OPERATIONS STRACHWITZ Part II

Once again the attack was rehearsed, this time twice. The road for the attack was narrow but could support a Tiger so they were to lead the assault. However they had to move in single file and would not be allowed to stop unless the whole column had to halt. As it was also the only passable road, the Russian had packed the culverts with explosives so the Graf had arranged for artillery to take out the explosives control bunker where the detonators were left. Failing this, his engineers were to cut the wires. For this operation, as with Strachwitz I, the infantry went into action without their bulky winter clothing to allow them freedom of movement. The winter clothing was bundled up and sent on to the troops in the evening. However fighting without their white camouflage clothing made them easier targets for the Soviets.

For this attack the Tigers were placed at the forefront with Otto Carius’ platoon of four Tigers at the tip of the spearhead. It was launched on  April, after a heavy barrage from Nebelwerfers, heavy artillery and 88mm anti-aircraft guns. Von Strachwitz observed proceedings at the very front, calmly leaning on his carved Volkhov stick as he waited for the breakthrough. The low-hanging trees made the barrage twice as effective as they prevented the blast effects escaping upwards causing severe casualties to the Russians cowering in their bunkers, particularly from the sheer effects of concussion, which was a feature of the Nebelwerfer rockets.

Some of the artillery fire landed near Carius’ Tigers, forcing them to move back and forth in the mine-infested terrain in order to avoid being hit. When the shots kept on coming despite his radio calls to cease, he was forced to fire a few rounds close to the artillery observers’ positions, obliging them to move and so give him some respite. A Russian anti-tank gun not observed in the confusion damaged one of his Tigers before being put out of action.

Heavy Russian return fire caused casualties among the infantry who were clumped together around the Tigers. The Tigers’ protection was illusory, as they attracted fire more than they provided shelter, but the infantry felt safer so they kept close, despite being actively discouraged from doing so. These were veteran hand-picked troops selected by the tankers themselves, as Otto Carius pointed out in his memoirs:

“The responsibility for the success of the operation lies squarely on the tank commander regardless of rank. Is everything clear?”

“Jawohl, Herr Graf”

The Oberst [Von Strachwitz] twisted his mouth into a sarcastic smile. It wasn’t unbeknownst to him, that we had allowed ourselves a few remarks about his desired form of address [Graf not Herr Oberst as regulation demanded]. None of them to be found in a handbook of good manners.

“Very well. So far it’s also been quite simple. But now a different question for the ‘Tiger’ people. What battalion do you want to fight with?”

We looked at each other, astonished by the generosity of this offer. We immediately agreed upon a light infantry battalion we had already worked with.

“Very well, that’s what you’ll have.”

With nightfall, Lieutenant Famula and his APCs brought up much-needed fuel, ammunition, and food, despite Russian attempts to stop him with interdictory fire and snipers who had infiltrated behind the lines.

The Russians vigorously counterattacked throughout the night, causing serious casualties. The seriously wounded were taken back for treatment in Famula’s APCs with the lightly wounded staying to help hold back the Soviets. Stukas, long since relegated to a primary night-attack role unless scarce fighter escort could be provided, tried to bring the battered infantry and tanks some relief, but their bombs had to be dropped well back to avoid friendly casualties. They also made little impression due to the softness of the ground, which absorbed the blasts. The heavy Tigers gradually sank ever deeper into the marshy soil, only extricating themselves with difficulty at daylight. One Tiger was damaged by the artillery fire and required towing. Von Schiller, the Tiger Company commander, was nowhere to be found so Otto Carius had to step in and continue with the mission. Another artillery barrage swept over them with one tank commander wounded after foolishly exposing himself from the turret. The column then moved towards Auware. Near the railroad station two assault guns from the Führer Begleit Brigade were attacked by a force of 20 Russian tanks. Corporal Rudolf Salvermoser, a gunner in one of the assault guns, described the action. They were in an ambush position and opened fire as the Russians approached:

Our first shot hit it, but didn’t do any damage. As soon as you shoot the loader puts in a shell right away and its ready. I knew the distance, just had to turn a few degrees or two and shoot again. Then we knocked it out. One after another they came out (from behind the trees). They had ten tanks. They shot but they missed. Its like they didn’t know what to do. It was a common saying in the German Army, “Don’t worry about the Russians, they always miss the first shot.” The guy next to us, he was about 100 yards away, he knocked out two. The third one started to back away when I shot it. The fourth one was further back already and I still hit it. One took off and my buddy chased him and knocked him out. The others all disappeared. We shot six tanks. They didn’t hit one of us. They were too slow. We were just faster and better. I told my commander Unteroffizier Hoffmann that I was just lucky that I hit them all. He said, “You were not lucky, you were trained to hit them all at the first time with the first shot.”

Salvermoser destroyed three T-34s and one KV-2, while the other assault gun under Unter-offizier Rahn destroyed three T-34s. It highlights how small numbers of German tanks and assault guns, could still defeat far larger Soviet forces. Elsewhere, Lieutenant Bölter and Sergeant Goring from the 502nd Tank Battalion engaged 35 Russian tanks and assault guns while giving support to the 8th Jäger Division. Bölter destroyed 15 enemy tanks and Goring seven. This brought Bölter’s total kills to 89, earning him the Knight’s Cross.

Overall the German surprise was so complete that in another battle group tanks from the Grossdeutschland Division overran a Soviet divisional headquarters. The divisional commander just barely escaped but his operations officer was caught, still partially undressed. Some of their anti-tank guns still had their barrel caps on, and many Red Army men were caught carrying out peaceful rear-area activities, having no idea that the Germans had gotten so close.

Skilfully combining armour, infantry, artillery and the Luftwaffe, von Strachwitz had eliminated the Eastsack with the well-crafted operation Strachwitz II. Both operations were well-planned and coordinated, gave Army Detachment Narva extra time for its defence, and prevented the Soviets from breaking out of their bridgeheads to cut off the German force and thence to sweep through Estonia. This now left Strachwitz III to address the Krivasso bridgehead on the German side of the River Narva, along with the capture of Krivasso. The Graf carried out his meticulous planning as usual, but was under no illusion as to the difficulty of the task. As he explained to his officers at a briefing:

Looked at superficially, this operation is very similar to both our previous ones. Only this time there are going to be considerably more difficulties… . We have already surprised the Russians twice in their bridgehead. They know this bridgehead is a pain for us. A third surprise will therefore probably not be possible. Especially as they know a new attack can only be carried out on this road. This naturally diminishes our chances of success compared to the previous operations where we were successful using the element of surprise.

He went on to tell them the advance road was narrow but could support a Tiger, so his intructions for the Tigers were similar to those in previous operations. As the Graf was addressing the officers his adjutant rushed in. Visibly annoyed, the Graf turned around. “What’s going on?” he snapped. The officer straightened up “Herr Graf. I would like to report that the announcement has been made in the news that the Führer has awarded you the Diamonds to the Knights Cross! If I may take the liberty I would like to be the first to congratulate you!” The other officers wanted to congratulate the Graf and celebrate but, as Otto Carius remembered,

Before we could say a word however the Graf made an abrupt sign of disapproval.

“First, the news is not an official source of information. Second, I don’t have any time for that now and don’t wish to be disturbed again.” That was meant for the adjutant, who turned beet red. He raised his hand to his cap and disappeared rapidly.

The Graf’s reaction did not imply that he was unimpressed by the award of Germany’s highest honour, but rather reflected his attitude to planning and combat. However he could still allow some levity when he rounded on Carius after the young officer told him that a ditch was impassable due to the surrounding marshy terrain.

“Take note of this Carius,” he said in a friendly manner. “If I say that the ditch doesn’t exist as an anti-tank ditch to me, then it doesn’t exist, do we understand each other?”

In my entire military career, I had never experienced such an elegant, and at the same time, unmistakable rebuff. Graf Strachwitz did not want to see an anti-tank ditch. So there was none there. Period—end of discussion. I was so nonplussed that I could only choke out a short “Yes sir!” Still smiling in his slightly caustic manner the Oberst nodded and continued his briefing.

Near the end of the briefing von Strachwitz turning towards Carius again:

“I’ve thought about the matter one more time Carius. Do you still foresee difficulties with the ditch?”

“Yes Herr Graf!”

“Well I don’t want to spoil your fun. Especially not when there really could be something to the matter. Do you have a suggestion?”

Otto Carius then suggested that wooden beams be taken on the APCs and used to ford the ditch, a solution that von Strachwitz quickly approved. He went on to note that he thought that deep down the Panzer Graf didn’t believe the operation would be a success and would much rather have called the whole thing off.

The attack commenced on 19 April, with eight Tigers leading, followed by Panzer IVs and APCs with an engineer APC behind the second lead Tiger. A squad of infantry rode on each of the tanks. Just prior to moving off, Carius’ loader had an accidental discharge from the hull machine gun wounding two infantrymen from the Fusilier Battalion. It was an inauspicious start to the operation. With the only hope of surprise now lost, the attack went in. Russian artillery quickly joined the fray while Illuyshin ground-attack planes made a quick appearance, only to be chased away by Focke Wulf 190s of JG54—the only fighter unit in the north—which shot down two. Stukas, under Lieutenant Colonel Klumey based at Tallinn, then swarmed in, but heavy Russian anti-aircraft fire kept them to a height which made their attacks ineffective, bringing down two of them.

The lead Tiger ran onto a mine, which immobilised it, bringing the entire attack column to a halt. Despite von Strachwitz enquiring several times why the attack was still stalled, the Tiger Company’s commander, von Schiller, did nothing, remaining bottled up in his tank. Finally von Strachwitz called von Schiller and Carius to his command post. Von Strachwitz was angrily swinging his Volkhov stick back and forth, then he let fly at von Schiller before placing Carius in command, ordering him to get the attack moving. This Carius did by simply moving the column around the obstructing Tiger, something von Schiller could and should have done himself.

The Germans quickly broke through the Russian lines, only to be halted by an anti-tank ditch. Von Strachwitz called a halt to allow the engineers to demolish the ditch so that the attack could resume the following morning. Russian artillery and mortars crewed by women fired a few salvoes to keep the Germans unsettled but no further action was taken.

During the night Russian bombers flew overhead on their way to bomb Narva, which was now nothing more than a pile of rubble, but still stubbornly resisting the Soviets’ best efforts to take it. Lieutenant Famula continued indefatigably with his nightly resupply efforts, earning high praise from an extremely appreciative Otto Carius.

The ditch was blown apart on the morning of 20 April. The Graf, sleeping in his pyjamas as was his usual practice, was not even disturbed by it. Like many senior commanders involved in a very long war the Graf allowed himself a few luxuries whenever circumstances permitted, not least of which were a good cigar and French cognac. For his part Carius was hoping the whole thing would be called off, but the attack went ahead, supported by Nebelwerfers whose rockets dropped short, landing on the Tigers and fusiliers waiting to move forward. For a full five minutes they endured the massive blasts, which tore the Fusilier Battalion apart, killing or wounding many. Only the heavily armoured Tigers escaped unscathed. Three Tigers were sent forward to cover the evacuation of the dead and wounded by Lieutenant Famula and his APCs. Now Otto Carius felt sure that the attack would be abandoned, but Graf von Strachwitz arranged for another battalion to be sent forward. The attack was to go ahead as planned.

A Russian assault gun opened up on Carius’ Tiger, and he survived a hit to his turret cupola solely because he had ducked down to light a cigarette. A little later, however, his tank was knocked out by another hit.

The attack had by now completely stalled. The Russians were simply too strong while the marshy ground, made worse by the spring thaw, curtailed movement so much that it was becoming impossible to move the attack forward. Elsewhere another battle group was equally stalled. The Tigers slowly pulled back, harried by Russian artillery fire as they towed their disabled tanks. A Russian bi-plane used for nuisance bombing flew over, dropping its bomb. Lieutenant Famula, standing alongside the road lighting a cigarette, was mortally wounded by shrapnel and died a short while later. The infantry was forced to give way and couldn’t hold the line. Reluctantly von Strachwitz gave the order to withdraw. Strachwitz III was over.

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The Spanish Civil War to Poland: Panzer Doctrine

The Spanish Civil War appeared to consign much of this to that airy empire of dreams Heinrich Heine had described as the Germans’ true home. Its operations were characterized by the use of tanks both epi sodically and in small numbers. While occasionally as many as fifty or sixty might appear at one spot, fifteen or twenty was the usual norm on both sides. Rough terrain and poor roads limited movement. Poorly trained infantry eschewed the risks of staying close to tanks; the things drew fire. Not surprisingly, tanks proved disproportionately vulnerable to antitank guns—especially the light, handy 37mm types just coming into widespread use. When tanks did manage a local breakthrough, their next move usually involved turning around and fighting back to their own lines. Even the apostle of mobility, B. H. Liddell- Hart, concluded that the lessons of Spain were that the defense was presently dominant, and that few successes had been gained by maneuver alone. The French and Russian armies came institutionally to similar conclusions. So did most of the rest of Europe.

The widespread negative judgments on tanks may have reflected as well the image of the war, assiduously promulgated on the Left, as a struggle between Spain’s common people and its “establishment.” In that context the tank invited definition as a quintessential Fascist weapon. Songs and stories consistently described tanks and aircraft pitted against “guts and rifles,” with the latter combination ultimately triumphant. Within armies, even hard-shelled social and political conservatives might well take heart from this apparent reaffirmation that men, not machines, determine victory.

The Germans nevertheless continued on their pre-Spain course. It has been suggested that they did indeed react to the difficulties encountered by the Spanish and Italians in effectively employing armor. Instead of deciding the thing was impractical, however, they concluded that “of course these people can’t do it.” Robert M. Citino offers a more nuanced paradigm when he states that the Spanish Civil War was not a proving ground and “the Spaniards were not guinea pigs.” The Germans on the ground had neither the numbers of tanks, nor the tank technology, nor the degree of control to impose any of their ideas on the Nationalist high command in a systematic fashion. In contrast to the aircraft of the Condor Legion, the crews of the three dozen Panzer Is initially sent to Spain in October 1936 were restricted to training missions and observation—at least in principle. In fact, the tankers, whose strength eventually increased to three companies, regularly spent time at the front and were regularly rotated back to Germany. Their commander, a future general but then merely Major Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, personally led the Nationalist armored attack on Madrid in November 1936, and claimed to have participated in 192 tank engagements.

The men coming back from Spain were an invaluable conduit of lore from the sharp end to the grass roots of the panzer regiments. The wider results of their experience were summarized in a General Staff report of March 1939. The Nationalists, the document concluded, never used tanks in strengths larger than a company, and then only for infantry support. The corresponding restrictions on their movement made light tanks in particular vulnerable to even rudimentary antitank defenses. That, in turn, enhanced the need for gun-armed vehicles. Whenever possible, the Soviet tanks used by the Republicans were salvaged and welcomed for their high-velocity 45mm guns. And there was good reason for the German armored force’s emphasis on unit morale and individual moral fiber. The report mentioned that an initial enthusiasm for armored service among the Spaniards quickly evaporated when it became known what the inside of a burned-out tank looked like. By the end of 1938, rumor described captured Russian tanks as being crewed by pardoned criminals or men given a choice between prison and making a single attack in a tank.

This was hardly sufficient data to justify completely revamping the Wehrmacht’s approach to armored war. German professional literature regularly featured warnings against overemphasizing the Spanish experience. In more practical terms, the armor lobby was by now too firmly entrenched to be dislodged by internal means.

Higher-unit training in the peacetime panzer divisions continued to emphasize maneuvering and controlling tanks in large numbers. On June 1, 1938, the panzer divisions got their own manual, Richtlinien für die Führung der Panzerdivision. Emphasis on combined arms had not yet produced the closely integrated battle groups characteristic of the war’s later years. Instead the pattern was the panzer regiments leading and the motorized infantry acting in support, somewhat along the lines of the British armored divisions of 1943-44.

To a degree, that reflected the progress of training: Tank and motorized formations had to become comfortable in their own skins before they could begin to work in genuinely close harmony. But teething troubles notwithstanding, in the fall maneuvers of 1937, the 3rd Panzer Division put on an impressive show, breaking the enemy flank, successfully assaulting a bridgehead from the rear, then shifting again to disrupt logistics and headquarters systems—all in close cooperation with Luftwaffe elements.

Armored force theorists made a correspondingly forceful case for the concentration of the panzer divisions into a corps, and the concentration of that force at the operational Schwerpunkt, the vital spot, of the opening campaign. Heinz Guderian’s 1937 book Achtung—Panzer! is widely credited with structuring and popularizing that perspective. The book was in fact written on the recommendation of Lutz, who sought to make armored warfare’s case in a public context. It was derivative, a compilation of Guderian’s previous lectures and articles, but made up in conviction what it lacked in cohesion. Never lacking in an eye to the political sector, Guderian cited the Four-Year Plan, controlled by Hermann Göring, to support the argument that Germany would soon be able to produce enough synthetic fuel and artificial rubber to be freed from its current dependence on imports. He quoted Hitler’s affirmation of “the replacement of animal power by the motor [which] leads to the most tremendous technical and consequently economic change the world has ever experienced.”

Guderian’s concluding peroration that “only by providing the army with the most modern and effective armaments and equipment and intelligent leadership can peace be safeguarded” resonates ironically in the context of Hitler’s 1938 purging of the army high command and his subsequent reorganization of the armed forces’ command structure, culminating in his assumption of supreme command. The book, however, was widely discussed, and sold well enough to pay for Guderian’s first car—an amusing sidebar given his support for motorization.

Armored force doctrine and training placed increasing emphasis on ground-air cooperation. The long-standing myth that the Luftwaffe was essentially designed for close support of the land forces has been thoroughly demolished by, among others, James Corum and Williamson Murray. During World War I, the German air force had nevertheless paid significantly more specialized attention to ground support than its Allied counterparts. The Germans developed armored, radio-equipped infantry-contact machines for close reconnaissance. Used in twos, threes, and larger numbers, German Schlachtstaffeln (battle squadrons), each with a half dozen highly maneuverable two-seater Hannover or Halber stadt attack planes, proved devastatingly effective at shooting in attacks from the summer of 1917. In the later stages of the 1918 spring offensive, aircraft were used to parachute ammunition to frontline infantry. The experience of being on the receiving end of tank-infantry cooperation at the hands of the BEF in the war’s final months drove home the lesson: close air support was a good thing for an armored force.

During the Weimar years the Reichswehr worked closely with the civil aircraft industry and the civilian airlines to keep abreast of industrial and technological developments. Under the guidance of Hans von Seeckt, German officers developed intellectual and doctrinal frameworks for air war in general and air-ground cooperation in particular. As early as 1921, regulations stressed the importance of using attack aircraft in masses against front lines and immediate rear areas. Maneuvers used balloons to represent forbidden aircraft, and emphasized unit-level antiaircraft defense with machine guns and rifles in lieu of the banned specialized weapons. In Russia, from 1925 to 1933, the air school at Lipetsk successfully functioned as both a training base for pilots and a testing ground for aircraft.

The initiation of full-scale rearmament and the creation of the Luftwaffe as an independent service temporarily combined to take air and ground on separate paths in the mid-1930s. Luftwaffe theorists accepted using fighters for direct support of ground forces as a secondary mission, but emphasized the greater importance of interdiction behind—well behind, as a rule—the fighting front. That attitude began to change as reports from the Spanish Civil War highlighted not merely the potential but the ability of aircraft to have a decisive effect on ground operations—especially against troops poorly trained, demoralized, or even temporarily confused. Nationalist or Republican, it made no difference.

Luftwaffe officers were increasingly expected to know army tactics and doctrine; to participate directly in army exercises and maneuvers as air commanders; to instruct the army in the nature and missions of air power. At the focal point of the new relationship was the armored force. Luftwaffe doctrine insisted air support must be concentrated at decisive points, not dispersed across fronts and sectors. This concept meshed precisely with the panzer commanders’ emphasis on concentration, speed, and shock.

Implementation took three forms. One was the creation of specialized tactical reconnaissance squadrons assigned at corps and division levels, and the parallel development, from field army headquarters down to panzer divisions, of a system of air liaison officers to report ground-force situations to air officers commanding the supporting reconnaissance squadrons and the antiaircraft units.

The Luftwaffe’s second contribution was close support. As early as the 1937 maneuvers, an entire fighter group, 30 aircraft, was placed at the disposal of a single panzer division. The obsolescent Henschel Hs 123 biplane, a failure in its intended role as a dive-bomber, found a second identity as a ground-attack aircraft whose slow speed and high maneuverability made its strikes extremely accurate. The Junkers 87 Stuka dive-bombers, deployed in small numbers to Spain, manifested near pinpoint accuracy and had a demoralizing effect out of proportion with the actual damage inflicted. Given the right conditions, it seemed clear that a few Stukas could achieve better results than entire squadrons and groups of conventional bombers. Throughout 1938, Stukas and Henschels exercised with panzer formations in an increasing variety of tactical situations. In the air and on the ground, the same conclusion was being drawn: Close air support, especially in the precise forms normative for dive and attack planes, could become “flying artillery fire,” bringing the tanks onto initial objectives and keeping them moving not merely at tactical but perhaps operational levels as well.

No less significant was the Luftwaffe’s third contribution: the development of a maintenance and supply system mobile enough to keep pace with the armored columns and keep the relatively short-ranged close support aircraft in action even from improvised airfields. Turnaround time and sorties mounted are better tests of air-power effectiveness than simple numbers of planes. It would be a good few years before the panzer divisions would have to wonder where the Luftwaffe was. It would be striking just ahead of them.

Colonel Hans Jeschonnek was appointed Luftwaffe Chief of Staff in February 1939. A bomber officer with—limited—unit experience, he nevertheless recognized both the importance and the difficulty of integrating close air support to ground operations. He understood as well the desirability of keeping air assets under Luftwaffe control—not as easy as it might seem even with Göring as chief, given the army’s historically dominant position in Germany’s military system. Jeschonnek’s response was to organize a specialized ground-support force. In the summer of 1939 he began consolidating the Stuka groups into a Nahkampfdivision (close-combat division). Its commander was Wolfram von Richthofen, cousin of the Red Baron, who had extensive Spanish experience and was among the Luftwaffe’s leading dive-bomber enthusiasts. Eventually the division would expand into a full and famous corps. But with more than 300 first-line combat aircraft on strength in September 1939, it was already the world’s largest and most formidable ground-support air element.

The panzers experienced the differences between the most rigorous maneuvers and the least demanding field conditions in March 1938. That was the month when Hitler bullied the right-wing government of Austria into accepting Anschluss, or union, with the Third Reich—a more fundamental violation of the Versailles settlement than rearmament had been. He convinced the rest of Europe to accept it through the application of diplomatic smoke and mirrors. The 2nd Panzer Division was ordered to join the Wehrmacht forces assigned to occupy the Reich’s new province. The new mobile forces had deliberately been held back from earlier “flower occupations” of the Rhineland and the Saar. Now Guderian had two days’ notice to march his division from its garrison in Würzburg the 250 miles to the soon-to-be-former border, and then enter Vienna in presumed triumph.

The result was one of the most monumental compound fiascoes in the entire history of mechanized operations. Guderian, a master at presenting himself in the best possible light, could find nothing good to say about the inadequate planning, inadequate maintenance, and inadequate logistics that left broken-down tanks stranded on every major road out of Würzburg and constrained the survivors to refuel from obliging Austrian filling stations whose low-octane gas fouled engines so badly that many vehicles required major overhauls at the end of the march. Perhaps it was just as well that the division remained in Vienna once the garrison-shifting generated by the Anschluss was completed. In any case, Guderian stood at Hitler’s side when the Führer spoke in his hometown of Linz, and basked in his pleasure at the sight of the tanks the mechanics were able to keep going.

Hitler’s instructions of May 1938 for the Wehrmacht to prepare for an invasion of Czechoslovakia escalated the prospects of a general war Germany had little chance of winning. Ludwig Beck resigned as Chief of the General Staff in August. His successor, Franz Halder, inherited the outlines of a generals’ plot to seize Hitler’s person as soon as he issued orders for an invasion of Czechoslovakia. Some senior army officers, including Beck, had grown sufficiently dubious about the risks of Hitler’s freewheeling foreign policy in the context of Germany’s still-incom plete rearmament that they had developed plans for a “housecleaning.” These plans involved eliminating Nazi Party radicals, restoring traditional “Prussian” standards in justice and administration, and putting Hitler firmly under the thumb of the military leadership. Should that last prove impossible and the Führer suffer a fatal accident—well, no plan survives application, and the state funeral would be spectacular.

Whether anything would have come of it remains a subject of speculation. The agreements secured from Britain and France at the Munich Conference of September 1938 left Czechoslovakia twisting in the wind, and hung any potential military conspirators out to dry. Czechoslovakia’s western provinces, the Sudetenland, were ceded to the Reich without a shot fired. Those who had urged caution on the Führer were correspondingly discredited.

These events had less direct impact on the armored force than might have been expected. On an operational level, the main problem was seen as breaking through formidable Czech border defenses—a task for infantry, artillery, and aerial bombardment that brought more conventional generals to the fore of planning. Internal attention was further diverted by a major reorganization. In addition to forming the corps headquarters authorized for the light and motorized divisions, the former Mobile Combat Troops Command became XVI Corps, with the three panzer divisions under its direct command. Three new divisions were added to the order of battle. The 4th Panzer Division formed at Würzburg to replace the 2nd. The 4th Light Division was built around elements of the former Austrian army’s Mobile Division in Vienna. And in November, the 5th Panzer Division was organized at Oppeln, in Silesia, with many of its recruits coming from the newly annexed Sudetenland.

A number of the tank battalions already existed as separate formations, part of Beck’s program for providing direct support to infantry divisions. The restructuring nevertheless meant more rounds of reas signments and promotions. The three mobile corps were assigned to a new army-level command created in 1937: Group 4, under Walther von Brauchitsch—the stepping-stone to his appointment as commander in chief of the army a few months later. Lutz briefly commanded XVI Corps, then was put on the retired list in 1938. This has been described as a forced retirement, a response at higher levels reflecting criticism of the way the armored force seemed to be developing as an army within the army.

This argument is supported by Brauchitsch’s character and branch of service. He was an artilleryman, and while a solid professional, was neither a forceful personality like Guderian nor a smooth operator in the pattern of Lutz. Lutz’s removal from the scene, however, can also be interpreted in wider contexts, as part of a housecleaning of senior ranks reflecting both Hitler’s desire for more malleable generals and the High Command’s belief in the need for fresh blood.1 Lutz was one of those who had openly questioned the Führer’s policies as excessively risky. Lutz was also sixty-two, the same age as Gerd von Rundstedt, also retired in 1938—arguably a bit over the line for field command in the kind of war he had done so much to create. Lutz was unlikely to step down of his own accord, though allowing him to learn of his new status from a newspaper article was unmistakably déclassé.

The appointment of Guderian as Lutz’s successor in command of XVI Corps also suggests that Lutz was not singled out for removal on either political or professional grounds. The German army, like its counterparts before and since, had an ample number of sidetracks for officers identified with mentors who made career-ending slips. But in 1938 the Inspectorate of Motorized Combat Troops and the Inspection for Army Motorization were combined into a single agency with the mouth-filling title of Inspection Department 6 for Armored Troops, Cavalry, and Army Motorization (In6). Its focus was to be on nuts and bolts: training, organization, technology. At the same time, an Inspectorate of Mobile Troops was established to develop doctrine and tactics, supervise the schools, and advise both the army high command and In6 on the operational aspects of mobile war. The post was offered to Heinz Guderian.

The appointment had a back story. The new Inspectorate seems to have been Brauchitsch’s idea. Hitler approved. Guderian initially turned down the post on the grounds that it lacked any real authority; he could only make recommendations. When Hitler informed him that his advisory responsibility meant that, if necessary, he could report directly to the Führer in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht, Guderian changed his mind. A promotion to General der Panzertruppen (Lieutenant-General) further sweetened the deal.

This account has been challenged by Guderian’s friend, General Hermann Balck. Balck describes a cabal involving Brauchitsch and the General Staff to kick Guderian upstairs, or at least sideways, in order to minimize the effect of what was considered his “tunnel vision” on the subject of army motorization. Some support for that unverifiable hypothesis is offered by Guderian’s initial assignment in the new mobilization scheme: command of a second-line infantry corps in the western theater. In 1940, Erich von Manstein would receive a similar assignment for the same reasons: as an obvious slap on the wrist, and as a warning against excessively close contact with the Führer. In Guderian’s case, however, that contact was a bit too valuable to waste, given the growing indications that one of the Third Reich’s alleged “two pillars” was significantly overtopping the other.

At least that seems to have been the opinion of Brauchitsch’s successor as commander of Group 4. Walther von Reichenau stood out among the army’s generals as an admirer of Hitler, and assiduously cultivated his own back channels to the Führer. He was unlikely to seek to choke off Guderian, especially since the two men were much alike in aggressive temperament and blinkered vision.

Guderian’s driving energy was immediately put to use. Lutz was no weakling, but his chief talents had been as a negotiator and a facilitator. The panzer divisions suffered from constant teething troubles, expected and unexpected. The senior formations were still very much works in progress. In a 1938 exercise, the staff of the 1st Panzer Division created a foul-up beyond the generous tolerance for maneuver mistakes. Perhaps energized by Hitler’s presence, Guderian not only blasted the regiment’s officers but ordered some punitive transfers “to encourage the rest.” Guderian also struggled mightily with the cavalry in an effort to wean them away from a historic commitment to screening and reconnaissance. On the technical side, Guderian iterated and reiterated the importance of radio communication—increasingly with aircraft as well as vehicles. Though initially unable to provide every tank with a transmitter, he did make sure each had a receiver.

With the occupation of the rump Czech state in March 1939, Guderian and the armored force simultaneously acquired a windfall and a problem. The windfall reflected Bohemia’s history as a center of arms design and manufacture under Habsburg rule. The Czechoslovak government cultivated that heritage, and in the 1930s produced two state-of-the-art designs. The TNHP 35 weighed a little more than 10 tons with 35mm of armor on the front and 16mm on the sides. It could do 25 miles per hour on roads, was high-maintenance but easy to operate, and, best of all, carried a high-velocity 37mm gun. The TNHP 38 was even better. At 10 tons with 25mm of frontal armor, it was more maneuverable than the 35, carried the same 37mm gun, and on the whole was roughly equal to the Panzer III, which was still backed up on German production lines.

The Germans’ initial problem was adapting their new tanks to Wehrmacht requirements. The armored force took over about 200 of what were rechristened the 35(t), for Tsechoslowakei, and began the extensive modifications necessary, particularly in radio equipment, to make them suitable for German service. The 38(t) was just coming into production when the Germans marched in and began testing the design. In May 1939 the Weapons Office contracted with the Czech factory to manufacture 150 of them. They were the first of a long line of 38(t)s that would serve throughout the war in a variety of roles. None, however, would be ready for service by September 1, 1939.

On the organizational side, on November 24, 1938, von Brauchitsch issued a sweeping directive for the development of the army’s motorized forces. It projected a final goal of nine panzer divisions, to be met by converting the four light divisions in the fall of 1939. Each army corps would have a motorcycle battalion; each field army would receive a number of motorized reconnaissance battalions. Independent armored brigades were projected as well, to support conventional infantry divisions or cooperate with motorized ones—the latter a possible foreshadowing of the panzer grenadier divisions. Finally, a number of independent companies equipped with “the heaviest kind of tanks” would support infantry attacks against fortifications.

On April 1, 1939, the General Staff ordered the creation of four new panzer divisions—effective, ironically, on September 19. In practice, that meant raising and training the tank units and supporting formations necessary to upgrade the light divisions. At the same time, the armored force was allocating the revamped Czech tanks and the Panzer IIIs and IVs also beginning to enter service. As if that was not enough, the panzers were increasingly drafted for display purposes; parades in Berlin and other German cities were designed to impress not only foreign observers but a German population that cheered Hitler’s bloodless victories and yet retained a vivid collective memory of World War I.

Whatever the tanks may have provided in terms of intimidation and reassurance, Guderian and his generals were less than pleased at the waste of time and energy. The fall maneuvers, however, were expected to compensate. For the first time the armored force was to take the field in strength: XVI Corps would control three panzer divisions, the 4th Light Division, and a motorized division. Deploying that force would require implementing the first stages of mobilization for the units involved. To test the concept of the air-ground combat team on a similar scale, the Luftwaffe would provide its new tactical support force. The exercises were never held. Instead, on September 1, 1939, the panzers went to war for real.

Luftwaffe Air War Poland 1939

In the war that began on 1 September 1939 air power played a crucial role from the start. The Germans considered a massive opening attack on Warsaw, but bad weather forced them to attack alternative targets. The Luftwaffe’s most important contribution in the Polish campaign lay in quickly gaining air superiority; the Poles were skilled opponents, but they possessed obsolete aircraft which were no match for those of the Germans.

Luftwaffe bombers struck particularly at cities and transportation links, which thoroughly disrupted the Polish mobilization. A small number of Luftwaffe aircraft directly supported the drive of the German panzer forces which completely broke the Polish army apart in the first week of the campaign. Close air-support strikes were mostly successful; however, one Wehrmacht battalion, bombed for several hours by the Luftwaffe, suggested that courts martial might be in order.

Attempts were made to intercept German Dornier Do 17 reconnaissance aircraft which violated Polish airspace from the spring of 1939. Fighter units were ordered in July 1939 to establish fighter posts (‘ambushes’) along the routes of the reconnaissance aircraft flights. 1 Pulk Lotniczy organised posts along the border with East Prussia, a total of 2 sections. Dywizjon III/I used airfields near Bialystok and Grodno, and Dywizjon IV/1 near Suwalki. Aircraft of 2 Pulk organised posts at Wieluri, Czltstochowa and Zawiercie along the Western border. Aircraft of 4 Pulk provided posts near Bydgoszcz, while 3 and 5 Pulk maintained aircraft at readiness at their permanent airfields. During July the aircraft were scrambled many times to intercept and visual contact was sometimes established with German aircraft, but due to the high altitude at which the Dorniers operated, and their superior speed with respect to the P11c fighters, none was ever shot down, and at the end of July these posts were abandoned. Also at the same time Soviet reconnaissance aircraft violated Polish airspace, but there is no written record of any contact with Polish interceptors.

In the early hours of 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, spearheaded by a total of almost 2,000 Luftwaffe aircraft, nearly half of which were bombers. By 27 September the Polish campaign was concluded. It had apparently proved the ‘invincibility’ of the Luftwaffe, which had completely overwhelmed the poorer-armed and less modern Polish Air Force, had given copy-book support to the German ground forces, and had clearly been the supreme factor in such a quick victory. Yet the cost had not been light. Against fierce but hopeless opposition in the air and from the ground, the Luftwaffe had lost at least 750 men and nearly 300 aircraft, with a further 279 aircraft counted as overall strength losses due to serious damage. The Polish Air Force, with less than 800 aircraft on 1 September, had sustained a loss of 333 aircraft in action. Considering that the gross strength of the Luftwaffe at the end of August 1939 was hardly more than 4,000 aircraft of all types – perhaps only half of which could be truly regarded as first line ‘attack’ machines – the loss rate during some three weeks of the Polish campaign, against ill-prepared and inferior opposition in the context of aircraft, gave serious pause in the minds of the more perceptive Luftwaffe heads of staff. Replacement of such casualties quickly was virtually impossible; such resources were simply not available immediately. With France and the Low Countries already designated as ‘next’ on Hitler’s agenda for conquest, the querulous doubts in many Luftwaffe chiefs’ minds prior to the Polish venture now assumed a level of deep concern.

This concern was exacerbated by the knowledge that Germany now had Britain and France as declared enemies. Only men like Göring or other Hitler-sycophants could believe that the Luftwaffe was fully prepared for any long-term aerial assault or struggle; the force was still in its adolescence, and had been built on the narrow platform of tactical air power. Its aircraft were too standardised in role to be capable of undertaking every possible task that would present itself during any sustained aerial conflict. The quality of its air and ground crews was never in question; all were peacetime-trained and thoroughly professional, while among the Staffeln and staffs was a hard core of combat-tested veterans of both the Spanish Civil War and the Poland campaign. Its aircraft presented a mixed picture. The standard fighter was the angular Messerschmitt Bf 109, on a par or clearly superior to almost any other fighter in the world in 1939. Its stablemate Bf 110 two-seat Zerstörer (‘destroyer’) was the apple of Göring’s eye for the moment, but within a year would demonstrate forcibly its unsuitability for the ‘escort fighter’ role imposed upon its unfortunate crews. Of the frontline bombers, the already notorious crooked-wing Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber was basking in the limelight of apparently deserved fame for its large contribution to recent operations, yet it too would reveal its feet of clay when faced with determined fighter opposition in the months ahead. Of the other bombers the porcine Heinkel He 111 and slender Dornier Do 17 predominated, both twin-engined, medium-range designs of relatively mediocre performance, and poorly armed for self-defence. Only the emerging Junkers Ju 88 offered slight hope of improved bomber performance, although even this excellent design was not intended for long range operations. The one great omission from the Luftwaffe’s offensive air strength was a truly heavy, long range bomber. The only design projected for filling this gap was the troublesome Heinkel He 177, which was conceived in 1938 but did not commence operations until August 1942.

Notwithstanding the eventual failure of many of the 1939 Luftwaffe’s operational aircraft types, the contemporary morale of the German air crews and their upper echelon staffs was very high. The rapidity with which Poland had been vanquished appeared to suggest that the Blitzkrieg tactical war was a sure-fire key to victory, an opinion echoed in the staff rooms of many of the Allied services of the period. If there were doubts about the future efficacy of the Luftwaffe they existed mainly in the minds of individual senior officers and strategists; no such gloomy thoughts pervaded the ranks of the firstline Staffeln. The high casualty rate against relatively ‘soft’ air opposition during the Polish Blitzkrieg was mostly attributed to inexperience on the part of younger air crews, a modicum of sheer bad luck, or simply the exigencies of war. There lingered no lack of confidence in men or machines. If there were any queries among the Luftwaffe crews these pertained to how they might fare against the French air force and, especially, the British Royal Air Force when the inevitable first clashes occurred over the Western Front. Led or commanded by veterans who had fought the Allies in the air during the 1914–18 war, all the young Luftwaffe crews had been trained and inculcated with the fighting traditions created by the now-legendary names in German aviation annals. Inbred in that tradition was an almost unconscious respect for the fighting qualities of the Engländer – would they now acquit themselves against the contemporary generation of RAF fliers with the same courage and honour as their forebears …?

Operational Method

Thus far the war has been, in the air, a strange one. It has been strange in several ways. People had expected the Blitzkrieg to break in full fury in the west, but as yet no thunderbolt has fallen there. Poland felt its impact and crumpled under the stroke, though conditions there seemed, prima facie, unfavorable for the successful conduct of a lightning war. The course of the conflict has not, in fact, followed the book. There have been a number of surprises. In the operations at sea, for example, it was confidently expected that aircraft, not the submarine, would be the chief danger to maritime commerce. The airplane, we were told, would harry and dragoon belligerent and neutral shipping in the narrow waters into which the busy lanes of ocean traffic converge. Actually, the air arm has not been particularly effective at sea, though British aircraft have taken a hand with some success in hunting the submarine. That, however, had been foreseen.

Certainly the achievements of the German air force in Poland fulfilled the expectations of the most sanguine adherents of the blue sky school. In conjunction with the mechanized ground forces it dominated the situation from the first. The lists were set for a tourney between the old order of warfare and the new. Germany’s strength lay in her possession of the most modern instruments of mechanical destruction. Poland was, in comparison, a nineteenth century Power. Her cavalry was her pride. One could imagine her gallant horsemen galloping with Jeb Stuart or Sheridan in Virginia. Indeed, her great masses of cavalry might have thundered their way to victory in the still more appropriate setting of the medieval era. As it was, they were a sheer anachronism. Confronted by armored cars and tanks, hammered by high explosive from the air, they were only flesh for the slaughter. The twentieth century won all along the line. The Polish defeat was a tragedy, but an inevitable one.

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

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

At first the methods by which she won it were, apart from the fact that the aggression itself was utterly unjustified, fair enough in themselves. Herr Hitler had announced to the Reichstag on September 1 that he would not war against women and children. He was speaking, it will be noted, less than four weeks before the time when women and children were to be slaughtered and mutilated in Warsaw. “I have ordered my air force,” he said, “to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives.” Replying to President Roosevelt’s appeal that civilian populations be spared the horrors of air bombardment, he defined his attitude to this question in terms which, coming from another, would have presaged the waging of a humane and chivalrous war: ” . . . that it is a humanitarian principle to refrain from the bombing of non-military objectives under all circumstances in connection with military operations, corresponds completely with my own point of view and has been advocated by me before. I, therefore, unconditionally endorse the proposal that the governments taking part in the hostilities now in progress make public a declaration in this sense. For my own part, I already gave notice in my Reichstag speech of today that the German air force had received the order to restrict its operations to military objectives.”

That the German air force did confine itself more or less to military objectives in the opening phase of the war is supported by a certain amount of independent evidence. Mr. H. C. Greene, the correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, reported in that journal from Cernaŭti on September 10 that military objectives such as bridges, roads, railways and aerodromes had been aimed at almost exclusively, though terrible losses had fallen on the civil population as a result of the attacks. On September 6, Mr. Butler, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, stated in reply to a question in the House of Commons that the information in the British Government’s possession showed that the German bombing attacks had in general been directed against objectives serving a military purpose and not indiscriminately against the civil population; but he also was careful to add that the latter had at the same time suffered heavy casualties. Soon, however, evidence began to accumulate that other than military objectives were being attacked and that, in fact, methods of terrorization were being adopted by the German Luftwaffe.

It is true that one must always accept with caution reports from belligerent sources concerning excesses or outrages committed by the enemy. There is inevitably an element of propaganda in such reports. Further, newspaper correspondents on the spot are apt to be impressed by what is told them and are not in a position usually to know or state the other side of the case. Some of the Polish announcements were certainly examples of exaggeration, excusable, no doubt, but still unreliable. For instance, a communiqué of September 2 stated that individual farms and farmers had been bombed — a somewhat improbable occurrence. On the other hand, it is even more improbable that the reports from many quarters about the ruthlessness of the German air force were entirely devoid of foundation. We have, in fact, unbiased evidence sufficient to convict without any need for dependence on ex parte testimony.

Unquestionably, there were numerous instances of bombing objectives which by no possibility could be termed military. Among them was that of the village of Tomaszow, which was the victim of “a particularly vicious bombing” according to a message to the Times of September 11 from its special correspondent on the Polish frontier. Other instances were attested by Dr. Oskar Zsolnay, a Hungarian official trade delegate who had been in Lwów and who described in a Budapest paper a large number of bombing raids on that city, nearly all of them directed against non-military objectives. Some of the most important evidence was supplied by the American Ambassador to Poland, Mr. Biddle, who on September 8 furnished the State Department with particulars of cases in which non-military targets had been attacked: they included his own villa, more than ten miles outside Warsaw, a sanatorium, a refugee train, a hospital train and a hut for Girl Guides. “It is also evident,” he added, “that the German bombers are releasing the bombs they carry even when they are in doubt as to the identity of their objectives.” Again, on September 13, Mr. Biddle reported that the village to which he had then moved and which was, he said, “a defenseless open village” had been attacked by German bombers. On September 20 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Information said in the House that reports from the British Ambassador to Poland supported the evidence of Mr. Biddle on the bombing of open towns.

One may perhaps feel some hesitation in accepting without reservation the statement in the Polish communiqué of September 15 that the bombardment of open towns by German aircraft had “assumed the character of a systematic destruction of all built-up areas or cities without any connection with military operations,” but there can be no reasonable doubt about the fact that a great number of non-military objectives were bombed. Beyond question many villages were deliberately attacked and a number of them destroyed. In Warsaw itself the Belvedere and Lazienki Palaces, the Seym (Parliament) building, the Soviet and Rumanian Embassies, the Latvian Legation, a number of churches and some hospitals had been wholly or partly demolished from the air even before the intensive bombardment from air and ground began on September 25. The final state of the city was still more tragic. The correspondent of a Danish newspaper who visited it after the surrender reported that scarcely a house was undamaged and in several districts, especially the suburb of Praga, not one house was left standing. The devastation was due in part to artillery fire, but the bombs of the aircraft contributed very materially. Inevitably the losses suffered by the civil population were heavy in the extreme. It is perfectly clear that if the Germans did in fact attempt to bomb only military objectives, they failed in that attempt most lamentably. The more likely explanation is that no such attempt was made. The city was bombed indiscriminately, subjected, in fact, to a display of Nazi Schrecklichkeit. The destruction was intended as an object lesson. “I should like the gentlemen of London to see what a city looks like when it has been through what Warsaw suffered,” said the German wireless announcer on October 4. “These gentlemen ought to see what might happen in their own country if they persist in their mad warmongering.”

The fiction that only military objectives were bombed was kept up in the German reports. A communiqué issued by the High Command on September 25 stated: “Important military objectives in Warsaw were successfully attacked in power-dives by German aircraft.” It is a sufficient commentary upon this to record that when Warsaw asked for an armistice on September 27, 16,000 soldiers and 20,000 civilians lay wounded in the hospitals. There is little doubt, indeed, that Warsaw was subjected to a bombardment, from ground and air, of which the purpose was psychological, or more bluntly, to terrorize. That particular type of bombardment is nothing new in the practice of German arms. It was tried on many occasions in the Franco-German War of 1870-71. At Strasbourg, for instance, the civilian quarters of the city were shelled by siege batteries in order to “induce the inhabitants to compel the governor to surrender the fortress.” The effect was simply to stiffen the determination of the garrison and the inhabitants to resist.

Exactly the same tactics were employed at Warsaw nearly seventy years later, and the same effect was produced; the morale of the city was unbroken, for it was lack of ammunition and supplies, not loss of courage, which finally made surrender inevitable. Methods of frightfulness defeat their aims when used against a determined people. Herr Hitler announced in his speech on September 19 that the British blockade might force him to make use of a “weapon by which we [Germany] cannot be attacked.” The fresh resort to Schrecklichkeit here foreshadowed, whether it referred to the poison gas or to bacteriological warfare or merely to massed attack from the air on cities, will not effect its object. On that point there can be no doubt whatever.

The major role which the German air force played in the conquest of Poland is no proof that it will achieve similar successes in the west. Poland was, in comparison with Germany, very weak in the air. That her air force, was able to resist as well as it did testifies to the gallantry of its personnel. It is the more regrettable that its achievements were magnified by some absurd propaganda. The statement in a communiqué of September 3 that 64 German machines were brought down on that day for the loss of 11 Polish machines was entirely unbelievable. The announcement a little later that Berlin had been bombed was no less unconvincing. There is no escape from the conclusion, on the known facts, that Poland was wholly outclassed in the air.

Soviet Operations in Eastern Poland

The Soviet operations in eastern Poland had been anticipated in the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Stalin’s delay in attacking Poland was in part due to uncertainty over the reaction of the Western Allies, the unexpectedly rapid pace of the German advance, the distraction of military operations in the Far East and the time needed to mobilise the Red Army. Besides the dramatic events in Poland, Stalin was preoccupied with the undeclared war between the Soviet Union and Japan, which culminated in the decisive Soviet victory at Khalkin Gol in September 1939. An armistice was signed with Japan on 15 September, and Soviet intelligence correctly reported that German formations were already operating east of the proposed Soviet-German demarcation line. As a result, Stalin was forced to act sooner than planned.

The decapitation of the Soviet officer corps by the purges of 1937 and 1938 hindered a major military operation of this scale. The Red Army general staff estimated it needed several weeks to fully mobilise. The German advance had proceeded much more quickly than the Soviets had anticipated, forcing a hasty commitment of the ill-prepared Red Army to secure the spoils of the treaty agreement. The Red Army had expected the German operation to be an updated version of the First World War pattern: a series of border clashes until both sides mobilised and deployed their main forces for decisive battle. They had overlooked the possibility that Germany would strike from a fully mobilised posture against their smaller and only partially mobilised opponent. The planning was already well in place as the Red Army general staff had prepared plans in 1938 for intervention under various scenarios during the Munich crisis.

The Red Army was organised into two fronts and deployed no less than 25 rifle divisions, 16 cavalry divisions and 12 tank brigades with a total strength of 466,516 troops. The Red Army’s tank forces sent into Poland actually exceeded the number of tanks and armoured vehicles of the Germans and Poles combined, amounting to 3,739 tanks and 380 armoured cars. The Red Air Force was also committed in strength, totalling about 2,000 combat aircraft. Fighters, consisting mainly of I-16 and I-15bis, made up about 60 per cent of the attacking force, along with medium bombers such as the SB accounting for another 30 per cent of the force. The remainder of the combat elements were army co-operation types like the R-5 biplane.

Polish defences had been stripped bare in the east. Normally the border was guarded by the Border Defence Corps (KOP) with about 18 battalions and 12,000 troops along the Soviet frontier. These forces were little more than light infantry with very little in the way of artillery support. Furthermore, many of the units had been ordered westward as reinforcements, leaving only a token force behind. The force ratio was ludicrously one-sided, roughly one Polish battalion per Soviet corps.

Red Army mobilisation was chaotic at best. Due to the upcoming harvest, it was difficult to fill out the units with their usual supply of war-mobilisation trucks from the civilian sector. As a result, Soviet formations, even tank brigades, seldom had even half of their table-of-organisation in support vehicles. There was also a shortage of spare parts for most types of vehicle including tanks. Although the Red Army order of Battle presents the picture of a conventionally organised force, in fact, the Soviet formations were often deployed in a haphazard fashion, loosely configured as regional groups. Indeed, there are substantial disparities in the historical records about which units participated and under which command, due to the haste under which the operation was prepared. As a result of their belated and haphazard mobilisation and the almost non-existent opposition they faced, the Red Army relied on its cavalry and armoured forces to sweep rapidly into Poland. Horse-mechanised groups were created with tank brigades supporting cavalry divisions.

There was considerable confusion on the Polish side when news of the Soviet invasion first began to filter through. At first there was some hope that the Soviets might be intervening to aid Poland, a delusion that was quickly exposed when word arrived of armed clashes. Nevertheless, the high command on the evening of 17/18 September ordered that the KOP and other units along the frontier were not to engage Soviet forces except in self-defence or if the Soviets interfered with their movement to the Romanian bridgehead. However, the order was not widely received. Instead the commander of the KOP, Brigadier-General W. Orlik-Ruckemann, ordered his troops to fight. Skirmishes between the KOP and Red Army units took place all along the frontier, especially near several of the major cities such as Wilno and Grodno, and along the fortified zone in the Sarny region. The heaviest fighting, not surprisingly, took place in Galicia in south-eastern Poland, since regular Polish army units were gravitating towards this sector near the Romanian frontier.

Galicia was one of the few areas where there was any significant aerial combat between the Polish air force and the Red Air Force. This occurred mostly on the first day of the Soviet invasion, as the surviving Polish air force units had been ordered to escape into Romania. Surviving Polish fighters had been subordinated to the Pursuit Brigade, which was headquartered near Buczacz to the south-east of Lwow. During the first contacts on 17 September, Polish fighters downed an R-5 and two SB bombers, and damaged three further Soviet aircraft. The following day the Pursuit Brigade was evacuated to Romania taking with it 35 PZL P. 11 and eight PZL P. 7 fighters; the last remnants of the combat elements of the Polish air force. A number of Soviet aircraft were lost in subsequent fighting, mostly to ground fire. According to recently declassified records, only five aircrew were killed during the fighting, attesting to the relatively small scale of Soviet air losses in this short campaign.

Fighters Over Poland

P11 VERSUS THE LUFTWAFFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STANISLAW SKALSKI

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

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

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

The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units I

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

Development, Training, Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others were:

MEK 70 – nothing known

MEK 75 – KptzS Böhme

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

MEK 85: Oblt Wadenpfuhl (January 1945–End)

MEK 90: Oblt Heinz-Joachim Wilke

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

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

Commander: KKpt Heinrich Hoffmann

Chief at Staff: Kptlt Erich Dietrich

Adjutant: Lt Günther Schmidt

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

Medical Officer: Kptlt Dr Rudolf Neuman

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

Training Officer: Oblt Hans Diem

At Heiligenhafen the training staff was:

Commander: Kptlt Friedrich Jütz

Camp commandants: Kptlt Heinrich Schütz, Oblt Eberhardt Sauer

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

MEK Operations in the West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units II

A Linse unit before an operation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operations in Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operations in Southern France, Italy and the Adriatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operations on the Eastern Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon arrival the units received their missions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I./FschJgRgt.1 (two companies)

II./KG z.b.V.1

3./StG 1

will be employed and placed under command of Gruppe XXI.

4.Execution:

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

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

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

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

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