The German Army in The Ardennes 1914

Strategy and Tactics

The defeat of the French 4th Army by the German 4th Army in the Battle of the Frontiers spelled the failure of the French war plan. Combined with the Russian defeat at Tannenberg, the Entente strategy for simultaneous Russian and French attacks against Germany had also failed. French losses were far higher than German, and the resulting disparity in combat power meant that the French were not even able to hold the last significant terrain obstacle, the Meuse.

These victories were not accomplished by superior war planning or by operational excellence. The French had anticipated the German advance to the north of the Meuse and had devised an excellent means defeating it. The German advance through Belgium was hardly the thing of wonder that it has been made it out to be. That the French plan did not succeed, while the German plan did, had nothing to do with strategy, but was solely the product of German superiority at the tactical level.

There is a school of thought which maintains that the German ‘genius for war’ was the product of the excellence of the German Great General Staff, that is, German victories were due to superiority at the operational and particularly at the strategic levels. There is no evidence to be found for this proposition either in the Battle of the Frontiers as a whole or in the Ardennes on 22 August. The Chief of the General Staff, the younger Moltke, did nothing to give German planning operational coherence: the seven German armies acted virtually independently of each other. The German 5th Army attack plan for 22 August, written by a General Staff major general, left a corps-sized gap in the army centre that was not filled until late afternoon, and which nearly resulted in a French breakthrough, while the army right flank was hanging completely in the air. The 5th Army plan was not coordinated with the 4th Army. The 4th Army moved to the south on its own initiative at the last minute to cover the 5th Army right flank, in turn leaving the 4th Army’s own centre outnumbered and dangerously thin. Due to the 5th Army’s poorly thought-out attack, of the ten German corps in these two armies, two corps could only be brought into action late in the day and one not at all, while all the French corps were engaged. The only German senior officer to display sound operational ability in the Ardennes was the commander of the 4th Army, the Duke of Württemberg, a capable professional soldier but also the hereditary ruler of a German state and hardly the prototypical General Staff officer. But the real victors on 22 August in the Ardennes were the officers and soldiers of the divisions of the German 4th Army, which dealt the French 4th Army – the French main attack – the most stinging defeats in the entire Battle of the Frontiers.

The German Army

The German army’s 1906 infantry regulation presented an effective tactical doctrine based on the need to gain fire superiority as well as on offensive action based on fire and movement. German training in this doctrine was realistic and thorough, and concluded every year by several weeks of live-fire gunnery exercises and tactical problems conducted at MTA. French doctrine did not include the concept of fire superiority and the French did not have adequate training areas. German doctrine and training also emphasised the meeting engagement and individual initiative at the tactical level; the French, on the other hand, emphasised linear engagements tightly controlled at the division, corps and army levels.

The German army won the Battle of the Frontiers because of superior peacetime doctrine and training. German patrolling and reconnaissance were vastly superior to the French. In almost every instance, German reconnaissance provided excellent reports on French movements while blinding French cavalry reconnaissance. French air reconnaissance was largely ineffective in the forested Ardennes; the French senior headquarters formed an entirely erroneous impression of German movements and intentions. On 22 August none of the French divisions had any idea that major German forces were in their immediate vicinity.

On 22 August the two French armies were advancing to the northeast, while the two German armies were attacking to the west. All of the subsequent battles were meeting engagements. German units moved quickly and deployed smoothly. French movements suffered from friction and their deployment was slow and uncertain. Once engaged the Germans smothered the French with rifle, MG and artillery fire and gained fire superiority. If the Germans were on the defence, this fire stopped the French attack. If attacking, the Germans then closed with and destroyed the French infantry by fire and movement. Widespread myths notwithstanding, there were no trenches, and the only barbed wire encountered was that which the Belgian farmers used to fence in their livestock.

German Infantry

Prior to the war there had been considerable concern that the nerves of the troops would not stand up to the terrors of modern combat. As Otto von Moser noted, these battles proved beyond a doubt that the German troops were equal to the task. To Moser’s observations it must be added that the French troops were often not equal to the requirements of the modern battlefield; after a few hours of combat, most French units cracked. This was due to inadequacies in French training.

This was not to say that everything went flawlessly. In particular, the infantry often attacked without waiting for the fire support of MG and artillery to soften the enemy up. Losses were even higher than the most sobering peacetime projections: in Moser’s units more than a third of the officers and nearly a third of the enlisted men became casualties on 22 August. But French casualties were even higher. As The commander of the 25 ID, speaking of IR 116 and IR 117 at Anloy, said:

‘In spite of these (terrain) difficulties, in spite of the casualties and the intense enemy fire our troops worked their way forwards. As was characteristic of our men at this time, they got the bit in their teeth and pushed forward, which cost us a great many casualties … Nevertheless! Who would dare to criticise the wonderful aggressive spirit of our soldiers?’

In the battle the general was describing, the terrain was very close and the action was taking place at 400m range or less. Artillery support was practically impossible. Using fire and movement, the German troops pushed back the French, one terrain feature at a time. There were no ‘bayonet charges’. The German infantry simply kept on battering the French, undeterred by casualties.

The performance of the German infantry on 22 August 1914 was exceptional, the result of high morale, intelligent doctrine, effective training and excellent leadership.

German Artillery

The commander of the VI RK listed the common complaints about the performance of the German artillery. The infantry pushed quickly forward and the artillery was too slow to keep up. The German artillery was especially slow in occupying covered positions. The result was that the German artillery often fired into its own infantry. The French gun had a maximum effective range 2,000m greater than the German gun. The French artillery was better trained and more tactically proficient; the French operated flexibly, by batteries, the Germans employed clumsy three-battery sections.

Most of these criticisms seem to have been coloured by experiences later in the Marne campaign. During the French withdrawal, their artillery was very effective as a rear-guard. During the battle of the Marne the French emptied their magazines, firing prodigious quantities of shells that smothered the German infantry.

But during the meeting engagements on 22 August in the Ardennes the German artillery was almost always superior to the French. If it was sometimes slow to get into action, the French artillery was slower. The Germans were usually able to fight combined-arms battles; the French infantry was often destroyed before the French artillery got into action. The Germans frequently brought individual guns right into the skirmisher line, where they provided highly effective fire support at point-blank range; the French never did so. The German light and heavy howitzers proved their worth.

Both the German and the French artillery soon discovered that frequently the terrain did not provide observation of enemy positions. Rather than do nothing, both artilleries employed unobserved area fire (Streufeuer) against suspected enemy locations. This was not provided for in either the French or German pre-war artillery doctrines, because it was felt to be ineffective and wasteful of ammunition. However, both sides used it from the first day of combat on, and to good effect.

German Cavalry

German doctrine emphasised that cavalry needed to be aggressive during the battle in developing opportunities to both participate in the battle as well as to operate against the enemy flank and rear. Doctrine also stated that cavalry was the arm best suited to conduct pursuit.

While the 3 KD and 6 KD had been very effective in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance roles before the battle, during the battle they accomplished nothing. The 3 KD commander decided that the terrain prevented the division from accomplishing anything and resigned himself to inactivity. 6 KD was used to guard the army left flank. Neither division conducted a pursuit, either on 22 or 23 August, although the Colonial Corps would seem to have offered a fine target for 3 KD and the right flank of the French VI CA an even better target for 6 KD.

It appears that the cavalry learned during the approach march that a mounted man presented a fine target and that even small groups of infantry were capable of blocking cavalry movement. By 22 August the senior cavalry commanders were thoroughly intimidated: they avoided serious contact and were unwilling to attempt to move large bodies of cavalry anywhere that they might be subject to small arms or artillery fire. Coupled with the unimaginative operations of the 5th Army headquarters, the timidity of the cavalry leaders cost the cavalry the opportunity to have made a major impact in the battle.

Command and Control

The German army discovered that modern means of communications were unreliable, an observation that would be repeated by practically every subsequent army. This included the telephones that connected army headquarters to OHL, which utilised the seemingly infallible civilian telephone net. As Crown Prince Wilhelm complained, the telephones became so overloaded with traffic that the command and control system at times broke down completely. Nevertheless, German reporting was good and with the exception of the breakdown between V AK and XIII AK German senior HQs kept each other informed.

Liebmann’s Evaluation of German Doctrine and Training

In his study of how German doctrine and training withstood the test of combat in 1914, Liebmann concluded that ‘In 1914, none of our enemies possessed a doctrine which was superior in combat to that of the German army, even though we must acknowledge that German doctrine had weaknesses’.

‘Foremost among these errors was a failure to recognise the effect of firepower, even though German doctrine was based on firepower … It must also be recognised that even the most conscientious preparation in peacetime does not insulate against similar errors.’

‘The German infantry proved itself to be superior to that of the enemy. Its high morale and discipline and its powerful offensive spirit, the product of its traditions and decades of training, allowed it in many cases to simply overrun the enemy infantry’. But Liebmann said that this superiority applied only to mobile warfare, and contended that attacks later in the war against a prepared enemy defence failed disastrously.

Liebmann said that conducting the firefight with thick skirmisher lines was effective and that the casualties incurred were acceptable as were forward bounds by individuals or by squads. Casualties only became serious when long lines bounded forward or entire fronts conducted assaults. And although the German army emphasised fire superiority, gaining and using it in actual practice proved difficult. A much more serious deficiency in German doctrine and training was the failure to recognise the difficulties in infantry–artillery cooperation. In German exercises the problem was glossed over. On the other hand, the German cavalry performed its reconnaissance function everywhere with distinction.


Panzer II Part I

Panzer II

The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II (abbreviated PzKpfw II). Although the vehicle had originally been designed as a stopgap while more advanced tanks were developed, it nonetheless went on to play an important role in the early years of World War II, during the Polish and French campaigns. By the end of 1942 it had been largely removed from front line service, and production of the tank itself ceased by 1943. Its chassis remained in use as the basis of several other armored vehicles.


In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were becoming apparent. Designs for a stopgap tank were solicited from Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz. The final design was based on the Panzer I, but larger, and with a turret mounting a 20 mm anti-tank gun. Production began in 1935, but it took another eighteen months for the first combat-ready tank to be delivered.

The Panzer II was the most numerous tank in the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France, until it was supplemented by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Afterwards, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank.

The Panzer II was used in the German campaigns in Poland, France, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway, North Africa and the Eastern Front. After being removed from front-line duty, it was used for training and on secondary fronts. The chassis was used for a number of self-propelled guns including the Wespe and Marder II.



The Panzer II was designed before the experience of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 showed that shell-proof armor was required for tanks to survive on a modern battlefield. Prior to that, armor was designed to stop machine gun fire and High Explosive shell fragments.

The Panzer II A, B, and C had 14 mm of slightly sloped homogenous steel armor on the sides, front, and back, with 10 mm of armor on the top and bottom. Many IIC were given increased armor in the front. Starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armour and 20 mm side armor.

This armor could be penetrated by towed antitank weapons such as the Soviet 45mm and French canon de 25 and canon de 47.


Most tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 55 calibers long cannon. Some later versions used the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 which was similar. This cannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute (280 rounds per minute sustained). The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.

The 2 cm cannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were made towards replacing it with a 37 mm cannon, but nothing came of this. Prototypes were built with a 50 mm tank gun, but by then the Panzer II had outlived its usefulness as a tank regardless of armament. Greater success was had by replacing the standard armor-piercing explosive ammunition with tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to material shortages this ammunition was in chronically short supply.

Later development into a self-propelled gun carriage saw the mounting of a 5 cm PaK 38 antitank gun, but this was seen as insufficient for the time, and the larger 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was installed as an effective stop-gap. The main production antitank version was fitted with a 7.5 cm PaK 40 which was very effective. Artillery mounting began with a few 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry guns, but most effective was the 10.5 cm leFH 18, for which the Panzer II chassis became the primary carriage for the war. Most of these versions retained a pintle mounted 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun for defense against infantry and air attack.


All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 PS, gasoline-fuelled six-cylinder Maybach HL 62 TRM engine and ZF transmissions. Models A, B, and C had a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Models D and E had a Christie suspension and a better transmission, giving a top road speed of 55 km/h (33 mph) but the cross country speed was much lower than previous models, so the Model F reverted back to the previous leaf spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (120 mi).


The Panzer II had a crew of three men. The driver sat in the forward hull. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the guns, while a loader/radio operator stood on the floor of the tank under the turret.


Development and limited production models

Panzer II Ausf. a (PzKpfw IIa)

Not to be confused with the later Ausf. A (the sole difference being the capitalization of the letter A), the Ausf. a was the first limited production version of the Panzer II to be built, and was subdivided into three sub-variants. The Ausf. a/1 was initially built with a cast idler wheel with rubber tire, but this was replaced after ten production examples with a welded part. The Ausf. a/2 improved engine access issues. The Ausf. a/3 included improved suspension and engine cooling. In general, the specifications for the Ausf. a models was similar, and a total of 75 were produced from May 1936 to February 1937 by Daimler-Benz and MAN. The Ausf. a was considered the 1 Serie under the LaS 100 name.[citation needed]


  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL57TR with 6 gear transmission plus reverse
  • Weight: 7.6 tonnes
  • Dimensions: 4.38 m(l) x 2.14 m(w) x 1.95 m(h)
  • Speed: 40 km/h
  • Range: 200 km
  • Communications: FuG5 radio
  • Primary armament: 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 gun with TZF4 gun sight, turret mounted
  • Secondary armament: MG34 7.92 mm machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Ammunition: 180 20 mm and 2,250 7.92 mm carried
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse with elevation of +20° and depression to -9.5°
  • Armour: 13 mm front, side, and rear; 8 mm top; 5 mm bottom

Panzer II Ausf. b (PzKpfw IIb)

Again, not to be confused with the later Ausf. B, the Ausf. b was a second limited production series embodying further developments, primarily a heavy reworking of suspension components resulting in a wider track and a longer hull. Length was increased to 4.76 m but width and height were unchanged. Additionally, a Maybach HL62TR engine was used with new drivetrain components to match. Deck armor for the superstructure and turret roof was increased to 10–12 mm. Total weight increased to 7.9 tonnes. Twenty-five were built by Daimler-Benz and MAN in February and March 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. c (PzKpfw IIc)

As the last of the developmental limited production series of Panzer IIs, the Ausf. c came very close to matching the mass production configuration, with a major change to the suspension with the replacement of the six small road wheels with five larger independently sprung road wheels and an additional return roller bringing that total to four. The tracks were further modified and the fenders widened. Total length was increased to 4.81 m and width to 2.22 m, while height was still about 1.99 m. At least 25 of this model were produced from March through July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. A (PzKpfw IIA)

The first true production model, the Ausf. A included an armor upgrade to 14.5 mm on all sides, as well as a 14.5 mm floor plate, and an improved transmission. The Ausf. A entered production in July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. B (PzKpfw IIB)

Introducing only minimal changes to the Ausf. A, the Ausf. B superseded it in production from December 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. C (PzKpfw IIC)

Few minor changes were made in the Ausf. C version, which became the standard production model from June 1938 through April 1940. A total of 1,113 examples of Ausf. c, A, B, and C tanks were built from March 1937 through April 1940 by Alkett, FAMO, Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, MIAG, and Wegmann. These models were almost identical and were used in service interchangeably. This was the most widespread tank version of the Panzer II and performed the majority of the tank’s service in the Panzer units during the war. Earlier versions of Ausf. C have rounded hull front, but many vehicles of Ausf. C were up-armored to fight in France. These have extra armors bolted on the turret front and super structure front. Also up-armored versions have angled front hull like that of Ausf.F. Some were also retro-fitted with commander’s cupolas.

Panzer II Ausf. F (PzKpfw IIF)

Continuing the conventional design of the Ausf. C, the Ausf. F was designed as a reconnaissance tank and served in the same role as the earlier models. The superstructure front was made from a single piece armor plate with a redesigned visor. Also a dummy visor was placed next to it to reduce anti-tank rifle bullets hitting the real visor. The hull was redesigned with a flat 35 mm plate on its front, and armor of the superstructure and turret were built up to 30 mm on the front with 15 mm to the sides and rear. There was some minor alteration of the suspension and a new commander’s cupola as well. Weight was increased to 9.5 tonnes. 524 were built from March 1941 to December 1942 as the final major tank version of the Panzer II series.

Panzer II Ausf. D (PzKpfw IID)

With a completely new Christie suspension with four road wheels, the Ausf. D was developed as a cavalry tank for use in the pursuit and reconnaissance roles. Only the turret was the same as the Ausf. C model, with a new hull and superstructure design and the use of a Maybach HL62TRM engine driving a seven-gear transmission (plus reverse). The design was shorter (4.65 m) but wider (2.3 m) and taller (2.06 m) than the Ausf. C. Speed was increased to 55 km/h. A total of 143 Ausf. D and Ausf. E tanks were built from May 1938 through August 1939 by MAN, and they served in Poland. They were withdrawn in March 1940 for conversion to other types after proving to have poor off road performance.

Panzer II Ausf. E (PzKpfw IIE)

Similar to the Ausf. D, the Ausf. E improved some small items of the suspension, but was otherwise similar and served alongside the Ausf. D.

Panzer II Part II

Panzer II Ausf. J (PzKpfw IIJ)

Continued development of the reconnaissance tank concept led to the much up-armored Ausf. J, which used the same concept as the PzKpfw IF of the same period, under the experimental designation VK1601. Heavier armor was added, bringing protection up to 80 mm on the front and 50 mm to the sides and rear, with 25 mm roof and floor plates, increasing total weight to 18 tonnes. Equipped with the same Maybach HL45P as the PzKpfw IF, top speed was reduced to 31 km/h. Primary armament was the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 gun. 22 were produced by MAN between April and December 1942, and seven were issued to the 12th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.

Panzerkampfwagen II ohne Aufbau

One use for obsolete Panzer II tanks which had their turrets removed for use in fortifications was as utility carriers. A number of chassis not used for conversion to self-propelled guns were instead handed over to the Engineers for use as personnel and equipment carriers.

Panzer II Flamm

Based on the same suspension as the Ausf. D and Ausf. E tank versions, the Flamm (also known as “Flamingo”)used a new turret mounting a single MG34 machine gun, and two remotely controlled flamethrowers mounted in small turrets at each front corner of the vehicle. Each flamethrower could cover the front 180° arc, while the turret traversed 360°.

The flamethrowers were supplied with 320 litres of fuel and four tanks of compressed nitrogen. The nitrogen tanks were built into armored boxes along each side of the superstructure. Armor was 30 mm to the front and 14.5 mm to the side and rear, although the turret was increased to 20 mm at the sides and rear.

Total weight was 12 tonnes and dimensions were increased to a length of 4.9 m and width of 2.4 m although it was a bit shorter at 1.85 m tall. A FuG2 radio was carried. Two sub-variants existed: the Ausf. A and Ausf. B which differed only in minor suspension components.

One hundred and fifty-five Flamm vehicles were built from January 1940 through March 1942. These were mostly on new chassis but 43 were on used Ausf. D and Ausf. E chassis. The Flamm was deployed in the USSR but was not very successful due to its limited armor, and survivors were soon withdrawn for conversion in December 1941.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

Conceived along the same lines as the Marder II, the 5 cm PaK 38 was an expedient solution to mount the 50 mm antitank gun on the Panzer II chassis. However, the much greater effectiveness of the 75 mm antitank gun made this option less desirable and it is not known how many field modifications were made to this effect.

7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D (Sd.Kfz. 132)

After a lack of success with conventional and flame tank variants on the Christie chassis, it was decided to use the remaining chassis to mount captured Soviet antitank guns. The hull and suspension was unmodified from the earlier models, but the superstructure was built up to provide a large fighting compartment on top of which was mounted a Soviet 76.2 mm antitank gun, which, while not turreted, did have significant traverse. Only developed as an interim solution, the vehicle was clearly too tall and poorly protected, but had a powerful weapon and was better than what the Germans had at the time.

7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Marder II) (Sd.Kfz. 131)

While the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was a good stopgap measure, the 7.5 cm PaK 40 mounted on the tank chassis of the Ausf. F resulted in a better overall fighting machine. New production amounted to 576 examples from June 1942 to June 1943 as well as the conversion of 75 tanks after new production had stopped. The work was done by Daimler-Benz, FAMO, and MAN. A much improved superstructure for the 7.62 cm mounting was built giving a lower profile. The Marder II became a key piece of equipment and served with the Germans on all fronts through the end of the war.

Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Wespe)

After the development of the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II for mounting the sIG 33, Alkett designed a version mounting a 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 field howitzer in a built-up superstructure. The Panzer II proved an efficient chassis for this weapon and it became the only widely produced self-propelled 105 mm howitzer for Germany. Between February 1943 and June 1944, 676 were built by FAMO and it served with German forces on all major fronts.

Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

To support the Wespe in operation, a number of Wespe chassis were completed without installation of the howitzer, instead functioning as ammunition carriers. They carried 90 rounds of 105 mm caliber. 159 were produced alongside the Wespe. These could be converted by installation of the leFH 18 in the field if needed.

Panzerkampfwagen II mit Schwimmkörper

One of Germany’s first attempts at developing an amphibious tank, the Schwimmkörper was a device built by Gebr Sachsenberg which consisted of two large pontoons that attached to either side of a Panzer II tank. The tanks were specially sealed and some modification to the engine exhaust and cooling was needed. The pontoons were detachable. The modified tanks were issued to the 18th Panzer Regiment which was formed in 1940. However, with cancellation of Operation Sealion, the plan to invade England, the tanks were used in the conventional manner by the regiment on the Eastern Front.

Panzer II Ausf. L (PzKpfw IIL) “Luchs”

A light reconnaissance tank, the Ausf. L was the only Panzer II design with the overlapping/interleaved road wheels and “slack track” configuration to enter series production, with 100 being built from September 1943 to January 1944 in addition to conversion of the four Ausf. M tanks. Originally given the experimental designation VK 1303, it was adopted under the alternate name Panzerspähwagen II and given the popular name Luchs (Lynx). The Lynx was larger than the Ausf. G in most dimensions (length 4.63 m; height 2.21 m; width 2.48 m). It was equipped with a six speed transmission (plus reverse), and could reach a speed of 60 km/h with a range of 290 km. The FuG12 and FuG Spr a radios were installed, while 330 rounds of 20 mm and 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition were carried. Total vehicle weight was 11.8 tonnes.


Panzer II Ausf. G (PzKpfw IIG)

The fourth and final suspension configuration used for the Panzer II tanks was the five overlapping road wheel configuration termed Schachtellaufwerk by the Germans. This was used as the basis for the redesign of the Panzer II into a reconnaissance tank with high speed and good off-road performance. The Ausf. G was the first Panzer II to use this configuration, and was developed with the experimental designation VK901. There is no record of the Ausf. G being issued to combat units, and only twelve full vehicles were built from April 1941 to February 1942 by MAN. The turrets were subsequently issued for use in fortifications.


  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL66P driving a five speed transmission (plus reverse)
  • Weight: 10.5 tonnes
  • Dimensions: length 4.24 m; width 2.38 m; height 2.05 m
  • Performance: speed 50 km/h; range 200 km
  • Main armament: 7.92×94 mm MG141 automatic rifle, turret mounted with TZF10 sight
  • Secondary armament: 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse
  • Armor: 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear

Panzer II Ausf. H (PzKpfw IIH)

Given experimental designation VK903, the Ausf. H was intended as the production model of the Ausf. G, with armor for the sides and rear increased to 20 mm and a new four speed transmission (plus reverse) similar to that of the PzKpfw 38(t) nA. Only prototypes were ever completed by the time of cancellation in September 1942.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Panzerkampfwagen II

Planned as a light tank destroyer, the first two prototypes were delivered in 1942 but by then their 50 mm gun was not sufficient and the program was canceled in favor of 75 mm weapons.

Brückenleger auf Panzerkampfwagen II

After failed attempts to use the Panzer I as a chassis for a bridge layer, work moved to the Panzer II, led by Magirus. It is not known how many of these conversions were made, but four were known to have been in service with the 7th Panzer Division in May 1940.

15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)

One of the first gun mount variants of the Panzer II design was to emplace a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry gun on a turretless Panzer II chassis. The prototype utilized an Ausf. B tank chassis, but it was quickly realized that it was not sufficient for the mounting. A new, longer chassis incorporating an extra road wheel was designed and built, named the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. An open-topped 15 mm thick armored superstructure sufficient against small arms and shrapnel was provided around the gun. This was not high enough to give full protection for the crew while manning the gun, although they were still covered directly to the front by the tall gun shield. Only 12 were built in November and December 1941. These served with the 707th and 708th Heavy Infantry Gun Companies in North Africa until their destruction in 1943.

Bergepanzerwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. J

A single example of an Ausf. J with a jib in place of its turret was found operating as an armored recovery vehicle. There is no record of an official program for this vehicle.

Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1c

Developed in prototype form only, this was one of three abortive attempts to use the Panzer II chassis for mounting a 5 cm PaK 38 gun, this time on the chassis of the Ausf. G. Two examples were produced which had similar weight to the tank version, and both were put in front-line service, but production was not undertaken as priority was given to heavier armed models.

Panzer II Ausf. M (PzKpfw IIM)

Using the same chassis as the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M replaced the turret with a larger, open-topped turret containing a 5 cm KwK 39/1 gun. Four were built by MAN in August 1942, but did not see service.

VK1602 Leopard

The VK1602 was intended as a 5 cm KwK39-armed replacement for the Ausf. L, with a Maybach HL157P engine driving an eight speed transmission (plus reverse). While the hull was based on that of the PzKpfw IIJ, it was redesigned after the PzKpfw V Panther, most noticeably with the introduction of fully sloped frontal armor. Two versions were initially planned, a lighter, faster 18 ton variant and a slower, 26 ton vehicle; the former was abandoned at an early stage. Subsequently, work on the first prototype was abandoned when it was determined that the vehicle was under-armed for its weight, and versions of the PzKpfw IV and -V could serve just as well in the reconnaissance role while being more capable of defending themselves. This vehicle never received an official Panzerkampfwagen title, but it would have been called the “Leopard” had it entered production. Its turret design was adopted for the SdKfz 234/2 Puma.

Stuka 1940


Ju 87B nosed over into the dive and heading down towards the target to deliver its ordnance with enviable accuracy. Airfix

The clandestine Luftwaffe had developed two generations of biplane dive-bombers, the Heinkel He 50, which went into commission with the first dive-bomber group, Gruppe I./162 on 1 April 1936, and the Henschel Hs 123, which entered service in 1937 with the St.Gr. 1./162 ‘Immelmann’. This was at the same time that the Junkers company were developing their own monoplane dive-bomber, the Junkers Ju 87, through its early design and test models, into the working ‘Anton’ series that was battle-tested in Spain and on to the ‘Bertha’ type, the B-1 version of which formed the main complement of the Stukagruppen with which Germany went to war.

There was no great consensus at the Technisches Amt of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) for the dive-bomber; in fact the higher echelons of the Luftwaffe were evenly divided into pro- and anti-dive-bomber camps. The basic requirements for Luftwaffe war operations were enumerated in the Air Field Manual of 1935. The number one priority was the securing and the maintaining of air superiority; everything else was subordinate to this. Once achieved, the second priority was spelt out as ‘action in support of the ground forces’. From this the Luftwaffe never wavered and it was in marked contrast to the air forces of Britain, the United States, France and Italy, to whom any hint of cooperation with the army, other than by aerial spotter aircraft, smacked of subservience to another service.

One of the major opponents of dive-bombing was Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen, who underwent conversion during the Spanish experiences and became the leading exponent of the dive-bomber with VIII. Fliegerkorps during the Polish, French, Balkan and Russian campaigns. Udet’s greatest contribution to the existence of the Sturzkampf was his immediate reversal of Richthofen’s cancellation of dive-bomber development when he succeeded him as head of the Development Branch in June 1936.

The basic theory of dive-bombing was of the utmost simplicity. Given that various factors of the speed of the aircraft in horizontal flight, wind strength, sighting difficulties at high altitudes, drift of the bomb in descent and so on, all added to the difficulties of achieving accuracy in the delivery of bombs, it was only common sense that any method of attack which eliminated most of these would naturally result in a higher rate of success. By aiming the whole aircraft at the target, holding it there while the eye-sight was lined up, descending to a low level before bomb release, and thus ensuring the trajectory of the descending missile followed much more closely the trajectory of the aiming carrier until within the last few minutes of its flight time, enormous accuracy was achieved by dive-bombing. In fact pre-war tests showed that a factor of more than ten to one was commonly achieved.

This being a perfectly reasonable factor, the adoption of dive-bombing was a logical step for any nation to adopt. What turned the British, Americans and Italians against the concept was a combination of several factors, differing in origin, but combining to make an almost pathological aversion to the use of the dive-bomber. Let us examine each in turn.

Firstly was the ingrained wishful thinking that the heavy bomber laying waste to opposing nations’ cities and populations would quickly win any war, alone and unaided, and make protracted land warfare and naval blockades, with their respective carnage and mass starvation, a thing of the past. The air weapon was relatively new and was embraced by the popular media of the day automatically as against old methods, which had led to such terrible casualty lists in World War I. If there was a short-cut then it was welcomed by the politicians, especially in the western democracies, ever shy of providing adequate defence if it meant loss of votes. The newly formed air forces, shrilly proclaiming their independence and fighting for survival in a period of shrinking budgets, insisted that the heavy bomber was the answer. People like Douhet in Italy, Trenchard in Britain and Mitchell in the United States had their dubious but loudly proclaimed theories endorsed by, for example, the British premier Baldwin, declaring that ‘the bomber would always get through’ as an excuse for not providing sufficient fighter defences. Independence was everything to these airmen and so the total commitment to aiding the army in land battles, the cardinal feature of the Luftwaffe, was utterly alien to them.

Secondly, and allied to the above thinking, the British and Americans had convinced themselves of two incorrect assumptions. One was that the new altitude bomb sights, like the Norden in America, would produce accurate hits from a great height. The USAAF declared that the new B-17s using this device would drop ‘a bomb in a pickle barrel’. The war that came soon showed that such heady assumptions were so much hogwash. The RAF bombing campaign of 1939–42, which the BBC daily declared was destroying German cities and their capacity to wage war, was a total failure, with some bombs being dropped as much as five miles from the target. So much for high accuracy. At sea results were even worse, with moving warships proving almost impossible to hit, let alone sink, by high-altitude bombing, despite incredible claims to the contrary. The German fleet sailed through the English Channel in 1942 and was to have been attacked by over 250 RAF bombers, half of which failed to even locate the ships in that narrow stretch of water, while the other half attacked both British and German ships indiscriminately without causing any damage. In the Mediterranean the same thing happened with the Italian high-level bombing and British fleets and convoys paraded up and down the length of that sea almost as they pleased, until the arrival of the German Stukas on the scene. At the Battle of Midway the B-17s were credited in the New York press with having destroyed the Japanese fleet, but failed to score a single hit, although they almost sank an American submarine which they claimed was a Japanese heavy cruiser.

The other factor that turned the west against dive-bombing was the claim that modern ‘high-speed’ monoplane aircraft were unable to dive-bomb at an angle of much more than 30 degrees. RAF experts said it was impossible, and relied on low-level attacks by Battles and Blenheims, which proved totally useless. This was a nonsense and by the end of the war such high-performance aircraft as Spitfires, Thunderbolts, Mustangs and Typhoons were all employed as dive-bombers. Finally, and here some elements of the Luftwaffe agreed, antiaircraft fire had reached such perfection that to dive below a certain level was tantamount to suicide and could not be contemplated. Again, the theory was sound, but in practice it required very steady nerves to stand at a gun while a line of dive-bombers was descending directly towards you. In practice, losses were small and the hits achieved by the dive-bomber were many.

If a two-crewed dive-bomber, cheap to produce and economical to run, adaptable and able to keep up with a moving front line, could hit the target ten times as often as a larger six-or seven-crewed heavy bomber from its fixed airfields and with enormous costs, it made a more viable weapon of war. So dive-bombing, rejected in the west, made for a cost-effective proposition to the new Luftwaffe.

Thus it was that, on the outbreak of war, the Junkers Ju 87 B-1 (commonly known outside Germany as the Stuka, an abbreviation of Sturzkampfflugzeug which in the Luftwaffe meant all aircraft of the dive-bomber type), equipped all eleven active German dive-bomber units, the III./St.G. 51 with Luftflotte 3, the I./St.G. 1, the I., II. and III./St.G. 2, the Stab, I., II. and III./St.G. 77, IV.(St)/LG. 1 and the 4.(St)/Tr.Gr. 186 all with Luftflotte 1.

There was a theoretical establishment strength of 319 dive-bombers, given the job of destroying vital objectives well behind the front lines, such as aircraft and tank factories, ammunition dumps, airfields and aircraft on the ground, military headquarters, key rail and marshalling yards to hamper the movement of enemy troop formations, bridges and viaducts, and so on. In fact these were much the same objectives given to all other bomber arms, but the Stukas had the vital asset of accuracy, being five or six times more likely to hit what they aimed at than any level bomber.

Added to these ‘back-area’ requirements, were the ‘targets of opportunity’ and true close-support roles, in which the dive-bombers would attack any enemy strongpoint or fortress, or concentrations of artillery, tanks or infantry that sought to make a stand against the Wehrmacht It was known that the morale of unseasoned troops cracked when confronted by dive-bombing, which is a very personal form of aerial attack, and this was later to be played upon with the introduction of wind-siren devices on both the Stuka and its bombs, which added to the natural howling scream of an aircraft in a steep dive.

It was not known just how effective the Stukas would be, and their outstanding successes in all these roles came as almost as big a surprise to its Luftwaffe advocates as it did to the stunned recipients of its visitations. Critics always state that the Stuka depended totally for its initial, and its continued, success, on the establishment of air superiority. This is perfectly true, but what they do not add, ever, is that this is a requirement for all bomber aircraft, not just dive-bombers. It was proved very quickly that Allied long-range types like the Vickers Wellington could no more operate without this requirement, than could the Stuka. The RAF soon switched to night bombing as it could not face daylight fighter interception any better than could the Junkers Ju 87. The huge Allied four-engined bombers of the later war period, like the Avro Lancaster and Boeing B-17 Fortress, designed to win the war unaided, proved just as vulnerable without air superiority as the Stuka was, and their losses were appallingly higher.

What the Stuka achieved, when it had air superiority, was the transformation of air and land warfare, with countries falling in days and weeks rather than after campaigns that lasted for years. Moreover, it was the combination of Stuka and Panzer that won these battles, the combined effect of both working in harmony far outweighing the impact of the individual components, and they proved a winning, and (in terms of lives) economical team. The conquest of Poland cost a mere thirty-one Stukas, most of these to AA fire. The Stuka’s inherent accuracy, already also tested in Spain, proved to be a potent weapon against warships also, and this task too was added to its growing agenda as the war developed.

The Norwegian campaign was a small-scale affair compared to Poland, but it again emphasised the versatility of the Stuka, now equipped with long-range fuel tanks. A small number of dive-bombers operating against fortresses, slow-moving Allied troop columns and, especially, against the Allied naval forces off the coast, proved decisive.

The invasion of the Low Countries and France in May 1940 brought to a triumphant conclusion all the lessons learnt in the earlier campaigns and it proved the absolute superiority of the mobile form of warfare perfected by the Germans and given the name of Blitzkrieg by the American press, over the static form as practised by the Allies, who, even with nine months’ warning, proved unable to cope with it. It was Poland on an even larger scale and the defeat of the Netherlands, Belgium and France was achieved within a six-week period for the loss of only 120 Stukas from all causes, which included thirteen shot down by naval gunfire over Dunkirk.

With the fall of France a different type of situation developed and the English Channel could not be taken at the charge like the river Meuse or the Aisne. However hard the Stukas might hit RAF airfields and installations in Kent and Hampshire, the immediate follow-up and over-running of the impacted targets could not be made by the Panzers; one half of the winning team was lacking. Airfields devastated by dive-bombing were therefore given ample time to recover, fighter squadrons could be rested out of Stuka range and rotated. On the occasions when their own fighter cover failed to give them adequate protection the Ju 87s naturally suffered severe losses. In the Battle of Britain a total of fifty-nine Stukas were lost (but not the ‘hundreds’ claimed by Winston Churchill and the British press) during the months of July and August. Yet morale remained high and there is no doubt that, had the Wehrmacht finally got ashore in Britain, the smooth-running team of Panzer and Stuka would have been just as effective against the remnants of the ill-equipped British army, however gallant, as they had been earlier against the fully prepared regulars.

It was not to be, but the Stuka story was far from over; indeed it had hardly begun. The aircraft that made the very first bombing attack of World War II was to go on fighting in the front line, by day and by night, until the very last day of that conflict.


Gunther Luetjens, who succeeded Wilhelm Marschall as commander of the German fleet, was born in Wiesbaden on May 25, 1889, the son of a merchant. Enthralled from childhood by stories about the sea, he decided to make the navy his career and joined as an officer-cadet in 1907. In 1910, he graduated from the Naval Academy, ranking 20th in a class of 160. As befitted his high standing, he was assigned to a battleship. Ironically, Luetjens was uncomfortable on large ships. As soon as the opportunity arose, he transferred to the torpedo boats and served on them throughout World War I. In the Weimar days, he alternated between training and staff assignments (mainly involving transport vessels) and was considered an outstanding instructor. He served as commander of the 1st Torpedo Boat Flotilla (1929-1931) and, after a staff tour as chief of the naval officer personnel department (1932-1934), Luetjens was given command of the cruiser Karlsruhe in 1934 and spent the first half of 1935 in South American waters, showing the German flag. When he returned to Germany, he was named chief of staff of Naval District North Sea, serving in that capacity until March 16, 1936, when Erich Raeder named him head of the naval personnel office. The grand admiral needed a staff officer of proven ability for the rapidly expanding navy, and the experienced and dependable Captain Luetjens was his man.

Gunther Luetjens was a taciturn officer with a monk-like devotion to his calling. His friends considered him quite charming once they got beyond his stoic exterior. A confirmed monarchist, he never used the Nazi salute or carried an admiral’s dagger with a swastika on it, preferring instead to wear his old Imperial Navy dirk. He even lodged a protest against Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, but it was buried by Hermann Boehm, the fleet commander at the time.

In 1938 Raeder named Luetjens commander-in-chief of Reconnaissance Forces, and in late 1939, as a rear admiral, he took part in the mining operations off the English coast. He was promoted to vice admiral effective January 1, 1940. After Luetjens’s cruisers took part in the Norwegian campaign, Erich Raeder appointed him fleet commander (Flottenchef) on June 18, 1940. In him, the grand admiral found exactly the man he wanted to command the surface fleet: an officer of the old school he could trust to obey every order SKL gave him without too many questions or objections. The fact that Luetjens had spent the bulk of his career in the torpedo boat and cruiser arms did not make him particularly well qualified to command the fleet, but this did not seem to bother Raeder, who had Luetjens promoted to full admiral on September 1, 1940.

Meanwhile, at Raeder’s urging, Luetjens attempted to take the Gneisenau and the Hipper out on a raid into the Atlantic on June 20, 1940, but his flagship Gneisenau was torpedoed the same day and out of action for months. Meanwhile, Admiral Luetjens was in charge of the naval portion of Operation Sea Lion, under the overall supervision of Admiral Raeder.

Repairs on the Gneisenau were completed by December, when Luetjens went out to sea again with it and the Scharnhorst. However, he ran into a gale, and both ships were damaged by heavy seas, forcing him to return to base again. On his third attempt, in early 1941, Admiral Luetjens finally succeeded in breaking out into the North Atlantic and fell on the British shipping lanes with the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. They sank 13 British merchant ships and tankers before being confronted by the British battleship Rodney and its escorts. In accordance with the take-no-risks orders of Raeder and Hitler, Luetjens felt obliged to retire rather than engage in a surface battle. On the morning of March 23, 1941, he entered the port of Brest, France. He was then summoned to Berlin.

On Saturday, April 26, 1941, Gunther Luetjens took his leave of Grand Admiral Raeder after having been briefed on his next mission: he was to conduct a raid in the Atlantic with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck. It would be the maiden voyage of Germany’s monstrous 42,000-ton battleship.

Luetjens voiced some valid objections to this plan. The difference between the endurance of the two ships would prevent them from operating together as a homogeneous force, he pointed out. Luetjens wanted to wait until the Scharnhorst was repaired and the Tirpitz, the sister ship of the Bismarck, completed her crew training period, which would be in about four months. As a combined force, these three ships would be very difficult indeed to defeat. Otherwise, the German Navy would be committing its forces piecemeal. Raeder, however, argued the opposite case. Each pause in the Battle of the Atlantic helped the enemy; also, it was essential to create a diversion in the Atlantic, to force the British to withdraw naval forces from the Mediterranean, thus reducing pressure on the Italian-German supply routes to North Africa.

Although he had by far the stronger argument, Luetjens let himself be persuaded. He would obey the grand admiral’s wishes. When Adolf Hitler visited Gotenhafen (now the Polish port of Gydnia) on May 5, to inspect both the Tirpitz and the Bismarck, he also expressed doubts about the advisability of this operation; Luetjens, however, strongly supported Raeder’s point of view. Had Luetjens said what he really thought and agreed with Hitler, it is quite likely that the tragedy of the Bismarck would have been avoided. However, faced with the united front of his naval experts, Hitler decided not to interfere with Raeder’s plans, despite his personal reservations. The stage was set for yet another naval disaster.

Once again, as with Marschall, the fleet commander was cautioned again and again against taking unnecessary risks. Raeder told him to use “prudence and care” and not to stake too much for the sake of a limited success of dubious value. At his SKL briefing, Luetjens was told that “the primary objective is the destruction of the enemy’s carrying capacity. Enemy warships will be engaged only in furtherance of this objective, and provided such engagements can take place without excessive risks.”

After leaving Berlin, Gunther Luetjens paid a visit to his friend and predecessor Wilhelm Marschall, a champion of the right of freedom of action for a commander at sea. Marschall, now in retirement, warned him not to feel too closely bound by the Supreme Naval Staff’s instructions.

“No, thank you,” Luetjens said as he rejected Marschall’s advice. “There have already been two Fleet Commanders who have lost their jobs owing to friction with the Admiralty, and I don’t want to be the third. I know what they want, and shall carry out their orders.”

The Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen left port on May 18 and were spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft on May 22. The Home Fleet tried to prevent them from breaking out into the Atlantic, and on the morning of May 24, a classic naval battle took place in the Denmark Straits, between Iceland and Greenland. Firing from 10 miles away, the Bismarck sank the British Hood. One of the German 15-inch (380mm) shells hit her aft magazine, setting off 112 tons of high explosives. The 42,000-ton battle cruiser went down only six minutes after the Bismarck opened fire, taking 1,416 officers and men with her, including Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Holland. Only three men survived.

One minute later, at 6:01 a. m., the Bismarck turned its guns on the British battleship Prince of Wales. By 6:13 a. m. this opponent had sustained several hits and was laying a smoke screen, trying to escape the German task force. Ernst Lindemann, the captain of the Bismarck, wanted to pursue the crippled British battleship and finish her off, but Luetjens-ever mindful of SKL orders-refused to do so. A violent argument ensued, but Luetjens held firm, and the Prince of Wales escaped.

The Bismarck headed for the open Atlantic, where the British lost her. Luetjens, however, broke radio silence and transmitted a long report to Berlin, enabling the British to re-fix his position. Even so, the bearings were misinterpreted and the pursuing force went off in the wrong direction. The Bismarck was re-sighted by a Catalina flying boat two days later, and a wave of Swordfish dive-bombers from Vice Admiral Somerville’s Force H attacked the German battleship with torpedoes late in the afternoon of May 26. One of these struck aft, jamming the rudder and making the battleship unmaneuverable. Efforts at repairing her proved futile. Nor could the Bismarck be towed, for Luetjens had already detached the Prinz Eugen. As he had predicted, it did not have the endurance to operate with the Bismarck.

On May 27, the British closed in on the Bismarck in overwhelming force. The last anyone ever saw of Admiral Luetjens was early that morning, as he and his staff walked across the deck of the Bismarck and headed for the bridge. He was unusually quiet and did not bother to return the salutes of the crew. About 9 a. m. the bridge suddenly became an inferno of flames, and this is probably when Gunther Luetjens perished, but this is impossible to confirm. Only 110 of the Bismarck’s crew survived, while some 2,100 (including the entire fleet staff) perished. Many of them drowned after the battleship sank at 10:40 a. m. The British made very little effort to save them. Some have suggested that had the situation been reversed, there would probably have been another “war crimes” trial in 1946 or 1947.

Luetjens made several serious mistakes in his last campaign. There is little doubt but that he should have sunk the Prince of Wales when he had the chance. Adolf Hitler was right when he dressed down Grand Admiral Raeder for this failure, which was at least as much Raeder’s as Luetjens’s. Hitler showed a rare flash of strategic judgment when he recognized this fact-although he seems to have forgotten that he himself had urged caution from time to time. In any event, after the Bismarck debacle, Hitler never fully trusted Erich Raeder’s judgment again. “Whereas up till then he had generally allowed me a free hand, he now became much more critical and clung more than previously to his own views,” Raeder wrote later. 29 This was not necessarily bad for the German Navy. Raeder had exhibited questionable judgment since before the war began and since 1939 had shown a tendency to dissipate the navy’s strength on raids of dubious value. Hitler’s biggest mistake as a naval leader-other than not building enough U-boats and going to war too soon-was not replacing Erich Raeder much sooner.

Although from all accounts a good person, Luetjens must go down in history as a failure as a fleet commander. Certainly he was an unlucky one. His fatal flaws included an underestimation of the potential threat of aircraft to capital ships, a gross violation of the most elementary principles of radio security, and a slavelike obedience to the poor strategic thinking of the Supreme Naval Staff-even to the point of allowing it to cloud his own, sounder judgment. “Luetjens,” one former German naval officer wrote, “personifies the tragedy of a commander whose personal ability was sacrificed on the altar of dutiful obedience.”

And what happened to Wilhelm Marschall, who had warned Luetjens not to listen too closely to the instructions of Raeder and his Supreme Naval Staff? His career seemed to be over until Admiral Raeder suddenly called him out of retirement on August 12, 1942, and named him commanding admiral, France. Six weeks later he was promoted to commander-in-chief of Naval Group West, then headquartered in Paris. Raeder had thus promoted the fleet commander he had previously dubbed a failure and worse, and whom he had forced into retirement in semi-official disgrace. Even so, when Marschall tried to bring up the subject of his actions in Norway, Raeder refused to discuss it. Did this mean that Raeder had realized the validity of Marschall’s concept of tactical freedom of action for commanders at sea and thus recognized his own errors? Marschall thought so but also believed that Raeder “would rather have bitten his tongue out than admit it.”

Generaladmiral Marschall was among those senior officers retired in the first weeks of the Doenitz regime in 1943. He was again recalled in June 1944, to head a special authority staff for the Danube River. Retired again in November 1944, he was reappointed commander-in-chief of Naval Command West on April 19, 1945. He held this post until the end of the war. After being released from Allied captivity in mid-1947, Wilhelm Marschall wrote a number of articles on naval history and strategy. He died at Moelln (in Schleswig-Holstein) on March 20, 1976, at the age of 89.

U-Boat Bunkers

Evacuation of Brest, Lorient and St Nazaire

The American breakthrough at Avranches on 4th August threatened the three northern Biscay bases with encirclement, and steps had therefore to be taken to evacuate the U-boats in good time. The primary requirement was to complete those boats currently fitting out with schnorkel at Brest, Lorient and St Nazaire, while those for whom there was no gear available in these bases were made ready for sea and sailed for La Pallice or Bordeaux, the opportunity being taken also to transfer experienced dockyard and specialist personnel, together with essential material such as schnorkel components, T5 torpedo testing gear and non-ferrous metals. The U-boat personnel remained in the three northen bases, above all those whose boats were undergoing extensive refits and could not complete in the near future, were, as far as the land battle permitted, returned to Germany.

Subsequent to the enemy breakout, the situation deteriorated rapidly and our scanty forces in Brittany, retreating before the advancing enemy spearheads and the Maquis, hastily withdrew into the coastal fortresses. This influx of troops, many of whom, demoralised and undisciplined, sought shelter from enemy bombing in the U-boat bunkers, caused such disruption to work on the boats at Brest and Lorient that the latter’s completion became doubtful. Furthermore, the army’s erroneous and pessimistic evaluation of the general situation gave the impression that Lorient could not be held for long, whereupon the Senior Officer of the local flotilla, on his own initiative, sent several U-boats to sea; and only through the intervention of the Supreme Command was some semblance of order restored, allowing work on the U-boats to proceed.

On 6th August enemy spearheads had penetrated to within 20 miles of Angers, the headquarters of SO U-boats West, who was thus forced to evacuate to La Rochelle. Until the evacuation was completed on 8th, U-boat Command temporarily assumed control of operations in the Channel. This move had its compensations in that SO U-boats West was thereafter in close contact with his forces, allowing him, in the event of precipitate action by the military authorities, to take such measures on behalf of the U-boat arm as he thought fit.

Effect of bombs on U-boat bunkers

The ultimate concentration of U-boats in the bunkers at La Pallice, Brest and Bordeaux evoked heavy bombing by strong enemy formations between 9th and 13th August. The bunker at Bordeaux received 26 direct hits from 11,000-lb bombs, but only superficial damage was caused to the roof, which consisted of two thicknesses of reinforced concrete, one of 6.2 metres beneath a “burster course” of 3.5 metres. At Brest, the 5.6-metre roof of the bunker, which then had no “burster course”, was partially penetrated in three places by extremely heavy bombs – estimated at six tons – one of these breaches being 10 metres in diameter and the others, situated over the dividing walls, small. The U-boats in the bunker were unaffected and only slight damage was sustained by bunker equipment. Specialists from the Todt organisation, who afterwards inspected the bunker at Brest, considered that, given a 3.5-metre “burster course”, the roof would have withstood the heaviest bombs then known to exist. This inspection yielded valuable information, which was at once applied to the design of U-boat and dockyard bunkers currently under construction in Germany.

The last air attacks on the Biscay U-boat bases, in which all unprotected dockyard equipment was completely destroyed, provided conclusive proof of the vitally important role played by the U-boat bunkers since 1941. We wondered, indeed, why in 1941 and 1942 the RAF had not attempted to disrupt their construction, for at that time neither our AA defences nor our fighter force could have offered effective resistance to concentrated attacks. Continuous raids on the then unprotected bases would have so impeded U-boat repair work that, by the end of 1942, the U-boat campaign would have been rendered ineffective.


When the U-boat crews returned from patrol to their moorings in Kiel, Hamburg, Bremen, Heligoland or Wilheshaven they were hailed heroes of the sea, where family and loved ones greeted the men with flowers. The U-boats were either temporarily moored in the harbor or sailed directly into the heavily protected bunker pens where the vessel could be rearmed, refueled, resupplied and serviced to fight another day. These U-boat pens were not just a staging post, which the allies had initially thought; they were in fact a lifeline to the submarine crews. Massively protected they contained all the necessary facilities – main service, fuel stores, dry docks, workshops and accommodation.

By 1941 a number of U-boat pens had been constructed in northern Germany, Norway, and along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coast in France. The pens enabled the Germans to use U-boats to patrol the wide open expanses of the Baltic, North Sea, Atlantic and the Mediterranean using the new ports as base. In order to protect the U-boat bases from aerial attack a massive construction programme had been undertaken at incredible cost in labour and material. Along the western coast of France alone there had been five ports designated for the use of U-Boats, all with their own massively protected concrete pens. These were Brest, St Nazaire, La Pallice and Bordeaux. The facilities of these five U-boat bases were placed into three categories: non-tidal, tidal and onshore. The non-tidal were built on ordinary harbour basins, with a lock leading to the open sea, as at Brest and two pens at Lorient.

The average size and thickness of the U-bunker walls were between 8 and 11 feet thick, and the walls between the pens varied considerably in thickness from 3 to 5 feet within the same building. The roof too was heavily reinforced and provided ample protection for the exterior walls and the entrances to the pens against direct hits or misses.

To protect the U-boats and the personnel working on them inside the pens from attack, the entrances to the pens above the quay level were protected by armoured plates mounted on pontoons and towed in and out of position by tugs. This, however, gradually proved to be far too slow and dangerous, so counter-weighted half metre thick steel shutters were slid down from behind the lintel to close off the entrances. In the dry dock pens two shutters were installed, one behind the other, whereas the others had generally one shutter

For the U-boat crews that returned from patrol, hailed heroes of the sea, they sailed into these heavily protected bunker pens for a much needed respite, whilst their U-boat was rearmed, refueled, resupplied and serviced to fight another day. As these weary crewmen stepped ashore beneath the towering ceiling, which continuously dripped condensation, they were met by the familiar sounds and smells of organized activity. Passing busy teams of workers, welding, grinding, operating cranes and carrying various supplies and other important equipment, the U-boat commander was greeted with salutes.

Here in port the captain and his crew would remain for more than a week whilst the men recuperated and the U-boat was resupplied. By the summer of 1941 the length of periods spent in port gradually increased and this meant that the men received travel warrants for home leave. Some of the crew, however, remained in the port and were often accommodated in a variety of local hostels. It was very rare that any of the men slept onboard their U-boat whilst it was in port.

Life for the U-boatman in port was often good and this included the standard of hotels and hostels in which they were accommodated. Food and alcohol was usually abundant, and a number of men frequently visited the local brothels.

Although the men looked upon the ports as a place of recuperation and a safehaven, by 1942 the RAF and the USAAF began making a number of attacks on the ports and this included the U-boat bunkers. Fortunately for the Germans the bombs seldom hit the bunkers. When they did hit, they barely scratched their surface. It seemed the bunker roofs were quite impervious to any bomb. Even the largest 12,000Ib high capacity blast bomb, and the heavy 2,000 pounder armour piercing bomb, made it useless against the reinforced concrete of the U-bunker. The flying Fortress and Liberators of the US Eighth Army Air Force bombed with more precision, but even their bombs simply bounced off the bunkers.

With the realization now looming that the Allied bombs could not penetrate the massive thickness of the U-bunkers roofs and walls, the Allies decided to heavily bomb the ports and coastal towns. Between 14 January and 17 February 1943, the RAF and the US Army Air Force attacked Lorient and bombed most of the town. When U-boat crews returned to their home port, very little was left standing. Admiral Donitz remarked of the complete destruction of Saint-Nazaire and Lorient, ‘not a dog is left in these towns. Nothing remains – but the U-boat bunkers’.

Although the Allied bombers had a left a wasteland of destruction attempting to smash the U-boat shelters, in the course of the attacks more than a hundred bombers were shot down by Luftwaffe fighters and the dozens of 8.8cm flak guns defending the bases. Many now believed that the submarine pens were too hard, or even impossible to destroy. As further attacks continued in vain, back in London Barnes Wallis, who had already achieved noticeable success with breaching of the Ruhr Dams with his bouncing bombs, designed and produced a scaled down version of a massive bomb weighing 12,030 Ib, nicknamed the ‘Tallboy’. This bomb designed for demolishing massive structures was now the only answer of destroying the U-bunkers.

On 5 August 1944, the first of three waves of RAF attacks using Wallis’s new 12,000 Ib ‘Tallboy’ bombs was used against the U-bunker base at Brest. Five direct hits were achieved. A week later another raid scored three direct hits, and in the last raid on 13 August the bomber crews achieved one direct hit and two near misses. Though the Allies failed in their mission to destroy the U-boat bunkers from the air, after the Allied breakout in Normandy, the US VIII Corps had the task of capturing the Brest port and its huge naval base by systematic ground and aerial attack. On 21 August 1944, the Americans launched a massive assault against the town’s strong defences. The remaining U-boats that had been sheltering hastily left and the 9. U-Flotilla was disbanded. The last U-boat to limp out of Brest was U-256, which departed for Bergen on 3 September. Two weeks later, after a fierce long bloody battle of attrition, Brest was finally taken. With the town and harbour in ruins the Ubunker was the only structure standing almost intact.

Whilst the U-boat base at Brest had been under similar attack, other U-boat ports too were under heavy attack. At Lorient the RAF launched a number of heavy bombardments against the U-boat pens and dropped almost 146 tons of bombs on its impregnable structure. Most of the dock workers had already been evacuated back to Germany or transferred by sea to Saint-Nazaire. By this period almost all the U-boats had evaded capture by leaving in early August. The last U-boat to set sail was Oberleutnant zur See Ludwig-Ferdinand von Friedeburg’s U-155 on 5 September. A month later all U-boat activity at Lorient ceased. But despite the overwhelming superiority of American troops the port held out sustaining terrible losses until 8 May 1945.

Further south at Saint-Nazaire the port and its U-bunkers also had to endure air attacks and a siege. Once again German defence proved virtually impregnable. In August 1944, during some of Saint-Nazaires heaviest attacks the 6. U-Flotille was disbanded and the 7. U-Flotilla ordered to set sail immediately for Norway. Four Uboats departed at the end of August, and the last two left a couple of weeks later following major repairs. When the U-bunkers were finally captured American troops found U-510 in pen 4, docked for repair, having sailed all the way back from the Far East loaded with raw materials.

At La Pallice the U-boat complex there also put up stiff resistance against air and ground assault. With its string of anti-aircraft guns and well prepared defences ‘Fortress La Rochelle’ battled mercilessly to keep the town and its U-bunkers from being captured. As further attacks intensified 3. U-Flotilla hurriedly departed for Norway, finally ending the short chapter for U-boats at La Pallice.

In the south of France the last of the U-bunkers at Bordeaux came under attack by the RAF. In August 1944 at least 400 tons of bombs alone were dropped on the U-base including attacks on oil storage. Despite the complex being heavily defended the 12. U-Flotilla was finally disbanded. In the dying days before it fell 500 German soldiers held the base to enable engineers to destroy the installation.

German Democratic Republic, Armed Forces

Soldiers of the Guard Regiment Friedrich Engels marching at a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the Neue Wache on the Unter den Linden in Berlin.

The armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) included the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA, National People’s Army), the Grenztruppen (Border Troops), units of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MFS, Ministry of State), the Volkspolizei (VP, People’s Police), the Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse (Combat Groups of the Working Class), and the Zivilverteidigung (Civil Defense). The NVA was, however, the heart of East Germany’s national defense structure. In July 1952 the armed military police force was transformed into the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP, Garrisoned People’s Police), predecessor of the armed forces of East Germany.

The rearmament of East Germany was made public in May 1955 in conjunction with the foundation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact), which was itself a response to the incorporation of a rearmed Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that same month. On 18 January 1956, the East German parliament, the Volkskammer (Chamber of People’s Deputies), established the NVA and the Ministry of National Defense (MFNV). By 1 March 1956, the command authorities of the new army reported their operational readiness.

The NVA was organized in three military services: ground forces, consisting of two armored and four motorized rifle divisions (1987 peak strength of some 106,000 troops); air force/air defense, consisting of three divisions (1987 strength some 35,000 troops); and the People’s Navy of three flotillas (1987 peak strength of approximately 14,200 men).

At its inception, the NVA was a volunteer army. Only after the August 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall was the framework for compulsory military service created. It went into effect in 1962. Until spring 1990, there was no specific provision made for conscientious objectors, and all able-bodied East Germans served a minimum and compulsory eighteen-month tour of duty. In 1964, however, it became possible to satisfy the conscription requirement as a so-called construction soldier.

East Germany’s close association with Soviet military models and the state’s strong desire to establish unquestioned political supremacy quickly transformed the NVA into an army of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Almost all NVA officers were members of the SED, and a network of political officers and members of the state security apparatus provided the required political indoctrination and supervision of the rank and file.

The NVA was equipped in accordance with the recommendations of the Joint Armed Forces Command of the Warsaw Pact. Thus, from 1962 the NVA received Soviet short-range missiles, and although it did have means of delivering nuclear weapons, the nuclear warheads remained in Soviet custody. Also in 1962, the air force became part of the unified air defense system of the Warsaw Pact. Beginning in 1963, the navy was equipped with Soviet missile patrol boats and landing craft capable of conducting offensive operations in the Baltic Sea.

In the prelude to the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, several NVA training exercises allowed Soviet forces in East Germany to be deployed elsewhere and provided cover for the general Warsaw Pact troop buildup. Although two NVA divisions were prepared to take part in the actual invasion, they were not requested. NVA participation was limited to a small liaison team at Warsaw Pact headquarters within Czechoslovakia.

The East German minister of defense commanded the Joint Warsaw Pact maneuvers in 1970, code-named WAFFENBRÜDERSCHAFT (brothers-in-arms), which were conducted on East German territory—proof positive that East Germany had been successfully integrated into the alliance.

In spite of the official policy of détente, combat capability and readiness were increased during the 1970s and accelerated in the early 1980s after the end of détente. In case of war, the NVA would reach a personnel strength of some 500,000 troops and would become part of the 1st and 2nd Front within the 1st Strategic Echelon. Under the command of the Soviet main force, attacks were to be launched on the territories of West Germany, Denmark, and Benelux. A special force supported by combat groups, border troops, and police readiness units were to invade West Berlin.

As civil unrest in Poland increased during 1980–1982, one NVA division was kept on alert should an invasion have been required. During the domestic crisis and disorder during the Velvet Revolution in October and November 1989, “groups of one hundred” were formed, comprising a total of 20,000 troops, to support East German police forces. The operation was conducted to secure buildings and institutions from damage or destruction.

Between 1989 and 1991, there was an initial phase of disorientation that in January 1990 was followed by demonstrations and strikes in more than forty garrisons. The NVA leadership stabilized the situation by making concessions and launching reforms. The disbanding of the political machinery within the armed forces and the introduction of democratic structures based on the rule of law after the first free elections in East Germany in March 1990 caused more uncertainty vis-à-vis the role and place of the NVA. Sweeping democratic-style reform was carried out against the backdrop of the still unsolved issue of whether there would be two armies on German territory after the reunification.

After the Soviet Union agreed to the reunified Germany’s membership in NATO, the end of the NVA was sealed. On 24 September 1990, it was removed from the military organization of the Warsaw Pact and was officially disbanded on 2 October. On the day of reunification, 3 October 1990, the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces) of Germany integrated more than 89,800 former NVA members and 48,000 civilian employees.

References Childs, David. The GDR: Moscow’s German Ally. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1983. Forster, Thomas. The East German Army: The Second Power in the Warsaw Pact. Translated by Deryck Viney. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1980. McAdams, A. James. Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. McCauley, Martin. The German Democratic Republic since 1945: East and West. New York: St. Martin’s, 1986.