Clades Lolliana 16 BC

Militarily speaking, the 500 or so years of Empire made for a vastly quieter time for the Romans than the preceding 700 years or so of the Republic. The intractable doors of the Temple of Janus even remained closed for a while in the early years of Augustus’ reign. Augustus wielded complete control over what had now become the Roman Empire; he also retained control of the Roman army – essentially to prevent a return to the bloody turmoil of the civil wars by covetous, power-hungry generals. He maintained a policy of limited expansion, largely keeping the new Empire within its existing boundaries. This was in the face of encouragement to invade Britannia and Parthia and a need to ensure that the legions were usefully employed to the benefit of the political establishment rather than to its detriment. As far as the Romans could see, there was little out there now which would earn a return on expensive military campaigns; lucrative booty and fertile lands not under Roman control were now in short supply. Why bother? Augustus had the financial resources to satisfy and resettle veterans out of his substantial windfalls from the Ptolemaic empire; he was naturally unwilling to allow ambitious commanders to launch insurrection on the back of victorious military campaigns. Fortuitously, it turns out that battle casualties and proscriptions from the civil wars had dramatically reduced the number of nobles agitating for a return to the Republic.

Policy in Asia Minor, Africa, Egypt, Spain and Gaul largely reflects this restraint, this military conservatism. Germany, however, was to prove an exception. In 17 BC, tribes led by the Sugambri, from near what is now the Dutch-German border on the right bank of the Rhine, defeated a Roman legion under the command of Marcus Lollius. This came to be known as the Clades Lolliana – the Lollius Massacre.

Marcus Lollius is little known but he was probably a homo novus (new man), a friend of and indebted to Augustus who had saved him from proscription. Consul in 21 BC, he was the first governor of Galatia and enjoyed success over the Thracian Bersi tribe. In 17 BC, he was a governor on the Rhine leading the Vth (Alaudae) Legion, battle hardened from their campaigns against the Cantabri in Iberia. Soon after his arrival, a number of Romans were captured and crucified by the Tencteri, knowing quite well that this would not go unpunished. The Tencteri, noted for their skills as cavalrymen, joined with the Usipites and the Sugambri and launched attacks into Roman-occupied Gaul. For the Tencteri and Usipites, this was a long-awaited chance to avenge the slaughter visited on them some forty years earlier, in 55 BC, by Julius Caesar. According to Cato the Younger, Caesar murdered 400,000 of them and ought to be brought to book for the war crime. The Sugambri were led by Melo, brother of Baetorix; later the Sicambri under Deudorix, son of Baetorix, joined Arminius and were to help annihilate the three Roman legions under Publius Quinctilius Varus at the Teutoburg Forest.

Lollius was impatient and ill-prepared. He marched out with the Vth Alaudae and a small squadron of cavalry to confront the invaders; the cavalry were sent on ahead only to be massacred in a Tencteri ambush. The Germans pursued the survivors back to the ranks of the legion, which was taken by surprise and slaughtered. If the destruction of the Vth Alaudae was not bad enough, the Tencteri made things a lot worse when they triumphantly captured the coveted gold aquila standard – a most stigmatic, albeit rare, humiliation for the legion and its commander. There was further bad news when it transpired that Augustus was himself in that part of Gaul at the time. The emperor, no doubt furious at the loss of a standard and the best part of a legion, gathered an army to confront the Germans. Augustus took hostages and subsequently withdrew his army. Lollius, of course, was finished. Apart from this calamity, he had a torrid time as a guardian to Gaius Caesar, Augustus’ nephew. Their strained relationship culminated in accusations of corruption and taking bribes from King Phraates of Parthia, after which he took his own life. He died a wealthy man, his considerable fortune being inherited by his granddaughter, Lollia Paulina. Predictably, history has not treated him well: Velleius Paterculus labelled him greedy and vicious – the inevitable epitaph for a commander who loses his eagle to the barbarians. His friend Horace, on the other hand, had praised him; to Pliny the Elder he was a hypocrite. With supreme understatement, Suetonius described the incident as ‘disgraceful’ rather than ‘damaging’. Comparing it with the Clades Varianas (the Varus Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest), he says, ‘But the Lollius debacle was more about dishonour than disaster.’

The Romans should have taken Clades Lolliana as a stark and timely warning that, in this part of Gaul and in Germany, they were vulnerable, and, if they were to succeed, would have to demonstrate the utmost military skill and deploy the best strategies and the sharpest of tactics. If any good came out of Lollius’s avoidable disaster it was that his clades eventually provided the Romans with a springboard for the invasion of western Germany in order to create a buffer against German attacks on Gaul. It allowed Augustus to extend the boundary of Empire to the Elbe and, incidentally, provided military opportunities for his stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus. Drusus was able to win a series of victories and reached the Elbe between 12 and 9 BC. From 11 BC, for seven years, German hostility between tribes deepened. Tacitus records that the Chatti defeated the Cherusci, but were themselves pacified from AD 4. Velleius Paterculus also notes unrest. On the death of Drusus in 9 BC, Tiberius took over and consolidated these gains through ethnic cleansing, resettling the more refractory Germans in Gaul in 8 and 7 BC. Three years later L. Domitius Ahenobarbus was able to penetrate Germany by another route: the valley of the Saale in the upper Danube Valley.

Skillfully combining naval and land operations, in AD 6, Tiberius built on his successes, culminating in an attack against Maroboduus and his 75,000-strong Marcomanni army. Gaius Sentius Saturninus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus led the 65,000 infantry and 10,000–20,000 cavalry and archers, along with 10,000–20,000 civilians, amounting to thirteen legions with entourage. In AD 4, Tiberius invaded Germania and subjugated the Cananefates, the Chatti near the upper Weser and the Bructeri, south of the Teutoburg Forest, before crossing the Weser. However, in that same year, a distracting and diverting rebellion erupted in Illyricum, led by the Daesitiate, the Breucians, the Pannonia and the Marcomanni; this Bellum Batonianum (War of the Batons) lasted for four years. Tiberius sent eight of his thirteen legions east to crush the revolt, which had been inflamed by neglect on the part of the Romans, food shortages and the heavy-handed exaction of oppressive taxes. Only three legions (the XVIIth, XVIIIth and XIXth), six independent cohorts and three squadrons of cavalry were left to Publius Quinctilius Varus, legatus Augusti pro praetor (envoy of the emperor, acting praetor), in Germany.


Instruments of Darkness



A prewar, civilian radio beam navigation system adapted as a bomber aid by both the RAF and Luftwaffe. It comprised a radio signal broadcast by the airfield and received passively by approaching aircraft. It had a limited range of about 20 miles. Its main importance was to aid wartime development of the Knickebein and X-Gerät beam systems.


A Luftwaffe electronic navigation aid for night bombers in which two directional radio beams were broadcast to intersect over a target in Britain. The bombers followed one beam—guided by Morse dots and dashes—until it met the second, then released their bomb load. It was an advance in both range and accuracy on the prewar Lorenz blind-landing system used by civil aviation. By July 1940, the RAF developed a counter, code-named “Aspirin,” which imposed a British beam atop the German beam in a process called “bending the beam,” although the German beam was never actually “bent.” The Luftwaffe next moved to the X-Gerät system, as the “battle of the beams” continued.


The centrepiece of the British Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) effort was however ‘Aspirin’, a high power transmitter which emulated the signals from the dot modulated lobe of the Knickebein. This had the effect of confusing German pilots, who even when centred in the Knickbein beam would hear the dots emanating from the Aspirin jammer. By October 1940 the British had deployed fifteen Aspirin jammers to frustrate the Knickebein system. The stakes were high. Estimates of the accuracy of the Knickebein suggested that it was capable of putting a 300 m x 300 m box around an intended target, which when saturated with bombs from a mere 40 aircraft would put the bombs down on average 17 metres apart.


A sophisticated Luftwaffe beam navigation system. It was derived from the prewar Lorenz and early wartime Knickebein systems, which the RAF successfully countered by July 1940. X-Gerät used four beams and a bomb-release mechanical computer that was triggered by passing over the three cross beams. It was deployed by a special target-marking unit of the Luftwaffe, which then dropped flares and incendiaries to mark the target for follow-on bombers.


The British built the ‘Bromide’ jammer, using radar hardware, to defeat the X- Gerät system. While the Bromide equipment was being developed, KG.100 conducted no less than forty raids using X- Gerät. These raids were essentially an ‘Opeval’ to determine the limits of the system and to develop tactics. KG.100 started dropping incendiaries, a tactic to mark targets for a larger bomber force. This was the origin of the pathfinder technique later used by the RAF to obliterate German cities.


By early 1941, the X- Gerät was losing effectiveness, along with Luftwaffe command confidence in the system. The Luftwaffe was, however, deploying a third radio bombing aid also designed by Dr Plendl, named Wotan II or Y- Gerät. Y- Gerät used a similar but automated scheme for bomber heading tracking, but used a beacon transponder arrangement for measuring range between the Y- Gerät station and the bomber. Not unlike a ‘back to front DME’, the Y- Gerät station operators could track the bomber’s position and send by radio course corrections to the pilot.


The Luftwaffe was less fortunate with Y-Gerät than with the previous two systems. The British requisitioned a mothballed experimental BBC television transmitter at Alexandra Palace in North London, and adapted it to rebroadcast the Y-Gerät rangefinding signal. Labelled the Domino, the Y-Gerät jammer was soon followed by a second installation at Beacon Hill near Salisbury. The RAF was effectively performing ‘range gate stealing’ jamming attacks on the Y-Gerät, to completely compromise the range measurement achieved by the Germans. The German ground station receiver would lock on to the Domino jammer instead of the Y-Gerät transponder on the bomber, and the British could then manipulate its range measurement. The Domino jammer proved effective, and in the first two weeks of March 1941 only 20 per cent of Y-Gerät raids resulted in commanded bomb releases. Three Heinkels were shot down in early May and the RAF recovered the Y-Gerät receivers. They quickly determined that the automated mechanism for measuring the bearing error in the beam was susceptible to continuous wave jamming, which crippled the bearing analyser circuit.

Time had run out for the Luftwaffe, and with the buildup for Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, the KampfGruppes were redeployed east and the Battle of the Beams was won by the British.

The Battle of the Beams is generally acknowledged to have been the first modern effort at electronic warfare, and was characterised by the Luftwaffe not attempting to seriously improve the jam resistance of their systems, but rather by deploying newer and more advanced systems. It remains an excellent case study of how the game of technical intelligence gathering and analysis is played, and how pivotal it is to success in modern warfare.

Further Reading: Price A, Instruments of Darkness, Peninsula Publishing, 1987.




Saukel’s project. An aerial photograph of the REIMAHG bombproof factory near Kahla, 26 December 1944. The photograph was included in the target sheet file of this factory. Allied interpreters marked the workshops and tunnel entrance area. Visible at the top is the landing strip constructed on top of the complex (courtesy U. S. National Archives and Records Administration).

The last of the six bombproof factories was the REIMAHG factory in Kahla. On 8 March 1944, Fritz Sauckel, the Reich Plenipotentiary for Labor Mobilization and Gauleiter of Thuringia, suggested to Göring the construction of a massive complex of bombproof factories in the Kahla-Pössneck area, south of Jena. Armaments giant Wilhelm Gustloff Werke teamed with OT and contracted various mining firms in order to construct these factories. Gustloff purchased aircraft producer AGO, whose Oschersleben factory was largely destroyed by American bombing. Then it established a subsidiary firm named REIMAHG (after Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring) to take over production of FW 190 and Ta 152 fighters formerly produced in Oschersleben. Construction began in a former china clay mine dug in a hillside on 11 April 1944. The mine needed relatively little adaptation, including strengthening of weak points, flooring with cement, spraying with concrete against dust, and finally whitewashing. The Jägerstab planned to commence production in August 1944, but in October 1944 the facility was still not ready. The delay has been attributed to the failure to construct a branch railway to the site at an early stage and to Sauckel’s dilettante interventions in the planning and construction process. These allegedly included the removal of the ducted air conditioning system installed by the contractors. By that time Allied intelligence had already identified the factory and determined that it was supposed to produce jets.

Hitler was briefed about the progress of the construction on 21-23 September, and he suggested that a BMW engine production line also be moved to the tunnels Göring and Saur visited the site on 10 October 1944 and two days later Hitler ordered production switched to Me 262. Messerschmitt hurriedly moved production facilities to the factory and began producing there some subcomponents. Since the tunnels were still unfinished this initial production was done in makeshift bunkers constructed on the southern side of the complex. Final assembly began only after some of the tunnels were finished in January 1945. The factory comprised 75 tunnels totaling 32 km in length, offering approximately 30,000 square meters of floor space, and four bombproof buildings with 2-meter-thick walls. Final assembly was supposed to be carried out in one of the bunkers. A special elevator was supposed to deliver completed aircraft to a 1,250-m-long runway on top of the complex, used for test flying and for delivery flights. During early 1945 around 15,000 workers- two-thirds of them slave and foreign workers-worked in the Kahla REIMAHG complex. The slave workers were provided and guarded by an SS watch. At least 3 labor camps were constructed for them around the site. 399 Production, however, never really picked up the pace at REIMAHG and it is estimated that REIMAHG completed only between 15 and 26 aircraft by the time the U. S. Army captured the place on 12 April 1945.

Thus, despite all the monetary investment (estimated at around 30,000,000 RM) and resources invested in this ambitious project, practically nothing came of it. In addition, its unique construction made it very conspicuous to aerial reconnaissance and Allied intelligence easily found it. As the first USSBS team to visit the place summed up, this factory “must have been one of Germany’s less efficient industrial enterprises.” However, REIMAHG definitely represented prevailing late-war thinking regarding armaments production in Nazi Germany. It was also another example of multiple partners’ cooperation in the field of aircraft production. Fritz Sauckel played here a central role in his double function as a local Gauleiter and as the Reich Plenipotentiary for Labor Mobilization, therefore controlling both the territory on which the complex was constructed and the workforce required for its construction.


German Tank Hunters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vehicle designs

Designs of the Panzerjäger vehicles varied based on the chassis used, which could be of three types:

  • Early war open-topped superstructure on a light tank chassis
  • Mid-war fully enclosed crew compartment on a medium or heavy tank chassis, as an added-on entity not usually integral to the original hull armor
  • Late war unarmoured or shielded mounting on a half-track chassis

Notable tank destroyers in the Panzerjäger classification were:

The later Jagdpanzer designation was used from the beginning for the following more integrally armored vehicles:


Wartime German Destroyers: From Narvik to the Capitulation I

The Battle of Biscay, 28 December 1943.

In the wake of the disaster at Narvik on 13 April 1940, the four existing Z-Flottillen were disbanded and reformed under a caretaker FdZ, Fregattenkapitän Alfred Schemmel, between 18 April and 14 May 1940. Kapitän zur See Erich Bey was appointed on the latter date, and he held the post until his death aboard the battleship Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943.

The two new flotillas were numbered 5 and 6. 5. Z-Flottille consisted of the former 1. Z-Flottille based at Swinemünde—Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt. 6. Z-Flottille comprised the remaining survivors, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 6 Theodor Riedel, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, Z 10 Hans Lody and Z 20 Karl Galster. These flotillas had little real significance because the small number of ships and their lack of operational readiness led to units being sent wherever the necessity for them arose. During 1940 three new destroyers, Z 23, Z 24 and Z 25, entered service, but they were not combat-ready until March 1941.

No destroyer operations were carried out in the Baltic east of the Kattegat in 1940, and there were no further German destroyer losses during 1940.

The immediate priority following the occupation of Norway was to close down the Skagerrak, and on 28 April Z 4 Richard Beitzen and Z 8 Bruno Heinemann took part in the first day’s operation to lay the Sperre 17 mine barrage in company with the minelayers Roland, Kaiser, Preussen and Cobra. The torpedo boats Leopard, Möwe and Kondor were also present, though Leopard was sunk in a collision with Preussen. After an improvement in the weather, the work was completed on 17 and 19 May, Z 4 being accompanied by Z 7 Hermann Schoemann on these two latter occasions.

At the beginning of June an operation codenamed ‘Juno’ was begun, the objective of which was to penetrate to the end of Andfjord and attack the town of Harstad, which British forces had invested as a naval base with a view eventually to re-taking Narvik. At 0800 on 4 June a German formation led by the battleship Gneisenau, flagship of Admiral Marschall, set out northwards from Kiel. In line astern followed the battleship Scharnhorst, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the destroyers Hans Lody, Hermann Schoemann, Erich Steinbrinck and Karl Galster. The attack on Harstad was planned for the early hours of 9 June, but once it had been confirmed that the British and French occupation force had abandoned the town, and a full evacuation from Norway was in progress, Gruppe West ordered Marschall to attack a reported convoy instead. A scouting line with 10nm between each ship was formed, and at 0605, in position 67°20’N 04°00’E the sweep encountered a westbound tanker, Oil Pioneer (5,666grt), escorted by the 530-ton ‘Tree’ class corvette Juniper—’an unwelcome stop in our search for the valuable convoy with its cruiser and destroyer escort’, Marschall recorded. While Gneisenau dealt with the tanker, leaving Hermann Schoemann to rescue the eleven survivors, Admiral Hipper finished off the corvette. Juniper’s depth charges exploded as she sank, leaving only one survivor to be picked up by Hans Lody.

The search line re-formed, and shortly after 1000 Lody reported smoke from several ships to the north which proved to be the hospital ship Atlantis, which was allowed to proceed unmolested, and the empty troop transporter Orama (19,840grt). The latter was suspected to be an AMC, and when, at 1104, movement on deck was interpreted as an attempt to man her guns, Hipper turned broadside-on and opened fire with tailfused salvos from all her main turrets at a range of 13,000yds. Lody began shooting at the same time, and, just as she was being ordered via ultra-short wave radio to cease firing, Hipper’s, foretop rangefinder operator reported that the Orama had struck her flag and was being abandoned by her crew. Lody had the Orama on a bearing from which it was not possible to see the transport’s lifeboats being lowered—and her ultrashort wave radio was not functioning. She therefore received neither the order from Hipper to cease firing nor one from the fleet commander not to fire torpedoes. Hans Lody unfortunately continued to shell the stricken ship and, to hasten her demise, loosed off two torpedoes. Both of these were rogues, but although one was a surface-runner which hit a loaded lifeboat at 40 knots and failed to explode, the other deviated and detinated prematurely close to Hipper. At 1220 the Orama sank by the stern, leaving fourteen survivors to be picked up by the heavy cruiser and 98 by the destroyer. An hour later the cruiser and destroyers were sent into Trondheim to refuel.

On 10 June the cruiser sortied in company with the battleship Gneisenau and the same four destroyers— Z 7, Z 10, Z 15 and Z 20—to attack British shipping, but as a result of adverse Luftwaffe reconnaissance reports were back at their moorings the next day. Bomber aircraft attacked the German units on several occasions.

Between 14 and 17 June, in an operation codenamed ‘Nora’, the cruiser Nürnberg, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and a minesweeping flotilla escorted the troopship Levante with 3. Gebirgsjager Division from Trondheim to Elvegardsmoen in Narvikfjord, returning with the paratroop force relieved there.

On 20 June the battleship Scharnhorst, which had been torpedoed during the action in which she and her sister-ship Gneisenau sank the aircraft carrier Glorious and three destroyers, left Trondheim for Kiel flanked by Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 10 Hans Lody and several torpedo boats; that same evening Admiral Hipper and Gneisenau sailed from Trondheim escorted by Z 20 Karl Galster and a seaplane on an operation to ‘roll up’ the British Northern Patrol, this having the secondary purpose of distracting attention from the departure of Scharnhorst. Shortly before midnight, at the entrance to Trondheimfjord, the submarine Clyde torpedoed Gneisenau forward of ‘A’ turret and the German force had to turn back.

On 25 July Hipper left Trondheim in company with the homebound damaged Gneisenau and her escort, consisting of the cruiser Nürnberg, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn and Z 20 Karl Galster. As arranged, Hipper was soon detached and steered north alone for anti-contraband reconnaissance in polar waters, and the force for Kiel was reinforced the next day by the torpedo boats Seeadler, Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs and T 5. Luchs was sunk when she intercepted a torpedo intended for Gneisenau from the British submarine Swordfish, but the remainder of the convoy reached Kiel on 28 June.

Between 31 August and 2 September Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 20 Karl Galster and four torpedo boats assisted the minelayers Tannenberg, Roland and Cobra to lay the Sperre 3 barrage in the south-western North Sea.

From 13 September 1940 Admiral Hipper was on standby at Kiel for Operation ‘Seelöwe’ (Sealion), the planned invasion of Britain, for which her task was to make a diversionary break-out to the north of either Scotland or Ireland to lure the Home Fleet out of the English Channel. All operational destroyers were sent to the French Channel ports of Brest and Cherbourg during September and October for ‘Seelöwe’ : Z 6 Theodor Riedel, Z 10 Hans Lody, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster sailed from Germany on 9 September, followed on the 22nd by Z 5 Paul Jacobi and Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck. Z 6 Theodor Riedel was of little use on account of persistent problems with her port engine. Z 4 Richard Beitzen arrived on 21 October.

The principal operations carried out against the British south coast occurred on the night of 28 September, when Falmouth Bay was mined by Paul Jacobi, Hans Lody, Friedrich Ihn and Friedrich Eckholdt; on 17 October, when Hans Lody, Friedrich Ihn, Erich Steinbrinck, Karl Galster and 5. Torpedobootflottille skirmished briefly with a mixed force of Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers in the Western Approaches (Lody was struck twice by shells); and in the early morning of 19 November when, off Plymouth, Richard Beitzen, Hans Lody and Karl Galster engaged the destroyers Jupiter, Javelin, Jackal, Jersey and Kashmir, Galster suffering light splinter damage and Javelin being torpedoed forward and aft.

With the abandonment of ‘Seelöwe’ in October, German destroyers had begun to trickle away from Brest and Cherbourg to Germany to refit and repair, and by early December Z 4 Richard Beitzen, at Brest, was the only German destroyer operational anywhere.

Six new destroyers (Z 23–28) became operational during 1941, and, as no destroyers were lost, the total available for duty at the end of the year rose to sixteen. Z 4 Richard Beitzen remained the only destroyer active off the French coast until March. She escorted Admiral Hipper out of Brest at the commencement the cruiser’s second raiding operation and met her on her return to the French port on 14 February.

Z 4 left for Germany on 16 March and was replaced in early April by Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn and Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, which were based at La Pallice. From 22 to 24 April these destroyers escorted Thor across Biscay to Cherbourg on the completion of the raider’s successful Atlantic cruise. In May Z 8 and Z 15 repeated the exercise for the naval oiler Nordmark after her six-month sojourn in mid-Atlantic replenishing the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. In the morning of 1 June all three destroyers met the cruiser Prinz Eugen as she put in at Brest astern of Sperrbrecher 13 at 1525 to conclude the disastrous ‘Rheinübung’ operation (in which the battleship Bismarck was sunk).

In mid-June the new destroyers Z 23 and Z 24 arrived at Brest and together with Z 8 and Z 15 ran escort for the battleship Scharnhorst on her occasional movements down the Breton coast. On 24 July, while engaged in gunnery practice off La Pallice, Scharnhorst was bombed and had to return to Brest for repair. From 21 to 23 August Z 23, Z 24, Erich Steinbrinck and Bruno Heinemann escorted the raider Orion across the Bay of Biscay and into the Gironde estuary after her epic seventeen-month cruise (all incoming prizes and steamers headed for St-Nazaire or the Gironde estuary using the so-called ‘Prize Channel’. By the end of October all the destroyers based in France had returned to Germany.

Meanwhile, further north, between 26 and 28 March Z 23 escorted Admiral Hipper into Kiel after the latter’s break-out from Brest, and the same destroyer met Admiral Scheer returning from the Indian Ocean on 30 March, the voyage finishing at Kiel on 1 April. At 1125 on 19 May, off Cape Arcona, Rügen Island, the battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen moved off astern of a protective screen formed by Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck, Z 23 and two Sperrbrecher for the southern entrance to the Great Belt, where Z 10 Hans Lody, several minesweepers and eight aircraft joined for the crossing of the Skagerrak. At 0900 the next morning Prinz Eugen and the destroyers put into Korsfjord and refuelled in Kalvenes Bay. At 2000 the battle group assembled behind the destroyer screen, reaching the open sea by way of Hjeltefjord at 2200 on 21 May. The destroyers were released into Trondheim at 0510 the following morning.

On 11 June 1941 the light cruiser Leipzig, the destroyers Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster, three torpedo boats, two U-boats and a large air escort set out from Kiel to accompany the heavy cruiser Lützow (formerly the pocket battleship Deutschland) on the first stage of Operation ‘Sommerreise’, a raiding cruise to the Indian Ocean. The naval escort terminated at Oslofjord, and Lützow continued alone. She got as far as Egersund before being crippled by an RAF torpedobomber. Z 10 Hans Lody and Z16 Friedrich Eckholdt escorted her back to the yards at Kiel on 14 June.

With the opening of the campaign against the Soviet Union—‘Barbarossa’—a two-part Baltic Fleet was formed. On 23 September 1941 the northern group, comprising the battleship Tirpitz, the cruisers Nürnberg and Köln and the new destroyers Z 25, Z 26 and Z 27, left Swinemünde for the Gulf of Finland to intercept Russian warships seeking internment in Sweden. On 27 September the force appeared off the Aba-Aaland skerries, but, as it turned out, the Red Fleet had no intention of leaving Kronstadt.

Shortly after the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union, 6. Z-Flottille (Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs), consisting of Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 10 Hans Lody, Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt and Z 20 Karl Galster, set out for northern Norway, arriving on 10 July at Kirkenes, a port in the Barents Sea close to the Kola peninsula and Murmansk. On 12 July the force split into two groups and on the first foray attacked a small Russian convoy of tugs, sinking the Soviet patrol ship Passat and a trawler. In a three-day sortie near the port of Iokanga on the Kola peninsula near the mouth of the White Sea, Z 4, Z 7, Z 16 and Z 20 sank the Soviet survey ship Meridian, but a similar raid which set out on 29 July was broken off after the Luftwaffe reported an approaching British force of two carriers, two cruisers and four destroyers which subsequently attacked Kirkenes.

On 9 and 10 August 1941 Beitzen, Lody and Eckholdt operated in the Kildin-Kola Inlet area, where, in a short engagement, the Soviet patrol vessel SKR-12 was sunk. Beitzen was straddled by enemy fire but not hit. When Z 4 and Z 7 returned to Germany for repairs in August, the remaining three destroyers were limited to escort duties following the British attack on the Bremse convoy of 6 September.

By November the Seekriegsleitung had recognised the frequency of the British Murmansk convoys and decided to adopt a far more aggressive policy in the Arctic. For this purpose 8. Z-Flottille (Kapitän zur See Gottfried Pönitz), composed of five new destroyers together with four E-boats and six U-boats, was sent to Kirkenes to relieve 6. Z-Flottille, the heavy ships following shortly afterwards.

From 16 to 18 December Z 23, Z 24, Z 25, and Z 27 — Z 26 turned back with engine trouble—sailed to lay a minefield north of Cape Gordodetzky on the Kola peninsula at the entrance to the White Sea but were disturbed by the Murmansk-based Halcyon class minesweeping sloops Speedy and Hazard, which had set out to escort convoy PQ.6. Speedy was hit and seriously damaged by four 15cm shells, but the German destroyers broke off the action when two Russian destroyers and the heavy cruiser Kent steamed out of the Kola Inlet to engage. On Boxing Day Z 23, Z 24, Z 25 and Z 27 operated off the Lofoten Islands following the British commando raid there at Christmas when an important radio mast had been destroyed and the small German naval base at Vaagso attacked.

During the course of 1942 Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann and Z 16 Friedrich Eckholdt, plus Z 26, were lost, and Z 29, Z 30 and Z 31 became operational, as did ZG 3 Hermes in the Mediterranean. By the end of the year sixteen destroyers were available—the same number as on 31 December 1941. Throughout 1942 all destroyer operations were concentrated in Norwegian waters: even Operation ‘Cerberus’ — the ‘Channel Dash’ — in February having as its primary object the removal of three heavy units from Brest to Norway.

The year opened with the laying of a 100-mine EMC field by the Kirkenes-based destroyers Z 23, Z 24 and Z 25 on 13 January in the western channel of the entrance to the White Sea near Cape Kocovsky. Meanwhile the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen had been at Brest for between six and nine months, and it was decided to extricate them by sailing them through the English Channel in broad daylight—the so-called ‘Channel Dash’. Final discussions on the planned break-out from Brest were held in Paris on 1 January, those present including Admírale Saalwächter, Schniewind and Ciliax and the commanders of the three heavy units. Hitler gave his consent to the operation on 12 January. Towards the end of the month seven destroyers were despatched to Brest, but on 25 January, off Calais, Z 8 Bruno Heinemann, sailing in a group with Z 4, Z 5 and Z 7, struck two mines and sank—the first German destroyer lost since Narvik. Later Z 14, Z 25 and Z 29 arrived at Brest without incident. It was suspected that the principal target during the ‘Channel Dash’ would be Prinz Eugen, because of her part in sinking the battlcruiser Hood the previous May, and she was fitted with an extra five quadruple AA guns and allocated Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, which carried an unusual amount of sophisticated technology, as escort. Notice for steam was given for 2030 on 11 February. In command of the squadron was Vizeadmiral Ciliax, on board the flagship Scharnhorst.

Sailing was delayed by an air raid warning, and when the ships weighed anchor at 2245 their departure went unnoticed, the British submarine keeping watch off the port being engaged in recharging her batteries offshore. Escorting the three heavy ships—steaming in the order Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen—were the destroyers Z 4 Richard Beitzen, Z 5 Paul Jacobi, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 25 and Z 29; the torpedo boats T 11, T 2, T 5, T 12 and T 4 of the 2nd Flotilla, T 13, T 15, T 16 and T 17 of the 3rd Flotilla and Seeadler, Falke, Kondor, litis and Jaguar of the 5th Flotilla; and the 2nd, 4th and 6th E-boat Flotillas. Luftwaffe air cover comprised 176 Bf 110s and fighters.

The British were not alerted to the passage of the German armada until it was beyond Calais. The wind was south-west force 6 and the sea state 5. The first MTB attacks began at 1320, after the ships were beyond the range of the Dover batteries. Next came a suicidal low-level attack by six Swordfish torpedo bombers, all of which were shot down, one by the Luftwaffe, two by Friedrich Ihn and three by Prinz Eugen firing in barrage. In the North Sea the German units had the advantages of favourable weather and a heavy air umbrella.

In the entire action, 42 of the 600 British aircraft engaged were destroyed. When Scharnhorst was mined off the Scheldt, Ciliax transferred to Z 29, but, finding she had engine and other battle damage, he raised his flag aboard Z 7 Hermann Schoemann for the run to port.

At 0245 on 20 February Prinz Eugen (flagship of Vizeadmiral Ciliax) and Admiral Scheer left Brunsbüttel for Norway accompanied by Beitzen, Jacobi, Schoemann and Z 25. When reported by air reconnaissance before midday, the group reversed course for a while to throw the enemy off the scent. An unsuccessful air attack resulted in one aircraft being shot down. The ships put into Grimstadfjord on 22 February and left for Trondheim the same evening, but the escort was reduced by 50 per cent when Beitzen and Jacobi were forced into Bergen on account of damage cause by the heavy weather.

At 0702 the next morning, Trident—one of four British submarines positioned off the coast—hit Prinz Eugen’s stern with a torpedo which knocked off her rudder though left her propellers undamaged. The after section was almost severed, and the cruiser was unmanoeuvrable. Defensive measures prevented further attacks, and the unfortunate vessel limped into Lofjord during the night of 24 February. The scale of the damage was such that repairs in a German shipyard was dictated, and emergency work was begun at once alongside the workshop vessel Huascaran.

On 5 March German aircraft south of Jan Mayen reported a fifteen-ship convoy sailing on an eastward heading. This proved to be PQ. 12, and at the same time convoy QP.8 was sailing westwards for Iceland. The battleship Tirpitz, in company with Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 7 Hermann Schoemann and Z 25, sailed from Trondheim to intercept the merchantmen but missed the convoys in storm and fog, their only victim being the straggling Soviet freighter Izora, sunk on 7th March by Ihn.

On 19 March Admiral Hipper sailed north from Brunsbüttel in company with the destroyers Z 24, Z 26 and Z 30 and the torpedo boats T 15, T 16 and T 17 and on the 21st joined the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen in Lofjord near Trondheim. In the evening of 28 March the Kirkenes destroyers Z 24, Z 25 and Z 26 took on the role of light cruisers to attack convoy PQ.13. After having sunk the straggler Bateau—which was stopping to rescue her crew and that of the Empire Ranger found adrift in lifeboats—the trio were surprised in poor visibility in the morning of 29 March by the cruiser Trinidad (8,000 tons, 33 knots, 12×6in guns, 2 torpedo tubes) and the destroyer Fury (1,350 tons, 36 knots, 4×14.7in guns, 8 torpedo tubes). Z 26 was seriously damaged and set on fire after hits from Trinidad but found refuge in a snow squall. When contact was renewed, the British cruiser attempted to torpedo Z 26. Her tubes were iced over, however, and the only torpedo to come free was a rogue which circled back and hit the ship which had fired it. Z 24 and Z 25 missed the cruiser with torpedoes. Short exchanges occurred in the poor visibility between snow showers, culminating in a second British destroyer, Eclipse (1,375 tons, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes) shooting Z 26 to a standstill. Z 24 and Z 25 rained shells down on to Eclipse but eventually allowed her to escape, preferring to save Z 26’s crewmen before the destroyer sank in waters which the human body could not survive for more than a minute or so. Even so, the death toll aboard Z 26 was grievous: 283 men failed to return home.

On 9 April 1942 Z 7 Hermann Schoemann sailed for Kirkenes as a replacement for the sunken Z 26, and on 1 May she sortied with Z 24 and Z 25 to attack convoy QP. 11, which had already been intercepted by U-boats. The convoy was relatively well protected. Close in was the light cruiser Edinburgh (10,000 tons, 32 knots, 12×6in guns) and the destroyers Forester and Foresight (1,350 tons, 36 knots, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes), the remaining escort being composed of the destroyers Bulldog and Beagle (1,360 tons, 35 knots, 4×4.7in, 8 torpedo tubes), Amazon (1,352 tons, 37 knots, 4×4.7in, six torpedo tubes) and Beverley (1,190 tons, 25 knots, 3×4in, 3 torpedo tubes), plus four corvettes and a trawler. Well to the rear were some Soviet vessels coming up from Murmansk. Edinburgh had been torpedoed by U 456 on 30 April.

In thick snowfall and drift ice, the three German destroyers clashed first with the four outer destroyers, damaging Amazon. Shortly afterwards they came across the motionless Edinburgh. Her guns were still intact, and she soon had Hermann Schoemann wallowing, one of the first hits knocking out the destroyer’s main steam feed, causing her current and both turbines to fail. Attempts by Z 24 and Z 25 to finish off Edinburgh with torpedoes were frustrated by iced-up tubes, only one torpedo getting clear. After laying a smoke screen to protect Z 7, they then took on Forester and Foresight, inflicting serious damage on both, but Z 25 had four dead in her radio room as a result of a direct hit. Edinburgh later sank. After picking up what survivors from Schoemann she could find, Z 24 scuttled Z 7 with explosives. U 88 found a number of the destroyer’s survivors in boats and on rafts, her final tally of dead being eight.


Wartime German Destroyers: From Narvik to the Capitulation II

The battle off the coast of Brittany, 9 June 1944.

In Operation ‘Walzertraum’ (Waltz Dream), the heavy cruiser Lützow set out on 15 May with Z 4, Z 10, Z 27, Z 29 and a fleet escort boat to join Kampfgruppe I (Battle Group I) at Trondheim. The voyage was interrupted at Kristiansand to allow the completion of a minelaying operation by Z 4 Richard Beitzen, and then the convoy proceeded, arriving at Trondheim to join Admiral Scheer on 20 May as Kampfgruppe II. Bogen Bay near Narvik was reached on the 26th.

On 13 June Admiral Hipper moved up to Bogen Bay to form part of Kampfgruppe I under the fleet commander Admiral Schniewind aboard his flagship Tirpitz. The next stage of the process was Operation ‘Musik’, the transfer northward to Altaford, and, on arrival in Grimsöytraumen, Lützow, Theodor Riedel, Hans Lody and Karl Galster all struck uncharted shallows and were ruled out of the main operation.

On 3 July the two Kampfgruppen joined forces to attack the heavily escorted convoy PQ.17, which consisted of 36 freighters, one tanker and three rescue ships and was heading for Murmansk. The operation was codenamed ‘Rösselsprung’ (Knight’s Move). Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper, Admiral Scheer, six destroyers—Z 14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 24, Z 27, Z 28, Z 29 and Z 30—and two torpedo-boats put to sea on 5 July. They were beyond the North Cape steering north-east when the recall order was transmitted at 2200 that evening, and by 7 July the fleet was back at anchor. The Seekriegsleitung and the British Admiralty made a similar decision to withdraw naval surface forces from the area at about the same time. The preparations of the combined German battle group had been observed by British aerial reconnaissance, resulting in the recall of the naval escort and the controversial order to the convoy to disperse, which was to prove its death knell. On the German side, the wireless monitoring service had decoded British signals traffic reporting the German preparations, and SKL ordered the formation at sea to return to harbour on the grounds of the risk incurred. PQ.17 was then savaged by U-boats and the Luftwaffe.

On 17 August Richard Beitzen, Erich Steinbrinck and Friedrich Eckholdt escorted Admiral Scheer towards Bear Island for her solitary anti-shipping cruise, Operation ‘Wunderland’, into the Kara Sea, where she bombarded Port Dickson on the North Siberian mainland. On 29 August she met up with the same three destroyers off Bear Island for the return to Kirkenes. Z 4, Z 15 and Z 16 had escorted the minelayer Ulm to Bear Island to sow a field north west of Novaya Zemlya. On the way back Ulm fell foul of the British destroyers Marne, Martin and Onslaught and was sunk after a brief engagement.

Operation ‘Doppelschlag’ (Double Blow) was a continuation of ‘Wunderland’. It was planned that Admiral Scheer, Admiral Hipper and three destroyers would operate off the estuaries of the Ob and Yenisei rivers on the north Russian coast before hunting for independent shipping on the Novaya Zemlya-Spitz-bergen track. The operation was cancelled because of ice and the state of Scheer’s diesels.

On 13 September Hitler issued an order forbidding the employment of surface warships against eastbound convoys. Between 4 and 8 September Richard Beitzen, Z 29 and Z 30 had laid mines at the entrance to the Kara Strait. On the 24th of the month, as the flagship of Admiral Kummetz, Hipper set out with Beitzen, Steinbrinck, Eckholdt and Z 28 steering north-northeast into the Barents Sea and during the evening of 26 September laid 96 mines off the Matoshkin Strait at the centre of Novaya Zemlya. The purpose of this operation, codenamed ‘Czarin’ (Empress) was to force enemy convoys closer to the coast of Norway and thus nearer to German naval units. The group dropped anchor in Altafjord on the 28th.

Between 13 and 15 October Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 24, Z 27 and Z 30 laid a minefield off the Kanin peninsula at the mouth of the White Sea, and this quickly claimed a victim when the Soviet icebreaker Mikoyan blew up. On 5 November Hipper sortied from Kaafjord into the Barents Sea in company with Beitzen, Eckholdt, Z 27 and Z 30 on Operation ‘Hoffnung’ (Hope) with the idea of criss-crossing the convoy tracks in search of merchant vessels sailing alone. Whilst in pursuit of a tanker sighted by Hipper’s shipboard Arado, Z 27 sank the Soviet submarine-chaser B0-78, picking up 43 crew members: the same destroyer, at the far end of the patrol line, also sank the Russian tanker Donbass (8,000grt) with three torpedoes, the crew being brought aboard. The German ships returned to Altafjord on 9 November.

Following the discovery by U 85 on 28 December of what was reported to be a lightly defended convoy of ten ships 70 miles south of Bear Island, all available surface units in northern Norway were brought to readiness on 29 December, and, in a conference the following day, C-in-C Cruisers, Vizeadmiral Kummetz, explained Operation ‘Regenbogen’ to the commanders. The first destroyer to detect the convoy would shadow it while the remainder of the destroyer force closed in. The cruisers would stand off until first light. The first objective was to destroy the convoy escort before attacking the merchantmen. A superior enemy was to be avoided.

On 30 December, the German Kampfgruppe, consisting of the flagship Admiral Hipper, the heavy cruiser Lützow and six destroyers—Richard Beitzen, Theodor Riedel, Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 29, Z 30 and Z 31, headed north on course 60° once clear of the coast. Kummetz ordered a 65-mile scouting line to be formed as from 0830 on 31 December, the six destroyers combing forward in a south-easterly direction 15nm apart. Hipper and Lützow would keep station astern of and to seaward of the northern and southern ends of the line respectively for an 85-mile width of search, while the destroyers would advance in the order Eckholdt-Z 29-Beitzen-Z 31-Z 30-Riedel. Whilst the warships were forming into their allotted positions in the scouting line, Hipper detected by radar two shadows at 60° which could not be German vessels, and Eckholdt was detached as contact keeper. Thus at the start of the engagement the German group was effectively divided into two sections, the northern of which consisted of Hipper and the destroyers Beitzen, Z 24 and Eckholdt.

At 0842—daybreak—Friedrich Eckholdt reported ten vessels steering 90°, and at 0910, at a range of 18.000yds bearing 140°, Hipper sighted a number of vessels, including destroyers, consituting the main convoy escort on its northern flank. The destroyers were Onslow, Obedient, Obdurate, Orwell and Achates. The fourteen ships of convoy JW.51B were steaming initially on an easterly bearing and bore round south at 1020. At 0930 Z 4, Z 16 and Z 24 fired on Obdurate. Spotting and rangefinding were very difficult in the poor light and poor visibility and because of the icing and misting over of instruments.

At 1018 the destroyer Onslow was hit by a salvo from Admiral Hipper and at 1027 was reported by Richard Beitzen as burning fiercely and down by the stern. At 1030 Hipper was about 15nm to the north of the convoy and steering east. The convoy was now on a course to the south towards Lützow, but Hipper was entrammelled with the escorts and having to concentrate on the destroyer Achates and the radar-equipped minesweeper Bramble.

At 1135, on ultra-short wave radio, Friedrich Eckholdt asked a series of questions to establish the identity of a warship she had just sighted. In a batch of replies at 1136 Kummetz signalled, ‘In combat with escort forces—no cruisers’, although two minutes earlier Admiral Hipper had been surprised by fire from a cruiser with large bridge, a raked forefunnel and turrets fore and aft, making 31 knots and identified as probably a Southampton or Fiji class cruiser. Hipper had been hit and had her speed reduced, so that at 1137 Kummetz, who was in any case in two minds because of an ambiguous signal from ashore, decided to abandon the operation. At 1143 the destroyer Eckholdt, ignorant of Richard Beitzen’s, warning radio message, decided that the cruiser she was facing must be German, and was sunk with all hands by Sheffield. The German force returned to Altafjord, where it dropped anchor on 1 January 1943.

The unforeseen outcome of the operation had the most serious consequences for the German surface fleet. Although the Kampfgruppe commander was bound by orders which required him to abandon the mission if heavy enemy forces appeared, the attack had already been reported as a great success, and when news of a fiasco was conveyed to Hitler instead, he reacted by decommissioning all ships of the size of light cruiser and above. Raeder resigned a few days later and was replaced by Grossadmiral Dönitz. The latter obtained some concessions, but on the whole the directive remained in force until the course of the war determined otherwise.

At the end of 1943 the number of operational Kriegsmarine destroyers was twenty, with ZH 1, Z 32, Z 33, Z 34, Z 37 and Z 38 now in commission. ZG 3 Hermes was lost off Tunisia in May, while Z 27 became a casualty in December.

On January, in Operation ‘Fronttheater’, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen were met off Hela by Paul Jacobi, Friedrich Ihn and Z 24 for the run to Norway, but when the squadron was sighted off the Skaw by RAF Coastal Command on the 11th the operation was broken off; a repeat attempt, code-named ‘Domino’, on the 25th with the destroyers Jacobi, Erich Steinbrinck, Z 32 and Z 37 was similarly unsuccessful, the units repairing to Gotenhafen on the 27th.

On 24 January Richard Beitzen, Z 29 and Z 30 sailed with Admiral Hipper and the light cruiser Köln from Altafjord to Bogen Bay and then Trondheim, leaving on 7 February for Kiel.The minelayer Brummer and the destroyers Z 6 Theodor Riedel and Z 31 laid the only offensive field of 1943 in the roadstead near Kildin Island, Kola Bay, between 4 and 6 February.

On 6 March Scharnhorst sailed from the Baltic. Having set out with Jacobi, Steinbrinck, Z 24, Z 25 and Z 28, plus five torpedo boats as escort, she arrived at Bogen Bay on 9 March with only Z 28 for company, the remainder following eight days later after having had weather damage repaired at Trondheim.

Between 31 March and 2 April Paul Jacobi, Theodor Riedel and Karl Galster waited near Jan Mayen for the blockade-runner Regensburg returning from Japan. The meeting never took place, the freighter having been sunk in the North Atlantic by the light cruiser Glasgow.

The major offensive of the year was the occupation of Spitzbergen, which was carried out between 6 and 9 September. While Lützow, Z 5 Paul Jacobi and Z 14 Friedrich Ihn remained in the anchorage at Altafjord to cover the numerous absences for the benefit of Allied air reconnaissance, the battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst and nine destroyers—Z 6, Z 10, Z 15, Z 20, Z 27, Z 29, Z 30, Z 31 and Z 33—headed for Barentsburg. During the approach to the town three destroyers were hit by coastal artillery: Z 29 suffered four hits, damage to outer plating, three dead and three wounded, Z 31 received eight hits on the upper deck, with one dead and one wounded, and Z 33 received no fewer than thirty-three hits to her hull and bridgework, resulting in 28 casualties, three of them fatal.

The last anti-convoy sortie by any German heavy warship ended in disaster on 26 December after Scharnhorst, accompanied by Z 29, Z 30, Z 33, Z 34 and Z 38 left Kaafjord on Christmas Day. Once the destroyer escort had been released because of the bad weather, the battleship continued alone and ran foul of the convoy escort—of capital-ship strength—off the North Cape. The FdZ, Bey, was commanding the operation aboard Scharnhorst and went down with his ship.

During 1943 the Kriegsmarine found it necessary to strengthen the escort force in the Bay of Biscay both for U-boats based there and for inbound merchantmen. Germany was not reliant on imports by sea as was Great Britain, but the occasional blockade-runner making the voyage to France from the Far East with high-value raw materials was of such importance that as many as five destroyers would sail to meet an inbound ship. For example, in July 1943 Z 23, Z 32 and Z 37 came in with Himalaya, in early August Z 23 and Z 32 actually entered the Atlantic beyond the longitude of Cape Ortegal to meet up with Pietro Orsedo, and on 23 December Z 23, Z 24, Z 27, Z 37 and ZH 1 escorted Osorno into the Gironde.

Late on Boxing Day 1943, Z 23, Z 24, Z 27, Z 32 and Z 37 sailed with six torpedo boats of 4. T-Flottille—T 22, T 23, T 24, T 25, T 26 and T 27—to meet the blockade-runner Alsterufer. However, this large freighter had already been sunk by the Royal Navy, and on 28 December the German force encountered the light cruisers Glasgow (9,100 tons, 32 knots, 12×6in guns) and Enterprise (7,580 tons, 33 knots, 7×6in guns) in what the Germans refer to as Das Gefecht in der Biskaya (The Battle of Biscay). The German vessels had several knots’ more speed in ideal sea conditions than the two British cruisers, and also mounted a superior number of guns of the same calibre, but Glasgow and Enterprise were far more seaworthy in heavy weather. The latter factor was decisive. There was a big sea running which slowed the German force considerably, and as gun platforms the German destroyers were inferior on the day because of the wild rolling motion. Glasgow and Enterprise put their speed and manoeuvrability to better use and sank Z 27 and the torpedo boats T 25 and T 26. Of the 740 men aboard these three ships, only 293 could be saved—21 by U 618, 34 by U 505, six by Spanish destroyers, 64 by British minesweepers and 168 by an Irish freighter.

Kapitän zur See Max-Eckart Wolff, who had been deputizing for Konteradmiral Bey as FdZ since 30 October 1943, took over the post in a caretaking capacity on 27 December. On 26 January 1944 Vize-admiral Leo Kreisch was appointed the last FdZ, relinquishing the appointment on 29 May 1945. At the beginning of 1944 the five destroyers of 8. Z-Flottille—Z 23, Z 24, Z 32, Z 37 and ZH 1—were operating out of Biscay ports as U-boat escorts and were frequently under air attack. By the end of August all five were either beyond repair or sunk.

During a flotilla exercise on 30 January Z 32 and Z 37 collided and both ships were badly damaged. Z 32 was laid up for repair until May and Z 37, listing heavily, was towed into Bordeaux, where it was decided not to repair the damage. Her guns were landed and earmarked for coastal defence use, and the ship decommissioned on 24 August.

On D-Day, 6 June, Z 24, Z 32, ZH 1 and the torpedo boat T 24 set out from the Gironde for Brest. After surviving determined air attacks en route, the flotilla headed for Cherbourg, from where mines were to be laid off Brest. The enemy had got wind of this operation, and off Wissant a superior force of British destroyers was waiting for the four German ships. ZH 1 received such heavy damage that she was scuttled that same day, and the other three dispersed and made a run for it. Z 24 and T 24 returned to Bordeaux, but Z 32, after initially making for St-Malo, reversed course and ran once more into the enemy destroyers. She received such serious damage that her commander was forced to sacrifice his ship by running her aground on rocks off the Île de Bas, Roscoff.

On 12 August Z 23, in dock at La Pallice, was bombed beyond repair during an air raid, She was decommissioned on 2 August. On 2 August Z 24 and T 24, anchored in the roadstead at Le Verdon, were attacked by bomb- and rocket-carrying Beaufighters of Nos 236 and 404 Squadrons RAF. T 24 was sunk; Z 24 managed to get alongside the quay at Le Verdon but capsized and sank there next day.

When not in the shipyard, Richard Beitzen, Theodor Riedel, Friedrich Ihn and Karl Galster, together with Z 30, worked out of southern Norwegian ports during 1944 on escort and minelaying duties. Mines were shipped at Fredrikshaven in Denmark and brought to Horten in Oslofjord to be distributed amongst the various units. Acting under instructions from the light cruiser Emden (flagship, C-in-C Minelayers), on 1 October Z 4, Z 14, Z 20 and Z 30 laid the Skagerrak XXXIIb Caligula field, the group coming under constant air attack while doing so. On 5 October the same ships laid the XXXIIa Vespasia field, also in the Skagerrak. On 20 October Z 30 struck a mine in Oslofjord and was towed to the shipyard by Ihn, Galster and UJ 1702. The repair work was still incomplete at the time of the capitulation.

Apart from a single sortie from Altafjord as far as Bear Island by Z 29, Z 31, Z 33, Z 34 and Z 38 on 30 May, the destroyers’ main task was to defend the battleship Tirpitz, principally against air attack. Following her demise in October and the decision to abandon the ‘Polar Front’, the destroyers escorted troop transports southwards and mined a number of fjords and sounds. No destroyers were lost in this theatre during 1944.

By early March 1944, Z 25, Z 28, Z 35 and Z 39 had all arrived in the eastern Baltic and begun minelaying operations in the Gulf of Finland. A major sortie was carried out there on dates between 13 and 25 April by Z 28, Z 35 and Z 39, the torpedo boat T 30, the minelayers Brummer, Roland and Linz and various minesweepers and R-boats. The new Z 36 joined the flotilla in June, but Z 39 returned to Germany for a long drawn-out repairs to bomb damage.

From 7 to 28 June, in Operation ‘Tanne West’, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen patrolled the Finnish coast north of Utô in the Aaland Sea in a show of strength to cover the German withdrawal. She was relieved by the heavy cruiser Lutzow, escorted by the destroyers Z 25, Z 28, Z 35 and Z 36.

Between 30 July and 1 August 1944, in the Gulf of Riga, the same four destroyers were placed under Army direction for the bombardment of Soviet positions inland. On 5 August all four escorted Prinz Eugen from Riga to the island of Oesel to fire inland, and on 19 August, off Kurland in the Gulf of Riga, Prinz Eugen rained 265 rounds of 20.3cm on Soviet positions at Tukkum, a road and rail junction 25 kilometres inland, while the four destroyers and two torpedo boats engaged other targets.

During September 1944 Z 25, Z 28 and four boats of 2. T-Flottille covered the withdrawal from Reval, six freighters evacuating over 23,000 people. On 21 September Z 25 and Z 28 brought out 370 evacuees from Baltisch Port to Libau, and on the 22nd they escorted the remaining German ships in the Aaland Sea to Goten-hafen.

On 10 October Kampfgruppe II Thiele—comprising Prinz Eugen and the four destroyers—sailed from Gotenhafen. Z 25 had as an additional task the delivery of 200 Army personnel to Memel, returning overnight with 200 female naval auxiliaries. The ship re-joined the group on the 11th, and over the next five days Prinz Eugen, Lützow and the destroyers attacked 28 land targets in the defence of Memel. On 15 October, off Gotenhafen, Z 35 and Z 36 stood by the cruisers Prinz Eugen and Leipzig after they had become locked together following a collision in the approach channel. On the 24th of the month Z 28, Z 35 and Z 36, in company with Lützow and three torpedo boats, bombarded inshore targets around Memel and on the Sworbe peninsula. They came under attack from Soviet aircraft for the first time on this day: Z 28 was hit by five bombs and suffered nine dead and numerous wounded, while Z 35 received splinter damage from a near miss.

On 22 November 1944, Z 25, Z 43 and 2. T-Flottille, together with the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, relieved Prinz Eugen and 3. T-Flottille off Oesel, covering the withdrawal until its completion on 24 November despite constant Soviet air attacks; 4,700 German soldiers were evacuated.

On 9 December, 6. Z-Flottille, consisting of Z 35 (flag), Z 36, Z 43 and two torpedo boats, left Gotenhafen to lay a mine barrier off the Estonian coast in Operation ‘Nil’ (Nile). On their arrival in the scheduled area on 12 December there was a thick ground fog, and as a result of poor navigation and the ‘confused, inflexible and deficient operational plan’ drawn up by Kapitän zur See Kothe (for which he was blamed posthumously), Z 35 and Z 36 entered the German-laid Nashorn minefield, where they were mined, blew up and sank with all hands. The situation offered no prospect for a rescue.

At the beginning of 1945, Z 33 was under repair at Narvik, and after enduring the occasional battering from the air in her attempts to get back to Germany, she sailed on 26 March from Trondheim for Swinemünde—the last German destroyer to leave the northern Norwegian theatre. After laying mines in Laafjord and the Mageröy and Brei Sounds during the latter part of January, Z 31, Z 34 and Z 38 had left Tromsö for German Baltic waters on the 25th. By the 28th they had reached Sognefjord, where they were intercepted by a British squadron which included the light cruisers Mauritius (8,000 tons, 12×6in guns, 6 torpedo tubes) and Diadem 5,770 tons, 8×5.25in guns, 6 torpedo tubes). Z 38 broke off the action with a funnel fire and split boiler tubes, and she made Kiel via Aarhus later with Z 34. The latter carried out three torpedo attacks on the British cruisers and received a shell hit on the waterline. Z 31 came off worst in the encounter. She was hit seven times, her 15cm twin turret was totally destroyed and she suffered 55 dead and 24 wounded. She put into Bergen for repair and eventually left the Oslo yard for Germany in mid-March.

Until the capitulation on 8 May 1945, and even afterwards, German units worked on a naval evacuation programme which dwarfed anything ever seen previously. Destroyers were involved in escorting refugee ships and boats of all kinds, and often embarked thousands of refugees themselves. Actual combat in the Baltic in 1945 was limited to gunnery engagements with Soviet troop dispositions and armour and artillery inland, the last rounds being fired on 4 May, after which a partial ceasefire came into effect, enabling the evacuation to proceed as agreed.

Between January and May 1945 1,420,000 individuals were evacuated by sea to the west, most of them refugees or Wehrmacht wounded, although fighting troops numbered more prominently amongst those brought out towards the end. On 2 May a report from Hela spoke of 150,000 soldiers and 26,000 refugees awaiting transport, plus 75,000 troops and 9,000 refugees in the Vistula lowlands. In the evening of 5 May numerous vessels arrived in Gotenhafen from Copenhagen and embarked refugees and troops to capacity, setting off westwards in four large convoys. These included the auxiliary Hansa (12,000 refugees), the minelayer Linz (4,900), the destroyers Karl Galster, Hans Lody, Theodor Riedel and Z 25 (6,000 in all) in Convoy 1; the troopships Ceuta (4,500) and Pompeii (5,400) with three torpedo boats (1,975 total) as Convoy 2; the destroyer Friedrich Ihn, T 28, the depot ship Isar and V 2002 (5,500 total) as Convoy 3; and M 453, V 303 and the training ship Nautik (2,700 total) as Convoy 4. During the night of 7 May small boats and naval launches brought 14,590 Wehrmacht personnel plus 1,810 wounded and refugees from the Vistula plain to Hela, and the following night the destroyers Karl Galster, Friedrich Ihn, Hans Lody, Theodor Riedel, Z 25, Z 38, Z 39 and five torpedo boats embarked another 20,000, the steamers Weserberg and Paloma carrying 5,730 more. A total of 100,000 persons on Hela and in the Vistula area could not be brought out, and these became prisoners of the Soviets.

By the time the surrender came into effect, a total of 116,692 soldiers and 5,397 refugees were still at sea in German warships, heading for either Copenhagen or Kiel.



5 June 1619 and the ‘Kaiserliche Armee’

The ‘Kaiserliche Armee’ (Emperor’s army) was a name that stuck to the Habsburg forces until their dissolution in 1918. It was a title fashioned in the extraordinary crisis of June 1619. Before that moment no one had thought of the Habsburgs’ troops as the personal property of the sovereign. A few dramatic moments changed all that and thenceforth a bond was formed between soldier and monarch which endured for three centuries. The strength of this new relationship was quickly tested in the Thirty Years War. When that conflict threw up in the shape of Wallenstein the greatest warlord of his time, the issue of loyalty became critical. The dynasty was eventually able to rely on its soldiers to eliminate the threat. By the end of this period the Kaiserliche Armee was an undisputed reality.

The first week of June takes Vienna in a haze of heat and dust. Throats become parched as the warm wind raises small clouds of dirt along roads and tracks. The Viennese, irritable at the best of times, fractiously push each other and the stranger aside, addictively and automatically seeking shade and shelter. While the clouds become darker the stifling humidity immobilises even the pigeons, which gather dozily on the surfaces of the dusty courtyards of the Hofburg, the Imperial palace whose apartments were, are and always shall be synonomous with the House of Habsburg.

In June 1619, Vienna had not yet reached its unchallenged position as capital of a great European empire. True, the Habsburgs had come a long way since 1218, when a modest count by the name of Rudolf had brought the family out of the narrow Swiss valleys of his birth and, through a series of battles and later dazzling dynastic marriages, had propelled a family of obscure inbred Alpine nonentities into the cockpit of Europe whence they would become the greatest Imperial dynasty in history. Other countries might have many families over the years to supply their monarchs – the case of England leaps to mind – but the story of Austria and the heart of Europe is really the story of one, and only one, family: the Habsburgs.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Habsburgs as a world power were already past their zenith. The Empire ‘on which the sun never set’, with its domains across Spain, Latin America and Germany, had split into two on the retirement of Charles V in 1556. The Spanish domains had gone to Charles’s son Philip II while the Austrian domains enmeshed with the fabric of the Holy Roman Empire had passed to Charles’s nephew Ferdinand. Even England in 1554 when Philip married Queen Mary at Winchester Cathedral had seemed destined to be incorporated permanently into this family’s system.

But while the Spanish domains were a more cohesive entity, the Austrian branch, assuming its ‘historic’ right to the crown of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, was a rich tapestry of principalities, Lilliput kingdoms and minor dukedoms in which different races owed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. The title was not hereditary, however much the Habsburgs may have thought it their own. The Emperor was elected by a council of seven princes who gathered at Frankfurt am Main. The Habsburg claim to this title, which from 6 January 1453 they perceived as almost a family right, arose from the possession of their crown lands in Central Europe and above all their title to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Although the Austrian Habsburgs could never really aspire to the global status their family had achieved under Charles V a generation earlier, they were to assume a powerful position in European history.

A half-century after the great division of Charles’s Habsburg spoils, Vienna still had rivals. Graz to the south and east and Prague to the west and north were both cities of importance to the Habsburgs. In the latter Rudolf II, philosopher, astrologer and occultist, had set up his capital in 1583, tolerating the ‘new’ Reformation theologies. In the former, the Archduke Ferdinand after his childhood in Spain and a Jesuit education in Bavaria had ruled the Styrian lands of ‘Inner Austria’ in a different manner. Between these two very different poles of authority Vienna still had not yet come of age. But in the hot days of June 1619, Vienna was to establish now an unrivalled ascendancy, becoming for a few moments the fulcrum of a pivotal conflict.

On 5 June, as the soporific wind carried the dust across the Hofburg palace towards the great Renaissance black and red ‘Swiss Gate’, a heated exchange could be heard through the open shutters of the dark masonry above. A sullen and armed mob numbering about a hundred had gathered below to await the outcome of this exchange, intimidating the guards and cursing the name of Habsburg.

In the dark vaulted rooms above the Schweizer Tor the object of all this hostility sat at his desk, facing the mob’s leaders, his frame defiant; his expression inscrutable. Diminutive in stature and stiff in countenance Archduke Ferdinand of Graz seemed unequal to the men who, unannounced, had burst into his rooms. These men were tall and rough; their hands large, bony and unmanicured. Their faces were twisted into angry and threatening expressions and the virtue of patience, if they had ever experienced it, was not uppermost in their minds.

They were a gang of Protestant noblemen who had defenestrated two of Ferdinand’s representatives, Slawata and Martinic, from the great window of the Hradčany castle in Prague barely a year before, initiating the violent challenge to Habsburg authority which became the Thirty Years War. Their leader, Mathias Thurn, was a giant of a man who had used the pommel of his sword to smash the knuckles of his victims as they held on for dear life to the ledge of the window. That both men had cried for divine intervention and – mirabile dictu – had fallen safely on to dung heaps had not in any way been due to Thurn’s going easy on them. Moderation was not his strongest suit. And now on this stifling day in Vienna, Thurn was again in no mood for negotiation. His large-boned fists crashed down on the desk in front of him. He may have been Bohemia’s premier aristocrat but he was passionate, hot-headed and violent.

Martin Luther’s ‘Reformation’ a hundred years earlier with its challenging practicalities, rejection of Papal corruption, increasing anti-Semitism and radical challenge to the authority of Rome had spread its tentacles across Germany into Bohemia and the new faith had fired the truculence and latent Hussite sympathies of the Bohemian nobility. Two hundred years earlier Jan Hus, the renegade Czech priest, had roused the Bohemians to revolt and he had been burned at the stake in Prague for heresy against the Catholic Church. Now, under Thurn, Hus’s legacy of a Bohemian challenge to Catholic Habsburg authority had been reinvigorated with all the pent-up energy of the ‘Reformation’. These sparks were literally about to set Europe ablaze.

Ferdinand of Graz

Ferdinand was a pupil of the Jesuits, one of the new orders established in 1540 by the Vatican to combat heresy and invigorate the Church. In 1595, at the age of 18, he had arrived in ‘Reformation’ Graz on Easter Sunday. When he celebrated Mass in the old faith that day, inviting the population to join him, he was dismayed to find that not a single burgher of Graz appeared. Styria at the end of the sixteenth century was overwhelmingly Protestant. Ferdinand with all the dignity of his upbringing showed no outward sign of disappointment but he immediately set about radically changing this state of affairs.

His Spanish upbringing and his devotion to the Jesuits could only produce one practical result. There were to be no half-measures. Ferdinand publicly proclaimed that he would rather live for the rest of his life in a hair shirt and see his lands burned to a cinder than tolerate heresy for a single day. Within eighteen months, Protestantism ceased to exist in Styria; every Protestant (and there were tens of thousands of them) was either converted or expelled, among the latter the great astronomer Kepler, who travelled to Prague. Every Protestant text and heretical tract was burned, every Protestant place of worship closed. Two weeks was allowed to the population to choose exile or conversion. As an exercise in largely bloodless coercion Ferdinand’s measures have no equal. The Styrian nobility capitulated. When during the following Easters, Ferdinand celebrated Mass, the entire population of the city turned out to join him. To this day, as Seton-Watson, the historian of the Czechs and the Slovaks, observed, there is ‘no more dramatic transformation in the history of Europe than the recovery of Austria for the Catholic Faith’.

But in 1619 Vienna was not Graz and the Bohemian nobility with their Upper Austrian supporters were not to prove as pliant as their Styrian counterparts. On 5 June 1619, Ferdinand, now 41 years of age, might have been forgiven for believing his Lord had deserted him. Inside the palace, Ferdinand’s supporters appeared demoralised and despondent. Ferdinand and his Jesuit confessor alone remained calm. For several hours, as they had awaited Thurn, the Archduke had prostrated himself before the cross. It seemed a futile gesture. The rest of Europe had already written Ferdinand off. France, the leading Catholic power, had withdrawn any offer of help. In Brussels, in the Habsburg Lowlands, members of Ferdinand’s family spoke of replacing the ‘Jesuitical soul’ with the Archduke Albert, a man altogether less in thrall to the vigour of the gathering forces of the Counter-Reformation. Even Hungary, of which, like Bohemia, Ferdinand was theoretically King, appeared to be on the brink of open rebellion.

Ferdinand had abandoned his ill and dying son to hurry to Vienna from Graz towards the end of April in 1619 to meet the emergency in Bohemia head-on and rally the Lower Austrian nobility. But in the seven dry and hot weeks of the spring of 1619 his journey had been less of a pageant and more of a via dolorosa. Everywhere he had encountered refugees from Bohemia and Moravia where, following the defenestration, the rebels had seized church property. Many were monks and nuns from plundered churches and convents. The Catholics, hunted out of Upper Austria, fell to their knees as their Emperor passed but few imagined this slight man could save them from the perils of their time. When Ferdinand reached Vienna at the end of May 1619, the hot weather had contributed to another pestilence to add to heresy: the plague.

As the Bohemian rebels, Starhemberg, Thurn and Thonradel smashed their way into the Hofburg they could be confident that all the strong cards were in their hands. How could this little Archduke hope to resist their demands? They would intimidate him and force him to sign documents that would restore their freedom to worship in the new faith, confirm their privileges and above all compel the hated Jesuits to leave the Habsburg crown lands of Styria and Bohemia. If he resisted, well the windows were large and high enough in the Hofburg and, as Thurn must have noticed with satisfaction as he raced up the stairs of the Schweizer Tor, there was no dung heap here to cushion a fall.

For what seemed might be the last time the Habsburg withdrew to his private oratory, and once again prostrate in front of the cross Ferdinand quietly prayed that he was ‘now ready if necessary to die for the only true cause’. But, Ferdinand added, ‘if it were God’s will that he should live then let God grant him one mercy: troops’, and, he added as the noise rose without, ‘as soon as possible’.

As the Bohemian ringleaders burst into Ferdinand’s rooms, one of their number, Thonradel, seized the collar of Ferdinand’s doublet. According to one account, Thonradel forced the Archduke to sit down at his desk. Taking a list of their demands out of his own doublet, the rebel placed them on the desk in front of the Archduke and screamed in Latin: ‘Scribet Fernandus!’

What would have happened next had these men remained undisturbed and allowed to continue this rather one-sided dialogue will never be known for at precisely this moment the sound of horses’ hooves and the cracked notes of a distant cavalry trumpeter brought the confrontation to an abrupt halt.

As the clatter of horsemen wheeling below brought both the Archduke and his persecutors to the window, no one was arguably more surprised than Ferdinand. Below, to the consternation of the crowd, were several hundred Imperial cuirassiers under their colonel, Gilbert Sainte-Hilaire. The regiment was named after their first proprietary colonel: Count Heinrich Duval de Dampierre.

Count Heinrich Duval de Dampierre

Sainte-Hilaire had been sent to the Archduke’s aid by the only member of Ferdinand’s family not to have deserted him: his younger brother, Leopold, from Tyrol. The cuirassiers had ridden hard from the western Alps and reached Vienna via Krems. Their timing was impeccable. Ferdinand straightened himself up and noticed that the confidence of even the most brutal of his opponents had evaporated. Thurn was too much of a realist to try to settle accounts with Ferdinand surrounded by loyal cavalry. As Sainte-Hilaire’s men dismounted and with swords drawn raced up the stairs to the Habsburg, the rebels adopted almost instantly a very different mien. No more blood, they insisted, should be spilt. Thurn and his men bowed and withdrew.

Whatever the precise sequence of the encounter – and modern Jesuit historians challenge some of the details – there can be little doubt that had Ferdinand yielded that June day of 1619, the Counter-Reformation in his lands would have stalled and the Habsburgs would have ceased to play any further meaningful part in the history of Central Europe. With Bohemia and Lower Austria lost, the keys to Central Europe would have been surrendered. It is even likely that Catholicism would have become a minority cult practised north of the Alps only by a few scattered and demoralised communities.

For the army and the dynasty, the events of 5 June 1619 were no less critical. They had forged the umbilical cord which would bind them until 1918. Henceforth dynasty and army would mutually support each other. From this day there would be, for three hundred years, a compact between Habsburg and soldier, indivisible and unbreakable through all the great storms of European history. The army first and foremost would exist to serve and defend the dynasty.

For the next three centuries the generals of the Habsburg army would have the events of 5 June 1619 burnt into their subconscious and no commander would risk the destruction of his army, because without an army the dynasty would be put at risk. It was always better to fight and preserve something for another day than to risk all to destroy the enemy. This unspoken compact would snap only in November 1918 on the refusal of the last Habsburg monarch to use the army in a way that would risk their being deployed against his peoples.

The army benefited in many ways from these arrangements. As a symbol of this bond, Ferdinand II granted the Dampierre cuirassiers (and their successor regiments) the right to ride through the Hofburg with trumpets sounding and standards flying. Nearly two hundred years later, in 1810, the Emperor Francis I confirmed the privilege. The regiment could ride through Vienna and set up a recruitment office on the Hofburg square for three days. In addition the colonel of the regiment was to enjoy accommodation in the Hofburg palace whenever he wished and had the unique right of an unannounced audience with the Emperor at any time in ‘full armour’ (‘unangemeldet in voller Ruestung vor Sr. Majestät dem Kaiser zu erscheinen’).

These privileges were a modest recompense. The arrival of the Dampierre cavalry not only saved Ferdinand, it marked the turning of a tide. Five days later, on 10 June 1619 in Sablat near Budweis (Budějovice) in southern Bohemia, the Imperial forces under Buquoy defeated Mansfeld, the most able of the Protestant commanders, in the first Catholic victory of the conflict. This victory resonated throughout Europe and Ferdinand, having been written off barely a month earlier, now found himself receiving pledges of support not only from Louis XIII of France but from the many German princes who had earlier misinterpreted the winds of change blowing against the Habsburgs and had dismissed Ferdinand’s claims to the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

This title to which the Habsburgs had been elected since the fifteenth century carried mostly prestige. The Empire itself was, for all its insistence on its links with Charlemagne and before him the old western Roman Empire, an incoherent tapestry of different entities. In a world where influence was as important as power, the presence of a Habsburg as Holy Roman Emperor gave that family a dominating say in the affairs of the Germans. If Ferdinand could secure the Imperial title, which became vacant on the death in 1619 of his more tolerant cousin Mathias, it would cut the ground from beneath those rebels who had opposed his receiving the crown of Bohemia in 1617 and the crown of Hungary in 1618, men who with reason feared the Catholic orthodoxy which was Ferdinand’s touchstone.

Already, the Kurfürst (Elector) of Trier supported Ferdinand’s claim to the leadership of the Holy Roman Empire. The Catholic League led by Maximilian of Bavaria also declared itself for Ferdinand. At the last moment, the news in the autumn of 1619 came from Prague that the rebels in a desperate step had elected as their king the Protestant Elector Palatine, Frederick, a 25-year-old Calvinist and mystic who believed in a Protestant Union of Europe. But it was too late: Ferdinand had been elected two days earlier unanimously (even with the votes of the Palatinate) as Holy Roman Emperor or Kaiser. The new Kaiser set about impressing his authority on his domains immediately.