Heinkel He 111

Although the Heinkel He 111 was designed ostensibly as a civil airliner for Lufthansa, its military potential was of a far greater importance. The first prototype of Siegfried and Walter Günter’s enlarged, twin-engine development of the remarkable He 70 was fitted with a glazed nose when flown at Rostock-Marienehe on 24 February 1935, in the hands of Flugkapitän Gerhard Nitschke. An all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane, it was powered by two 660-hp (492-kW) BMW VI 6,0Z engines and was followed by two further prototypes, each with shorter-span wings than those fitted on the first prototype. The third aircraft became the true bomber prototype and the second, which flew on 12 March 1935, was a civil version with a mail compartment in the nose and two passenger cabins, with seats for four and six passengers. After tests at Staaken this prototype eventually joined the Lufthansa fleet, although much of the development work on the civil version was carried out by the fourth prototype, the first to be revealed to the public and demonstrated at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport on 10 January 1936. Lufthansa received six He 111C 10-seat airliners during 1936, and these first entered service on the Berlin – Hannover- Amsterdam, Berlin-Nuremberg-Munich and Berlin-Dortmund- Cologne routes. Lufthansa received subsequently a number of He 111G-3 transports with 880hp (656-kW) BMW 132Dc engines and, later, a further generally similar batch under the alternative designation He 111L.

Development of the military counterpart continued with the manufacture of 10 He 111A-D pre-production aircraft, based on the third prototype, but with a longer nose and armed by three MG 15 machine-guns in nose, dorsal and ventral positions. Two were used for operational trials at Rechlin but poor handling, power deficiencies and inadequate performance resulted in rejection, and all 10 were later sold to China. The solution was the installation of two 1,000-hp (746-kW) Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines, first fitted to the fifth (B-series) prototype which flew in early 1936 as the forerunner of the first production versions built at Marienehe from the autumn of 1936. These comprised the He 111B-1 powered by the 880-hp (656-kW) DB600, followed by the He 111B-2 with 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines. The improvement in the performance of these aircraft resulted in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium placing such large orders that it was necessary to build a new He 111 construction facility at Oranienburg, near Berlin, this being completed in 1937.

The B-series was followed by the He 111D-1 with improved DB 600Ga engines, but the urgent need to divert DB 600 powerplant for fighter production meant that this version was built in only small numbers. This brought introduction of the 1,000-hp (746-kW) Junkers Jumo 211A-1, installed initially in an He 111D-D airframe to serve as the prototype of the He 111E-D pre-production series. In the initial production He 111E-1 bomber of February 1938 the bombload was increased to 3,7481b (1700 kg), but the He 111E-3 had another increase to 4,409 Ib (2000 kg), and the ensuing He 111E-4 could carry 2,205 lb (1000 kg) of this total on underfuselage racks; final sub-variant of the E-series, the He 111E-5 introduced an additional 183.7 Imp gal (835 litres) of auxiliary fuel carried within the fuselage. The next version into production was the He 111G which first introduced a new wing of simplified construction with straight, instead of curved taper. This was used first in the He 111G-3 civil transport built for Lufthansa, and there was some delay before it was approved by the RLM. Then followed the He 111G-1, basically similar to C-series aircraft but for the addition of the new wing, and the He 111G-4 which was powered by the 900-hp (671-kW) DB 600G engine; four He 111G-5 aircraft supplied to Turkey had Daimler-Benz 600Ga engines. Next came, unsequentially, the similar He 111F-1 powered by Jumo 211A-3 engines of which 24 were supplied to Turkey, and 40 virtually identical aircraft were built for the Luftwaffe in 1938 under the designation He 111F-4.

Developed in parallel were the H-series and P-series, the latter introducing in 1939 a major fuselage redesign which replaced the stepped cockpit by an extensively-glazed cockpit and nose section and, at the same time, moved the nose gun position to starboard to improve the pilot’s view. The pre-production He 111P-0 also introduced a revised ventral gondola, with the gunner in a prone position, and was powered by two 1,150-hp (858-kW) DB 601 Aa engines. Relatively few He 111Ps were built before this version was superseded by the H-series, the He 111P-1 which was virtually identical to the pre-production aircraft being delivered first in the autumn of 1939; the He 111P-2 differed only by having changes in radio equipment, and the He 111P-3 was a dual-control trainer. Heavier armour protection and up to six MG 15 machine-guns were introduced in the five-crew He 111P-4 which, in addition to carrying 2,205 Ib (1000 kg) of bombs internally had ETC 500 racks beneath the fuselage for a similar external load; the He 111P-6 had all-internal stowage for 4,409 Ib (2000 kg) of bombs, and later P-series conversions, for use as glider tugs with l,175-hp (876-kW) DB 60lN engines installed, were redesignated He 111P-2/R2.

The major production version, built in a large number of variants, was the H-series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 pre-production/production batches being basically the same as He 111P-2s except for the installation of 1,010-hp (753-kW) Jumo 211A engines. The He 111H-2 which became available in the autumn of 1939 had Jumo 211A-3 engines and carried two additional MG 15 machine-guns, one in the nose and one in the ventral gondola, and the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and armament comprising a 20-mm MG FF cannon and an MG 15 in the ventral gondola, two MG 15s in the nose, one dorsally mounted, and similar weapons in beam positions. The He 111H-4 introduced Jumo 211D-1 engines and was equipped with two external racks to carry a 3,968-lb (1800 kg) bombload that could include two 1,686-lb (765-kg) differed only by having increased fuel capacity. When He 111H-3 and He 111H-5 aircraft were later fitted with a nose-mounted device to fend off balloon cables they were both redesignated He 111H-8, and subsequent re-conversion for use as glider tugs was made under the designation He 111H-8/R2. Junkers Jumo 211F-1 engines with variable-pitch propellers, and a fixed MG 17 machine-gun mounted in the tail, identified the He 111H-6; and the He 111H-10 was developed and built in small numbers especially for the night bombing offensive against the UK, these being equipped with Kute-Nase balloon cable-cutters in the wing leading edges and additional armour protection. Armament changes and a fully-enclosed dorsal position accommodating an MG 131 machine-gun identified the He 111H-11, in which the nose position carried a 20-mm MG FF cannon and the ventral MG 15 was replaced by a twin-barrel MG 81Z; when the beam guns were later replaced by MG 81Zs these aircraft were redesignated He 111H-11/R1, and changed their designation yet again to become He 111H-11/R2 when adapted to tow Gotha Go 242 gliders. The He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were both built in small numbers, without the ventral gondola, to serve as missile launchers for Henschel and Blohm und Voss weapons respectively. The first of the pathfinder versions had the designation He 111H-14, and when converted later to serve as a glider tug was redesignated He 111H-14/R2.

Built in large numbers, following introduction in the autumn of 1942, the He 111H-16 was generally similar to the He 111H-11, but equipped to carry a bombload of up to 7,1651b (3250 kg), although this necessitated the use of R-Geräte rocket-assisted take-off equipment; it was built in sub-variants that included the He 111H16/R1 which had a revolving dorsal turret with an MG 131 machine-gun, He 111H-16/R2 equipped for rigidbar towing of gliders, and the He 111H-16/R3 which carried additional radio equipment for use as a pathfinder. The ensuing He 111H-18 was also a pathfinder, with exhaust flame dampers to make it suitable for night operations, followed by the He 111H-20 built in sub-variants that included the He 111H-20/R1 carrying 16 paratroops, He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, He 111H-20/R3 night bomber with heavier armour protection and improved radio, and the virtually identical He 111H-20/R4 with GM-1 power boosting equipment for the powerplant; when a 1,750-hp (1305kW) Jumo 213E-1 engine with two-stage superchargers was installed in He 111H-20/R3 aircraft they were redesignated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was equipped to carry a Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) missile beneath each wing, and the final H-series variant was the He 111H-23 paratroop transport with 1,776-hp (1324-kW) Jumo 213A-1 engines.

Produced in parallel with the F-series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 were intended as torpedo-bombers and powered by 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines, but the He 111J-1 production aircraft, of which about 8 were built, were equipped as bombers. A single prototype was built of a proposed high-altitude bomber under the designation He 111R, powered by two 1,810hp (1350-kW) DB 603U engines, but no production aircraft resulted. Final, and certainly the most unusual version, was the He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin), designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider. It comprised two 111H-6 airframes joined by a new wing centre-section which mounted a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine. Two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built during the winter of 1941-2.

First deliveries to an operational squadron were made late in 1936, to l./KG 154 at Fassberg, and in February 193730 He 111B-1s were sent to the Legion Condor bomber unit K/88 in Spain, following operational trials in which four of the pre-production He 111B-0s were flown by a flight of VB 88. The He 111 bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s bombing effort in early World War II: Poland in the autumn of 1939, Norway and Denmark in April 1940, France and the Low Countries in May and against British targets during the Battle of Britain. Large-scale introduction of the Junkers Ju 88, and the He 111’s vulnerability to British fighters, resulted in the Heinkel bomber being transferred to night operations and to a variety of specialised roles, as a missile-carrier, torpedo-bomber, pathfinder and glidertug. Transport duties were also undertaken, including operations to supply the beleaguered German army at Stalingrad between November 1942 and February 1943, and by the end of the war He 111s were virtually flown only in the transport role. Production of more than 7,000 German-built aircraft for the Luftwaffe was completed in the autumn of 1944. In addition to those manufactured in Heinkel factories at Marienehe and Oranienburg, He 111s were built by Norddeutsche Dornierwerke in Wismar, by Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft in Leipzig, Arado in Babelsberg and Brandenburg/Havel and at other centres. Some 236 He 111Hs were built by CASA in Spain during and after the war as the CASA 2.111, approximately 130 with Jumo 211F-2 engines and the rest with Rolls Royce Merlin 500-29s; some were converted later for transport and training duties.

Variants

He 111 A-0: 10 aircraft built based on He 111 V3, two used for trials at Rechlin, rejected by Luftwaffe, all 10 were sold to China”.

He 111 B-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to He 111 A-0, but with DB600Aa engines.

He 111 B-1: Production aircraft as B-0, but with DB600C engines. Defensive armament consisted of a flexible Ikaria turret in the nose A Stand, a B Stand with one DL 15 revolving gun-mount and a C Stand with one MG 15.

He 111 B-2: As B-1, but with DB600GG engines, and extra radiators on either side of the engine nacelles under the wings. Later the DB 600Ga engines were added and the wing surface coolers withdrawn.

He 111 B-3: Modified B-1 for training purposes.

He 111 C-0: Six pre-production aircraft.

He 111 D-0: Pre-production aircraft with DB600Ga engines.

He 111 D-1: Production aircraft, only a few built. Notable for the installation of the FuG X, or FuG 10, designed to operate over longer ranges. Auxiliary equipment contained direction finding Peil G V and FuBI radio blind landing aids.

He 111 E-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to B-0, but with Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 E-1: Production aircraft with Jumo 211 A-1 powerplants. Prototypes were powered by Jume 210G as which replaced the original DB 600s.

He 111 E-2: Non production variant. No known variants built. Designed with Jumo 211 A-1s and A-3s.

He 111 E-3: Production bomber. Same design as E-2, but upgraded to standard Jumo 211 A-3s.

He 111 E-4: Half of 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) bomb load carried externally.

He 111 E-5: Fitted with several internal auxiliary fuel tanks.

He 111 F-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to E-5, but with a new wing of simpler construction with a straight rather than curved taper, and Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 F-1: Production bomber, 24 were exported to Turkey.

He 111 F-2: 20 were built. The F-2 was based on the F-1, differing only in installation of optimised wireless equipment.

He 111 F-3: Planned reconnaissance version. Bomb release equipment replaced with RB cameras. It was to have Jumo 211 A-3 powerplants.

He 111 F-4: A small number of staff communications aircraft were built under this designation. Equipment was similar to the G-5.

He 111 F-5: The F-5 was not put into production. The already available on the P variant showed it to be superior.

He 111 G-0: Pre-production transportation aircraft built, featured new wing introduced on F-0.

He 111 G-3: Also known as V14, fitted with BMW 132Dc radial engines.

He 111 G-4: Also known as V16, fitted with DB600G engines.

He 111 G-5: Four aircraft with DB600Ga engines built for export to Turkey.

He 111 J-0: Pre-production torpedo bomber similar to F-4, but with DB600CG engines.

He 111 J-1: Production torpedo bomber, 90 built, but re-configured as a bomber.

He 111 L: Alternative designation for the He 111 G-3 civil transport aircraft.

He 111 P-0: Pre-production aircraft featured new straight wing, new glazed nose, DB601Aa engines, and a ventral gondola for gunner (rather than “dust-bin” on previous models).

He 111 P-1: Production aircraft fitted with three MG 15s as defensive armament.

He 111 P-2: Had FuG 10 radio in place of FuG IIIaU. Defensive armament increased to five MG 15s.

He 111 P-3: Dual control trainer fitted with DB601 A-1 powerplants.

He 111 P-4: Fitted with extra armour, three extra MG 15s, and provisions for two externally mounted bomber racks. Powerplants consisted of DB601 A-1s. The internal bomb bay was replaced with a 835 L fuel tank and a 120 L oil tank.

He 111 P-5: The P-5 was a pilot trainer. Some 24 examples were built. The variant was powered by DB 601A engines.

He 111 P-6: Some of the P-6s were powered by the DB 601N engines. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 received these engines, as they had greater priority.

He 111 P-6/R2: Conversions later in war of surviving aircraft to glider tugs.

He 111 P-7: Never built.

He 111 P-8: Its existence and production is in doubt.

He 111 P-9: It was intended for export to the Hungarian Air Force, by the project founder for lack of DB 601E engines. Only a small number were built, and were used in the Luftwaffe as towing aircraft.

He 111 H-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to P-2 but with Jumo 211A-1 engines.

He 111 H-1: Production aircraft. Fitted with FuG IIIaU and later FuG 10 radio communications.

He 111 H-2: This version was fitted with improved armament. Two D Stands (waist guns) in the fuselage giving the variant some five MG 15 Machine guns.

He 111 H-3: Similar to H-2, but with Jumo 211 A-3 engines. Like the H-2, five MG 15 machine guns were standard. One A Stand MG FF cannon could be installed in the nose and an MG 15 could be installed in the tail unit.

He 111 H-4: Fitted with Jumo 211D engines, late in production changed to Jumo 211F engines, and two external bomb racks. Two PVC 1006L racks for carrying torpedoes could be added.”.

He 111 H-5: Similar to H-4, all bombs carried externally, internal bomb bay replaced by fuel tank. The variant was to be a longer range torpedo bomber.

He 111 H-6: Torpedo bomber, could carry two LT F5b torpedoes externally, powered by Jumo 211F-1 engines, had six MG 15s and one MG FF cannon in forward gondola.

He 111 H-7: Designed as a night bomber. Similar to H-6, tail MG 17 removed, ventral gondola removed, and armoured plate added. Fitted with Kuto-Nase barrage balloon cable-cutters.[68]

He 111 H-8: The H-8 was a rebuild of H-3 or H-5 aircraft, but with balloon cable-cutting fender. The H-8 was powered by Jumo 211D-1s.

He 111 H-8/R2: Conversion of H-8 into glider tugs, balloon cable-cutting equipment removed.

He 111 H-9: Based on H-6, but with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters.

He 111 H-10: Similar to H-6, but with 20 mm MG/FF cannon in ventral gondola, and fitted with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters. Powered by Jumo 211 A-1s or D-1s.

He 111 H-11: Had a fully-enclosed dorsal gun position and increased defensive armament and armour. The H-11 was fitted with Jumo 211 F-2s.

He 111 H-11/R1: As H-11, but with two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81Z twin-gun units at beam positions.

He 111 H-11/R2: As H-11, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-12: Modified to carry Hs 293A missiles, fitted with FuG 203b Kehl transmitter, and ventral gondola deleted.[68]

He 111 H-14: Pathfinder, fitted with FuG FuMB 4 Samos and FuG 16 radio equipment.

He 111 H-14/R1: Glider tug version.

He 111 H-15: The H-15 was intended as a launch pad for the Blohm & Voss BV 246.

He 111 H-16: Fitted with Jumo 211 F-2 engines and increased defensive armament of MG 131 machine guns, twin MG 81Zs, and a MG FF cannon.

He 111 H-16/R1: As H-16, but with MG 131 in power-operated dorsal turret.

He 111 H-16/R2: As H-16, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-16/R3: As H-16, modified as a pathfinder.

He 111 H-18: Based on H-16/R3, was a pathfinder for night operations.

He 111 H-20: Defensive armament similar to H-16, but some aircraft feature power-operated dorsal turrets.

He 111 H-20/R1: Could carry 16 paratroopers, fitted with jump hatch.

He 111 H-20/R2: Was a cargo carrier and glider tug.

He 111 H-20/R3: Was a night bomber.

He 111 H-20/R4: Could carry twenty 50 kg (110 lb) bombs.

He 111 H-21: Based on the H-20/R3, but with Jumo 213 E-1 engines.

He 111 H-22: Re-designated and modified H-6, H-16, and H-21’s used to air launch V1 flying-bombs.

He 111 H-23: Based on H-20/R1, but with Jumo 213 A-1 engines.

He 111 R: High altitude bomber project.

He 111 U: A spurious designation applied for propaganda purposes to the Heinkel He 119 high-speed reconnaissance bomber design which set an FAI record in November 1937. True identity only becomes clear to the Allies after World War II.

He 111 Z-1: Two He 111 airframes coupled together by a fifth engine, used a glider tug for Messerschmitt Me 321.

He 111 Z-2: Long-range bomber variant based on Z-1.

He 111 Z-3: Long-range reconnaissance variant based on Z-1.

CASA 2.111

The Spanish company CASA also produced a number of heavily modified He 111s under license for indigenous use. These models were designated CASA 2.111 and served until 1975.

Specifications (He 111 H-6)

General characteristics

Crew: 4 (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/radio operator)[82]

Length: 16.4 m (53 ft 9½ in)

Wingspan: 22.60 m (74 ft 2 in)

Height: 4.00 m (13 ft 1½ in)

Wing area: 87.60 m² (942.92 ft²)

Empty weight: 8,680 kg (19,136lb lb)

Loaded weight: 12,030 kg (26,500 lb)

Max takeoff weight: 14,000 kg (30,864 lb)

Powerplant: 2× Jumo 211F-1 or 211F-2 liquid-cooled inverted V-12, 986 kW (1,300 hp (F-1) or 1,340 (F-2)) each

Performance

Maximum speed: 440 km/h (273 mph)

Range: 2,300 km (1,429 mi) with maximum fuel

Service ceiling: 6,500 m (21,330 ft)

Rate of climb: 20 minutes to 5,185 m [83] (17,000 ft [83])

Wing loading: 137 kg/m² [83] (28.1 lb/ft² [83])

Power/mass: .082 kW/kg [83] (.049 hp/lb [83])

Armament

Guns: ** up to 7 × 7.92 mm MG 15 or MG 81 machine guns, some of them replaced or augmented by

1 × 20 mm MG FF cannon (central nose mount or forward ventral position)

1 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun (mounted dorsal and/or ventral rear positions)

Bombs: ** up to 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) carried internally (eight 250 kg max), or:

up to 2,500 kg (5,512 lb) on two external racks

Variant Detail

He 111A/A-0

Following unsatisfactory tests of 10 pre-production He 111A-0 bombers, all were sold to China.

He 111B/B-1/B-2

Testing of the fifth prototype with 746 kW (1,000 hp) DB 600A engines led in 1936 to the production He 111B-1 with 656 kW (880 hp) DB 600C engines, followed by the He 111B-2 with the 708 kW (950 hp) DB 600CG.

He 111C

Six 10-passenger airliners for Lufthansa.

He 111D

An improved version with DB 600Ga engines and auxiliary wing radiators deleted; production was discontinued in favour of the He 111E.

He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5

The shortage of DB 600 engines brought installation of 746 kW (1,000 hp) Junkers Jumo 211A-1 engines in an He 111D-0 airframe; the resulting He 111E-0 pre-production prototype had increased bombload; production He 111E-1 bombers were delivered in 1938, followed by the He 111E-3 and He 111E-4 with further increase in bombload and He 111E-5 with fuselage auxiliary fuel tank.

He 111F/F-1/F-4

The new wing of the He 111G and Jumo 211A-3 engines characterised the 24 He 111F-1 bombers supplied to Turkey; the Luftwaffe received 40 similar He 111F-4 aircraft in 1938.

He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5

First version with the new straight-taper wing which, incorporated on the He 111C, brought redesignation He 111G-1; the He 111G-3 had 656-kW (880-hp) BMW 132Dc engines, the He 111G-4 671-kW (900-hp) DB 60OGs, and four He 111G-5 aircraft for Turkey had DB 600Ga engines.

He 111H/H-0/H-1/H-3/H-4/H-5/H-6/H-8/(H-8/R2)/H-10/H-11/(H-11/R1/R2)/H-12/H-15/H-14/(H-14/R2)/H-16/(H-16/R1/R2/R3)/H-18/H-20/(H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4)/H-21/H-22/H-23/

Developed in parallel with the He 111P series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 were basically He 111P-2s with 753 kW (1,100 hp) Jumo 211A engines; the He 111H-2 of 1939 had improved armament; the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and a 20-mm cannon; the He 111H-4 had Jumo 211 D-1 engines and two external racks for bombs or torpedoes, and the generally similar He 111H-5 had increased fuel capacity; the He 111H-6 introduced Jumo 211F-1 engines and machine-gun in the tailcone; He 111H-8 was the redesignation of He 111H-3s and He 111H-5s following installation of fenders for balloon cables, most of them being converted later to He 111H-8/R2 glider tugs; the He 111H-10 for night bombing of UK targets had additional armour, reduced armament and wing leading-edge balloon cable-cutters; the He 111H-11 and He 111H-11/R1 had revised armament, the last becoming He 111H-11/R2 when converted later as a glider tug; the He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were missile-launchers, the He 111H-14 a pathfinder version and the He 111H-14/R2 a glider tug; introduced in 1942, the He 111H-16 was a major production variant similar to the He 111H-11 but able to carry a 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) bombload with the use of rocket-assisted-take-off gear. The He 111H-16/R1 had a revolving dorsal turret, the He 111H-16/R2 was for rigid bar towing of gliders and the He 111H-16/R3 was a pathfinder version as was the He 111H-18 with exhaust flame dampers. Four versions of the He 111H-20 comprised the He 111H-20/R1 capable of carrying 16 paratroops. The He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, the He 111H-20/R3 with increased armour protection and the generally similar He 111H-20/R4 which introduced GM-1 power boost equipment. A version of the He 111H-20/R3 with 1,750 hp (1305 kW) Jumo 213E-1 engines and two-stage superchargers was designated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was a missile carrier and the He 111H-23 was a paratroop transport with 1,776 hp (1324 kW) engines.

He 111J/J-0/J-1

A torpedo bomber version of the He 111F series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 both had 950 hp (708 kW) DB 600CG engines.

He 111L

The alternative designation for the He 111G-3 civil transport.

He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6

In 1939 the He 111P series introduced a major fuselage redesign, the stepped cockpit being replaced by an asymmetric glazed cockpit and nose. The He 111P-0 introduced a prone position ventral gondola and was powered by two 1,150 hp (858 kW) DB 601Aa engines. First being deliveries of the He 111P-1 began in late 1939. The He 111P-2 was similar but for radio revisions. The He 111P-3 had dual controls and the five crew He 111P-4 had more armour and armament. The He 111P-6 had 1,175 hp (876 kW) DB 601N engines and its 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) bombload stowed vertically in the fuselage; when later converted as a glider tug the He 111P-6 became the He 111P-6/R2.

He 111R

A single prototype of proposed high altitude bomber.He 111Z/Z-1

The He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin) combined two He 111H-6 airframes, joined by a new wing centre-section to mount a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine; designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider; two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built.

Specifications (Heinkel He 111H-16)

Type: Four or Five seat medium bomber (Later used as a torpedo bomber, glider tug and missile launching platform)

Design: Ernst Heinkel AG

Manufacturer: Ernst Heinkel AG, SNCASO (France), Fabrica de Avione SET, CASA (Spain), Romania.

Powerplant: Two 1,350 hp (1007 kW) Junkers Jumo 211F-2 12-cylinder inverted Vee piston engines.

Performance: Maximum speed 227 mph (365 km/h) at sea level; service ceiling 21,980 It (6700 m).

Range: 1,212 miles (1950 km) with full bombload.

Weight: (Z-2) Empty equipped 19,136 lbs (8680 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 30,865 lbs (14000 kg).

Dimensions: Span 74 ft 1 3/4 in (22.60 m); length 53 ft 9 1/2 in (16.40 m); height 13 ft 1 1/4 in (4.00 m); wing area 931.11 sq ft (86.50 sq m).

Armament: One 20 mm MG FF cannon, one 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine gun and three 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 81Z machine guns, plus a normal internal bombload of 2,205 lbs (1000 kg). Could carry up to 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) of bombs (most externally) with the use of rocket-assisted-takeoff-gear (RATOG).

Variants: He 111A, He 111B/B-1/B-2, He 111C, He 111D, He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5, He 111F/F-1/F-4, He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5, He 111H/H-1 to H-6/H-8, He 111H-8/R2, He 111H-10, He 111H-11, He 111H-11/R1/R2, He 111H-12/H-15 (missile launchers, He 111H-14 (pathfinder), He 111H-14/R2 (glider tug), He 111H-16 (major production version), He 111H-16/R1/R2/R3, He 111H-18, He 111H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4, He 111H-21, He 111H-22, He 111H-23, He 111J/J-0/J-1, He 111L, He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6, He 111P-6/R2, He 111R, He 111Z/Z-1 (Zwilling).

History: First flight (He 111V-1 prototype) 24 February 1935, (pre-production He 111B-0) August 1936, (production He 111B-1) 30 October 1936 (first He 111E series) January 1938, (first production He 111P-1) December 1938, (He 111H-1) January/February 1939, final delivery (He 111H-23) October 1944, (Spanish C2111) late 1956.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe, Lufthansa), China, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey.

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Blohm & Voss BV P 81, P 84, P 85 AND P 86

The first BV 138 A-0s were completed in January 1939 but bad weather and other problems meant that test flying could only commence in June and “unfortunately, the results did not meet expectations. Blohm & Voss also had to make several changes to this aircraft before it could be flown by the E-Stelle”. Meanwhile, “at this time, Blohm & Voss, at the suggestion of the Generalluftzeugmeister [Ernst Udet], engaged in the further development of the remote reconnaissance machine.

The company’s response to Generalluftzeugmeister Ernst Udet’s suggestion for a much longer-ranged reconnaissance machine than the BV 138 took the form of two floatplane designs – the P 81 and the P 84. The P 81 was very large – somewhat resembling a scaled-up BV 140 with a BV 222 tail, it was 39.5m long, had a 55m wingspan, weighed 84 tons and had a range of 12,200km. Powered by four Jumo 218s – each one a linked pair of Jumo 208s – it was protected by turrets both at the bow and stern of its floats, plus both nose and dorsal turrets. The P 84 was similar in form to the P 81 but scaled down somewhat. It was 33.75m long, had a 46m wingspan, weighed 71 tons and had a range of 10,000km. It was also powered by four Jumo 218s. Given DLH’s ongoing need for transatlantic passenger transports, Blohm & Voss also presented two civilian designs based on the same large floatplane template – the P 85 and P 86. The P 85, a relatively straightforward passenger aircraft with a cylindrical fuselage, had a 46m wingspan but other details are unavailable from the E-Stelle report. The official Blohm & Voss project list confirms that it was powered by four Jumo 218s and weighed 68 tons.

The P 86, described as a high-altitude transatlantic passenger aircraft, was unusual in being a double decker – with passengers seated on two levels. This aircraft was 37.4m long and had a wingspan, again, of 46m. Yet remarkably it weighed less than the other designs at 56.7 tonnes.

Dornier was also asked to chip in at Udet’s suggestion and evidently presented its P 133, “a flying boat with 6 Jumo 208 engines and a flying weight of 58 tons at 8150 km range”. Unfortunately no drawing of the P 133 is known to have survived. None of the Udet-commissioned projects went anywhere “because there were no corresponding tactical demands that justify the construction of such aircraft, the procurement of the planned engines was not present for the time being and the development effort seemed too large”.

Fokker Fodder

In the summer of 1915, the solution to effectively arming an aeroplane was finally found in the invention of a device that would prevent the gun firing whenever a propeller blade was in a bullet’s path. This, it was realised, could be achieved by fitting a cam to the propeller shaft that would control the firing mechanism and stop the gun firing as the propeller blade came in line with the gun’s muzzle.

Although both the British and French had made abortive attempts to create such a device, it was the Dutchman, Antony Fokker, who first perfected it and was working for Germany. Fortunately for the Allies, the new monoplane, fitted with its deadly forward-firing machine gun, was brought into service in very small numbers spread along the whole front. It proved to be highly effective as Allied pilots initially believed that they were safe from attack when the enemy was behind them. Before Fokker’s invention, aircrew casualties had been largely caused by ground fire, both anti-aircraft and small arms or mechanical failure. Air combat losses were now a danger, and although the number of machines lost in combat remained small, it created a considerable stir amongst the Allies. The press began to write about the ‘Fokker Scourge’ and the British crews, with their grim humour, considered themselves and their machines to be ‘Fokker Fodder’.

The pilots of the new German fighters became national heroes, their successes and combat scores reported in the national newspapers. First among them was Max Immelman who became known as ‘The Eagle of Lille’ followed by Oswald Boelcke who wrote the rules of air combat for future pilots to follow. On 5 January 1916, Boelcke spotted two B.E.2cs from 2 Squadron and closed in hoping for his seventh victory that would bring his score level with Immelman’s. He attacked the rearmost machine, 1734, damaging its controls and wounding both 2nd Lt W. E. Somervill and Lt G. C. Formilli, so causing the machine to crash. Boelcke visited his victims in hospital, bringing them newspapers and a photograph of their crashed machine.

Although taken as a percentage of the number in service – several other types of machines suffered higher losses – crews of the B.E.2 seemed particularly vulnerable as it was the type in service in the greatest numbers and its occupants spent their time in action observing enemy movements than searching the skies for enemy fighters.

However, the latest enemy machines were not invincible nor their pilots always keen to engage in combat once the initial element of surprise had been lost. An alert crew had a good chance of fending off an attack as the following extract from the official weekly summary of the Royal Flying Corp’s work in the field, known affectionately as ‘Comic Cuts’, shows:

RFC Communiqué No.20 – 11th November 1915

2nd Lt. Allcock and 1 AM Bowes, 2 Sqn in a B.E.2c escort to a reconnaissance machine, were attacked by a Fokker which dived underneath them opening fire at 300 ft. range. Lt Allcock turned and from the back mounting fired half a drum at the Fokker which cleared off.

As well as the single-seat Fokkers, the new German two-seat Albatros and Aviatik aeroplanes had to be feared. With their observers who had now moved to the rear cockpit and armed with a swivel-mounted machine gun, these aeroplanes could be flown quite aggressively when the occasion demanded.

Naturally, the Royal Flying Corps would have liked to be equipped with an aeroplane better designed for fighting, and in the autumn of 1915, requested that they be provided with a two-seat machine that was capable of defending itself. However, they accepted that until such a machine was available, they would have to carry on and do their best with what they had. Orders were therefore given that machines on reconnaissance missions should be escorted, albeit by other aeroplanes of the same poorly-armed type. Critics suggested that the escort machines were more of a sacrifice than a benefit. One such critic was C. G. Grey, editor of The Aeroplane magazine, who had long been opposed to the very existence of the Royal Aircraft Factory. Grey frequently voiced his opinion that aircraft design and manufacture should be left entirely in the hands of private enterprise (which placed advertisements in his magazine where the Factory did not) who were typically quick to condemn the B.E.2c.

A more outspoken critic was Noel Pemberton Billing. Born in 1881, Billing was an adventurer as colourful as the heroes of popular fiction. He ran away to sea at the age of fourteen, ended up in South Africa and, still underage, joined the Natal Mounted Police. He fought and was twice wounded in the Boer War after which he returned to England and opened a petrol station at Kingston-on-Thames. Well before its time, it failed as many of his business ventures would and he returned to South Africa for a while. In 1909, he attempted to launch an aviation colony at Fambridge in Essex, but this too was premature and failed to attract sufficient interest to make it viable. Billing’s interest in aviation continued and in 1913 he bet Frederick Handley Page that he could obtain his pilot’s wings on the same day that he first sat in an aeroplane. Handley Page accepted the bet and Billing, starting his first lesson just after dawn, passed the simple test before breakfast. Billing founded a company making seaplanes and, he reasoned, since a craft that operated on and under the water was a submarine, one that operated on and over the water should be ‘supermarine’. The legendary name was therefore born and he later sold the company to his works manager, Mr Scott-Paine.

At the outbreak of war, Billing joined the Royal Navy Air Service and was involved in planning the famous bombing raid on the airship sheds at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance. Billing was to later resign his commission in order to stand for Parliament as an independent. Although defeated on his first attempt at Mile End on 10March 1916, he won the seat for East Hertfordshire, styling himself as the first ‘Air Member’ although several existing MPs had debated knowledgeably on aeronautical matters for some years previously.

Billing was not long in making his presence felt and, during a debate on the air services on 22 March, made a long and accusatory speech condemning the administration of the Royal Flying Corps. He called for the amalgamation of the two separate air services into a single force during which he shocked the house with the following statement:

I do not intend to deal with the colossal blunders of the Royal Flying Corps, but I might refer briefly to the hundreds, nay thousands, of machines which they have ordered, and which have been referred to by our pilots at the front as Fokker Fodder with regard to which every one of our pilots when he stepped into them if he got back it would be more by luck and his own skill than any mechanical assistance he got from the people who provided him with the machine.

 I do not wish to touch a dramatic note, but if I did I would suggest that a number of our gallant officers in the Royal Flying Corps had been rather murdered than killed.

Mr Tennant, Under Secretary of State for War, replying on behalf of the Government, explained that they were well aware of the situation and required no such language to make them realise the importance of the matter. He stated that the air services were efficient and doing good work, and that they were being expanded and updated as fast as the aeroplanes could be turned out. He concluded by stating that the word ‘murder’ ought not to have been used and that the application of it was untrue. Billing immediately rose to say:

I repeat the statement, and if the hon. gentleman wishes to challenge that statement I will produce such evidence that will shock this house.

He sat down amidst a clamour of cries of ‘Do it now!’ and was challenged to produce his evidence. On 28March, Billing responded to the challenge by stating that the Under Secretary for War should have made a ‘…dignified and complete denial of my charges, instead of replying to the one dramatic note struck on the question of our pilots being rather murdered than killed’. He continued by again stating that pilots were being asked to accomplish tasks of which their machines were incapable, adding the following statement:

If the officials who were responsible for deciding the types of machines in which our officers were to take to the air failed either by ignorance, intrigue, or incompetence to provide them with the best machines that this country could produce they were guilty of a crime for which only a fastidious mind could fail to find a crime.

He then read out passages from a series of letters mostly from the fathers of young airmen complaining about engine failures, poorly sited aerodromes and the ‘dud’ aeroplanes they were obliged to fly while in training. He continued his attack upon the B.E.2c and its makeshift armament stating that:

…our machines are dispatched to France, in most cases, as aeroplanes only. On their arrival the local squadron smiths did their best to convert them into weapons of war. A gun is stuck here and a bomb is hung on there. The performance of the machine loses 10 to 20 per cent of its efficiency. For example the official speed of a B.E.2c was something less than eighty miles an hour. That in all conscience was low enough when that machine was called upon to fight a Fokker, or other German machine, with a speed of 110 miles an hour whereas by the time it had been turned into this travesty of a weapon of war its speed was reduced to about 68 miles an hour.

Billing then proceeded to read out a long list of pilots killed by engine failure, flying accidents and similar incidents including a few who had died in action. He asked the house to imagine being a pilot flying over enemy lines, unarmed and knowing that his machine was only capable of 72 mph, to be attacked by a faster aeroplane with two guns, one firing ahead and one astern. Billing asked them to picture how an observer must feel, flying at a height of up to 10,000 feet, with his pilot shot dead with the understanding that he must eventually crash to his death simply because the officials did not provide dual controls that might have saved his life. He concluded his speech by saying:

It is frequently difficult even in law, to draw a hard and fast line between murder and manslaughter or, again, between manslaughter and an accident caused by criminal negligence. When this negligence was caused by the official folly of those in high places, coupled with entire ignorance of the technique which, in this instance, could alone preserve human life, official folly became criminal negligence, and when the death of a man ensued the line between such official folly and murder was purely a matter for a man’s own conscience.

He sat down to cries of ‘Hear, hear’ and the debate continued to deal with other aspects of the nation’s aerial defence including the poor provision of anti-aircraft guns against raiding Zeppelins.

Tennant, when he rose to respond, dealt first with the question of anti-aircraft guns before tackling Billing’s accusation. He stated that the enemy’s ‘new trick’ had given them a certain advantage. However, their tactics were now being adequately met and that reconnaissance, despite the difficult conditions, was being carried out entirely to the satisfaction of the Commander in Chief. He added that ‘…fighting in the air continued with no advantage to the enemy’ and aeroplane research and manufacturing was rapidly increasing. After attempting to reassure the house that the situation was nowhere near as bad as painted by Billing and that the majority of aerial missions were completed without incident, Tennant went on to promise that he would ask the prime minister to set up an independent enquiry to investigate the matter.

Lt Gen. Sir David Henderson, who as Director General of Military Aeronautics was responsible for equipment and management of the Royal Flying Corps, had listened to the debate from the public gallery. He not only gave his full support to the enquiry but immediately offered Tennant his resignation, although this was refused until the result of the enquiry was known. On 30 March, the Army Council announced that a Committee of Enquiry would indeed be held:

To enquire and report whether, within the resources placed by the War Office at the disposal of the Royal Aircraft Factory and the limits imposed by War Office orders, the organisation and management of the factory are efficient, and to give the Army Council the benefit of their suggestions on any points of the interior administration of the factory which seem to them capable of improvement.

The committee was to be chaired by Mr Richard Burbidge, General Manager and later Managing Director of the famous department store Harrods. Other members were Sir Charles Parsons, H. F. Donaldson and R. H. Griffith (Secretary). The Committee set to work with commendable dispatch and witnesses included Lt Gen. Sir David Henderson and members of his staff, Mervyn O’Gorman, Mr Heckstall Smith, Assistant Superintendent of the Royal Aircraft Factory, and various members of the Factory staff. Billing was far from satisfied and continued his campaign of complaints against the conduct of the aerial war. On 2 May, he again asked the house whether a decision had been made to not send further B.E.2cs to France. The inevitable reply was that there was no machine available that was superior to the B.E.2c although several were currently under development following a request the previous autumn by the Royal Flying Corp for a machine that could defend itself.

Eventually, Billing’s pressure on the Government had the desired effect and a second Committee of Enquiry was announced, this time under the chairmanship of a high court judge, Sir Clement Bailhache. The enquiry was to examine the administration and command of the Royal Flying Corps with particular reference to charges made both in Parliament and elsewhere, and to make any recommendations for improvement.

Meanwhile, the Burbidge Committee completed its investigation into the efficiency of the Royal Aircraft Factory and on 12 May, published its report in which it recorded the functions, staffing levels and expenditure of the Royal Aircraft Factory. It noted that since the outbreak of war, the Factory had built a total of seventy-seven aeroplanes including experimental prototypes while private industry had to date supplied over 2,120.

The report also explained the process by which new designs were submitted, as a draft, for approval by the War Office before detailed drawings were prepared, the process taking from six to nine months from the original concept to the commencement of manufacture. The enquiry had found the administrative processes ‘extremely elaborate’ and recorded that delays to production had occurred due to occasional errors in drawings for which the Royal Aircraft Factory was responsible. In conclusion, the report stated that an experimental organisation such as the Royal Aircraft Factory was needed to exist and that the standards of efficiency required by the War Office was being met and noted:

We do not consider that the competition of the Royal Aircraft Factory with the trade should, if reasonably administered, be the cause of any detrimental friction or trade feeling.

 

Also, the committee believed that salaries paid to senior staff were too low and went on to suggest ways in which it thought the Factory’s output might be increased. This report, with the omission of certain figures that may have been valuable to the enemy, was published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office as paper Cd8191, priced 1½d, on 19July 1916. It seems doubtful that Billing would have been satisfied by it. Although no blame was attached to the Royal Aircraft Factory or its management, O’Gorman’s contract as superintendent was not renewed. In late August 1916, O’Gorman left the company and was replaced on 21September by Henry Fowler, formerly an engineer with Midland Railway. A number of senior staff also left, although whether out of loyalty to O’Gorman or in search of the higher salaries mentioned in the report is unclear.

Meanwhile, the judicial enquiry into the Royal Flying Corps held its first meeting at Westminster Hall on 16 May under the direction of its chairman, Mr Justice Bailhache. Other members present were Mr J. H. Balfour Browne, KC; Mr J. G. Butcher, KC, MP; Mr Edward Short, KC; Sir Charles Parsons, FRS (who had also been a member of the Burbidge Committee); Mr Charles Bright FRS; and Mr Cotes Preedy (Secretary). Little progress was made that day as Billing refused to attend as requested to present his allegations, including the charge of murder to the enquiry. As he explained in a lengthy letter to the press, his allegations had been made against the high command of both the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service and would therefore state his case to an enquiry into the Royal Flying Corps only. He also stated that he did not consider that a committee composed of a judge, three lawyers, a retired civil engineer and an expert on steam turbines could ‘…come to any useful conclusions on so technical a subject’. However, when the committee met the following week to hear evidence from other witnesses including Mr Joynson-Hicks MP who had been a critic of government policy on aviation for many years, Billing eventually turned up.

Joynson-Hicks stated that since the introduction of the Fokker, the Allies no longer possessed ‘mastery of the air’. He also pointed out that official advice to pilots on how to meet the new foe included the words: ‘The Fokker, when in action, seeks by exercise of its superior speed and climbing power, to obtain a position above its enemy.’ He claimed that this proved that the Fokker was faster than the B.E.2c, a fact that had never been denied.

Lord Montague, who was interviewed on 11 June, began by saying that he considered the Royal Aircraft Factory to be wasteful and inefficient, but was interrupted by the chairman who reminded him that the enquiry was into the management of the Royal Flying Corps, not the Factory. However, Lord Montague continued by stating that pilfering by Factory staff was commonplace and an individual with ‘big pockets’ had stolen enough parts to build an engine. Lord Montague was again reminded by the chairman to adhere to evidence relative to the committee’s terms of reference. A number of witnesses from the industry were also heard, one of whom, Mr Algernon Berriman, chief engineer at the Daimler Company, stated:

The RAF engine and the B.E.2c may have their defects, but they form a combination that has been instrumental in enabling the Royal Flying Corps to perform valuable service in France.

When finally called upon, Billing repeated his accusation that those responsible for providing aeroplanes to the Royal Flying Corps had failed, either by intrigue or incompetence, to provide the best machines available. He went on to give details of numerous cases in which pilots had died while flying the B.E.2. These included both the fatal crash of Edward Busk while test flying at Farnborough and that of Desmond Arthur in 1913 due to a faulty repair. He attempted to read out a letter from the father of a pilot killed while flying at Gallipoli, but was stopped when it was pointed out that the Royal Flying Corps did not operate in the Dardanelles and the aeroplane must have been a navy machine and therefore outside the scope of the enquiry. Billing’s evidence, much of it equally irrelevant, continued for several days until members of the committee grew visibly tired of him. He appeared to be able to provide little or no hard evidence to support his accusations of intrigue or incompetence and presented each of his incidents with the assumption that, since the machine had crashed, it must have been faulty.

The committee sat through June and into July 1916 hearing evidence from fifty-four witnesses in public although information believed sensitive and of use to the enemy was taken in private. Deliberating upon the mass of statements took time and their final report was not made public until December. It dealt at length with the difficulties experienced in setting up a new branch of the armed forces and in foreseeing how it would develop and assessing what equipment would be needed and in what quantities. The Royal Aircraft Factory, the report stated, should be judged by its greatest achievement, the B.E.2c, which was aerodynamically sound and capable of being mass produced by companies that had never previously built aeroplanes. The report concluded:

No one could complain if Mr Pemberton Billing had asked for these cases to be enquired into to ascertain whether the death of these men could have been prevented. But, based upon these incidents, a charge of criminal negligence, or of murder, is an abuse of language and entirely unjustified.

Thus the high command of the Royal Flying Corps was exonerated, although it was to be merely a temporary reprieve. Public reaction to aerial attacks on London the following summer led to further enquiries into the management and operation of both The Royal Flying Corps and Royal Navy Air Service, and their amalgamation from 1 April 1918 into a single service, the Royal Air Force. Cleared of any blame but with its reputation tarnished by the accusations made about it, the B.E.2 remained in production and service. Its greatest trial was yet to come.

Von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 versus the Southwest Front Part I

The situation facing Heeresgruppe Süd at X-hour on 22 June 1941 was far more disadvantageous than that faced by either of the other two German army groups. Von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 had to conduct an opposed river crossing across the Western Bug into a heavily-defended fortified region, which meant the 6.Armee’s infantry would first have to create a series of bridgeheads before German armour could be committed. Beginning at dawn on 22 June, the 6.Armee used five infantry divisions to conduct multiple crossings across the Western Bug River. The 298.Infanterie-Division, with the help of Brandenburg infiltration troops, managed to seize an intact bridge at Ustilug. German pioneers also succeed in capturing an intact bridge further south, at Sokal. Two Soviet rifle divisions opposed the crossing but were too thinly spread to seriously interfere with the initial bridge seizures. Wasting no time, 6.Armee immediately sent Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 197 across the Sokal bridge at 0450 hours. In order that von Kleist’s panzers would not be delayed by the use of just two bridges, German pioneers immediately began building pontoon bridges across the river to provide multiple crossing points. Despite the successful crossing of the Western Bug, von Kleist could initially commit only three of his nine motorized divisions to exploit the bridgeheads due to the narrowness of the attack sector and congestion at the two bridges. General der Panzertruppen Ludwig Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division crossed the Sokal bridge and pushed past weak resistance nearly 30km by the end of the first day. From Ustilug, the 6.Armee was able to seize the town of Vladimir Volynskii, which opened the way for General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Kühn’s 14.Panzer-Division to push toward Lutsk – Panzergruppe 1’s intermediate objective.

General Leytenant Mikhail P. Kirponos, in command of the Southwestern Front, hurried to his new wartime command post at Tarnopol, but once there he could barely communicate with any of his subordinate forces for the first two days of the war. His headquarters personnel were unable to establish a functioning radio command net (during peace-time, the Red Army tried to avoid use of radio communications in order to limit opportunities for adversary signals intercepts, but when war erupted suddenly, most units had neither the experience nor the correct code books to initiate secure communications) so he was forced to rely upon civilian phones to try and coordinate his forces. In this command vacuum, local commanders began making their own decisions on how to respond to the German invasion. The Soviet 5th Army, headquartered in Lutsk, directed General-major Semen M. Kondrusev’s 22nd Mechanized Corps to counterattack the German forces threatening Vladimir Volynskii. Although most of this corps was about 100km from the border, by chance its most powerful formation, Polkovnik Petr Pavlov’s 41st Tank Division, was conducting field training just north of Vladimir Volynskii. Pavlov had thirty-one KV-2 heavy tanks (which lacked 152mm ammunition) and 342 T-26 tanks, which were in an excellent position to counterattack the German 14.Panzer-Division as it marched over the bridge at Ustilug. Instead, Pavlov found himself in a quandary that was not uncommon in the Red Army of June 1941 – he was out of radio communications with Kondrusev’s corps headquarters and his pre-war mobilization orders directed him to deploy to Kovel – away from the Germans at Ustilug. Pressured by local Soviet commanders to do something to help the crumbling border defenses, Pavlov split the difference by sending the bulk of his tanks on the road to Kovel, but detaching a tank battalion under Major Aleksandr S. Suin with fifty T-26 light tanks to support Soviet infantry at Vladimir Volynskii. Suin’s battalion arrived just in time to be shot to pieces by German panzerjäger, who knocked out thirty of his T-26 tanks and forced him to abandon Vladimir Volynskii.

Only vaguely aware of the extent of German advances by the end of 22 June, Kirponos was able to get in touch with General-major Ignatii I. Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps, located near Brody, and order them to counterattack Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division near Radekhov while the rest of Kondrusev’s 22nd Mechanized Corps deployed to counterattack at Vladimir Volynskii. The 1st Anti-tank Brigade (RVGK) under General-major Kirill S. Moskalenko, which was fully motorized and equipped with forty-eight 76.2mm F-22 anti-tank guns and seventy-two 85mm M1939 anti-aircraft guns, was ordered to create a blocking position west of Lutsk. Moskalenko’s anti-tank unit was one of the most powerful anti-armour formations in the Southwest Front and was also plentifully supplied with anti-tank mines. Kirponos had four other first-echelon mechanized corps in the Southwest Front, but the 4th and 8th Mechanized Corps spent the first few days of the war marching and counter-marching to no useful purpose. Rokossovsky’s cadre-strength 9th Mechanized Corps was beginning a 200km march to Lutsk, but would not arrive for a few days. The 16th Mechanized Corps was even further away from the border. In short, although Kirponos had an overall 6–1 numerical superiority in tanks over von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1, the piecemeal arrival of Soviet armour on the battlefield meant that the Red Army’s advantage was whittled down to a 2–1 local superiority, which was adequate for defense but not attack. Nevertheless, an order from the Stavka, signed by Georgy Zhukov, was received at Kirponos’ command post at 2300 hours on 22 June, directing Kirponos to counterattack with five mechanized corps within less than forty-eight hours.

On 23 June, von Kleist’s armour advanced eastward, with Kühn’s spearhead in the north and Crüwell’s spearhead in the south. They were advancing along very narrow frontages and not mutually supporting, as they were separated by a distance of over 50km. Under these circumstances, the Red Army should have been able to inflict heavy losses on these vanguard units. During the morning, the 13.Panzer-Division reinforced the 14.Panzer-Division across the Western Bug and, together with infantry from 6.Armee, they began to mop up the remaining Soviet border defenses. Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division advanced to Radekhov with Kampfgruppe Riebel (Oberstleutnant Gustav-Adolf Riebel’s Panzer-Regiment 15 and the Luftwaffe I/Flak Regiment General Göring, with twelve 8.8cm flak guns) and Kampfgruppe Angern (Oberst Günther von Angern’s 11 Schutzen Brigade and the 119.Artillerie-Regiment). Part of the Soviet 20th Tank Regiment, from General-major Sergei I. Ogurtsov’s 10th Tank Division, was in the town, but they were apparently caught by surprise and hurriedly abandoned Radekhov, along with twenty BT-7 and six T-34 tanks. After securing the town, Riebel sent a tank platoon from Oberleutnant Edel Zachariae-Lingenthal’s 5./Panzer-Regiment 15 forward to reconnoiter to the south and this platoon spotted a group of Soviet tanks in column approaching Radekhov from the southwest along a road. The German tanks quickly occupied hull-down ambush positions and waited until the Soviets – which were T-34 medium tanks – were within 100 meters. Then the five Pz.IIIs opened fire with 3.7cm and 5cm Panzergranate AP rounds.

Even though at this short distance every shot was a hit, the Russians drove on without much visible effect … Despite repeated hits, our fire had no effect. It appears as if shells are simply bouncing off. The enemy tanks disengaged without fighting and retreated.

This Soviet probe merely alerted Riebel to the presence of an impending Soviet armoured counterattack and he promptly deployed the I and II/Panzer-Regiment 15 in a linear defense just west of Radekhov, with the Luftwaffe 8.8cm flak guns in the center and Kampfgruppe Angern’s artillery behind him.21 Soon thereafter, Ogurtsov conducted a sloppy, unsupported attack with just two tank and two motorized infantry battalions across open terrain in broad daylight. He refused to wait for reconnaissance to spot the German positions or his own artillery to deploy, so his forces went into battle blind. Tank–infantry cooperation was virtually non-existent. The 100-odd Soviet tanks attacked in several waves; first the light BT-7 and BA-10/20 armoured cars, then the medium T-28 and T-34 and finally the KV-1 heavy tanks. The German tankers opened fire at about 400 meters and easily put paid to the first wave of Soviet light tanks, but the T-34s began engaging the German tanks from 800–1,000 meters and knocked out three Pz.III and two Pz.IV tanks. The 5cm KwK 39 L/42 was completely ineffective at that range, but in desperation Oberleutnant Zachariae-Lingenthal ordered his Pz.IVs to fire 7.5cm Sprenggranate 34 (HE) rounds at the T-34s. Since the T-34s had been committed straight after a long approach march, they were still carrying reserve fuel drums on their back decks, which could be set alight by shell fragments. A lucky hit or two convinced the Soviets to pull back. Despite the near invulnerability of their armour to German 3.7cm and 5cm guns, a number of T-34s and KV-1s were immobilized by hits on their tracks and then abandoned by their crews. After suffering nearly 50 per cent losses, Ogurtsov broke off his amateurish attack. The Soviet 10th Tank Division lost forty-six tanks in their first battle with 11.Panzer-Division, but knocked out five German tanks and several anti-tank guns. After the action, Zachariae-Lingenthal inspected some of the abandoned T-34 tanks, alarmed by its superior firepower and armoured protection and later wrote, ‘this was a shocking recognition to the German panzer and panzerjäger units and our knees were weak for a time.’

Meanwhile, Kirponos tried vainly to bring up more of his mechanized corps in order to comply with the Stavka-directed counteroffensive on the morning of 24 June, but only the 15th and 22nd Mechanized Corps were in any position to do anything. Von Kleist was gradually feeding more armour into the battle as the Soviet border defenses were eliminated, but he initially held back the 9.Panzer-Division and his four motorized infantry divisions. This was an important command decision – throughout the Battle of Dubno, the Germans maintained strong mobile reserves, while Kirponos committed each formation as it arrived with nothing left in reserve to deal with enemy breakthroughs. Due to poor Soviet radio security at the division level and below, the German 3rd Radio Intercept Company was able to detect Soviet armour units moving toward the border. Although army and higher-level units used good encryption on their radio nets, the tank regiments and divisions employed simpler ciphers that the Germans could break and often failed to change frequencies and call signs for days after compromise. Soviet tank units also had a bad habit of calling for fuel supplies just before launching an attack, which provided German intelligence officers with a valuable indicator. Thus poor Soviet radio procedures in tank units handed another advantage to the German panzer divisions.

Not surprisingly, no grand Soviet counteroffensive materialized on the morning of 24 June, since neither the 15th nor 22nd Mechanized Corps were ready to attack. Instead, Kühn’s 14.Panzer-Division attacked eastward toward Lutsk at 0800 hours, supported by bombers from Fliegerkorps V. Kühn’s panzers brusquely pushed aside a Soviet rifle division blocking the road to Lutsk, but then ran straight into Moskalenko’s 1st Anti-tank Brigade west of Lutsk. Moskalenko’s unit was caught with its guns still limbered in column, enabling the panzers to shoot up his lead battalion, but once the rest of his unit deployed on line, the German tanks were vulnerable in the open. The Soviet anti-tank gunners were easily capable of penetrating the Pz.III and Pz.IV tanks at 1,000 meters or more, and it was only the lack of supporting infantry or tanks that prevented Moskalenko from giving 14.Panzer-Division a very bloody nose. As it was, both sides suffered significant losses in this first major duel between panzers and Soviet anti-tank guns. It was not until 1400 hours that the 22nd Mechanized Corps was finally ready to attack, and then only with part of the 19th Tank Division. Bravely charging, a battalion of forty-five T-26 light tanks struck the left flank of the 14.Panzer-Division near Voinitsa and briefly regained some ground. However, the Germans were merely withdrawing to regroup and at 1800 hours they struck back with a combined-arms attack that shattered the 19th Tank Division. Not only were most of the division’s light tanks lost, but the division commander was wounded and all three regimental commanders were killed or captured, as well as the artillery commander. The remnants of the Soviet division fell back in disorder toward Lutsk, along with Moskalenko’s anti-tank brigade. During the retreat, Kondrusev was killed by German artillery fire, leaving the 22nd Mechanized Corps leaderless.

Nor had Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps been able to stop Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division, which bypassed Soviet blocking positions east of Radekhov and advanced 55km to the outskirts of Dubno. Karpezo seemed to think that his mission was to defend Brody, and was content to sit almost immobile as Crüwell’s division marched past him. Indeed, Crüwell took considerable liberty with Karpezo, leaving his right flank dangerously exposed – but nothing happened. German panzer commanders were trained to accept risk and ignore their flanks, and in 1941 this often paid handsome dividends. Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division followed in Crüwell’s path, as well as two infantry divisions, to exploit the breakthrough. Zhukov, who had arrived as Stavka representative at Kirponos’ command post at Tarnopol, ordered him to launch a counteroffensive into the flank of 11.Panzer-Division by 0700 hours on 25 June, even though this would be another piecemeal attack. While the German panzer corps commanders used radio to direct and maneuver their panzer-divisions in coordinated fashion, the Soviet mechanized corps operated with little or no coordination with other friendly formations at this point. Lack of C2-driven coordination prevented Kirponos from effectively massing his armour on the battlefield.

While the main armoured battle was developing around Dubno, Kirponos’ strongest armoured formation – General-major Andrey Vlasov’s 4th Mechanized Corps – was senselessly committed by the 6th Army commander to local counterattacks against the German 17.Armee approaching L’vov. Vlasov’s counterattack did not go well, as his armour was also committed piecemeal and without artillery support. Polkovnik Petr S. Fotchenkov’s 8th Tank Division lost nineteen of its 140 T-34s and the 32nd Tank Division lost sixteen tanks on 24–25 June fighting German infantry units. Vlasov did not report these heavy losses to Kirponos, but did claim the destruction of thirty-seven enemy tanks, even though no German armour was in this sector. Even worse, the tanks of the 4th Mechanized Corps were marched hither and yon by the 6th Army, which wanted tanks everywhere at once, but the result was that hundreds of tanks fell out due to mechanical defects.

25 June was a very good day for Panzergruppe 1. Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen had both 13 and 14.Panzer-Divisionen advancing toward Lutsk, and together they were strong enough to force Moskalenko’s anti-tank brigade to withdraw. By the afternoon, German tanks from 13.Panzer-Division seized a bridgehead over the Styr River and occupied Lutsk. The Soviet 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps, approaching from the east, were too late to save the city. Karpezo continued to sit immobile, ignoring Zhukov’s attack order, and allowed Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division to fight its way into Dubno by 1400 hours. Soviet infantry attempted to form a defensive line behind the Ik’va River, but Crüwell’s fast-moving kampfgruppen defeated this effort. The easy capture of both Lutsk and Dubno effectively drove a wedge between the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies, making efforts to coordinate joint actions even more difficult. The only positive aspect of the day for the Soviets was that the 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps were assembling near Rovno and the 8th Mechanized Corps had arrived to reinforce Karpezo at Brody. On a map, it appeared to Zhukov that the Red Army could mount a powerful armoured pincer counterattack to cut off the vanguard of Panzergruppe 1 at Dubno.

However, Zhukov’s efforts to jump-start a counteroffensive were no more successful on 26 June and only resulted in further diminishing Kirponos’ armour. General-major Konstantin K. Rokossovsky established a fairly strong blocking position due east of Lutsk, which prevented either the 13 or 14.Panzer-Divisionen from advancing directly on Rovno, but recognizing that his 100-odd light tanks stood no chance against Mackensen’s III Armeekorps (mot.), he opted to make only a demonstration to comply with the letter of Zhukov’s order and then shifted to the defense. General-major Nikolai V. Feklenko was less circumspect and obediently launched an attack with his 19th Mechanized Corps against 11.Panzer-Division at Dubno around 1400 hours. Feklenko attacked with about 200 tanks, but only two KV-1 and two T-34; the rest were either T-26 or T-37 scout tanks armed only with machine-guns. Crüwell easily repulsed Feklenko’s counterattack and both KV-1 tanks were lost. Adding insult to injury, Crüwell boldly pushed his motorcycle battalion, Kradschützen-Bataillon 61, 30km eastward to the outskirts of Ostrog.

Von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 versus the Southwest Front Part II

On the southern side of the bulge produced by Panzergruppe 1’s advance, Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps was joined by General-leytenant Dmitri I. Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps, which had just completed a 600km road march to the front. Ryabyshev’s corps had lost almost half its tanks due to mechanical breakdown, including forty-four out of forty-eight T-35 heavy tanks. Ryabyshev’s corps conducted a forward passage of lines early on 26 June, passing through Karpezo’s disorganized corps. Karpezo opted to remain on the defensive, allowing Ryabyshev to make the main effort in assaulting the right flank of General der Panzertruppen Werner Kempf’s XXXXVIII Armeekorps (mot.) between Leshnev and Kozyn. Ryabyshev began a premature attack with General-major Timofei A. Mishanin’s 12th Tank Division at 0900 hours, but the rest of his corps could not be committed until the afternoon. Ryabyshev intended to capture the village of Leshnev, then push on to seize Berestichko, which would isolate the 11.Panzer-Division at Dubno. Ryabyshev was confident that Mishanin’s division, which had a company of KV-1 tanks and a full battalion of T-34 tanks, could accomplish this mission.

Unfortunately, Mishanin’s armour was committed nearly straight off the line of march, with no time to reconnoitre the unfamiliar terrain or for his artillery and engineers to arrive. Consequently, Mishanin conducted a nearly pure-armour attack with his two tank regiments, but only minimal infantry support. The tanks immediately encountered very marshy terrain along the Syten’ka River, which was little more than a stream, but the Soviet tank crews lacked the skill to negotiate even this minor obstacle. Three T-34 tanks were stuck in the marshy terrain and Mishanin was forced to look for an alternate crossing in full sight of the German troops from the 57.Infanterie-Division in Lishnev. As the Soviet tanks bunched up around the river, the Germans called for artillery fire, which pounded the massed armour. Eventually, Mishanin was able to get his tanks across the marshy terrain and assault into Leshnev. The German panzerjäger were overwhelmed by the T-34 and KV-1 tanks and a number of Pak guns were crushed under their tracks. The German infantry abandoned Leshnev and fell back. However, before Mishanin could consolidate on the objective, an armoured kampfgruppe from Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division attempted to retake Leshnev. While the Pz.III and Pz.IV tanks were seriously out-gunned by the T-34 and KV-1 tanks, the German panzers enjoyed artillery and air support, as well as better C2, which evened the odds considerably. German gunners concentrated on hitting the tracks on the bigger Soviet tanks and succeeded in immobilizing some of the T-34s. Eventually, the German panzers broke off the action and retreated. Mishanin had twenty-five tanks stuck in the marshes or knocked out around Leshnev and was in no position to continue the attack with his unsupported armour. Instead, he sent a company of KV-1 tanks forward to sever the Berestichko-Dublin road and to shoot up some of the German wheeled traffic along this route. Ryabyshev’s other two divisions, the 34th Tank and 7th Mechanized, only got into the fight late in the day and achieved little or nothing.

Amazingly, one of the most powerful Soviet armoured units of June 1941 had failed to inflict significant damage on a single German infantry division. The Red Army’s failure to use combined arms tactics – which was mostly due to impatience in the higher command – almost completely negated the superior capabilities of the T-34 and KV tanks. By the end of 26 June, it appeared that Ryabyshev and Karpezo were still in an excellent position to smash in von Kleist’s right flank on the next day, but the Germans had their own surprise in store. German reconnaissance aircraft had been observing the mass of Soviet armour around Brody all day and they had spotted the GAZ-AAA radio trucks belonging to both the 8th and 15th Mechanized Corps command posts. Around 1800 hours, several groups of low-flying Ju-88 bombers from Fliegerkorps V came in and bombed both command posts. Karpezo was badly wounded but Ryabyshev survived, minus his radio truck, which was left burning. This one air strike – which was a result of poor operational security in the Red Army – seriously degraded Soviet C2 in the armoured battles around Dubno. On top of these difficulties, the Stavka reiterated its order at 2100 hours that Kirponos would continue attacking with all armoured forces and forbid even tactical retreats to prevent encirclements.

Despite Kirponos’ intent to launch a pincer attack from Rovno and Brody to encircle the German forces in Dubno, the lack of coordination between the mechanized corps and other Red Army units resulted in a series of piecemeal battles throughout 27 June. The pincer from Rovno collapsed as Feklenko’s and Rokossovsky’s understrength corps dashed themselves to pieces against 14.Panzer-Division and two supporting infantry divisions. Von Kleist’s panzers now had the benefit of infantry support, which had caught up with them, greatly increasing the staying power of the frontline units. Once the Soviet armour from the 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps was spent, the Germans committed their armour: both 13 and 14.Panzer-Divisionen attacked, threatening to envelop the remnants of Feklenko’s and Rokossovsky’s corps. Meanwhile, Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division blasted its way through a thin blocking force of Soviet infantry and captured Ostrog. A counterattack by fifteen BT-7 light tanks against Panzer-Regiment 15 in Ostrog failed to budge the Germans. Kirponos was forced to cobble together Task Force Kukin, a small mechanized formation, to block Crüwell from pushing even further east.

In spite of the myriad problems afflicting the Red Army’s armour units at the outset of the war, Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps came close to achieving a real success southwest of Dubno on 27 June. Assembling Mishanin’s 12th Tank Division, Polkovnik Ivan V. Vasil’ev’s 34th Tank Division and Colonel Aleksandr G. Gerasimov’s 7th Motorized Division north of Brody, Ryabyshev was able to mount a fairly organized attack that managed to envelop and isolate the 11 and 16.Panzer-Divisionen, as well as part of the 75.Infanterie-Division, by midday on 27 June. A number of Soviet tanks were lost crossing the marshy terrain, but a mobile group with about 200 tanks succeeded in fighting its way to the outskirts of Dubno. Mishanin was wounded in the attack and Soviet losses were heavy, but the situation for Kempf’s XXXXVIII Armeekorps (mot.) was equally desperate. By the end of the day, German and Soviet armour units were thoroughly intermixed southwest of Dubno and there was no distinct front line.

Although Zhukov abruptly returned to Moscow, he continued to hound Kirponos by teletype messages to continue the counter-offensive against von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1. Kirponos, intimidated by his commissars, complied and thereby sentenced much of the remainder of his armour to annihilation. Rokossovsky managed to scrape together a battle group with about fifty T-26 and BT light tanks, a handful of KV-2 heavy tanks and some infantry, which he used to attack into the northern flank of Panzergruppe 1’s bulge on the morning of 28 June. However, by this point the infantry from 6.Armee had arrived in force to bolster von Kleist’s exposed flanks and the panzerjägers from 299.Infanterie-Division stopped Rokossovsky’s attack cold. Polkovnik Mikhail E. Katukov led his thirty-three BT-2 and BT-5 light tanks into battle and lost all of them. As usual, Soviet armoured attacks went in with little or no reconnaissance support and negligible artillery support. Massed artillery, anti-tank fire and flak destroyed most of the Soviet armour, although a single damaged KV-2 limped away. Once the Soviet attack was spent, Generaloberst von Mackensen deftly coordinated the 13 and 14.Panzer-Divisionen into an all-out attack that smashed in the flanks of the Soviet 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps. The fragments of seven Soviet tank and motorized infantry divisions were routed and fled back behind the Goryn River. Feklenko abandoned Rovno, which was quickly occupied by the 13.Panzer-Division.

While disaster was striking the northern group of Soviet armour, Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps found itself being encircled. This was the first instance in the war in the East of Soviet armour achieving a significant penetration of German lines, and Ryabyshev set a precedent that would occur again and again over the next two years. First, no follow-on forces were available to support the breakthrough; the nearly leaderless 15th Mechanized Corps mounted only a demonstration attack against the infantry of the German XXXXIV Armeekorps which provided no help to Ryabyshev. Second, the Germans reacted quickly to sever the narrow penetration corridor used by the attacking Soviet armour, isolating the bulk of the 12th and 34th Tank Divisions in a kessel just west of Dubno. Third, morale and C2 within the trapped forces quickly disintegrated, resulting in rapid loss of any unit cohesion. The German 75.Infanterie-Division played a vital role in isolating the bulk of Ryabyshev’s forces, which speaks volumes about the Soviet lack of battlefield situational awareness at this point. A foot-marching infantry unit could envelope fully motorized units. Once Ryabyshev’s armour was encircled, Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division began a series of attacks that quickly reduced the kessel. German heavy artillery and flak was brought up to finish off the trapped Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, which were now low on fuel and ammunition; twenty-two tanks were knocked out. Ryabyshev, who was outside the kessel, personally led the 7th Motorized Infantry Division in an effort to break through to his two trapped tank divisions, but failed after crippling losses. By the end of 28 June, Ryabyshev’s corps had been neutralized and von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 had driven a deep wedge into the boundary of the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies. In just six days of battle, four of Kirponos’ mechanized corps had been defeated and the remainder had been seriously reduced.

For the first six days of the battle, while Kirponos was grinding up his own armoured forces in piecemeal battles, von Kleist held back the 9.Panzer-Division and his four motorized divisions. Once the best Soviet armoured formations were spent, von Kleist began to commit his second-echelon motorized forces on 28–29 June. The 9.Panzer-Division attacked unexpectedly into the flank of the Soviet 6th Army north of L’vov and quickly broke through its infantry. The 16 and 25.Infanterie-Division (mot.) used their superior mobility to quickly reinforce the flanks of Panzergruppe 1 at Berestichko and Rovno, which enabled the panzer divisions to resume their attacks eastward. Von Mackensen’s III Armeekorps (mot.) sliced into the fragments of Rokossovsky’s forces and pushed them back. After heavy fighting with Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division southwest of Dubno, Ryabyshev retreated with the remnants of his corps, reduced to 35 per cent of their initial tank strength, four infantry battalions and four batteries of artillery. The rest of his corps, roughly 10,000 troops and 200 tanks, were left in the kessel outside Dubno. With the Southwest Front’s forces in retreat or faced with encirclement, the Stavka finally ordered Kirponos to withdraw to the Stalin Line on the old border.

In the final actions near Dubno, the trapped tankers of the 34th Tank Division took advantage of fog along the Ik’va to stage a breakout operation on the night of 30 June, which succeeded in saving some troops, but not much equipment. In a confused night action – rare on the Eastern Front – the Soviets massed their remaining tanks and punched through Hube’s cordon. The Germans massed artillery, flak guns and tanks to destroy the fleeing Soviets, but some German troops panicked when T-34 and KV heavy tanks appeared out of the mist and overran their positions. Corps Commissar Nikolai Popel, leading the breakout, later wrote:

One of our T-34s flared up like a torch, darting around a field. Over a dozen Pz.IVs ganged up at the same time on a KV-1. We were shooting German vehicles pointblank. When ammunition ran out, we rammed them … Sytnik’s KV-1 [Major A. P. Sytnik, commander 67th Tank Regiment], in the heat of battle, rushed ahead of the others. [He] rammed several Pz.IIIs. His vehicle became a pile of shapeless metal. He began retreating with his crew deeper into the thickets.

By 1 July, the Southwest Front was in full retreat and Panzergruppe 1 had achieved its initial objectives. The tank battles fought between Panzergruppe 1 and elements of seven Soviet mechanized corps around Lutsk-Rovno-Dubno-Brody in the first week of Barbarossa were the largest tank battles to date, involving over 600 German and 3,800 Soviet tanks. While it is true that von Kleist failed to encircle and destroy any Soviet mechanized corps, as occurred in the battle of the Bialystok-Minsk kessel, the 8th, 15th and 19th Mechanized Corps were badly mauled and three other mechanized corps lost at least half their strength. Approximately two-thirds of the Soviet armour, or 2,500 tanks, were lost in the battle between 22–30 June 1941; the majority of losses were caused by non-combat factors, including mechanical failure and lack of driver training. The technical superiority of the Soviet KV-1 and T-34 tanks counted for very little in the Battle of Dubno due to untrained crews and inept tactics. The Stavka’s insistence on launching a premature counteroffensive resulted in the best Red Army armoured units being thrown into battle piecemeal, where they were chopped to ribbons by veteran panzer units. In addition to material losses, losses of senior armoured leaders included two of six mechanized corps commanders, six of eighteen division commanders and ten of thirty tank regiment commanders. The surviving formations were reduced to division-size battle groups with little artillery or support services left after the retreat to the Stalin Line. The one bright spot for the Red Army in the Ukraine was that second-echelon armoured units near Kiev and the 2nd and 18th Mechanized Corps, deployed with the Southern Front near Odessa, were too distant to be significantly affected by the initial German Blitzkrieg; these formations would greatly assist Kirponos in slowing Heeresgruppe Süd’s advance upon Kiev in July–August.

In contrast to the damage suffered by Kirponos’ first-echelon armour, the German panzer units in Panzergruppe 1 suffered very light losses in the first week of combat; no senior panzer leaders were casualties and total personnel losses were around 5 per cent or less. Excluding Pz.I and command tanks, no more than twenty-five tanks in Panzergruppe 1 were totally destroyed by 30 June, with about another 100 damaged or down for mechanical defects, but all five panzerdivisions were still fully combat-capable. German leadership, from von Kleist, to von Mackensen and Kempf at corps level, to Crüwell and Hube at division level, had demonstrated great flexibility and aggressiveness. Even when briefly isolated, the panzer divisions retained their cohesiveness and fought their way out of trouble. To be sure, the Pz.III tanks armed with the 3.7cm KwK 36 L/46 cannon had proven to be a liability in combat against Soviet tanks, but the German skill at combined arms warfare and air-ground coordination had carried the day against Soviet numerical superiority and technical advantages. As Heeresgruppe Süd continued its advance to the Stalin Line in early July 1941, von Kleist was still outnumbered but his forces were better handled and, thus, capable of achieving decisive local superiorities.

Planning the “Dash” I

KMS Prinz Eugen

KMS Scharnhorst

Although Scharnhorst and Gneisenau posed a considerable threat to the British while lying at Brest in 1941 and the repeated raids by the Royal Air Force were far too inaccurate to do any serious damage, Hitler felt the two units were too exposed, and ordered them to return. Operation ‘Cerberus’, the daylight dash through the English Channel in February 1942, was probably the Kriegsmarine’s greatest success, for it took the British completely by surprise, the two battle-cruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen slipping past ineffectual air and sea attacks. Apart from slight damage to Scharnhorst from a magnetic mine during the final phase it had been a humiliation for the British and proof that audacity pays.

The two great grey ships appeared off the entrance to the French Atlantic port of Brest just after dawn. They were Germany’s 32,000-ton battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau returning from marauding raids against Allied shipping in the Atlantic.

They had sailed from Kiel at the beginning of 1941. Evading the British Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow, they had broken through the Denmark Strait into the Atlantic. For the next two months like gigantic pirates they roamed the Atlantic shipping lanes sinking more than twenty ships totalling over 100,000 tons. It was the first—and last—successful foray by German battleships against Allied merchant shipping in the Second World War. Then in early March they seemed to disappear into Atlantic mists.

At 7 a.m. on 22 March 1941, as sullen French dock workers watched, they tied up at the quai Lannion in Brest. It was nearly a year since France had fallen and the French Naval base had been taken over by German dockyard workers from Wilhelmshaven. They had returned to Brest because they were badly in need of repairs. The two-months’ cruise had revealed serious defects in Scharnhorst’s boilers. The tubes of the super-heaters, especially, had given constant trouble threatening a major breakdown. German dockyard engineers who examined her estimated ten weeks would be needed for repairs. When her Kapitän, Kurt Hoffmann, reported this news to Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, head of the German Navy in Berlin, the German Admiralty staff were shocked at the extent of the repairs necessary.

Her sister ship Gneisenau was also in need of minor repairs. The refit of both battleships went ahead quickly but no Frenchman was allowed to work on them, for French workmen in the repair depots ashore went as slow as they dared to hold up the work of the German conquerors. Throughout the dockyard and in the town, the inhabitants were not only surly and hostile, but some of them were in touch with French underground agents, who would pass the information about the repairs to Britain.

After the ships’ arrival eight depressing days passed with unceasing rain and frequent false air-raid alarms. Then on the evening of 30 March came the real thing. The wail of sirens was followed by the crash of bombs. The flak gun crews poured up a curtain of fire but their shells could not reach high-flying planes.

Ashore, many officers of the German Naval Staff were killed when the hotel where they were accommodated was hit and caught fire. The ships were undamaged but when the fragments of bombs were examined by German experts next day they made an important discovery. The RAF had dropped 500-lb armour-piercing bombs specially made to crash through the armoured decks of the warships. The Germans then knew that this was no routine dock raid. These bombs were direct evidence that the RAF knew they were there. Now the raids would never cease. They were right. The RAF started to come day and night when weather permitted.

At dawn on 6 April a RAF torpedo-bomber suddenly dived out of the clouds. It was a Coastal Command Beaufort from St. Eval in Cornwall, piloted by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, who made a most courageous and determined attack upon Gneisenau. She was tied up to the buoy against a wall at the north end of the harbour, protected by the curving mole. The little hills all around the harbour bristled with clusters of guns and moored near the mole as extra protection were three flak ships.

The battleship’s position appeared to be impregnable. Even if an aircraft managed to deliver a low level attack it would not be able to pull out in time and must crash into the high ground surrounding the harbour.

But Kenneth Campbell dived down to deck level and flew steadily past the blazing muzzles of the flak ships’ guns. He skimmed over the mole and dropped his torpedo at point-blank range towards Gneisenau’s stern. As he did so, the German flak gunners hit him and he crashed in flames into the water.

But he had done his job. Seconds later his torpedo exploded against Gneisenau on the starboard side aft. Water rushed in and she began to list heavily. A salvage vessel which came alongside to pump tons of water from her scuppers had difficulty keeping her from sinking.

The bodies of Campbell and his gallant aircrew, Sgts. Scott, Mullis and Hillman, were fished out of the harbour and brought on board the battleship. Their bodies were draped in flags and placed on the quarterdeck, where a guard of honour was mounted as a mark of respect.

While this chivalrous ceremony was taking place, the salvage crews managed to pump enough water out to right her, since she could not remain in danger at the buoy. RAF spotter planes were now informing the British about every move of the battleships. Another attack like Campbell’s on Gneisenau would probably sink her.

The following morning Gneisenau again entered dry dock where inspection confirmed that Campbell’s torpedo had wrecked the starboard propeller and shaft tunnel. This would need six months to repair. She would be out of action twice as long as Scharnhorst.

When the British heard about Campbell’s heroic act he was awarded the highest decoration for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. The citation said: “Despising heavy odds Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell went cheerfully and resolutely to his task. By pressing home his attack at close quarters in the face of withering fire on a course fraught with extreme peril, he displayed valour of the highest order.”

As a result of Campbell’s torpedo both battleships were now due for a long stay so the German Navy decided to put their static fleet to some use. A detachment of a hundred midshipmen were sent from Germany to the Brest battleships to complete their training. They were posted equally to both ships and, as anti-aircraft defence was most vital, this was their main task. It became a brutal battle training for these budding officers. For some it was very short.

On the night of 10 April, the sirens again wailed and the first bomb explosions could be heard above the roar of the flak guns. Suddenly there came a series of tremendous flashes and explosions and a red glow lit up Gneisenau‘s superstructure. She had been hit by three bombs and was on fire. The bombs killed fifty and wounded ninety of her crew, the heaviest casualties being among the flak crews and the young midshipmen. At the time of the raid many of the off-duty midshipmen were in their quarters between decks. Most of them were killed by fragments of other big bombs exploding on the quayside.

As ambulances drew up at the ship’s gangway and long rows of stretcher cases were taken to hospital, Captain Hoffmann went across from Scharnhorst to offer help. He ordered a working-party to fight the fires on the mess decks, but they had to flood one magazine before the fires were controlled and Gneisenau out of danger.

The Germans’ main concern was to conceal the extent of the damage from the French, but each battleship could only make ten coffins, and this meant tiiey would have to call in French carpenters to make many more. When the order was given the news of the German dead spread rapidly among the inhabitants of Brest.

After this they arranged for most of the crews to sleep ashore in barracks, leaving only flak gunners and a duty watch in the ship. This raid also decided the authorities in Berlin to step up the A.A. defences of Brest. They increased the number of 4-inch guns to 150 and smaller flak guns to 1,200, to make a murderous concentration of fire. Also the two battleships were moved closer together. The lock gates were closed and protected by nets against torpedoes fired by either intruding submarines or wave-skimming planes.

In Scharnhorst’s old berth, Hoffmann built a wooden and sheet-iron replica of her on the hull of an old French cruiser, Jeanne d’Arc. Nets hung from the battleships’ masts to the dockside with paint sprayed over them to make them resemble clumps of trees. On the roofs of the Naval College the surviving midshipmen erected wooden huts to make it look like a village.

A network of artificial smoke-generators which could shroud the port under a thick fog within a few minutes was installed around the harbour. This last precaution aroused protests from the Luftwaffe who maintained that the dense smoke would endanger their fighter operations. This artificial fog also nearly caused a collision between the two battleships when they came to leave harbour.

The flak and the fighters gave them protection during the day but in darkness it was a different story. As the RAF’s heavy bombing continued nearly every night it looked as though not only would the ships be damaged but most of their crews endangered. Although many of them were taken at night in lorries to barracks in Brest, many were still being killed ashore so it was decided to move them farther out to avoid the raids.

They were moved at night to La Roche fifteen miles from Brest near the sleepy little Breton town of Landerneau. Both places were on the main line to Paris and the railway was used a lot to move crews about.

Hidden in a small forest of birch trees near Landerneau, barracks were built for the crews of each ship. It was also planned to build extra ones for the crew of another German battleship, Bismarck, due in for a refit after her own Atlantic merchant shipping forays. Outside the dockyard at Brest the large buoys swung at their moorings awaiting her arrival.

While the other two German battleships were being repaired in Brest, Bismarck was sheltering in the German-occupied Norwegian port of Bergen. But on a moonless night—20 May 1941—she slipped out, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. At noon next day, when the news reached the Admiralty in Whitehall, the Home Fleet was ordered to sail from Scapa Flow to intercept the German ships south of the Denmark Straits.

At dawn on 24 May the two German ships were in action with the British fleet, which included the veteran battle-cruiser Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales on her maiden voyage. The Royal Navy had the worst of the battle. Hood, hit by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, blew up. Prince of Wales was so badly damaged that she took no further part in the action. But smaller Royal Naval ships still shadowed the fast-steaming Bismarck.

In the afternoon the new aircraft-carrier Victorious was detached from the main force to attack her. When 825 Squadron of Swordfish rose from her flight deck to make a night attack on the German battleship, the leading plane was piloted by Lt.-Cdr. Eugene Esmonde.

At 11:30 p.m., when they were 120 miles from the carrier, Esmonde’s Swordfish squadron sighted Bismarck. Flying 100 feet above the waves in the darkness, they let go their torpedoes from less than 1,000 yards. As they banked away there was a roar followed by a flash and a curling plume of flame.

The Bismarck had been hit amidships.

The torpedo slowed her down, and after a three-day chase the Home Fleet again brought the Bismarck into action. This time she was alone. Four hours before the battle the Prinz Eugen had slipped away. The Bismarck sank under the guns and torpedoes of the Royal Navy.

It was on the night of 7 May that German naval officers at Brest, surreptitiously listening to the B.B.C. news, heard: “At 10:37 G.M.T. the German battleship Bismarck was sunk.”

The German Navy in Brest took the news of Bismarck’s sinking gloomily. Equally depressing was the lack of news of her escorting cruiser, Prinz Eugen. Had she too been sunk? Or had she escaped and was preserving radio silence in case her calls were intercepted by the pursuing Royal Navy? For five days there was silence. Then at dawn on 1 June a buzz of excitement went round the battleship crews. Prinz Eugen had appeared at the entrance to Brest Harbour.

She brought grim news. When her captain, Helmuth Brinkmann, made a report to Grand Admiral Raeder in Berlin about the fate of the Bismarck, he stated that the British battleships now had such good radar equipment that it could not be evaded.

The rest of the situation was also depressing. Despite German precautions, day and night raids on Brest docks became a familiar part of their daily life. Almost every day, the B.B.C.’s nine o’clock news reported that bombers had visited Brest to attack the German warships.

The British realized that this constant bombing might eventually cause the Germans to make a desperate dash home. A series of conferences was held between Admiralty and Air Ministry planners. As a result Coastal Command was ordered to establish three separate dusk-to-dawn radar reconnaissance patrols off Brest and along the Channel. They became known as “Stopper,” which covered from Brest to Ushant, “Line SE” from Ushant to Brittany and “Habo” from Le Havre to Boulogne. Fighter Command also organized daylight Channel sweeps known as “Jim Crow.”

On 29 April 1941 an Air Ministry letter to the three RAF Commands—Fighter, Bomber and Coastal—said: “Scharnhorst and Gneisenau may attempt to reach a German port up the Channel route during the period April 30th to May 4th inclusive. It is considered probable that the Straits of Dover will be navigated in darkness. It is considered unlikely that the enemy would attempt the passage of the Straits in daylight. But if this should be attempted, a unique opportunity will be offered to both our surface craft and air striking force to engage the enemy ships in force whilst in the Straits of Dover.” Bomber Command was instructed to have strike forces in readiness for the Germans leaving Brest.

At this stage, the RAF were well ahead of the Germans in their tactical appreciation. It was not until 30 May—a month after the Air Ministry had considered the possibility of a Channel break-out—that the German Naval Command West in Paris sent a memorandum to Grand Admiral Raeder in Berlin suggesting a contingency plan: “The possibility of bringing heavy ships through the English Channel should be carefully examined. The route is shorter than the Iceland passage. There are good escort possibilities, both air and sea. Enemy radar could be jammed. Superior enemy units would not be present and the passage would be in the close proximity of our own harbours to which ships could be taken in the event of breakdowns.”

Raeder reacted strongly against this suggestion. He drew up a formidable list of hazards: “1. The difficulty of navigation in narrow waters. 2. The battleships must be seen by the British. 3. The danger from mines, torpedo boats, torpedo-carrying aircraft and dive-bombers.”

But Raeder’s principal objection was that mine-sweepers could not clear a wide enough path for the ships to take avoiding action in the event of torpedo attack. He concluded, “The naval war staff therefore consider an unobserved and safe escape through the Channel to be impossible.” This view entirely coincided with that of his opposite number in London, First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound.

Raeder had good reasons for being cautious. For he had only five battleships—including the “pocket” battleships—to the Royal Navy’s fifteen. He had no aircraft-carriers, although the Graf Zeppelin was under construction—but never completed—whilst the British had six operational carriers.

Planning the “Dash” II

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 4109) Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight attack on German warships docked at Brest, France. Two Handley Page Halifaxes of No. 35 Squadron RAF fly towards the dry docks in which the battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU are berthed (right), and over which a smoke screen is rapidly spreading. 18 December 1941 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023266

Raeder, one of the ablest and most professional naval officers Germany has ever produced, nursed his ships like a duck with ducklings. During the fourteen years in which he was its Commander-in-Chief no one had guarded the honour of the German Navy more jealously than he.

When Raeder rejected the Channel plan it was generally felt among the admirals in Berlin that this was the end of the matter. For Hitler trusted Raeder’s judgement and had promoted him to Grand Admiral, second only to Goring as Hitler’s adviser for the prosecution of the war.

It came as a surprise when Admiral Krancke, Raeder’s personal representative on Hitler’s Supreme Staff, was summoned to the Führer’s headquarters and, standing stiffly to attention, listened pale-faced to the tirade of abuse concerning the German capital ships and their officers which Hitler hurled at him.

Hitler, at war with Russia since June, was becoming alarmed at the numerous small British commando raids on the coast of Norway, starting with the Lofotens in March 1941. He considered the Norwegian coastline to be the most vulnerable section of his Western Wall. The news had also reached Hitler that British convoys were bringing tanks, aircraft and guns to the Eastern Front. He decided that Norway, where in any case he had always thought the British intended to open a second front, had now become even more strategically important.

Meanwhile the RAF continued to keep up their non-stop bombing attacks on Brest. A month after Raeder had rejected the Channel plan—on the morning of 1 July—it was Prinz Eugens turn. While she lay alongside the eastern basin of the commercial dock, a RAF bomb smashed the ship’s armour-plating and exploded in the most vulnerable compartments— the plotting room and transmitting station. It killed forty-seven men, including her first officer, Cdr. Otto Stoos, and wounded thirty-two. It also put Prinz Eugen out of action for three months.

On the other hand, Scharnhorst was refitted and on the morning of 23 July left for La Pallice, 250 miles to the south, for trials to test her super-heaters and practise firing her guns. Captain Hoffmann chose the shoal-dotted waters around La Pallice because they afforded the best protection against submarines and he needed only a few patrol boats to keep watch.

A tanker took her place in the dock as a decoy and was covered with netting. To disguise the direction of her departure, the Germans put out false oil trails leading north from Brest. In spite of this careful camouflage, the ever-watchful RAF spotted the move and reported that Scharnhorst was moving south from her berth. Was she about to break out into the Atlantic? As spotter planes watched her, the opinion grew that this might be the long-awaited escape.

Unaware of the British suspicions, the battleship performed perfectly, reaching a speed of thirty knots without difficulty. She returned to La Pallice that evening, expecting to remain there for several days while minor adjustments were made.

Before dark a group of Stirling heavy bombers attacked her and made one direct hit with a heavy armour-piercing bomb. More heavy bomber attacks during the night damaged La Pallice docks. At dawn a RAF photographic reconnaissance plane was over La Pallice. As it revealed little serious damage it was decided to mount the most massive daylight raid on both battleships.

Ninety-nine RAF bombers took off, arriving over the battleships at 2 p.m. Three Flying Fortresses, sixty-three Wellingtons and eighteen Hampdens attacked the Gneisenau in Brest while eight Halifaxes bombed the Scharnhorst in La Pallice.

This was the first time Fortresses, fitted with the new Sperry bombsight for high altitude bombing, had taken part in a raid on the Brest battleships. They had arrived in England just three months before and the attack that hot July afternoon on the German battleships was only their third operation.

Because of the height at which they operated they carried special aircrews—none of them over 24 years old. The pilots of the three Fortresses, Wing-Cdr. Macdougall, Sq. Ldr. MacLaren and Flt.-Lt. Mathieson, were told to concentrate on the Gneisenau. At eight minutes past two they started bombing from a height of 30,000 feet, each aircraft dropping four 1100-lb. bombs which burst on the quays and docks. Although accurate flak was seen following them a thousand feet below they were too high for the German defences. After they had released their bombs three Messerschmitts climbed steeply towards them but the Fortresses turned away and lost them.

At the same time Wing-Cdr. Maw led the low-level British-built bombers down to 6,000 feet, their bombs bursting among the dockyard buildings. Pilot Officer Payne went down to 3,500 feet and as his bombs straddled the Gneisenau both he and his front gunner, Sgt. Wilkinson, were wounded by flak.

The Halifaxes attacked the Scharnhorst at La Pallice from 12,000 feet. She was easily identified by the high-flying bomber pilots from a cloudless sky, and a row of five bombs hit her. Thick smoke began to pour from her as terrific explosions shook the ship. Two bombs exploded on deck, causing a great rent. Yet she was lucky. The three heavy bombs that penetrated the armoured upper deck and smashed through the hull failed to explode, although they caused her to take in 6,000 tons of water.

The ship began to settle with a heavy list. But the efficient repair-parties quickly righted her and the damage was promptly repaired. A signal went to the port authorities for divers, who found the impact with Scharnhorst’s deck had torn the steel off one of the bombs and had helped to prevent it exploding. The holes in Scharnhorst’s hull were soon patched up.

Good luck was still with her for, miraculously, there were no casualties. She returned to Brest at twenty-seven knots.

The autumn of 1941 was the beginning of bad times for the German war machine. Hitler’s blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union was slowing up at die onset of the savage Russian winter. Hitler was personally conducting the campaign from his headquarters at Rastenburg in East Prussia, known as Wolf’s Lair.

Since the start of the Russian campaign Admiral Raeder had heard nothing from his preoccupied Führer. But on 17 September, as the Admiral was preparing plans for using his battleships in the Atlantic shipping lanes again, he was summoned to a conference with Hitler at Wolf’s Lair.

Hitler did not want to hear about the Atlantic plan. He was convinced the British were going to invade Norway and interrupted to say, “The Atlantic can be left to the U-boats. Your battleships, all your major units, must be stationed along the Norwegian coast. They can be of some use in guarding Norway against invasion. They will be safer there from air attack than in Brest.”

He called Norway the “zone of destiny.” Hitler, who had referred to himself to Raeder as “a land animal,” said to him, “Battleships are not good for anything. The big guns would be more useful and less vulnerable in emplacements ashore. I have plans for disarming these steel monsters and using them for the defence of the Norwegian coast.”

There was a second conference in November when Hitler produced a marked map of the Norwegian coast with areas shown from which the two battleships and Prinz Eugen could operate against the British. He was impatient with Raeder. What was the major part of German sea power doing bottled up and being bombed in Brest? He ended by inquiring harshly, “What solution does the Navy have?”

To placate him, Raeder brought out a contingency plan by Naval Group West in Paris which had been pigeon-holed. It suggested that, while awaiting completion of repairs to the battleships, an attempt might be made to send Prinz Eugen on a lone dash through the English Channel to a German port. Hitler, who had appeared uninterested, even bored, suddenly looked up and commented, “Why only the Prinz Eugen? Why not all the ships?”

Raeder, who was not expecting even the Prinz Eugen plan to be taken seriously, was astonished. He replied, “A dash through the Channel by a solitary cruiser is a very different matter, mein Führer, from a movement by a whole fleet.”

Hitler was the last person on earth to be put off by such a statement. “The issue of war will be decided in Norway,” he said. “Unless the British are fools they will attack us there.”

As he said this, he looked directly at Raeder and gave the Nazi salute in dismissal. Raeder flew back to Berlin and sent a signal to Admiral Saalwächter, Chief of Naval Group West in Paris, asking how soon the battleships could put to sea. He was not displeased when he received a reply that the two battleships would not be ready until December. It was just as well. By then Hitler, obsessed with the Russian front, might have forgotten this hare-brained idea.

At first Raeder tried to gain time saying he must have discussions with his staff. He explained the position to his Chief of Staff, Admiral Fricke, in Berlin and also to Admiral Wagner, head of the Operations Section directing the war at sea, saying, “Hitler wants the ships back in home waters, for he believes there might be an attempt at a British invasion in the Norwegian area.”

As the Berlin naval chiefs studied the basic aspects of the plan their first objection was the state of crew training. The better trained the crews were, the more chance they had of pulling off a daring operation like this. Yet through no fault of Captain Hoffmann and his fellow commanders, the crews’ training and morale was very much below standard. Brest-bound as they were, always under the threatening shadow of the RAF, they were only able to carry out restricted exercises and drills. But the greatest obstacle to the plan would be the need for the strictest secrecy. Except for the most senior officers at Brest, no one could be allowed to know what was to happen. This would mean the crews could not be inspired by their training instructors with a promise of glory.

Yet the more Admiral Wagner studied the Führer’s plan the more he found he was not against the operation. This was because the entire world naval situation had changed suddenly on 6 December 1941, when America had come into the war. He considered the days were now over when the Germans could keep the ships in Brest as a constant Atlantic threat.

In his view, to do this indefinitely would be to invite disaster. The situation seemed quite plain; on one side there were the British with the increasingly destructive power of their bombing raids; but on the other side there was the menacing voice of the Führer. “You will remove the ships where I can employ them in the Norwegian theatre. Otherwise you will give me their guns and I will mount them in shore batteries. Make your choice, meine Herren.”

Was there an alternative to a break-out through the Channel? They could bring the ships north of Britain round by the Iceland route. But in their path in Scapa Flow lurked the might of the British battle fleet which was bound to intercept—and send them to join Bismarck at the bottom.

However, his intelligence reports revealed that the English appeared to have very little in the Channel.

His chief, Admiral Raeder, still did not like the plan. Like First Sea Lord Dudley Pound in the Admiralty in London he feared for his capital ships. If the ships were put out of action by the RAF or Royal Navy, it would be the virtual end of the German Navy as a force. Feeling that the ships would be too like sitting ducks on the narrow waters of the Channel, he told Wagner, “I cannot make this proposal to Hitler that we break through the Channel.”

Wagner argued the risk might have to be taken. He said, “If the ships are dismantled we will present the British with a bloodless victory. The German Navy will never hold up its head again. To concede victory to the enemy without a fight is to sentence the German Navy to death.”

Faced with these views, and the Führer’s fanatic insistence, Raeder began to give way a little—but he was still not convinced.

On 29 December, he had a stormy meeting with Hitler when the Führer persisted in his plan. When Raeder said that, after being in port for so long, his ships could hardly be expected to face the powerful British Home Fleet without some preparation, Hitler once again raved about “the uselessness of the battleships.” He refused even to allow the time for lengthy “shake-down” sea-going exercises and firing practice which Raeder wanted. For as he pointed out quite reasonably, they might easily be bombed and sunk while on these practices.

Raeder flew back to Berlin and passed the whole matter over to Naval Group West in Paris. Although the operation would be under the immediate command of Vice-Admiral Otto Ciliax who commanded the Brest ships flying his flag in Scharnhorst, Naval Group West in Paris was responsible for all operational directions.

The Commander-in-Chief of Naval Group West was 59-year-old General-Admiral Alfred Saalwächter. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, he had an exceptional mind. Although smallish in height, he was regarded in the German Navy as riesengross— “gigantic in stature.”

A Prussian, born at Neusalz on the River Oder, he had been a submarine commander in the First World war, but although he had been awarded the Knight’s Cross in 1940, he was no friend of the Führer, with whom, like so many German admirals, he had had differences.

Between wars, Saalwächter had gone round naval ports inspecting establishments and training personnel. He wrote a standard book on naval warfare for the German Navy, Seekriegsanleitung, which became the textbook for all officers.

His headquarters—Naval Group West—were in the Avenue Maréchal Faijolle, near the Bois de Boulogne. It was a large, four-storied mansion of Napoleon III period. The only indications of its naval importance were two striped sentry boxes at the entrance, each with a German sailor in blouse and gaiters carrying a rifle.

Saalwächter had a staff consisting of about fifteen high-ranking naval officers, with several hundred petty officers and technicians. On the upper floors of the mansion were the “cabins” where the staff officers lived and took their meals. In the basement was a big garage with a fleet of staff cars. The drivers were civilians, mostly white Russians. Their leader, ironically enough, had been a Russian admiral in the First World war.

As there were few German troops in metropolitan Paris at that time Saalwächter’s staff led a strange isolated life. They worked so hard they often did not go out for days at a time but they always had seats at the Paris Opera House because their chief liked opera. The only time Saalwächter appeared relaxed was when he was stealing an evening from his headquarters at the Opera.

At the end of 1941 Admiral Otto Ciliax, commander of the Brest squadron, was away on Christmas leave in Germany. He was not due back until the New Year. Ciliax—a product of the German: Naval Academy at Flensburg—was a tall, brusque black-haired man. He was a former captain of the Scharnhorst and was not very popular. He was a notorious martinet and nick-named “The Black Czar.” When a staff officer saluted him and his hand did not travel to his brow with regulation agility, a frown would come on Ciliax’s face as he returned his salute. A little bit later he would send a petty officer over to him with a message, “The Admiral’s compliments, mein kapitän, but he would like to speak with you.” Ciliax would say angrily, “I just wanted to tell you I did not like your salute!” As the Germans put it, he was a “starker Mann!”

Another reason he was not popular was that he could not delegate authority. In Scharnhorst, he and his staff had an admiral’s bridge immediately above Captain Hoffmann’s navigational bridge, and he was several times snubbed for giving orders on the running of the ship literally over the captain’s head.

If Ciliax met an officer whom he did not like the Admiral made him miserable. He suffered from stomach trouble and was frequently in some pain, which may have played a part in his irascibility. But with all his rough mannerisms he had dignity.

His Chief of Staff, the calm 41-year-old, pipe-smoking Captain Hans Jürgen Reinicke, had heard about his reputation before he joined him—so he was prepared. He swallowed what Ciliax said to him in public but later sought him out privately and told him if things continued in this manner he would put in for a. transfer. He had no more trouble and Reinicke became one of the few officers who could handle him.