Antisubmarine War WWI – Mediterranean 1916-17

Kaba departing Ryojun, 1925. She was deployed in the Mediterranean in WWI.

Japanese cruiser Akashi in drydock. Rear-Admiral Kōzō Satō commanded the “Second Special Squadron” with Akashi as flagship with the 10th and 11th Destroyer Units (eight destroyers) based at Malta from 13 April 1917. He was reinforced by the 15th Destroyer Unit with four more destroyers from 1 June 1917 to carry out on direct escort duties for Allied troop transports in the Mediterranean.

The Allies had abandoned exclusive use of patrolled routes in the Mediterranean shortly before the Germans adopted unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans declared the great majority of the Mediterranean a Sperrgebiet (prohibited area) except for the extreme western portion off Spain, including the Balearics, and initially, the 20-mile-wide corridor to Greek waters. The Austrians promised to assist the Germans outside of the Adriatic. Their smaller submarines as they became available would now operate against Allied shipping between Malta and Cerigo. In the early part of 1917, the situation in the Mediterranean was deceptively favorable to the Allies, for in January the greater part of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla was under repair and refit at Pola and Cattaro after the heavy demands of 1916. In January sinkings fell to 78,541 tons, only 24 percent of the total of 328,391 tons sunk in all theaters. It was the lull before the storm, for by 10 February the Germans had 10 U-boats at sea in the Mediterranean, along with an Austrian submarine, and that month submarines sank 105,670 tons of shipping. This, however, represented only 20.3 percent of the 520,412 tons sunk in all theaters, for with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Mediterranean percentage of total sinkings inevitably declined. The successes of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla declined again in March to 61,917 tons, just under 11 percent of the total of 564,497 tons in all theaters. April 1917 turned into a record month for the Mediterranean flotilla, just as it was a record month for U-boats in all theaters. The Germans had 14 U-boats at sea at the beginning of the month, joined by 2 Austrians. They sank in the Mediterranean 254,911 tons (3,724 tons by submarine-laid mines), or 29.6 percent of the 860,334 tons sunk in all theaters. The Austrians contributed another 23,037 tons.

The Admiralty were so alarmed by the heavy losses along the coast of Algeria, which they naturally attributed to the ineffectiveness of French patrols, that they ordered British shipping to abandon the coastal route in favor of hugging the Spanish coast from Gibraltar to Cape San Antonio and then use dispersed routes to Malta. The French, however, complained that they were using more than eighty patrol craft of all sorts on their patrolled routes in the western Mediterranean whereas the British were escorting all British troopships or ships with valuable cargoes and following routes entirely different from the French. Furthermore, the French charged that the British used their destroyers to escort troopships, leaving trawlers on the patrolled routes through British zones. These trawlers often lacked wireless receivers and could not be counted upon to divert ships from threatened areas. Admiral Gauchet, now French commander in chief, described the situation on the Malta-Cerigo route as “every man for himself.”

Allied merchant ships deliberately made use of Spanish territorial waters. This proved to be correct, if not very heroic, and it naturally added to the length and duration of a voyage. German U-boat commanders were ordered to observe the Spanish 3-mile limit, and, in fact, to avoid mistakes they were normally to observe a 4-mile limit unless there was a particularly valuable target in the fourth mile and they were quite sure of their position. On the whole, German U-boat commanders respected Spanish territorial waters and the Allies made extensive use of them. The Allies suspected the Germans were violating them, but careful analysis of sinkings generally established that the ships had strayed out of those waters when they were sunk. It was not hard to do; navigation so close to the coast could be difficult and hazardous, and merchant ship captains often were inclined to take a shortcut across the curve of a bay, which made them legitimate targets for the Germans. U-boat commanders were not angels; they obviously found more than enough targets in the Mediterranean without having to violate Spanish waters.

The Mediterranean situation could not be ignored by the Allied leaders by the spring of 1917. In early April General Sir William Robertson, chief of the imperial general staff, asked Jellicoe about a joint statement from the British naval leaders as to what reductions at Salonika would be necessary if the British were to continue the war in 1918. Jellicoe was a strong partisan of abandoning the Salonika expedition because of the strain on shipping and naval resources to support it. He recommended the immediate reduction or withdrawal of the British contingent, and he advocated a complete withdrawal if the cabinet expected the war to continue beyond 1917. This would then allow the British to recover a number of patrol craft for safeguarding commerce in home waters, free a large amount of shipping to build up a reserve of food and supply the French and Italians with coal and other necessities, and permit the British to give better protection to the sea communications with the army in Egypt. The French could be expected to strongly oppose what in their eyes was a British attempt to abandon the Salonika expedition, where France was preponderant, in favor of the pursuit of imperial gains in Palestine. An Allied conference with the Italians at St. Jean de Maurienne on 19 April took no decision on Jellicoe’s proposal, and one is inclined to believe that if the Allies did not succeed in mastering the submarine danger the issue was likely to be moot. It would then be a question of whether or not the British could continue the war.

The conflicting policies in the Mediterranean had made it obvious that another international conference was necessary. The Corfu conference took place during the crisis of the naval war. It was held in Gauchet’s flagship Provence at Corfu 28 April to 1 May. The Allies unanimously decided they would not return to the discredited system of patrolled routes created at Malta in 1916. They would navigate only by night and along coastal routes whenever possible, and those coastal routes would be patrolled along with certain strategic straits. The conference made a major change in procedure: on routes that ran far from the coast, ships would be protected by convoys and escorts following dispersed routes, that is, routes chosen by a routing officer at the port of departure according to the circumstances of the moment.

The Corfu conference had really created a hybrid system rather than one of general convoys or ships sailing independently. All ships entering the Mediterranean were now required to stop at Gibraltar for instructions and formation into convoys before proceeding to Oran, although the authorities sometimes allowed ships to navigate independently without escort if there was no submarine danger. Ships followed the patrolled coastal route between Oran and Bizerte, but they were not necessarily escorted in those waters. Ships were formed into convoys again at Bizerte for the remainder of their voyage eastward. Ships bound from Gibraltar to Marseille or Genoa continued to follow Spanish coastal waters as long as the Germans respected them.

The most important decision of the Corfu conference as far as its implications for the future were concerned was the establishment of a “Direction Générale” at Malta, which was composed of officers delegated by the different navies and was charged with the direction of everything concerning transport routes and their protection. The idea was proposed by Admiral Gauchet, but the British managed to turn it to their own advantage, for they proposed that, without modifying the present system of a French commander in chief for all the Mediterranean, all the British naval forces be placed under a single commander. The British commander in chief would have an officer of flag rank charged with protecting transport routes who would be the British representative on the Direction Générale that Gauchet had proposed. The effect of this would be to give the British the predominant role in the antisubmarine campaign. Gauchet remained the theoretical commander in chief with the largest number of dreadnoughts, seemingly preoccupied with preparing for that major naval encounter with the Austrian fleet.

The French and the Italians had by far the preponderance in capital ships, but the real action in the Mediterranean by this date was the antisubmarine war, and here the balance had quietly swung decisively toward the British. In May 1917 the total of patrol vessels of all sorts in the Mediterranean, from destroyers to sloops, from trawlers to small torpedo boats, was: British, 429; French, 302; Italian, 119; and Japanese, 8. The British had really learned that the Mediterranean was too important to be left to the French. British interests, whether they were shipping or overseas expeditions, were extensive, and they could not rely on others who, with the best will in the world, were apt to lack the resources to do the job. The British were forced to assume the leading part in the antisubmarine war.

The Japanese contribution needs a word of explanation. The British had long been anxious for Japanese assistance. The Japanese had been reluctant to send forces to European waters, although they had, as we have seen, provided considerable assistance in the opening months of the war and later in the search for the German raiders. In mid-April Rear Admiral Kozo Sato arrived at Malta with the Tenth and Eleventh Japanese destroyer flotillas, eight 650-ton Kaba class. Sato flew his flag in the cruiser Akashi, which served as headquarters ship. In August 1917 the Fifteenth Flotilla arrived with four of the new 850-ton Momo class and the armored cruiser Idzumo, which relieved the Akashi. The Japanese were nominally independent, but actually carried out whatever orders they received from the British commander in chief at Malta. The Japanese in fact worked very closely with the British, particularly in escorting troopships. They soon gained an excellent reputation. Their ships were new and well-handled, and the British paid them the ultimate compliment by turning over two of their own H-class destroyers to be renamed and manned by Japanese crews for the duration of the war. This Japanese contribution of fourteen destroyers at a critical moment in the war against submarines has been largely forgotten, but under the circumstances it was far from negligible.

The decisions of the Corfu conference were only recommendations; they naturally had to be accepted by the respective governments. The Admiralty, however, acted fairly quickly, and the Malta-Alexandria convoy was introduced on 22 May with four ships escorted by four trawlers. It proved a success; only two ships were lost between 22 May and 16 July. The French on 18 June formally established a special directorate for the submarine war. The Direction générale de la guerre sous-marine was to a large extent the result of pressure from the French parliament, where there were strong suspicions that the French naval staff had been too tradition-bound and had not paid enough attention to submarine warfare.

Admiral the Honorable Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, second son of the seventh Baron Calthorpe, was appointed British Mediterranean commander in chief. He had formerly commanded the Second Cruiser Squadron and had been second sea lord in 1916. Calthorpe was hardly one of the household names of the war and was deceptively mild mannered. He apparently had a certain amount of difficulty getting his authority accepted by the other commands, but he grew in assurance as time went on. He also possessed good judgment, although he was unfortunately somewhat backward about realizing the value of convoys. At the end of the war he was destined to play a considerable role in negotiating the armistice with the Turks and subsequently became high commissioner in Turkey and the Black Sea. One of his staff officers considered him a man who never sought greatness but had it thrust on him.

The introduction of convoys into the Mediterranean proved difficult. The route structure was complex and the entire Mediterranean was considered a danger area, unlike the situation in the Atlantic where only about 350 miles required special protection for convoys. The British Isles naturally received priority in the allocation of escorts, and the Admiralty added to their own difficulties by insisting that convoys must remain small. There was also the problem of dealing with Allies, notably the Italians. The Italians proved extremely recalcitrant about contributing destroyers and escorts to the common cause, that is, convoys from Gibraltar, and Calthorpe really had no authority over their antisubmarine operations. The Italians insisted they were the only one of the Allies close to the enemy battle fleet, for Pola was only a few hours steaming distance from Venice. They therefore had to retain a significant destroyer force for the protection of Venice and needed their other antisubmarine forces for the protection of Italian traffic in the Tyrrhenian or on the routes to and from Albania and Libya.


The V-3

Actual V-3 Projectile

Few commentators seem to be in any doubt but that the V-3 was the “High Pressure Pump” or “England Gun”. Paul Brickhill recorded in The Dam Busters:

the greatest nightmare of all was the great underworld being burrowed under a 20-foot-thick slab of ferro-concrete near Mimoyecques (between Calais and Boulogne). Here Hitler was preparing his V-3. Little has been told about the V-3, probably because we never found out much about it. The V-3 was the most secret and sinister of all – long-range guns with barrels 500 feet long!”

The V-3 was probably based on the 1885 unsuccessful ballistic principle of the Americans Lymann and Haskell and Baron von Pirquet’s concept of sequential, electrically activated, angled side chambers to provide additional velocity to a shell during its passage of an immensely long tube.

In mid-1942 August Cönders, chief engineer of the Röchling Iron and Steel Works, Leipzig, rediscovered the principle while reading through technical dossiers captured by the Germans in France in 1940. He worked out an improved design and approached Armaments Minister Speer with the idea. Hitler was enthusiastic and demanded that the development should proceed immediately.

The design was for a gun consisting of numerous lengths of smoothbore metal tubing bolted together to form a barrel up to 124 metres long. Every 3.65 metres along its length was a lateral combustion chamber set at from 45° to a right angle. The shell and main propellant were loaded into an sFH18 heavy field howitzer breech. When the gun was fired, the projectile would be impelled forward by pressure from a gas cartridge, and on passing each chamber it triggered electrically another cartridge positioned there which gave the shell further velocity. This was repeated throughout its transit of the barrel. The electrical activation solved a detonation problem which had been caused by expanding gases detonating the auxiliary chambers before the arrival of the shell. The muzzle velocity was around 1500 metres/sec which was significantly greater than that of standard artillery and provided a range of about 160 kilometres. The original 10-inch calibre projectile was over nine feet in length and weighed 140 kilos with a 25-kilo warhead. Six wings opened in flight for stability. Twenty-five guns were projected which at full output would have enabled London, 150 kilometres distant, to be subjected to a persistent rain of up to 200 ten-inch calibre shells per hour. For this reason the project was nicknamed fleissiges Lieschen, Busy Lizzie. The Heereswaffenamt, or German Army Weapons Office, contracted with firms such as Skoda, Krupp, Röchling, Witkowitz Iron and Steel, Faserstoff, Fürstenberg and Bochumer Verein for various calibres of ammunition. Towards mid-1944 20,000 shells were completed or under production.

Even before the gun trials had begun, work was started in the late summer of 1943 on a vast, well camouflaged underground gun battery to house twenty-five barrels of the HPP on the Channel coast at Mimoyecques. The barrels were to be sunk in shafts at a 50° angle 150 feet down into the ground. A slave labour force of 10,000 persons was involved in the construction and information was soon passed to London about a new mammoth “underground V-1 site”.

The initial tests were carried out using barrel lengths between 50 and 130 metres, first at Hillersleben and then from a range at Misdroy near Peenemünde at the beginning of 1944. Various permutations of barrels and chambers were tried without much success. Shells were supplied by numerous manufacturers. In tests between 21 and 23 March 1944 it was found that at muzzle velocities above 1100 metres/sec the tubes lost stability and developed metal stresses. General Leeb recommended that the project be stopped for investigations. By May 1944 the gun had an acceptable range of 95 kilometres and experiments were stepped up to find ways of increasing muzzle velocity. Before any guns were delivered, the Mimoyecques emplacement was destroyed on 6 July 1944 by RAF aircraft using a 12,000-pound Tallboy bomb. This signalled the end of the project for the long-range bombardment of London and put the entire V-3 project in question.

Nevertheless further trials with the HPP with shorter barrels were undertaken at Misdroy and eventually the whole project was placed in the hands of SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler, head of the V-weapons project. Under his supervision the V-3 project was accelerated for an operation in the late autumn of 1944 and, with the help of General Dr (Ing) Erich Dornberger, military commander at Peenemünde, a battery of two 50-metre long 15-cm (5.9-inch) calibre barrels with twelve right-angled side chambers was completed. An emplacement had been excavated at Bürderheidermühle on a wooded slope of the Ruwer at Lampaden, about 13 kilometres south-east of Trier, where the battery was installed under the supervision of Hauptmann Patzig and his 550-strong Army Artillery Detachment 705.

The two HPP barrels rested on thirteen steel girders anchored to buried wooden foundations and were laid to the west with a 34° elevation. 43 kilometres along the firing line was target number 305, Luxemburg City. Calculations showed that the two guns had a maximum range of 65 kilometres with a shell dispersion radius of from 2.5 to 5 kilometres.

Between the two barrels were three bunkers for the gun crews plus either side of the barrels ten smaller bunkers which served as shell and powder magazines.

The Lampaden emplacement was part of the plan for the Ardennes offensive. Ammunition supply was poor because of disruption to the railways and in view of the critical time factor it was decided to use a 95-kilo shell of 15-cm calibre with a warhead of 7 to 9 kilos. The propellant was a 5-kilo main cartridge and twenty-four additional chamber charges, a total of 73 kilos of Ammon powder per shell.

Neither gun was operational when the Ardennes offensive began on 16 December 1944. Hurried preparations were being made to support the German offensive from Lampaden. Luxemburg City, liberated by the Americans in September 1944, was finally chosen as the target for diversionary fire. Although the battery was only operational to a limited extent on 20 December, Kammler was told by High Command West to have it ready before New Year.

On Saturday 30 December 1944 No 1 Gun opened fire. The flight of shell from Lampaden to Luxemburg was 42.5 kilometres. Because of muzzle velocity variables and the variety of propellants being used it was estimated that the target zone was from 40.6 to 43.6 kilometres, giving a dispersal of salvoes of about 3 kilometres. The exact barrel elevation was set at 36° and the muzzle velocity 935 metres/second.

Two ‘warmers’ were fired at 2145 hrs and 2205 hrs before Oberleutnant Bortscheller ordered the gun to open fire in earnest at 2216 hrs in the presence of SS-Obergruppenführer Kammler, the battery commander and officers from a neighbouring artillery detachment. Fire ceased at 2343 hrs. Five shells exploded more or less in the city centre but what effect they had is unknown.

According to German sources, these were 95-kilo shells, probably the six-winged Röchling type numbered 32, 29, 47, 15, 28 (firing sequence). On 31 December twenty-three more were fired between 0007 hrs and 2333 hrs from No 1 Gun, while No 2 Gun was still being adjusted, this not being completed until 3 January.

Following round 17 fired at 0944 hrs the pressure tube was found to have shifted by 4 millimetres and had to be realigned. After two ‘warmers’ the remaining shells were fired without incident between 1943 and 1958 hrs.

4 January 1601–2007 hrs. No 1 Gun, 16 rounds. No 2 Gun ready but did not fire.

11 January 2016–2351 hrs. Both guns fired, total 20 rounds.

12 January 1847–2224 hrs. Both guns fired, total 20 rounds.

13 January 0757–1238 hrs. Both guns fired, total 22 rounds, after which both barrels were checked and adjusted. Because of ammunition shortage, fire was not resumed until 15 January.

15 January Early afternoon, six shells exploded in Luxemburg City.

16 January Late afternoon, six rounds fired. The tower of the cathedral was hit and four persons attending mass were killed.

18 January 1421–1638 hrs. Both guns fired 19 rounds. Most of these exploded north-east of the city in the suburbs of Clausen, Neudorf and Hamm injuring 13 persons.

20 January 0808–1353 hrs. Both guns fired a total of 24 rounds.

Preparations had been taken in hand to transport and mount two more barrels with selected lines of fire into Belgium and France and existing HPP ammunition was rationed out between the four guns. By now the Americans were counter-attacking successfully in the Ardennes region and as it was obvious that Lampaden would soon be under threat, Kammler ordered the detachment to be prepared to dismantle the two pressure tubes for a withdrawal east of the Rhine in due course. The lack of ammunition remained severe.

15 February 0908–1735 hrs. No 1 Gun fired 20 rounds at Luxemburg. These all fell in unpopulated areas near Hamm and Sandweiler east of the city.

16 February 1020–1405 hrs. No 1 Gun fired four shells which fell near Fetschenhaff causing little damage. According to German sources the battery had now only six rounds left.

22 February 1745–1858 hrs. Six shells were fired, all off-target and landed in open country near Merl. This terminated the V-3 programme and the guns were dismantled for transport across the Rhine.

On 26 February US armoured units advanced to within 3 kilometres of Lampaden where they captured guns and replacement parts. A quantity of ammunition was also confiscated and tested later at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The V-3 HPP was considered to have limited value and needed further development. Operationally 183 rounds had been fired from Lampaden towards Luxemburg of which 143 (78%) exploded within the territory or very close to it.

The V-3 suffered from lack of development due to the pressure of time. Had the Mimoyecques battery been operational against London in 1943, delivering 200 6-inch shells per hour, Paul Brickhill’s fears might easily have been justified.

The Capital Ship – End of the 19th Century

König Wilhelm collides [rams] with Grosser Kurfürst

During these experimental years while capital ship design was being blown from one extreme to another on the winds of theory, there was little action experience to go on, and that little was not helpful in solving the major problems concerning first rate ships.

First, there were a few more practical demonstrations of the power of the ram: in 1872 HMS Northumberland, at anchor off Madeira, parted her cable and blew down upon the Hercules, impaling her side upon that vessel’s specially pointed beak which tore a hole ‘a horse and cart could have driven through’. However, she was saved by her compartmentation and did not sink. Three years later there was another collision between British ironclads and this time it was far more serious: both vessels, of Reed’s ‘Audacious’ class, were steaming off the Irish coast one behind the other and about four cables on the port beam of two other ships of the squadron, but rather astern of station so that they had increased to eight knots to catch up. On the port bow was a Norwegian barque. They all ran into dense fog and visibility dropped to less than 100 yards. The Captain of the leading port column ship, Vanguard, was called to the bridge and, anxious about the speed they were making in such conditions, started easing the engine revolutions down and blowing the steam whistle to let the Iron Duke, astern, know where he was. The watch officer of the Iron Duke meanwhile sheered his charge out of line and followed on what he supposed to be the Vanguard’s port quarter as he felt he would be safer; he also increased engine revolutions as, just before the fog clamped down, he had been dropping further astern of the Vanguard. Then his captain arrived on deck, and told of the alteration out of line, remarked ‘That won’t do—get into line again!’ and ordered the helm over.

About the same time in the Vanguard the Norwegian barque was spotted dangerously close and standing across the bow from port to starboard. The ironclad’s engines were immediately stopped and the wheel put over to pass astern of her, thus to port, a manoeuvre which caused her to drop back upon the Iron Duke and across her course. The sailing vessel had hardly disappeared before this new threat was seen less than a ship’s length away. Seconds later the Iron Duke’s ram penetrated the Vanguard’s hull just abaft the watertight bulkhead separating the engine and boiler rooms, a most fatal point as, although the ram stopped some inches short of the inner plating of the double bottom and did not directly breach any main compartment it drove in the armour plates and structure of the ship above, causing numerous relatively small leaks which flooded both vital compartments at some 800 tons an hour, extinguishing the boiler fires in minutes and leaving the ship without any power for the pumps. As the two main compartments filled and others flooded through imperfectly fastened watertight doors it was only a matter of time before the ship went down. The captain set about saving the crew, and seventy minutes after the collision the Vanguard rolled over and sank.

The court martial into her loss considered that the captain should have concentrated his efforts on saving the ship by stuffing sails into the breach, manning the hand pumps and towing her towards shoal water instead of employing the crew hoisting out the boats, and judged that he should be severely reprimanded and dismissed from his command. The captain of the Iron Duke, which had done all the damage despite the steam whistling from the Vanguard, was exonerated from all blame on the grounds that he was justified in regaining station as quickly as possible! These findings come down the years as unjust, unscientific, essentially transitional; the court was composed of nine captains and admirals, only three from ironclads, and all naturally bred in timber seamanship, who apparently ignored evidence that water was entering at the rate of 800 tons an hour and that the hand pumps which they advocated were only capable of discharging 30 tons an hour! Perhaps it was felt necessary to preserve the credibility of British ironclads with a scapegoat; it is not the only example.

Three years later there was an even worse disaster, this time in a German squadron in clear weather. The squadron was steaming westerly in two columns close off the south Kent coast, the König Wilhelm as flagship followed by the Preussen, forming the port column and one cable to starboard and slightly ahead the Grosser Kurfurst, a rigged turret ship like the Monarch. Two small sailing vessels were beating off the coast to cross ahead of them from starboard to port, and the König Wilhelm altered to starboard to pass under their sterns; as she came to turn back on course, the men at the wheel became flustered, and putting it the wrong way, pointed her straight at the unfortunate Grosser Kurfurst, which was far too close to get out of the way. The ram struck, pierced and tore off the side armour as the Kurfurst steamed ahead, opening her stern sections to a torrent of seawater which took her down in only seven minutes and—because of the shortage of time—284 of the crew with her.

So much for the ram; as Barnaby inferred, the main defence was to keep out of the way—although smaller subdivisions, main watertight bulkheads unpierced for access, and more efficient, quicker-acting, watertight doors were also called for.

As for the gun, the British service had its first and only action experience against an armoured ship before the 1914 War when in 1877 the large unarmoured iron frigate, HMS Shah accompanied by an unarmoured corvette, Amethyst, fought a Peruvian turret ironclad called the Huascar, whose crew had mutinied in support of a bid to overthrow their president, and afterwards interfered with British merchant shipping. The Huascar was a monitor designed by Cowper Coles in 1864, with a single turret rising behind a short forecastle which sloped into a ram below water; her hull was protected by 4-inch armour tapering at the ends and her turret, which contained two 12½-ton Armstrong guns, by 5½-inch armour. Against this, the Shah brought two 12-ton pieces with a theoretical penetration of 10 inches at 1,000 yards and, on each side of her battery deck, eight 6½-ton guns with a theoretical penetration of 7 inches; she also carried a few of the smaller 64 pounders, which formed the sole armament of the Amethyst. However, the British ships, being totally unarmoured and not even protected on the cellular system, had to keep moving and keep the range long, generally between 2,000 and 1,500 yards, to try and avoid being hit, while the low freeboard and frequently end-on position of the turret vessel which steamed about at 11 knots made her an extremely difficult target. In the event the fight, described as partly a following and partly a revolving one, lasted two hours and 40 minutes, during which time the Shah fired 241 rounds and made about 30 hits, mainly on the gear above deck; she did however succeed in hulling the Peruvian vessel with four 9-inch and two 7-inch—2½ per cent of the shots fired; the Amethyst hit her another 30–40 times from 190 rounds. Altogether this was a creditable performance at such a target at such ranges and speeds with such muzzle loading guns and probably justified Colomb’s claim that British naval gunnery was the best in the world. What was disappointing was the low penetration achieved; the only shell to get through the armour was not an armour-piercing shell at all, but a common 9-inch, which pierced a 3½-inch plate and exploded in the timber backing, causing the only four casualties of the action. These results, which compared so unfavourably with theoretical penetrations, continued to be a feature of naval warfare between armourclads, not simply because of inefficient projectiles or charges, mainly because in the words of a French analyst: ‘It is extremely rare, in practice, for a projectile to hit a ship’s armour at exactly a right angle.’

The Huascar, for her part, only fired some eight times and failed to do more than part some rigging on the Shah; she also failed in a ramming attempt as the British ships kept their distance. The lowest range reached was some 400 yards for a brief time, at which point the Shah got off a Whitehead torpedo, the first ever used in action, but at that distance there was little chance of hitting especially as the Huascar outsteamed it! Finally the Huascar retired into shoal water off the town of Ilo where the British ships could neither close because of their deeper draft, nor fire without the chance of putting some shots into the town. The following day she surrendered to her own authorities.

Two years later the Huascar was in action again, this time as a regular member of the Peruvian navy in a war against Chile. She had been engaged on tip and run raids along the Chilean coast when she was caught between two divisions of Chilean ships and forced to fight, which she did most bravely although thoroughly outclassed. The most powerful of the Chilean ships were two Reed-designed belt-and-battery vessels, the Blanco Encelada and the Almirante Cochrane, of 3,500 tons mounting three 12-ton Armstrong guns each side of their armoured batteries. The first to attack held her fire until within 700 yards of the monitor, then unleashed a broadside, one of whose shells pierced the Huascar’s side armour below the turret and, exploding inside, jammed it temporarily and put paid to a number of men working the training gear. Shortly afterwards she hit the conning tower, blowing the captain to pieces, and then came in to ram, failing twice, but pouring in fire at point blank range which pierced the turret and the side armour again. Then she was joined by her sister ship and the Huascar, turning as if to ram and missing by only a few yards received another fearful broadside which completed the shambles within her turret and between decks. With dead and mutilated bodies lying everywhere and both guns’ crews destroyed some of the crew ran on deck waving white towels. In all the Huascar had been hit by 27 heavy shells out of 76 fired; two had penetrated the 5½-inch turret armour from point blank range, and five others had passed through the thinner hull armour and exploded within, an exhibition of decisive gunnery creditable both to the Armstrong guns and the Chilean crews, although these had been under no pressure after the first accurate broadside, and had done their most fatal work at extremely close range. Perhaps most significant (but apparently unnoticed) were the ramming failures.

The German Way of War

The German Way of War
From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich
Robert M. Citino

Death of the Wehrmacht
The German Campaigns of 1942
Robert M. Citino

Since the earliest days of the German state, a unique military culture had evolved, a German way of war. Its birthplace was the kingdom of Prussia. Starting in the seventeenth century with Frederick William, the Great Elector, Prussia’s rulers recognized that their small, relatively impoverished state on the European periphery had to fight wars that were kurtz und vives (short and lively). Crammed into a tight spot in the middle of Europe, surrounded by states that vastly outweighed it in terms of manpower and resources, it could not win long, drawn-out wars of attrition. From the start, Prussia’s military problem was to find a way to fight short, sharp wars that ended in a decisive battlefield victory. Its conflicts had to unleash a storm against the enemy, pounding it fast and hard.

The solution to Prussia’s strategic problem was something the Germans called Bewegungskrieg, the “war of movement.” This way of war stressed maneuver on the operational level. It was not simply tactical maneuverability or a faster march rate, but the movement of large units like divisions, corps, and armies. Prussian commanders, and their later German descendants, sought to maneuver these formations in such a way that they could strike the mass of the enemy army a sharp, even annihilating, blow as rapidly as possible. It might involve a surprise assault against an unprotected flank, or both flanks. On several notable occasions, it even resulted in entire Prussian or German armies getting into the rear of an enemy army, the dream scenario of any general schooled in the art. The goal was Kesselschlacht: literally, a “cauldron battle,” but more specifically a battle of encirclement, one that hemmed in enemy forces on all sides before destroying them through a series of concentric operations.

This vibrant and aggressive operational posture imposed certain requirements on German armies: an extremely high level of battlefield aggression and an officer corps that tended to launch attacks no matter what the odds, to give just two examples. The Germans also found over the years that conducting an operational-level war of movement required a flexible system of command that left a great deal of initiative in the hands of lower-ranking commanders. It is customary today to refer to this command system as Auftragstaktik (mission tactics): the higher commander devised a general mission (Auftrag), and then left the means of achieving it to the officer on the spot. It is more accurate, however, to speak, as the Germans themselves did, of the “independence of the lower commander” (Selbstandigkeit der Unterfiihrer). A commander’s ability to size up a situation and act on his own was an equalizer for a numerically weaker army, allowing it to grasp opportunities that might be lost if it had to wait for reports and orders to climb up and down the chain of command.

It wasn’t always an elegant thing to behold. Prussian-German military history is filled with lower-level commanders making untimely advances, initiating highly unfavorable, even bizarre, attacks, and generally making nuisances of themselves-at least from the perspective of the higher command. There were men like General Eduard von Flies, who launched one of the most senseless frontal assaults in military history at the battle of Langensalza in 1866 against a dug-in Hanoverian army that outnumbered him two to one; General Karl von Steinmetz, whose impetuous command of the 1st Army in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 almost upset the entire operational applecart; and General Hermann von Francois, whose refusal to follow orders almost derailed the East Prussian campaign in 1914. Although these events are nearly forgotten today, they represent the active, aggressive side of the German tradition, as opposed to the more thoughtful, intellectual approach of Karl Maria von Clausewitz, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, or Helmuth von Molkte the Elder. Put differently, these hard chargers in the field tended to elevate the strength of the commander’s will over a rational calculus of ends and means.

Indeed, although Bewegungskrieg may have been a logical solution to Prussia’s strategic problem, it was hardly a panacea. The classic illustration of its strengths and weaknesses was the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Frederick the Great opened the conflict with a classic front-loaded campaign, assembling an immense force, seizing the strategic initiative by invading the Austrian province of Bohemia, and pounding the Austrian army in front of Prague with a series of highly aggressive attacks. Unfortunately, he also pounded his own army in the process. When the Austrians sent an army to the relief of Prague, Frederick attacked it too, at Kolin. It may have been his own fault, or it may have been due to an overambitious subordinate commander (a general named, of all things, von Manstein), but what Frederick intended as an attack onto the Austrian right flank turned into a frontal assault against a well-prepared enemy who outnumbered him 50,000 to 35,000. The Prussians were mauled and retreated in disarray.

Frederick was now in serious trouble. The Austrians were resurgent, the Russians advancing, if ponderously, from the east, and the French moving on him from the west. He retrieved the situation by some of the most decisive victories of the entire era. First he crushed the French at Rossbach (November 1757), where another ambitious subordinate, the cavalry commander Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz (who, like Manstein, would also have a namesake general in World War II), played the crucial role, actually maneuvering his entire cavalry force across the march route of the French army. Then, at Leuthen in December, Frederick’s keen gift for operational maneuver resulted in the whole Prussian army dramatically appearing on the perpendicular against a weakly defended Austrian left flank and a shocked Austrian high command. Finally, in August 1758, he warded off the Russians at Zorndorf, a murderous and close-fought battle that saw him march his entire army clear around the Russian flank to attack it from the rear.

Frederick had saved himself, for the moment, with classic examples of short, lively campaigns. But with his enemies refusing to make peace with him, the overall situation remained dire. The alliance facing him was huge and had many times his own number of men, cannon, and horse. His only way out now was to fight from the central position, holding secondary sectors with small forces (often commanded by his brother, Prince Henry), rushing armies to whatever sector appeared most threatened in order to bring the enemy to battle there and crush him. Even while Prussia sat on the overall strategic defensive, however, the army’s task was to remain a well-honed instrument of attack. It had to be ready for pounding marches, aggressive assaults, and then more pounding marches. It couldn’t destroy Frederick’s adversaries, either singly or collectively. What it had to do instead was to land such a hard blow against any one of them-France, let us say-that Louis XV might well decide that seeking another round with Frederick wasn’t worth the money, time, or effort, and therefore decide to drop out of the war. It wasn’t an easy mission for the Prussian army, especially because the incessant attacks it launched in the first two years of the war had dulled its edge, with casualties among the officers and elite regiments being especially high.

Prussia fought all its succeeding wars in similar fashion. It opened them by attempting to win rapid victories through the war of movement. Some, such as the October 1806 campaign against Napoleon, misfired horribly. Here the Prussian army deployed aggressively, far out on a limb to the west and south. It was an ideal spot to initiate offensive operations as Frederick the Great might have conceived them. Unfortunately, Frederick was long gone, his generals were in many cases well into their eighties, and they were now facing the Emperor of the French and his Grande Armee, two forces of nature in their respective primes. Prussia paid the price at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstadt. It was Bewegungskrieg of a sort. Unfortunately, all of the Bewegung was performed by the French.

Other Prussian campaigns succeeded beyond their commanders’ wildest dreams. In 1866, General Helmuth von Moltke’s dramatic victory at the battle of Koniggratz essentially won the war with Austria just eight days after it began. The main action in the war with France in 1870 was similarly brief. Prussian troops crossed the French border on August 4 and fought the climactic battle of St. Privat-Gravelotte two weeks later. Major operations in this war ended with an entire French army, and the emperor Napoleon III, bottled up in Sedan and smashed from all compass points simultaneously, perhaps the purest expression of the Kesselschlacht concept in history.

The year 1914 was the major test for the Prussian (and now the German) doctrine of making war. The opening campaign was an immense operation involving the mobilization and deployment of no fewer than eight field armies; it was the brainchild of Count Alfred von Schlieffen, the chief of the General Staff until 1906. Like all German commanders, he had set a general operational framework (usually labeled, incorrectly, the Schlieffen Plan). What he most certainly did not do was to draw up any sort of detailed or prescriptive maneuver scheme. That, as always in the German way of war, was up to the commanders on the spot. The opening campaign in the west came within an inch of winning a decisive operational victory. The Germans smashed four of France’s five field armies, nearly trapping the final one at Namur. They came far closer to winning the war than historians have generally assumed, but eventually came to grief at the battle of the Marne in September 1914.

The failure at the Marne was the decisive moment of World War I. For German staff officers and commanders alike, it felt as if they had returned to the time of the Seven Years’ War. All the ingredients were there. There was the same sense of being surrounded by a coalition of powerful enemies. There was the same sense that the army would never be as powerful as it had been before the bloodletting of that first autumn. Its new commander, General Erich von Falkenhayn, went so far as to tell Kaiser Wilhelm II that the army was a “broken instrument” incapable of winning any sort of annihilating victory. Most problematic was the locking of the western front into trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, and a solid wall of backing artillery. This was no longer mobile Bewegungskrieg, but its exact opposite, what the Germans call Stellungskrieg, the static war of position. With both armies hunkered down in trenches and hurling shells at one another, it was by definition a war of attrition, and that was a conflict that Germany could never win.

Even now, however, there was a sense that Germany’s only hope lay in driving one of its opponents out of the war. Although the Germans did indeed become experts at defensive war, warding off a nearly constant series of Allied offensives, they also launched repeated offensives of their own, attempting to restart the war of movement that German officers continued to view as normative. For the most part, these offensive operations targeted the Russians, although there were huge offensives in the west in both 1916 (against Verdun) and 1918 (the so-called Kaiserschlacht, or “Kaiser’s battle,” of the spring). There were also large-scale offensives against the Romanians in 1916 and the Italians at Caporetto in 1917. It is significant that the post-1918 professional literature of the German army, the weekly Militar- Wüchenblatt, for example, spent almost as much time studying the Romanian campaign, a classic example of a rapid Bewegungskrieg, as it did the much larger campaigns of trench warfare in the west. Those four long years of trench warfare exhausted the German army and eventually ground it down, but they did not change the way the German officer corps viewed military operations.

It should be clear by now that the Wehrmacht’s situation after 1941, ringed by powerful enemies who vastly outnumbered it, was nothing particularly new in German military history. There were unique aspects of this war, such as Hitler’s vast plans for European and world empire, his racialism and eagerness to commit genocide, and the willing participation of the Wehrmacht itself in the crimes of his regime. On the operational level, however, it was business as usual. The Wehrmacht, its staff, and its officer corps were all doing what the Prussian army had done under Frederick the Great and what the Kaiser’s army had done under generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. Until the end of the war, it sought to land a resounding blow against one of its enemies-a blow hard enough to shatter the enemy coalition, or at least to demonstrate the price that the Allies would have pay for victory. The strategy failed, but it certainly did its share of damage in those last four years, and it retained enough sting to the very end to give British, Soviet, and American commanders alike plenty of premature gray hairs.

Although launching repeated offensives in order to smash the enemy coalition failed in the end, no one at the time or since has been able to come up with a better solution to Germany’s strategic conundrum. A war-winning strategy? Not in this case, obviously. The optimal one for a Germany facing a world of enemies? Perhaps, perhaps not. An operational posture consistent with German military history and tradition as it had unfolded over the centuries? Absolutely.

Twenty-Fourth Tank Corps of 1st Guards Army in the Tatsinskaya Raid, December 1942




Red Christmas
The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid 1942

On 19 November 1942 Soviet forces launched their carefully prepared counter-offensive against the over-extended German, Rumanian, and Italian forces which had pushed to the frontiers of Asia. By 24 November the Red Army had encircled the German 6th Army, elements of the 4th Panzer Army in Stalingrad itself and to the west, destroyed the 4th Rumanian Army, pushed back the 3rd Rumanian Army to the River Chir and created a gap between the Germany Army Group B in the north and Army Group A in the Caucasus. On the same day Hitler declared that Stalingrad was to be a `fortress’, to maintain its position relying on air resupply which Goering had promised with colossal over-optimism.

This air resupply line presented a clear parallel with the railway lines of former wars. The German forces in the pocket required 600 tonnes of resupply for normal existence with 300 tonnes as the bare minimum. Bad weather, Soviet anti-aircraft guns, and fighters combined to prevent even this being attained, the average daily delivery being just over 100 tonnes. From the relative safety of the Germany Army Group, or so the Germans thought, `Don’ aircraft would leave Tatsinskaya airfield, with about 40 kilometres to the next field south of Morozovsk, then another 40 to one south of Chernishkovskiy, and then 150 kilometres over Soviet-held territory to the beleaguered pocket itself.

During the course of the November counter-offensive the Soviet Supreme High Command had initiated plans for a more wide-ranging operation by forces of the South-West Front and the left wing of the Voronezh Front to destroy the enemy on the middle Don and to pursue the offensive towards Kamensk and Rostov. This operation was to be called `Saturn’, and involved the destruction of the 8th Italian Army, the operational group `Hollidt’ and the remnants of the 3rd Rumanian Army. However, the offensive by the Germany Army Group `Don’ with the aim of relieving Stalingrad, which began on 12 December forced the Soviet High Command to revise its plan. Instead of a deep strike against Rostov, the Soviets now planned to send their main forces south east to destroy Army Group `Don’. This was called `Little Saturn’. First and Third Guards Armies of the South-West Front would form two encircling pincers, one striking from south of Verkhny Mamon and the other from Bokovskiy, and converging on Tatsinskaya and Morozovsk. Sixth Army of the Voronezh Front (transferred to the SouthWest Front on 19 December) would support the main attack from the west. Tatsinskaya was a target both because of its nature as an air and rail communications centre and because of its position in relation to the forces engaged.

The Middle Don operation began on 16 December. The objective was to destroy the encircled enemy groupings on the southern bank of the Don by day four. The tank and mechanized corps would take the lead in particular 1st Guards Army’s 24th Tank Corps which was given Tatsinskaya as its objective to be taken by 24 December and 25th Tank Corps, targeted on Morozovsk, the other key airfield on the Stalingrad route. These objectives were clearly defined before the offensive, as was that of 6th Army’s 17th Tank Corps, which was to cover the right flank and drive for Kantemirovka. Seventeenth Tank Corps would then continue to the airfield at Millerovo, which it would attack in concert with 18th Tank Corps by 24 December.

Meanwhile, from 12 December, prior to the operation, Soviet Front aviation (17th Air Army) launched attacks on Millerovo and Tatsinskaya airfields and the railroad junction at Likhaya. Immediately before the operation they attacked Tatsinskaya, Morozovsk and the railroad between the latter and Likhaya. Night bombers attacked enemy headquarters and reserves.

First Guards Army was deployed in two echelons for the attack, the three Tank corps (18th, 24th, 25th) forming the second `breakthrough exploitation echelon’. The Tank Corps themselves were also deployed in two echelons before their insertion. Eighteenth and 25th Corps were committed to battle on 17 December and 24th Corps on 18 December. The latter coincided with the collapse of 8th Italian Army two days after the beginning of the Soviet offensive. Twenty-fourth Tank Corps under Major-General Badanov tore into the gap created by the Italian collapse and on towards its distant objective. By 19 December, 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th Tank and 1st Mechanized Corps were cutting through German support elements and driving south-east in order to cut off the enemy’s withdrawal routes to the south-west.

German air made strenuous efforts to check the swift advance of 24th and 25th Tank Corps. On 24 December alone the Luftwaffe launched 500 sorties against 25th Tank Corps. By this time, the mobile groups were over 100 kilometres ahead of their supporting infantry, and had covered a total distance of up to 240 kilometres.

Supplies for the Stalingrad pocket were brought into Tatsinskaya by both air and rail. They were stockpiled on the airfield and at the train station. Defending this key point were some 120 men of 62nd infantry division. The Germans had, apparently, realized that Soviet mobile forces might interrupt operations, but requests to move the airlift further west were refused. There were 180 Ju-52 transport planes on the field which, together with the He-111 bombers at the Morozovsk airfield, comprised the entire airflift capability for the Stalingrad pocket. At 0530 on Christmas Eve the tank corps’ artillery opened up with a brief barrage, after which Soviet tanks rushed the airfield.

Twenty-fourth Tank Corps launched a concentric attack, – indeed, Marshal Rokossovskiy later commented on the corps’ widespread use of enveloping movements. Fourth Guards and 130 Tank brigades attacked Tatsinskaya from the line of march simultaneously from the north-west, east and south. A tank battalion from 130 brigade attacked the station and destroyed 50 German aircraft with all their fuel. Immediately afterwards, tanks overran the airfield proper from north and south, shooting up aircraft or driving over them. Fifty-fourth Brigade attacked the outskirts of Tatsinskaya town from the west and by the evening of 24 December the German forces surrounded in the area had been destroyed. However, some 124 aircraft managed to take off and a proportion of the Germans got away. Nevertheless, the effect on the already inadequate Stalingrad airlift was noticeable.

The Germans reacted swiftly. On 24 December, even before the airfield and surrounding area was completely in Soviet hands, an advance detachment of 6th Panzer division recaptured the area north of Tatsinskaya. Sixth Panzer closed in, with 11th Panzer and 306 Infantry Division moving in from the east. By 27 December 24th Tank Corps had been encircled, and frantic radio messages in clear calling for 1st Guards Army to come to the rescue of the corps were to no avail. The corps had been refuelled from motor fuel and lubricants captured at the airfield but was dreadfully short of ammunition. An urgent radio message from Badanov on 27 December, and by 2300 hours on the same day Soviet aircraft had dropped 450 artillery shells, 4,500 rounds of rifle and 6,000 of submachine gun ammunition. The official restricted Soviet General Staff deductions from the operation considered that it had only been possible to drop such limited quantities of ammunition because no provision had been made in advance for the resupply of a corps engaged in exploitation of a breakthrough, although `the possibility of fighting in an encirclement had to be expected’.The General Staff went so far as to assert that `had it been possible for the Corps to receive larger quantities of ammunition it would have been quite able to bring into action its 39 T-34 and 19 T-70 tanks and hold out until the arrival of 25th Tank and 1st Guards Mechanized Corps which, by 29 December, had moved into the areas of Kachalin and Lesnoy. 140 By the night of 28 December 24th Tank Corps had no working tanks left and was running out of ammunition. The final hours were savage, the wounded on both sides freezing to death where they fell. Some of the Soviet troops, including general Badanov himself, managed to escape and rejoin their own forces; the rest perished.

Vatutin, commanding the South-West Front, ordered 25th Tank and 1st Guards Mechanized Corps to relieve Badanov, but it was too late. However, 24th Tank Corps’ achievement was undeniable. According to Soviet sources, in the ten days (18-27 December) of the operation the Corps killed over 11,000 enemy troops, destroyed 84 tanks and 431 aircraft. It also took 4,800 prisoners although it is not known what the Russians did with them and how, or whether, they were evacuated from the battle zone. The corps was renamed 2nd Guards Tank Corps during the final desperate hours of the fight at Tatsinskaya and on 27 January 1943 received the honorific title `Tatsinskiy’. Its destruction was a tactical reverse for the Russians but the corps was not such a large element of its parent army that its loss was unbearable. `The vacuum created by the loss of Italian 8th Army still existed and the destruction of 24th Tank Corps only eliminated the vanguard of one of the South-Western Front’s advancing armies.’ The corps had been the spearhead of a thrust which, if successful, could have isolated Army Group A which was actually of greater military importance than the Stalingrad airlift. The Germans were also trying to relieve the Stalingrad pocket simultaneously and diverting 48th Panzer Corps against Tatsinskaya left only 57th Panzer to attempt to break the Stalingrad encirclement. The Russians were therefore able to use all their available reserves in the immediate Stalingrad area against the relief attempt. The synergic effect of a Mobile Group penetration and main forces operations is thus emphasized.

On the other hand, the way the Germans dealt with 24th Tank Corps’ penetration is exemplary with a view to countering such deep attack formations in future. First, the Tank Corps (Mobile Group) was isolated from its parent forces (1st Guards Army) and, indeed, from any other OMG-type formations operating in the enemy depth (25th Tank Corps, for example). Next, it was fixed in place while information was obtained about its composition and nature, and simultaneously encircled. Finally, it was eliminated by a series of `well planned, simultaneous and co-ordinated combined arms attacks’. This denied the Soviet commander the opportunity to shift forces to deal with a succession of attacks. These attacks, by their violence and speed, also capitalized on the psychological vulnerability of a force surrounded and cut off in the enemy rear. On the other hand, the fact that they were `deep in a hostile land’ and had `no alternative’, as Sun Tzu realized, almost certainly made the Russians fight harder – until they ran out of ammunition, at any rate.

Twenty-fourth Tank Corps was not strongly reinforced with other arms of service: only an extra Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment and Rocket Launcher battalion were attached. Had it been more strongly reinforced with infantry, artillery, engineer, or other specialist units, its ability to fight in the enemy depth would have been enhanced significantly. Substantial, dedicated air support would also have increased its resilience. The need to reinforce deep-penetration formations and increase self reliance was reorganized and acknowledged in the official General Staff deductions from the experience, published in autumn 1943. As well as acknowledging the potential value of air resupply organized in advance, the General Staff noted that most of the corps experienced shortages of motor fuel because the distance between supply bases and advanced mobile formations reached unexpected lengths although the most advanced of all, 24th was able to top up its reserves from the airfield it captured. The General Staff also noted that the Corps’ organic equipment was insufficient for salvaging brokendown transport or fighting vehicles. The experience suggested `the necessity for reinforcing Corps operating far away from and without direct contact with the main forces with salvage companies equipped with powerful tractors’.

The General Staff also drew lessons for the handling in battle and overall composition of mobile groups. In most cases, they had been inserted while the enemy was still holding out and this led to unacceptable casualties: 25th Tank Corps, for example, lost 27 tanks on unreconnoitred minefields. The corps had not been supported by aircraft in the breakthrough phrase: in future, such co-operation should be planned on an army or front scale. When mobile forces were acting in the operational depth, fighter and ground-attack aircraft should be controlled by the Tank or Mechanized Corps commander. The experience also taught that the Tank or Mechanized Corps’ action was bound to achieve more success if their initial successes were exploited and consolidated by infantry. Motorized infantry or cavalry should therefore be organized for this purpose. In order to insure the continuous effectiveness of a thrust throughout the entire depth of the operation, Tank and Mechanized Corps should be merged into one mobile group comprising several corps (not less than two, at least one mechanized and the rest tank) and this group should be committed by echelons – two or even three. It would be more difficult to form and weld together an improvised Headquarters than in the case of infantry, and this suggested that Tank Corps Headquarters should be configured and receive their battle training as component parts of mobile groups. The train of thought leading to larger mobile groups and Tank Armies is clear:

The operation carried out by the South West Front in the Middle Don area serves as an example of such employment of Mobile Groups. The experience has shown that an operation o f this kind can be accomplished only by a group o f Corps placed under a unified command or merged into one Tank Army.

German WWII Destroyer – Z 10 Hans Lody


Origin of the Name

On the outbreak of the First World War, Oberleutnant zur See (Reserve) Hans Lody, who had been declared medically unfit for military service, immediately volunteered for espionage duty. He arrived in England posing as an American, but he was soon arrested: the network of German secret agents in Britain had already been betrayed and eliminated. Lody was executed by firing squad for espionage at the Tower of London on 6 November 1914. Until 1945 a plaque in his honour was to be found at the gate of Lübeck fortress.


Z 10 was a Type 1934A ship commissioned on 17 March 1938 by her commander,  Korvettenkapitän Karl Jesko von Puttkamer. She ran her speed trials over the measured mile off Neukrug between 30 November and 3 December 1938, achieving 37.8 knots from an output of 65,000shp at 370rpm per shaft.

Attached to 8. Zerstörerdivision, she joined the Fleet after working up and formed part of the escort and homecoming celebrations for the Condor Legion (Spanish Civil War) veterans on 30 May 1939. In August 1939, Korvettenkapitän Puttkamer was appointed Hitler’s Naval ADC and replaced by Korvettenkapitän Freiherr Hubert von Wangenheim.

After three day’s blockade duty off Danzig at the outbreak of war, Z 10 transferred into the North Sea to help lay the Westwall defensive minefield. While she was loading, a mine exploded, killing two and wounding six of her crew. During October, in company with Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and 6. Torpedobootflottille, Z 10 inspected neutral commerce in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, often in severe weather. In the operation of 27–29 October she suffered storm damage and lost one man overboard with three injured.

Hans Lody sailed on two offensive minelaying operations against the British coast, on 18 November to the Thames estuary and on 6 December off Cromer, where, with Z 12 Erich Giese,she fought a torpedo action against two British destroyers, one of these, Jersey, being hit and damaged. On 9 December Z 10 sailed to Wesermünde for a refit and did not emerge until 22 May 1940. Once operational she returned to Trondheim, and on 3 June was attached to the Fleet for ‘Juno’. During the sortie she torpedoed and sank the troop transport Orama (19,840grt), the largest ship to be sunk by a German destroyer. With Admiral Hipper, she returned to Trondheim on 8 June with survivors from the British vessels sunk.

On 13 June 1940 Lody was damaged in an air raid aimed at Scharnhorst and returned to Kiel for repair, but she was back on the 20th in time to join Z 7, Z 15 and the torpedo boats Greifand Kondor, escorting Scharnhorst to Deutsche Werke. After a call at Wilhelmshaven, she returned to Trondheim in company with Z 5 Paul Jacobi to escort home, on 25 July, the damaged battleship Gneisenau. During a course change in the Kattegat on the 27th there was a minor collision between Gneisenau and Z 10. After completion of the escort, Z 10 transferred to Wilhelmshaven, from where, on 9 September she steamed to the western end of the English Channel with Z 6, Z 14, Z 16 and Z 20 preparatory to Operation ‘Seelöwe’.

Z10 took part in the minelaying operation off Falmouth on 28 September 1940, and on 10 October, during an air raid at Brest, she received shrapnel damage and lost two crew dead and seven wounded to strafing. On 17 October she sortied into the Bristol Channel and received two shell hits from the enemy cruiser and destroyer force. Korvettenkapitãn Werner Pfeiffer was appointed Lody’s third commander in November 1940.

In the skirmish with five British destroyers off Plymouth on 29 November, Z 10 suffered splinter damage and was raked by anti-aircraft fire. On 5 December she left Brest in company with Z 20 Karl Galster for a refit at Wesermünde.

After leaving the yards in April 1941, Lody joined the Bismarck escort in the Great Belt on 19 May and was released into Trondheim on the 22nd, returning from there to Wesermünde. Between 11 and 14 June she helped to escort the torpedoed heavy cruiser Liit-zow from Egersund to the repair yard. On 1 July she sailed with 6. Z-Flottille to Kirkenes and carried out various escort duties, reconnaissance sorties and anti-shipping operations with the her sister ships before returning to Wesermünde at the end of September with boiler damage.

On 15 May 1942, together with Z 4, Z 27 and Z 29, Hans Lody escorted Lützow to Trondheim in Operation ‘Walzertraum’, arriving on the 20th and transferring with her northward to Altafjord on 2 July. While anchoring in Gimsöystraumen with Theodor Riedel and Karl Galster she grounded in uncharted shallows, as a result of which her double bottom was ripped open, the port shaft seized and both propellers received damage. After refloating, the two destroyers returned to Trondheim for survey and emergency repair, and on the 27th both were towed to Deutsche Werke, Kiel. The damage to Z 10 was so extensive that her decommissioning was seriously considered. Korvettenkapitän Karl Adolf Zenker was appointed commander in August 1942.

A boiler room fire broke out during engine trials on 15 February 1943, and not until 22 April was Lody sufficiently battleworthy to return to operations in Norway. Meanwhile Kapitän zur See Hans Marks had been appointed her fifth commander.

Lody was part of the force which dispossessed the Soviets of Spitzbergen between 6 and 9 September. While leaving Altafjord on 21 November, she collided with Erich Steinbrinck.Korvettenkapitän Kurt Haun was appointed commander in November 1943.

The period until April 1944 was spent on escort and minelaying missions out of southern Norwegian ports, and on 3 May that year Z 10 was laid up at Germania Werft, Kiel, for a refit that lasted until 18 February 1945. While working up in the Baltic afterwards she was attached temporarily to Admiral K-Verbände, the command organisation for the various one- or two-man midget submarines. Once more or less operational again on 5 April, Lody ran escort duties from Copenhagen to the Skagerrak, and on 5 May she sailed from Copenhagen to the Hela peninsula to embark refugees, returning in the huge convoy of 7 May with about 1,500 aboard. On the 9th, in company with Z 6, she was removed to Kiel, where she decommissioned the following day.

On 10 May 1945, under Royal Navy command but with German engine-room personnel, Hans Lody proceeded to Wilhelmshaven. On 6 January 1946 she arrived at Portsmouth as experimental vessel R 38, German engine room staff being requested of the Naval Officer Commanding, Wilhelmshaven, on the 19th, presumably to help operate the complicated machinery. The ship was scrapped at Sunderland three years later.



‘Lufthaus B’


The Luftfaus in a transport case with preloaded ammunition cartridges. ‘Lufthaus B’


The rounds were fired in two stages with a 0.2 second gap between salvos. ‘Lufthaus B’

In 1945 the Luftfaust was designed by ‘Hugo Schneider’ of Leipzig and by the end of that year the German army were ready to field test the weapon system. The early version ‘Luftfaus A’ had only four shorter barrels however in this article we will be looking at the ‘Lufthaus B’

One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the German military during World War II managed to develop a significant number of weapons that were precursors to many of the most impressive weapon technologies of modern warfare today. One of those weapons, the Luftfaust, was a precursor to the MANPADS, or MAN Portable Air Defense System, weapons like the Stinger, Blowpipe, or Strella. The Luftfaust, or “Air Fist”, was a recoilless shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled anti- aircraft weapon developed during the last year of the war, with large orders placed that would have marked a significant change in German weapons technologies had the war lasted another year or two. If the war had lasted into 1947, German troops would have been armed with Stg. 44’s and a variety of rocket-propelled heavy support weapons, eliminating the need for most grenades, mortars, and machine guns.

There were two versions of the Luftfaust developed. The first version was the Luftfaust-A. This weapon consisted of a bundle of four launch tubes, each capable of launching a small 2 cm diameter rocket fitted with a 90 gram projectile with a 19 gram explosive warhead. Fired in salvo, these little rockets reached a maximum velocity of 380 m/s. Unfortunately, test firings showed that while the rockets had sufficient range, they did not have sufficient dispersal inside a target kill circle to be effective against aircraft.

This lead to the Luftfaust-B, which used longer launch tubes and more of them. The Luftfaust-B mounted nine launch tubes, each 1.5 meters long, with the entire launcher assembly weighing in at 6.5 kg. When fired, the nine rounds would launch in a salvo, 0.2 seconds between each round, allowing them to form a 60 meter diameter kill pattern at a range of 500 meters, sufficient to shoot down aircraft of the day. Though heavy, the weapon produced no discernible recoil, and was fired much like a bazooka or panzerschrek, with the rear part simply laying on the shoulder.

Production of the Luftfaust-B began in March, 1945, with an order for 10,000 launch units and 4 million rocket rounds to fire through them. However, as the war concluded, only 80 were in service, being tested in combat field trials before official adoption occurred.

A weapon similar to the Luftfaust was developed as well. For ground attack aircraft, they developed the Fliegerfaust, or “Airplane Fist”. This was a hefty 6-barrelled launcher designed for mounted under the wings of aircraft. It fired six 3 cm rockets in salvo, fitted with warhead manufactured from the ammunition of the Maschinenkanone MK108, a 330 gram projectile filled with 75 grams of explosives.

While this weapon never advanced past trials, it did inspire the Hand-Fohn. This was a bundle of three launch tubes designed to fire the 7.3cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4609, a 3.2kg rocket with a 300 gram explosive warhead, capable of attaining a speed of 360 m/s. Again, these weapon never reached the prototype stage.

All three anti-aircraft systems relied on the concept of using terminally fuzed warheads to fill a 20 to 40 meter diameter sphere with sufficient shrapnel to damage or down a plane at 500 to 600 meters range.

The Fliegerschreck
The Fliegerschreck was by the end of the war almost ready for field trials and was to use a new form of ammunition that could be used by the Panzerschreck, which enabled the Panzerschreck to be used for both the anti aircraft and anti tank roles.
The new ammunition was to contain an explosive charge and 144 small incendiary sub munitions that would be fitted to a standard rocket motor. The new warhead was ready in 1945 however none were ever issued to front line troops.
The Fliegerschreck would incorporate a new AA sighting system similar to that used by the MG 42 Machine gun
World War II Data Book Hitler’s Secret Weapons 1933-1945 -ISBN 1906626871