The Dornier Do 26 and Northern Missions

The Dornier Do 26A (V-1, D-AGNT “Seeadler”) flying boat.

Dornier Do 26V4

In the 20s and 30s of last century, the firm Dornier was the leading one in German flying boat construction. The chosen configuration, engines in tandem and wing stubs (“sponsons”) on the lower fuselage for water stability proved very successful, and so Dornier flying boats, especially the “Wal” (= “whale” in English) played a major role in establishing early airborne connections over the Atlantic Ocean.

Normally the Wal was a two engined machine, and so were its successors Do 15 and Do 18. But Dornier also had built four-engined versions, as the Do R4 “Superwal” and the experimental Do S. With prospected increase of Atlantic traffic, Dornier renewed this configuration for another type, the Do 26.

The new flying boat became a special aerodynamic beauty. The wing stubs were omitted, and stabilizer floats retractable to the wings were foreseen instead. In the position of the bend of the gull wing, the machine carried the four Jumo 205 C Diesel engines, delivering 600 hp each. The rear propeller were driven by elongated shafts and hinged to rotate upwards 10° on take-off to avoid damage by spray water. The aircraft was an all-metal construction. First flight of the V-1, civil registration D-AGNT was on 21 May 1938 with Flight Captain Erich Gundermann on the controls, the second’s one, V-2 D-AWDS, on 23 November 1938 in the hands of Egon Fath. The aircraft were overtaken by the Deutsche Lufthansa and became baptized “Seeadler” and “Seefalke” (“Sea Eagle” and “Sea Falcon”, remark by RT: ornithologically “Seeadler” is “white-tailed eagle”, Haliaetus albicilla, while a “Seefalke” is no distinct species).

The new aircraft gained attention when in early 1939 an earthquake in Chile happened and the “Seefalke” transported 580 kg of medicines there. Under the control of Flight Captain Graf (= earl) Schack von Wittenau, it needed 36 hours for the 10.700 km distance. But the civil career of the Do 26 remained short. Although the Boeing 314 was already serviceable in May 1939, so there have been no fair economic reasons, the USA refused to permit a regular service route over the North Atlantic between Lisbon and New York for the Do 26. Because of this, the Do 26 only operated on the South Atlantic route. The V-1 did six, the V-2 twelve times the tour between Bathurst (now Banjul, capital of Gambia) and Natal (Brasil). Two Passengers could be carried alongside to the mail, one time even three.

When WWII broke out, both aircraft were out in the Atlantic and returned home on “adventurous ways” (Neitzel says, they were ordered together with catapult ship “Ostmark” to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain, from where it was planned to keep on doing transport service and reconnaissance in one, but this proved impossible). After their return, they received a military equipment, including a 20 mm cannon in a rotating turret on the bow and some machine guns in blister-formed glazed stations on both sides of the fuselage right behind the wing. Together with the Blohm & Voss Ha 139s, they formed the “Transozeanstaffel” (=”transoceanic squadron”). Four more samples were built, now under the designation Do 26 C, what meant receiving military equipment from the beginning together with Jumo 205 D engines of 880 hp performance.

In the following time, they were used during “Unternehmen Weserübung”, the occupation of Norway, where they had to deliver supplies. But they soon had to suffer heavy losses. V-2 “Seefalke”, still under command of Graf Schack, was shot down on 9 May 1940 at Tepkölenfjord (location could not be verified, RT). The crew including Graf Schack survived and were taken POW by the British. V-1 and V-3 (“Seemöwe”, = sea gull) were destroyed on 28 May at Rombakkenfjord, Norway on 28 May 1940 by British fighters (Hurricanes from 48 (F) Squadron) (location confirmed as “Rombaksfiord” near Narvik by http://www.skovheim…./do26/do26.html, this means, V-1 and V-3 ran into heaviest fighting around the city of Narvik, including temporary German retreat. The aircraft were strafed on the ground and sunk. One wreck in comparably good condition was found in 1991).

The qualities of the Dornier Do 26 suggested use as long-range reconnoiter. In fact, they were the only German aircraft at that time, besides the Focke-Wulf FW 200, capable to perform such actions at all. On 31 July 1940, two Do 26 were stationed at Brest to do reconnaissance for the German U-Boat operations, since convoys supplying Britain now used the northern approach. The third one followed some time later. Until 30 September, the Do 26s flew 17 sorties on 12 days. They found no convoys, only single ships. For a short time, two Do 26 were sent again to Norway from where they flew reconnaissance over the Denmark Strait (between Iceland and Greenland) for a planned outbreak of German heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper”.

The service from Brittany was a difficult time for the Do 26s. The aircraft proved technically trouble-stricken. Supply of spare parts was not easy for a small-series aircraft, so often two of three Do 26 were unserviceable. Long-distance flights would have meant to return and land at night, what was impossible because the Bay of Brest is surrounded by bigger hills and there were no light buoys to mark a landing runway. Taking off at night was also impossible because the fully loaded machine lacked climb capability. Morning take off delay by fog meant the cancellation of the whole flight because it would have meant a return at night.

To improve the range of the Do 26, take-off help by catapult was considered. Germany in general and Dornier especially had a long experience in aircraft catapulting for civil traffic, i.e. Atlantic crossing, and special catapult ships were available and now in military use. First, “Ostmark” was detached, but sunk by British submarine “Tuna” on 24 September 1940. Instead, “Friesenland” reached Brest on 11 October. The first effort to catapult the V-5 was scheduled for 23 November. But as one engine failed, V-5 was smashed to pieces on the water and the whole crew killed.

After this, “Friesenland” and the two remaining Do 26s were ordered south to the Gironde mouth near Bordeaux. But the Do 26s never flew reconnaissance again. In January 1941, the “Transozeanstaffel” was disbanded and in March 1941, both Do 26 were ordered back to Germany. The rest of the war, they lived a rather unspectacular life at the German proving base for seaplanes at Travemünde near Lübeck. This was only interrupted in summer 1943, when the V-6 first had to supply, than to evacuate the crew of a German weather station on Sabine Island off the icy east coast of Greenland (6-7 rsp.16-17 June 1943).

The somewhat peaceful scenes we see on some pictures suggest V-4 and V-6 were used for linking flights to Norway, and for to connect the German-controlled seaplane industry (Sartrouville on the river Seine is home of the French firm SCAN). Both V-4 and V-6 were still in the stock of the proving base Travemünde in 1944. Their final fate is unknown. Travemünde, the harbour of Lübeck, belongs to the British occupation zone, and before Lübeck was reached by British troops on 4 May 1945, all aircraft attached to the proving base were damaged beyond repair. Maybe the Do 26s had been scrapped already before or their wrecks were not worth mentioning for the British troops when they took over the place.

Specifications – Do 26V6

General characteristics

    Crew: Four

    Payload: 500 kg or 12 fully equipped troops (1,102 lb)

    Length: 24.6 m (80 ft 5 in)

    Wingspan: 30 m (98 ft 5 in)

    Height: 6.85 m (22 ft 8 in)

    Wing area: 120 m² (1,291.67 ft²)

    Empty weight: 11,300 kg (24,912 lb)

    Loaded weight: 22,500 kg (49,601 lb)

    Powerplant: 4 × Junkers Jumo 205D Diesel, 656 kW (880 hp) each

Performance

    Maximum speed: 324 km/h (175 kn, 201 mph)

    Range: 7,100 km (3,834 nmi, 4,412 mi)

Armament

1 × 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon in a bow turret, 3 × aft-firing 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine guns

Literature

• Jörg-M. Hörmann: Flugbuch Atlantic, German catapult flights 1927-1939, Delius Klasing Verlag, 2007

• Grey, Duggan: LUFTHANSA GERMAN, South Atlantic Airmail Service 1934-1939, Zeppelin Study Group, 2000

• Manfred Griehl: Dornier flying boats in World War II – Thurs 18 – Thurs 24 – Thurs 26 -, arsenal band 171, Podzun-Pallas Verlag, Woelfersheim 1998, ISBN 3-7909-0628-X.

• Siegfried Graf Schack of Wittenau: pioneer flights of Lufthansa-Captain 1926-1945, engine book publishing, 1981 ISBN 3-87943-764-5

• Wilhelm Küppers: Green Light – Atlantic, longing – Conquest – mastery, Hoffmann & Campe Verlag, 1955

The Blitzkrieg – Word and Concept

I never used the word Blitzkrieg because it is a very stupid word.

Adolf Hitler, 8 November 1941

The Word “Blitzkrieg”

In sober military language, there is hardly any other word that is so strikingly full of significance and at the same time so misleading and subject to misinterpretation as the term blitzkrieg. Its early history is already hidden behind the fog of legends. It was asserted again and again that Hitler coined this evocative term. Some think that it was cooked up in the propaganda kitchen of Dr. [Josef] Goebbels. It is also assumed rather superficially that the word cropped up only after the surprising successes of the German Wehrmacht at the start of World War II. Allegedly, it was coined in the Anglo-Saxon language, where, as the very first piece of evidence, an article from the 25 September 1939 issue of Time magazine about the Campaign in Poland is quoted: “This was no war of occupation, but a war of quick penetration and obliteration— Blitzkrieg, lightning war.”

This assumption is based on an error. A more careful analysis of military publications proves that this word was already known in Germany before World War II. The word blitzkrieg was expressly mentioned in 1935 in an article in the military periodical Deutsche Wehr (German Defense). According to it, countries with a rather weak food industry and poor in raw materials should try “to finish a war quickly and suddenly by trying to force a decision right at the very beginning through the ruthless employment of their total fighting strength.” A more detailed analysis can be found in an essay published in 1938 in Militär-Wochenblatt (Military Weekly). Blitzkrieg is defined as “strategic surprise attack” carried forward by the operational employment of armor and the air force as well as airborne troops. But such choice references are rare in German military literature prior to World War II. The word blitzkrieg was also practically never used in the official military terminology of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) during World War II. It assumed significance only through propaganda journalism. Especially after the surprisingly quick victory in France in the summer of 1940, German papers were flooded with the word, as the following essay with the rather characteristic title “Blitzkriegpsychose” (Blitzkrieg Psychosis) shows:

Blitzkrieg! Blitzkrieg! Blitzkrieg! That word was flashed at us everywhere during the weeks between the defeat of France and the start of major air attacks against England. Whether in the newspapers or on radio, there was not a day when our enemies did not mention that word. It became so much a part of them that they did not even take the trouble of looking around for a corresponding word in their own language; no, the “linguistically skillful” Englishmen simply took the word “Blitzkrieg” from the German language and every Englishman knows what that means, he knows what he and his country face now, once Germany starts hitting hard and fast.

There is just one appropriate word for the events in Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France, and that word is “Blitzkrieg.” With the speed and force of lightning, our Wehrmacht struck and destroyed every obstacle.

But there was already a break at the end of 1941 after the failure of the German blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union. Henceforth, this word was frowned upon, and Hitler, of all people, energetically denied that he ever used it. Instead, the German press maintained that this catchword was merely a malevolent invention of British propaganda: “It was the British who invented the term ‘Blitzkrieg.’ It is wrong. We never said that this mightiest of all struggles could ever take place with the speed of lightning.”

In the meantime, the Anglo-Saxons began to like this onomatopoeic German word and varied it in a farcical fashion. The German soldiers were referred to as “blitzers”; and there were phrases such as, for example, “out-blitz the Blitzkrieg.” The German air raids on London were also called “the Blitz.” The vocabulary of the British tabloid press today cannot get along without the term blitzkrieg when it comes to dramatizing surprisingly quick victories in sports.

After the campaign in the west, the term blitzkrieg also showed up along with the word Panzer (tank or armor) in most of the major languages of the world. At the same time, an attempt was made to transfer this word into the particular language concerned. This term was also used for the categorization of campaigns after World War II. For example, Iraq’s failed surprise attack against Iran in 1980 was referred to in the press rather ironically as “the slowest Blitzkrieg of all time.” But the epidemic spread of this word did not help clarify the concept that was presumed to be behind it.

The Concept of Blitzkrieg

In his essay “Blitzkrieg Ambiguities,” George Raudzens differentiates seven different meanings of this rather scintillating term. He complains of an “anarchy in interpretation” but in the end must admit that he does not have any pat solution. That shows that the blitzkrieg exegesis has gotten lost in a semantic labyrinth. Because there is obviously no way out, there is only one possibility, and that is to pick up the famous thread of Ariadne in order to find the way back to the entrance to the labyrinth.

But before we go into the confusing semantics of blitzkrieg, we first of all want to explain the triad of tactical, operational, and strategic echelons.

Tactics means true command in the context of “combined arms combat.” It is the responsibility of lower- and middle-echelon command.

Conduct of operations (that is to say, far-reaching military movements and battles) is the task of the higher command echelon. According to the criteria of the Wehrmacht, the operational level of warfare commenced at the army (in exceptional cases, at the corps), whereas today a corps (in exceptional cases, also a division) can take over such command assignments. Tactical combat operations are planned and conducted at that echelon in the context of a higher-level operation; the latter, again, is aimed at strategic objectives.

Strategy is the responsibility of the top command; that is the echelon where we encounter cooperation among political, economic, and military command agencies of a country with a view to the politically defined wartime objectives.

Operational-Tactical Interpretation

“Blitzkrieg,” this form of modern warfare, which today is discussed all over the world, is a tactic that shaped up only in the course of various German campaigns . . . but that cannot yet be expressed in fixed strategic formulas.

Weltwoche (World Week), Zürich, 4 July 1941

An analysis of German military publications before and during World War II clearly showed that the term blitzkrieg as a rule was used in a purely military context, in other words, as an operational-tactical term. This brings us to the following brief definition: By blitzkrieg we mean the concentrated employment of armor and air forces to confuse the enemy with surprise and speed and to encircle him, after a successful breakthrough, by means of far-reaching thrusts. The objective is to defeat the enemy quickly in a decision-seeking operation.

The blitzkrieg was no political-strategic inspiration on the part of Adolf Hitler that his officers then transferred to the operational level and finally to the tactical echelons. Quite the contrary, this idea sprang up long before Hitler seized power; it was crystallized from purely tactical necessity. As will be shown later, the term was already contained in the Stoßtrupp-Taktik (stormtroop or assault team tactics) that were developed during World War I. In that way, the Germans wanted to put an end to rigid front lines involved in positional (trench) warfare and to return to mobile warfare. Above all the successes of the German general Oskar von Hutier drew attention to this tactic that aimed at breaking through enemy field fortifications. Somewhat exaggeratedly, Anglo-Saxon authors later referred to him as the “father of Blitzkrieg tactics.” At any rate, the blitzkrieg, as described later on, is nothing but the further development of the original assault team idea. Oberstleutnant Braun, for example, in an article published in 1938, already compares blitzkrieg to a “large-scale, powerful ‘Stoßtrupp’ mission.” But Stoßtrupp is a term used on the lower tactical echelons and as a rule refers to a platoon or a company.

Generaloberst Heinz Guderian is also called the founder of the blitzkrieg idea. He took over this Stoßtrupp-Taktik, whose prescription for success was based on speed and surprise, and combined it with the elements of modern technology, such as the tank and aircraft. In so doing, he was not concerned with the implementation of strategic ideas or political programs; his goal, instead, was to find a way back to mobile operations. To that extent, the term blitzkrieg is extensively a synonym for the modern operational war of maneuver.

Strategic Interpretation

The phenomenon of the blitzkrieg, however, was also interpreted in a much more comprehensive fashion. Many historians used this handy term to characterize Hitler’s strategy of conquest. A characteristic feature of this theory is its close tie-in with the military economy of the Third Reich that many authors referred to as a blitzkrieg economy. This assumption, which is rather hotly debated among historians, can be described as follows:

The German blitzkrieg strategy was allegedly intended, in the endeavor for world rule, to bridge the deep chasm between far-reaching wartime objectives and inadequate power potential by overwhelming the enemies, one after the other, in a series of individual, successive campaigns that would last only a short time.

The foreign policy objective was to isolate the particular opponent and thus to localize the conflict. In that way it would be possible to avoid the risk of a long, drawn-out, multifront war of attrition.

The domestic policy goal was to motivate the population for war and to avoid long, drawn-out wars that would be too much of a strain on the endurance of the people.

The economic objective was to mobilize the country’s own power potential in the context of a quickly available armament in width (coupled with a rather risky renunciation of any armament in depth). The indispensable prerequisite for a blitzkrieg, in other words, a strategic first-strike capacity, was to be created by at least a temporary armament lead over the enemy who was to be attacked by surprise.

The military objective was to overrun the enemy, after exploiting the element of surprise, by using fast, mechanized forces with air support; the encirclement of the enemy’s armies, in the course of broad-ranging encirclement operations, was to bring about a quick and decisive victory.

According to this theory, the blitzkrieg was a strategy of limitations and calculability of the following:

enemy

time

area

economic potential

military potential

In the view of quite a few historians, this “ingenious blitzkrieg strategy” that Hitler allegedly invented always made it possible to mobilize the country’s manpower and material resources only to the extent that was believed necessary to defeat the next particular foe. The alternation between short campaigns and pauses to exploit the newly conquered territories thus determined the rhythm of blitzkrieg strategy. The objective of this stage-by-stage procedure was supposedly to broaden continually the country’s own wartime economic base. Total mobilization was to be started only once the country’s own potential for conducting a world war seemed adequate. But when the blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union failed at the end of 1941, it was necessary to do that which was to have been avoided at all costs—namely, the premature switch to total war.

The theory of the blitzkrieg strategy turns up as an almost ideological, tightly buttoned up model of thinking. Alan S. Milward, one of its best-known advocates, had this to say in 1975: “Today it is generally recognized that the military strategy of National Socialist Germany can adequately be described as a ‘Blitzkrieg’ strategy.” That theory had already been developed in the United States in 1945 and was formulated mainly by Burton H. Klein. In the end, it also prevailed in Europe. For example, Andreas Hillgruber fell back on it and tied it in with his theory of the step-by-step plan, which he thought expressed Hitler’s program in the endeavor to achieve world power: “This was to be done in two big stages in the context of a ‘program’ that had been spelled out conclusively during the twenties: First of all, the important thing was to erect a European continental empire via the defeat of France and, subsequently, the conquest of the European part of Russia. This was followed by another ‘stage’ to build up a German ‘world power’ position with colonial territories in Africa, oceanic bases, and a strong sea power that, during the generation after Hitler, was to build the base for a decisive struggle between the ‘world power’ Germany and the ‘world power’ the United States of America.”

But a number of critics criticized Hillgruber’s step-by-step plan as being too deterministic and inadequately documented. According to Erdmann, the step-by-step plan suggested “a system that it is doubtful can be used in adequately characterizing Hitler’s visions and improvisations.” Hillgruber tackled the thesis of the blitzkrieg strategy rather gingerly and used it only to back up his step-by-step plan model, which Marxist historians above all increasingly exaggerated. As a result, this heavily overloaded term blitzkrieg finally drifted away from its military roots and was extensively shoved into the alien atmosphere of social-economic matters.

According to a more recent assumption, the idea of the blitzkrieg does not primarily go back to Hitler but was allegedly conceived in the executive suite of IG Farben, a market-dominating chemical corporation. In the stiff competition among the monopoly groups of the heavy and chemical industries, the latter prevailed in 1936. In this connection, IG Farben proposed to produce chemical substitutes to compensate for the shortage of Germany’s armament-related raw materials. According to this thesis, the resultant autarky was to make it possible for Germany to pursue limited blitzkrieg campaigns. This supposedly was the objective of the four-year plan that was adopted in 1936 and bore the signature of IG Farben.

In spelling out his expansion objectives, the dictator was also allegedly guided by a three-stage expansion program that reportedly had been drafted long before by industry. First of all, an economic core region in central Europe was to be created, and it was then expanded into a large-scale European region. But the traditional objective of world rule was to be the very end of this entire endeavor.

The theory of blitzkrieg strategy has been subjected to increasing doubt in recent years. In this connection, it can be argued that this involves a fiction that was put together by historians only after the fact. According to Timothy Mason, the blitzkrieg successes were based on a “fatal combination of domestic policy compulsion, foreign policy accident, and extreme adventurousness on the part of Hitler. The successes then gave the whole thing the appearance of a system although it was not.” Hew Strachan expresses this particularly clearly: “Blitzkrieg, therefore, may have had some meaning at a purely operational level, but as an overall strategic and economic concept it was non-existent.”

The Campaign in the West and the Origin of Blitzkrieg

Because of Germany’s unfavorable geographic position in the center of Europe, the German general officer corps was always trying to conduct so-called quick wars to force an immediate operational decision. Moltke had gained such a victory in 1870 in the Sedan encirclement battle. But, at the start of World War I, the Schlieffen plan, based on this same principle, simply failed. It gradually became clear that the nature of war had changed dramatically. On account of the enhanced effect of weapons, firepower dominated movement. Far-ranging operations were often nipped in the bud before they got started; they froze in the firestorm of machine guns and in the steel thunderstorm of the artillery. This was followed by a long, drawn-out positional war that was fought in the course of battles of attrition. Reluctantly, the generals had to admit that the significance of the art of conducting operations increasingly faded into the background because the decision had shifted from the battlefields to the factories. The struggle of hostile peoples took place in the form of a lengthy economic war in which the Western sea powers cut Germany off from its raw material sources by a blockade.

The German generals learned their lessons from the loss in World War I; they no longer believed that quick wars could be won against opponents of superior strength. In 1937, Oberst [Georg] Thomas, Chef des Wehrmachtswirtschaftsstabes (chief, War Economy Staff), made the following assertion: “The mistaken fixation upon a short war has been ruinous for us; we should therefore not be guided by the illusion of a short war in the age of air and Panzer squadrons.”

A scenario drafted by Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) [Erich] Raeder in 1937 indicated what ideas prevailed within the Wehrmacht high command as regards the nature of a future war: “and so, there can only be a kind of fortress warfare that boils down to alternating tactical successes and failures. In the cycle of changing fortunes arising from these tactical successes, final victory will then go to the state that has the larger population but, even more so, the state that has unlimited material and food. . . . Just exactly how this kind of warfare can affect Germany, if the missing raw materials cannot be procured continually, needs no special explanation considering our geographic location.” This is why he warned against the illusion of “seeking the decision in a single large operation.”

The general officer corps was definitely skeptical toward such military adventures. As indicated in a lecture note, General der Artillerie [Ludwig] Beck, Generalstabschef des Heeres (army chief of staff), made the following comment to Generaloberst [Walther] von Brauchitsch, Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (commander in chief of the army), during the Czech crisis in July 1938: “The idea of a Blitzkrieg . . . is an illusion. One should really have learned from the modern history of warfare that surprise attacks have hardly ever led to lasting success.”

A study published in 1938 made the following categorical statement: “The possibilities of defeating an equivalent opponent by means of a ‘Blitzkrieg’ are zero. . . . In other words: It is not military force that is strongest; instead, it is economic power that has become the most important power in the modern world.” But then the miracle of Sedan happened in May 1940. The lightning victory during the campaign in the west triggered a radical change of opinions within the German general officer corps. That campaign was decided in a single operation that essentially lasted just two weeks, Operation Sichelschnitt (Sickle Cut). Like an earthquake, the campaign in the west caused numerous outdated doctrines to collapse; the nature of war was revolutionized on the battlefield. But it is such times of rapid and radical change in long-held ideas and concepts that constitute fertile soil for novel key words and slogans, as was stated so aptly by Goethe: “Where terms are lacking, a word crops up at the right time.”

The word that cropped up at the right time in the summer of 1940 was blitzkrieg. Rarely in military historiography has a term been so over-interpreted as this one. Upon closer examination, it is indeed a semantic trap. The word Blitz-Krieg (lightning war) promises more than it can deliver—looking at it in historical terms—because the term Krieg (war) suggests the presence of an overall strategic concept of war. But that concept remained mostly stuck on the lower operational echelon. It would have been semantically more correct to speak of Blitzoperationen (lightning operations) or Blitzfeldzügen (lightning campaigns). Of course, the idea was to achieve a strategic objective, in other words, to bring the war to a quick end; but the means were provided only at the operational and tactical levels.

In an exaggerated form, blitzkrieg signifies an attempt to turn strategic necessity into operational virtue against the background of shortages in economic resources. But this operationally construed strategy, with its strategically construed operations, contained an inherent contradiction. Now Hitler and some generals indeed believed they had found the secret of victory in blitzkrieg, in other words, an operational miracle weapon that could be used to defeat even an economically—and thus strategically— far superior opponent by means of quick battles of annihilation (Schlieffen). The enemy, superior in the long run, was to be defeated by a surprise attack, that is, a knockout in the first round. This thinking was illusionary in an age of industrialization and had a fatal effect later on when it came to designing the campaign against the Soviet Union.

Battle of Westerplatte

20130911_BattleofWesterplatte

Westerplatte_en

westerplatte

The Westerplatte was a low, mostly wooded, long peninsula with a length of around 2,000m and a maximum width of 600m.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Poles and French secured the Westerplatte for defence against the advancing Russians. Shortly before World War I, Germany built a defence position on the seaward side. The rest of these defence works were used in 1939 by the Poles in the newly created defence system.

The Westerplatte was a favoured bathing and outing place before World War I because of its excellent beaches. When the Poles took over the Westerplatte in the 20s, the Danzig population was denied access. By the decision of the League of Nations on 14th March 1924, referred to in Para. 2 of the Province Agreement between Danzig and Poland on 4th August 1924, the Westerplatte was provided to the Polish government exclusively as a storage place for war equipment. Through this it developed into a military transit camp with a guard detachment established by the League of Nations at 88 men (2 officers, 20 NCOs and 66 men). In a bilateral agreement between Danzig and Poland, it was ruled that Danzig could maintain two policemen for general surveillance at the entrance to the Westerplatte.

After Hitler’s take-over of power the Poles began to work on a defence plan and preparations in the case that Germany tried to take the Westerplatte by surprise from Danzig or East Prussia. They began to reinforce the already secure Westerplatte for military defence. The Poles considered an attack carried out from the promontory as especially dangerous. An all-round defence of the peninsula was planned, with the emphasis on the promontory. Three guard houses formed a semicircular defence line to the south. To the north the ring was closed with a further guard house and another building which was already there, the NCO quarters. The four reinforced guard houses were barns made of brick and cement with the dimensions seven by seven metres. The walls and floors [were] between 45 and 60 cm thick, with the thickest at the cellar levels. In the cellars were between one and three machine gun positions, the embrasures of which were at ground level. The NCO quarters were just like the barracks, reinforced with cement for defence. Since the Westerplatte officially could not be militarily reinforced, heavy weapons were certainly lacking. These were brought onto the peninsula by Polish railway officials under hay and other materials in goods trains. It was more difficult for Poland to strengthen the 88-man garrison. They had already tried it once, but were persuaded by the League of Nations to reduce it to the lawful strength. They carried out the strengthening of the regular garrison in this way: if the Polish soldiers had an outing, they would be taken in uniform by tug to Gdingen. The head count would be noted by both German policemen. In the evening they would return again and have their number checked by the policemen. Now however there were some civilian workers in uniform mixed in with the regular soldiers who were exchanged for further soldiers in Gdingen. From Gdingen the officials from the Westerplatte, again in civvies, drove back to their private flats in Danzig, and went to work the next morning on the Westerplatte as usual, while the regular soldiers returned with the reinforcements. The head count had not changed. So the total strength of the garrison slowly increased to 210 soldiers, without Danzig noticing a thing. The civil workers were, like the public employees of the Polish Post Office in Danzig, specially trained and reliable reserve NCOs of the Polish army. The field gun stood in a protected position in the garage of the barracks. West of there, on the edge of the forest, a camouflaged defence post had been prepared, from where above all the harbour canal could be shelled. The initial position of the four mortars was to the north east of the barracks. Both anti-tank guns were to cover the promontory. Both guns were brought rather far back, one to the north by the railway line, the other south with a field of fire which covered the road to the Westerplatte. A brick protective wall was erected to the west and south.

The preparations for a lightning conquest of the Westerplatte were made by the Kriegsmarine, although really the seizure was to be achieved by the Danzig units. In a conversation between the Captain of the Schleswig-Holstein and the Commander of the Danzig units, the latter made clear that he had never planned to take the Westerplatte. He was only to have blockaded the garrison there and prevented them from getting onto the land. They agreed on this, that the shock company specially trained for landing operations in the III Marine Artillery Detachment should take the Westerplatte by surprise. This shows how lacking in co-ordination were the attempts at collaboration of the individual branches of the Wehrmacht even at the beginning of the war.

It consisted of four officers, one doctor (two others followed later) and 225 men. The garrison was Swinemünde, then shortly before deployment, Memel. They had the task of securing the Schleswig-Holstein against Polish attack in Danzig harbour and being ready for possible special missions.

On 23rd August 1939 the 1st Minesweeper Flotilla received the order to pick up the unit from Memel on 24th August 1939 at 0300 hrs and to transport them to the Schleswig- Holstein at sea by 2000 hrs. On 25th August 1939 the Schleswig-Holstein arrived in Danzig at 1044 hrs. The Marine shock company was below deck. At 1700 hrs the order came to be ready for action from 2100 hrs. At 2120 hrs, the report came in that the attack on Poland was postponed. This postponement had the advantage that the attack could be worked through again, since they had had only a little time to work on the first attack plan after the misunderstandings. The leader of the Marine shock company, Oberleutnant Henningsen, reconnoitred the Westerplatte daily, but got little information on the current defence positions. On 28th August 1939 Kleikamp revealed the tactical orders and missions of the ship as Captain of the Schleswig-Holstein.

  1. Engage the Polish naval forces
  2. Engage the Polish 150 mm battery on the south point of Hela
  3. Bombardment of the Polish naval harbour at Gdingen with the aim of cutting it off as a strong point for the Polish naval forces
  4. Destruction of the artillery positions at the Oxhöfter Kämpe and Gdingen
  5. Defence of the Danzig harbour and Neufahrwasser against attacks by Polish naval forces and possible blockade operations.

It was made clear however that the taking of the Westerplatte was a precondition for the achievement of the mission.

On the next day a radio message came to the Schleswig-Holstein at 1835 hrs that the attack on the Poles should begin at 0445 hrs on 1st September 1939. At 2330 hrs the Marine unit and an additional MG platoon formed from members of the garrison began to disembark. At 0447 the order for the Schleswig-Holstein to fire was given: the Second World War had begun! After shells had blasted holes in the wall which surrounded the Westerplatte, the shock company attacked at 0456 hrs disposed as follows: From left to right, from the south of the promontory: The 1st infantry platoon, the 2nd sapper platoon, the 2nd infantry platoon. At a distance of 100 m a heavy machine gun followed the 1st infantry platoon and a c/30 machine gun followed the sapper platoon (total of 150 men). Both infantry platoons were to storm through the breaches, the sapper platoon was to storm the railway gate in the Westerplatte [that] they were to blow up.

These three groups did not, however, succeed in penetrating far into this sector. The attack stalled with heavy losses in dead and wounded. At 0622 hrs, the company announced that the losses were too great; therefore they would retreat. Meanwhile, the 3rd Platoon of the 13th Coy., SS-Heimwehr Danzig was added as a reinforcement. Its initial position was on the far right next to the 2nd Infantry platoon. At 0855 hrs the second attack began. The already heavily decimated platoons advanced under heavy defensive fire. The platoon of SS-Heimwehr Danzig lost contact with the others and retreated at 1040 hrs. Even here the Germans were involved in battles with Polish snipers in the trees. At around 1230 hrs, the leader of the Marine unit, Henningsen was wounded and died the next day. Oberleutnant Schug took over the company. Since the Poles had let the Germans advance so far that they were able to shoot at them from all sides, the shock troop retreated again at 1235 hrs. Kleikamp believed now that occupation of the Westerplatte would not be accomplished in this way, and demanded Luftwaffe support. Although at the start Hitler had ordered that the Westerplatte be taken by the 2nd of September at the latest, for prestige reasons, he ordered more careful planning from the unit, to avoid even more losses. The shock company had suffered 50% losses already. On 2nd September 1939, the II and III Wings of the Sturzkampfgeschwader Immelmann made several attacks on the Westerplatte. During this they destroyed the Polish communications network, both among the Poles on the Westerplatte and all contact with the other units. Since almost all of the shock company’s machine guns were lost, an MG troop consisting of 45 men from the crew of the Schleswig-Holstein was put into service. Kleikamp and Schug were of the opinion that a new attack must be better prepared, because the strength and weaponry of the Poles were not known. One tended to exaggerate their strength and come to the view that a storming of the Westerplatte would only be possible with tanks and heavy field howitzers. After a few attempts at recce patrols and the burial of the fallen on 5th September 1939, the sapper unit tried to set fire to the Westerplatte wood on the next day. A train carriage filled with benzol was put on the Westerplatte. However, the railway officials uncoupled too early, so the carriage soon came to a standstill and did not reach the wood. The SS-Heimwehr bombarded the Westerplatte on 6th September 1939 from 0900 hrs until 1100 hrs with Minenwerfers and in the afternoon with infantry guns. At 1545 hrs, a new attempt was made to set the wood alight. This failed too. After just 20 minutes, the fire was extinguished again. On 7th September 1939 the Marine shock company made a new attack with the aid of one platoon of SS-Heimwehr Danzig and three platoons of the Danzig Landespolizei. The soldiers advanced without meeting any real resistance and at 0945 hrs saw the first white flags. After their capture, the Poles all stated that they had been demoralised by the shelling from the Schleswig-Holstein on 1st September 1939 and the bombardment by the Luftwaffe on 2nd September 1939. There was even talk on those days of capitulation. Since the next attack only followed on 5th September 1939, they had time to recover and reorganise. A decisive German attack on 3rd September 1939 would surely have forced them to surrender.

On Friday, 8th September 1939, the OKW reported: “Yesterday, the operations in Poland took the form of a pursuit in many areas; serious battles only happened in isolated places… The garrison of the Westerplatte in Danzig has surrendered, its resistance broken by sapper and Marine shock companies and SS-Heimwehr with the co-operation of the Schleswig-Holstein.

Order of battle

German

Kriegsmarine ships:

Pre-Dreadnought Battleship Schleswig-Holstein

Two torpedo boats: T-196 and T-963

Eberhardt group:

  1. Marine-Stoßtrupp-Kompanie (elite naval infantry company, later renamed Marine-Artillerie-Abteilung 531) and an attached Pioneer platoon from Dessau-Roßlau

An independent howitzer battalion (Haubitzen-Abt.)

Küstenschutz der Danziger Polizei (a coast guard unit of the Danzig police) and Ordnungspolizei’s Landespolizei Regiment

SS Heimwehr Danzig (the local SS militia force), including SS Wachsturmbann Eimann (already part of the forming 3rd SS Division Totenkopf)

Other forces

Luftwaffe:

II & III Gruppe StG 2 Immelmann

4.(St)/TrGr 186

In all, some 40-60 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka bombers and seven other aircraft (Heinkel He 51 and Junkers Ju 52) were involved in the siege of Westerplatte.

German land forces were armed with several ADGZ heavy armoured cars, about 65 artillery pieces (2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft guns, 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank guns, 10.5 cm leFH 18 light howitzers and 21 cm Mörser 18 heavy howitzers), over 100 machine guns, an unknown number of medium mortars and Flammenwerfer 35 flamethrowers.

Polish

By August 1939, the garrison of Westerplatte had increased to 182 soldiers and 27 civilian reservists conscripted into service after the breakout of hostilities.

The WST was armed with one 76.2 mm wz. 02 field gun, two Bofors 37 mm wz. 36 anti-tank guns, and four Stokes-Brandt 81 mm wz. 31 medium mortars. The strong side of the garrison was a disproportionately large number of machine guns at their disposal (41 machine guns, including 16 heavy machine guns). They had also 160 rifles, 40 pistols and over 1,000 hand grenades.

Admiral Graf Spee – German pocket battleship.

Graf_Spee_in_Montevideo

Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo following the battle.

10Graf-Spee-dec1939

The Admiral Graf Spee (usually known as the Graf Spee) and her sister Admiral Scheer were beamier versions of the prototype Deutschland and had less range. Popularly known as ‘pocket battleships’, they were actually known to the German navy as Panzerschiffe, or armoured ships, and were in fact only very heavily gunned heavy cruisers. They were an answer to the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty which followed Germany’s defeat in 1918. Germany was not allowed to build warships displacing more than 10000 tons or armed with guns larger than 280 mm (11 in), with the avowed intention of limiting her to coast defence ships.

But the German constructors, by using lightweight construction and welding, as well as economical diesel engines, but above all by concealing the true tonnage, produced a warship with heavy gun power and impressive range. This caused a sensation among the world’s navies. Here, apparently, was the ideal commerce-raider, faster than anything more powerful (apart from a handful of battlecruisers) and more powerful than anything faster.

However, no other navy copied the design and the Germans built only three of them. The diesels were not quite as successful as hoped, and the new generation of fast battle- ships with speeds of 28-30 knots threatened the rationale of the design. Nor were their fighting qualities all that was required. The concentration of the heavy armament in two turrets was a weak point, while the protection was little better than that of the 8-in (200-mm) gunned ‘treaty cruisers’ that were their most likely opponents. In short, the pocket battle- ship was a needlessly large and expensive commerce-raider, for whom the most important rule was to avoid action with any war- ship which could fight back.

The Graf Spee was the last of the type to be built, being ordered under the 1932 Programme and launched in 1934. She differed from the Scheer in having a thinner but deeper armour belt, and in carrying slightly more fuel. She was at sea when war broke out in September 1939, having already proceeded to her war station in the Atlantic. During a moderately successful cruise in the ­South Atlantic she sank nine ships (50,089 tons), without a single life being lost. However, early on the morning of December 13, 1939, she sighted three British cruisers off Montevideo, the 8-in (200-mm) gunned Exeter and the 6-in (152-mm) gunned Ajax and Achilles.

Captain Langsdorff decided to engage. He had the advantage of a primitive radar set, but all British cruisers had practised antiradar tactics for years past and, in accordance with well-established doctrine, the Exeter and her two consorts split up to divide the German fire. During the ‘Battle of the River Plate’ which followed, the Exeter was badly damaged, while the Ajax was not in much better state, but the Graf Spee fired away most of her ammunition and suffered sufficient damage to make her put into Montevideo for repairs. Once there, her captain was bluffed into thinking that the British had gathered reinforcements, and four days later she steamed out to be scuttled by charges detonated in the main magazines and the engine room.

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Franco-Prussian War 1870-Analysis

bapaume-tableau-faidherbe

The Battle of Bapaume (1871) took place from 2–3 January 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War in and around Biefvillers-lès-Bapaume and Bapaume. The Prussian advance was stopped by Genéral Louis Léon César Faidherbe at the head of the Armée du Nord.

1280px-ljb9_-_zimmer

The “Rifle Battalion 9 from Lauenburg” at Gravelotte.

Some three months before the bombardment of Paris began, Strasbourg capitulated after having endured weeks of indiscriminate shelling by German troops bent on coercing the beleaguered garrison into surrender. The city’s capitulation finally took place on the 28 September, but, long before then, a delegation from Switzerland had materialized, seeking to arrange the evacuation of non-combatants. Such humanitarian sentiments conflicted with those of the vociferous German public and press, however, as well as with military imperatives. Whereas the war of 1866 had not been coloured by ethnic animosities, bad blood was bound to play a role in a conflict between peoples and during which the distinctions separating combatants from non-combat- ants ineluctably became nebulous. Whilst, among the soldiers of the opposing armies, a sense of shared hardships and dangers frequently mollified any enmity, there were episodes of shocking brutality, including the massacre at Passavant of a Garde Nationale battalion that had sur- rendered. As is so often the case in war, however, the most implacable hatred was often evinced by those who were farthest from the fighting. Bismarck’s wife, for instance, wanted all the French ‘shot and stabbed to death, down to the little babies.’ Even the pious Moltke found himself sanctioning increasingly brutal reprisals against the francs-tireurs – to whom belligerent status was denied by the Germans and whose account- ability to the French authorities was at best limited – and those French civilians who were either found to be resisting his troops or were perceived to be doing so. Although his objections to the bombardment of Paris were mostly inspired by his military pragmatism, there were those at home and abroad who attacked the policy on moral grounds. ‘There hangs over this whole affair an intrigue contrived by women, archbishops and professors … ’, an exasperated Bismarck grumbled to his wife at the end of October.

Meanwhile the men freeze and fall ill, the war is dragging on, the neutrals waste time discussing it with us, while … France is arming herself with hundreds of thousands of guns from England and America … . All this so that certain people may be praised for saving ‘civilisation’.

Like Lincoln during the American Civil War, Bismarck was fearful that, if the fighting dragged on, foreign intervention of one kind or another would ensue. Certainly, Russia’s repudiation, on 29 October, of the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris did raise the prospect of an international conference that might seek to impose a settlement on Prussia and France, too. In any case, the former was fast falling victim to her own success as, in the eyes of the world, her victories over the fledgling republic transformed her from an avenger to an oppressor. At the beginning of December, Moltke wrote to Trochu advising him of the defeat of the ‘Army of the Loire’ and the fall of Orléans. Regardless of whether, as Bismarck suspected, this was a surreptitious peace overture, it persuaded the French high command that the relief of the capital was now becoming improbable. It coincided, moreover, with the gory failure of a bid by Paris’s defenders to break out. Thereafter, Trochu agreed to make one more attempt to do so, if only to demonstrate to the radical republicans that their vaunted tactic of a sortie en masse could not succeed against such disciplined, well-equipped adversaries. The Battle of Buzenval, as it is known, certainly made the point for him, ending as it did in another sanguinary check. Expecting this to spark off riots or even a rebellion, the government now relieved the hapless Trochu of command of the garrison and appointed General Joseph Vinoy in his stead. Sure enough, on 22 January 1871, shots were exchanged around the Hôtel de Ville as a few left-wing extremists, including some members of the Garde Nationale, were dispersed by troops loyal to the administration. But the mass rising that had been feared did not occur. With the food stocks all but exhausted and with no prospect of salvation, the whole of Paris’s population had to acknowledge, however grudgingly, that the end was nigh and that the government would have to sue for terms.

The signing of an initial armistice followed on 28 January. By this stage, the Republic’s armies had been as comprehensively defeated as had those of the Empire before them. Though overwhelmed on the strategic plane, at the tactical level the latter especially had fought with some distinction. Indeed, the successes enjoyed in this regard, the most notable being at Mars-la-Tour and Borny, proved cruelly deceptive. ‘It is fire effect, nowadays so powerful, which will determine the issue’, Moltke had predicted on the eve of the war. Yet, from the outset, actual events on the battlefield showed this to be too much of a simplification. Indeed, a pattern emerged at Froeschwiller that was to be repeated several times. Here, the French found themselves confronted by greatly superior numbers of enemy troops who attacked not so much in depth as on a broad front, enveloping their prey. Although the greater reach and rate of fire of Krupp’s ordnance offered significant tactical advantages, the Chassepot was appreciably superior to the Dreyse rifle in both these respects. In fact, the infantry units of the Confederation and its allies were often checked by their French counterparts, eventually advancing to occupy ground that the German artillery had effectively conquered through remote bombardment. French technological failures occasionally contributed to the outcome, too, as did the use of outdated doctrines. The percussion fuses of the German shells evidently proved more reliable than the timing mechanisms used by the French up to the Battle of Coulmiers (November, 1870); the latter devices, if they exploded at all, could only be set to certain ranges.

Whereas this effectively created safe havens for the enemy, at Froeschwiller, MacMahon allowed the German infantry to get too close to his own guns. Clinging to the French Army’s traditional practice, he kept much of his artillery in reserve, intending to commit it at the climactic moment. His timing and coup d’oeil failed him, however, and his gunners were driven back by a hail of rifle-fire. Attempts by both sides to use cavalry for shock-action were similarly flawed. For example, at Froeschwiller, the nine squadrons of General Michel’s cuirassier brigade were virtually wiped out executing charges that were as futile as they were courageous, while, at Sedan, General Margueritte’s squadrons met the same fate. Although the Prussian king himself was moved to remark on the bravery of the latter group of horsemen, it is improbable that they came within a sword’s length of a single enemy soldier, so intense was the fire directed against them. Even the success of Bredow’s charge at Vionville – which, perfectly timed and carefully screened, managed to catch Canrobert’s batteries on the hop, throwing them into chaos at a critical moment – was only gained at the cost of 50 per cent casualties among the attacking cavalry.

Similarly, the premature attack by the Prussian Guard Korps at St Privat bears witness to the destructive effects of modern firepower; 8000 men were killed or wounded, mostly in the space of 20 minutes. A small indication of the extraordinary dedication of France’s better troops is also provided by the losses they endured. One regiment that entered the battle at Froeschwiller 2300-strong emerged with just three officers and 250 men. In the same engagement, the 3rd Zouaves lost 45 out of their 66 officers and 1775 out of 2200 rank and file. That they continued resisting to such extreme lengths suggests that their morale was all that had been claimed on the eve of hostilities. Certainly, the war was not lost for lack of courage. Indeed, the French infantry generally lived up to their reputation for resilience and aggressive spirit, not least at Borny, where their savage, dashing counter-attacks confirmed the Germans’ evaluations of their tactical prowess.

Other traditions of the French Army, however, contributed to its ultimate defeat. Besides the ubiquitous ‘Système D’, practices and equipment developed for the recent campaigns in Mexico and Africa proved ill- suited to large-scale operations undertaken on friendly soil in the heart of Europe. Whereas the Prussian uhlans and hussars roamed almost at will, the French light cavalry, reluctant to venture far without infantry support, proved inept at reconnaissance, screening and the penetration of enemy-held territory; it soon became more of an encumbrance than an asset. Similarly, instead of simply resting by the roadside, French columns insisted on coiling up at the end of each day’s march, with the result that units, groping through the darkness, would continue to trickle into the camps throughout the night. Many soldiers, moreover, slept, not in billets as the Germans usually did, but in flimsy tents intended for use in warmer, drier climes. Freezing temperatures and heavy rain often combined with hunger in undermining morale.

The sudden influx of reservists and raw recruits into units of the standing army also undermined the French forces’ cohesion, just as theorists like Du Picq had feared it might. This problem became particularly acute once the Republic began drafting roughly a million men into the army in the aftermath of Sedan. By the time of the armistice, the first of these, some 578 000 bachelors, had been mobilized. Yet, like the Americans in 1861, the French struggled to furnish such a mass of raw levies with sufficient training and equipment, let alone a leavening of seasoned troops. Technicians, such as engineers and gunners, and officers were in particularly short supply. That the Republic had to turn to Catholic, royalist generals like Vinoy, Claude d’Aurelle de Paladines and Auguste Ducrot, an authoritarian who loathed revolutionaries, to command its armies was not only somewhat ironic, but also exerted a malign influence over civil-military relations; too many radicals eyed these professionals with intense suspicion. Efforts to overcome the dearth of regimental officers also caused difficulties. Former soldiers had to be granted commissions, while units of the Garde Nationale Mobile were permitted to elect their leaders. However, as the latter scheme led to the dislodgement of presiding officers without due regard to the provisions of military law, it proved short-lived. Thereafter, the expedient of doubling the size of companies was resorted to, whereby the demand for officers was halved.

This did nothing to improve the discipline and tactical manoeuvrability of units that were deficient in both. Control, both military and political, over the francs-tireurs who fought, at least nominally, for France was also shaky. Largely foreign volunteers, many of them had their own political agendas. Garibaldi’s cause, for instance, was that of the universal republic envisaged by Mazzini, which made him and his Italian mercenaries as big a threat to French conservatives as they were to Moltke’s armies. As had happened in the Iberian Peninsula 60 years before, guerrilla warfare’s very nature exacerbated the social and political rifts that international conflict had highlighted.

Indeed, both the Germans and French found that for every possibility in modern warfare there was a corresponding problem. The shortages of trained specialists to support and lead them reduced the potential of the Republic’s massive armies, as did the lack of up-to-date armaments with which to equip them. There were insufficient Chassepots to go round, but few of the shoulder arms purchased abroad were as deadly. One consignment of rifled muskets imported from the USA that had been gathering rust in an arsenal since the Civil War was issued to the Breton Gardes Nationales, who, as fate would have it, were then entrusted with the defence of a key sector of the French position at Le Mans; untroubled by their ineffectual fire, it was here that the Germans broke through. The importation of armaments, often of differing designs and calibres, also complicated maintenance and ammunition requirements, while the encirclement of Paris deprived the provincial forces of the services of so much of France’s manufacturing industry.

On the other hand, the prosecution of that selfsame siege presented Moltke with huge practical difficulties, not the least of which was that of keeping the investing units adequately supplied with food and ammunition. Much of this had to be imported from Germany, but there were only two railway lines available, both of which were menaced by neighbouring strongholds that remained in enemy hands. Aggravated by the ravages of war, including the destruction of tunnels and other acts of sabotage, the shortcomings of France’s railway network impeded the Germans’ operations, just as they had hampered those of her own troops. Although they employed captured rolling stock and, much to the detriment of domestic services, brought in some 3500 railway workers and 280 locomotives from Germany, the invaders experienced real difficulties in constructing and preserving a continuous logistical loop, particularly once their armies penetrated deep into France and the bombardment of Paris began. If Gambetta ultimately lost the war through his failure to win the hearts and minds of the French people, there were moments when it seemed as though the Germans, for all their victories, might fall at the last hurdle for want of adequate supplies.

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Jagdtiger SdKfz 186

The heaviest armored vehicle fielded by the Germans in World War II was the Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf B. This was built on a slightly lengthened Tiger II chassis topped with a fixed casemate and a 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55 antitank gun. It weighed seventy-nine tons. A few early versions of the Jagdtiger had a suspension designed by Porsche, and one such vehicle is seen here. It features staggered 70 cm roadwheels mounted in pairs on the outside of the hull utilizing lateral dampeners, in favor of the torsion-bar suspension of the Tiger II.

Faced with increasing numbers of increasingly capable Allied vehicles, Germany sought to develop a tank destroyer that was so heavily armed and armored it could absolutely dominate the battlefield.

That armament was 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55, inspired by the Soviet 122 mm gun. The Germans opted for the slightly larger gun in part to utilize some of the tooling previously created to produce 12.8 cm naval weapons.

While some of these formidable weapons were mounted on towed artillery carriages, two types of mechanized mounts were proposed. One was the German superheavy tank Maus. The other was the largest tank destroyer to enter series production, the Jagdtiger. It was hoped that not only would this vehicle be effective against enemy tanks, including those beyond the effective range of other guns, but also would be decisive against fortifications.

In order to mechanize the weapon, first a mock-up based on the Panther chassis was created. This style was discarded, and in October 1943 a second mock-up based on the Tiger II chassis, albeit lengthened forty centimeters, was shown to Hitler.

Two trial vehicles were assembled: chassis number 305001 utilized an eight-roadwheel Porsche torsion-bar suspension system, while chassis number 305002 used the Henschel nine overlapping wheel suspension system like that used on the production of Tiger II.

Both were assembled by Nibelungenwerk in February 1944. In total, 150 of the vehicles, dubbed Jagdtigers, were ordered. Ten more of these vehicles were built with the Porsche-designed suspension, while the balance of the seventy to eighty-eight vehicles actually produced featured the Henschel suspension.

Only two units were issued the massive vehicles, the heaviest armored vehicles to see series production during the war, schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 and the schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512. Their considerable weight, compounded by the vehicles often being crewed by young, inexperienced men, led to the Jagdtiger being of limited usefulness.

Technically, the Jagdtiger remained a highly advanced tank destroyer, fitted with a binocular gunner’s periscope sight of 10x magnification with range scales of 0-4,000m and 0-8,000m for armor-piercing and highexplosive ammunition respectively. The 128mm/55 cannon penetrated 148mm of armor sloped 30 degrees at 2,000m and 167mm at 1,000m.

In operation, however, the vehicle displayed serious limitations because of its sheer size and mobility, frequency of breakdown, and difficulties in maintaining its armament in top condition. There is little doubt that the deterioration of logistic support and crew quality by the last year of the war contributed to some of these difficulties. However, the two battalions actually equipped with these vehicles suffered most of their losses from mechanical breakdown, lack of fuel, or bogging. Very few firefights took place, largely because of the difficulties of moving the tanks to the front in time for planned operations. Furthermore, the vehicles needed to be employed together in significant numbers because of their low rate of fire. The alignment of the sights and gun barrel needed frequent resetting because of the vibration they experienced, especially when operating without the travel braces in place. Even firing vibrations required frequent resetting of the sights. Engines and drive train did not hold up well on long marches. The driving characteristics of these large, heavy vehicles proved especially challenging, and the lack of suitable bridges reduced the possibility of employing them on several occasions. Fording streams proved inadvisable because of the strain on the drive train and possibility of bogging.

Perhaps Otto Carius, a Jagdtiger company commander, said it best in his description of his vehicles. “Despite its 82 tons, our Hunting Tiger didn’t want to act like we wanted it to. Only its armor was satisfactory, its manoeuvrability left a lot to be desired. In addition, it was an assault gun. There was no traversing turret, just an enclosed armored housing. Any large traversing of the main gun had to be done by moving the entire vehicle. Because of that, transmission and steering differentials soon broke down. That such a monstrosity had to be constructed in the final phase of the war made no sense at all.”

JAGDTIGER DELIVERIES:

Wapruf received 2 in April 1944

Mielau gunnery school received 1 in June 1944

Waspruf received 1 in August 1944

sPJA653 received 6 in September 1944

the school at Putlos received 1 in October 1944

sPJA653 received 6 in October 1944

sPJA653 received 9 in November 1944

sPJA653 received 7 in December 1944

Putlos received 1 in January 1945

sPJA653 received 15 in January 1945

sPJA512 received 27 in March 1945

ssPzArmee 6 received 4 in April 1945

There were 8 vehicles at the factory in Austria that were most likely utilized in the defense of the area in May 1945. The units using these are not known.

This totals 88 Jagdtigers.

Albert Ernst and 512th Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion

On 21 March, the battalion was assigned to LIII Corps and committed to the Battle of Remagen. By the end of the month it was reduced to a strength of 13 Jadgtigers. During April, the 1st and 2nd companies were destroyed in the Ruhr Pocket, while the 3rd Company was lost during fighting in the Harz Mountains.

The 512th schwere Panzerjaeger Abteilung (sPz.Jg.Abt.) was formed in late January 1945 at Sennelager, north of Paderborn. It was one of only two Abteilungen (the other being the 653rd) to be equipped with Jagdtigers.

On March 7th, 1945, the US Army took the bridge at Remagen intact. Also it collapsed 10 days later, the US forces now had a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine. On March 14th, 2nd Company of the 512th started traveling south (via rail), eventually reaching the Lauschied woods southeast of Eitorf on March 20th, 1945 (movement was very slow and only during the darkness). Three Jagdtigers were produced in March 1945 by Nibelungen Werk and had the following chassis numbers: 305075, 305076 and 305077. These three were delivered to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 512 with 1 being transported on 14 March and 2 transported on 26 March.

On March 24th, elements of the 512th Abteilung, together with the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung and 654th schwere Jagdpanzerabteilung formed Panzergruppe Hudel and attacked between Eitorf and Siegburg towards the southwest, with the intention to destroy the US bridgehead.

The battalion was equipped with the new Jagdtiger tank destroyer, which was built at the Hindenburg factory in St. Valentin near Linz, Austria. Ernst was impressed by the giant vehicle and its 12.8cm gun, whose barrel was more than eight meters long.

Otto Carius

In August 1944, Carius took command of the 2nd Company of the newly forming 512th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion, which was to be equipped with the monstrous 70-tonne Jagdtiger tank destroyer. By early 1945, this unit was still in training with its new vehicles at Döllersheim near Vienna, as the Western Allies successfully advanced towards the Rhine. On 8 March 1945, the desperate German high command felt compelled to commit the part-trained battalion to action on the Western Front near Siegburg. Despite Carius’ tactical abilities, his 2nd Company could not prevent American forces from overwhelming the flimsy German defensive screen thrown up along the eastern bank of the Rhine.

Indeed, by mid-April the battalion had been surrounded – along with most of Army Group B – in the Ruhr. Carius’ unit surrendered to American forces alongside some 300,000 other German troops. Whether the mighty Jagdtiger would have withstood the Firefly’s potent gun remains uncertain, as Carius’ company only saw service against the Americans, who did not generally use 17-pounder-equipped Shermans. After his release from American captivity, Carius went on to run a pharmacy named, rather appositely, Der Tiger Apotheke, and died in January 2015 at the ripe old age of 92.

Albert Ernst

Following firing trials in the Döllersheim area, on 10 March 1945 the new tank destroyers were thrown into action against the American bridgehead across the Rhine at Remagen. For crews experienced in conventional tanks, fighting in the Jagdtiger held some novelties. Before entering combat the gun’s travel lock and barrel support had to be disengaged. Aiming required pointing the entire vehicle, as the 12.8cm gun was housed in a fixed superstructure. For Ernst and others with experience in tank destroyers, conversion to the Jagdtiger posed few problems.

The German assault on the Remagen bridgehead failed mainly because the attack forces were committed piecemeal. Generalleutnant Bayerlein, commanding general of the German LIII Army Corps, suggested that the attack not begin until all three designated divisions and their heavy weapons were in place. This idea was rejected, however, and he was forced to attack on 10 March. Hitler had given orders to attack “immediately with every available unit.”

The attack, in which the Ernst company took part, was unsuccessful. Guderian’s maxim, to strike hard and not disperse one’s forces, had been disregarded.

Following the failure of the attack, Ernst and his Jagdtigers were given the job of covering the German withdrawal. The tank destroyers moved into position and knocked out pursuing American tanks from a range of two kilometers, demonstrating the outstanding accuracy of the Jagdtiger’s 12.8cm gun. Ernst and his unit then fell back through Niedernepfen and Obernepfen to Siegen. A German attack was planned from there to open the Ruhr pocket.

The Atlantic Wall

Example of coastal defences (348 Inf. Div.), as at 1 May 1944

“Enemy forces that have succeeded in landing must be destroyed or thrown into the sea by immediate counterattacks.”

Führer Directive No. 40, March 23, 1942.

The completion of each static element in the German defence system naturally worked in favour of the established tactic of making the shore the front line. In the year before the landing, therefore, the construction of coastal fortifications and the Atlantic Wall assumed even greater significance. Each day that could be spent on further reinforcement, structural improvement, and more efficient camouflage seemed like a day gained.

At first, up to late autumn 1943, the construction of coastal fortifications was connected with the aim of saving as many troops as possible for deployment on other fronts. Later on, as the danger of an invasion grew, the coastal defence preparations were assigned a high value in their own right. The overall planning and execution criteria changed little up to the landing, with the emphasis, where building defensive installations was concerned, remaining on the large ports and the stretches of coast that appeared particularly vulnerable to attack. Above all, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, as commander-in-chief of Army Group B (with the troops of Wehrmacht Commander Netherlands, the Fifteenth, and the Seventh armies, under him), did his utmost to ensure that the overwhelming majority of the envisaged 15,000 fortifications and countless other obstacles were sited in the presumed epicentre of the enemy landing between Calais and the Seine estuary. Further west, in Normandy and Brittany, a smaller number were planned, and in the remaining coastal areas only a few.

It goes without saying that the Germans were unwilling and unable to carry out such a huge construction project on their own. In early October 1943 Jodl bluntly asserted that `the time has now come, in Denmark, Holland, France, and Belgium, to use the harshest measures to force the thousands of idlers to work on the fortifications, which take precedence over all other tasks’. In the end, the population was everywhere forced to take part in the work. As late as June 1944, despite repeated attempts to transfer forced labourers from the occupied countries of western Europe to the Reich in the course of Sauckel’s recruitment drives, the Todt Organization supplied some 140,000 non-Germans and 18,000 Germans for the construction of the Atlantic Wall.

The Germans were nevertheless forced to withdraw many workers from the coastal construction sites to repair the damage caused by increasing Allied air raids and sabotage by the Resistance, mainly against transport facilities and industrial plants. More and more workers were also needed for the construction of V-weapon bases in northern France.

Despite all these difficulties, the construction work as a whole assumed imposing proportions. Although only about 8,500 fortifications were more-orless ready by the beginning of 1944, a further 12,247 had been built on the west coast and 943 on the French Mediterranean coast by the day of the landing. At the same time, around half-a-million obstacles had been anchored offshore and 6 1/2 million mines laid, in order to prevent the Allies landing in force or to steer their advance in a direction favourable to the German defences. The barrier was completed by artillery of all calibres, tank cannon, and anti-aircraft guns, more and more of which were shielded from Allied air attack by concrete walls.

Differences of opinion soon arose as to the direction in which army and navy artillery should point. Hitler and OB West wanted to position the batteries so that they could also fire inland, against enemy airborne and ground troops that had broken through the German defence lines, whereas the navy insisted they should be directed towards targets out at sea. In the end, the interests of the army prevailed, and the navy had to give up most of its ideas. This also shows that the Germans ultimately intended to concentrate on fighting the Allies effectively inland rather than offshore. Many of the installations demanded by Naval Group West Command were consequently not completed, and the guns often left unshielded. In addition, much of the artillery supplied to it was taken from captured enemy stocks and was of doubtful range and accuracy.

The deficiencies in the area of the Fifteenth Army, at the heart of the defence preparations, were less serious. There, everything was done to ensure rapid and efficient consolidation. In the area of the Seventh Army, however, the completion of defence installations was much slower. At the end of May 1944 LXXXIV Army Corps, in whose area the landing actually took place, reported that only half the envisaged winter programme could be completed and that many batteries were still being installed, even though 74,000 Todt Organization workers and 3,765 trucks had been available to the Seventh Army since the middle of February.

Here, too, priorities had been set. While the ports of Cherbourg, St-Malo, Brest, Lorient, and St-Nazaire took the lion’s share of the available equipment and weapons, the right flank of the Seventh Army, between the rivers Vire and Orne, was comparatively poorly equipped. In late April 1944 Naval Group West Command reported that the Seventh Army in Normandy had a total of 47 artillery pieces for use against targets at sea, of which only 27 were protected by bunkers. Work on the remaining artillery was still under way or had not even started.

The second line of defence, 20-30 km from the coast, was also in a poor state of preparation. Planned in October 1943, most of the finished installations were in the Pas-de-Calais region, while the material and manpower available for Normandy were not sufficient to carry the project through to completion. OB West must have sensed that a static defence system like the Atlantic Wall was only as strong as its weakest point. In February 1944 he wrote to his commanding officers emphatically rejecting any comparison with France’s Maginot Line, which had failed so miserably in 1940. Stressing the many other advantages of the Atlantic Wall under construction, Rundstedt repeated that the troops in the coastal area must not and would not give way, as the French had done. By way of emphasis, less combative souls were even threatened with the death sentence if they failed to hold their ground. Such excuses as `we could not hold out any longer because we had no more ammunition or supplies’ would have the `most serious consequences’ for those responsible.

The top military leadership, however, seemed not entirely convinced of the effect of such threats. Otherwise they would not have ordered the construction of defensive installations further inland, as they did in early November 1943-although they kept it top secret so as not to demoralize the troops. Shortly afterwards, a restricted circle of selected officers reconnoitred defensive positions along the Somme and the Marne-Saone canal and on to the Swiss border.

None of this, of course, was seen as an alternative to defensive preparations in the coastal region, which continued to be given top priority. Key ports and stretches of coast were renamed `fortresses’-also called `Fuhrer fortifications’ by OB West to emphasize the seriousness of resistance on the coast by associating it with the name of the supreme military commander. Fortress commanders-who in OB West’s view had to be army officers-were given special full powers and solemnly sworn in by the army groups. The `fortresses’ were located in what was now called the `battle zone’, a strip of land extending from the coast to the second defence line. Within the battle zone, army commanders-in-chief had full powers, including the right to evacuate the civilian population. This right was exercised to the full, and by mid-February 1944 no fewer than 313,000 people had been forced to leave their homes. Nevertheless, no military measures could be taken without considering their impact on the economy, since Germany’s war industry remained dependent on the proper functioning of French enterprises even in the `battle zone’. In early April 1944 work on defence installations had to be slowed down because manpower and transport facilities were required for agricultural purposes.

Economic considerations also interfered with German plans to flood large areas of the coastal region as a further obstacle to Allied landings and penetration. In the discussions on the extent and location of the flooding, conflicts arose between the army, navy, and Luftwaffe that were exacerbated by the unequal division of powers. As we have seen, OB West and the OKW had given most authority to the army command. When it became clear that AOK (army head quarters staff) 15 intended to undertake widespread flooding operations on its own authority, Air Fleet 3 and Naval Group West Command objected on the grounds that the flooding would put many of their installations at risk. While OB West did not refuse to consider these objections, the commander-in-chief of the Fifteenth Army reacted angrily: `I totally disagree with the position of the navy and Luftwaffe . . . with regard to the planned flooding. The navy is interfering in matters that are none of its concern.’ He informed OB West, moreover, that Army Group B had `now ordered the flooding’.

Rundstedt and his staff had to act as intermediaries, propose compromises, and even seek a decision of principle from the OKW. After seemingly endless negotiations, a balance was struck between the two positions: bearing in mind the concerns of the navy, Luftwaffe, and the war economy, flooding operations in the coastal area were to be kept to a strict minimum and only carried out just before the landing. Everything else would remain at the planning and preparation stage.

Even though OB West’s original aim of completing the Atlantic Wall by the beginning of March 1944 proved impossible to achieve, the Germans nevertheless managed to build a large number of defence installations and provide them with effective protection against bombardment, especially in the area in which they expected the landing to be concentrated. The unfinished installations gave continuing cause for concern as they were particularly exposed to attack from the air.

The numerous bunkers, obstacles, minefields, and flood areas were one thing; the military effectiveness of the Atlantic Wall quite another. As many German officers certainly realized, everything would hinge on the fighting quality of the troops defending the fortifications-in the final analysis, on their strength, mobility, and reserves.

The Atlantikwall

The Atlantic Wall

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SMS Seydlitz – Operational History I

SMS Seydlitz 1915

“Drauf Seydlitz!” [“At it Seydlitz!”]

In April 1913 Seydlitz was delivered to Kiel by a dockyard crew. On 22 May the cruiser was put into service and began trials. The crew of Seydlitz came for the most part from the armoured cruiser Yorck, and was augmented from elsewhere. It is recorded that at first there were some disruptive and unco-operative men, but these were weeded out by the Yorck crewmen, and soon Seydlitz was considered a ‘happy ship’.

The trials were interrupted when in June the Kaiser ordered Seydlitz to Kiel to participate in Kiel Week. On 29 June he visited the ship, and on 3 July King Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy, also visited. After the regatta was over Seydlitz resumed trials, but on 26 July briefly grounded near Friedrichsort lighthouse in fog. Trials concluded on 17 August and on 31 August the Panzerkreuzer joined the assembled High Sea Fleet near Helgoland and immediately went on manoeuvres, which concluded on 9 September. Seydlitz participated in further training with the Unit of Reconnaissance Ships for the remainder of 1913.

Training continued in 1914 and at the end of March the spring manoeuvres took place in the North Sea, followed by fleet manoeuvres in the Baltic and North Sea in April and May. Kiel Week 1914 followed in June and on 23 June the BdA, Kontreadmiral Franz Hipper, transferred his flag from Moltke to Seydlitz. With a few brief interruptions, Seydlitz served as flagship until 26 October 1917. A letter dated 1 July 1914 names Seydlitz as one of the ships being considered to visit America for the opening of the Panama Canal, along with Derfflinger and Karlsruhe, and perhaps also Graudenz. After the opening ceremonies the squadron would visit San Francisco.

On 13 July 1914 the last peacetime exercises of the High Sea Fleet began and after the combined North Sea and Baltic forces rendezvoused in the area of Skagen the exercises took place. On 25 July Seydlitz ran into Sognefjord, Norway, where she coaled. However, the very next day, 26 July, Seydlitz departed the fjord and on 27 July rendezvoused with the fleet off Cape Skadenes before returning to her home port of Wilhelmshaven. The reason for the premature return home was the imminent danger of war.

On the evening of 1 August 1914, as Seydlitz lay in Wilhelmshaven Roads, the order came for mobilisation the following day, and the anti-torpedo nets were set and a war watch was posted. With the outbreak of war the reconnaissance forces were divided into groups, the Große Kreuzer being formed into the I AG, or I Reconnaissance Group, with Seydlitz as flagship. On 17 August the I AG put to sea for evolutions during the morning and calibre shooting in the afternoon; however, at 14.15 a submarine alarm was raised and the practice was broken off. The alarm proved false and the calibre shoot was resumed before Seydlitz and the I AG returned to the Jade.

On 18 August steam was raised in all the boilers in readiness to put to sea, should support for Straßburg and Stralsund be necessary during their sortie into the English Channel. That evening Seydlitz went into the dockyard before returning to Schillig Roads on 21 August. On the morning of 28 August 1914, as Seydlitz lay in Wilhelmshaven Roads, a wireless report arrived at 08.50 about the penetration of enemy forces into the Helgoland Bight. At 09.00 a message was sent to the BdA by the Flottenchef for the Große Kreuzer to immediately raise steam; however, because the port main condenser was being retubed, only the starboard engine was clear. At 13.15 a wireless message arrived from the small cruiser Mainz, which said: ‘Am chased by enemy battlecruisers.’ With that Seydlitz weighed anchor and steered down the Jade at a speed of 20kts. At 15.30 the port engine was again working. At 16.10 Seydlitz joined the other cruisers – Moltke, von der Tann, Stralsund, Straßburg and Danzig – and ordered an advance to the NW. Nothing was seen of athe enemy, so at 16.55 a turn was made and the cruisers ran back into the Jade. The following day Seydlitz entered the harbour.

After leaving the harbour on 1 September, Seydlitz resumed picket duty in Schillig Roads before fleet manoeuvres were conducted on 12 September. An interesting phenomenon was discovered when, on 17 September, with the torpedo nets deployed, the added resistance to the tide caused the ship to drag its anchor, so that the nets had to be recovered. On 24 September it was reported that British forces had entered ‘the Belt’ and would break into the Baltic, and so at 00.30 on 25 September the I AG was ordered into harbour to prepare for the canal trip to the Baltic. These preparations consisted of lightening ship by removing coal and water to reduce the draught. At this stage of the war the ships were required to have a draught of just 8.5m for the canal trip, and this was increased to 8.8m in November as the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal was continually being dredged. However, at 02.30 preparations for the canal trip were broken off on the orders of the Flottenchef of the High Sea Fleet and the coal stocks were reloaded.

At 08.00 on 16 October 1914 Seydlitz ran out of harbour to Wilhelmshaven Roads to resume picket duty, when some noises became apparent in the starboard low-pressure turbine, which suggested turbine blade damage. So at 11.30 anchor was weighed and Seydlitz undertook a trial trip to Schillig Roads and back during which a considerable noise was heard coming from the starboard low-pressure turbine, necessitating opening it for an inspection. At 01.00 on 18 October the cruiser made fast in the construction harbour of the imperial dockyard and opening the turbine began. By 23.00 the turbine was open and it could be seen that in one series of turbine blades seventeen were bent, but otherwise there was little damage. Repairs were carried out and on 21 October work began on closing the turbine, however it was not until 27 October that the engines were again operational.

On 30 October exercises were undertaken in Schillig Roads, followed on 2 November by execution of War Task 19, the bombardment of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. At 16.40 Seydlitz weighed anchor and steered down the Jade before taking a course north into the North Sea at 21kts on a night with poor visibility of just 1–3nm and a full moon that was partly hidden by clouds. During the night a number of trawlers were passed and at 06.12 on the morning of 3 November speed was reduced to 15kts before at 07.30 Smith’s Knoll buoy was sighted and passed. Steering between sandbanks, the German cruisers approached the coast and at 08.00 the torpedo-gunboat Halcyon came in sight to the SSW. At 08.17 Seydlitz opened fire on this ship with her medium-calibre artillery at 98–120hm range. Then three minutes later the heavy artillery opened fire on Great Yarmouth at a range of 130–150hm, before at 08.25 both heavy and medium artillery concentrated fire on Halcyon and several straddling salvos were observed. However, soon afterwards fire was ceased and Seydlitz set off away to the east at 21kts. At 09.00 the course was changed to ENE, and at 09.50 a smoke cloud was sighted, which came from a light cruiser with three funnels that made off to the east at high speed. At 10.30 Seydlitz increased speed to 23kts but at 11.30 reduced to 22kts and then at 12.40 to 20kts.

There were no further significant events, and just after midnight on 4 November the German cruisers anchored in the outer Jade, as there was fog and visibility was very poor. Only at 16.30 did the weather clear and the units could weigh anchor and steer up the Jade, Seydlitz anchoring in Schillig Roads at 17.30. Kapitän zur See Egidy commented that travelling without making smoke was impossible at more than 21kts, and for extended periods was only possible at speeds of 15kts or less.

On 6 November Seydlitz ran into Wilhelmshaven harbour and made fast to berth B7 in the construction harbour to change the left barrel of turret C, which had been damaged by a barrel explosion during the bombardment of 3 November. The barrel change was only completed on 10 November, and that afternoon Seydlitz ran out into Wilhelmshaven Roads.

On 15 November the Panzerkreuzer Derfflinger was deployed to the I AG, and so on 20 November the unit put out into the North Sea for a short advance to the NW for the reception of Derfflinger into the unit, followed by evolutions and torpedo-firing exercises, then further evolutions. At 16.15 two wireless messages arrived, one after the other, about the sighting of two enemy submarines nearby in grid squares 157 epsilon and 144 epsilon. The submarine concerned was the British E11. At 17.00 Seydlitz sighted a dark object on the horizon, which approached slowly – seemingly the conning tower of a submarine. The small cruiser Straßburg and the V TBF were ordered to push ahead and clear a path for the I AG back to the Jade River. That evening at 22.30 Seydlitz anchored in Schillig Roads without further alarm.

A period of picket duty followed, apart from an abortive advance into the German Bight on 9 December. The next major operation was the conduct of War Task 20, the bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool. At 03.00 on 15 December the I AG weighed anchor and ran down the Jade into the North Sea. The wind was from the south at force 2, there was a slight swell and visibility was just 2–3nm. The unit made a course north at 15kts and later turned to NW by N. During the day there was some mist and rain, and in the evening course was taken WSW and then W by S. By 06.00 on the morning of 16 December the wind had freshened to NW force 4–5 and the swell had increased to Swell Strength 4. At 07.00 Straßburg reported that there was a heavy swell inshore and the small cruisers could no longer maintain their course, so Straßburg, Stralsund and Graudenz, with two Flottillen, were detached back to the main body. At 07.40 the I AG divided into two groups, Seydlitz, Moltke and Blücher going north to bombard Hartlepool, and von der Tann, Derfflinger and Kolberg going south to bombard Scarborough and Whitby, with the small cruiser to lay mines. As Seydlitz steered north at 20kts the Salt Scar buoy came in sight. Along the coast was steamer traffic while to seawards some trawlers could be seen. At Hartlepool the watch station and the harbour entrance lighthouse both made a recognition signal, and then at 0905 four destroyers came into view in the N by W. Six minutes later fire was opened on them. A short time later, at 09.26, fire was opened on the Cemetery Battery. In the harbour a light cruiser could be seen but could not be taken under fire because of poor visibility. At approximately 09.45 Seydlitz was hit by three shells, one in the forecastle, one on the forward funnel and one on the forward edge of the aft ventilator and at 09.46 she ceased fire and, after the other two cruisers assembled by her, course was taken ESE at 23kts to rendezvous with von der Tann and Derfflinger. At 10.30 the rendezvous was made and the German unit shaped course back to the German Bight; however, at 12.00 Stralsund reported an enemy main body in sight and that they were being pursued. Seydlitz and the I AG steered towards the reported enemy and the order was given: ‘Clear ship for battle!’ The British forces were reported as the II and IV Battle Squadrons. At 13.30 speed had to be reduced to 21kts because Kolberg could not maintain any higher speed in the heavy swell. Then at 13.45 Stralsund reported that the enemy was out of sight and so the Panzerkreuzer took a course north, so as to avoid the enemy battle squadron.

During the night Seydlitz and the I AG steamed back across the North Sea and passed to the east of Helgoland enroute to the Jade. At 09.30 on 17 December 1914 Seydlitz anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads. The following day she went into the dockyard.

The Battle of the Dogger Bank

Towards 18.00 on 23 January Seydlitz weighed anchor and steered down the Jade and out past War Light Vessel A on the Jade. During the night the Panzerkreuzers of the I AG steered towards the Dogger Bank and their next meeting with the enemy. There was good visibility during the night though the heavens were covered as the I AG, under the command of Kontreadmiral Franz Hipper, ran on at 13kts, their most economical speed.

As it was becoming light, on the morning of 24 January 1915, Seydlitz received a signal from Kolberg that several enemy ships were in sight, and the thunder of gunfire was heard to the west. At 08.19 the I AG turned west and increased speed, before at 08.29 resuming their previous course of WNW. Just three minutes later, at 08.29, Seydlitz swung onto course SE and went to ‘utmost power’ at a speed of 23kts, but then reduced to 15kts to allow the small cruisers to position themselves ahead of the main body. By 08.40 Seydlitz was running at 20kts, but reduced to 18kts at 08.43, then increased again to 23kts at 09.00. At 09.25 Blücher reported seven light cruisers and twenty-six destroyers in his sight aft, with further smoke clouds behind them. At 09.55 the order was given aboard Seydlitz to ‘clear ship for battle’, as astern to starboard, in the WNW, five large ships with tripod masts could be made out, although their type was not identified. The forwardmost had opened fire with slow deliberate shots. At 09.58 Blücher reported five enemy battlecruisers and at 10.08 Derfflinger was able to open fire. At 10.10 the order to open fire was given, but nevertheless only Derfflinger could comply. The British cruisers were also veiled in smoke as the Germans lay to windward and most of the time only the leading British ship was visible. Finally, at 10.19 Seydlitz was also able to join in the firing. At 10.25 she received her first hit, on the forecastle. Seydlitz continued to steer SE by E with 255 revolutions. Then suddenly, at 10.43, she received a hit with fateful consequences: a shell apparently fired from Lion struck the barbette of D turret. The 13.5in shell passed through the Batterie deck and struck the 230mm-thick D turret barbette, where it detonated. A red-hot piece of barbette armour was broken off and was thrown into the working chamber, where it set fire to main and fore charges there. No enemy shell parts were found in the working chamber. Flash flames shot upwards into the turret and downwards through the elevator shafts, setting fire to cartridges in the turret and on the handling room turntable and in the elevator room. Only the cartridge containers with their lids still on did not burn.

With the first penetration of flash flames and poisonous gases from burning cartridge cases, the crew of the handling room of D turret sought to save themselves by exiting their room and escaping into the corresponding room of C turret. To do this they had to pass through double doors, the first of which opened to aft, the second forwards. Investigation later showed that the second door was carried away, as though by the pressure of the gases. With the opening of these doors flash flames passed into the cartridge hoist room (handling room) of C turret, and the deadly events were repeated. In just a few seconds 6,000kg of powder burnt, totally burning out turrets C and D and sending flames mast-high. Sixty-two powder charges, including those in munitions chamber 29, had completely burnt.

In the two turrets a total of 165 men eventually lost their lives. The medical report read:

One part of the turrets’ crews were burned by the flash flame; for the greater part the corpses were in the position in which death had surprised them. Individual corpses were completely burned. Another part of the turret crew had succumbed to gas inhalation.

Five were wounded with burns – three from turret C and two from turret D – and could be saved. One of them, a sailor, had first- and second-degree burns to his entire body and succumbed to his injuries on the same afternoon onboard. Of the remaining four, two, a stoker and a sailor, had first- and second-degree burns to their whole bodies; the other two were a Maschinistenmaat [machinist mate], with first- and second-degree burns to both hands, and a sailor, with light burns to the face and body.

The sailor, Matrose Ernst König, was a loading number of the left barrel of turret Cäsar (turret C). He wrote:

Now we loading numbers went at it, beginning with the shell. Push – jerk! It went into the barrel under our exertions. The cartridge followed. The same! Four gasps – a jerk! Breechblock closed tight.

He continued:

Suddenly there was a crash, almost like a concussion. What was that? We looked at each other. For a fraction of a second we listened. That was no concussion; there was a hissing near us.

In the next moment a great flash flame climbed high in the middle of the turret. The turret leader and order transmitter were enveloped by the glowing flames at the same moment … Then a second, still larger flash struck up under me directly from the entry hole to the reloading chamber (working chamber) and hit me in the face. I fell backwards. The entire turret was engulfed in bright flames at the same moment. An invisible force pushed me. Luckily I was propelled to where the entry hole was … I allowed myself to fall out.

The I Artillerie Offizier, Korvettenkapitän Richard Foerster, later wrote:

On this occasion turrets C and D did not respond. It became clear that we were dealing with a powder fire in these turrets and their munition chambers, or magazines. Therefore I first gave the command to flood compartment III, which was the compartment that both these turrets and their magazines were located in, thus flooding the lower part of the ship … I looked aft towards turrets C and D. It was an electrifying sight, the aft part of the ship was enveloped in a blue-red flash flame, that reached to the height of the mast tops. The munition chambers of both turrets were therefore enveloped in flame, and it could only be seconds before the entire ship would be engulfed and explode. … It only remained for us to shoot as quickly as possible to perhaps achieve something in the last moments. So, I gave the command for rapid fire, and so either a heavy or medium salvo was discharged from the guns every ten seconds.

In the ‘leak central’, or damage-control centre, news of the catastrophic hit reached the I Offizier, Korvetten-kapitän Hagedorn. Together with Pumpenmeister Wilhelm Heidkamp and Feuerwerker Müller he went aft to compartment III where the flooding valves for the aft turret group magazines were located. Pumpenmeister Heidkamp was first to enter compartment III. The heat was intense, and the smoke and poison gases were choking, so that his uniform, hair and eyebrows were singed. The blinding gases made finding the valves almost impossible because flashlights could not penetrate the thick smoke, but Pumpenmeister Heidkamp knew their location from memory as he had been assigned to the Blohm & Voss shipyard during construction of the Panzerkreuzer. When he finally reached the valves he found that they were glowing red-hot, but selflessly he grasped the first valve’s steel operating wheel and turned it, then went to work on the second wheel before he had to be replaced by Feuerwerker Müller, who completed the task. Pumpenmeister Heidkamp suffered bad burns to his hands, right to the bone, and his lungs were injured by the hot, poisonous gases. Nevertheless, the aft magazine chambers were flooded and the ship was saved from probable destruction.

Likewise the rudder rooms filled with toxic smoke and had to be evacuated despite the use of breathing equipment.

At 11.17 Seydlitz received one further heavy-calibre hit, which struck amidships but did not penetrate the armoured belt. At 11.32 the upper rudder room was again occupied, followed at 11.50 by the lower rudder room. In the mean-time, at 11.44 the leading British ship, Lion, was observed to have turned away. At 11.51 Kontreadmiral Hipper ordered his torpedo boats to attack, but almost at the same time the British battlecruisers turned to port to the north in the direction of Blücher, and any chance of a successful torpedo attack was lost. At 12.00 the German line turned to starboard, so that there was the chance of a circular battle, but by 12.09 fire was ceased by both sides and the I AG took off to the ESE at 23kts. With that the battle was concluded and at 19.28 that evening Seydlitz entered the northern lock of the III Entrance at Wilhelmshaven. At 01.25 on 25 January 1915 Seydlitz cast off and later made fast at berth G1 of the imperial dockyard for repairs to the battle damage, remaining there until 1 April 1915.

Hit three was actually the first in chronological sequence and struck at 10.25 on the forecastle. Details of this hit are not available, but it was reported that the damage was slight.