about twenty sea-miles north-east of Kinnaird Head, and promptly set a parallel course to plan the attack.

“We’ll take the fourth from the left,” said Harlinghausen. It was the largest vessel and presumably, with its extensive hull and superstructure aft and amidships, a tanker. Kowalewski banked left towards the convoy. “I can’t see her, Harling,” he said.

“Another ten degrees to port,” his chief corrected. He was lying prone and forward, his head almost against the cockpit Perspex, and so was able to concentrate exclusively on the target, while the pilot was farther back and otherwise preoccupied. After months of practice together, they had acquired instant mutual understanding and response.

“Now you are right on target,” said Harlinghausen. He exuded calm, having first tried out his “Swedish turnip” system long before in the Spanish civil war. Then it had been with the old He 59, which could only be used for low-level surprise attack, else it would be spotted too soon and shot down.

The He 111 now approached the tanker at a speed of about 200 m.p.h. and an altitude of forty-five meters. To maintain this also needed practice, for at such height the barometric altimeter was so unreliable that it often showed the plane as flying deep under the water. Correct altitude was, however, a crucial factor in Harlinghausen’s calculations, for in the first three seconds the bombs fell respectively five, fifteen and twenty-five metres, or forty-five in all. In this time the Heinkel covered a distance of 240 metres, so in order to hit the target that was the distance from which the bombs must be released. In three seconds their loss of momentum was minimal: they at first flew with the bomber and below it, then dropped against the target in a gentle arc.

The tanker’s silhouette loomed ever larger from the sea, her crew still unaware of the impending blow. Kowalewski aimed directly for the superstructure, below which was the engine-room. With every second the Heinkel drew eighty metres nearer, and decks, bridge and masts took shape. Finally at 240 metres the release signal was given, and four 500-lb. bombs fell in close succession. For Harlinghausen had adjusted the mechanism to produce the minimum interval between them, namely about eight metres. In this way one at least was bound to strike.

Three seconds later the Heinkel thundered across the tanker, and almost simultaneously the bombs struck. But they only detonated after a delay of eight seconds, when the aircraft was safely away. The tanker exploded in a sheet of flame.

As the Heinkel made a circuit, burning oil was seen pouring from the stricken vessel. She was an 8,000 tonner, as had been determined from the convoy’s radio exchanges. For the second Heinkel carried a monitoring team, tuned in to the same wavelength.

The convoy’s defences were now alerted, but ignoring the tracer that laced towards him Harlinghausen attacked again, this time using his starboard bomb-rack against a freighter.

During 1940 he and his pilot succeeded three times in sinking two ships on one sortie by using alternate bomb-racks. By September this single crew had claimed no less than 100,000 tons of shipping.

[During the first year of the war—i.e. from September 3, 1939 till August 30, 1940—the Luftwaffe claimed to have sunk a total of 1,376,813 tons. Figure published by the Allies after the war indicate that in fact they only lost some 440,000 tons to German air attack during this period.]

After that the operating conditions grew more difficult. The defence was stepped up, and each month it became harder to approach the ships. Though the “Lion” Geschwader , KG 26, were trained in low-level attack and practised with cement bombs in the Norwegian fiords, their successes were small and their losses increased.

But in October, 1940, success returned. The few available four-engined Focke-Wulf FW 200s, brought together to form I/KG 40 at Bordeaux, were flying armed reconnaissance patrols far out into the Atlantic. On October 24th while so engaged, First-Lieutenant Bernhard Jope came upon the 42,348-ton liner Empress of Britain, now being used as a troopship, some sixty miles west of Ireland. Going down, he attacked not from the beam but from astern. Bombs exploded in the superstructure, and the liner hove to on fire. The British tried to take her in tow, but two days later she was torpedoed by Lieutenant Jenisch’s U 32, which had been called to the scene by radio.

Let us move on to February 9, 1941. Twenty engines were being warmed up in front of the hangars of Bordeaux-Merignac airfield, but they represented only five aircraft: five four-engined Fw 200 “Condors”.

It was six in the morning as Captain Fritz Fliegel, squadron commander of 2/KG 40 took off, followed by First-Lieutenants Adam, Buchholz, Jope and Schlosser. The heavy machines left the ground reluctantly, their fuselage- and wing-tanks being filled to capacity with nearly 2,000 gallons of fuel. Each carried a crew of six: first pilot and co-pilot, two radio-operators, flight mechanic and rear-gunner.

But the bomb load was a mere 2,000 lb. Though the Fw 200 was the heaviest machine the Luftwaffe had, it had never been designed as a bomber, being only a converted air-liner. Germany’s real long-range bomber, the He 177, was still vainly in the testing stage. Considering their makeshift character, and how few they were, it is astonishing what the crews managed to achieve with these Condors.

Fliegel and his squadron headed south-west, their target a speck far off in the wastes of the Atlantic, somewhere between Portugal and the Azores. There the previous evening Lieutenant Nicolai Clausen of U-boat U 37 had happened upon a British convoy out from Gibraltar and bound for England. It was a chance encounter, for the convoys habitually made a wide detour to avoid the Luftwaffe and U-boat bases on the French coast. As the U 37 shadowed it, the sighting report was forwarded via C.-in-C. U-boats, Admiral Karl Dönitz, to KG 40 at Bordeaux. In the early hours of February 9th the U 37 attacked, sinking the freighters Courland and Estrellano. Then, remaining in contact, Clausen kept the approaching Condors informed of the convoy’s position. It was only a question of when they would get there.

They did so at noon, after over six hours’ flight, finding the convoy some 400 miles south-west of Lisbon. Fliegel allocated the targets and went down to attack. The need to do so was itself indicative of the makeshift character of the machines. They were unable to bomb horizontally from high altitude, as heavy bombers should, because of the lack of a suitable bomb-sight. The so-called “Lotfernrohr 7d” only came into use much later. Fliegel had to bring his heavy plane down low over the sea, then turn towards the selected ship and try to approach from the beam so that the target would present as large an image as possible.

At 400 yards range, and an altitude of about 150 feet, he let go the first of his four 500-lb. bombs. At the same moment the flight-mechanic opened fire with the ventral machine-guns, spraying the deck positions to hold down the ship’s anti-aircraft crews. Seconds later the Fw 200 roared over the mast-tops—surely a big enough target! First-Lieutenant Adam had his wing-tanks hit while still on the approach, and was lucky that his plane did not catch fire.

Petrol poured out in a sheet from holes the size of an orange, and he at once turned back in an attempt to reach the coast.

The other aircraft made repeated attacks. Buchholz, one of KG 40’s “aces”, missed his freighter by a hair’s breadth, the bombs exploding hard by the gunwale. Fliegel and Schlosser twice scored hits, Jope once. Five freighters were sunk: the British Jura, Dagmar I, Varna and Britannic, and the Norwegian Tejo. At the end U 37 came up again and sank a further vessel.

Thus convoy HG 53 had already lost half the sixteen ships that had set out from Gibraltar, despite the protection of nine escort vessels. Unless the remainder could take evasive action, the British Admiralty could only fear the worst. It took the extreme step of ordering the ships to disperse and make for their destination singly.

On the German side the success was greatly exaggerated. According to Secret Sitrep No. 520/21 of Luftwaffe Command Intelligence, 2/KG 40 reported six ships totalling 29,500 tons sunk, and three further ships totalling 16,000 tons damaged. Even experienced naval airmen found it difficult to estimate the size of ships from the air, especially while concentrating on attacking them. Thus Schlosser reported the 2,490-ton Britannic as a vessel of 6,000 tons, Fliegel the 967-ton Tejo as one of 3,500 tons. In fact only freighters of between 1,000 and 3,000 tons were at this time plying the Gibraltar route.

None the less, the Condors had accounted for five ships totalling 9,200 tons, and the number and size of their victims were not all that important. The paramount feature of their success was that for the first time it was based on close co-operation between the Luftwaffe and U-boat arms, even though on this occasion their official roles were reversed. Normally it was the function of aircraft to spot the convoys, and of U-boats to attack them. All the same, Dönitz took the success as a favourable sign. Perhaps now, at last, his submarines would receive better and more far-reaching information, instead of wasting so much of their energies in fruitless search.

In mid-March 1941 Dönitz received the new “Fliegerführer Atlantik”—none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Harlinghausen—at Lorient, and said to him: “Imagine our situation as a land problem, with the enemy convoy at Hamburg, and my nearest U-boats at Oslo, Paris, Vienna and Prague—each with a maximum circle of vision of twenty miles. How on earth can they expect to find the convoy unless directed to it by air reconnaissance?”

The problem was as old as the war, and the idea of adapting the Fw 200 for long-range reconnaissance had already been mooted in autumn 1939 by Major Petersen, navigation officer on the staff of X Air Corps.

Created by Kurt Tank, the “Condor” had first flown in July 1937, and since then had beaten several long-distance records: Berlin-New York in twenty-five hours, New York-Berlin in twenty, Berlin-Tokio in forty-six hours eighteen minutes—all of course with intermediate landings. Export orders were mounting when the war came and put an end to the trade. By that time the Luftwaffe’s failure to develop a four-engined bomber-cum-reconnaissance aircraft had become public knowledge, so when X Air Corps suggested to Jeschonnek that the Fw 200 be used as a stop-gap, he agreed. Petersen, who had flown the plane as a civil airlines pilot, was himself put in charge of the first experimental squadron, and during the Norwegian campaign it did some useful reconnaissance.

For its new role Focke-Wulf reinforced the fuselage, built in auxiliary tanks and fitted bomb brackets under the wings. With that, plus the necessary re-arrangement of the interior, the military version of the Fw 200-C was ready. It did of course still betray its civil origin: it was too weak in structure, too slow and too vulnerable. Its initial armament of a single 20 mm cannon in a turret above the cockpit, plus two machine-guns in the ventral and rear-dorsal positions, could hardly be expected to offer much defence against fighter attack.

On the other hand its range was impressive—particularly at a time when the Luftwaffe was bitterly disappointed at the failure of the Ju 88 to fulfil its earlier promise. Even the “normal” version of the Fw 220-C had an operating radius of close on 1,000 miles, plus a twenty per cent reserve for navigation errors, discharging mission, etc. With auxiliary fuselage tanks this was raised to 1,100 miles, while the “long-distance” version, with fuel containers in place of bombs, could make a round trip of nearly 1,400 miles in both directions. Flights lasting fourteen to sixteen hours were by no means uncommon.

The significance of the above was seen when I/KG 40, newly formed by Lieutenant Colonel Petersen, was posted in the summer of 1940 to south-west France on the Atlantic: 1 and 2 Squadrons to Bordeaux-Merignac, 3 Squadron to Cognac. They could carry out armed reconnaissance all the way from the Bay of Biscay to the west of Ireland, then continue on to land at Stavanger-Sola, or Vaernes near Trondheim, in Norway. On the next day or the day after they would make the same flight in reverse.

Thus, for all the improvised character of the instrument, the Luftwaffe was able to supply the far-scanning eyes that the U-boats so badly needed. Speaking on December 30, 1940, to the command armed forces staff on the situation in the Atlantic, Dönitz urged: “Just let me have a minimum of twenty Fw 200s solely for reconnaissance purposes, and the U-boat successes will shoot up!” And on January 4, 1941, the German Admiralty reiterated: “To enable our naval command centres to prosecute the war in the Atlantic systematic reconnaissance is essential.”

But behind the façade of sober discussion was a battle royal as to who should have the ultimate operational control of the Condor Gruppe: the Luftwaffe or the Navy. On January 6th Hitler himself decided the issue with the order: “I/KG 40 will be under the command of the Commander in Chief of the Navy.” And he tried to appease Goering by giving him back the Navy’s Kampfgruppe 806, so that he could add its Ju 88s to Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3 for the bomber raids on England.

It was one of those decisions that gave little satisfaction to either side. Dönitz won control of I/KG 40, only to find that the Gruppe was much weaker than he had thought. For though its full establishment was twenty to twenty-five machines, the daily serviceability state was at best six to eight—another demonstration that a plane improvised from an air-liner was unsuited to the wear and tear of operations. How could such a small handful of aircraft be expected to comb the wastes of the Atlantic with anything like the thoroughness the U-boat chief required?

On January 16, 1941, Captain Verlohr, squadron commander of I/KG 40, sighted a convoy west of Ireland, and sank two ships totalling 10,857 tons by the “Swedish turnip” method. After that he remained in contact for several hours till his fuel was only just enough to bring him home. Meanwhile he was unsuccessful either in getting a second Fw 200 to relieve him or in bringing U-boats to the scene—they were too far away. Consequently contact was lost, night fell, and next morning the convoy was no longer to be found.

The same thing happened on January 23rd, 28th and 31 st. On each occasion a large convoy was sighted, and always the aircraft was forced to leave before U-boats reached the position. On the other hand the aircraft themselves sank ships every time. In fact the sinkings achieved by “armed reconnaissance” rose from fifteen vessels totalling 63,175 tons in January, to twenty-two totalling 84,515 tons in February. These are the Allied figures that became available after the war. The contemporary claims were a good deal higher.

To carry out their long-distance missions successfully, with all that that entailed, the Condor crews had to operate at the limit of their capacity. They represented the cream of the bomber training schools, where trial crews were put together and their performance judged. And they learnt much from their senior colleagues, who as former Lufthansa pilots were already expert at blind and long-distance flying. Most successful operationally were Lieutenant-Colonel Petersen—soon to command the whole KG 40 Geschwader —then his Gruppen and squadron commanders Verlohr, Daser, Buchholz, Jope and Mayr. The last two are still chief pilots with Lufthansa today.

Yet no string of individual performances could disguise the fact that the main job of providing effective reconnaissance for the U-boat arm could never be carried out so long as the number of serviceable aircraft could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In 1941 the monthly production of Focke-Wulf Condors amounted to only four or five, which represented no net increase. As the U-boats still sailed blindly through the seas, the following dialogue would take place each morning at Dönitz’s war-room at Lorient between himself and his chief of operations, Commander Eberhardt Godt:

Dönitz: “Are there any reconnaissance flights today?”

Godt : “Jawohl, Herr Admiral.”

Dönitz : “By how many aircraft?”

Godt : “By one, Herr Admiral”

The two would look at each other and smile sadly; and Dönitz, whose U-boats were the paramount source of concern to the British, would shrug his shoulders in resignation.

Even Martin Harlinghausen could do nothing to improve the situation when, in March 1941, he became first Fliegerführer Atlantik, with the task of concentrating all maritime aircraft under one command. With Goering and Jeschonnek contesting the naval control of I/KG 40 from the start, Hitler finally rescinded his previous order and put the Condors too under the new Fliegerführer’s command. But though this saved appearances, the job of providing reconnaissance for the C.-in-C. U-boats remained the same, and as the months went by there was still no increase in the force.

Harlinghausen—to whom Dönitz had allocated Château Branderion, some twelve miles distant from Lorient, as staff HQ—had moreover other tasks on hand. The first was to combat the shipping lanes from the Irish Sea through the English Channel to the Tyne; the second to support Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3 in its attacks on British harbours.

To serve this far-flung battle-line the Fliegerführer had the following forces at his command:

At Bordeaux: I/KG 40 (Fw 200), HI/KG 40 (He 111, later Fw 200)

In Holland: II/KG 40 (Do 217)

In Brittany (Lannion): One LR reconnaissance squadron, 3 (F)/123 (Ju 88)

Three coastal Gruppen, two equipped with Ju 88s, the third still with He 115 seaplanes

These forces maintained daily patrols of the British shipping lanes from the Irish Sea to the Thames estuary, not only reporting convoys but attacking them. Even those “fat, tired birds”, the ancient He 115s under Major Stockmann, with their two 500-lb. bombs and two forward firing fixed machine-guns, scored successes, flying from Brest to the Bristol Channel.

But the spring months of 1941 also saw a strengthening of the British defence. Not only were the convoys provided with more powerful anti-submarine escort, but the light flak defences of the mercantile ships were also greatly augmented—as the German airmen found to their cost. Low-level attack by the “Swedish turnip” method was still the order of the day, and as the planes screamed over the mast-tops they were vulnerable targets for seconds on end.

At the outset it was calculated by the Fliegerführer Atlantik’s staff that for every aircraft lost 30,000 tons of shipping were sunk. Now the ratio abruptly changed. The aircraft, confronted with a wall of flak, could no longer get at the ships. By June the losses were so heavy that Harlinghausen had to bar the method of attack that he himself had introduced in 1939.

British counter-measures also compelled the U-boats to abandon their productive hunting grounds in the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland. Six of them were lost there between March 7th and April 5th alone, amongst them the vessels of such outstanding U-boat captains as Prien (U 47), Schepke (U 100) and Kretschmer (U 99), who was the only one to be rescued. Dönitz withdrew his vessels far to the west, there to conduct wide-spread searches of the North Atlantic, in regions mostly out of range for the Condors, whose western limit of reconnaissance was the twenty-second parallel, about 1,000 miles from their base of operations.

In mid-July, 1941, co-operation between the two arms took a new short lease of life when Dönitz sent his U-boat packs to harass the convoys leaving Gibraltar. But though the U-boat operations were thus again within the Condors’ range, low-level attacks, except occasionally on isolated ships, were now out of the question, and the sighting had to be done through binoculars. None the less, they did a much better job of reconnaissance, and on a number of occasions, after the U-boats had been driven off by the escort, they led them back to the convoy’s position.

In September, 1941, Dönitz brought the U-boats to the north again, and in November the Condors flew sixty-two reconnaissance missions over the North Atlantic. But though five convoys were sighted, with only one could they keep in touch for two consecutive days. The rest were lost sight of. In December there were only twenty-three missions, though on one occasion the convoy was shadowed for five whole days. “In every case,” the Fliegerführer Atlantik war diary records, “fixes were given to bring U-boats to the scene.”

After that the co-operative effort was again disrupted. The U-boats were engaged in the Mediterranean, and from January, 1942, along the Atlantic coast of America, seeking hunting grounds where the defence was still new and inexperienced. I/KG 40 was posted to Vaernes in Norway. For in 1942 the Allies began to send convoys to Russia, thereby opening up a giant new operations zone: the Arctic Ocean.

Meanwhile, on the English Channel coast, the British had since mid-1941 been waging a non-stop bomber offensive in the hope of compelling the Luftwaffe to withdraw some of its fighter units from the Russian front. But in fact the only two fighter Geschwader stationed on the Channel—the “Richthofen” JG 2 and the “Schlageter” JG 26—continued to oppose these raids alone. In autumn, 1941, II/JG 26 was re-equipped with the first production series of the new fighter type, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Acting defensively, these fighters and the Me 109s inflicted considerable losses.

The period was marked by three main episodes:

  1. The vain attempt of the Luftwaffe, despite 218 sorties, to rescue the Bismarck from her pursuit by the British fleet (May 26-28, 1941).
  2. The successful break through the Channel, aided by strong air cover, of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen (February 12, 1942).
  3. The British and Canadian landing attempt at Dieppe, bloodily repulsed and with the loss of 106 British bombers and fighters (August 19, 1942).

When on May 24, 1941, Luftflotte 3’s H.Q. in Paris was apprised of the 41,700-ton Bismarck’s intention of docking at St. Nazaire, she had already sunk the British battle-cruiser Hood. The Luftwaffe was bidden to do all it could to secure her arrival at that port. It would, however, be at least two days before she could steam into range of Ju 88 and He 111 cover. Meanwhile, where was she?

On May 26th—the vital day for making contact—a low-pressure front from the north-west, with its resulting storms, made flying almost impossible. Though Harlinghausen’s reconnaissance planes took off, they flew into a visionless void. At 15.45 a single Fw 200 did, however, suddenly happen upon the British battleship Rodney, with several destroyers. But the near-by flagship King George V was completely hidden by the low-scudding clouds, and unlike British long-range reconnaissance aircraft, the Condors still carried no radar aid.

According to the information given—certainly inexact in the prevailing weather conditions—the enemy’s position was some 750 miles off the French coast. Yet the maximum distance the Ju 88s and He 111s could fly out to sea was 550 miles. That settled the matter, and the take-off was ordered for the following morning (27th May) at 03.00. By that time the Bismarck’s fate had been sealed. At 21.05 the previous evening torpedoes from aircraft of the carrier Ark Royal had damaged her propellers and rudder, and she could no longer elude pursuit.

The last friends the battleship saw, as she fought for her life, was at 09.50 on the 27th. They were five Ju 88s of the coastal Gruppe 606, which had left their base hours before. In the midst of the great artillery duel they tried to intervene by diving on the nearest cruiser, but every bomb missed. When an hour later seventeen Heinkels of I/KG 28 arrived on the scene from Nantes, the Bismarck was already beneath the waves. Unsuccessfully they attacked the Ark Royal, each with two 500-lb. and eight 250-lb. bombs, all of which again missed.

After that came Kampfgruppe 100, II/KG 1, II/KG 54 and I/KG 77 in succession, but none of them found the enemy. For months on end these formations had been engaged in night bomber attacks on England, and suddenly to send them out over stormy seas to the limit of their range, on a job for which they had never been trained, was optimistic indeed. As for the Geschwader that had been so trained—KGs 26 and 30—no one thought of these until it was too late. Though the returning British fleet was again harried from the air during the whole of the following day, and hundreds of bombs were dropped, only one destroyer (the Mashona) was so damaged that it finally sank off the west coast of Ireland.

The German aircrews returned in chastened mood. All the 218 sorties they had flown had not helped the Bismarck a jot. Only next year did their fortunes change for the better: with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau venture, Dieppe, and above all with the knock-out blow in the Arctic against Convoy PQ 17.


Guderian in Poland I

Throughout a summer in which tension with Poland was stimulated by German agencies, Heinz Guderian and his staff were preoccupied with plans for major exercises in which the mechanised divisions were to be tested as never before, manoeuvres which demanded the initial stages of mobilisation. Crew training, however, was far from complete in every unit and while they had over 3,000 tanks with which to play, only 98 of them were Pz Ills and 211 Pz IVs, and therefore most were the light Pz Is and IIs. But the latest communication systems had arrived almost to scale and improvements had been made to the supply services. Then came a change that can hardly have been unexpected. On 22nd August Guderian was ordered to take command of the newly formed XIX Corps (with Nehring as Chief of Staff) at Gross-Born and, under the cover title of ‘Fortification Staff Pomerania’, build field fortifications along the frontier with Poland. Next day Hitler announced the signing of a non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia and ordered the Army to attack Poland on the 26th. Preparations would be incomplete and mobilisation only in the preparatory stages, but the mechanised units were ready: some had been fully mobilised since July.

Poland’s ability to defend herself depended mainly upon a fiery determination to preserve her newly won independence. Of modern weapons she had few – a mere 225 tanks, not all of them modern, and only 360 aircraft to set against Germany’s 1,250. For combat technique she relied upon the sort of linear defence and positional warfare by horse and foot armies which had been the fashion in 1920, and which still largely dictated the methods of her allies in the West – the French and the British. From them she could not expect speedy help since they would take weeks to mobilise the massed-style armies of a previous epoch; nor was she likely to assemble her own full strength of 45 divisions and 12 brigades in the short time permitted by the Germans. It was about to be revealed to an astonished world that, for special reasons, Poland never had a chance; that six Panzer Divisions and four Light Divisions aided by massive air intervention could achieve in a few days what the remaining 45 German cavalry and infantry formations might never have accomplished in weeks. As Professor Michael Howard has said, ‘The Germans were almost unique in 1939-40 in that they appreciated with the minimum of practical experience … the full implications which the new technological developments held for military science and embodied them in their equipment and their doctrine. I find it difficult, off hand, to think of a comparable example. Usually everybody starts even and everybody starts wrong.’ If Howard had substituted ‘Guderian and his adherents’ for ‘the Germans’ he would have been precisely accurate.

Ironically, though symbolically, Guderian was to be denied a part in the main initial armoured drive which was directed by Generaloberst Gerd on Rundstedt’s Army Group South (Chief of Staff, von Manstein) with two Panzer and three Light Divisions from Silesia towards Warsaw. In so-called good tank country Guderian’s old XVI Corps, commanded by General der Kavallerie Erich Hoepner, was told to lead the assault and was to make striking progress from the moment it was launched on 1 st September – the alteration from 26th August being enforced by diplomatic circumstances. Guderian’s XIX Corps, with its single panzer division – the 3rd – and its 2nd and 20th Motorised Divisions (which had no tanks was to be sent as the spearhead of Army Group North (Generaloberst Fedor von Bock) and Fourth Army (General der Artillerie Gunther von Kluge) against far tougher opposition on a potentially less lucrative mission into the strongly defended Polish Corridor where fortifications made good use of the delaying effect of two river obstacles – the Brahe and the Vistula. Yet it was the magnitude of an awkward task which gave Guderian, from the outset, the opportunity to demonstrate with a minimum of time for preparation, the versatility of his creation.

On the 24th – the eve of battle as he erroneously took it to be – he wrote a bracing letter to Gretel: ‘We have to keep our ears stiff and be prepared for strenuous work. I hope all will turn out well and also quickly … As regards the Western Powers it is not clear what they will do though surprises are not out of the question, but now we can bear that with fortitude. The whole situation has improved considerably and we can go to work full of confidence …’ – an approving reference to the Soviet Pact which he welcomed as a re-establishment of the bridge with Russia. He realised how her mother’s heart would be worried for their two sons, both of whom were in the Army and soon to receive their baptism of fire along with the Panzertruppe. But ‘Please be a brave soldier’s wife and, as so often before, an example to other people. We have drawn the lot to live in a warlike way and now have to put up with it’.

Nowhere does Guderian show remorse for the Poles. It would have been surprising had he done so. Poland was an excrescence to many Prussians, a nation which had come into being at the expense of the tribal homeland. Since 1918 they had posed a constant threat to Germany’s eastern frontier: Frontier Defence Force East had been as much concerned with checking depradations by the Poles as by the Bolsheviks. And Guderian was particularly pleased to play a part in recapturing the old family property. His letter to Gretel indicates how ‘… the old family estates, Gross-Klonia, Kulm now take on a special significance … Is it not strange that I especially have been commissioned to play this role’. But he cannot have had detailed knowledge of the briefing of the Commanders-in-Chief by Hitler on 22nd August, although no doubt he was aware that Brauchitsch had promised the Führer ‘a quick war’. So, likely though it is that he was informed through the usual flow of news circulating in higher military circles that the British and French might be intransigent, it is unlikely he heard then that Hitler had also pronounced on the 22nd: ‘I have ordered to the East my “Death Head Units” with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish race or language’. And even if he had known there was nothing much he, in his position, could have done about it, for the slide into degradation by the political and military forces under the Nazis had already been permitted to pass the point of no return. All the military could do now, apart from an act of outright revolution for which they were neither adjusted nor organised, was mitigate the worst ramifications of evil perpetrated by the monster they had permitted and, at times, welcomed into their midst. Those who have never suffered a situation similar to that in Germany in 1939 are entitled to maintain that the generals should have behaved differently, but they should also view the situation from the generals’ point of view – and ask themselves, too, how many Allied generals, faced with circumstances they did not approve – such as the Bomber Offensive against civilians – made a worthwhile protest?

Predictably Guderian decided that XIX Corps’ main effort should be made by 3rd Panzer Division along his right flank where a deep penetration would benefit from the protection provided by two streams running parallel with the division’s boundaries. That way, too, he would have the satisfaction of quickly capturing the family home of Gross-Klonia. The two motorised divisions were told to enter less promising territory: one rather feels that Guderian attached little importance to their role.

He travelled with the leading tanks of 3rd Panzer Division in one of the latest armoured command vehicles, equipped with radio that enabled speech to his main headquarters in the rear and such other formations as he needed. His account of the first day’s action in Panzer Leader embodies the full fury of the prejudices he had acquired through frustration in the past decade: his anger with the artillery when they fired into the morning mist against orders, bracketing his vehicle and frightening the driver into a ditch: his disgust when he arrived at the Brahe to find stalemate, a complete loss of impetus without a single senior commander in sight to re-inject momentum. In sight of the family home he was enraged to discover that the commander of 6th Panzer Regiment had halted because he thought the river too strongly defended, and that the divisional commander, Generalleutnant Geyr von Schweppenburg, was nowhere to be found. Geyr, by his account, had been called back to Army Group for consultation – a barely credible state of affairs when one realises that his division was entirely fresh to battle and demanding of personal leadership. It took the example set by a young tank commander, who had found a bridge that was undemolished, and by his own intervention in conjunction with the commander of 3rd Rifle Brigade, to get things moving again. Soon infantry, supported by tanks, were across the river at hardly any cost. The main casualty was Schweppenburg’s injured pride: his petulant protests were loudly to be heard, both then and in after years when he complained about Guderian’s interference. Schweppenburg, of course, was a disappointed man and jealous of Guderian, who had overtaken him in the race for promotion. Yet he had little cause for complaint at his treatment on 1st September if he was absent at the crucial moment of decision and had failed to implement his Corps commander’s orders.

Fear of Polish horsed cavalry on the part of his staff and by infantry officers bothered Guderian as he toured the battlefield in his endeavours to overcome the inhibiting fears of troops who were largely inexperienced and under fire for the first time. His disgust at a commander who felt compelled to withdraw at news of the presence of Polish cavalry makes entertaining reading: ‘When I regained the use of my voice I asked the divisional commander if he had ever heard of Pomeranian grenadiers being broken by hostile cavalry.’ There came an assurance that the positions would be held. And in due course it was his personal leadership in the van of the attack which sent the motorised infantry division into an attack towards Tuchel. This, the first twenty-four hours’ experience of combat, was vital to the future self-confidence of the panzer force. Guderian, by his untiring efforts in supervising the establishment of both a technique of command at the front and also his own reputation for fearlessness and undeniable authority, where the fighting was heaviest, made success a certainty. Even if a few senior officers were bruised and disgruntled, the rest of his officers and men were deeply appreciative. All were impressed. It is after 1st September that one begins to detect that look of frank adulation on the faces of soldiers when they were photographed talking to Guderian.

Resistance by the Poles was, in fact, disjointed but usually fierce. The charge by the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade against 3rd Panzer Division’s tanks was but one of many gallant but quite fruitless attempts to redeem disaster. Polish deployment had been wrecked by air attacks upon communication centres. German tanks were exploiting that disruption by almost unchecked advances, blazing away at those enemy columns they caught on the roads, helping infantry and engineers in their assaults upon fortifications, moving cross-country in sweeping, outflanking attacks whenever the natural line of advance was blocked. Always they were on the move and thoroughly self-sufficient within the organisation of the all-arms panzer division; only rarely were they very much assisted by bombing attacks because, primarily, the Luftwaffe was engaged against targets deep in the Polish rear and, secondly, the means of close liaison between ground and air forces was as yet in its infancy. This was not surprising: the Luftwaffe was only luke warm to direct support of the Army. The Air Field Manual No. 16 laid down that ‘The mission of the Luftwaffe is to serve this purpose [the defeat of the enemy military forces as part of a process of breaking the will of the enemy] by conducting air warfare as part of the overall pattern for the conduct of the war’. And Generalleutnant Wolfram von Richthofen, who had experimented with close air support of armies in Spain, and who, in due course, was to make his reputation as the commander of an air force which carried out the most effective and devastating operations by bombers in close support of Guderian’s panzer divisions, was an opponent of the dive-bomber. Such difficulties as 3rd Panzer Division suffered were much more the outcome of failures in equipment and organisation than the result of the enemy’s retaliation. The little Pz I tanks and also the Pz IIs were far too thinly armoured to withstand even the light Polish field artillery and anti-tank gun fire. It was only the handful of Pz III and IV tanks, most of them manned for the sake of experience by the Panzer Demonstration training units, which produced a rare advantage. Supply problems were hampering too. On 2nd September Polish counter-attacks, which cut 3rd Panzer in two on the eastern bank of the Brahe, might have been more quickly contained had the tanks not been stalled for lack of fuel – the supply columns being deprived of adequate orders to send them forward in time to replenish the tanks after the first day of battle. Each inadequacy and breakdown was noted and, whenever possible within existing resources, put right on the spot by Nehring and his staff at Corps HQ or by the divisional and lower staffs when there came a lull in the fighting after the collapse of Polish resistance in the Corridor on 5th September. The bearer of victory was Guderian’s Corps which had sealed off the major Polish formations and made it impossible for them to break the cordon. Thus armoured troops had done all that Guderian claimed for them – broken through in a direct assault, carried out a pursuit and held vital ground under enemy pressure – and they had done these things at that lightning pace which he insisted was essential.

Recounting the first day’s fighting in a letter to Gretel on 4th September he cheered at his successes, mourned the dead and gave credit to the foe. ‘Series losses occurred at Gross-Klonia where a tank company lost one officer, one officer cadet and eight men due to the sudden lifting of the morning mist [despite bombing, the Polish artillery often fought to the end]. At the decisive point I exerted myself personally with success in order to overcome a slight set-back. The 3rd Panzer Division was the first to reach its objective in the night. The others were unable to push back the hard-fighting Poles quite so quickly … though fighting in woodland area with, here and there, heavy losses. With the deployment of a further infantry division and after some crises in heavy fighting, we succeeded in encircling completely the opposing enemy in the woods north of Schwetz to the west. On the 4th the encirclement was tightened. Several thousand prisoners, light and heavy batteries and much material was captured … Lively small skirmishes will continue for a while in the large woods as many scattered troops are still roaming about. The troops fought brilliantly and are in an excellent frame of mind.’ Then followed the names of officers who had fallen and a mention of his delight at meeting their younger son, Kurt, at a point ‘from where one can see the towers of Kulm’, his own birthplace.

Already Gretel had caught the excitement of his mood and on the 5th she had written: ‘I know that my men are the best soldiers. May God send them back to me with Victory – that Germany may live and at last find peace … I am burning to know where and how your troops are victorious… I followed your hard work and strife: now may God give you undisputed success.’

A momentous occasion for Guderian was his opportunity on 5th September to conduct Hitler, Himmler and their entourage round the battlefield – the party shepherded along by an officer who had once commanded the 10th Jägers – Erwin Rommel, in his capacity as Commander of Hitler’s headquarters in the field. For the first time the Führer was given a partial insight into the essentials of modern war. Some of his illusions were shattered, but the educational process was superficial – as time would show. Yet there is vast significance in his question to Guderian concerning the sight of shattered Polish artillery: ‘Our dive-bombers did that?’ and Guderian’s emphatic and proud reply, ‘No! Our panzers!’ At that moment it was faintly born upon Hitler, along with Guderian’s announcement of a mere 150 dead in his entire Corps, that the truly dominant weapon on land might be the tank force. Up to then he had been enslaved by Göring’s claim for the omnipotence of air power. Now he was shown that tanks were an ubiquitous, life-saving weapon and that air-power had its limitations. And the rapid advance of the other armoured formations to the gates of Warsaw and through the mountains in the south told the same story, leaving nobody of balanced judgement in any doubt that, even in unfavourable territory, panzer divisions could make a decisive impression.

But the campaign, though won, was far from over. Next day XIX Corps was sent across the Vistula and transported through East Prussia, close to Bartenstein, to concentrate on the left wing of the German Army as it prepared to drive south towards Brest Litovsk. This provided an opportunity for the Corps Commander to relax while his staff did the donkey work, and it was part of Guderian’s make-up that he could do so – in style. On the night of the 6th he slept in the bed which once had been used by Napoleon in Finkenstein Castle: with amused vanity he relished the privilege. The following night, while his troops drove up for action, he went deer shooting and bagged a large twelve-pointer. Fortunate the staff which has such a trusting commander. Within a few hours he was planning again, receiving his orders from Bock and negotiating for alterations so that his Corps, now strengthened by the substitution of 10th Panzer Division for 2nd Motorised Division, should be left free to make full use of its immense striking power. The initial scheme put forward by OKH to von Bock’s Army Group North on the 4/5th September was anything but productive of wide-ranging, fast panzer attacks. XIX Corps was to be kept in close attendance of Third Army and held back at infantry speed. Moreover the fear of strong intervention by the French in the West (the fact that it had not yet taken place after the Anglo-French declaration of war on 3rd September was the cause of some amazement) deterred OKH from committing major forces too far east when it appreciated that, already, the Poles were broken. Incursions east of a line Ostrow Mazowiecka – Warsaw were forbidden. Bock, whose concept of mobile operations was acute, protested without avail long before Guderian was told of the restrictions and had the chance to add his own vehement objections to Bock on 8th September. But on the 8th it suddenly transpired that Army Group South had not, after all, captured Warsaw: nor had it crossed the Vistula as it had claimed. In fact, 4th Panzer Division had taken a hammering, with the loss of 57 out of 120 tanks, as it tried to break into the city, and there were signs of a major Polish counter-offensive opening along the River Bzura to the west. In these changed circumstances Bock now obtained permission to use XIX Corps to wider and better effect, bringing it under direct command on the left of Third Army and aiming it against Brest Litovsk, far to the east and rear of Warsaw. While Rundstedt and Manstein were preparing for a tactical envelopment on the Bzura, Guderian was given the opportunity he yearned for – a strategic envelopment from north to south with massed panzers.

Already XXI Corps had begun to push across the River Narew against the sternly resisting Polish Narew Group and was aided initially by the presence of 10th Panzer Division. But the moment that division was Withdrawn from command and switched to the left flank where XIX Corps was being pushed through by Guderian, the impetus of XXI Corps’ operations was lost. Here, as elsewhere, infantry unsupported by armour had a rough ride against a determined enemy – and this applied equally to 10th Panzer’s infantry regiment. Last-minute changes of plan also caused confusion in XIX Corps whose inexperienced troops as yet lacked a common method of operation. Moreover unsubstantiated reports by the leading troops, which claimed advances that had not yet taken place, gave a false impression and caused the operation to be launched in a haphazard manner. It was the same in 10th Panzer as it had been with 3rd Panzer on the first day: local commanders were too far to the rear to enable them to both understand and have control over the situation: operations ground to a halt for lack of leadership. While the tanks remained on the home bank of the river, awaiting ferries or the construction of a bridge, the infantry were held up, and not until 1800 hrs on the 9th were a sufficient number of tanks across to join the infantry in an attack which was immediately successful. Guderian was on the spot, urging on the attack and ordering the building of bridges that would carry the tanks next day.

Again there was confusion after he had left the front and returned to his main headquarters for the routine evening exchange of views and orders with Nehring. During the night the commander of 20th Motorised Division, which was under orders to cross the river on the right of 10th Panzer, demanded and received the bridges which Guderian intended for use by the tanks. Progress was made only slowly against extremely stiff resistance from the 18th Polish Infantry Division which had already given XXI Corps a rough handling and now was withdrawing southward. It was 20th Motorised Division’s turn to grapple with 18th Division while the two panzer divisions began their drive towards the River Bug. Immediately the dangers to unarmoured troops in maintaining a deep penetration were exposed. 20th Motorised Division called for help almost at once, and 10th Panzer had to be diverted to their assistance. Meanwhile 3rd Panzer Division, moving into the lead on the left flank, felt itself in danger from the remains of the Narew Group and the Podlaska Cavalry Brigade which lurked on the left flank and rear from the vicinity of Grodno and Bialystok. Guderian ignores this threat in Panzer Leader, but the War Diary (KTB) of XIX Corps does not make light of it. Nehring realised the threat and, moreover, on the night of the 10th/11th was prevented with Main Headquarters from joining Guderian because Polish troops had cut the road. Rightly Guderian admits to moving the headquarters prematurely over the Narew: there was no need since the radio sets were well within range of each other and a headquarter’s effectiveness is reduced each time it makes a move. Furthermore the perils of a roving commander in the forefront of the battle were enunciated at this moment of maximum Polish reaction. That day Guderian himself was cut off and had to be rescued by motor-cyclists, and on the 12th the commander of 2nd Motorised Division, travelling ahead of his formation on reversion to Guderian’s Command, was cut off for several hours by Polish troops. These were the penalties of over-confidence allied to a failure to realise that, within the confines of a grapple when the enemy was present in strength, the major portion of panzer divisions was every bit as vulnerable as other troops and that the comparative safety inherent in vast movement was nullified until conditions of untrammelled mobility had been created.

These conditions were fully satisfied on 13th September when 18th Polish Division surrendered. OKH now took advantage of XIX Corps’ location deep among the enemy in the east to make use of it as a flank guard to the rest of the forces to the westward, and began to reinforce it by XXI Corps against the threat of flank attack from the forests to the east. Complex traffic control problems immediately arose, not only those caused by XIX Corps’ immense train of motor vehicles pouring from north to south along the inadequate road system towards Brest Litovsk, but also in passing XXI Corps’ slower moving, horse drawn transport from west to east across the XIX Corps’ axis. It said much for the system of traffic control which had been devised before the war, and the understanding among the staff, that this operation was actuated with a minimum of confusion. XIX Corps ran free and arrived at Brest Litovsk on the 14th, with its two panzer divisions leading and the motorised divisions echeloned back as flank protection on either wing. Speed was the essence of victory: at Zabinka the sudden arrival of 3rd Panzer Division caught Polish tanks in the act of detraining and destroyed them.