HERBSTNEBEL – Special Forces

vdhardennes

Above is one of the rare pictures of this operation. Von Der Heydte is on the right, his arm injury clearly visible. In the center is Von Kayser and to the left is one of the jäger involved in the operation. The stress of the operation clearly shows on Von Der Heydte’s face. Von Der Heydte survived the war, returning to his law work and later the army in which he rose to the rank of general, dying in 1994. Von Kayser is also said to have survived the war, and became a famous ballroom dancer owning his own dance school in Germany!

As the Allies approached each other from east and west, the strain on this unholy alliance would grow insuperable. Canada, he predicted, would be the first to yank its troops from the theater. “World historical events have their ups and downs,” the Führer declared.

Rome would not be thinkable without a Second Punic War.… There would be no Prussia without the Seven Years’ War.… The palm of victory will in the end be given to the one who was not only ablest, but—and I want to emphasize this—was the most daring.

Toward that end he had a plan, originally code-named WACHT AM RHEIN, Watch on the Rhine, but recently renamed HERBSTNEBEL, Autumn Mist. This he would now disclose on pain of death to any man who betrayed the grand secret.

It had come to him as in a fever dream, when he was bedridden and yellow with jaundice in September. Brooding over what Jodl called “the evil fate hanging over us,” the Führer had again been hunched at his maps when his eye fixed on the same unlikely seam through the Ardennes that German invaders had already ripped twice in this century. A monstrous blow by two panzer armies could swiftly reach the Meuse bridges between Liège and Namur, carving away Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the north from the Americans in the south, and eradicating the enemy threat to the Ruhr. Destroying thirty divisions in the west would wipe out a third of the Anglo-American force, requiring Churchill and Roosevelt to sue for peace; conversely, exterminating thirty Bolshevik divisions in the east, among more than five hundred, could hardly deal a decisive blow. Therefore Germany’s destiny must, he proclaimed, be “sealed in the West.” As for the offensive’s ultimate objective, Hitler in a conference with his senior generals had abruptly blurted out a single word: “Antwerp.”

#

Crows or starlings might have been mistaken for German parachutists near Spa, but more than a thousand actual airborne troops were due to be dropped north of Malmédy on Null Tag to further disrupt American defenses.

Nothing went right for the enemy. Airdromes designated for training proved not to exist, half the Ju-52 pilots had never flown in combat, and many paratroopers were either novices or had not jumped since the attack on Holland in 1940. “Don’t be afraid. Be assured that I will meet you personally by 1700 on the first day,” General Dietrich had told the mission commander, Colonel Friedrich von der Heydte. “Behind their lines are only Jewish hoodlums and bank managers.” After confusion and blunders delayed the jump for a day, a howling crosswind on Sunday morning scattered paratroopers up to fifty kilometers from the drop zone. Two hundred jumpers were mistakenly dropped near Bonn, and American gunners shot down several planes. With a single mortar, little ammunition, and no functioning radios, von der Heydte rounded up three hundred men, who stumbled into a losing firefight before fleeing in small groups for the Fatherland; the colonel surrendered after briefly hiding outside Monschau. Two-thirds of the original thousand were killed or captured. That was the end of what proved the last German airborne operation of the war.

enemy-agents-2

As soon as the 17th Airborne Division hit the continent,the Counter Intelligence (CI) Section began work in earnest. The sifted through mounds of information and passed it on to the division’s units to keep them informed. In the wake of the saboteur/spy problem precipitated by Operation GREIF with Brigadenführer Oberst Otto Skorzeny commanding the 150th Panzerbrigade, everyone was on edge looking for traitors, saboteurs, spies and enemy agents. The division passed on information on suspected and confirmed citizens and soldiers who fit into these categories. Most were accompanied by name, description and in most cases, photos.

Operation GREIF, or “condor,” proved no more competent. Under the flamboyant Viennese commando officer Otto Skorzeny, 2,000 men had been recruited into the 150th Armored Brigade for behind-the-lines sabotage, reconnaissance, and havoc. Their motor fleet included a dozen Panthers modified to resemble Shermans, German Fords painted olive drab, and a small fleet of captured U.S. Army trucks, jeeps, and scout cars. Some 150 men who spoke English—only 10, mostly former sailors, were truly fluent in the vernacular—would lead raiding parties X, Y, and Z to seize three Meuse bridges. They were issued captured or counterfeit identification documents, as well as GI uniforms, many of which had been purloined from American prisoners under the pretext of disinfection. To mimic American cigarette-smoking techniques and other mannerisms, the men studied Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.

All for naught. Sixth Panzer Army’s troubles on the north shoulder disrupted Skorzeny’s timetable, and a set of GREIF orders discovered on a dead German officer alerted the Americans to skullduggery. First Army MPs on Monday, December 18, stopped three men in a jeep near Aywaille who were unable to give the day’s password; a search revealed German pay books and grenades. Four others on a Meuse bridge in Liège included a GI imposter who carried both the identification card of a Captain Cecil Dryer and the dogtags of a Private Richard Bumgardner. He and his comrades were found to be wearing swastika brassards beneath their Army field jackets. In all, sixteen infiltrators were swiftly captured in American uniforms and another thirty-five were killed without effecting a single act of sabotage on the Meuse. Most of Skorzeny’s brigade eventually was dragooned into battle as orthodox infantry near Malmédy, where inexperience and a lack of artillery led to heavy casualties. Skorzeny himself suffered a nasty head wound.

The sole accomplishment of GREIF was to sow hysteria across the Western Front. A voluble, imaginative German lieutenant captured in Liège claimed to be part of a team sent to kill Eisenhower. Colonel Skorzeny, he said, had already infiltrated American lines with 60 assassins. The ostensible figure quickly grew to 150, and rumors flew that they could be posing as GIs escorting several captured German generals to SHAEF headquarters. Soon hundreds of jeeps carrying suspected killers and blackguards had been reported crisscrossing France; more than forty roadblocks sprang up around the Café de la Paix in Paris, where Skorzeny and his henchmen were expected to rendezvous. Police bulletins described Skorzeny as six feet, eight inches tall—a considerable exaggeration—with “dueling scars on both cheeks,” supposedly incurred while brawling over a ballerina in Vienna. It was said that some infiltrators carried vials of sulfuric acid to fling in the faces of suspicious sentries; that many spoke English better than any GI; that they recognized one another by rapping their helmets twice, or by wearing blue scarves, or by leaving unfastened the top button of a uniform blouse. It was said that some might be costumed as priests, or nuns, or barkeeps. The Army official history dryly recorded that “Belgian or French café keepers who for weeks had been selling vin ordinaire, watered cognac, and sour champagne to the GIs were suddenly elevated by rumor, suspicion, and hysteria to captaincies in the Waffen SS.”

MPs at checkpoints sought to distinguish native English speakers from frauds with various shibboleths, including “wreath,” “writhe,” “wealth,” “rather,” and “with nothing.” Some asked the identity of the Windy City, since an intelligence report advised that “few Germans can pronounce Chicago correctly.” Other interrogatories included: What is the price of an airmail stamp? What is Sinatra’s first name? Who is Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend? Where is Little Rock? Robert Capa, burdened with a Hungarian accent and an ineradicable smirk, was arrested for failing to know the capital of Nebraska. Forrest Pogue, when asked the statehouse location in his native Kentucky, carefully replied, “The capital is Frankfort, but you may think it is Louisville.” When the actor David Niven, serving as an officer in 21st Army Group, was asked, “Who won the World Series in 1940?” he answered, “I haven’t the faintest idea. But I do know that I made a picture with Ginger Rogers in 1938.”

Cooks, bakers, and clerks were tutored in the mysteries of bazookas, mortars, and mines. Trigger-happy GIs gunned down four French civilians at a roadblock, and an Army doctor was shot in the stomach after answering a sentry’s challenge with, “You son of a bitch, get out of my way.” Promiscuous gunfire could be heard in Versailles near the Trianon Palace, now entombed in concertina wire, and a fusillade behind Beetle Smith’s house one night brought the chief of staff out in his pajamas, cradling a carbine. “We deployed into the garden and began shooting right and left,” Robert Murphy, a visiting diplomat, later recounted. “The next morning a stray cat was found in the garden riddled with bullets.”

With Skorzeny and his cutthroats presumed to be still at large, Eisenhower reluctantly agreed to move from the St.-Germain villa to smaller quarters near his office. Each day his black limousine continued to follow the usual route to and from SHAEF headquarters, but with the rear seat occupied by a lieutenant colonel named Baldwin B. Smith, whose broad shoulders, prominent pate, and impatient mien made him a perfect body double for the supreme commander.

German Schnellboot (S-boat)

schnellboot s80

Schnellboot S-80 torpedo boat

SB37

SB38

Camo

Operations with the Kriegsmarine

S-boats were often used to patrol the Baltic Sea and the English Channel in order to intercept shipping heading for the English ports in the south and east. As such, they were up against Royal Navy and Commonwealth (particularly Royal Canadian Navy contingents leading up to D-Day) Motor Gun Boats (MGBs), Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), Motor Launches, frigates and destroyers. They were also transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea by river and land transport. Some small S-boats were built as boats for carrying by auxiliary cruisers.

Crew members could earn an award particular to their work—Das Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen—denoted by a badge depicting an S-boat passing through a wreath. The criteria were good conduct, distinction in action, and participating in at least twelve enemy actions. It was also awarded for particularly successful missions, displays of leadership or being killed in action. It could be awarded under special circumstances, such as when another decoration was not suitable.

Schnellboote of the 9th flotilla were the first naval units to respond to the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord. They left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944.[5] On finding themselves confronted by the entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at maximum range and returned to Cherbourg.

During World War II, S-boats sank 101 merchant ships totalling 214,728 tons. In addition, they sank 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, eight landing ships, six MTBs, a torpedo boat, a minelayer, one submarine and a number of small merchant craft. They also damaged two cruisers, five destroyers, three landing ships, a repair ship, a naval tug and numerous merchant vessels. Sea mines laid by the S-boats were responsible for the loss of 37 merchant ships totalling 148,535 tons, a destroyer, two minesweepers and four landing ships.

In recognition of their service, the members of Schnellboot crews were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.

To the British and Americans these lethal boats were simply enemy boats, or E-boats.

To the Germans they were S-boots or Schnell boots simply fast boats. For a period during the Second World War they controlled a respectable portion of the Mediterranean Sea and a sizeable area of the English Channel, specifically the area between Smiths Knoll and The Wash called E-boat Alley. Any convoys venturing from the London docks north or the Firth of Forth south paid a penalty to the E-boats for doing so.

The Allies had their boats as well and in some way, they were similar. The British MTB (motor torpedo boat), the American PT (patrol-torpedo), and German E-boats were all heavily armed, capable of deploying either torpedoes or mines, and pound-for-pound some of the most dangerous vessels afloat. All of these vessels, including F-lighters and MAS boats were relatively small and unassuming. Far away; up close was a different matter.

By late in the war, E-boats in the Channel were painted a very functional combination of grays—probably to match the English weather. The hull, superstructure and bridge vertical surfaces were painted a pale gray. The deck, superstructure, and bridge and wheelhouse horizontal surfaces were painted a darker gray. This monochromatic theme with its ominous hints of darkness scattered about a 120-foot vessel made it appear, as it was, lethal.

The deck armament, compared to Pacific Theatre PT boats that carried everything except a re-enforced rifle company, was not exceptional. In the deck well forward was an Oerlikon 20mm cannon, mounted low in the hull. “Doorknockers” the crew called them for their remarkable inability to do anything to enemy vessels but announce the E-boats presence. In the center of the superstructure, just aft of the bridge was a twin mount 20mm gun with armored shield. Between amidships and the aft superstructure was a four-barreled 20mm gun, a 37mm gun, or a Bofors 40mm cannon. E-boats also carried 7.92 MG38 machine guns for anti-aircraft defense and close-quarter encounters. The 20mm guns, which constituted the bulk of the E-boats sting, were generally acceptable weapons under the right circumstances. They could pump out 240 rounds a minute with a maximum range of 12,000 meters, which gave enemy pilots reason to consider how best to approach an E-boat; and they seldom traveled alone. Doubling or tripling the 20mm rounds flying through the air, always made pilots a bit wary. Nothing increased one’s heart rate like a line of blazing green tracers coming straight toward one’s nose.

But two weapons in the E-boats arsenal kept convoy commanders awake at night. One was the E-boat’s torpedoes; the other was the E-boat’s speed. E-boats carried four torpedoes, two loaded in tubes (later E-boats had the tubes enclosed in the hulls); and two ready to be loaded—elapsed time to replace fired torpedoes, 45 seconds.

The second weapon available to the E-boat (with due respect given to the very capable 24-man crews that sailed them), were the three, supercharged Daimler-Benz 2500-hp engines. Subject to the vagaries of the sea, and the condition of the boats and engines, most E-boats could reach top speed of 42 knots, but for only 30 minutes at a time. Still, in the heat and confusion of battle, 30 minutes is a lifetime, and a short burst of power can mean a great deal to the attacker and the defender.

James Foster Trent, in his superb book E-Boat Alert: Defending the Normandy Invasion Fleet, points out two components of the E-boat’s secret weapon, her hull design and special rudders. The American and British torpedo boats were designed with a hard chine, or scooped out bottom. This concave construction is cost-effective and pulls the boat’s hull out of calm water at high—less contact, less drag, better speed. E-boats had a round bottom, which was costlier to produce but which gave it a speed advantage in rough seas. In place of rough seas insert: English Channel. Trent also points out just how effective the twin Lurssen rudders were. A PT boat roaring through the sea with the forward third of its hull suspended above the surface of the ocean and churning out an impressive wake, is a joy to watch. But it is not the most efficient means to move a boat through the water. The Lurssen Effect is created when two, small Lurssen rudders, mounted to either side of the main rudder and turned outboard, lowers the wake height, which, according to Trent “requires less energy, allowing the vessel to go faster.”

For a time E-boats (and smaller, slower but just as effective German coastal craft), controlled the English Channel. Contests between the British MTB, Coastal Command (air), and Coastal Forces (surface, and sometimes derisively known as Costly Farces), were deadly affairs with a third enemy taking its toll; the sea. Individual seamen often found themselves adrift after battles that might range over vast areas. In the best of weather a seaman might have a life expectancy of two hours in the cold water; other times, it was a matter of minutes.

As the war progressed and things began to go badly for the E-boats they sought refuge during the day in massive E-boat bunkers in Cherbourg, Boulogne or LeHavre; coming out at night to practice Lauertatik, simply loitering around at night near possible convoy lanes, waiting. If they were lucky they could return to base before dawn (the light was anathema to them; too many enemy aircraft), flying a Victory Pennant. The boats carried radar, not as effective as the enemy’s but still a defense against surface or air attack The Funkmessbeobachtungsgerat, or FuMB, was a passive detection unit, much like the early U-boats Biscay Cross. Its purpose was to detect the enemy’s radar impulses; thus alerting the E-boats to the presence of an unfriendly aircraft that was in turn, looking for them.

The Last Hurrah for E-boats was achieved quite by accident within sight of the English coast. Eight ships of Allied Convoy T-4 were scheduled to practice landings early on the morning of April 28, 1944. Slapton Sands in Lyme Bay was chosen because it closely resembled Utah Beach in Normandy to which the Americans had been assigned. A battalion of combat engineers and units of the 4th Infantry waited aboard their LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks, literally floating warehouses), for the exercise to begin when the first E-boats attacked. The LSTs were armed, but only with guns designed to withstand air attack, and the lone British destroyer attached to the convoy couldn’t protect the entire line of squat LSTs. E-boats raced in almost at will, firing their cannons and launching torpedoes. At a top speed of 12 knots, the men aboard their LSTs realized that the vessel’s nickname was apropos; Large Slow Targets.

Nearly a thousand men died, killed in the attack or drowned, including ten who had been “bigoted.” That is, they knew enough about the upcoming invasion to be of real value to the Germans, and of great concern to the Allies, if captured. There were no losses among the E-boats. This attack and the desperate shortage of LSTs added one more nightmare to the long list facing Allied commanders responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of men and thousands of ships across a narrow, inhospitable body of water. What about E-boats? The Luftwaffe had virtually been eliminated, the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine neutralized, and broad lanes had been, or would be, swept through the dense minefields in the Channel. The Channel was, despite the fact that the Allies controlled it, a haven at night for E-boats.

“The immediate threat on D-1 and D-Day,” Rear Admiral Alan J. Kirk, USN said, “is considered to be the E-boat, especially after nightfall.” In fleet defense, preemptory strikes and planning, action was taken to ensure that the E-boat threat to the invasion was destroyed. Lyme Bay had proved one thing to the Allied planners; these small, fast craft, let loose in even limited numbers within the invasion fleet, could cause a disaster.

There were no E-boats captured during the war and those that came in under their own power to the Allies or were towed in, did so reluctantly. You can not get predators to renounce their predilections because somewhere, someone signed a piece of paper. It is not in the natural order of things. But as the war ended and E-boats were carried away to be studied by the victors, those that fought against them remembered tumultuous seas and gray skies. And the deep rumble of approaching death.

They were indeed enemy boats.

Variants

The Schnellboot design evolved over time. The first had a pair of torpedo tubes on the fore deck.

S-2 class

The first productions of the S-Boat in 1931 which were based on S-1.

S-7 class

They firstly built in 1933 and 3 of them were sold to China.

S-14 class

The improvement of S-7 in 1934. The enlarged hull.

S-18 class

Wartime types were:

S-26 class

Entered service in 1940. 40 m hull. Torpedo tubes covered by forward deck.

S-30 class

S-38 class

S-38b class

Improved S-38 class with armoured bridge. Various armament including 40mm Bofors or 20mm Flak aft, MG34 Zwillingsockel midships

S-100 class

From 1943. 1 × 20 mm in the bow, 2 × 20 mm gun amidships and 37 mm gun aft.

S-151 class

Type 700

Late war design proposal with stern torpedo tubes and 30 mm gun turret forward. Eight boats built, but completed to S-100 design specification

LINK

Operation Airthief – the plan to hijack an Fw 190A

Fw_190A-3_JG_2_in_Britain_1942

Armin Faber’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 at RAF Pembrey, June 1942.

In June 1942, Oberstleutnant Armin Faber was Gruppen-Adjutant to the commander of the III fighter Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) based in Morlaix in Brittany. On 23 June, he was given special permission to fly a combat mission with 7th Staffel. The unit operated Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.
The FW-190 had only recently arrived with front line units at this time and its superior performance had caused the Allies so many problems that they were considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to capture one for evaluation.
7th Staffel was scrambled to intercept a force of six Bostons on their way back from a bombing mission; the Bostons were escorted by three Czechoslovak-manned RAF squadrons, 310 Squadron, 312 Squadron and 313 Squadron commanded by Alois Vašátko. A fight developed over the English Channel with the escorting Spitfires, during which Faber was attacked by Sergeant František Trejtnar (Czech) of 310 Squadron. In his efforts to shake off the Spitfire, Faber flew north over Exeter in Devon. After much high-speed manoeuvring, Faber, with only one cannon working, pulled an Immelmann turn into the sun and shot down his pursuer in a head-on attack.
Trejnar bailed out safely, although he had a shrapnel wound in his arm and sustained a broken leg on landing; his Spitfire crashed near the village of Black Dog, Devon. Meanwhile, the disorientated Faber now mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and flew north instead of south. Thinking South Wales was France, he turned towards the nearest airfield – RAF Pembrey. Observers on the ground could not believe their eyes as Faber waggled his wings in a victory celebration, lowered the Focke-Wulf’s undercarriage and landed.
The Pembrey Duty Pilot, one Sergeant Jeffreys, grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber’s aircraft as it taxied in. Faber was apprehended and later taken to RAF Fairwood Common by Group Captain David Atcherley (twin brother of Richard Atcherley) for interrogation.

#

By the spring of 1942 the Fw 190 had become an uncomfortably sharp thorn in the side of RAF Fighter Command. Obviously, if an airworthy example of the Fw 190 could be captured and its secrets probed, that would be of inestimable value. Capt. Philip Pinckney, a British commando officer, hatched a daring plan to gain that end.

In an operation of this type, two men might succeed where more might fail. Pinckney suggested that his good friend Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot at the Supermarine Company, should accompany him on the enterprise.

The essentials of the plan were as follows. On Night 1 a Royal Navy motor gunboat, equipped with direction-finding radio, was to carry the pair to a point within about two miles of a selected beach on the French coast, where they would disembark into a folding canoe. The pair would paddle ashore, hide their boat in sand dunes and lie up during the following day. On Night 2 the pair would move inland to within observation range of the selected Fw 190 airfield, and hide up before dawn. During the daylight hours the pair would keep the airfield under observation and plan their attack. On Night 3 the pair would penetrate the airfield defences by stealth, and conceal themselves as near as possible to one or more Fw 190s at their dispersal points. The pair would then wait until the next day, when the ground crew arrived to run the engine of one of the fighters.

The pair would then break cover, shoot or drive away the ground crewmen, and Jeffrey Quill would jump into the cockpit and taxi the machine to the runway. As he did so, Pinckney would be outside the plane warding off any attempt to interfere with the operation. Once Quill was safely airborne, Pinckney would withdraw to a previously prepared hide. On Night 4 he would return to the hidden canoe. Just before dawn he would launch the craft and paddle out to sea, making radio transmissions so that the motor gunboat could home on the craft and pick him up.

Yet in a remarkable coincidence, on the very day Pinckney submitted his proposal, the need for this risky operation disappeared. On the afternoon of 23 June an Fw 190 pilot had become disorientated in a dogfight with Spitfires over southern England. He mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and made a wheels-down landing at Pembrey airfield, south Wales [above]. Thus, the RAF gained the coveted example of an Fw 190, without having to resort to the risky ‘Airthief operation.

Fw 190 – Entry into service In March 1941

rfgtrgttgh

hrthjyu

trhsththr

Oberleutnant Otto Behrens assumed command of Erprobungsstaffel 190 based at Rechlin- Roggenthin. The unit received six pre-production Fw 190A-Os and its brief was to test the new tighter under service conditions. The pilots and ground crews assigned to the Erprobungstaffel were drawn from II. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 26, and the latter unit was earmarked to receive the first production Fw 190s when these became available.

During early service trials the Fw 190A-0 exhibited a number of serious shortcomings. The new BMW 801C engine suffered from overheating, although not to the same extent as the BMW 139. The engine’s automatic fuel control system also gave trouble. For a given throttle-setting, set by the pilot, this automatic system should have established the optimum relationship between aircraft altitude, fuel flow, fuel mixture, engine revolutions, supercharger gear selection, propeller pitch setting and ignition timing. The system did not work reliably at first, but a string of modifications over a long period reduced the problems to an acceptable level.

In June 1941 the first four production Fw 190A-1s emerged from the Marienburg factory. By August, monthly production reached 30 aircraft. The first two aircraft off the Arado/Warnemunde production line were delivered in August, and the first two from the AGO/Oschersleben plant followed in October. The initial production version carried an armament of four MG 17 7.9-mm machine-guns, two on top of the forward fuselage and two in the wing roots, with all four synchronised to fire through the airscrew.

By the end of September 1941 the Luftwaffe had accepted a total of 82 Fw 190A-1s. One Gruppe, II./JG 26 based at Moorseele in Belgium, had re-equipped with the new fighter and deliveries had started to III./JG 26 based at Liegescourt in northern France.

British intelligence

By this time the British Air Ministry had received vague and contradictory evidence as to the existence of the new German fighter. The Air Ministry Weekly Intelligence Summary dated 13 August 1941. a secret document issued to all RAF units and made available to all officers and aircrew, carried the following report:

“A certain number of these new fighters have been produced, hut information is very scanty. The general design is said to be based on American practice and the aircraft is probably a low-wing monoplane with a fairly short fuselage and a span of about 30 feet. This new aircraft is fitted with a two-bank radial, an engine of the same type as that in the Dornier 217. It is definitely known that this particular machine had to be fitted with an auxiliary mechanically-driven fan to keep the engine temperatures within reasonable limits. It is also reported that it is equipped with a very large airscrew and that the undercarriage is extraordinarily high in order to give the necessary ground clearance. Rough estimates show that the speed of the Fw 190 is somewhere between 370 and 380 mph at 18-20,000 ft.”

Although brief, the report was accurate except in two respects. The propeller fitted to the Fw 190 was not particularly large. Also, and more importantly, the report underestimated the maximum speed of the Fw 190 by about 30 mph (48 km/h).

Soon after II./JG 26 commenced combat patrols in September, the RAF pilot’s reports began to mention encounters with a new German fighter type. Following action on 18 September, a combat report noted the destruction of “a Curtiss Hawk (or Fw 190)”. Almost certainly the aircraft was the Fw 190 flown by the commander of II./JG 26, Hauptmann Walter Adolph, who was shot clown and killed on that day.

Three days later, while escorting Blenheim bombers attacking the power station at Gusnay near Bethune, the Polish No. 315 Squadron reported that its Spitfires had destroyed “one unknown enemy aircraft with a radial engine”. Almost certainly this was the Fw 190 of Lieutenant Ulrich Dzialas, who was lost at that time.

The evidence mounted slowly, and more months elapsed before the RAF Intelligence Sevice committed itself to a positive identification of the new German fighter. In the issue dated 29 October 1941 the Weekly Intelligence Summary stated: “In recent weeks a radial-engined type of fighter has been reported as a French aircraft, the Bloch 151, and as a new type of German fighter, the Fw 190. There is as yet insufficient evidence to say with certainty what the new aircraft is”.

By the beginning of 1942 RAF Intelligence had at last established beyond doubt that the aircraft was indeed the Fw 190. Also, from the reports of disgruntled fighter pilots who encountered it in combat, it became clear that the radial-engined Fw 190 was a formidable opponent. It had a dear margin in performance over the Spitfire Mk V, the best aircraft RAF Fighter Command then had available.

Even after it began flying combat missions the Fw 190 continued to suffer from engine overheating. Sometimes this led to fires in flight and, following losses to this cause, an edict was issued forbidding pilots to fly over the sea beyond gliding range from the coast. Despite that difficulty, the Fw 190 proved a formidable adversary. In the months that followed the RAF learned to its discomfort that the new German fighter had the edge in performance over any of its operational types.

Final Assault on the Reichstag

A total of 89 heavy artillery guns and Katyusha rocket launchers were trained on the Reichstag for a thunderous barrage before the infantry stormed it, turning the structure into a ruin.

When the Reichstag was finally taken on 30 April 1945, Soviet soldiers swarmed through its elegant hallways to scrawl graffiti recording their presence, and their feelings about the Germans.

By the evening of the 28th April 1945, Marshal Zhukov’s lead forces were preparing the final assault on the Reichstag. Chuikov’s Eighth Guards advanced from the south, Berzarin’s Fifth Shock Army with 11th Tank Corps from the east, and Kuznetsov’s Third Shock Army the unit designated to make the actual seizure – from the north-west. The spearhead unit from Third Shock was General S. N. Perevertkin’s 79th Rifle Corps. They had two major obstacles to overcome before they reached the Reichstag building. First, the Moltke Bridge would have to be seized and a crossing of the Spree forced. To this task was assigned 171st Rifle Division. Then, after the corner building on the opposite Kronprinzenufer had been cleared, the 171st would have to join the 150th Division in neutralising the huge complex of the Ministry of the Interior – ‘Himmler’s House’ – which was expected to mount a terrific resistance. Late on the 28th, the Germans attempted to blow the Moltke Bridge, but the explosion left the centre section hanging precariously in place. The Soviet soldiers tried to force a crossing but were driven back by murderous fire from German pillboxes. Shortly after midnight, however, two Soviet battalions succeeded in blasting their way through the barricades and across the bridge, where they proceeded to clear the surrounding buildings to allow a crossing in force.

At 0700 hours the next morning, Soviet artillery began a 10-minute pounding of ‘Himmler’s House’. Mortars were also hauled up to the second floor of a next-door building and fired point-blank through the windows. The infantry began the assault, but it was another five hours before they managed to storm into the complex’s central courtyard. The fighting was intense and vicious. Close-range combat was pushed from room to room and up and down the stairways. Finally, at 0430 hours on 30 April, the Ministry of the Interior building was secured, and the Red Army troops began taking up their positions for the storming of the Reichstag.

While this battle raged, just a few hundred yards away, the last Fuhrer-conference was getting underway in the bunker. General Weidling reported on the situation, sparing nothing in his description of the city’s, and the Third Reich’s, plight. There was virtually no ammunition left, all of the dumps being now located in Soviet-occupied sectors of the city; there were few tanks available and no means for repairing those damaged; there were almost no Panzerfausts left; there would be no airdrops; an appalling number of the ‘troops’ left defending the city were red-eyed youngsters in ill-fitting Volkssturm uniforms, or feeble and frightened older men or those who had been earlier deemed unfit for military service. It was inevitable, Weidling told Hitler, that the fighting in Berlin would end soon, probably within a day, with a Soviet victory. Those present reported later that Hitler gave no reaction, appearing resigned to his fate and the fate he had inflicted on the country. Still, when Weidling requested permission for small groups to attempt break-outs, Hitler categorically refused. Instead he glared dully at the situation maps, on which the locations of the various units had been determined by listening in to enemy radio broadcasts. Finally, around 0100 hours, Keitel reported to the Fuhrer that Wenck was pinned down, unable to come to the Chancellery’s aid, and that the Ninth was completely bottled up outside the city. It was over. Hitler made his decision to kill himself within the next few hours.

Around noon on the 30th, the regiments of the l50th and l7lst Rifle Divisions were in their start positions for the attack on the Reichstag. In a solemn though brief ceremony, several specially prepared Red Victory Banners were distributed to the units of Third Shock Army which, it was thought, stood the best chance of being the first to hoist it over the Reichstag. In l50th Division, one banner was presented to 756th Rifle Regiment’s. First Battalion, commanded by Captain Neustroyev; another went to Captain Davydov’s First Battalion of the 674th Regiment; a third to the 380th’s First Battalion, led by Senior Lieutenant Samsonov. Banners were also given to two special assault squads from 79th Rifle Corps, both of them manned by elite volunteer Communist Party and Komsomol (Young Communist League) members.

At 1300 hours, a thundering barrage from 152mm and 203mm howitzers, tank guns, SPGs, and Katyusha rocket launchers – in all, 89 guns – was loosed against the Reichstag. A number of infantrymen joined in with captured Panzerfausts. Smoke and debris almost completely obscured the bright, sunny day. Captain Neustroyev’s battalion was the first to move. Crouching next to the captain, Sergeant Ishchanov requested and was granted permission to be the first to break into the building with his section. Slipping out of a window on the first floor of the Interior Ministry building, Ishchanov’s men began crawling across the open, broken ground towards the Reichstag, and rapidly secured entrances at several doorways and holes in the outer wall. Captain Neustroyev took the rest of the forward company, with their Red Banner, and raced across the space, bounding up the central staircase and through the doors and breaches in the wall. The company cleared the first floor easily, but quickly discovered that the massive building’s upper floors and extensive underground labyrinth were occupied by a substantial garrison of German soldiers. One floor at a time, they began attempting to reduce the German force. The task uppermost in everyone’s mind was to make their way to the top and raise the banner; the soldiers who succeeded in this symbolic act, it had been promised, would be made Heroes of the Soviet Union. Fighting their way up the staircase to the second floor with grenades, Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya managed to hang their battalion’s banner from a second-floor window, but their efforts to take the third floor were repeatedly thrown back. It was 1425 hours.

Immediately after the beginning of the attack on the Reichstag, German tanks counter-attacked against the Soviet troops dug in around the Interior Ministry building. The 380th Regiment, which had been attempting to storm the north-western side of the Reichstag, came under withering fire and was forced to back off and call for help from an anti-tank battalion. Meanwhile, on the second floor, Captain Neustroyev radioed a request for a combat group to support his men and ordered them to clean out the German machine-guns still on the second floor. Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya were entrusted with the banner once again, and the battalion readied for the battle to take the third floor.

Towards 1800 hours, another strong assault was launched up into the third floor of the Reichstag. This time the Red Army infantrymen succeeded in blasting their way through the German machine-gun positions. Three hundred Soviet soldiers now occupied the German parliament building but a much larger number of heavily armed German soldiers remained in the basement levels. However, the Soviets enjoyed the better position and after a number of tense hours, in the early morning hours of 1 May – the Soviet workers’ holiday, and the target date for their conquest of Berlin – they finally cleared the remaining Germans from the building. Even before all German opposition had been wiped out, at 2250 hours, two Red Army infantrymen climbed out onto the Reichstag’s decimated roof and hoisted the Red Victory Banner. Berlin was under the control of the armies of the Soviet Union.

Infantry Fighting Vehicle Puma

The Puma is an Infantry Fighting vehicle developed in Germany to replace the aging fleet of German Marder IFVs. The vehicle is considered to be one of the most well protected and heavily armored IFVs in the world. The Puma also offers substantial firepower, mounting a 30 mm autocannon in an unmanned turret. The Puma is currently in production through a joint venture by the German military companies, Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann at a unit cost of $7 million each. The first production Pumas were delivered to the German army in early 2015 and the total order for 350 vehicles are scheduled to be delivered in full by 2020.

The baseline Puma curbside weight is 69,000 pounds (31.5 tonnes), with the fully loaded combat weight increasing to 94,500 pounds (43 tonnes). The vehicle is approximately 24 feet (7.6 m) in length, 12 feet (3.9 m) wide with baseline armor and 11.5 feet (3.6 m) in height to the top of the turret. Operated by a crew of 3, the driver, commander and gunner are all positioned in the chassis, with the turret being unmanned. The vehicle can also accommodate a compliment of 6 dismounts. With the chassis mounted on a hydropneumatic suspension system and powered by a 1100 hp MTU V10 892 diesel engine the vehicle has a power to weight ratio of 23.3 hp/ton at its full combat ready weight. The Puma can attain a maximum road speed of 42 mph (70 km/hr) and possesses a 360 miles (600 km) operational range with on-board fuel.

The Puma design is optimized for modularity, permitting the baseline vehicle to be reconfigured to meet a broad range of mission requirements. In this regard it is similar to the German-Dutch designed Boxer. The main intended combat roles are as an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), as a fire support vehicle (IFV) and as an air defense platform. To permit mission role modifications the vehicle was configured with a high weight reserve to accommodate the necessary associated mission equipment. The vehicle front, floor and sidewalls remain unchanged during configuration change while the rear cabin area can be replaced with alternate mission modules.

WEAPON SYSTEMS

The main weapon of the Puma is a 30 mm MK30-2/ABM autocannon, which is mounted in an unmanned turret. The ABM suffix indicates Air Burst Munitions, which the cannon is able to fire to engage low flying and slow moving air targets, such as helicopters. The autocannon can fire at a rate of 200 rounds per minute, and has an effective target engagement range of over 3000 yards.

The illustration above shows the details of the unmanned turreted system.

The German government expressed a preference for the 30 x 173 mm caliber autocannon over the 25 mm Bushmaster (as mounted on the M2 Bradley and LAV III vehicles) as the 30 mm rounds offered substantially improved armor penetration as compared to the 25 mm ammunition autocannon. While a heavier weapon than the 25 mm, the 30 mm autocannon is substantial lighter when compared to the alternative of the much heavier Bofors 40 mm gun, as mounted on the Swedish CV9040. Like the 25 mm autocannon the 30 mm cannon is also belt-fed, while the Bofors 40 mm utilizes 24 round magazines. The 30 mm rounds however are larger than 25 mm rounds, therefore reducing the net number of rounds that can be carried in a given space. Though in the case of the 30 mm round as compared to the 25 mm round, the penalty is not high. The Puma stores 400 rounds for the autocannon within the unmanned turret.

The autocannon is equipped with a dual ammunition feed system similar to the 25 mm autocannon. The two ammunition styles available for the autocannon are armor piercing (AP) and air burst. The AP round is an APFSDS-T and is able to effectively engage soft targets, medium armored vehicles and infantry concealed behind barriers. The air burst round is described as the multi-purpose Kinetic Energy-Timed Fuse (KETF) munition. When used for anti-aircraft engagements the round will detonate and discharge a cone of sub-munitions at the fuse setting position. The firing of ammunition occurs on a shot-by-shot selection, with no round being loaded into the breach until the gunner pulls the fire trigger, allowing for high flexibility in target acquisition.

View of main weapon, showing armor around gun barrel and associated sites. Commander’s site can be seen on the top of the turret, the gunner’s site sits below this (with blue circle). To the right (with the white circle) is one of the many drivers navigation cameras positioned around the turret and vehicle.

The Puma has significant enhanced situational awareness technologies integrated with the unmanned turret. This includes stabilized 360° periscopes for the gunner and commander with built-in therma vision and a CCD camera with zoom features. The gunner is additionally provided a thermal vision camera and laser range finder. The driver is provided with an image intensifier and 5 externally mounted cameras which offer extensive viewing capabilities outside of the vehicle. All camera outputs are fed into the on-board imagery display units which offer full views of the vehicle surroundings at all crew stations as well as in the troop compartment where applicable (i.e., APC variant). The intent is that the troops are able to play an active role in situational awareness, identifying possible targets and threats for the vehicle crew.

The secondary weapon is a coaxially mounted 5.56 mm HK MG4 machine gun, with the unmanned turret allowing for a 30 calibre and 50 calibre option as well. The MG4 fires at 850 rounds per minute to an effective range of 1,000 yards. The smaller calibre round was selected over the traditional 30 calibre (7.62 mm) machine gun as the weapon is lighter than a 7.62 mm weapon. The lower ammunition weight means more ammo can be carried. As well the 5.56 mm calibre ammunition is equivalent to that used by the rifles of the crews and troops, permitting them to use the vehicle ammunition if required. There are 2,000 rounds of 5.56 mm ammunition stored in the vehicles unmanned turret.

The unmanned turret of the Puma is also equipped with a EuroSpike LR missile launcher. The system carries two missiles which can be used to engage Main Battle Tanks, helicopters, buildings and infantry in bunkers. The missiles have an effective range of 4000 yards and are “Fire and Forget” technology, meaning that the missile will track the identified target once fired without continual direction from the gunner being required.

Puma with class B (ballistic) armor and class SC (shaped-charged) armor kits applied over frontal arc and along the sidewalls of the vehicle. Note relatively large exposed engine air inlet grill on right hand side of vehicle, which is comparatively unprotected and vulnerable to mobility kill fire.

PROTECTION SYSTEMS

The Puma is considered to be among the best armored IFVs currently in production, making effective use of geometry and available add-on armor systems. Constructed from welded steel the hull has been designed with a minimum of oblique angled on the contoured hull surfaces to avoid bullet traps. The baseline hull is designed to permit flexible mounting of externally applied add-on armor to meet a range of mission profiles. The primary AOA is IBD AMAP composite armor. The baseline armor protects the vehicle and occupants from Russian 14.5 mm AP rounds. The frontal arc of the vehicle also has additional AMAP class B (B for ballistic) armor applied to provide protection against medium calibre kinetic energy threats up to 30 mm cannon fire. The frontal arc and the sides of the Puma have additional up-armored kits available for when a heavy combat operational theatre is anticipated. These kits consists of AMAP class SC (SC for Shaped Charge) armor, which provides protection against shaped charge warheads. These include cannon fired HEAT rounds and RPGs.

With a mass-efficiency of 8-10 as compared to RHA (i.e., provides 8-10 times protection than RHA for a given weight) the AMAPS class SC armor has excellent multi-hit capability. The class SC is able to defeat more than one threat impact on a given module, which is untypical of shaped charge defeating armor. The class SC also provides the vehicle with additional protection against KE rounds and IEDs. AMAP-SC is not an Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) system, but rather is passive, with no explosives used. Therefore impact to a module does not constitute a threat to dismounted infantry, as is the case with ERA based shaped charged defeating armor systems.

The baseline vehicle hull is also equipped to mount a softkill Active Protection Systems designed to defend the vehicle against ATGMs. The Germany Army intends to eventually equip its Pumas with the Multifunktionales Selbstschutz-System (Multifunction Self Protection System), or MUSS, softkill system, which is currently under development. The roof of the Puma is protected against overhead artillery threats and mortar fired bomblets, and the vehicle offers anti-tank mine blast protection from threats of up to 10 kg TNT equivalent. The vehicle is also protects the occupants from Projectile Forming plate thrower mines.

The crew and vehicle dismounts are situated in seating that is suspended from the roof of the vehicle. This seating arrangement reduces forces experienced by the occupant as a result of a mine blast event, preventing or reducing the associated resulting injuries. This seating arrangement also ensure that there is no direct contact between the seat and its occupant with the vehicle floor, preventing injury to the occupant’s lower limbs. In the event of a mine blast event the crew and troops are able to rapidly egress from the vehicle through side-sliding styled roof hatches, which are easier to open than the lift-swinging style hatches.

The Puma was designed to produce a low infrared signature to make it more challenging for an enemy to identify and target, and for heat guided missiles to acquire target lock-on. The low IR signature was attained by applying IR-suppressing paint to the vehicle surface and by mixing the engine exhaust with fresh air to reduce its temperature. The temperature reduced exhaust in then venting through the rear of the vehicle which conceals the heat signature from an enemy in front of a forward facing Puma. Smoke grenade launchers are provided standard, discharged manually by the vehicle driver as deemed required to reduce visible and IR signature of the vehicle.

The fuel tanks of the vehicle are mounted on the exterior to remove the threat to the crew of potential fuel ignition in the event of an overmatch by an Armor Piercing – Incendiary (AP-I) round or shaped charge warhead. While dual externally fuel tanks increase the probability of being able to maintain mobility following a mine blast event and to therefore move beyond the immediate threat area (a feature common on many APC/IFVs).

Germany to Upgrade Infantry Fighting Vehicles in $1.2 Billion Contract

The upgraded vehicle’s fusion mode capability will help to detect camouflaged targets making this the first western vehicle equipped with such a capability.

The German military has signed a more than 1 billion euro ($1.2 billion) contract to upgrade 154 Puma infantry fighting vehicles, Rheinmetall announced in a statement.

The PSM GmbH consortium, co-owned by Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, will begin the upgrade this month and is expected to complete it in 2029.

Option of Additional Upgrade

The contract also includes an option to upgrade an additional 143 Puma vehicles at a cost of 820 million euros ($973 million).

The upgrade will modernize the vehicles according to the S1 design.

Meanwhile, 40 of Germany’s Pumas out of a total of 350 have already been upgraded to the S1 standard, the statement revealed.

The S1 Standard

The upgrade will see the vehicles being retrofitted with “standoff-capable effectors like the MELLS multirole lightweight guided missile system.”

Additionally, the vehicle will be fitted with additional sensors “such as the new driver’s vision system and an improved command-and-control architecture.”

The driver’s vision system allows the crew to “see through the armor, day and night,” which is not possible through the present periscope system, Rheinmetall explained.

Early Detection of Camouflaged Targets

The upgraded vehicle’s fusion mode capability will allow it to combine “daylight vision with a high-quality thermal image,” helping in the early detection of camouflaged targets, day or night. This is the first western vehicle equipped with such a capability as a standard feature, the statement added

Meanwhile, the S1 version is part of the German Military’s System Panzergrenadier, or mechanized infantry plan, which will see a digitized platform such as the S1 vehicle being linked with a soldier system featuring digital radio technology.

Flers-Courcelette 15 Sept 1916

IWM-Q 5574 THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 1 JULY - 18 NOVEMBER 1916 MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION PRODUCTION DATE: 15 September 1916 MAKER: Brooke, J W (Lt) DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Flers Courcelette 15 - 22 September: A 'C' Company Mark I (C19 Clan Leslie) in Chimpanzee Valley preparing for action. Haig had 49 tanks available but due to mechanical problems only 18 went forward in small groups with the advance. Other Description: A 'C' Company Mark I tank (C. 19 "Clan Leslie") Chimpanzee Valley, 15 September 1916. Tanks first went into action on this day.

flers0001

On 1 July 1916 the British began a massive offensive against German positions along the Somme. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig unleashed this offensive prematurely, in large part to respond to a desperate appeal by the French for a diversion to draw off German forces from Verdun. The Battle of the Somme developed into the deadliest engagement of the entire war. In fighting from July to November it claimed some 1.2 million men on both sides.

Despite the horrific casualties of the first day on the Somme, Haig continued the offensive in the belief that his men could indeed break through the German lines and end the war. Desperate for anything that might tip the balance, Haig called on the tanks, even though but few were available. Swinton opposed their deployment before they were available in sufficient numbers and the crews could be properly trained. But he was promptly overruled and replaced, not the last of the tank pioneers to be thus treated.

The men of the new force operated under the cover of the Armored Car Section of the Motor Machine-Gun Service. Many of those who were recruited to operate the new machines had little knowledge of soldiering. Training in driving (first with Little Willie), gunnery, and rudimentary tactics went forward, but one tank commander who took part in the subsequent attack on the Somme later wrote:

I and my crew did not have a tank of our own the whole time we were in England. Ours went wrong the day it arrived. We had no recon naissance or map reading . . . no practices or lectures on the compass . . . we had no signalling . . . and no practice in considering orders. We had no knowledge of where to look for information that would be necessary for us as Tank Commanders, nor did we know what information we should be likely to require.

Some of the men and their machines were then shipped to France. As a consequence of the feverish efforts to prepare for action, many of the crewmen were completely exhausted before they even got into battle. On the night of 13 September, the drivers, guided by white tape on the ground, with the tanks creating considerable amazement for those who watched them, moved into their assembly areas.

Shortly after first light on 15 September 1916, a new chapter in warfare opened when the tanks went into action. Of 150 Mark I tanks, only 59 were in France when Haig made the decision to employ them, and of these only 49 actually reached the front. Plagued by mechanical problems abetted by nervous crewmen, only 35 tanks reached the line of departure; 31 crossed the German trenches, and only nine surmounted all problems and pushed on ahead of the infantry.

The Tanks on the Somme. 15th September 1916.

przekroj_mark_I_tank

D Company, 2 section, with NZ Division, XV Corps, 3rd Army

D Company, 2 section intended to get 8 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

2 Section, Capt Nixon G

D8, 720, 2Lt Bown, HGF

D10, 535, 2Lt Darby H

D11, 547, 2Lt Pearsall HG

D12, 719, Capt Nixon G

Notes:

2 section also had two other tanks which were detached and operated with other units on the 15th September 1916.

Orders

2 Section was to support the New Zealand Division

Zero was 06:20. The tanks were to reach Switch Trench five minutes before the infantry and thus enable their advance. En route 535 and 547 were to turn right along Crest trench and help clear it of the enemy; 719 would turn right upon reaching Switch trench and clear the lower half of it of opposition, these three tanks would then rendezvous at the southern end of Fish Alley. Meanwhile 720 was to move right, cross Switch Trench and cover the infantry who would be consolidating in front of it.

The advance was to halt at Switch Trench until 7:20am, partially to allow the tanks to assist with mopping up.

Account of operations

The tanks arrived late and followed the infantry over the German front line, which had already been captured, the infantry making use of the lane left in the barrage to push forward.

The advance resumed, and despite enfilading fire dorm each flank the infantry swiftly capturing their second objective, Fat Trench and the upper part of Fish Alley. A further advance was now halted in front of the heavily wired and well defended Flers Line which lay in between the second and third objectives. 535 continued northwards in an attempt to support this attack but was hit and Knocked out at M36c.2.6.

547 and 720 advanced either side and probably a little to the rear of 535. At 10:30 547 advanced into the centre of the Flers Line and enfiladed the twin trenches with MG fire, the infantry rapidly advanced over the crushed wire and captured the position. 720 meanwhile, may have done much the same on the extreme left of the Division, all the while probably firing on the Germans on the Division left who had not been silenced by the unsuccessful attack of the 47th Division.

719 advanced on the extreme right of the division, catching the infantry up at the second Objective, where Fat Trench abutted Flers trench. At 9:15am, at the request of the infantry, the tank moved into the depression to the south west of Flers and silenced enemy Mgs ensconced in a farmhouse there. The tank then moved towards Flers, its steering was damaged by shell fire and then tank then ditched, at M36d.9.9, whilst attempting to withdraw. More shells hit the tank, it caught fire and was burnt out.

The New Zealanders, possibly with the assistance of 547 and two other tanks, were able to capture Grove Trench, and two field guns therein. The trench could not be held due to the failure of the attacks on either flank and the infantry withdrew and consolidated on the Blue Line, 547 ignored the general order for all tanks to withdraw and remained behind to cover the consolidation, eventually withdrawing into Flers after dark.

Summary

Intended: 4

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 4

Ditched / Broke Down: 0

Hit and Knocked out: 2

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

 

C Company, 1 section, with 2nd Canadian Division, Canadian Corps, 3rd Army

C Company, 1 section, intended to get 6 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

C Company, 1 section, Capt Inglis AM

C1, 709, “Champagne”, Lt Wheeler AGC

C2, 522, “Cognac”, Lt Bluemel FW

C3, 701, “Chartreuse”, 2Lt Clark SDH

C4, 503, “Chablis”, 2Lt Campbell GOL

C5, 721, “Creme de menthe”, Capt Inlis AM

C6, 504, “Cordon Rouge”, 2Lt Allan J

Notes:

Trevor Pidgeon gives C1 the number 721, this must be a Typo. Inglis’ report (in the Canadian Divisions War Diary) states it was number 709.

Orders

Northern Group, 709, 522, 504, were to cross the Canadian front line about R35a.0.3. and then follow sugar trench to R30c.5.3, immediately north of the factory. They were to help cover the left flank of the advancing infantry, assist in mopping up and, once at the Sugar factory, deal with any MGs therein or in Courcelette

Southern group 721, 701, 503, to start from near Pozieres Windmill, advance down the road to the sugar factory, one tank on the road and one 30 yards either side of it. The tanks were to proceed to R36a.5.5 where, at z + 43 mins a male tank was to detach itself and assit the infantry in capturing the ruins. The other two tanks, a male and a female, were meanwhile to continue down the road to Candy trench at R36a.8.7 then follow the trench down towards Martinpuich. Once the infantry had gained their final objectives the tanks were to return and rally.

Account of operations

522 and 709 both started on time, at Zero, and advanced along routes close to one another. 522 was faster and ditched at R35a.3.9 ten minutes before 709 ditched at roughly the same location. 522 was unditched but ditched again permanently at R29b.5.1. Both crews attempted to unditch their machines whilst under fire, 709’s crew gave up after four fruitless hours and abandoned the tank, the driver being killed in the unditching attempt. 522’s crew worked all day but were also unable to save the tank which was abandoned.

504 meanwhile entered no mans land and, under heavy fire, advanced along Sugar trench silencing several Mgs therein thus enabling the infantries advance. The tank reached R30c.5.3, north of the Sugar factory and joined in the latter part of the attack on the factory blocking the Germans escape route.

701 ditched and 503 threw a track, both thus failed to reach the start point.

721 reached the start point at 2am and started forward at Zero, having been joined by 2Lt Campbell but having lost one of its tail wheels to an enemy shell.

The tank was possibly photographed and filmed whilst advancing: IWM FLM 2044, X1.p129

The infantry advanced well ahead, the tank eventually catching them up in the Sugar Factory where it helped subdue the defenders with 6pdr and MG fire. The Germans in the factory surrendered, 721 and 504 returned down the Albert Road, 721 laying 400 yds of cable en route, both tanks rallied.

The infantry launched a further attack in the afternoon and captured Courcelette village.

Summary

Intended: 6

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 2

Ditched / Broke Down: 2

Hit and Knocked out: 0

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

The tanks were thus far from impressive in their debut, mostly because they were too widely dispersed and not used according to any plan. Their crews were also not well trained, and there was the spate of breakdowns. Regardless, the few tanks that did get into action had a profound impact on Haig; five days after the attack he urgently requested 1,000 more. Haig also demanded the establishment of a new central office charged with improving their fighting ability. Even before the end of the Battle of the Somme, Haig had created the Tank Corps Headquarters.

The Sylwester offensives

panther

captured-shermans-used-by-frundsbert-january-1945

7tharmymap2

The main Nordwind attack by the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the Saar Valley went badly from the start. On January 5, 1945, a few of the monstrous Jagdtigers from schwere-Panzerjager-Abteilung 654, accompanied by a captured M4 medium tank, supported the attack near Rimling. An M36 90mm GMC from the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion carefully moved into a flanking position and at a range of 900m, put a single armor-piercing round into the side of Jagdtiger number 134, causing an internal ammunition fire which destroyed the vehicle in a catastrophic explosion, blowing off the superstructure sides.

The failure of the Ardennes offensive convinced Hitler that some new tactic had to be employed when dealing with the Allies. Instead of a single large offensive, Hitler decided to launch a series of smaller, sequential offensives. As a result, some German commanders called the Alsace campaign the “Sylwester offensives” after the central-European name for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The departure of Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army – which was soon to be renamed the Sixth SS Panzer Army – did not mark the end of the participation of Waffen-SS panzer divisions against the Western Allies.

In tandem with his plan to strike into the Ardennes, Hitler had long dreamed of pushing into Alsace and retaking the border city of Strasbourg. Army Group G was to strike south in Operation North Wind, with the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the lead, in order to outflank the city. The division was rebuilt after being heavily battered around Metz in November 1944 and bolstered with the delivery of 57 StuG IIIs in early December. When the attack began on New Year’s Eve, the Waffen-SS division achieved the deepest penetration of the American lines until strong counter-attacks halted it. The main assault by Sturmgruppe 1, Simon’s 13. SS-AK with the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division and the 36. Volksgrenadier-Division, ran into the deep defenses of the 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions in the Saar Valley. A narrow penetration was made towards Rimling and Achen, but in general, the attack in this sector was stopped dead in its tracks with heavy casualties. Sturmgruppe 1 had very little success in bringing up its armored support due to the poor road conditions and the weather. On the night of January 3 the offensive in this sector was halted.

Panzer support in Alsace was weak, since so many units had been shipped to the Ardennes sector. The only mechanized unit earmarked for the initial Nordwind attack was 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Gotz von Berlichingen,” a formation that had been in continual combat with the US Army since Normandy, and which had been burnt out and rebuilt on several occasions. The neighboring army commanders felt that its main problem was poor leadership, and it had lost several divisional commanders and numerous junior commanders during the autumn. The field army staff labeled the current commander as incompetent. Its main armored element, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was equipped mostly with assault guns instead of tanks, with 45 StuG III assault guns, three PzKpfw III command tanks, six Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles, and four Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwinds on hand, of which 84 percent were operational. The SS-Panzerjager-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was similarly equipped with 31 StuG III assault guns, two Jagdpanzer IVs, one Marder III and eight towed 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns; only 67 percent of the vehicles were operational with many of the old StuG III assault guns being worn out or damaged in combat. Their strength was later increased by 57 assault guns that arrived after Christmas, but the reinforcements had been sitting out in the open for months and only a few could be rendered serviceable before the attack. The division’s two Panzer grenadier regiments were burned out and at less than half strength in the middle of December, but some additional troops were received in the last week before the offensive, mainly of “an inferior type” of German (ethnic Germans from eastern Europe). Senior officers at AOK 1 were so unimpressed by the poor performance of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the autumn fighting that they wanted to strip it of its assault guns to re-equip the 21. Panzer-Division, but Berlin refused.

Three days of heavy fighting followed in which the division’s commander, SS-Standartenführer Hans Linger, was captured when he took a wrong turn near the frontline as he drove in his command Volkswagen.

General der Panzertruppe Karl Decker’s 39. Panzer-Korps had been allocated the 10. SS-Panzer-Division to spearhead a breakout from the Gambsheim bridgehead, and the Panzers had begun their transfer over the river by ferry from the Freistatt area on January 15/16 after dark. The division set up headquarters in Offendorf and planned to begin their assault with a tank attack by I./SS-Panzer Abteilung 10, equipped with about 50 PzKpfw IVs and over 40 Panther tanks. The German tank attack collided with a two-pronged American attack. Combat Command B attempted to push into Herrlisheim again from the north, while at the same time, Combat Command A launched two attacks from the south. The attacks began in the pre-dawn hours of January 17 and did not go well for either side. In the early morning fog, the German tank column took heavy losses to US tank guns on the approach to Herrlisheim and withdrew to Offendorf. The American attacks against the northern corner of Herrlisheim and against the Steinwald failed with heavy losses. The 43rd Tank Battalion moved between Steinwald and Herrlisheim, taking anti-tank fire from both locations, but managed to fight its way into Herrlisheim from the south. The tanks and their supporting infantry and engineers came under unrelenting attack by German infantry armed with Panzerfaust rockets. The battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Novosel, radioed back that “Things are hot” but radio contact then went dead. The 23rd Tank Battalion was instructed to reorient its attack towards Drusenheim farther to the north, passing through Herrlisheim in the process, but was stopped cold on the outskirts of the town by heavy fire without linking up with the infantry.

Back at Offendorf, the 3./SS-Panzer-Abteilung 10 under the regimental adjutant Obersturmbannführer Erwin Bachmann, set off again for Herrlisheim with a Panther tank company. They knocked out or captured most of the remaining Sherman tanks still in Herrlisheim; Bachmann was later awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions that day. By the end of the day the 12th Armored Division headquarters had no idea of the fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion; the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion positions in Herrlisheim were overrun in the pre-dawn hours of January 18 and the battalion commander captured. The following day, the 12th Armored Division sent a rescue party to find any survivors from the missing 43rd Tank Battalion or 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, but they were brusquely pushed back by heavy German fire. An artillery spotter plane discovered a field full of charred Shermans south of Herrlisheim so further attacks were called off. In February, when the area was retaken by the US Army, 28 destroyed Shermans of the 43rd Tank Battalion were found in and around the town. The 10. Panzer-Division had captured more than ten Shermans and these would later serve with the division when it was sent east to fight the Red Army in February.

The 10. SS-Panzer-Division had no more luck over the next few days, beaten bloody during attempts to push out towards Kilstett on January 18. Its Panzer regiment lost 8 PzKpfw IVs and 21 Panthers during the fighting between January 17-21. The fighting on January 19 was especially costly, accounting for 22 of the 29 Panzer losses, so that evening the attacks were halted.

In a final irony, the veteran Waffen-SS general, Paul Hausser, who had recovered from his injuries received in Normandy, was placed in command of Army Group Upper Rhine for what would be the final months of the war from 29 January.

Soon the needs of the Eastern Front also resulted in Hausser losing the Frundsberg Division. The 17th SS Division was the only Waffen-SS armoured unit to remain on the Western Front until the end of the war. By 25 March, it had been reduced to some 800 men who were desperately holding the last German bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine. The Frundsberg managed to escape across the mighty river, but the Americans caught up with the division at Nuremberg, where it tried to mount a series of rearguard actions during early April. It then surrendered to the Americans.