Operation Crossbow Part I

Interdiction and Crossbow

On Sunday morning, June 18, 1944, Clementine Churchill, the prime minister’s wife, visited London’s Hyde Park to see her daughter Mary, who was a young officer serving with the local anti-aircraft battery. It had been a busy week on the home front. Almost two weeks prior, the invasion force had departed British ports and landed on the Norman coast. Early optimism over the landing’s success had receded slightly as the Germans had launched a new aerial assault, this time with unmanned, pilotless bombs. Mrs. Churchill arrived while the guns were firing at one of these strange contraptions, which sounded like a truck struggling, with its engine sputtering, to climb a steep hill. This particular aircraft passed overhead unharmed and destroyed a nearby house. As the mother and daughter were talking, another bomb appeared in the sky, and the battery again fired frantically at this machine as it flew overhead. Not hit, its engine stopped as scheduled, dove to earth, and exploded beyond the view of the women. Mrs. Churchill did not realize until later that morning that the explosion took place at the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace. A service was in progress, and the bomb killed or wounded more than two hundred active and retired members of the brigade. This incident was the most destructive V-1 attack of the war.

The German flying bomb and rocket offensive came as no surprise to Allied leaders. Although the first attack did not take place until the middle of June 1944, British intelligence had known about German research in this area since 1939. Throughout 1942 and 1943, evidence continued to accumulate that this research had progressed beyond the simple experimentation stage. For several years, German scientists had been laboring at several locations, especially Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea, to perfect these systems to strike at the English enemy. By early 1943 it became apparent to British intelligence specialists that these programs were potentially dangerous and that the government needed to take action. It was ironic that this news arrived just as the prospects for Allied success in the war against Nazi Germany were improving. America had been in the conflict for more than a year, and its forces were now fighting the German army in North Africa. Its buildup of troops in the British Isles continued, and the US Eighth Air Force had joined RAF Bomber Command in its campaign against German industry. The Soviet Red Army had thrown back the Nazi offensive at Stalingrad and appeared to have turned the tide in the east. But it was premature to celebrate as new weapons emerged that seemed to threaten the foundation of the Anglo-American war effort. From the week after D-Day in June 1944 until the end of the war, British civilians lived under the constant bombardment of Hitler’s so-called vengeance weapons (Vergeltungswaffe). Most students of the Second World War are aware that the V-1 pilotless bomb and the V-2 rocket wreaked havoc on London, eastern England, and Antwerp until March 1945, when Allied forces overran the last launcher units. When it was over, the V-weapons had killed approximately 9,000 British and 1,400 Belgian civilians and wounded more than twice that many.

This shooting war, however, began almost a year earlier, under Operation Crossbow. From June 1943 until the end of the war, Allied heavy bombers attacked Peenemünde and other construction and testing facilities in Germany. These attacks fit into the already established parameters of the Combined Bomber Offensive, so there was no actual diversion of effort. What was a controversial deviation from the strategic forces’ intended role, however, was their large-scale employment to attack these systems and their facilities in France. Crossbow was a massive effort that from August 1943 until August 1944 consumed more than 15 percent of the total tonnage dropped by the RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force. This operation also drained the resources of the two tactical air forces, the US Ninth Air Force and RAF Second Tactical Air Forces, as medium bombers and fighter-bombers attacked suspected V-weapon facilities. So important was it to the Combined Chiefs of Staff to find these launchers that from May 1943 until April 1945 it dispatched more than four thousand reconnaissance sorties in search of these weapons, more than 40 percent of the total. Across northwestern France, most of these attacks, often with more than fifty bombers at a time, took place near the small villages that dot the departments of Pas-de-Calais, Somme, and Nord. Few remember these events. Unlike the bombing of Rouen, Le Havre, Caen, and Saint-Lô, whose citizens have commemorated the Allied destruction of their cities, there are few memorials to the French citizens of this region. The number of casualties caused by this and related bombing efforts is not insignificant. Although exact losses are always difficult to estimate, Allied air attacks collectively killed approximately 8,460 civilians in the departments of the Pas-de-Calais, the Nord, and the Somme. If just 10 percent of those were as a result of the Noball offensive, which is reasonable considering the dispersion of the various launchers, then it is a figure worth noting in the historical record.

The descriptions of the V-weapon war fall into several incomplete historical narratives. One group of historians focuses on the technical aspects of these advanced weapons systems and the construction of the French launching sites. These works, while essential to understanding the vengeance weapon programs, generally fail to describe the effect of the bombing of these facilities on the French. British historian Norman Longmate typifies the second group of authors, who focus on the German use of these systems against targets in the United Kingdom. His books chronicle the suffering of the British living under these attacks and the determined efforts of fighter pilots to shoot down the flying bombs before they could do any damage. His is the narrative that most Englishmen who lived through that period can identify with. The third group of books is the official histories, which are the traditional sources for understanding the relationship of Allied bombing operations against these weapons, their launchers, and support facilities. In general, these historians see the commitment of bombers against these rocket sites as a diversion of precious air resources from their primary tasks, and they downplay their overall importance. All these traditional accounts fail to grapple with the damage bombing raids caused among the French towns and villages. Some historians have begun correcting this imbalance and are going beyond English-centric narratives and descriptions of construction and technical data. Regional historians, those who have grown up among the concrete ruins and have heard from their elders the stories of the bombing, have done the best work in this field. Finally, absent from almost all discussions are the forced laborers who constructed the massive concrete facilities. The thousands of people the Germans worked to death pouring concrete and digging into hillsides have been all but lost to history and assimilated into general discussions of the Holocaust. This group probably suffered from the Allied bombing in the same manner as other French civilians.

Vengeance Systems

Ultimately, three major systems emerged as Hitler’s vengeance weapons, his attempt to punish the English tormentors who refused to surrender to the logic of Nazi domination and continued to bomb German cities. Collectively, they represented a significant threat to the United Kingdom, the Allied war effort in general, and the invasion of northwest Europe in particular. Building the infrastructure for these systems was a massive effort that strained the German wartime economy. Constructing the dozen or so large launcher facilities, approximately ninety smaller launching sites, and a host of supply and storage installations drained workers and resources away from other construction priorities. Organisation Todt, the Nazi building contractor, had hoped to accomplish this work with volunteer and conscripted workers. There was never enough civilian labor, and ultimately it needed to resort to slave labor to keep the work on schedule. The first weapon placed into use was the Luftwaffe-designed flying bomb, the FZG-76 (Flakzielgerat 76), better known as the V-1 (Vergeltunswaffe 1) or Vengeance Weapon 1, intended to be launched from permanent sites. It was essentially a pilotless aircraft with a one-ton warhead and a unique-sounding pulse-jet engine. A magnetic-gyro compass guided it toward its destination. It flew at approximately 300 miles per hour until it ran out of fuel, a distance of 120 to 140 miles. Once it stopped, its one-ton high-explosive warhead crashed into the ground.

The second system was the Aggregat 4 or A-4, better known as the V-2 (Vergeltunswaffe 2) or Vengeance Weapon 2. Werner von Braun, who would later contribute to the American space program, developed it for the German army based on ideas developed by American scientist Robert Goddard. It was a long-range ballistic missile originally designed to be fired from fixed facilities in France and Belgium. In the last years of the war, this was the Nazi regime’s most expensive armament project and, in Hitler’s view, the best way to defeat the Anglo-American invaders. Each of these forty-five-foot systems traveled at more than three thousand miles per hour and carried a one-ton, high-explosive warhead. In open terrain, it could create a crater thirty-forty yards in diameter and ten to fifteen yards deep. Obviously, it was capable of doing widespread damage if it hit a city.

Crossbow Overview

As early as 1939, the British government was aware of several military rocket programs under development in Germany, and by the end of 1942 the intelligence services were receiving regular reports of rocket tests along the Baltic coast. Between January and June 1943, long-range reconnaissance flights had confirmed the existence of a testing area at Peenemünde, ninety miles east of Rostock, and had clearly identified the presence of rockets. At the same time, reports continued to accumulate about large-scale excavations and construction in the Pas-de-Calais and Manche departments of northern France. In April 1943 Churchill received his first detailed briefing on the possibility of long-range rockets aimed at London. The British Chiefs of Staff formed a special committee to monitor the developing threat and appointed a member of Parliament and Churchill’s son-in-law, Duncan Sandys, to head it. The primary task of this group was to figure out what the Germans were up to, what was the actual threat, and how the Allies could defeat it. A few members of the government doubted the existence of a rocket program, arguing it was a German hoax, but the evidence continued to accumulate as Sandys continued his investigation. Soon he had silenced their protests.

By early November 1943, the nature of the threat had become relatively clear as intelligence analysts realized that Organisation Todt was constructing three different types of installations in the Pas-de-Calais and the Cotentin Peninsula. Some of these were enormous, with deep excavations surrounded or covered by large amounts of concrete. These experts were still unable to determine their precise purpose but strongly suspected some innovative weapon. As a result, the Air Ministry, which had the best means of responding to enemy actions across the channel, took control of the investigation from Sandys’ committee and began to focus on the military aspects of the problem. Information continued to flow into London from a variety of sources, and by the beginning of 1944 it was evident that there were at least two different long-range weapon threats. Analysts reported that they had identified Flak Regiment 155W, with a headquarters in Amiens, which commanded 108 flying-bomb catapults designed to launch these unique aircraft. The prospect of rockets raining down on the United Kingdom could affect the nation’s will to fight and the Allies’ ability to invade the continent. Experts presented Churchill with estimates indicating that these rockets could inflict severe casualties upon the capital’s population, upwards of 30,000 killed and wounded. The British Chiefs of Staff were also concerned about the potential damage these weapons could do to the preparations for the landings in France. In the middle of December, they asked Frederick Morgan, still serving as the chief Overlord planner before Eisenhower’s arrival, about the potential effects of the rockets on the staging and execution of the invasion. They also inquired if he should consider mounting Operation Overlord from bases out of range of the vengeance weapons, such as harbors in Ireland, Northern Britain, or even the United States. The staff needed to know the chief planner’s thoughts and when they would have to make this decision. Morgan argued that the invasion had to be launched from the south, and he needed to know “at once” if he needed to make any significant changes in his plan. The chiefs directed no changes to the current preparations.

As the plan to deal with these weapons, known as Crossbow, emerged, it contained several distinct sets of action. Most immediately, the government developed a civil defense and security plan that integrated observers, detection devices, balloons, and interceptor aircraft. These improved on the measures developed earlier during the German air force’s bombing of London, but the staff was not overly optimistic about their effectiveness. The second aspect of the plan was the destruction of test sites and factories in Germany. The third and final portion of the operation was to destroy launching sites on the continent. They called this process Noball, which is the code name used for all missions and target lists against vengeance weapons in France.

The British public first became aware of this threat with the first V-1 attack, code-named Diver, a week after the Normandy invasion, during the night of June 12 and 13, when four bombs hit targets around London. A few days later, the barrage began in earnest with Flak Regiment 155W sending as many as one hundred flying bombs toward London each day. The most intense phase of this bombardment took place from June through the end of August 1944. During this period, the Germans controlled the French Pas-de-Calais region and used the plethora of modified launching sites scattered across the countryside. By June 18 the political panic within the British government was such that Eisenhower felt the need to pointedly tell Tedder that destroying Noball targets “are to take first priority over everything except the urgent requirements of the battle.” By July the British cabinet was debating using poison gas to contaminate launchers in France and as retaliation against the German homeland. Allied success on the battlefield muted such discussions, and as the Allies broke out of the Normandy bridgehead in July and began heading north, they overran these sites, sending the launch crews scurrying toward the Netherlands and Germany.

The first V-2 rocket attack, code-named Big Ben, hit London on September 8. There were few defensive measures the British could implement to stop the attacks. The rockets simply traveled too fast to be stopped by any system in the Allied inventory. The only effective defense was to continue to attack supply sites and factories in Germany. Rocket attacks continued against London and other cities in Europe until March 1945, when Allied ground forces overran most of Germany’s industrial area.

Executing Noball

British intelligence eventually identified four kinds of Noball targets in France: heavy sites, ski sites, modified sites, and supply and support facilities. It was the discovery of the nine large construction sites in the Pas-de-Calais region and the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg that first captured the attention of British intelligence analysts. Throughout 1943 Organisation Todt’s building units, supported by thousands of slave workers and conscripted civilian labor, began excavating and building what British documents refer to as the “heavy” Crossbow sites. After the war, the Allies discovered that the German air force had responsibility for four of these, which were intended to store, assemble, and launch a large number of V-1 flying bombs. Code-named “Wasserwerk,” or water works, by the Germans to hide their purpose, these were primarily long tunnels with gaps in the ceiling to fire rockets toward London. In the Cotentin, they built one in Tamerville, northeast of Valognes, and the other at Couville, southwest of Cherbourg. The US Army’s VII Corps overran both of these installations in late June 1944. The other two were Lottinghen, east of Boulogne, and Siracourt, west of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais. Siracourt was typical of these kinds of launching sites. The dozen or so houses at the beginning of the war contained fewer than 140 citizens, mostly farmers and their families. The German army evacuated the French civilians as Organisation Todt arrived in the spring of 1943. On a little hill, just west of the village, contractors began construction in September. This facility was to be the first of four to process, store, and possibly fire the V-1. The main construction was 625 feet long and 132 feet wide and oriented at a right angle to London. The 1,200 workers, primarily Russians, Poles, Yugoslavs, and French forced labor, lived in a camp at Croix-en-Ternois a little more than a mile away. Under the supervision of Organisation Todt’s guard force (Schützkommando), the workers ultimately built the structure and poured more than 50,000 cubic meters of concrete to make it invulnerable to Allied bombers. Because of the bombing, however, it was impossible to finish its construction. As a result, the Germans never fired a flying bomb from it, and it fell to Canadian troops in September 1944.

The German army controlled the V-2 rockets, and it designed large concrete installations, capable of launching seven to ten rockets per day, with sophisticated storage and assembly capability. For example, the launchers at Wizernes, next to Saint-Omer, lay beneath a massive concrete cupola twenty feet thick and were capable of launching their rockets from two platforms. Other sites at Watten (Éperlecques), near Calais, and Sottevast, near Cherbourg, were just as massive and required millions of tons of concrete. Forty-four miles north of Siracourt and eleven miles northwest of the Luftwaffe airfields at Saint-Omer is the three-square-mile complex at Watten. On its southwest corner, Organisation Todt built a massive structure that came to be called the Blockhaus. It was an incredibly large structure that absorbed thousands of tons of concrete and the forced labor of thousands of unfortunate workers. Based on experience at the submarine pens along the coast, the German engineers expected it to withstand the bombardment of whatever the enemy could drop on top. The Allies never understood its exact purpose but knew they had to destroy anything that was consuming so much German effort. It was the first site detected by British reconnaissance. Duncan Sandys never believed it had an offensive capability and, even after his visit in October, considered it to be a plant for the production of hydrogen peroxide, which the Germans were using as a fuel. Postwar records and analysis indicate, though, that it may have served as a general storage, assembly, and launching facility in, according to one researcher, “a bomb-proof environment.” Most experts believe it was capable of launching rockets on its own.

Twelve miles south of the Blockhaus near Saint-Omer is the village of Wizernes. In an old quarry, Organisation Todt constructed one of the largest installations of the war, the V-2 launcher site known as La Coupole, or the dome, for the most impressive aspect of the facility. Todt designed it to assemble, fuel, and fire rockets from within the protected site. Upwards of 1,300 forced laborers worked on this project twenty-four hours a day. Like the Blockhaus, it had two launcher ramps that could fire rockets simultaneously and was probably the most sophisticated of the vengeance weapon launching sites. By March 1944 British intelligence was convinced that it needed to be added to the list of Noball targets. The most sinister of V-2 launcher sites was the silo complex west of Cherbourg near La Hague. These, generally overlooked by Allied intelligence, resemble the later American nuclear missile silos of the Cold War. It never became operational, and the US VII Corps occupied this region in July 1944. The problem for the Germans was that the construction crews could not hide the extensive work sites from the hundreds of Allied reconnaissance aircraft searching for signs of activity. The continuous bombing of the extensive excavations in France meant the Germans could not complete the launching facilities, which ended any possibility of the German air force using them. Ultimately, the Germans would fire no V-2 rockets from fixed sites but would employ mobile launchers that were essentially impossible for the Allies to detect in advance.

Eleven miles from Cap Gris-Nez, across the channel from Dover and ninety-five miles from the center of London, is a facility unique among the heavy sites. The British knew the Nazis were developing a long-range gun, but they did not know any details. The German army had done this before, and Allied commanders had visions of a weapon similar to the artillery used to bombard Paris in the previous conflict or the large guns deployed along the French coast. Therefore, most analysts believed the construction at Mimoyecques, France, was a variation on a V-2 launch site, since it bore no resemblance to anything with which they were familiar. Also, since most of the workers were German, few details emerged as to its actual intent. In reality, the site housed something revolutionary, a large battery of long-range guns, called Hochdruckpumpe (high-pressure pump) guns, later referred to by the Allies as Vengeance Weapon-3. Each 330-foot smooth-bore gun was to be capable of firing a six-foot-long dart about a hundred miles. Its range was the product of added velocity created by solid rocket boosters arrayed along the edge of the tube. Each projectile could carry about forty pounds of high explosives. The plan was to construct banks of five guns each with the potential of firing six hundred rounds per hour toward London. British intelligence knew little about what was going on inside the facility. After the war, Duncan Sandys’ investigation of the large sites discovered the true nature of the threat they had faced. Fortunately, Allied air attacks prevented Organisation Todt from ever finishing its work and German gunners were never able to fire these weapons.

The second kind of targets identified by Allied analysts were the so-called ski sites, named from the configuration of several buildings that looked like snow skis on their side. By late 1943 British intelligence officers had identified between seventy and eighty of these, hidden in the hundreds of wooden patches that dot the northwestern French countryside, with their launchers pointed directly at their intended target. If left alone, each one of these small installations could hurl fifteen FZG-76 flying bombs across the channel each day. The cumulative effect of hundreds of these striking London daily would not help civilian morale. They also posed a direct threat to the harbors from which the Allies would launch and sustain the invasion. One of the first sites identified by intelligence analysts was in the Bois Carré (Square Woods) about three-quarters of a mile east of Yvrench and ten miles northeast of Abbeville on the Somme. A French Resistance agent was able to infiltrate the construction site in October 1943 and smuggle out some of earliest detailed descriptions of a ski site layout. The long catapult, generally visible from the sky and quickly identified by reconnaissance aircraft, became the signature target indicator. As a result, even with extensive camouflage, they were identified, targeted, and destroyed by Anglo-American aircraft. As a result, none of these installations ever became operational.

Soon after the first air attacks, German leaders began considering an alternative method of launching the V-1. Security and concealment now became a priority, and these modified launcher sites were better camouflaged and of simpler construction. These new launchers no longer had many of the standard buildings, especially those that resembled skis, which had contributed to their rapid discovery by intelligence specialists. With minimal permanent construction, the only identifiable features were an easily hidden concrete foundation for the launch ramp and a small building to set the bomb’s compass. Other buildings were designed to blend into the environment or to look like the local farmhouses. All this took less than a week to fabricate, and forced labor no longer did the construction work, as German soldiers prepared each site in secret. Supply crews delivered the flying bombs directly to the launcher from a hidden location, assembled and ready to launch. All the teams needed to do was set the compass and mount it on the catapult. Difficult to locate from the air, these launchers would remain operational until overrun by Allied ground troops in early September 1944. After that, the Germans launched their V-1 rockets from sites in the Netherlands or from German bombers specially configured to fire these weapons.

One week after the last V-1 flew from French soil, the V-2 rocket made its first appearance when it slammed into a French village southeast of Paris, killing six civilians. The German army had abandoned any hope of using large fixed sites for anything other than storage, and they now organized the delivery of their rockets as mobile systems, structured around less than a dozen vehicles and trailers. While the rocket was still hidden, crews prepared it for launch, a process that took between four and six hours. Within two hours of mission time, the firing unit deployed to a previously surveyed site and erected the rocket on a mobile pad. As soon as it was on the way, the soldiers disappeared into the woods, leaving little trace of the launch. Unless an Allied fighter happened to catch the Germans during the short preparation process, there was little the air forces could do to prevent launches. The Germans fired none of the mobile V-2s from French soil, but fired them instead from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. While not part of the discussion of bombing France, these rockets are an important reminder that the Germans continued to use mobile sites until the end of the war.

The final kinds of Noball targets were the supply sites that provided rockets for the individual firing units and the transportation network that supported them. By February 1944 the Allies had determined that seven facilities existed, one on the Cotentin Peninsula and the remainder arrayed just east of the belt of launchers. These, however, were relatively difficult to attack and were often located within underground bunkers or railroad tunnels, under fortresses, or deep within thick woods. They also were often protected by extensive anti-aircraft artillery. More vulnerable were the various rail yards that served as offload and staging points for these systems. Rail stations in Saint-Omer, Bethune, Lille, Lens, and Arras were the crucial nodes in this network. Attacking these transportation nodes also supported the goals of the Transportation Plan, the Allied attack of bridges along the Seine and Loire, and Operation Fortitude, the effort to deceive the Germans as to the actual location of the invasion.



Operation Crossbow Part II

V-1 Rocket attacked by Spitfire F Mk XVI

Effect on France

The standard British narrative omits or minimizes the effect of this campaign on the environment and people who lived near the concrete launcher facilities. War is not merely a sport played on a designated field between military teams, but is a multidimensional tornado of violence that scars the land and people through which it passes. The skies of this small corner of Europe—three departments, the Nord, the Pas-de-Calais, and the Somme, together smaller in size than the state of New Jersey—were never empty of combat aircraft as the Allies searched for these vengeance weapons. As pointed out earlier, these aircraft were not extremely accurate. American and British air commanders, especially those in charge of the heavy bombers, seldom made claims about bombing precision. In almost every case, no matter how small the target, a minimum of a dozen B-17s or Lancasters, the general flight configuration of operations over Germany, executed the attack. Unlike during raids against the Ruhr or industrial complexes across the Rhine, few Luftwaffe fighters defended these sites. Flying high above the objective, in the same formations they used in the heart of Germany, crews dropped their munitions with the intent to pulverize the installation by the cumulative effect of the explosive tonnage. As the authors of WPD-1 anticipated, most bombs missed the target. Some got close and affected the facility’s supply routes, while others only tore up farmers’ fields and killed their livestock. Many others physically destroyed the farms and villages near the objective, killing or wounding those who lived there. Therefore, in evaluating Operation Crossbow’s effect on France, we can examine it from three different aspects: the intensity of the air attacks, the inaccuracy of the attacks on these targets, and the killing and wounding of those near the bombing attacks.

The intensity of the bombing effort against Noball targets is difficult to understand in the contemporary era of precision munitions. According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, published soon after the war, this operation consumed 13.7 percent of all sorties, almost 37,000, launched by the Allied strategic air forces from August 1943 until August 1944. From December 1943 through June 11, 1944, more than 15.5 percent of all bombs dropped by heavy bombers were aimed at fixed sites in France. The tactical air forces conducted more than 4,000 reconnaissance sorties, 40 percent of the total between May 1943 to April 1945, to find the launchers and their supporting facilities. The northern French departments of Nord, Pas-de-Calais, and the Somme was one of the most heavily bombed parts of France if measured by individual missions. During the first three months of 1944, more than 50 percent of all bombs dropped in the country fell on these three small departments. The bombing’s scale is reflected in three ways: the number of attacks in the region, the number on a given target, and the intensity of a bombing mission. For example, in the space of just one month, February 1944, the towns of the Pas-de-Calais, an area smaller than the state of Delaware, absorbed 124 separate attacks, ranging in size from one or two aircraft to several dozen. Some areas, such as the installations at Siracourt and Éperlecques, were each hit several times. By spring, the weather had improved and the Allies had more aircraft available. On just one day, April 20, the region endured thirty-six separate attacks. The following month, during the week of May 7–13, this same small area absorbed more than seventy-one separate raids. The Allies increased the pace of these attacks as the June landings approached, and, shortly after that, the German air force began to launch flying bombs from the improvised sites toward London.

A second way to understand scale is to consider the number of missions flown against the individual sites. The large installations in the Pas-de-Calais absorbed an incredible number of bombs. The facility at Mimoyecques, what British investigators later discovered as the home of the Hochdrukpumpe (V-3), is typical of the offensive against the most prominent targets. Beginning with the first raid on November 5, 1943, the entire complex remained in a state of increasing pulverization. Determining the exact number of sorties that attacked this or any target is difficult. Records usually include reports of the intended target and what pilots thought they were attacking. Some hit the wrong objective without even knowing it. Other crews, especially those in the tactical air forces, hit targets of opportunity. Observers on the ground reported Allied air attacks on days not mentioned in the documents now stored in London or American archives. In the case of Mimoyecques, Allied bombers attacked seventeen times between November 1943 and July 6, 1944. Most missions ranged in size from 10 to 40 aircraft. Several raids were enormous in relationship to the targets, with more than 280 heavy bombers pulverizing the area on November 5, 1943, another 300 on March 19, and 350 on March 26. Two raids on July 6 essentially ended all work on the site. The morning strike of more than 85 Lancasters was with conventional munitions, mainly 500-pound bombs. An afternoon attack of the RAF’s crack 617 Squadron, equipped with 17 Lancaster bombers carrying 12,000-pound Tallboy bombs, finished the destruction of the facility.

In the case of the Wasserwerk at Siracourt, for example, 74 US B-24 Liberator bombers arrived overhead on January 31, 1944. Each bombardier aimed to place his payload on top of a building the size of a modern football field. As the Air Force knew, the probability of actually hitting the target was quite small. The 189 tons of ordnance had little effect on the construction, as most bombs fell in fields far from the actual target. The attack destroyed one building and damaged nine in the village. Bombs also hit two buildings in the local village of Croix-en-Ternois, where the workers who built the facility lived. This attack was the first of thirty-three, conducted by more than 1,200 bombers, which would take place over the next year. The Eighth Air Force struck six times in February, twice in March, four times in April, and six times in May. The Ninth Air Force attacked Siracourt on March 18 and April 22. These were, from the airmen’s perspective, relatively easy missions. During a May 21 mission, for example, each aircraft carried eight 1,000-pound bombs. The 99 B-17 bombers had P-47 Thunderbolt fighters as escorts all the way and encountered no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft artillery. Dropping their bombs at 21,000 feet at ground obscured by clouds, crews had no idea of what kind of damage their explosives caused. As one crewman remarked in his journal, “This raid was short and sweet. . . . Hope I have 27 more just like this one.” The Allies continued to attack this target, just in case, until the end of June.

Another good example is the Blockhaus at Watten in the Éperlecques forest. The Eighth Air Force sent more than 180 B-17 bombers to take out the site on August 27, 1943. The first aircraft hit as scheduled at 1845 hours. Allied planners, based on reports from the French Resistance, planned to arrive at 1830, when the work site was unoccupied because of a shift change, to avoid killing the workers. But because they were behind schedule, Todt’s contractors had kept the day shift on the job to catch up. The 374 2,000-pound bombs found the slave laborers at their stations. Hundreds died as American bombers continued to drop their cargo for almost an hour. When it was over, five bombs had hit the target, with the remainder landing in the forest and nearby farmland. Contrary to initial positive reports, the raid inflicted little actual damage, and the Germans continued the construction. Over the next year, British and American bombers would attack this massive structure at least twenty-four more times, and each time the workers repaired the damage and continued working.

The last attack in this series was an Operation Aphrodite mission on August 4. Aphrodite was an American attempt to use worn-out bombers, loaded with explosives and equipped with newly developed radio guidance systems, to destroy important targets. Essentially each bomber was an early version of a cruise missile. Unfortunately these bombers required live pilots to fly the aircraft from the airfield to a point over the English Channel. Then, the two-person crew was supposed to parachute out of the plane, while a crew in another flew the unmanned bomber by radio control. The goal was to crash the explosive-laden aircraft into the target. Unfortunately the technology was still in development, and these missions were almost always unsuccessful. Such was the case of these two old B-17s that never made it to the objective. The US Navy followed the Air Forces’ lead in these experiments, with as little success. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., brother of future president John F. Kennedy, died when the converted B-24 he was flying to the launch position exploded in mid-air.

The massive La Coupole near Wizernes is another example of a heavily bombed target. The Allies were late as the massive dome was already in place and and mostly invulnerable to attack by March 1943. The first strike, consisting of 34 B-24 bombers, hit on March 11. The 248 1,000-pound bombs did little but damage the local countryside. Nine more raids, comprising 348 heavy bombers and more than 2,000 large bombs, did little damage, and work continued inside, although affected slightly by the damage outside. Bomber Command began attacking La Coupole in June and July with raids of between 80 and 100 aircraft and dropping hundreds of tons of bombs, including several dozen Tallboy 12,000-pounders. The July 17 attack caused the dome to shift and block the entrances, but it did little to affect the site itself. Of course, the countryside was a bombed-out mess, and it was almost impossible for workers and material to get to the construction site. The Germans were long gone when Canadian and Polish troops arrived in the Saint-Omer region at the end of August.

A final way to consider the scale of this operation is the intensity of the attacks on individual sites by specific missions. In addition to the intense bombing of the large sites described above, the V-1 sites absorbed an incredible amount of ordnance. Typical was the installation near Wisques, west of Saint-Omer in the Pas-de-Calais. With fewer than three hundred people, it was a typical farm community. Its most prominent feature was a beautiful nineteenth-century Benedictine abbey on the western part of town on the edge of the local forest. Hidden in that forest was a standard “ski” launch site. Thirty-six A-20 Havoc light bombers arrived overhead on the evening of March 19, 1944, and for almost three hours these aircraft took turns dropping their payloads on the small patch of woods, obscured by fire from antiaircraft guns and smoke from the burning forest. When they had departed, they were not quite sure if they had damaged the target. The Eighth Air Force sent six B-17 heavy bombers on April 20, and the Ninth Air Force returned with B-26 medium bombers two days later on April 22. Twenty-one B-17 heavy bombers returned to attack the installation five days later, and thirty-three P-47 Thunderbolt fighters worked the woods over on June 2, the last recorded attack on the Wisques launcher. Cumulatively, it was a massive amount of combat power directed against a relatively small and insignificant target.

The intensity of these attacks was made worse by the bombers’ notorious inaccuracy. By early 1944, after years of practice, the Eighth Air Force had improved its bombing accuracy to the degree that 36 percent of its bombs fell within one thousand feet of an actual aiming point. Against targets in Germany, this was acceptable, but from the French perspective, most raids conducted by heavy bombers still resembled area attacks. Add considerations such as inclement weather, German ground and air defenses, and simple human error, it is not surprising that bomb runs were often wide of the intended target. Photographs of craters in target areas testify to the broad impact spread of a typical attack. Beyond the damage done to the weapons sites, these runs often hit nearby French villages and individual structures. In some cases, such as the bombing of rail yards, the damage was apparent to all. In most cases, however, the Noball offensive was characterized by the destruction of small farms and villages far from most observers. This “collateral damage,” to use a modern term, is seldom mentioned in reports or dispatches by attacking units. To those who owned these structures, their destruction was an emotional event. The fundamental community structure of the region, dating back to the premedieval era, was a small central cluster of farmhouses and barns with a forest nearby that provided a source of game and lumber. Most of the surrounding open area was devoted to growing grains and potatoes and raising cattle. The nature of these clusters was that if they were near a target, the odds were high that the carpet bombing would destroy them. Reports provided to the local prefect confirm the damage, as do photographs of the bombed areas taken by poststrike reconnaissance aircraft. Immediately after the war, French farmers and property owners filed reports with the local authorities documenting their losses and requesting assistance in rebuilding, reports that can be seen in departmental archives today.

Often the Allies attacked these small villages only once or twice. For example, the town of Blendecques, the location of a V-1 ski site, had about 3,500 inhabitants at the beginning of the war. The town was southeast of the highly militarized region of Saint-Omer, and it is hard to know how many of the original residents were still there. On April 22 the Ninth Air Force raided it for the first and apparently the only time. At around 1900 hours fifty B-26 bombers attacked the site. When the attackers were gone, at least fifty bombs had hit the town, killing five civilians and wounding another three badly. The attack destroyed eleven homes and damaged forty-three others. Month after month, correspondence from the local prefectures across the region identified the damage or destruction to individual homes and structures. While not as dramatic as the bombing of Caen or Rouen, this damage had a substantial effect on the local population, which had now lost their homes and source of livelihood.

Those villages in the shadow of the large sites provide more dramatic examples of the effects of Allied bombing. One good example is the small village of Helfaut, on the south side of the woods near the La Coupole at Wizernes. At the beginning of the war, it had fewer than fifty structures of all kinds: homes, barns, and small shops. One attack on March 19 destroyed ten of those and severely damaged twenty more. By the end of the war, the bombing attacks had mostly destroyed this town and driven its inhabitants away. Apparently aiming for La Coupole on June 20, an Eighth Air Force bombing mission could not find its target, and fifteen B-24 bombers dropped their bombs over the town of Guarbecque, sixteen miles to the southeast. The bombs hit the center perfectly. When the fires were out, the citizens discovered that the attack had damaged their church, destroyed the town hall, and burned more than ninety buildings to the ground. Two weeks after the Normandy landings, American aircraft had almost wiped this French village of slightly less than a thousand inhabitants off the map.

Most dramatic was the destruction that took place near the rail yards and transportation centers that supported the construction of installations and the supply of rockets for the firing batteries. These missions were not part of the Transportation Plan, discussed later, but an integral part of defeating the vengeance weapon threat. Béthune, located in the center of a triangle formed by the cities of Lille, Saint-Omer, and Arras, provides one example of the level of destruction wrought by these bombings. Located along the battle lines of the First World War, this was a rebuilt version of the ancient city. It was a relatively large town, with a densely populated city center of approximately 20,000 inhabitants. In addition to its rail yard, it was a center of regional mining, especially coal. Bombers struck the town and its suburbs on April 20, 21, 22, 23, and 27. In the wake of the bombing, hundreds of buildings were gone, including the rail yard and the housing for miners and railway workers. These are just several of the examples of communities in northwestern France damaged or destroyed as part of the Allied Noball operation.

Each of the material examples described above has a human cost. Each month the department’s préfet, the state’s representative, compiled a list describing the effects of the bombing. Organized by date and community, the report identifies every town bombed or machine-gunned. Most often, the numbers are not large, especially in comparison to the carnage on the eastern front. Six wounded and seven killed at Sallaumines outside of Lens on April 20, 1944. Another five wounded and three dead on May 6, and another seventeen killed and fifteen wounded on May 12, and so on, often with other notations such as that the bombs landed in the field. These casualties continued to accumulate well into July 1944, more than a month after the invasion at Normandy. Sometimes the numbers in the right column attract attention, such as the attack on April 27 that left forty-eight dead and thirty-six wounded at Béthune, or on June 20 at Guarbecque that left eighteen wounded and twenty civilians dead.

The more detailed reports, written by the local officials, are often quite gripping. The bombing on May 12 of the village of Saint-Venant, on the road between Hazebrouck and Béthune, is one such example. The attack killed only one victim, forty-eight-year-old André Pierru, who was working in the field. He was a veteran of the Great War and the 1940 Campaign and a knight of the Legion of Honor. He left behind a wife and a fifteen-year-old son. Reading the report it is evident that to the local police official, Monsieur Pierru was not a simple number, but a friend. Another perspective is the one presented by police officials in the larger town and cities. Here we find reports that describe the nature of the attack and list the dead by name, often including the deceased’s address. For example, the police commissioner of Arras reported by name those killed and wounded during the bombing of April 30. The raid wounded twenty-three citizens and six “sujets russes.” Then he continues with a list of the eight dead:

  • Vasseur, Yvette
  • Greuin, Gaston
  • Fleurquin, Oscar (48 years old)
  • Seneca, Miss
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (15 months old)
  • Rifflart, Kléber
  • Haudiquet, Lucien
  • Van Rokeghem, François (61 years old)

As the weeks went by, officials refined these reports and passed the new information to the national government. Often they reported the subsequent deaths of the wounded in the hospitals and more detailed information as to the scale of the damage to the community. From the countryside, these documents are brief, often only a simple letter. Reports from the larger cities, such as Lille, Calais, and Boulogne-Sur-Mer, provide a similar but longer list of casualties. In the end, it is hard to assess the actual human cost of Noball attacks in isolation from the other operations going on. A local historian, Hugues Chevalier, believes that approximately 5,000 civilians perished in just the Pas-de-Calais under Allied bombs from 1943 to 1945. Of the approximately 60,000 to 70,000 civilians killed in France by aerial bombing, perhaps 10 percent died as a result of the Allied search for German vengeance weapons. Probably two or three times that number were wounded. For many reasons, we will probably never have an accurate accounting of the human toll in this region.

Absent from both the Allied and French narratives of the Noball operation is any commentary on the forced laborers who constructed these sites for Organisation Todt. As Jim Aulich, one of the few scholars to address this aspect of the war, notes, these camps are at the “margins of memory.” Aulich’s father was a forced laborer and helped construct the Blockhaus near Éperlecques, and he passed on some of the details from this camp, of which there were many along the French coast. Officially named Organisation Todt Watten Zwangsarbeiter 62 (Forced Labor Camp 62), it had more than 35,000 workers living there at some point in 1943 and 1944. During peak construction, between 3,000 and 4,000 slaves worked on each twelve-hour shift, seven days a week, with few breaks. The German masters, and perhaps their French contractors, worked most of these unfortunates to death. At Wizernes, 1,300 workmen labored on the site day and night. Badly nourished and abused, they were forced to continue working, even under air attack, until the Germans abandoned the site in July 1944. The last 500 Soviet workers working in the Coupole were sent by train to Germany and “never seen again.” As the bombers approached, German guards ran for cover, often leaving the workers to their own devices. Many, such as Aulich’s father, escaped. The raids were costly nevertheless. As one Dutch prisoner of war, Luc Vandevelde, working at the camp near Watten, noted, after three attacks carried out by more than 320 bombers in 1943, they had more than 1,500 dead. Without question, the nature of this forced labor, and the fate of those workers caught under Allied bombs, is still one of the least discussed and explained aspects of the Second World War in the west.

In the end, the Noball operation was relatively successful. Because of the bombing, neither the Heer nor the Luftwaffe was able to launch a single rocket from the large facilities or ski sites from Normandy or the Cotentin Peninsula toward the overcrowded ports of Plymouth, Bristol, Portsmouth, or Southampton. The three-month delay in V-1 flying bomb launches and as much as a six-month delay in deploying the V-2 rocket were crucial to the ultimate Allied success. But anyone interested in the Second World War in Europe, or those fascinated with the technical aspects of the conflict’s weapons, knows most of this story. The British experience with these attacks, because they were so concentrated in London and southeastern England, is also amply documented and reported in histories of the conflict.

The continental perspective is less well known, even among the French who, as we shall see, are more prone to remember the effects of raids on the larger ports and rail yards. The rural population near each site was small, and the civilian casualty rates relatively insignificant. Even the French who lived near these war ruins understood these were legitimate targets and were taking a risk by remaining. Fortunately, local French historians are doing a marvelous job of researching and explaining the nature, scope, and effects of the attacks on these sites in the three northern departments. Their efforts illuminate the scope and details of a portion of the air war Spaatz and Harris considered a significant diversion from their larger goal of taking the fight to the Germans. Churchill, however, after hearing the British people’s complaints, had a pressing political need to defeat the V-weapon menace, and it was one of his highest priorities, as reflected by Eisenhower’s memorandum to Tedder on June 18. The bombing of these installations in France was thus an important aspect of the Allied air war against France.



In his statement to us at Viazma in the middle of September, General Sokolovsky had made three important points: first, that despite terrible setbacks the Red Army was gradually “grinding down” the Wehrmacht; secondly that it was very likely that the Germans would make one last desperate attempt, or even “several last desperate attempts” to capture Moscow, but they would fail in this; and, thirdly, that the Red Army was well-clothed for a winter campaign.

The impression that the Russians were rapidly learning all kinds of lessons, were dismissing as useless some of the pre-war theories, which were wholly inapplicable to prevailing conditions, and that professional soldiers of the highest order were taking over the command from the Army “politicians” and the “civil war legends” like Budienny and Voroshilov was to be confirmed in the next few weeks. Some brilliant soldiers had survived the Army Purges of 1937–8, notably Zhukov and Shaposhnikov, and had continued at their posts during the worst time of the German invasion; Zhukov had literally saved Leningrad in the nick of time by taking over from Voroshilov when all seemed lost. Apart from him and Shaposhnikov, Timoshenko—a first-class staff officer who had started his career in the Tsar’s army—was almost the only one of the pre-war top brass to prove a man of ability and imagination.

The first months of the war had been a school of the greatest value to the officers of the Red Army, and it was above all those who had distinguished themselves in the operations of June to October 1941 who were to form that brilliant pléiade of generals and marshals the like of whom had not been seen since Napoleon’s Grande Armée. In the course of the summer and autumn important changes had been made in the organisation of the air force by General Novikov, and in the use of artillery by General Voronov; both Zhukov and Konev had played a leading role in holding up the Germans at Smolensk; Rokossovsky, Vatutin, Cherniakhovsky, Rotmistrov, Boldin, Malinovsky, Fedyuninsky, Govorov, Meretskov, Yeremenko, Belov, Lelushenko, Bagramian and numerous other men, who were to become famous during the Battle of Moscow or in other important battles in 1941, were men who had, as it were, won their spurs in the heavy fighting during the first months of the war. Distinction in the field now became Stalin’s criterion in making top army appointments. It is, indeed, perfectly true that “the summer and autumn battles had brought on a military purge, as opposed to a political purge of the military. There was a growing restlessness with the incompetent and the inept. The great and signal strength of the Soviet High Command was that it was able to produce that minimum of high calibre commanders capable of steering the Red Army out of total disaster”.

Undoubtedly some of the commanders had only a purely nominal Party affiliation, and some of the new men, such as Rokossovsky, had actually been victims of the Army Purges of 1937–8, and so could not have had any tender feelings for Stalin.

The Stavka, the General Headquarters of the Soviet High Command was set up on June 23, and a few days later the State Defence Committee (GKO), consisting of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Malenkov and Beria; on July 10 the “Stavka of the High Command” became the “Stavka of the Supreme Command”, with Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Budienny, Shaposhnikov and General Zhukov, the Chief of Staff, as members. On July 19 Stalin became Defence Commissar and on August 7 Commander-in-Chief.

The Commissar system was greatly reinforced; the commissars, as “representatives of the Party and the government in the Red Army” were to watch over the officers’ and soldiers’ morale, and share with the commander full responsibility for the unit’s conduct in battle. They were also to report to the Supreme Command any cases of “unworthiness” amongst either officers or political personnel. This was a hangover from the civil war, and, indeed, from the much more recent period when the officer corps was suspected of unreliability. In practice, in 1941, the commissars proved, in the great majority of cases, to be either men who almost fully supported the officers, or were, at most, a minor technical nuisance; but inspired by the same lutte à outrance spirit, and, faced daily by pressing military tasks, the old political and personal differences between officer and commissar were now usually less harsh than in the past. Even so, the dual command had its drawbacks, and, at the time of Stalingrad, the commissars’ role was to be drastically modified.

Whether or not there was any serious need for giving the officer a “Party whip”, there was certainly even less need for the NKVD’s “rear security units” to check panic through the use of machine-gunners ready to keep the Red Army from any unauthorised withdrawals. “What initial fears there might have been that the troops would not fight were soon dispelled by the stubborn and bitter defence which the Red Army put up against the Germans, fighting, as Halder observed, ‘to the last man’, and employing ‘treacherous methods’ in which the Russian did not cease firing until he was dead”. These “rear security units” were a revival of a practice inherited from the Civil War, and proved wholly unnecessary in 1941, the Army itself dealing rigorously with any cases of cowardice and panic.

The role of the NKVD in actual military operations remains rather obscure, though it is known that, apart from the Frontier Guards, who were under NKVD jurisdiction, and who were the first to meet the German onslaught, there were to be some very important occasions in which NKVD troops fought as battle units—for example at Voronezh in June–July 1942, where they helped to prevent a particularly dangerous German breakthrough. But there was a much grimmer side to the NKVD’s connection with the Red Army; thus, not only Russian prisoners who had managed to escape from the Germans, but even whole Army units who—as so often happened in 1941—had broken out of German encirclement, were subjected as suspects to the most harsh and petty interrogation by the O.O. (Osoby Otdel—Special Department) run by the NKVD. In Simonov’s novel, The Living and the Dead, there is a particularly sickening episode based on actual fact, in which a large number of officers and soldiers break out of a German encirclement after many weeks’ fighting. They are promptly disarmed by the NKVD; but it so happens that at that very moment the Germans have started their offensive against Moscow, and as the disarmed men are being taken to a NKVD sorting station, they are trapped by the Germans, and simply massacred, unable to offer any resistance.

Apart from that, however, the NKVD interfered less than before with the Red Army; the border-line between the military and the “political” elements in the Army was vanishing, and Stalin himself presided over this development. Whatever he had done in the past to weaken the army by his purges and his constant political interference, he had learned his lesson from the summer and autumn of 1941. Voroshilov and Budienny were pushed into the background and the role of the NKVD bosses greatly reduced. The patriotic, nationalist and “1812” line was wholeheartedly taken up by all ranks of the army. All the military talent—discovered and tested in the first battles of the war and, in some cases, before that in the Far East—was assembled, all available reserves were thrown into battle, including some crack divisions from Central Asia and the Far East, a measure made possible by the Non-Aggression Pact concluded with the Japanese in 1939.

Whatever bad memories and reservations the generals may have had, Stalin had become the indispensable unifying factor in the patrie-en-danger atmosphere of October–November 1941. There was no alternative. The Germans were on the outskirts of Leningrad, were pushing through the Donbas on their way to Rostov, and on September 30 the “final” offensive against Moscow had started.

The Battle of Moscow falls, broadly, into three phases: the first German offensive from September 30 to nearly the end of October; the second German offensive from November 17 right up to December 5; and the Russian counter-offensive of December 6, which lasted till spring 1942.

On September 30 Guderian’s panzer units on the southern flank of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) thrust against Glukhov and Orel, which fell on October 2, but were then held up by a tank group under Colonel Katyukov beyond Mtsensk, on the road to Tula. Other German forces launched full scale attacks from the south-west in the Bryansk area and from the west on the Smolensk-Moscow road. Large Soviet troop concentrations were encircled south of Bryansk and in the Viazma area due west of Moscow. The Germans had planned to contain Soviet troops surrounded in the Viazma area mainly by infantry, thus freeing their panzer and motorised divisions for a lightning advance on Moscow. But for more than a week, fighting a circular battle of extreme ferocity, the remnants of the 19th, 20th, 24th and 32nd Armies and the troops under General Boldin tied up most of the German 4th Army and of the 4th Tank Corps. This resistance enabled the Soviet Supreme Command to extricate and withdraw more of their front line troops from the encirclement to the Mozhaisk line and to bring up reserves from the rear.

By October 6 German tank units had broken through the Rzhev-Viazma defence line and were advancing towards the Mozhaisk line of fortified positions some fifty miles west of Moscow, which had been improvised and prepared during the summer of 1941, and ran from Kalinin (north-west of Moscow on the Moscow-Leningrad Railway line), to Kaluga (south-west of Moscow and half-way between Tula and Viazma), Maloyaroslavets and Tula. The few troops manning these defences could halt the advance units of the Heeresgruppe Mitte, but not the bulk of the German forces.

While reinforcements from the Far East and Central Asia were on their way to the Moscow Front, the GKO Headquarters threw in what reserves they could muster. The infantry of Generals Artemiev and Lelushenko and the tanks of General Kurkin which fought here were, by October 9, placed under the direct orders of the Soviet Supreme Command. On the following day Zhukov was appointed C. in C. of the whole front.

But the Germans bypassed the Mozhaisk line from the south and captured Kaluga on October 12. Two days later, outflanking the Mozhaisk line in the north, they broke into Kalinin. After heavy fighting Mozhaisk itself was abandoned on October 18. Already on the 14th fierce battles were raging in the Volokolamsk sector, midway between Mozhaisk and Kalinin, some fifty miles north-west of Moscow.

The situation was extremely serious. There was no continuous front any more. The German air force was master of the sky. German tank units, penetrating deep into the rear, were forcing the Red Army units to retreat to new positions to avoid encirclement. Together with the army, thousands of Soviet civilians were moving east. People on foot, or in horse carts, cattle, cars, were moving east in a continuous stream along all the roads, making troop movements even more difficult.

Despite stiff resistance everywhere, the Germans were closing in on Moscow from all directions. It was two days after the fall of Kalinin, and when the threat of a breakthrough from Volokolamsk to Istra and Moscow looked a near-certainty, that the “Moscow panic” reached its height. This was on October 16. To this day the story is current that, on that morning, two German tanks broke into Khimki, a northern suburb of Moscow, where they were promptly destroyed; that two such tanks ever existed, except in some frightened Muscovite’s imagination, is not confirmed by any serious source.

What happened in Moscow on October 16? Many have spoken of the big skedaddle (bolshoi drap) that took place that day. Although, as we shall see, this is an over-generalisation, October 16 in Moscow was certainly not a tale of the “unanimous heroism of the people of Moscow” as recorded in the official History.

It took the Moscow population several days to realise how serious the new German offensive was. During the last days of September and, indeed, for the first few days of October, all attention was centred on the big German offensive in the Ukraine, the news of the breakthrough into the Crimea, and the Beaverbrook visit, which had begun on September 29. At his press conference on September 28 Lozovsky had tried to sound very reassuring, saying that the Germans were losing “many tens of thousands dead” outside Leningrad, but that no matter how many more they lost, they still wouldn’t get into Leningrad; he also said that “communications continued to be maintained”, and that, although there was rationing in the city, there was no food shortage. He also said that there was heavy fighting “for the Crimea”, but denied that the Germans had as yet crossed the Perekop Isthmus. As for the German claim of having captured 500,000 or 600,000 prisoners in the Ukraine, after the loss of Kiev, he was much more cagey, saying that the battle was continuing, and that it was not in the Russian’s interest to give out information prematurely. However, he added the somewhat sinister phrase: “The farther east the Germans push, the nearer will they get to the grave of Nazi Germany.” He seemed to be prepared for the loss of Kharkov and the Donbas, though he did not say so.

It did not become clear until October 4 or 5 that an offensive against Moscow had started, and, even so, it was not clear how big it was. There was, needless to say, nothing in the Russian papers about Hitler’s speech of October 2 announcing his “final” drive against Moscow.

However, Lozovsky referred to it in his press conference of October 7. He looked slightly flustered, but said that Hitler’s speech only showed that the fellow was getting desperate.

“He knows he isn’t going to win the war, but he has to keep the Germans more or less contented during the winter, and he must therefore achieve some major success, which would suggest that a certain stage of the war has closed. The second reason why it is essential for Hitler to do something big is the Anglo-American-Soviet agreement, which has caused a feeling of despondency in Germany. The Germans could, at a pinch, swallow a ‘Bolshevik’ agreement with Britain, but a ‘Bolshevik’ agreement with America was more than the Germans had ever expected.” Lozovsky added that, anyway, the capture of this or that city would not affect the final outcome of the war. It was as if he was already preparing the press for the possible loss of Moscow. Yet he managed to end on a note of bravado: “If the Germans want to see a few hundred thousand more of their people killed, they’ll succeed in that—if in nothing else.”

The news on the night of the 7th was even worse, with the first official reference to “heavy fighting in the direction of Viazma”.

On the 8th, while Pravda and Izvestia were careful not to sound too alarmed (Pravda actually started with a routine article on “The Work of Women in War-Time”), the army paper, Red Star, looked extremely disquieting. It said that “the very existence of the Soviet State was in danger”, and that every man of the Red Army “must stand firm and fight to the last drop of blood”. It described the new German offensive as a last desperate fling:

Hitler has thrown into it everything he has got—even every old and obsolete tank, every midget tank the Germans have collected in Holland, France or Belgium has been thrown into this battle… The Soviet soldiers must at any price destroy these tanks, old and new, large or small. All the riff-raff armour of ruined Europe is being thrown against the Soviet Union.

Pravda sounded the alarm on the 9th, warning the people of Moscow against “careless complacency” and calling on them to “mobilise all their forces to repel the enemy’s offensive”. On the following day it called for “vigilance” saying that, in addition to advancing on Moscow, “the enemy is also trying, through the wide network of its agents, spies and agents-provocateurs, to disorganise the rear and to create panic”. On October 12, Pravda spoke of the “terrible danger” threatening the country.

Even without the help of enemy agents, there was enough in Pravda to spread the greatest alarm among the population of Moscow. Talk of evacuation had begun on the 8th, and foreign embassies as well as numerous Russian government offices and institutions were told to expect a decision on it very shortly. The atmosphere was becoming extremely tense. There was talk of Moscow as a “super-Madrid” among the braver, and feverish attempts to get away among the less brave.

By October 13, the situation in Moscow had become highly critical. Numerous German troops which had, for over a week, been held up by the “Viazma encirclement”, had become available for the final attack on Moscow. The “Western” Front, under the general command of General Zhukov, assisted by General Konev, and with General Sokolovsky as Chief of Staff, consisted of four sectors: Volokolamsk under Rokossovsky; Mozhaisk under Govorov, Maloyaroslavets under Golubev and Kaluga under Zakharkin. There was absolutely no certainty that a German breakthrough could be prevented, and on October 12, the State Defence Committee had decided to call upon the people of Moscow to build a defence line some distance outside Moscow, another one right along the city border, and two supplementary city lines along the outer and inner rings of boulevards within Moscow itself.

On the morning of October 13, Shcherbakov, Secretary of the Central Committee and of the Moscow Party Committee of the Communist Party, spoke at a meeting called by the Moscow Party Organisation: “Let us not shut our eyes. Moscow is in danger.” He appealed to the workers of the city to send all possible reserves to the front and to the defence lines both inside and outside the city; and to increase greatly the output of arms and munitions.

The resolution passed by the Moscow Organisation called for “iron discipline, a merciless struggle against even the slightest manifestations of panic, against cowards, deserters and rumour-mongers”. The resolution further decided that, within two or three days, each Moscow district should assemble a battalion of volunteers; these came to be known as Moscow’s “Communist Battalions” and were, like some of the opolcheniye regiments, to play an important role in the defence of Moscow by filling in “gaps”—at a very heavy cost in lives. Within three days, 12,000 such volunteers were formed into platoons and battalions, most of them with little military training and no fighting experience.

It was on October 12 and 13 that it was decided to evacuate immediately to Kuibyshev and other cities in the east a large number of government offices, including many People’s Commissariats, part of the Party organisations, and the entire diplomatic corps of Moscow. Moscow’s most important armaments works were to be evacuated as well. Practically all “scientific and cultural institutions” such as the Academy of Sciences, the University and the theatres were to be moved.

But the State Defence Committee, the Stavka of the Supreme Command, and a skeleton administration were to stay on in Moscow until further notice. The principal newspapers such as Pravda, Red Star, Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Trud, continued to be published in the capital.

The news of these evacuations was followed by the official communiqué published on the morning of October 16. It said: “During the night of October 14–15 the position on the Western Front became worse. The German-Fascist troops hurled against our troops large quantities of tanks and motorised infantry, and in one sector broke through our defences.”

In describing the great October crisis in Moscow it is important to distinguish between three factors. First, the Army, which fought on desperately against superior enemy forces, and yielded ground only very slowly, although owing to relatively poor maneuverability, it was unable to prevent some spectacular German local successes, such as the capture of Kaluga in the south on the 12th, of Kalinin in the north on the 14th, or that breakthrough in what was rather vaguely described as “the Volokolamsk sector” to which the “panic communiqué”, published on October 16, referred. Even long afterwards it was believed in Moscow that on the 15th the Germans had crashed through much further towards Moscow than is apparent today from any published record of the fighting. Only then, it was said, did Rokossovsky stop the rot by throwing in the last reserves, including scarcely-trained opolchentsy, and troops from Siberia as soon as they disembarked from the trains. There are countless stories of regular soldiers and even opolchentsy attacking German tanks with hand grenades and with “petrol bottles”, and of other “last ditch” exploits. The morale of the fighting forces certainly did not crack. The fact that fresh troops from the Far East and Central Asia were being thrown in all the time, though only in limited numbers, had a salutary effect in keeping up the spirit of the troops who had already fought without respite for over a fortnight.

Secondly, there was the Moscow working-class; most of them were ready to put in long hours of overtime in factories producing armaments and ammunition; to build defences; to fight the Germans inside Moscow should they break through, or, if all failed, to “follow the Red Army to the east”. However, there were different shades in the determination of the workers to “defend Moscow” at all costs. The very fact that not more than 12,000 should have volunteered for the “Communist brigades” at the height of the near-panic of October 13–16 seems indicative; was it because, to many, these improvised battalions seemed futile in this kind of war, or was it because, at the back of many workers’ minds, there was the idea that Russia was still vast, and that it might be more advantageous to fight the decisive battle somewhere east.

Thirdly, there was a large mass of Muscovites, difficult to classify, who were more responsible than the others for “the great skedaddle” of October 16. These included anybody from plain obyvateli, ready to run away from danger, to small, medium and even high Party or non-Party officials who felt that Moscow had become a job for the Army, and that there was not much that civilians could do. Among these people there was a genuine fear of finding themselves under German occupation, and, with regular passes, or with passes of sorts they had somehow wangled—or sometimes with no passes at all—people fled to the east, just as in Paris people had fled to the south in 1940 as the Germans approached the capital.

Later, many of these people were to be bitterly ashamed of having fled, of having overrated the might of the Germans, of having not had enough confidence in the Red Army. And yet, had not the Government shown the way, as it were, by frantically speeding up on all those evacuations from the 10th of October onwards?

Especially in 1942 the “big skedaddle” of October 16 continued to be a nasty memory with many. There were some grim jokes on the subject—especially in connection with the medal “For the Defence of Moscow” that had been distributed lavishly among the soldiers and civilians; there was the joke about the two kinds of ribbons—some Moscow medals should be suspended on the regular moiré ribbon, others on a drap ribbon—drap meaning both a thick kind of cloth and skedaddle. There was also the joke of a famous and very plump and well-equipped actress who had received a Moscow Medal “for defending Moscow from Kuibyshev with her breast”.

I remember Surkov telling me that when he arrived in Moscow from the front on the 16th, he phoned some fifteen or twenty of his friends, and all had vanished.

In “fiction”, more than in formal history, there are some valuable descriptions of Moscow at the height of the crisis—for instance in Simonov’s The Living and the Dead already quoted. Here is a picture of Moscow during that grim 16th of October and the following days—with the railway station stampedes; with officials fleeing in their cars without a permit; the opolchentsy and Communist battalion men sullenly walking, rather than marching, down the streets, dressed in a motley collection of clothes, smoking, but not singing; with the “Hammer and Sickle” factory working day and night turning out thousands of anti-tank hedge-hogs, which are then driven to the outer ring of boulevards; with its smell of burning papers; with the rapid succession of air-raids and air-battles over Moscow, in which Russian airmen often suicidally ram enemy planes; with the demoralisation of the majority and the grim determination among the minority to hang on to Moscow, and to fight, if necessary, inside the city.

By the 16th, many factories had already been evacuated.

All the same, below all the froth of panic and despair there was “another Moscow”:

Later, when all this belonged to the past, and somebody recalled that 16th of October with sorrow or bitterness, he [Simonov’s hero] would say nothing. The memory of Moscow that day was unbearable to him—like the face of a person you love distorted by fear. And yet, not only outside Moscow, where the troops were fighting and dying that day, but inside Moscow itself, there were enough people who were doing all within their power not to surrender it. And that was why Moscow was not lost. And yet, at the Front that day the war seemed to have taken a fatal turn, and there were people in Moscow that same day who, in their despair, were ready to believe that the Germans would enter Moscow tomorrow. As always happens in tragic moments, the deep faith and inconspicuous work of those who carried on, was not yet known to all, and had not yet come to bear fruit, while the bewilderment, terror and despair of the others hit you between the eyes. This was inevitable. That day tens of thousands, getting away from the Germans, rolled like avalanches towards the railway stations and towards the eastern exits of Moscow; and yet, out of these tens of thousands, there were perhaps only a few thousand whom history could rightly condemn.

Simonov wrote this account of Moscow on October 16, 1941 after a lapse of nearly twenty years; but his story—which could not have been published in Stalin’s day—rings true in the light of what I had heard of those grim days only a few months later, in 1942.


Jagdwaffe – The Battle of the Ardennes

This aviation art print by Mark Postlethwaite depicts a Focke Wulf Fw 190D-9 of 14/JG26 flown by Ofw. Werner Zech, which is intercepted by a P-51 Mustang of the 339th FG flown by Captain Francis R. Gerard, 18th March 1945.

The fighter reinforcements were needed for Hitler’s last great offensive in the west, Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine), the Battle of the Ardennes, known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge. Although Allied intelligence knew that German armies were shifting positions and concentrating behind the Ardennes forest, and had exact knowledge of every westward transfer of a fighter unit—the Luftwaffe sent and confirmed all such information by radio—somehow the pieces were not assembled properly, and the German offensive on the morning of December 16 achieved complete tactical surprise. The II. Jagdkorps contribution was to have been a massed dawn attack on Allied tactical airfields on the first day of the offensive. This attack, code-named Operation Bodenplatte (Baseplate), had been finalized by General Peltz and his staff and fighter unit commanders at a conference in Altenkirchen on December 14, but intriguing details—the use of night fighters as guide aircraft, special pyrotechnic signals, and other techniques—had been picked up by Ultra weeks earlier. Bodenplatte was delayed repeatedly by exceptionally bad weather which grounded the air forces of both sides. Bad weather may have disappointed Peltz, but was welcomed by the German ground forces, which were thus able to move freely during the daylight hours, unseen and unattacked by Allied aircraft.

General Schmid’s I. Jagdkorps commanded the few conventional fighters still available for the defense of the Reich. Jagddivision 1 controlled the two former Wilde Sau Geschwader, which were based south and west of Berlin for the defense of northern and central Germany. JG 300 was headquartered at Jüterbog; JG 301, at Stendal. III./JG 7 was to transfer to Brandenburg-Briest and join Jagddivision 1 when it returned to operations. It moved in late December, but flew no missions until January. Jagddivision 8 was responsible for defending the south and southeast, but controlled only the Hungarian fighters, which had flown their last organized mission against the Fifteenth Air Force on November 7. They were now under orders from their own government to ignore the strategic bombers and assist the German and Hungarian armies in their fight against the advancing Red Army.

The sleet and fog blanketing northwestern Europe on the 17th grounded the Eighth Air Force and much of the Luftwaffe, but JG 300, a bad-weather wing, was still able to take off. It was scrambled and ordered to form up and fly in an unusual direction—southeast, to the Silesian oil installations at Blechhammer and Odertal. The USSTAF had ordered the Fifteenth Air Force to fly another mission to these critical targets. The Italy-based bomber crews had not seen a Luftwaffe fighter in two months, and the 49th Bomb Wing was taken completely by surprise when the JG 300 Sturmgruppe suddenly burst from the clouds in wedge formation, prepared for an assault attack. The Geschwader, led on this occasion by Lt. Klaus Bretschneider, the Kapitän of 5.(Sturm)/JG 300, had managed to stay in formation in the clouds until an unescorted bomber wing was located. The Sturmgruppe flew a complete circle and attacked the rear of the 461st Bomb Group, flying in the high rear position, while III./JG 300 attacked from the flanks. Nine 461st B-24s went down immediately; a tenth ditched on the return flight. The attacks proceeded forward in the bomber stream, and brought down two B-24s from the 484th Group, two from the 464th, one from the 451st, and probably several of the five others which did not return from the mission. Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group and Mustangs from the 52nd and 325th Groups quickly reached the B-24s and drove off the German fighters, at the cost of three Lightnings and two Mustangs. The Stab and four Gruppen of JG 300, the only Geschwader involved in this interception, lost 19 KIA, including a member of the Stab of the new IV./JG 300; 6 WIA; and 36 fighters.

Uffz. Ernst Schröder led a Schwarm of four 5.(Sturm)/JG 300 Fw 190s on the mission, and has provided this account:

After an hour of standing around Löbnitz, my airplane is still unserviceable. A red flare goes up; cockpit readiness! My Staffel comrades climb into their cockpits and strap in. Every loudspeaker on the field then broadcasts a message for me to report to the Stab dispersal area; “Blue 13” is ready for me. I grab my parachute and run a couple of hundred meters to the plane, which had once belonged to Obstlt. Dahl, our previous Kommodore.

The green flare for takeoff soars into the sky just as I reach the plane. I buckle on my chute and strap in with the aid of the mechanics. I am last to take off, and have no time to adjust the seat and rudder pedals, which were positioned for the shorter Dahl. I thus have to fly the mission with my knees bent back almost double. Lt. Bretschneider has taken off first, and climbs away in a broad sweep so that everyone can join up. At 1,500 meters [5,000 ft.] I catch the rear plane and then pick my way through the heap looking for my leaderless Schwarm. I find them and am in position by the time we reach Wittenberg on the Elbe, the assembly point for the whole Geschwader, which is marked by colored smoke rounds fired by the Flak. Messerschmitts from our escorting Gruppen approach from the right and below. After two orbits at 2,500 meters [8,000 ft.] the formation is complete: 30 Sturmgruppe Fw 190s escorted by 50–60 Bf 109s. While we fly just beneath the clouds we are ordered by the Jagddivision 1 controller at Döberitz to climb away to the southeast. We are told over the radio about the locations of American bomber formations coming up from Italy. We climb through 4,000 meters [13,000 ft.] and put on our oxygen masks.

Bretschneider leads us around most of the towering cloud formations, but through some of the smaller ones, but we stick together. I look around my cockpit and discover that I am flying the most heavily armed fighter in the Gruppe, with the full original Sturmbock armament of two 30-mm cannon, two 20-mm cannon, and two 12.7-mm machine guns; most of the others have been lightened by removing or substituting some of the guns. The task of my Schwarm is to fly high cover for the Gruppe, to fend off the first escorts; the heavy “dungheap” I am flying will not make the job any easier. My usual airplane is a standard Fw 190A-8 with no extra guns or armor.

After a long flight in peaceful silence, we are given the position of the oncoming enemy bombers. The radio then crackles with an impatient series of course changes. The controller tells us that the dicken Autos should be in sight. But—nothing. We switch on our guns and gunsights. Suddenly, from Bretschneider: “Viktor, Viktor von Specht Anton. Ich sehe dicke Autos! Wir machen Pauke-Pauke!” [“Roger, Roger from Woodpecker Leader. I see the bombers. We are attacking!”]

I pull my Schwarm up about 100 meters [330 ft.] above the Gruppe for a better overall view. I see the contrails of only a few escorts above the bombers. We drop our tanks on orders. Bretschneider swings us onto a reciprocal course to the bombers. The first Pulk of red-tailed B-24s passes us. As the second approaches, Bretschneider begins a fairly tight right turn to slot us in between the second and third Pulks, which are passing from our left to our right. I remain on course for a last look around and then join my comrades. We rapidly overhaul the second Pulk. The few P-38s overhead do not come down; perhaps they are calling for reinforcements. From my high position I have a perfect view of the unfolding drama. First the B-24 tail gunners open fire, filling the sky with tracer. The Sturmböcke bore in at full throttle, weaving slightly to throw off the gunners’ aim. At 300 meters [1,000 ft.] the main force opens fire with their cannon. The explosive shells streak toward their targets, and within seconds two bombers have turned into fireballs. Others quickly catch fire. My radio becomes an incoherent babble of shouts and cries. My Schwarm comes down last. I line up on my target, press the firing button at 300 meters, and—nothing! Damn! I close to 30 meters [100 ft.], swearing and flipping all the circuit breakers. Nothing works. I look around to see a sky full of falling debris and parachutes. I give up, and break away in a steep dive. A few months earlier, I would have been expected to ram a bomber. But in December 1944 we are so short of pilots that this is no longer required. I shall face no repercussions for my action.

I land at Liegnitz in Silesia, having been in the air for two hours. After refueling, I return to Löbnitz, land, and taxi to the Stab dispersal. I begin shouting at the first mechanic to reach me about the failure of my guns. He reaches into the cockpit and calmly points to an extra safety switch, still set on “safe.” A special feature of Dahl’s crate, one I had never seen before. Upon reflection, I am pleased for the sake of the ten American airmen that my guns had not worked.

For the next several days the Eighth Air Force was directed against tactical targets in western Germany whenever it could get off the ground. Two Jagdgruppen were ordered to intercept heavy bombers in the Bonn area on the 18th, but unsurprisingly could not get through the P-51 escort screen. The Fifteenth continued its campaign against strategic targets in central Europe, once again without aerial opposition.

The weather over western Europe cleared on the 23rd, in time for a small tactical raid by the heavy bombers and a maximum defensive effort by the strengthened II. Jagdkorps. The Eighth Air Force heavy bombers were well-protected by their experienced escorts and were scarcely molested. Some RAF Bomber Command heavies, and the Ninth Air Force mediums, were not as fortunate. A small force of 27 Lancasters and 3 Mosquitoes, all from No. 8 Pathfinder Group, was sent to bomb a Cologne rail yard through what was expected to be cloud. The cloud cleared, leaving the bombers in a strung-out formation, and unescorted. Major Toni Hackl, who now commanded II./JG 26, was leading its new Fw 190D-9 “long noses” on a sweep of the Ardennes. They had engaged some P-51s when he received word of the tempting target. He broke free with five of his men and headed toward Cologne. He quickly downed the leading Lancaster and one of the Mosquitoes; his five pilots downed five more Lancasters. His fighters were not touched by British return fire, never saw an escort, and broke away only when out of ammunition. The pilot of the leading Lancaster was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

II.Jagdkorps directed the rest of its fighters to Ninth Air Force B-26 formations making a maximum-strength raid on communications centers supporting the German offensive. The result, according to the official USAAF history, was the “most furious aerial opposition ever encountered by the medium bombers.” Thirty-eight B-26s were lost. Claims by the exuberant German pilots were so high that it is impossible to sort out their individual targets. The attack by IV.(Sturm)/JG 3 stood out; the unit was able to form a close-formation Sturmgruppe wedge and decimate a B-26 box in a stern attack.

The weather over northwestern Europe stayed good on the 24th, allowing the Eighth Air Force to fly its greatest strike of the war—2,700 sorties—against German communications centers and airfields. The 3rd Bomb Division’s leading 4th Combat Wing was attacked over Liége by IV.(Sturm)/JG 3, which shot down three 487th Bomb Group B-17s and collided with two others. One of the lost B-17s was piloted by the wing commander, BGen. Fred Castle, who was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for the mission.

Two other Jagdgruppen, II.(Sturm)/JG 300 and III./JG 301, attempted to attack the 2nd and 1st Bomb Divisions in the Magdeburg–Brunswick area. Lt. Bretschneider was leading the JG 300 formation again, despite his low rank, but the large formation was spotted by the 357th Fighter Group, and the Geschwader and especially the vulnerable Sturmböcke were soon engaged in desperate combat. The Sturmgruppe lost 6 KIA, 7 WIA, and 14 Fw 190s; Bretschneider, one of the most successful formation leaders in the RLV force, was one of the pilots killed. III./JG 301 claimed a successful attack on B-17s, but the American unit involved cannot be determined. The other Luftwaffe fighter units in the west were fully occupied over the Bulge, attempting to shield their Army from Allied tactical aircraft. For the day I. Jagdkorps and II. Jagdkorps lost 68 pilots killed and 19 injured.

The Eighth Air Force’s 1st Bomb Division stood down on Christmas Day; the 2nd and 3rd Divisions targeted communications centers and rail bridges west of the Rhine. The I. Jagdkorps fighters did not fly. II. Jagdkorps attempted to assemble a battle formation comprising the Stab and three Gruppen of JG 1, plus IV.(Sturm)/JG 3—all of them experienced RLV units—to oppose the bombers. The Gefechtsverband could not be formed. Every Gruppe but one was broken up by the P-51 escorts; I./JG 1 reached the 2nd Bomb Division stream unmolested, downed three 389th Bomb Group B-24s, and returned to Twente short only three Fw 190s, all of whose pilots survived. IV.(Sturm)/JG 3 apparently shot down a single 467th Group B-24, but was punished badly by 479th Group Mustangs, losing eight Fw 190s and seven pilots. Again most of the day’s aerial activity was over the Bulge, on tactical missions; II. Jagdkorps lost a total of 49 pilots KIA and 13 WIA.

Whenever possible for the next five days, the Eighth Air Force bombers attacked German communications targets and rail yards behind the Ardennes battlefront, taking off for some missions through freezing rain. I. Jagdkorps was not ordered to intercept the heavies until the 31st, when, with the ground situation stabilized, the Eighth Air Force returned to its strategic campaign, sending 2,100 fighters and bombers to a variety of targets, including the Hamburg-Harburg refineries and the Misburg hydrogenation plant. JG 300 and JG 301 scrambled in full force against the 3rd Bomb Division, which was making the deepest penetration. Both Geschwader succeeded in finding small openings in the escort screen. The “Bloody 100th” Group was scourged once again, losing seven B-17s to the fighters, three to collision, two to Flak, and one to an internal fire. The 452nd Bomb Group was also hit by the Focke-Wulfs, and lost five B-17s. The P-51s then arrived to inflict typical punishment on the German fighters, which lost 24 KIA and 10 WIA on the mission.

The following table shows the strength of I. Jagdkorps (containing the RLV fighters) and II. Jagdkorps (containing the western front tactical fighters) at the end of the last two quarters of 1944. These totals include some units that were rebuilding and not operational. These were intended to be activated for Galland’s Big Blow against the Eighth Air Force, but most were instead ordered to II. Jagdkorps for the Ardennes battle.

The German winter offensive had stalled, and on the 31st the top priority missions for all of the II. Jagdkorps fighters were within the Bulge. They had flown a few offensive ground-support missions over the Ardennes to aid the leading armor units and the fighting around Bastogne, but their most valuable service was on anti-Jabo patrols, searching for the deadly Allied fighter-bombers. This was very dangerous work, because once the Allied fighters dropped their ordnance they were equal in performance to the German fighters, and nearly always outnumbered them. During December 16–31, II. Jagdkorps lost 400 pilots killed or missing. Despite these losses and the stagnant ground situation, the II. Jagdkorps unit commanders received coded radio messages on the afternoon of the 31st announcing that Operation Bodenplatte would be carried out on the next day and authorizing the briefing of the pilots. The coded attack time came through later. The targeted airfields would be all be hit at 0920 hours. Although it no longer made any military sense, General Peltz had gotten his wish, and 34 Jagdgruppen—the largest force of German fighters ever to take to the air—would take off at dawn on a mission which would seal the fate of the German fighter force.

Defeat of the Kriegsmarine I

By March 1944 Germany’s U-boats in the Atlantic had turned from predator to prey, pursued by patrol aircraft: A Royal Canadian Air Force Sunderland has bracketed U-625 with six depth charges and has begun machine ­gunning (splashes to starboard).

By the beginning of January 1944 losses at sea had reduced the U-boat Arm to 168 operational boats. This was only about two-thirds of its strength at its peak nine months previously, despite a continuous flow of replacements. However, a total of 268 newly built U-boats were undergoing trials during the month. The colossal bombing campaign by RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force had done little to limit U-boat production. Although great swathes of residential districts in Kiel, Wilhelmshaven, Bremen, Vegesack and Hamburg had been destroyed, the effect on manufacturing areas and dockyards had been far less severe. Many more U-boats were being built than in the earlier years of the war.

Many of the best commanders and crews in the U-boat Arm had been lost, although there were plenty of newcomers to take their places. Most of these were volunteers but some were drafted from other branches of the Kriegsmarine. The trainees first underwent a three-month course during which discipline was the key ingredient. Then they were split up to train in their specialist trades, which took varying lengths of time. A few were trained as commanders, first watch officers or engineering officers. Others became helmsmen, diesel mechanics, electro mechanics, torpedo mechanics or cooks, etc. Some duties in a U-boat were common to several men, such as keeping lookout or steering. After qualification, a few were sent to join operational U-boats as apprentices, but the majority were posted to the newly built boats for familiarisation and further training. Again, the length of training time depended on each function. All knew that they would experience very cramped and uncomfortable conditions on their war cruises.

Some of these newcomers may have guessed that they would probably meet the fate of many of their predecessors, although most of them probably believed that they would somehow survive the war. The truth was that the majority would end their young lives entombed in shattered hulls somewhere on the bottom of the sea, although a few of the luckier ones would be picked up by the Allies and spend most of the rest of the war in PoW camps. The U-boat Arm was operating with reduced numbers of operational boats and by then was without its Italian allies. Its war was being fought in great areas of the world’s oceans and seas – the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, with a handful of boats in the distant waters of the Far East. However, the men were buoyed up with the hope that new developments would enable them to regain some advantage over an increasingly powerful enemy.

The ideal would have been a U-boat that could remain submerged throughout its war cruise, and indeed such a boat had already been designed by Professor Hellmuth Walter in combination with Germaniawerft of Kiel. Known as a ‘Type V boat’, it consisted of two hulls, one on top of the other. The top hull contained a turbine engine and the crew with their controls, while the lower hull was simply a huge fuel tank containing concentrated hydrogen peroxide. Such a boat could travel underwater at the extraordinary speed of 30 knots, faster than most Allied escort vessels, but it was impractical for two main reasons. One was that there were inadequate facilities in Germany to provide the enormous quantities of fuel required, while the other was that the Type V boat could be produced at only about half the rate of conventional U-boats.

Although the project to manufacture the Type V boat was abandoned, there was a simple adaptation that could be produced rapidly. This was the ‘Schnorkel’ breathing tube, which was fitted to conventional U-boats and came into service in early 1944. There was nothing new in the concept of an underwater breathing tube, for one had been designed centuries before by Leonardo da Vinci, although this was intended to be attached to a diving suit in which a man would walk across the Venetian sea bed and cause underwater damage to any Turkish galleys which invaded the port. Various efforts had been made in more recent times to fit a ventilation tube to submarines, culminating in a development by the Royal Netherlands Navy before the Second World War. With the destruction of so many of their boats in 1943, the method was approved as a defensive measure by the U-boat Arm in the summer of that year. In essence, it was devised as a simple retractable tube with a ballcock valve to prevent water from being washed into the boat.

In use, the Schnorkel could enable U-boats to avoid enemy warships and aircraft, as well as allowing them to remain underwater to recharge their batteries or sometimes during submerged attacks on vessels, but it had serious disadvantages. The underwater speed was reduced and movement within the boat had to be limited to avoid upsetting the trim. Exhaust fumes restricted the vision of those within the boat, while these fumes could be spotted by keen-eyed crew members of Allied aircraft. If waves happened to close the cutoff valve, the diesel engines sucked up the available air within the boat, so that the crew began to suffocate and then suffered agonies with their eardrums when air rushed in again. Long periods underwater also created foul conditions, since food waste and the contents of toilets could not be disposed of so readily. The invention did not seem to provide the expected protection, and indeed the first boat to attempt a war cruise with it, the Type VIIC U-264, was sunk in the North Atlantic on 19 February 1944.

In the event, the massacre of the U-boats continued into 1944. They sank only thirteen merchant vessels totalling about 18,500 tons in January, from an overall total of 123,500 tons lost by the Allies. In return, fourteen U-boats were sunk, almost all in the North Atlantic, where they sank only five of the thirteen merchant vessels lost. By this time the Allied shipbuilding programme had forged ahead, reaching a total of about 32 million gross tons since the beginning of the war, with the rate of production far exceeding the rate of sinkings.

February was even worse for the U-boats. Despite sinking eighteen merchant ships totalling about 93,000 tons from Allied losses of 117,000 tons, they lost twenty of their own number, primarily in the North Atlantic campaign. In March they sank twenty-three merchant ships totalling about 123,000 tons from the 158,000 tons lost by the Allies, but twenty-three U-boats went down to attacks by aircraft and escort vessels. Three of these U-boats were lost attacking Arctic convoys but once again most of them were destroyed by escort vessels and aircraft in the North Atlantic.

By the end of March the battleship Tirpitz was seaworthy again, following repairs to the damage inflicted on her by the X-craft of the Royal Navy on 22 September 1943. Enigma decrypts revealed that she was about to put to sea from Kaa fjord for trials in the adjoining waters of Alten fjord. This timing coincided with the running of two Russian convoys, the eastbound JW57 and the westbound RA57, giving the Admiralty the opportunity to launch a huge airborne attack from warships which sailed under the guise of protecting the convoys. These were the fleet carriers HMS Victorious and HMS Furious, accompanied by three escort carriers.

The attack was launched in the early morning of 3 April by two waves of Fairey Barracuda bombers, some of which carried a single 1,600 lb armour-piercing bomb while others carried three 600 lb anti-submarine bombs. Their fighter escorts consisted of Supermarine Seafires, Vought Corsairs, Grumman Wildcats and Hellcats, which were given the additional task of raking the gun positions and deck of the battleship. The attack achieved complete surprise when Tirpitz was weighing anchor. She was hit by fourteen bombs, some of which penetrated the upper armoured deck and burst below, but none penetrated the lower 8 inch armoured deck. The crew suffered 122 dead and 336 wounded, and the battleship was so badly damaged that she was out of action for three more months. Two Barracudas failed to return.

The earlier attack on Tirpitz by the X-craft midget submarines of the Royal Navy had shocked the Kriegsmarine and resulted in the formation of the Kleinkampfverbande (K-Verband) or ‘Small Battle Unit Command’. Its main purpose was to combat Allied vessels in any invasion force crossing the narrow waters of the English Channel. The simplest of the units which formed part of the new command were manned torpedoes. One of these, which entered service in March 1944, was named Neger (Nigger). It was fitted with rudimentary controls and could travel only on the surface for short distances. Another was Marder (Pine Marten), which was similar to Neger but included a diving tank and a pump for compressed air. This entered service in June 1944. The K-Verband was also equipped with Linsen (Lentil) motor boats, which operated in units consisting of one control boat and two carrying explosive charges. The explosive boats were steered by pilots who jumped out after directing them against targets,and then hoped to be picked up by the control boats. The chances of the pilots surviving attacks in all these vessels were rated as no more than 50 per cent and all the crews were volunteers for what became suicide missions.

In addition, midget submarines were rapidly designed and put into production. One of these was Hecht (Pike), also known as the Type XXVIIA, which began to enter operational service in May 1944. This was a three-man submarine, capable of travelling underwater as well as on the surface, and armed with a single torpedo. The Biber (Beaver) was a one-man submarine which could also operate both on the surface and submerged, and carried a single torpedo. It began to enter operational service in June 1944. A version with a shorter range, designed solely for coastal work, was the Molch (Salamander), which entered service at around the same time. Yet another was Seehund (Seal) or the Type XXVIIB, with a crew of two and capable of carrying two torpedoes, but this did not begin entering service until November 1944.

On their roughly one-to-one basis of sinkings against losses, the ocean-going U-boats were not justifying their existence. However, replacements continued to arrive steadily and by the beginning of April 1944 the operational strength stood at 166, with 278 more undergoing training and trials. The inexperienced crews were being prepared almost like lambs for the slaughter. U-boats sank only nine merchant ships totalling 62,000 tons in April, from the 82,000 tons lost by the Allies, but nineteen of their own number were sunk.

The ratio of successes against losses became even worse for the U-boat Arm in May. This was one of its worst months of the war, for only four merchant vessels totalling 24,500 tons were sunk, while twenty-two U-boats were picked off and went to the bottom of the sea. No area was safe for the U-boats, except perhaps the Baltic – but even there one was lost in a collision in May.

The anticipated invasion of Europe by the Western Allies began on 6 June, when airborne troops dropped inland and spearheads of seaborne forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, escorted by Allied warships and covered by an overwhelming number of Allied aircraft. The German defences were caught off guard by forecasts of unfavourable weather issued by their own meteorologists. Even then, the location of this invasion was believed to be an Allied diversionary tactic by Hitler and the Wehrmacht, who were fooled by Allied deception measures. They continued to believe for several weeks that the main thrust would be made across the narrows of the English Channel to the Pas de Calais.

Dönitz was on leave with his family at Badenweiler, a holiday resort in the Black Forest, when D-Day began. Alerted by telephone, he hastened back to his headquarters near Berlin to chair a conference on the situation. Meanwhile the commander of Marinegruppe West, Vizeadmiral Theodor Krancke, issued his orders. Thirty-six U-boats in the Biscay bases and twenty-two in Norwegian ports had been put on full alert. Five others from France already heading for the North Atlantic were recalled and seven dispatched from Norway were to await new orders. Seventeen based at Brest were then ordered to attack the western flank of the Allied invasion force and all set course on D-Day. Nineteen others based at Lorient, St-Nazaire and La Pallice were ordered to form a patrol line in the Bay of Biscay, for it was believed from Allied deception measures that other landings would be made on the western coast of France.

Movement of German surface vessels also took place, but none of the heavier warships was available to assist in repelling an invasion from the west. The pocket battleships Admiral von Scheer and Lützow were engaged in the Baltic, as were the heavy cruisers Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen, where their main tasks were in support of the German armies facing the advance of the Red Army. The crews of the few surface vessels available were enjoined to attack the enemy ‘regardless of cost’ and they did their best with very limited results. Four torpedo boats (the size of small destroyers) left Le Havre and sank a Norwegian destroyer before slipping back into port. Three destroyers in the Gironde were ordered to the English Channel but they were intercepted on D-Day near Belle Ile by Beaufighters of Coastal Command and two were so badly damaged that all three put into Brest while repairs were carried out. Eighteen Schnellboote (known as E-boats by the British) were available to attack the eastern flank of the invasion force. After an abortive attempt during daylight, when no torpedo hits were scored, these began to operate at night.

The U-boats were hunted remorselessly by aircraft of Coastal Command. They sank two on D-Day plus one, two on the following day, one on the next day, and another on the day after that. It was another miserable month for the U-boat Arm, for twenty-five boats were lost in all waters and their only achievements were the sinking of eleven merchant vessels amounting to about 58,000 tons, from a total of 104,000 tons lost by the Allies.

The ‘human torpedoes’ suffered huge losses during the early weeks of the invasion. They were transported by road to ports near the Normandy beaches. Bletchley Park was aware of their location but could not forecast the days of attack. Twenty-six of the Neger class set off on 5 July. Two suffered mechanical problems and fifteen others were lost to Allied gunfire or other hazards. The other nine managed to sink two minesweepers. Twenty-one others left on 7 July and sank a minesweeper as well as damaging a cruiser, but all of these were sunk by surface vessels or aircraft.

Those of the Marder human torpedo class and the Linsen motor boats did not begin attacking until the night of 2/3 August, when fifty-eight of the former and twenty-two of the latter were dispatched against Allied shipping off the Normandy coast near Courseuilles-sur-Mer. The Marder began the attack and one managed to hit a cruiser with a torpedo. Then a major engagement took place, in which they sank a destroyer, a minesweeper and a Liberty ship but forty-one of the attackers were eventually sunk. The Linsen then joined in the attack, sinking a minesweeper, a motor launch and a landing craft, for the loss of fourteen of their own number. Twenty-eight Linsen were sent out on 8/9 August but they sank no ships and twenty were lost.

Yet another attack took place on 16/17 August when forty-two of the Marder set off for the eastern flank of the Allied invasion fleet. They sank a barrage balloon vessel but lost twenty-six of their own number. The midget submarines failed to make any effective attack in these waters before the Allied advances overran the French ports from which they could operate. This type of attack on the invasion area, by either ‘human torpedoes’, motor launches or midget submarines, became impossible by the end of August.

Meanwhile, replacements built up the number of operational ocean-going U-boats to 188 by the beginning of July, with 246 more undergoing training and trials, but their achievements continued at a dismal level during July. They sank only twelve merchant ships totalling 63,500 tons, but lost twenty-three of their own number. Aircraft were the main cause of these losses, which included three destroyed during a heavy raid on Kiel by RAF Bomber Command.

The Western Allies planned another seaborne landing in August, this time on the southern coast of France, under the codename operation Dragoon. Ten U-boats were still operating in the Mediterranean, from the bases of Toulon in France or Pola in Yugoslavia. Their main targets were the convoys which brought supplies and reinforcements to the Allied troops fighting their way up the peninsula of Italy, or which were passing through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal and thence to the Allied forces in India. The Allies decided to eliminate these U-boats by utilising the immense Allied air and sea superiority in an operation which was aptly named ‘Swamp’. So many of these Allied forces were available that it was possible to pursue a U-boat so intensively that it was likely to be spotted when it was eventually forced to surface.

Defeat of the Kriegsmarine II

The giant battleship Tirpitz

B-Dienst had correctly forecast that an Allied landing would take place in the south of France although the exact location and date were not known. As a preliminary, the Allies made heavy raids against the German-held ports of Toulon, Genoa and Trieste, resulting in the sinking of many merchant ships and small warships. On 6 August the US Fifteenth Air Force raided Toulon once more and succeeded in destroying four U-boats, all of which had been damaged in a previous raid, and further damaging a fifth. The Allied landings took place on 15 August with French and American divisions and were successful everywhere. The Germans had no option but to to scuttle or blow up three of the remaining U-boats, all of which had been damaged previously. Only three U-boats remained in the Mediterranean, all based at Pola.

Three days after the landings in the south of France, Hitler ordered the U-boats in Brest, Lorient, St-Nazaire, La Pallice, La Rochelle and the Gironde to evacuate their ports and to head round the north of Britain to Norwegian waters. It was clear that these French ports would soon become unusable with the advance of the Allies from the north and the south. The move was also accelerated by the knowledge that the RAF was by then capable of breaching the immensely thick roofs of the U-boat shelters. On 12 August Lancasters of Bomber Command dropped the new 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ bombs on the shelters at Brest, penetrating part of the roof. Eight U-boats which were unfit for the journey to Norwegian ports were either scuttled or scrapped. The French ports were not to be evacuated by ground personnel, who were ordered to defend them as ‘fortresses’ against the Allied troops.

Apart from the seven U-boats destroyed in the Mediterranean and the eight scuttled in French ports, twenty-one others were lost during August for various reasons, mainly sunk by air attack while on war cruises. The U-boat Arm succeeded in sinking eighteen merchant vessels amounting to about 99,000 tons during this month, from a total of 118,500 tons lost by the Allies, but it was continuing to fight a losing battle. By this time new shipbuilding of merchant vessels in America and Britain had reached about 38 million gross tons since the beginning of the war, whereas total sinkings had amounted to about 23 million tons, of which about 14.5 million tons had been sunk by U-boats. Moreover, further production was proceeding at an accelerated pace, whereas the pace of sinkings was declining sharply.

The decline of the U-boats continued into September, for they sank only seven merchant vessels amounting to 43,000 tons, apart from which the Allies lost only one vessel which struck a mine. The slaughter of the U-boats continued, for they lost twenty-one of their number during the month. Three of these were scuttled after being transported in sections from the Baltic to the Black Sea, where they were reassembled. The advance of the Red Army threatened to cut them off. The three remaining U-boats in the Mediterranean were also destroyed, one sunk by destroyers north of Crete and the other two during an American bombing raid on Salamis in Greece, where they were sheltering. Henceforth, the U-boat Arm could operate only from bases in Norway. It was reduced to 144 operational boats by the end of the month, with 260 more undergoing training and trials.

The giant battleship Tirpitz was badly damaged again on 15 September. On this occasion the attacking force consisted of twenty-eight Avro Lancasters of RAF Bomber Command operating from North Russia. Twenty-one of them were carrying the huge Tallboy bomb. The bombers arrived in daylight over Kaa fjord, flying between 6,500 and 10,000 feet, and achieved initial surprise. One of the Tallboy bombs scored a direct hit and blew a great hole in the bows and the side. Other bombs scored near misses and caused further damage. German marine engineers concluded that repairs would take about another nine months. A month later, after work on her engines, she steamed about 200 miles south-west to Tromsö to act in a new role as a flak battery.

October brought no improvement in the circumstances for the U-boat Arm. Although replacements were still pouring through the system, the number of operational boats had been reduced to 141, with 260 under training and trials. Eleven U-boats were sent from Norway to operate off the west coast of Britain, in waters such as the English Channel, the Bristol Channel and the North Channel. Four others were dispatched to waters off Newfoundland and another off Gibraltar, but the achievements of the entire U-boat fleet were limited to the sinking of only one merchant vessel of about 7,000 tons during October, while three other Allied vessels were sunk from mines. In return, eleven U-boats were lost, four of them in a raid by RAF Bomber Command on the pens at Bergen and another during a similar raid on Wilhelmshaven.

November was little better for this hard-pressed service, for the U-boats sank only seven merchant vessels totalling about 29,500 tons from an overall figure of 38,000 tons lost by the Allies from all causes. However, the number of U-boats sunk fell to eight, perhaps indicating that the commanders were becoming more skilled with the use of schnorkels and evasion techniques. The inshore campaign in waters off the west coast of Britain was causing some difficulty for the Admiralty, for there were insufficient anti-submarine vessels to hunt in these waters. The U-boats seldom appeared on the surface during daylight and were difficult to detect by Asdic when submerged among offshore rocks. RAF Coastal Command hunted for them, but often fruitlessly in daylight hours.

November was the month which saw the end of the battleship Tirpitz, partly because her new location brought her within the range of RAF Lancaster bombers operating from Scotland. Twenty-nine of these took off from Lossiemouth on the night of 11/12 November and arrived individually over their target during daylight. The battleship received direct hits from at least two Tallboy bombs and then suffered a huge internal explosion. She capsized and came to rest upside down at the bottom of the fjord, killing 1,204 men from her crew of about 1,900. This action removed a major threat to the Arctic convoys, which henceforth experienced only spasmodic attacks from U-boats.

It must have been obvious to Dönitz that his U-boats were fighting a losing battle in the Atlantic and elsewhere, and yet he continued to throw all available resources into the conflict. Senior officers in the Wehrmacht nurtured the belief that their country possessed a technical superiority capable of producing ‘wonder weapons’ that would enable them to gain ultimate victory. Examples were the V-1 flying bomb, the V-2 long-range rocket and the Messerschmitt Me262 jet aircraft. Within the Kriegsmarine, it was the new ‘electro-boats’. These were being built as a compromise for the Walter Type V boat which had been considered impracticable. An engineer on this project, Heinrich Heep, had recommended that the lower of the two tanks, originally intended to hold concentrated hydrogen peroxide, should be utilised to contain diesel/electric motors. This would treble the capacity of the motors in existing boats, provide faster surface and submerged speeds, and enable the boat to dive to greater depths. Two versions were being built, the Type XXI to replace the conventional ocean-going boats and the smaller Type XXIII for coastal operations. Production was in the hands of the Reich Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer, who had inaugurated a system of prefabricating sections in thirteen dispersed factories, capable of being transported along canals to final assembly lines. This reduced the man-hours utilised on building the conventional boats, and production was in full flow. Enigma decrypts revealed this programme to the Allies, who estimated that some of these new and dangerous U-boats would enter operational service in early 1945.

December brought the usual winter storms which reduced activities in the high seas, but the ocean-going U-boats sank nine merchant ships totalling about 58,500 tons in the month, from a total of almost 135,000 tons lost by the Allies. They lost thirteen of their own number, two of which were destroyed during a raid on Hamburg by the US Eighth Air Force.

Despite these unfavourable results for the U-boat Arm, there was some evidence in December that its commanders were becoming more adept at avoiding detection by the use of the schnorkel, which was by then fitted with a radar device for identifying the approach of aircraft. The Admiralty was also viewing the imminent appearance of the electro-boats with concern, aware from decrypts and air reconnaissance that numbers had been built, were working up to operational efficiency and would soon be sent on war cruises. On the last day of the year the US Eighth Air Force was diverted from its main task of destroying the German synthetic oil plants to an attack on the assembly yards at Hamburg, and the bombers succeeded in destroying two Type XXIs and badly damaging others.

Another worry for the Admiralty concerned the decrypts, for the U-boat Arm was making increasing use of the Sonderschlüsel (Special Key) system in which the Enigma keys were different for individual U-boats. Bletchley Park was unable to decrypt these and thus the departure times, locations and return times of some U-boats were not known to the Admiralty.

Despite these ominous developments on the high seas, by January 1945 the Wehrmacht faced an impossible military situation and the prospect of inevitable defeat. The centres of most German cities lay in ruins from concentrated air bombardment, the Luftwaffe had been reduced to a fraction of its former strength, Anglo-American armies had broken through the ‘Western Wall’ and were advancing into German territory, while great Russian armies had overrun East Prussia and were pouring through Poland towards Berlin itself. Yet it seems that Dönitz believed in miracles and was convinced that his new electro-boats could deal a decisive blow against the Western Allies.

The Kriegsmarine was also presented with an enormous operation in the Baltic in this period, for it had become necessary to begin evacuating civilians and military personnel from the eastern provinces, away from the advancing Russian forces. All available warships and merchant ships were pressed into service for this purpose, even including some U-boats. The pocket battleships Lützow and Admiral Scheer and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen attempted to cover this operation by bombarding the forward positions of the Red Army.

On the Western Front the first day of the New Year began with an attack by seventeen Seehunde Type XXVIIB midget submarines of K-Verband, which set out from Ijmuiden in the Netherlands to hunt for Allied shipping in the Outer Scheldt bound for Antwerp. This port had been captured by the British 11th Armoured Division on 4 September 1944. Its docks were almost undamaged and had become an important means of supply for the British and Canadian forces in the northern sector of operations. Dönitz had set great store on this operation, but he was to be disappointed. The two-man submarines succeeded in sinking one small trawler but only two returned to base. Some of those missing were destroyed by gunfire but others had run ashore and become stranded. Further attacks by small attack craft on shipping off the coasts of Kent and Belgium were completely unsuccessful. Their losses during the month amounted to ten Seehunde, ten Biber one-man submarines and seven Linsen motor boats.

The strength of the operational ocean-going U-boats in January stood at 144, with 260 more undergoing training and trials. These sank eleven merchant vessels amounting to about 58,000 tons during the month, from a total of 104,000 tons lost by the Allies. Mines accounted for much of the remainder. Fourteen U-boats were lost, with another raid on Hamburg by the US Eighth Air Force destroying three more Type XXIs and damaging nine others. These massive air attacks also caused huge damage to dock and assembly facilities, bringing the production of the electro-boats almost to a halt.

The small battle units of K-Verband fared somewhat better in February, sinking one tank landing ship and a cable ship, as well as damaging a tanker, but they lost four Seehunde and three Linsen, as well as six Molch or Biber one-man submarines. The month brought no improvement in the situation for the major U-boat Arm. A new coastal Type XXIII electro-boat which had sailed from Horten in Norway on 29 January attacked a convoy off Newcastle-on-Tyne, without success, and then returned to base. Another Type XXIII was lost in a collision in the Baltic. The U-boat Arm accounted for fifteen merchant vessels totalling about 65,000 tons, within an overall total of 110,000 tons lost by the Allies during the month, but it lost twenty-two of its ocean-going boats. The expected carnage from the new electro-boats had not occurred, owing primarily to delays in production and damage to the assembly facilities. The war was drawing to its inevitable close, with defeat for Germany.

During March U-boats sank thirteen merchant vessels totalling about 65,000 tons but suffered the enormous loss of thirty-two of their own number. Thirteen of these were destroyed by the US Eighth Air Force during concentrated raids on Wilhelmshaven, Bremen and Hamburg at the end of the month. These losses included only two Type XXI electro-boats and once again the assembly programme for these vessels was seriously impaired. The midget submarines and motor boats continued their suicide missions during the month, sinking three merchant vessels at the expense of huge losses. Nine Seehunde and twenty-seven Linsen were lost, as well as forty-two Biber or Molch. Fourteen of the Biber were destroyed by an accidental explosion while in harbour at Rotterdam.

April was the last full month of the war. By this time the newly trained crews with their ocean-going U-boats had built up numbers to as many as 166, with 263 others following behind within the system. The new arrivals joined in the fruitless task of overcoming an increasingly powerful enemy at sea. The U-boat Arm sank thirteen merchant vessels totalling almost 72,000 tons during the month, from an overall total of 104,500 tons lost by the Allies, but suffered its worst monthly losses of the entire war. No fewer than fifty-five ocean-going U-boats were destroyed, twenty of them as a result of massive air strikes by the US Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command on Kiel and Hamburg. Others were sunk by cannon-firing de Havilland Mosquitos of RAF Coastal Command while en route from Germany to bases in Norway. The only Type XXI electro-boat to embark on a war cruise, U-2511, was scheduled to leave Bergen on 17 April but its departure was delayed by a damaged periscope and it encountered no enemy forces before being ordered to surrender. If this type had been available in earlier months, it could have had a profound influence on the course of the war at sea.

The small vessels of K-Verband also attempted to make an impact on the enemy in April, laying mines and making torpedo attacks. Two Seehunde sank one small tanker and a large merchant ship in waters off Dover, but the group lost twelve Seehunde, nine Biber and seventeen Linsen in the month, from attacks by aircraft and warships. The operations of this ill-starred group then came to an end.

With the Russian forces on the outskirts of Berlin, Hitler committed suicide on 30 April. The Deputy Führer was Reichsminister Herman Goering but Hitler had bypassed him and appointed his staunchest supporter, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, as his successor. It was evident to Dönitz that the military situation had become completely hopeless and that he should capitulate immediately, but he delayed for a few days to complete, so far as possible, the evacuation of troops and civilians from the eastern provinces. On 4 May he advised U-boat commanders that they were to scuttle or destroy their boats on receipt of the codeword ‘Regenbogen’. Meanwhile, he appointed Generaladmiral Hans von Friedeburg to take his place as commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine and also authorised him to surrender to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery at his headquarters on Luneburg Heath. The proposal to scuttle U-boats was not authorised by the Allies and could not be implemented. Instead, all U-boat commanders were ordered to fly black surrender flags and begin their journeys home. The surrender became effective at one minute past midnight on 8 May but the terms were transmitted to all German forces, including U-boats at sea, during 4 May.

Not all U-boat commanders received the messages immediately and some engagements took place. In the first seven days of the month twenty-eight more U-boats were sunk, primarily from air attack in the areas of Kiel Bay and the Kattegat, while U-boats sank three merchant vessels totalling about 10,000 tons. It is estimated that by the end of the war the Kriegsmarine had evacuated about two million troops and civilians via the Baltic, of whom about 20,000 were lost at sea, in what must be regarded as its biggest operation of the war.

The Allies lost approximately 21.5 million gross tons of merchant shipping from all causes during the war, although their massive rebuilding programme produced over 45 million gross tons during this period. It is calculated that U-boats sank 2,927 merchant vessels amounting to almost 15 million gross tons of the total lost, as well as 175 Allied warships totalling about 243,000 tons. The records also show that 1,110 ocean-going U-boats were dispatched on war cruises. Almost 800 of these were destroyed at sea, from air bombardment in docks, or from causes which cannot be determined. The U-boat Arm came close to winning the Battle of the Atlantic during 1942 but was defeated by Allied skill, determination and improved weaponry, with the decryption of Enigma signals playing a major part in the conflict.

Fokkers and Junkers

A meeting in Berlin on December 16, 1916, between IdFlieg’s Maj. Felix Wagenführ, professor Hugo Junkers, and Fokker. Wagenführ, whose ultimate goal was the founding of one nationwide Reichsflugzeugwerke (state aircraft industry), convened the meeting that brought the two aircraft constructors to one table. His initiative led to a strange amalgamation of industries and personalities.

Hugo Junkers, born in 1859, was thirty-one years older than Fokker. Since the middle of the 1890s, Junkers & Company had made a fortune producing gas heating appliances. He also occupied a professorial chair in mechanical engineering at the University of Aachen. There he had been deeply involved in the development of a metal cantilever wing for aircraft. After years of experimenting, his first plane equipped with such a wing, designated the Junkers J.I, had become ready for testing in December 1915. Lt. Friedrich Mallinckrodt of the air corps made the first flight in the machine on December 20, but this first practical all-metal aircraft design did not go into production as planned in the subsequent months. Instead Junkers, an uncompromising and perfectionist academic, kept changing and improving the design at his factory in Dessau. Wagenführ, who held overall planning responsibility for German aircraft production, began to lose patience with Junkers. What was necessary, in his view, was a fair dose of practical insight, the kind that Fokker excelled in. And thus the theorist Junkers and the practitioner Fokker ended up at the same table. Anthony immediately showed keen interest.

The Junkers J.I, and its derivative, the J.II, were conceptually revolutionary aircraft, years ahead of their time. Knowledge of their construction details was limited to the small circle of Hugo Junker’s staff members and some of his factory workers. He planned to build an armor-plated plane that could be used in close air support over the battlefield to attack targets on the ground. Anthony, test pilot par excellence, instinctively grasped the design’s far-reaching innovations and quickly proposed that he and Junkers join forces to develop the two prototypes into aircraft that could go into series production. Although his company had no experience with all-metal designs, what he could offer was experience with series production, which Junkers lacked.

At the meeting it was decided that Fokker would visit Dessau, seventy miles south of Berlin, to inspect the two Junkers aircraft. The next afternoon he boarded the train for Dessau, arriving there that evening. The next day he was shown around by Junkers’s company director, Kurt Lottmann. Anthony proved himself a keen guest indeed, deeply interested in the specialized construction of the machines. Four days later, on December 22, he was allowed to make a test flight with the J.II from Adlershof near Johannisthal. When he landed about a half hour later, he proclaimed himself most satisfied with the plane’s flying characteristics. Moreover, he proposed to buy the licensing rights for production of the J.II. The base price that Junkers wanted for this, 500,000 marks (approximately $68,700 at the time), posed no problem for Fokker. Nonetheless, an agreement was not forthcoming, since Junkers demanded an additional 15 percent commission per aircraft for the use of his patents. His aeronautical experiments were proving very expensive, and he was in constant need for new funds. His demand, however, was rather steep for Fokker. The two constructors did not reach agreement, and the meeting was adjourned in a prickly atmosphere.

In January Anthony made several telephone calls to the Junkers factory to set a date for a new meeting, but Hugo Junkers wanted none of it and told his spokesmen to relay that he was in bed with a cold. Now Fokker also began to backtrack, indicating that he saw various financial and technical problems with the proposed cooperation. Days went by before the reasons behind Fokker’s sudden reservations became clear in Dessau and started a severe row. On December 18 Fokker had asked Junkers’s engineers to explain nearly everything there was to know about the design and construction of the new aircraft. After consultations with his own people in the Hotel Bristol, he had decided that he preferred to use this information for the further development of the wooden cantilever wing that he and Forssman had been working on, instead of building aircraft for yet another competitor.

Upon learning this, Hugo Junkers almost exploded with rage: he could not find words to describe the depth of his loathing for Fokker’s lack of personal integrity. He immediately went on a search for alternative funding. But the harm was already done. On the insistence of Wagenführ, a second meeting between the two adversaries was scheduled at the Hotel Bristol on February 2, 1917. Now Fokker was the one to play hide-and-seek. He sent a message down to Junkers in the hotel lobby, claiming that he was ill, and left it to his manager, Wilhelm Horter, to calm things down. Horter pretended he did not know what had previously passed between the two men and tried to convince Junkers that the Fokker Works were only interested in acquiring the patent rights for Junkers’s cantilever wing construction.

IdFlieg, where Wagenführ was primarily interested in applying Junkers’s discoveries, supported Fokker in these maneuvers. On strict instructions from Wagenführ, the two entrepreneurs entered into further negotiations. After months of difficult discussions, an agreement was finally reached on June 16, 1917, in which Fokker gained permission to produce and develop aircraft according to Junkers’s designs. The deal included the use of the cantilever wing construction. Fokker agreed to pay the 500,000 marks that he had offered earlier, plus 10 percent of the sales price of every machine that the Fokker Works would turn out under the contract with Junkers until the end of the war—and 7.5 percent for every airplane built after the end of hostilities until February 1, 1925.

On August 24 IdFlieg also managed to have the two parties agree to the foundation of a joint venture, Fokker-Junkers Werke AG Metallflugzeugbau (Fokker-Junkers Works Co. Metal Aircraft Constructions). This was not quite what Anthony wanted. He would have preferred to get a large industrial concern onboard, such as AEG or the steel conglomerate run by industrialist Hugo Stinnes, to obtain a more secure financial footing. But Junkers would agree to none of this. Hence the founding papers that were signed on October 20, 1917, only mentioned Fokker and Junkers. Both invested 1 million marks ($173,300), to which the army added another 630,000 marks ($109,000) in short-term credit, bringing the corporate means to 2,630,000 marks total ($282,300). Junkers paid his share by incorporating all the nonfixed assets of his heating appliances factory, Junkers & Company. Fokker, on the other hand, was able to pay his share in cash. It was indicative of the distribution of power within the new company that Fokker, and not Junkers, became general director. Not surprisingly, the deed was signed at the office of Fokker’s lawyer, Hugo Alexander-Katz, in Berlin.

The stated aim of the Fokker-Junkers Works was to start production of the all-metal aircraft designed by Junkers, for which they would now hold all patent rights. For Junkers the new enterprise meant financial support of his research in aerodynamics. He also retained the right to use his patents outside the joint venture in Junkers & Company. For Fokker the matter was more complicated: apart from the right (or duty) to start up a production line of Junkers aircraft, he received the coveted patent rights for Junkers’s cantilever wing construction. For the sum of 250,000 marks ($43,330) plus 9 percent of the net price of every airplane sold, Fokker Flugzeugwerke in Schwerin could henceforth make use of the knowledge gained from the linkup.

Setting up a production line to build Junkers aircraft in large numbers was no easy matter in a country now suffering from shortages of just about everything. Aluminum was very hard to come by in Germany. Besides, neither Fokker nor Junkers had any experience with series production of all-metal aircraft. (Indeed, no one had at that time.) It demanded machines and tooling for working large and small metal parts and a specialized labor force. The complexity of the Junkers designs was another obstacle. In March 1917 IdFlieg had placed an advance order for fifty armored J.4 aircraft for the Western Front near Kortrijk in Belgium. But the first two aircraft were not delivered until October. Clearly dissatisfied with the delays in getting the J.4 production line up and running, IdFlieg repeatedly threatened to break the sales contract and pay a much lower price per aircraft. Further problems followed after delivery: repairs to aircraft damaged in combat proved difficult and time-consuming. Early in December Fokker and Wagenführ agreed to make an all-out effort to increase production and have eight aircraft ready by the end of that month. In 1918 production was then to expand further. But what was the value of such a promise coming from a company that was marred with trouble at the top? The relationship between Junkers and Fokker was characterized by distrust, ill will, and suspicion. Both entrepreneurs were out to do business with the cantilever wing construction, but on their own terms and at each other’s expense.

Fokker stood to gain the most. Early in 1917 he and Franz Möser had developed their own cantilever wing, made out of wood and both lightweight and strong. The V.17, V.20, V.23, and V.25 prototypes, each borne by a single cantilever wing, were closely related to the Junkers J.7 and J.9. The progress from rough general ideas to an actual wing followed the same pragmatic trial-and-error method that had been used with other Fokker designs and constructions. In the end the various development processes came together in a revolutionary-looking biplane with two cantilever wings and a radically streamlined fuselage, the V.1 (V standing for Versuchsmaschine, or test machine). But continuing problems with the production of powerful aircraft engines meant that Fokker could not locate a suitable engine for the V.1. Poor downward visibility from the cockpit also made the machine difficult to land. Despite its ultramodern features and looks, the V.1 was found unsuitable for military use. But if production orders were not forthcoming, the practical use of the wooden cantilever wing had been proven. Hugo Junkers resented the way in which Fokker had obtained this technology. Despite their forced cooperation, he filed a lawsuit over Fokker’s breach of the patent for this type of wing, which had been granted to him on December 22, 1916, just as the talks with Fokker had begun. The suit would drag on until 1940.

Given the enforced character of their cooperation, there was no stopping Fokker. Neither theory nor practice could remain hidden from his sight. According to the terms of the Fokker-Junkers Works joint venture, Anthony made a test flight with the new J.7 on December 4, 1917, to examine the plane’s handling characteristics. Upon landing, he hit a deep hole in the grass airfield with one of the wheels, cracking the undercarriage. This damage set the development of the J.7 further back. Hugo Junkers, who suspected malicious intent on Fokker’s part, was furious, but he was unable to back out of the cooperative venture. That the 2,000-strong workforce of the Junkers-Fokker Works managed to complete 227 armored ground-attack aircraft in 1917 and 1918, plus 41 ultramodern Junkers D.I fighters, was, in the end, largely due to the organizational talents of Wilhelm Horter, because the two constructors continued to use every opportunity to make life difficult for each other. In March 1918 even Wagenführ had to admit that it might be best to split up the joint venture. To effect this separation became Junkers’s principal mission in the remaining months of the war.

Junkers J.I (2nd series)

Serial: J.845/17

This aircraft was test-flown on the Adlershof airfield in September 1918. Most probably this is was the first airplane which is had full-metal rudder.


Serial: 884/17

This aircraft was found by British troops at Bickendorf airfield, near Cologne, in 1919.

Serial: J.586/18

Summer 1918. This aircraft was captured and shipped to Canada in 1919. Since 1969 it was exhibited in Ottawa Air Space museum.


Serial: J.594/18

Dessau airfield, before sending to the front-zone in September 1918. Together with many other aircraft of this type it was captured by USA troops at Villers la Chevres ni January 1919.

Junkers J.4 (J.I)

By far the most unique ground support aircraft built during the war was the nearly all-metal Junkers J.I biplane, which entered service in late 1917. Based on early all-metal prototypes developed by Dr. Hugo Junkers, the J.I featured a hexagon-shaped fuselage that was covered primarily with corrugated sheet metal. The nose and crew compartments were protected by .5 mm chrome-nickel sheet steel. Whereas the rear fuselage in early editions were covered in fabric, those built toward the end of the war were covered entirely with metal. The wings relied on steel spars and were covered with corrugated sheet metal. Instead of using cables to control the ailerons, elevator, and rudder, the J.I was one of the first aircraft to feature a direct linkage system of cranks and push-rods, all of which were enclosed to minimize damage from ground fire. The J.I, which was much larger than its Halberstadt and Hannover contemporaries, had a wingspan of 52 ft 6 in., length of 29 ft 10.4 in., and loaded weight of 4,787 lbs. Powered by a 200 hp Benz Bz. IV inline engine, it was capable of 96 mph. Although it took 32 minutes to climb 2,000 m (6,562 ft) and was not as maneuverable as the Halberstadts and Hannovers, the J.I excelled in ground attacks because it could absorb much punishment, while displaying great firepower with its twin forward-firing, synchronized Spandaus and its rearfiring, ring-mounted Parabellum. By war’s end a total of 227 J. Is had entered service. It should be noted that Junkers introduced two other all-metal aircraft at the very end of the war, which were far advanced for their time. The Junkers CL.I was a low-wing monoplane designed for ground support duties and the Junkers D.I was a lowwing monoplane fighter. Although the 47 CL.Is and 41 D.Is came too late to make a difference in the war (the D.I most likely was not used at all), both would see action in 1919 against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic States