German WWII Destroyer – Z 10 Hans Lody

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Origin of the Name

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

Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LUFTFAUST

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‘Lufthaus B’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany, Digging In – August and September 1944 I

ADN-ZB/Archiv Das faschistische Deutschland im II. Weltkrieg 1939-45 Berlin wird am 1. Februar 1945 zum "Verteidigungsbereich" erklärt. Die Bevölkerung wird zum Bau von Straßensperrungen u.ä. befohlen. Betriebsangehörige, fast nur Frauen, im Schneetreiben auf dem Anmarsch zum Ausheben von Panzergräben am Stadtrand. Aufnahme Februar/März 1945 343-45

ADN-ZB/Archiv
Das faschistische Deutschland im II. Weltkrieg 1939-45
Berlin wird am 1. Februar 1945 zum “Verteidigungsbereich” erklärt. Die Bevölkerung wird zum Bau von Straßensperrungen u.ä. befohlen. Betriebsangehörige, fast nur Frauen, im Schneetreiben auf dem Anmarsch zum Ausheben von Panzergräben am Stadtrand.
Aufnahme Februar/März 1945
343-45

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In late August and September 1944, the Germans dug in, literally. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were sent out to dig trenches and build fortifications, a massive effort directed by the Gauleiters in their role as regional Reich Defence Commissioners. By 10 September, there were 211,000 civilians at work on the West Wall alone, mainly women, teenagers and men too old for military service. A further 137 units of the Hitler Youth and the Reich Labour Service, for which both young men and women were liable, were also sent to work. In the east, another half-million Germans and foreign workers were conscripted to dig. In September the theatres were closed across the Reich so that actors, musicians and stagehands could be drafted. While Goebbels tried to protect part of the film industry and Hitler constructed his own list of exceptional artists to exempt, in the Führer’s adopted city of Linz actors and singers were enlisted in the SS and sent off to do guard duty at the nearby concentration camp of Mauthausen.

Applying the lesson of the Soviets’ bitter defence of Stalingrad, in March 1944 Hitler had designated Mogilev, Bobruisk and Vitebsk as ‘fortresses’, which ‘will allow themselves to be surrounded, thereby holding down the largest possible number of enemy forces and establishing conditions for successful counter-attacks’. All three had been lost in the devastating defeats of the summer, but the model had worked better on the western front. Capturing Brest had cost so many American lives – and the port had been so badly destroyed – that the German garrisons were left in control of their other Atlantic ports at Royan, La Rochelle, St-Nazaire and Lorient. As the Wehrmacht fell back to the Vistula in the east, a further twenty towns were now designated as ‘fortresses’ in the eastern German provinces and in Poland. In Silesia, Danzig-West Prussia and the Wartheland, much of the work was done by forced Polish labour. In East Prussia, extensive fortifications dated back to before the First World War but had to be renovated and, where possible, re-equipped. Here the 200,000 Germans racing to finish that task before the autumn rains came complained about the coercive quality of the works. Criticism was mainly aimed at local Party officials who drove out to the sites in their immaculate uniforms and bawled out commands without venturing to pick up a spade and join in. Poor food, accommodation in barns on straw mattresses and excessive hours all took their toll, as German civilians got a mild taste of what they had inflicted on others. But the corvées of labour also renewed a sense of common endeavour, as restaurant waiters and students, printers and university professors trooped out of cities like Königsberg to pick up shovels. By the end of the year, their number had risen to 1.5 million.

The collecting drives for Winter Relief, summer camps and communal stews had long prepared Germans for such an effort. Years of war had completed the training in shared sacrifice. In Lauterbach, Irene Guicking wrote to her husband Ernst, ‘I would so like to set a good example going forwards. I am convinced I would shame the others.’ But looking after two small children left her wondering ‘what I should do so as not to be left on the margins in the total war drive’. At least the German retreat from France meant that her husband could no longer be tempted by the elegant French women. The hills of the Vosges looked so close on the map in her atlas and, gazing at it several times a day, she mused, ‘Just a bit further east and you will be behind the protective border. You know, it must be a funny feeling to know that the border of the Reich is near.’

It was a time of exceptional measures. In mid-July, Goebbels still felt thwarted by Hitler’s reluctance to impose ‘total war’ measures on the home front. But on 20 July 1944 Hitler’s attitude changed, after he narrowly survived an assassination attempt. A bomb planted by Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg went off in the conference room at his field headquarters in East Prussia, fatally wounding three officers and the stenographer. Like most of the twenty-four people in the room, Hitler suffered a burst eardrum and blast injuries; otherwise, he escaped unscathed. A profound weakness in the conspiracy lay in its lack of high-level support. Whereas in Italy in July 1943 there had been clear consensus within the military that they had to oust Mussolini, no such view had crystallised in the Wehrmacht. Indeed, although they tested out many senior officers, most of the conspirators were officers of mid-rank.

Its organising brain was Henning von Tresckow, who used his role as chief of operations on the Staff of Army Group Centre in 1942–43 to have men like Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff, Carl-Hans von Hardenberg, Heinrich von Lehndorff-Steinort, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Philipp and Georg von Boeselager and Berndt von Kleist placed in key positions there. Linked by a web of aristocratic family connections, these younger officers were both held back and tolerated by senior commanders such as Bock, the uncle of Tresckow’s wife, and by Bock’s successor as commander of Army Group Centre, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, who vetoed their plan to assassinate Hitler when he visited the Smolensk headquarters in March 1943. The plotters failed to win over any high-level military commanders, with the exception of Erwin Rommel and the military commander in France, Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel. This lack of support and comprehension was still more evident lower down the chain of command: the conspirators might have been well connected but they were always an isolated minority.

The plotters attempted to circumvent their weakness by misappropriating an operational plan, code-named ‘Valkyrie’, which had been designed to suppress internal disorder, such as a coup attempt or an uprising by foreign workers, by automatically ordering military units under the command of the Reserve Army to surround government buildings in the capital. It was a fairly flimsy plan. It only took one loyal major, Otto-Ernst Remer, to question the raison d’être of his deployment for the plot to collapse. When Remer went up to arrest Goebbels, he was put through on the telephone to Hitler, whose voice he recognised, and the major immediately accepted responsibility for crushing the plot whose unwitting instrument he had been made. By the early evening of 20 July the rest of the coup attempt had unravelled: the key conspirators were either dead, under arrest or frantically trying to destroy evidence that might implicate them. Remer and his men reached army headquarters in the Bendlerstrasse in time to provide the firing squad. Stauffenberg was in no doubt that his contemporaries would not understand their actions, explaining that he was acting ‘in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor’. Among his contemporaries, he was not wrong.

News of the attempted coup broke at 6.30 p.m. with a short radio announcement. Then, just after midnight, Hitler’s baritone voice – measured, if slightly breathless – could be heard. ‘German national comrades, I do not know how many times now an attempt on my life has been planned and carried out,’ the Führer began. ‘If I speak to you today it is, first, in order that you should hear my voice and that you should know that I myself am unhurt and well; second, in order that you should know about a crime unparalleled in German history.’ He went on to tell how ‘a very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible, and at the same time senseless and criminally stupid officers have formed a plot to eliminate me and, with me, the German Wehrmacht command’ and to reassure the nation that ‘I myself am completely unhurt. I regard this as a confirmation of the task imposed on me by Providence to continue on the road of my life as I have done hitherto.’ Hitler promised to ‘exterminate’ the perpetrators. The six-minute-long speech and those by Hermann Göring and the Commander-in-Chief of the navy, Karl Dönitz, which followed straight afterwards, were re-broadcast throughout the following day. They came as an earthquake.

In Berlin-Zehlendorf, Peter Stölten’s father expressed his shock tersely, writing to his son, ‘How can they endanger the front so?’ In his diary, he expressed his thoughts more fully: ‘It looks as if they regard the war as lost and want to save what can be saved or what appears salvageable to them. But the whole thing . . . can only lead at this moment to civil war and inner division and create a new stab-in-the-back myth.’ It was a measured response, and he was not alone in fearing defeat or even civil war. According to the SD report from Nuremberg, even those who were critical of the Nazis were convinced that ‘only the Führer can master the situation and that his death would have led to chaos and civil war’. This local report added an interesting note of candour: ‘Even the circles which have looked favourably on a military dictatorship are convinced by the more than dilettantish preparation and execution of the coup that generals are not equipped to take over the helm of state in the most serious of times.’ Clearly, the loose talk about regime change from the summer of 1943 was over. In the streets and shops of Königsberg and Berlin, women were said to have burst into tears of joy at news of Hitler’s survival: ‘Thank God, the Führer is alive’ was the typical expression of relief.

The Propaganda Ministry and the Party rushed to organise ‘spontaneous’ rallies and thanksgivings for Hitler’s ‘providential salvation’. But the huge turnouts and effusive expressions of gratitude seem to have been genuine enough. Even Catholic bastions such as Paderborn and Freiburg, where the Party had previously struggled to hold public rallies at all, recorded unprecedented numbers. Families wrote to each other en masse expressing their relief and joy at Hitler’s miraculous escape: no military censor or propagandist could force them to do so. The Allies, applying ‘scientific’ techniques to measure the success of their own propaganda amongst German prisoners of war, found – to their dismay – that trust in Hitler’s leadership rose from 57 per cent in mid-July to 68 per cent in early August. By this stage, the regime did not make the mistake of confusing such trust and relief with confidence in Germany’s military position. As the President of the Nuremberg provincial court reported, ‘that the mood of the people is very gloomy is no surprise given the position on the eastern front’. But the crisis had a galvanising effect. All the reports confirmed that people expected that ‘now finally’ all obstacles to full mobilisation for total war would be swept aside.

Army Group Centre, from which many of the plotters came, had just lost half its divisions in the huge encirclement battles in Belorussia. The regime was not slow to attribute the defeats to the treachery of these officers. According to the SD reports, ‘national comrades’ now looked admiringly at Stalin’s 1937–38 purge of the officer corps of the Red Army, passing comments such as ‘Stalin is the only clear-sighted one among all the leaders, the one who made betrayal impossible in advance by exterminating the predominant but unreliable elements’. The resolutely plebeian Robert Ley promptly amplified such sentiments in an article in the house paper of the German Labour Front, in which he ranted in terms he had previously reserved for the Jews:

Degenerate to their very bones, blue-blooded to idiocy, repulsively corrupt and as cowardly as all base creatures, this is the clique of nobles which the Jew sends forth against National Socialism, arms with bombs and turns into murderers and criminals . . . This vermin must be exterminated, destroyed root and branch.

Ley’s tirade remained the exception, and Goebbels instructed the press to be careful not to attack the officer corps as a whole. Hitler had called the conspirators ‘a very small clique’ – and so they were. They had lacked the support of any major part of the German state: although many of the plotters came from the army and the Foreign Office, the senior ranks of both institutions remained firmly loyal through the crisis.

In its aftermath, Hitler relied not just on out-and-out Nazi generals, like General Ferdinand Schörner, the new commander of Army Group North, but more ‘apolitical’ figures such as the veteran tank commander Heinz Guderian, whom he had immediately appointed as his new Chief of General Staff on 21 July. The ageing conservative nationalist Gerd von Rundstedt was recalled too, first to chair the officer corps’s purge of its own ranks, and, in September, to take command of the western front once more – this, despite having been dismissed at the beginning of July for telling the High Command that the Allied invasion could not be halted. Despite his deep distrust of the military caste in general and the General Staff in particular, Hitler still knew how to use the loyalty and skills of these men. There was even room for General Johannes Blaskowitz, who had been sacked from his Polish command in 1940 for repeatedly challenging the atrocities carried out by the SS. In the aftermath of the July assassination attempt Blaskowitz had pledged ‘after this dastardly crime to rally to him [the Führer] yet more closely’. Having proved himself during the retreat from southern France, Blaskowitz was entrusted with commanding Army Group H in the Netherlands: with the British in Belgium, it was vital to prevent them from bypassing the Rhineland defences by swinging through the southern Netherlands and into northern Germany. Blaskowitz would repay Hitler’s confidence in full.

When Schörner took command of the 500,000-strong Army Group North in Estonia and Latvia, he issued orders which reflected Hitler’s own apocalyptic views, insisting on the absolute necessity of stopping the ‘Asiatic flood-wave’ of Bolshevism. To halt the German retreat and the desertion of Latvian auxiliaries and to instil obedience through fear, Schörner meted out unprecedented numbers of death sentences for cowardice, defeatism and desertion. For the first time German soldiers did not just face the firing squad. Increasingly Schörner’s command ordered that the condemned should be hanged, with demeaning placards attesting to their crime for all to see: a ‘dishonourable’ death which had so far been reserved for Jews and Slavs. But Schörner was merely an extreme exponent of a growing trend, as Wehrmacht commanders fought to stop their armies from breaking. Even the pious Protestant Blaskowitz turned to draconian methods to halt mass flight. He too would have increasing numbers of his own soldiers shot during the coming months for desertion. On 31 October, Rundstedt proposed placing the relatives of deserters in concentration camps and confiscating their property – so far a measure which had only been used against a handful of families of the July plotters, with most of their wives and children being released within a few weeks.

Although this principle of family liability was also canvassed by other senior generals, the widespread introduction of the policy was ultimately thwarted, and from an unlikely quarter. The SD, the institution empowered to take family members into custody, refused to operate a system of collective reprisals against Germans. Instead of immediately resorting to such measures on the German home front, the Gestapo and SD continued to weigh its decisions on the basis of individual assessments of ‘character’. In Würzburg, for example, the Gestapo refused to act against the parents of a soldier who had deserted on the Italian front because it found no evidence that they were ‘anti-National Socialist’; after dragging out the investigation for nine months, the Gestapo closed the case. Despite new levels of coercion, the Nazi regime was still not ready to deploy at home the techniques of indiscriminate mass terror it had pioneered in occupied Europe.

In other respects, the Nazi leadership emerged from the bomb plot imbued with a more radical sense of purpose, as the most ruthless and efficient group of leaders now formed a virtual ‘quadrumvirate’. With more and more responsibility for the defence of the German regions given to the Gauleiters, Martin Bormann’s control over the Party machine made him a key player. Now adding the command of the Reserve Army to his control over the Interior Ministry, police and SS, Himmler had a near-complete monopoly over the means of coercion within the Reich. Goebbels finally became Plenipotentiary for Total War, a role he had coveted since early 1942. He was now able – at least in principle – to give a new impetus to setting the needs of the civilian economy and cultural consumption aside in favour of unchecked mobilisation for the defence of the Reich. The fourth member of this inner group was Albert Speer, the Minister for Armaments, whose abilities in getting the most out of inadequate resources would be tested as never before. With Hitler focused ever more on micromanaging his military commanders, these four key leaders – all inclined to expand into the others’ spheres of control – would be forced to run the home front in competitive collaboration.

Germany, Digging In – August and September 1944 II

Feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms in Berlin In Berlin fand heute die feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms statt. UBz Volkssturmmänner mit ihren Waffen während des Vorbeimarsches an Reichsminister Dr. Goebbels.

Feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms in Berlin
In Berlin fand heute die feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms statt. UBz Volkssturmmänner mit ihren Waffen während des Vorbeimarsches an Reichsminister Dr. Goebbels.

Volkssturm marching, November 1944.

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In August, the Hitler Youth leader, Artur Axmann, issued a call for boys born in 1928 to volunteer for the Wehrmacht. Whole cohorts of Hitler Youths answered the summons and within six weeks 70 per cent of the age group had signed up. Parents may have viewed the call-up with horror, but few tried to stop the teenagers from going. In the earlier years of the war, especially after the victories in the west, military recruitment offices had been besieged by teenagers desperate to sign up and do their bit for the Fatherland; for many this sense of patriotic adventure continued into 1945. Then on 25 September a new people’s militia was announced, the Volkssturm, its name a populist merging of the romantic tradition of the 1813 ‘War of Liberation’ against Napoleon and the traditional Prussian militia, the Landsturm. As military strategists in the 1920s had examined Germany’s failure to make a ‘last stand’ in 1918, there had been calls for just such a ‘total mobilisation’ of the civilian population. Unlike Axmann’s earlier appeal for volunteers, however, recruitment for the Volkssturm was not voluntary, and by the end of 1944 parents were being threatened with legal sanctions if their sons did not enlist. But these threats affected a small minority: by that time most Hitler Youths had already volunteered. As call-up was extended to boys and men between the ages of 16 and 60, the Gauleiters were entrusted with raising this final levy to form a militia numbering up to six million. Its potential reservoir was even larger: if every able-bodied German man had been called up, the Volkssturm would have grown to 13.5 million – greater in size than the Wehrmacht with its 11.2 million officers and men.

The Volkssturm levy, intended to help make good the losses the army had sustained that summer, was simply too large to be equipped. Indeed, the Wehrmacht itself was short of 714,000 rifles in October 1944. At a monthly output of 186,000 standard infantry carbines, German production could no longer keep pace with the ambitions of this ‘rising of the people’. By the end of January 1945, the Volkssturm had managed to accumulate a mere 40,500 rifles and 2,900 machine guns: a heterogeneous array of mainly foreign and out-of-date weapons, often with little, if any, compatible ammunition, giving recruits little chance to practise with live rounds. While more effort was lavished on inducting the teenagers as future soldiers, who were sent to separate training camps, far less went on the middle-aged men, who were treated as cannon fodder; few of them received more than ten to fourteen days’ training. Improvisation was the order of the day: the quadruple batteries of 20mm anti-aircraft guns were frequently converted to infantry use, machine guns from planes remounted on tripods and even flare pistols used for firing grenades.

The flak auxiliaries already included 10,000 women volunteers from the Nazi Women’s Organisation, who ran messages and worked the searchlights and radar guidance systems of the heavy batteries. As boys headed off to train for the Volkssturm, their anti-aircraft positions were often taken over by girls from the BDM and Reich Labour Service. Unlike the smart attire worn by the women already posted to the military telephone exhanges and typing pools, this new levy of female recruits simply inherited the oversized uniforms left by their male forerunners. Now, as German women put on pistols to defend their gun emplacements, the myth that German men ‘out there’ were protecting women and children ‘at home’ completely crumbled. In 1941, audiences at home had unhesitatingly seen the ‘Bolshevik gun-woman’ as a freak against nature and a perversion of women’s vocation to nurture. As German women broke this final cultural barrier, it hardly seemed remarkable any more.

The establishment of the Volkssturm also sat uncomfortably with Nazi measures to protect Germany’s children: what was the point in evacuating them from the cities, only to send them out against tanks on bicycles with a brace of anti-tank grenades strapped to the handlebars? With the nation’s future at stake, service and sacrifice became the overriding virtues. The new Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve Army and of the Volkssturm, Heinrich Himmler, told military recruiters why they should share his determination ‘to send 15-year-olds to the front’: ‘It is better that a young cohort dies and the nation is saved than that I spare a young cohort and a whole nation of 80–90 million people dies out.’ Hitler had warned in his decree establishing the Volkssturm that the enemy’s ‘final goal is to exterminate the German people’ and now his political idée fixe that ‘there must never be another November 1918’ had been put to the test.

As girls as well as boys took their military oaths, after the parade-ground ceremonies the immediate problem was to find uniforms and equipment. In the Rhineland, 15-year-old Hugo Stehkämper and his comrades were given pre-war black SS uniforms, brown Organisation Todt coats, blue Air Force Auxiliary caps and French steel helmets. Across the country, the stores of the Wehrmacht, police, railways, border guards, postal service, storm troopers, National Socialist truck drivers, the Reich Labour Service, the SS, the Hitler Youth and the German Labour Front were all turned over to provide uniforms for the Volkssturm. What made this quest all the more important was the fear that members of the Volkssturm would otherwise be shot as ‘irregulars’, in the way Germans had executed Polish volunteers in 1939.

The regime also realised that the Wehrmacht could learn about ideological control from the Red Army, and in the autumn of 1944 rapidly expanded its own – rather weak – version of political commissars, the National Socialist Leadership Officers. These were volunteers who took on the role of part-time morale-raiser and educator alongside their normal military duties, but they lacked the authority to countermand superior orders. One of the new volunteers was August Töpperwien. Although the high-school teacher from Solingen detested the anti-Christian thrust of Nazism and was appalled by the murder of the Jews, like many other Protestant conservatives Töpperwien still counted ‘world Jewry’ amongst Germany’s enemies. As early as October 1939, he had divided Europe into three blocks, ‘the Western democracies, the National Socialist centre and the Bolshevik east’, and concluded that only Germany would have the determination to defend European culture from ‘Asiatic barbarism’ – this at a time when Germany was allied to the Soviet Union. Believing that ‘World Jewry’ had corrupted the Western democracies, his analysis foreshadowed Goebbels’s later propaganda, but Töpperwien was no Nazi. His views stemmed from conservative nationalism, with its own anti-liberal, anti-Semitic and anti-socialist precepts. Moreover, Töpperwien shared one other fundamental tenet with many of the senior Wehrmacht commanders, like him all veterans of the First World War: he remained committed to preventing any repetition of the revolutionary disintegration of 1918. In October 1944, as the German front lines stabilised again, he noted proudly in his diary, ‘But thank God, the spirit of revolt is still far off!’ Töpperwien had periodically expressed doubts in Hitler’s leadership throughout the war, but by early November he admitted to himself that ‘The clearer it becomes that Hitler is not the God to whom people prayed the more I feel bound to him.’ As Töpperwien worried about people’s loyalty to the German cause, he realised that there was no room for any other leader than Hitler: he might not be a messianic saviour, but no one else could now save Germany.

Another unusual volunteer for the new propaganda role within the Wehrmacht was Peter Stölten. He had, he quipped to his mother, become ‘one of the Doctor’s [Goebbels’s] boys’. By the end of 1944, their number had swelled to 47,000 officers. The prime task of these part-time ‘political commissars’ was to educate their men in an ‘unconstrained will to destroy and to hate’ the enemy. Stölten was certain that the Soviets had to be stopped at all costs. Despite his growing conviction that the war was lost, he forbade himself from doing anything to hasten that result. On the contrary, he admired the Polish fighters in Warsaw for the lesson they had provided in heroic self-sacrifice. He assured his fiancée Dorothee that he had not lost his ‘inborn aversion to NS-sloganeering’ and left ‘all the information sheets’ unread and ‘just improvised’, but his talks may have been all the more credible for not sounding hackneyed; after all, they came from a tank commander with an impressive record of front-line service.

Stölten was not alone in looking to the Poles for an example. Even Heinrich Himmler, entrusted by Hitler with wiping Warsaw from the map, now turned to the Polish ‘Untermenschen’ for inspiration, telling an audience of Party, military and business leaders that

Nothing can be defended so outstandingly as a major city or a field of rubble . . . Here we must defend . . . the country . . . The saying ‘till the last cartridge and bullet!’ must be no idle phrase, but a fact. It must be our sacred duty to ensure that the sorrowful and costly exemplar which Warsaw gave us is enacted by the Wehrmacht and Volkssturm for every German city which has the misfortune to be encircled and besieged.

The comparison was not a hyperbolic one. That autumn, under Guderian’s guidance, German military strategy on the eastern front shifted away from digging continuous entrenched lines, like the positions so recently abandoned along the river Dniepr. Instead, military engineers were using their corvées of civilian workers to turn key cities such as Warsaw, Königsberg, Breslau, Küstrin and Budapest into strongpoints. They were to become the ‘fortresses’ that would hold back the Soviets the way that Moscow and Stalingrad had stopped the Wehrmacht.

Into October 1944, the new defensive lines held and, against all expectations, blocked the advance of both the Soviets and the Western Allies into the Reich. Partly because of the Wehrmacht’s strong position in the southern Vosges, it was not easy for Patton’s force advancing on the Saar to link up with Patch’s troops in Alsace. The British and American armies also struggled with their own logistical bottleneck: all supplies were still being shipped by road from Normandy and Marseilles. Although the port of Antwerp had been captured on 4 September, before the Germans could blow it up, the Wehrmacht controlled its harbour mouth until November. While the Allies concentrated on reopening Antwerp and shortening their supply lines, the Germans re-equipped the West Wall and began to mass their divisions on the western front.

On the eastern front, in early October the Red Army suddenly turned its northern assault across the marshlands, rivers and tough defences protecting Army Group North in the Baltic states around to the west. As Soviet troops crossed the pre-war German frontier for the first time, penetrating the East Prussian district of Gumbinnen and taking the town of Gołdap and the village of Nemmersdorf, they also cut off thirty German divisions on the Memel peninsula. Scratch units of the new, East Prussian Volkssturm managed to hold the Russian advance around Treuburg, Gumbinnen and along the Angerapp river until mobile reserves could move up to give them support. Then, in mid-October, the Wehrmacht counter-attacked in East Prussia, threatening to encircle the Soviets and forcing them to retreat to the border. With Berlin still over 600 kilometres away the Red Army’s summer offensive had come to a halt along the Vistula and the line of the Carpathians.

Compared to the mass panic which had gripped many of its units on the western front in September, a month later the Wehrmacht presented a very different opponent. Allied commanders were shocked by the stiffening resistance of an enemy that they had assumed was on the point of collapse. At Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Eisenhower called a crisis summit in November to ask why nothing had destroyed the ‘will of the Wehrmacht to resist’. The psychological war experts, responsible for debriefing German prisoners of war and profiling their beliefs, were at a loss to explain it. Earlier in the year they had been similarly baffled as the Allies slowly fought their way up the Italian peninsula: there too the morale of their German prisoners had kept rising, the complete oppos-ite of what they had predicted and hoped. Asked if they believed in the existence of ‘new weapons’, in October 1943, only 43 per cent of prisoners had answered in the affirmative, but by February 1944 that proportion had risen to 58 per cent. After the initial shock of the Allied landings in southern Italy, German morale had stabilised. Now, Eisenhower was told, at least half of the captives on the western front still displayed ‘loyalty to the Führer’ and spoke confidently of the Red Army as a spent and defeated force.

It seemed clear that the findings in Italy were now being replicated on the western front. In late August and early September, while ordinary German infantrymen were downcast, morale remained high amongst the core cadre of junior officers, not to mention elite formations such as paratroopers and Waffen SS divisions. But even before German resistance at the front stiffened, most of the prisoners being questioned affirmed the absolute necessity of national defence and the righteousness of their cause. Allied insistence on Germany’s ‘unconditional surrender’ and the leaking of the Morgenthau Plan to strip Germany of all industrial capacity played a part; but the most important factor, now as ever, remained the fear of conquest by the Russians. The exiled novelist Klaus Mann was one of those German-speakers in the US Army tasked with debriefing prisoners of war on the Italian front. In late 1944, he asked his New York publisher: ‘Why don’t they finally stop? What are they waiting for, the unfortunates? This is the question which I don’t just ask you and me, but always pose to them too.’ Other Western experts were equally baffled. Henry Dicks, a veteran of the Tavistock Clinic and the leading British Army psychiatrist, who had interviewed hundreds of German prisoners and written the standard analysis of their outlook, now took refuge in the rather vague concept of the ‘German capacity for repressing reality’. What neither Klaus Mann nor Henry Dicks considered was that, in the absence of a separate peace in the west, German troops considered blocking the British and Americans as essential to holding the Soviets in the east.

In mid-October 1944, the Western Allies could not be sure whether the stiffening German resistance amounted to a temporary pause or a real change in the balance of forces. Military historians now know that the defeats of the summer had ripped the Wehrmacht apart, its fighting power sapped beyond recovery. In the three months from July until the end of September, German military deaths reached a new peak of 5,750 per day. The Army High Command knew in part how disastrous the summer had been – and it was Guderian who first suggested raising an East Prussian Landsturm. Even with bitter fighting in the west, it was on the eastern front that the real haemorrhaging had occurred: 1,233,000 German troops died there in 1944, accounting for nearly half the German fatalities in the east since June 1941.

U-Boot Demise…

Oberleutnant zur See Herbert Werner commanded U-415 from 17 April 1944 through 14 July 1944. Having joined the Kriegsmarine in 1939, he served as a watch officer in training aboard U-557 under Korvettenkapitän Ottokar Arnold Paulssen for three patrols and ninety-three days at sea. In that time the sub sank five Allied ships. Werner left the boat in November 1941 for another training assignment. On 16 December, U-557 was lost with all hands. From Werner’s book Iron Coffins: “It was past 1700 when I returned to the bunker. The radios had been silenced. Instead, the huge vault-like structure resounded to the songs of our 800 crewmen, who remained eager to sail against the enemy even if it meant sailing straight to their deaths. At 2100, as night descended upon the Normandy battlefields, 15 U-boats slipped out into the Bay. The night was clear. The stars glittered faintly in a still light sky. Soon a full moon would rise and light up our way into the Atlantic.

“The moon had risen fully above the horizon in the southeast. Standing like a giant lantern in the sky, it illuminated the long row of U-boats and was sharply reflected in the calm sea. Contrary to common procedure, all the men had put on their yellow life jackets. The bridge had been stacked with piles of ammunition, the conning tower turned into an arsenal. The gunners hung at their automatics in tense expectation of the first enemy plane. I stood in my nook trying to keep my boat directly in the wake of U-821, and to hold the distance to a prearranged 300 meters.

“2310: The first radar impulses were picked up by our Bug and the Fly as the coast receded. The report from below—‘Six radar impulses, all over forward sector, increasing in volume fast!’—alarmed every hand on the bridge. All ears turned into the wind, all eyes searched the quarters ahead. I kept my gaze circling above the armored superstructure, but the intense moonlight revealed no winged black monsters.

“2320: The head of our procession reached the open sea. With the escorts still in line, the eight boats sliced the silvery surface and drove ever deeper into the enemy’s defense. The scream of high volume radar impulses and the stream of emergency messages from below never ceased.

“2340: Sudden fireworks flared up in the forward port quarter, five miles ahead. We had been warned that several of our destroyers were en route from Lorient to Brest, and we should not mistake them for the British. I focused my glasses on the disturbance and sighted seven destroyers in an athwart formation, fighting off a British air attack. Thousands of tracers were exchanged, and brilliant flares parachuted down upon our vessels, adding their white light to the yellow moonglow. The sound of gunfire and howling aircraft engines increased as we drew closer to the battling forces. The Tommies, noting our approach, halted their wild attacks to avoid being trapped in the crossfire between U-boats and destroyers. The destroyers raced eastward past our long file, and our trawlers, seizing the chance for protected trip home, swerved out of formation and fastened onto the destroyers’ wake. Their sudden maneuver left eight U-boats at the mercy of the British. At that moment all eight U-boats acted in concert, and I ordered, ‘Both engines three times full ahead. Shoot on sight.’

“June 7 At 0015, our long chain of boats was racing at top speed towards the Atlantic. The diesels hacked, the exhausts fumed, impulses haunted us all the way. I found myself glancing repeatedly at my watch as if it could tell me when the fatal blow would fall.

“0030: Radar impulses chirped all around the horizon, their volumes shifting rapidly from feeble moans to high-pitched screams. The Tommies were obviously flying at various distances around our absurd procession. They must have thought we had lost our minds. Sometimes I could hear aircraft engines at fairly close range, but could not spot a plane. The hands of my watch crept slowly ahead while the British waited for reinforcement; our eyes sharpened and our hearts beat heavy under our breasts.

“0112: The battle began. Our leading boats were suddenly attacked. Tracers spurted in various directions, then the sound of gunfire hit our ears. Fountains reached into the sky.

“One of the enemy airplanes caught fire. It flashed comet-like toward the head of our file, crossed over one of the boats, dropped four bombs, then plunged into the ocean. The bombs knocked out Sachse’s U-413. With helm jammed hard aport, the boat swerved out of the column. She lost speed rapidly and sank below the surface.

“0125: The aircraft launched a new attack, again directed at the boats in the front. Three boats, brightly lighted by flares, concentrated their gunfire and held the planes at bay. A spectacular fireworks erupted, engulfing the U-boats and aircraft. Suddenly the Tommies retreated. Radar impulses indicated that they were circling our stubborn parade, regrouping for a fresh attack. I raised myself over the rim of the bridge, straining to see and sound out the roaming planes.

“0145: The boat at our stern, the last one in the column, became the target of a new British tactic. Trying to roll out the carpet of fire from the rear, a four-engined Liberator came roaring down on starboard, diving for the bow of U-256. Boddenberg’s men opened fire. But the aircraft veered off in front of the boat, where her guns became ineffective. That was our chance. ‘Open fire!’ I screamed. Five barrels, all that we had available, blazed away at the Liberator as it dropped four depth charges ahead of U-256 and roared past us. Four giant water columns leaped skyward behind the riddled aircraft as it tried to escape our fire. But some shells from our 37mm gun hit the plane broadside. It exploded in midair, then plunged into the sea. U-256, beaten and mutilated by the depth charges, lay stopped and helpless in our wake, slowly falling out of line. That was the last we saw of her. Realising that her demise left us the first target in any new attack from the rear, I called for more ammunition. Radar impulses increased rapidly. For a while, however, the British held back.

“0220: Impulses now from starboard. I presumed several planes were approaching. Suddenly, a Sunderland shot out of the night from starboard ahead. I yelled ‘Aircraft—starboard forty—fire!’ Short bursts from our two twin 20mm guns followed the sweep of the plane. It cleverly flew in from dead ahead, making our guns ineffective, and dropped four barrels in front of our bow. Simultaneously, a Liberator attacked from starboard bearing 90, firing from all its muzzles. An instant later, four detonations amidships. Four savage eruptions heaved U-415 out of the water and threw our men flat on the deck plates. Then she fell back, and the four collapsing geysers showered us with tons of water and sent cascades through the hatch. This was the end. Both diesels stopped, the rudder jammed hard-a-starboard. U-415 swerved in an arc, gradually losing speed. Above on starboard floated a flare, its treacherous glare enveloping our dying boat. U-415 lay crippled, bleeding oil from a ruptured tank, slowly coming to a full stop—now a target to be finished off with ease. Bewildered, I peered down through the tower hatch into the blackness of the hull. All life below seemed to have ceased. I feared the boat might sink at any moment and ordered, ‘All hands on deck! Make ready dinghies and lifebuoy.’

“Not a sound came from below. The men must have been knocked out by the blows. Interminable seconds passed. From the distance came the drone of planes regrouping for a new assault. It had to be fatal. Suddenly, some men came struggling up the ladder, shaken, mauled, groggy, reaching for air, tossing inflatable rubber floats to the bridge. As they jumped on deck and prepared the dinghies, the gunners raised their barrels toward the invisible airplanes circling their disabled prey. The speed of the attack and the resultant damages prevented us from sending a distress signal. This, I thought grimly, was the way many of my friends had died—the silent way, leaving no word.

“U-415, hopelessly damaged, lay waiting for the coup de grace. Since the boat did not seem to be sinking, I told my men to take cover behind the tower instead of lowering the dinghies into the water. I was determined to remain on board as long as the boat would float and to shoot as long as there was ammunition and men to handle the guns. It turned out, however, that we would not die unreported: the radio mate managed to patch up our emergency transmitter and sent Headquarters news of our destruction.

“0228: Increasing engine noise heralded a new attack, a fresh approach by Sunderland from starboard ahead, guns blazing. Zooming over our bridge, it dropped four canisters. Four deafening booms tossed the boat aloft. At that moment a Liberator attacked at low altitude from port ahead. Our men on two 20mm guns started firing at once and emptied their magazines into the plane’s cockpit. The black monster swept across our bridge, dropped four charges, then zoomed away, blowing hot exhaust fumes into our faces. As the boat made four violent jumps to port and as four white mushrooms soared high alongside our starboard saddle tanks, the gunner at the 37mm automatic sent a full charge of explosive shells into the bomber’s fuselage. The flaming aircraft plunged into the sea. Somewhere, the sound of the Sunderland’s engines faded into the distance.

“Then all was very quiet. The flare still flickered on the surface next to our boat.

U-415 was near death, but still afloat. The Fly and the Bug had been shot away; we were without a warning device. The bridge was punctured by many projectiles. A gunner lay scalped by a shell. Other men had been hit by steel fragments. The Exec moaned in pain, his back badly lacerated by countless splinters. In the aftermath of battle, I felt hot. Assuming I was sweating, I wiped my burning eyes. But my hand came away red, and I realised that blood was streaming down my face. My white cap was punctured like a sieve, and the tiny fragments had torn my scalp.

“Then I heard the Chief’s voice from below: ‘Boat is taking heavy water through galley and bow hatches. Strong leak in radio room. I’ll try to keep her afloat, if you keep the bees away.’

“‘Can you get her repaired for diving?’ I shouted back.

“‘Can’t promise. We have no power, no light. We’ll do our best.’

“I lowered myself to the slippery deck. It was split in several places by the impact of depth charges which had hit the planks before falling into the water where they had exploded. One barrel had bounced off the starboard saddle tank and had left a deep dent. Far more serious, the starboard aft ballast tanks were split wide open. Diesel oil escaped in a thick stream, spreading rapidly over the surface.

“With each minute of truce, the danger of a new assault increased rapidly. The boat swung softly in the breathing ocean, paralyzed, seemingly dead. The next 20 or 30 minutes had to bring the finale. With every heartbeat we expected another attack or the boat to slip away from under us.

“Suddenly the Chief’s creaking voice escaped the hull: ‘Boat is ready for restricted dive. Twenty meters—no more. Only one motor good for eighty revolutions.’

“‘Can you hold her at twenty meters or will she go to the bottom?’ “

‘I can’t tell, we ought to try.’

“I tried. Quickly the men climbed up the bridge and dropped one by one through the round opening into their iron coffin. I watched the deck gradually sink below the surface. As the water crept up to the bridge I slammed the lid shut. Seconds later the floods engulfed the boat.”

The Kugelbunker

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The Kugelbunker (Ball or Spherical Bunker) was a late war expedient and may have been derived from the Finnish ‘Ball’ bunker which was based on the idea of an American naval officer. The Kugelbunker had a diameter of 2.13m and could sleep four men, but a smaller version was also more widely used.

One of the final developments in German bunker design was the creation of the Kugelbunker or spherical bunker. Similar in appearance to the Finnish ball bunker, its construction method was different. Few details are available about it beside a post-war report made by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency in 1945, which identified one variant. According to this document, in late 1944 Dr Hubert Rusch of the engineering firm Dyckerhoff and Widmann created most of the designs for these bunkers. The army quickly adopted them and ordered several thousand. Production was to be done at about twenty concrete plants in Germany, but the only production centre identified was a Dornbirn, near Lake Constance, where two to three dozen men in each of five concrete plants built them. The largest factory produced six a day. Since production only began in April 1945, all twenty to thirty Kugelbunkers made at Dornbirn went into positions close to the nearby Swiss border. These bunkers consisted of six segments cast in concrete, the top one of which was different since it included a neckpiece that served as an entrance as well as a fighting position. The other five sections were similar, but side entrances could be chiselled into one or two of them after all the segments were cemented together. When the bunker was assembled, its diameter was about 2.1m and its neck was about 37cm high. The interior included a place for four sleeping slabs, although it would not be practical for all four men to stand up at the same time. The man on duty stood on a platform allowing him to occupy the open neck. The wall thickness was 4cm, but the interior was designed for metal reinforcements although none was actually used. The entire bunker weighed less than 2 tons, which facilitated its transportation because several specimens could be placed on a trailer, hauled to the site, and rolled into their excavated position. Since Dornbirn was near the Swiss border, all the bunkers produced there were installed nearby, which made them part of the fictitious National Redoubt.

Little data exists on other types of Kugelbunkers, but it appears that some plants produced a larger number of smaller ones with a diameter of only 1.7m, but a thickness of 10cmm, which had barely enough room for one or two men. Some of these have been found on the Lower Danube front and in Slovakia as part of the defences of the Southeast Front. The bunker on display in the Vienna museum has the entrance at the bottom, but it seems more likely that it would have it on the side or the top from where the occupant could fight as seen in some photos taken in situ. These were the last bunkers of the Third Reich.

Verdun: The Mill on the Meuse I

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The German plans for Verdun appear to have entirely abandoned the idea of a breakthrough, Falkenhayn himself describing such a full-scale assault as a ‘doubtful operation … which is beyond our forces’ and which might lead to German forces being trapped in untenable salients that could be pounded from both flanks. Verdun was chosen as the objective since it was perceived both as a base from which the French could launch a potentially decisive offensive and because it had acquired an almost mystical significance during the Franco-Prussian War. Ironically, the Germans underrated their own fascination for the fortress city. The ever-aggressive General Charles Mangin noted that ‘Verdun has always exercised a singular fascination upon the German imagination, and its capture, which seemed relatively easy, could in itself be celebrated as a great victory in Germany and in neutral countries.’

On the French side the success of German heavy artillery in 1914 had convinced GQG’s theorists that fortresses were potential death-traps which might enable the enemy to isolate and capture large numbers of men. The capitulation of forts on the Eastern Front in 1915 appeared to further confirm the lessons of 1870 and Joffre had ordered the remaining forts to be stripped of their guns in late 1914 to reinforce the army artillery. The theory was that fortresses supported the defensive system but were too fragile to function as a strong-point upon which the entire system could succeed or fail. Placing valuable artillery in a position that the enemy could easily target seemed akin to placing too many eggs in one basket. General Herr protested that there was a difference between an isolated fortress and a fort in a defensive system but his memoranda were ignored. Herr’s problem was exacerbated by the relative inactivity seen in the Verdun sector since the Marne. With major assaults being planned elsewhere and the rumours of an attack assumed to presage a limited assault, GQG assigned Verdun territorial units and concentrated on offensive planning.

Oblivious to their unintended assistance from GQG, the Germans deployed vast quantities of equipment and ammunition and began to construct bomb-proof stollen (shelters) for the assault troops being moved into the line. Infantry units were given strict instructions not to push out ‘parallels of departure’ or Russian saps that might give away the on-going preparations for the offensive. Artillery units were moved forwards and carefully concealed. Most batteries were under orders to hold their fire until Operation Gericht had commenced so that the French would be surprised by the 306 field guns, 542 heavy guns and 152 minenwerfer directly behind the assault units and the 400 additional guns supporting the offensive on the flank. Entirely fooled by the German deception plan, the French artillery was outnumbered by a ratio of 4:1 and French military intelligence had identified only 70 gun emplacements before the battle. Most dangerously, they totally missed the larger guns assigned to smash the forts, including the 420mm and 380mm heavy howitzers; the latter could drop 40 shells a day on almost any target in the Verdun sector.

In General Schnabel’s fire-plan, the 210mm batteries were assigned to pulverise the front line then place a curtain barrage to block any potential counter-attack as the leading assault units consolidated their hard-won objectives. Strong-points would be reduced by both the heavy guns and minenwerfers and the 150mm batteries would then be assigned to both counter-battery missions and to interdict the supply network and rear areas. ‘No line is to remain unbounded and no possibilities of supply unmolested, nowhere should the enemy feel safe.’ The 150mm batteries assigned to counter-battery work would use zone-fire, deluging entire areas instead of trying to hit individual targets, adjusting rapidly with the aid of air observers, instead of relying on more precise methods of adjustment. This required substantially more ammunition but the use of asphyxiating and lachrymatory agents delivered by gas shell successfully enabled the German gunners to neutralise the French batteries. The lighter guns would move forwards as soon as the assault began so that the heavy guns could be shifted to new positions capable of covering the new front line. The Germans stocked 2. 5 million rounds alongside the batteries, and intended to fire the bulk of them in only 9½ hours on a 22-kilometre stretch of front before an infantry attack only 7 kilometres wide. It would be an unprecedented demonstration of the power of modern artillery.

The bombardment was delayed by poor weather but finally began on 21 February. It was initially general, with batteries concentrating on key objectives only after the French defensive communication system was judged to have been sufficiently disrupted. In the final stages of the fire-plan, patrols were filtered into the gaps between the main target zones to assess the remaining defences. A horrified French air observer saw no evidence of a gap in the carnage and reported that ‘there are gun batteries everywhere. They follow each other non-stop; the flames from their shells form an unbroken sheet.’ Another described the fire as ‘a storm, a hurricane, a tempest growing ever stronger, where it is raining nothing but paving stones’. Fire jumped to the second line and continued on into the rear areas and out on to the flanks as the infantry advanced and the Germans surged forwards, only to halt as soon as they reached their primary objectives. They had been instructed not to push beyond these locations and new units moved forwards methodically to assault the second line; the General Staff had seen the effect of artillery barrages on attacks that were unsupported by counter-batteries and were wary of repeating what they saw as Gallic over-enthusiasm. ‘The mission of infantry units is generally as follows: to seize a part of the hostile fortified system on a front and to a depth which has been delimited in advance; and then to hold it against intense artillery fire, and resist hostile counter attacks.’ A note written by a staff officer in the same division (the 20th Bavarian Brigade) summarised the official view on initiative:

It is possible that the enemy situation may be such as to permit the attack to be continued beyond the line that has been designated, and to capture certain points which the subordinate may consider of secondary importance. Do not forget that our artillery will not be in condition, if progress is made beyond the designated line, to immediately execute a new preparation and to quickly support the operation … The decision made by a subordinate commander to extend the attack beyond the objective is a very serious one and should be the exception. Furthermore, the responsibility of the leader is affected, if a position which has been taken be retaken by the enemy, even though the adversary thus gains only a moral success.

The highly regulated approach to securing the first line of objectives (although this theoretically abandoned any chance of a coup de main) enabled the Germans to exploit along the flanks of the initial penetration of the defensive system. German units that secured the initial objectives instinctively sought out opportunities to assist other units still struggling on their flanks. The French defensive system was severely ruptured but the combination of inflexible assault timetables and the leadership and defensive innovation displayed by the redoubtable if doomed Colonel Driant, in the section of the line dominated by the Bois-de-Caures, bought the French enough time to stabilise the front line before the Germans could realise how close they had come to a breakthrough. Driant’s simple but effective tactic was to scatter his men among the shell-holes so that the German lifting barrage, designed to ‘lift’ just before the assault infantry swarmed over the defences, fell on his empty trench line and not on the men of his beleaguered command.

During the first stage of the Verdun offensive General Fayolle noted:

The Boches have captured the front-line trench and the support trench. How do they do it: all their attacks succeed … they knock over everything with a horrifying bombardment after concentrating superior means. Thereby they suppress the trenches, the supporting defences and the machine guns. But how do they cross the barrage? Probably their infantry infiltrate, and since there is no one left in the fire trenches they get in, and when they are there to get them out we need to have the same artillery superiority.

The effect of the German heavy bombardment, involving a rate of fire that the French simply could not match, soon earned the mordant nickname trommelfeuer (drumfire). An officer of the 243rd Infantry was stunned by the destruction: ‘by three o’clock in the afternoon, the section of the wood which we occupied which, in the morning, was completely covered in bushes, looked like the timber-yard of a sawmill; a little later, I had lost most of my men.’ Kronprinz Wilhelm was delighted by the apparent destruction but was quick to note the relatively low casualties inflicted during the bombardment:

The enemy, surprised by the annihilating volume of our fire, only shelled a few villages at random. At 5 p. m. our barrage jumped on to his second line, and the skirmishers and shock troops of all corps left their trenches. The material effect of our bombardment had been, as we discovered later, rather below our expectations, as the hostile defences in the wooded country were in many cases too well concealed; the moral effect was immense.

Mangin was rather less impressed with their initial moves in the battle:

The offensive of 21st February was both terrible and stingy at the same time; it was staged on too narrow a front, which while it widened out slightly, again contracted, in spite of the great array of artillery with which it was provided, and the limitless use of infantry in deep formations, it advanced only with great effort and did not know how to profit by the gaps which were in front of it on certain days. When it was decided to extend it to the left bank of the Meuse, it was too late; the defence had got a new hold on itself and had been organised.

As Mangin had noted, the first assaults were focused on the right bank of the Meuse and ignored the defensive positions on the left bank; for planning purposes, it was assumed that the counter-battery artillery would deal with any batteries flanking the main assault. Considering that the German plan was intended to maximise French casualties by retaining complete air and artillery dominance of the battlefield, the decision to leave the French batteries on the left bank almost completely unmolested by infantry seems to have been a major error in the planning for the first phase of the operation. As successive assaults went in, the obsolete but cunningly emplaced 155mm batteries on the left bank shrugged off the increasingly desperate attempts to silence them and poured fire into General von Zwehl’s VII Korps every time they recommenced their advance. In spite of a spirited defence and an overly methodical fire-plan, the Germans still drove deep. Their overwhelming superiority in both guns and tactics enabled them to consolidate most of their initial objectives but as soon as the French threw in reserves, they launched vigorous counter-attacks and casualties on both sides began to mount. What Mangin bitterly described as the age of ‘mechanical’ battle had begun.

After the under-garrisoned and ill-armed Fort Douaumont fell, isolated by a near-constant barrage that gradually drove the supporting units to positions from where they were unable to cover the entrances to the fort, the Germans commenced a series of remorseless assaults on positions on both banks of the Meuse. Stunned by the initial reverses, Joffre sacked all the officers he saw as responsible for the débâcle and assigned Pétain to command the sector. Colonel Driant’s tactical success with dispersed defences in the Bois-de-Caures during the first day of fighting was extended into a broader operational concept based upon ‘an advanced line of resistance’ consisting of forward outposts and observation positions backed up by ‘a principal line of resistance’ where localised reserves could gather and retake any lost positions with the assistance of attached artillery units. The concept of the easily identified defensive line was being aban-doned in the face of increasing firepower. Counter-battery and curtain barrages by the heavy artillery units delayed the enemy while creeping barrages supported counter-attacks.

Pétain, ably assisted by the slippery but brilliant Nivelle and the implacable Mangin, stabilised the Verdun sector by creating a position de barrage behind the front line, then using the old forts as armoured bastions in a defensive system that served as a protective zone in which the reserves could gather and launch counter-attacks. Unsurprisingly the artillery was seen as the key to this enhanced system and Pétain demanded additional artillery. The continuing carnage forced Joffre to confront the consequences of years of mismanagement at GQG. The French artillery was still outclassed and outranged by the Germans, giving Kronprinz Wilhelm a priceless advantage in a battle where artillery was the key to victory. The evidence was conclusive enough to convince Joffre, who demanded that 960 medium and 440 heavy guns should be produced as quickly as possible. Even with better weapons, French supplies were being brought along a narrow-gauge railway and the one forlorn, wreckage-strewn road into the salient and Army Group Centre could not hope to equal the near-continuous German barrage even if they wanted to. An American, working as a volunteer ambulance driver, asked about the rumble of thunder he heard as they approached the city and wondered if there was a storm coming. The driver shook his head in despair. ‘If it were thunder the noise would stop occasionally. The noise is constant. It’s Verdun.’