Who Is to Have Berlin? II

There were not many warm hearts in the Bunker on 20 April when Hitler celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday. To those who attended he presented a picture of a man in the last stages of bodily and mental decay. While the will-power which had exercised so great and enduring an influence on those about him could still be summoned up, while the dull grey-blue eyes, which often now were glazed over with a film of sheer exhaustion, still seemed able to hypnotize, fascinate and compel, the actual physical state of the man was more an object of pity than of fear. The Führer’s shuffling steps, weak handshake, wobbling head, trembling hands and slack left arm were the movements and appearance of a man prematurely senile. Yet his hesitancy and indecisiveness while confirming the completeness of his disintegration were still at odds with the ‘indescribable, flickering glow in his eyes, creating a fearsome and wholly unnatural effect’.

On the following day, 21 April, Hitler was giving orders for making a last stand in Berlin. There was not much time left for, by then, Marshal Zhukov’s armies had got as far as Berlin’s eastern suburbs, while his fellow Marshal, Konev, was nearing Dresden. Nevertheless the Supreme Commander was detailing to Göring’s Chief of Staff, General Koller, an elderly, scrupulous fusspot, exactly which troops would be withdrawn from the north of the city to counter-attack the Russians in the southern suburbs. Every tank, every aircraft that could be mustered, everything and everybody would make an all-out, final, desperate effort to throw back the enemy. Obergruppenführer Steiner of the SS would command the attack. Any commanding officer who did not thrust home would answer for it with his head. It was all in vain. The attack never came off, did not even get under way; withdrawal of units from the north simply allowed the Russians to surge through there and sweep on to the city’s centre. It hardly seemed possible that the military situation could worsen, yet it was just such cold comfort that Hitler was obliged to stomach.

He did not do so lightly. At the military conference the following day, when the facts were presented to him, he completely lost control of himself. One more shrieking, shouting match – a wholly one-sided affair – was duly played out. The Generals and the Staff were then treated to three hours of denunciation. Hitler had been betrayed and deserted. The army had failed him. There was nothing but lies, deceit, cowardly incompetence. It was the end. His great mission, the Third Reich itself, had come to nothing, and indeed nothing was left but for him to stay in Berlin and die. This conference, if conference it could be called, may have left his listeners bewildered and exhausted, yet its effect on Hitler himself was quite different. Decision calmed him. He seemed able to face the future, however limited it might be, serenely. Yet at the very moment of resigning himself to failure and death, he took the unwarranted, unforgivable step of resigning too from that great position which he had so long coveted and relished – command of the German army. He refused to delegate. He gave no orders to his principal military assistants, Field-Marshal Keitel and General Jodl. He simply abdicated all responsibility. From the former position of directing the entire war machine, personally, continuously and arbitrarily, he swung fully about and would have nothing more to do with it. He declared that he would stay in Berlin, lead its defence and then at the last moment shoot himself. His physical state did not allow him to take part in the fight personally and in any case he could not risk falling into enemy hands. It was not until 30 April that Hitler actually shot himself, and by then the Russians were only a few streets away from the Berlin Chancellory and the Bunker. What would have happened if the Western armies had got there first?

On 1 April 1945 Stalin was conferring in Moscow with some of his most senior commanders – Zhukov and Konev, respectively commanding the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukraine fronts, and Antonov and Shtemenko, both of the General Staff. A telegram was read out with the unexpected information that the Anglo-American command was preparing to launch a drive to capture Berlin, the principal spearhead under Montgomery’s direction. The axis would be north of the Ruhr, the shortest route, and the telegram ended by saying that Allied plans were such that they would certainly reach Berlin before the Red Army. It must be assumed that Stalin had fabricated this telegram or that it was a thoroughly bad piece of intelligence. When the Soviet leader then asked his commanders, ‘Who is going to take Berlin, we or the Allies?’ there was unanimous agreement that it would be themselves. The only question was whether Zhukov’s or Konev’s front would be charged with the task. Stalin then instructed the two commanders to prepare their ideas and two days later gave orders that whichever of the two reached a certain line between the river Neisse and the river Spree first would go on to take Berlin.

During the first week of April 1945, therefore, we have the spectacle of two Russian Army Group commanders planning how they would take Berlin, while on the Allied side Eisenhower is being pressed by the British to do so and resisting this pressure with the aid of his own countrymen. Bradley, for example, always hostile to and a rival of Montgomery, made the extraordinary estimate, quite unsupported by military considerations, that an advance from the Elbe to Berlin would cost them 100,000 men, which he regarded as too high a price to pay for a ‘prestige objective’. He could not have been unaware that any such drive would be conducted by Montgomery’s Army Group rather than his own, purely because of their respective deployment. He echoed Eisenhower by declaiming that postwar political alignments were less important than destroying what remained of the German army. He eschewed the idea of complicating matters with political foresight and what he called non-military objectives. Yet what are military operations for but to determine political circumstances? And it has always to be borne in mind that the German army and indeed the German people as a whole, given the option, would have infinitely preferred occupation of their country by the Anglo-American armies than the Russians.

Yet Eisenhower received further support from the US Chiefs of Staff. Speaking on their behalf, General Marshall reiterated Bradley’s contention that any political or psychological advantages resulting from the capture of Berlin ahead of the Russians should not override the imperative military consideration of the dismemberment of Germany’s armed forces. In reply Eisenhower, while adhering to the orders he had already given, and insisting that there would be no drive on Berlin until he had joined forces with the Russians, as already agreed, none the less commented:

I am the first to admit that a war is waged in pursuance of political aims, and if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should decide that the Allied effort to take Berlin outweighs military considerations in this theatre, I would cheerfully readjust my plans.

This signal to Marshall was dated 7 April. If the Combined Chiefs of Staff had decided to order Eisenhower to go full steam ahead for Berlin there and then, could he have got there first? On the very next day, 8 April, we find Eisenhower telling Montgomery: ‘If I get an opportunity to capture Berlin cheaply, I will take it.’ He was hardly as good as his word. Even Bradley, finding three days later that his armies had secured a bridgehead over the Elbe at Magdeburg and were only fifty miles from Berlin, admitted: ‘At that time we could probably have pushed on to Berlin had we been willing to take the casualties Berlin would have cost us. Zhukov had not yet crossed the Oder and Berlin now lay about midway between our forces.’

Chester Wilmot was in no doubt. He pointed out that there were no prepared defences to prevent Eisenhower reaching Berlin first, no serious obstacles, ‘nor any resistance that could not be brusquely swept aside by the 60 divisions available for his next offensive’. What is more, there were no logistic objections.

Politically, too, the way was clear for, though the German capital lay in the centre of that area which was to be occupied by the Soviet Union after the war, it had never been suggested that the military forces of one power should not enter the occupation zone of another in pursuit of the common enemy.

Indeed, there had been no discussion between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, still less an agreement, as to who was to take Berlin. At Yalta the question did not arise. Certainly there was no understanding that the city was to be reserved for the Red Army. Since Yalta the relative freedom of movement by the two converging armies had changed dramatically. Formerly the Allies had been bogged down, the Russians advancing everywhere. Now, in April 1945, the position was reversed: the Red Army halted, Eisenhower’s armies free to advance. Leaving aside for a moment whether these latter armies could have reached Berlin first, if they had attempted to do so from mid-April onwards, would the German commanders in the field – notwithstanding anything the Führer or OKW might have had to say, for their orders were negligible – have allowed the Western armies to have made their way to the capital virtually unopposed? There might have been fanatical and scattered resistance from ill-organized groups, but if a decision of this sort had been left to such men as Guderian, Wenck, Busse, Kesselring, Manteuffel, Speer, Dönitz – even Himmler – the answer would in all likelihood have been yes.

Bearing in mind now that the Russian offensive across the Oder did not start until 16 April and that five days later the armies of Zhukov’s front reached the outskirts of the city, any Allied attempt to take Berlin would have had to succeed before this. Given that Montgomery’s Army Group, having reached the Elbe during the first weeks of April was then charged with so many tasks – to clear Schleswig-Holstein, take Wismar, Lübeck, Emden, Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven and Bremen – that it had to be reinforced by a US Airborne Corps, it would have been impossible for Montgomery’s forces to have got to Berlin before the Russians. On Bradley’s front, however, it was a different story. His elimination of Model’s group of armies in the Ruhr encirclement had been so successful that by 10 April the German soldiers were surrendering en masse. A total of 320,000 were captured with all their weapons and equipment, a significant pointer to what might have happened on the road to Berlin. Bradley had been instructed to seize bridgeheads over the Elbe and be prepared to continue the advance. On 11 April Simpson’s 9th US Army reached the Elbe astride Magdeburg and was across it the following day. On the same day, 12 April, it reached Tangemünde, just over fifty miles from Berlin. Everywhere the US armies were advancing rapidly, and by 15 April Hodges’ 1st Army reached the Mulde and Patton’s 3rd Army had got to Plauen, Hof and Bayreuth. On that very day Simpson proposed to Bradley that his army should expand its Elbe bridgehead and push on in force and with all speed to Berlin: this, it must be noted, on the day before the Red Army’s attack began.

Eisenhower vetoed the suggestion. We may hazard a guess that had Patton been there instead of Simpson he would have pushed on anyway and asked for permission later. That Simpson could have got on seems more or less certain for in the whole of his advance up to the Elbe, his army had suffered very few casualties. Indeed, all that had opposed him – ill-equipped and unpractised divisions of Wenck’s 12th Army, which had no air support at all – had been scattered. Wenck’s own comment on it all was: ‘If the Americans launch a major attack they’ll crack our positions with ease. After all what’s to stop them? There’s nothing between here and Berlin.’ If we assume therefore that on 15 April Simpson had despatched powerful armoured columns down the Autobahn to Berlin, with motorized infantry, artillery and engineers in support, and the Allies’ unchallenged air supremacy to deal with any pockets of resistance, we may suppose that the American armies could have reached and occupied Berlin on 15 and 16 April, so anticipating the arrival of the Russians by several days. Of one thing we may be sure. They would have been welcomed by the Berliners with the most profound relief.

What about Hitler himself? Would he still have committed suicide when the information was brought to him that the American forces were in Berlin? There could presumably be no surrender, conditional or unconditional, while he still lived. Would he still have married Eva Braun, who arrived in the Bunker on 15 April? There would just have been time. Whom would the Führer have nominated as his successor? Would it still have been Dönitz? There are innumerable questions of this sort. But having assumed that Simpson’s 9th Army, rapidly reinforced by elements from the US 1st, 3rd and 15th Armies, did reach, occupy and even extend eastwards beyond Berlin, we may allow ourselves further speculation. Once it was known that Hitler was dead, his nominated successor, provided it were someone like Dönitz, and not Göring, Himmler, Goebbels or Keitel, would have initiated some approach to the Western Allies to negotiate a cessation of hostilities. In view of the proximity of the Red Army, the Western negotiators would have insisted that the Soviet Union be involved in the surrender conditions. There would have to be a newly agreed junction between the two converging armies, possibly the arterial roads to the east of Berlin or the broadly defined eastern outskirts of the city. It must be assumed here too that the Red Army has been ordered not to contest occupation of Berlin.

Who would have been the principal negotiator on behalf of the Western Allies? Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, might have been a candidate, provided he were furnished with the necessary political guidance from Truman and Churchill. But such delegated authority would have been limited to surrender terms, and would not have changed what had been agreed at Yalta in February. We may be sure that at least three men would have wanted to make their presence known when it came to detailed discussions with Stalin: Truman, Churchill and de Gaulle. One other man would somehow or other have contrived not only to be involved himself, but to ensure a substantial role for the soldiers he commanded: Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery. How he would have longed to organize some sort of victory parade or celebration in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium! If Churchill had been given the chance, he would no doubt have arranged for his quarters to have been at Frederick the Great’s Potsdam palace, Sans Souci, and indeed had there been a Potsdam conference in April 1945, instead of July, with the Western Allies in a far more powerful bargaining position than was in reality the case, Churchill might never have experienced his subsequent disappointment and dismay as to what actually emerged in July, when he was out of power:

The line of the Oder and the Eastern Neisse had already been recognized as the Polish compensation for retiring to the Curzon Line, but the overrunning by the Russian armies of the territory up to and even beyond the Western Neisse was never and never would have been agreed to by any Government of which I was the head . . .

The real time to deal with these issues was . . . when the fronts of the mighty Allies faced each other in the field, and before the Americans, and to a lesser extent, the British, made their vast retirement on a 400-mile front to a depth in some places of 120 miles, thus giving the heart and a great mass of Germany over to the Russians . . .

The heart: what if Churchill had had his way earlier and the Western armies had met the Russians not on the line of the Elbe–Mulde rivers, but on the Oder–Neisse line, with Berlin in their own hands? What then? How different a Potsdam conference might have been. Churchill’s fundamental antipathy towards allowing the Russians to occupy great chunks of Central Europe was that he could see no future for these areas unless it was acceptable to – that is, controlled by – the Soviet Government. And that to him was no future at all. Yet all this apart, the American view, at a time when American counsels carried great weight, was that the Western Allies were committed to a definite line of occupation and that this commitment must be honoured. Churchill, too, was in favour of honouring commitments provided all of them were equally honoured, in other words, provided the Western Allies could be satisfied that the entire European future was being properly settled. At Potsdam in July 1945 American support for such a notion was not to hand. Would the situation have differed if Potsdam had instead taken place in April, with Berlin occupied by American and British forces and the Red Army still some way off to the east? We may be sure that Churchill, still at that point wielding much influence and power, would have moved mountains to reach a satisfactory solution.

As for Berlin itself, there would still have been quadripartite control of the city, but how different might have been its initial occupation. We have to recall that in April 1945 Berlin was kaputt, a bombed ruin of a city, as described by a correspondent of the Red Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Troyanovsky, who saw for himself what happened between 21 and 25 April as the battle raged:

From one end of the horizon to the other stretched houses, gardens, factory buildings, and many churches. Volumes of smoke arose from all quarters and hung like a pall over the city. The German capital was burning. The thunder of the artillery bombardment shook the air, the houses and the ground. And Berlin replied with thousands of shells and bombs. It seemed as though we were confronted not by a town, but by a nightmare of fire and steel. Every house appeared to have been converted into a fortress. There were no squares, but only gun positions for artillery and mine throwers. From house to house and street to street, from one district to another, mowing their way through gun fire and hot steel, went our infantrymen, artillery, sappers and tanks. On 25 April the German capital was completely encircled and cut off from the rest of the country. At the height of the street fighting Berlin was without water, without light, without landing fields, without radio stations. The city ceased to resemble Berlin.

‘How pitiful is their Berlin!’ observed Zhukov.

How pitiful too was the plight of the Berliners, particularly the women. The Red Army ran riot. Rape, looting, burning and murder were rife. Hitler’s very last War Directive of 15 April had made it clear what fate threatened a defeated Germany: ‘While the old men and children will be murdered, the women and girls will be reduced to barrack-room whores.’ Antony Beevor, while doing his research into the fall of Berlin, was shocked by what he discovered about the depravity of the Russian soldiers. This research, says a newspaper report, ‘revealed that the Russians raped hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Germans; the troops even raped the Russian and Polish women prisoners they freed from German camps. In some towns every female, young and old, was violated.’

The British and Americans would have behaved better. There might have been seduction, even barter, for cigarettes were treasured currency then, but rape would have been rare. When the British did enter Berlin later, they were greeted as liberators rather than conquerors. What must have been the consequence if Berlin had initially been wholly occupied by the Western armies, before its division into the four sectors, British, American, French and Russian? Is it not possible that as soon as the boundaries were made known and before the barriers and barbed wire went up, every Berliner able to do so would have quitted the Russian zone to find refuge in one of the other three? Even as things were, Germans who found themselves in the Soviet-controlled part of the former Third Reich and in East Berlin flocked to the west in their thousands until the Berlin Wall and the boundary minefields deterred such abundant emigration and denied those seeking refuge from the oppressor’s wrong, the whips and scorns of uniformed bullies, the spurns of the unworthy, the insolence of jack-booted officials, the chance to do so.

It had all been brought about by one man, whom Speer called ‘a demonic figure’, whose ‘person determined the fate of a nation. He alone placed it, and kept it, upon the path which has led to this dreadful ending. The nation was spellbound by him as a people has rarely been in the whole of history.’ Was it all by chance?

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A7V FLAKPANZER

The A7V Flakpanzer anti-aircraft tank had two Russian M1902/30 76.2mm (3in) field guns mounted on each end.

ANTI-AIRCRAFT TANK

In the First World War, the Germans used the A7V tank chassis as a starting point in the development of several other variations. Although most would be used for the A7V Überlandwagen rough-terrain tracked supply vehicle, others were used to create unique vehicles, such as a trench-digging machine and the anti-aircraft version known as the A7V Flakpanzer.

Plans were also made to produce an A7V Funkpanzer wireless communication tank fitted with a Graben-Funkstation 16 radio transmitter and large circling antenna positioned on the roof.

In order to combat the ever more numerous aircraft in the skies, the German Army needed something that could fend off the enemy aviators, but also relocate to a more defensible position if necessary. Little is known about this mysterious A7V Flakpanzer – the earliest recorded tracked anti-aircraft vehicle – save for a few photographs. Three prototypes were being tested in the closing stages of the First World War.

The fate of these machines is unknown; it is possible that they were captured by the Allies and scrapped, or dismantled and the parts used for other things.

The guns themselves were positioned at each end of the platform. Ammo boxes were placed around the driving position and just under the guns. The Flakpanzer A7V was very similar to the Überlandwagen, which also had the A7V chassis and suspension, with the engines mounted centrally. The driving compartment was placed above them and was open and unarmoured, but had a tarpaulin cover to be used in bad weather.

The cargo bays were extended well over the front and rear of the vehicle, making the Flakpanzer longer. Each of these bays held an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pedestal. These guns could traverse 360 degrees and could also elevate to fire at enemy planes.

Also present were two elevated guard rails, which seem to have had a double purpose. They could keep the crew from falling off the vehicle and serve as sitting places when moving. Under them were the ammunition compartments, which could be accessed from the outside of the vehicle when the wooden side panels were lowered.

The crew consisted of around ten men, with four needed to service each gun. There was also a driver and a commander, although it is not clear if these positions were somehow amalgamated.

THE ARMAMENT

There is no verified information on the armament used by the Flakpanzer. However, it is believed that two of the prototypes were equipped with captured Russian M1902/30 76.2mm (3in) field guns. They were mounted on a new trunnion and elevation assembly to enable high elevation.

The Germans had captured copious numbers of such guns from the Tsarist Empire and pressed them into service; they even manufactured the ammunition for them.

The third prototype A7V Flakpanzer was equipped with a German Krupp-manufactured gun. It is believed that it was a 7.7cm (3.03in) German leichte Feld Kanone (l.F.K.) 1896 n/a (7.7cm light field cannon). Only one gun was fitted to this vehicle.

Whether these guns were effective against their intended targets remains a mystery as no paperwork related to their use has been found.

New German Submarine Production

In the fall of 1943, Dönitz ordered 152 Type XXI and 140 Type XXIII sub marines. Speer examined the plans and he promised the first Type XXI would be ready in April 1944. Speer determined that the need for early availability of the submarines ruled out the luxury of making a prototype. This later resulted in a number of problems. Speer had established a Central Board for Ship Construction with representatives from both the navy and the Armaments Ministry. He selected Otto Merker (1899–1986), a man from the automobile industry to head the board. To reduce the construction time, Merker proposed a modular approach. Naval engineers estimated that this would reduce construction time from about 22 months to 5–9 months. It would also halve the time submarines were in slips, greatly reducing the time they would be vulnerable to Allied bombing. Merker’s decision on modular construction may have been influenced by the American building of Liberty Ships.

A great number of industrial sites were involved in this mammoth project. Each hull consisted of eight prefabricated sections with final assembly at the shipyards. Some of these sections weighed as much as 150 tons and were too heavy for the rail system. Consequently, they were shipped via rivers and canals to the final assembly yards in Danzig, Bremen, and Hamburg. The Germans planned eventually to transfer all assembly operations to a gigantic bomb-hardened assembly plant at the Valentin submarine pens in the small port of Farge downriver from Bremen. Work on this enormous facility began in early 1943. The plant was nearly complete in March 1945 when it was severely damaged in an Allied air raid using bunker-buster bombs. It was still not completed when the war ended.

Although Dönitz had expected 152 XXIs and 140 XXIIIs to be completed by the end of October 1944, the completion schedule could not be followed for a variety of reasons as detailed below. Only 118 Type XXI were completed by the end of the war and only four of these were ready for combat. Only 59 Type XXIIIs of the 140 planned for were ready by the end of the war and only six put to sea, the first on 29 January 1945 and the last on 4 May. None was sunk while engaged in operations.

Production Obstacles

There are those who claim that the new boats should have been given a higher priority in armament production. They forget the fact that Hitler was caught in a “Catch 22” situation. If he reduced the priority accorded the Luftwaffe, the facilities needed for submarine construction and the synthetic oil refineries would have been destroyed earlier than was the case. If he reduced the priority for the army, replacements for the hard-pressed units in both the East and West would quickly slow down, as would equipment for the new divisions that were being formed. Lowering the priorities for the other two services could only lead to undesirable situations and a shortening of the war. Professor Grier provides some interesting and telling figures in this regard. He notes that the steel required for the Type XXI submarines “would have provided Guderian 5,100 additional tanks” and that another ‘miracle weapon’ program, the V-2 rockets “devoured resources equivalent to 24,000 combat aircraft.” He concludes that “the German war effort certainly would have benefited more from five thousand tanks than from Dönitz’ ‘miracle weapon.’”

A possible solution to the problem was to withdraw units that were ordered to defend the “fortified places” to shorter defensive lines. The wisdom of some decisions can only be judged retrospectively. This was not the case with allowing large forces to be voluntarily encircled or besieged without realistic prospects for relief or re-supply. History tells us that this is a virtually certain prescription for disaster. The new submarine program, on the other hand, cannot be judged realistically except in retrospect.

The lack of prototypes for the new submarines and the fact that many companies involved in the modular construction had little experience in shipbuilding caused severe problems. Much time was wasted because the modular sections did not interlock properly because specific tolerances were exceeded. Additional delays were caused by the long training time required for crews. Most sources note that the normal submarine training time was about three months, but the new types, because of their advanced technology and design complexity, required around six months. The Allies had also started—on August 7, 1944—heavy aerial mining of the Bay of Danzig, now the primary German training area. The mining forced the Germans to move their training to the less suitable Bay of Lübeck. A number of new submarines that were near the completion of trials and ready to head to Norway for stationing were lost in the Bay of Lübeck, probably victims of mines. The loss statistics of Claes-Göran Wetterholm undoubtedly include those lost in routine training accidents.

Allied bombing of production and assembly facilities became an increasing problem for German submarine output. Except for the mining operations in the Baltic, the Allies did not make a concerted effort to damage and destroy the German submarine facilities until January 1945. This objective was simply not on the priority list of the strategic air offensive. Instead, the priorities of the Allied heavy bomber forces were:

  • Synthetic oil facilities
  • Transportation network
  • Tank and mechanized transport production facilities.

The British Admiralty was aware, however, that the Germans were developing new submarines. Intelligence was collected not only through an analysis of Enigma deciphers but by reconnaissance flights over German harbors. By mid-December the National Intelligence Division had come up with a rather accurate estimate and status of the new German submarine production. They estimated that 95 Type XXIs were under construction or in various stages of preparation and that 35 had already been commissioned. The Enigma deciphering even allowed the British to conclude that the commanders appointed to skipper these submarines were experienced and capable.

From their information on the German submarine program, the Allies were less worried about the existing submarines being fitted with snorkel and the Type XXIII than they were about the ocean-going Type XXI. The Allies felt that they could handle the threat from the snorkel and Type XXIII submarines by using existing anti-submarine warfare assets to the maximum. However, they felt that the Type XXI could seriously impede transport across the Atlantic and threaten landing operations if those submarines were deployed in sufficient numbers. Only a dramatic increase in anti-submarine warfare assets could counter this possibility. The alarming intelligence reports caused the Admiralty to urge a heavy bombing campaign against submarine production facilities and slips.

The Royal Air Force, which was somewhat skeptical about the navy’s intelligence, concluded that an aerial campaign of the kind that was suggested by the Admiralty had to be on such a large scale that it would constitute a serious detraction from existing priorities. They noted that German armored forces and the Luftwaffe were seriously constrained by lack of fuel and that any relaxation on existing priorities would lead to the resurgence of the Luftwaffe and allow the Germans to increase their operations vastly on all fronts. The German coal and oil supplies had, by January 1945, been cut to a fraction of what was needed to prosecute the war on two fronts. Therefore, they argued, there should be no shift in priorities until it was shown that the naval commands could no longer cope with the threat.

In the end, the Admiralty convinced the Combined Chiefs of Staff in mid-December 1944 that it was necessary to take the requested action as long as it did not imperil existing priorities. Heavy Allied bombers were ordered to carry out secondary strikes against submarine facilities. Below is a listing of major raids carried out against the submarine facilities and a summary of their results:

  • 18/19 December 1944—a “target of opportunity” raid by 227 Lancaster bombers dropped 817 tons of bombs on Gdynia, a port on the west side of Danzig Bay. The bombs sunk two submarine depot ships, a torpedo boat, and five merchant ships. An oil refinery ship, the World War I battleship Schleswig Holstein, and a Type XXI—about to undertake the final training exercise in the Gulf of Danzig—were heavily damaged.
  • The first attack by the US Eighth Air Force was carried out on December 31, 1944, when 324 bombers attacked Hamburg, dropping 740 tons of bombs. The Germans shot down 24 aircraft. The raid resulted in the destruction of four Type XXI submarines while seriously damaging two others. A large depot ship and several other vessels were also destroyed.
  • An attack on the canals through which pre-fabricated sections were brought to the assembly yards was carried out on January 1, 1945, resulting in the Dortmund–Ems and Mittelland Canals being put out of service until February 6.
  • A very successful raid was carried out by the Eighth Air Force against the submarine assembly yard at Hamburg on January 17. The results of the 360 tons of bombs dropped were impressive. Three commissioned Type XXI were destroyed and nine others were seriously damaged. Five merchant ships were also sunk and three damaged. The US lost three aircraft.
  • Precision bombing by small groups of Mosquitoes, each carrying a 4,000lb bomb, was carried out against a Type XXI yard in Bremen. These attacks were carried out nightly from February 17 until the end of the month. The most successful attack was carried out on February 21/22. Two Type XXIs were damaged and the launch of three others blocked by debris.
  • Eighth Air Force carried out a 198-aircraft raid on the yards at Bremen on February 24. While only one Type XXI was sunk, two floating cranes and the crane used for preparing the submarine were badly damaged.
  • An unusually heavy attack by 407 bombers of the Eighth Air Force was carried out on March 11 against the Bremen yard. This attack was so damaging that it virtually shut down the yard.
  • A damaging raid on the canal system in February again made it unusable. Another raid on the canal system on March 3-4 damaged it beyond repair.
  • Three devastating raids were carried out against the facilities in Hamburg—two by the Royal Air Force and three by the Eighth Air Force. The facilities were virtually brought to a standstill. Eleven older submarines were sunk and five Type XXI were dam aged beyond repair. A new destroyer and 15 other ships were also sunk.
  • Two destructive attacks were carried out in late March on the gigantic submarine pen at Farge, near Bremen. One raid was carried out by the Royal Air Force while the other was delivered by the Eighth Air Force. The damage delayed construction.
  • Heavy raids were carried out by the Eighth Air Force in April 1945 on the port facilities at Kiel. A total of 1,184 aircraft dropped 3,138 tons of bombs. Three older submarines, two liners, and 10 other ships were sunk.
  • The British were also busy over Kiel. On the night of April 8–9, 427 bombers dropped 1,503 tons of bombs. Five commissioned Type XXI submarines and five merchant vessels were sunk. Nightly raids by Mosquitoes were carried out from 21 to 27 April.
  • Kiel was attacked again on the night of 14–15 April by 467 British bombers. Seven older and two Type XXI submarines were sunk in the British raids and the facilities were practically destroyed in the combined raids.

Raids not directly linked to the air campaign against the new submarine facilities were also damaging. For example, the bombing of factories in Hanover and Hagen destroyed the production plants for batteries. The only other plant producing batteries for the submarines was at Posen and it was captured by the Soviets in January 1945. The Soviet advance also stopped all work at the submarine assembly yard at Danzig. Churchill writes that the Soviet capture of Danzig, one of the three principal submarine bases, was a great relief to the British Admiralty. He observed that the resumption of the submarine war on the scale envisioned was clearly impossible.

The production of the smaller Type XXIII was not nearly as affected by Allied bombing as the Type XXI. Only five of these boats were destroyed by bombing. There were two reasons for this lesser damage. First, the assembly site in Hamburg was sheltered in hardened concrete bunkers. Second, the other assembly point in Kiel was not heavily damaged by bombing. However, the output of these boats dropped off because the supply parts dried up. The production dropped from nine boats each month in 1944 to four in February 1945.

Dönitz, with his single-minded focus on the submarine war, was probably one of the very few among the senior German leaders who still believed in early 1945 that the war could be turned around. He was repeatedly forced to explain to Hitler why the 1943 production schedule was continually falling behind. In these “excuse” sessions he always maintained that the turning of the tide was just around the corner, when he knew that was not the case. Hitler would not have tolerated this from his generals, but Dönitz had apparently ingratiated himself to Hitler in such a way that it was tolerated. His optimistic approach to a person who faced disasters on all fronts may be one explanation. Their ideological compatibility was undoubtedly also important. Raeder, Dönitz’ predecessor, met with Hitler infrequently, but Dönitz became practically a fixture at Hitler’s briefings and conferences.

Dönitz had focused his entire naval strategy during the last two years of the war on the deployment of the new submarines. While the Germans came up with a design that profoundly influenced future submarine designs, their immense efforts did not help them turn the tide in World War II. The most promising new boats—Type XXIs—never launched a single torpedo at an enemy.

BEUTEPANZERN

Captured British Mark IV Male Beutepanzer. The British 6-pounder gun was replaced with a Belgian 7.5cm Model 1905 gun that had a range of 8km. The tank was redesignated Panzer 107 ‘Ännchen’. It was abandoned by its German crew near Fort de la Pompeile on 1 June 1918.

Captured Beutepanzer medium Mark A Whippet. Large German Army Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz black crosses were painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact that they were under new management.

Captured Mark IV Female. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The German Army only operated twenty A7V heavy tanks and it deployed more captured British tanks on the battlefield than German-built ones. They were known as beute-tanks or Beutepanzern – trophy tanks. As most of the captured tanks were British Mark IV heavy tanks they were also referred to as schwerer-Kampfwagen (beute).

By the beginning of summer 1918 the Germans had recovered a large number of abandoned Allied tanks. After the successes of the spring offensive in 1918 and the recapturing of most of the November 1917 Cambrai battlefield, more than 300 damaged tanks were now situated behind German lines.

The Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park (BAKP 20, the Bavarian Army-Motor-Park) special recovery units went out on to the old battlefields with the objective of salvaging as many Allied tanks and parts as was possible and bringing them to their tank repair workshops in Monceau-sur-Sambre, Marchienne-au-Pont and Roux, all near Charleroi. It was here that the tanks were refurbished and prepared to fight for their new masters. This unit, commanded by Oberst Meyer, had been operational at this location since 12 November 1917 after it transferred from the Eastern Front following the Russian Revolution and the subsequent ceasefire. It was at full capacity by February 1917 and more than 100 captured tanks are known to have been repaired.

Apart from changes made to the weaponry of the captured tanks, very little was altered apart from a large escape hatch being fitted to the driver’s cabin. This feature later appeared on the British-operated Mark V tank. (No British Mark V tanks were ever used as Beutepanzern during the war.)

The Germans had access to a supply of Belgian 5.7cm quick-firing Maxim Nordenfelt Model 1888 guns and ammunition. Supplies of British 6-pounder ammunition were very hard to obtain so the guns on the Male tanks were replaced. The 1888 could fire two types of rounds: a 2.7kg shell with a range of 2.7km and a grapeshot shell used by the Navy that could project 196 lead balls against infantry up to a range of 300m. The German Army called these guns ‘Belg 5.7cm K’.

Grapeshot was recorded being fired at British infantry from a Belgian 5.7cm-armed Mark IV Male Beutepanzer belonging to Abteilung 16 as it joined a German counter-attack near Séranvillers on 8 October 1918. It avoided the British tanks and withdrew once it had used up all its ammunition. Its Lewis guns were damaged and five of the tank crew wounded.

It had been accompanied by two other machine gun-only Female tanks but they were both knocked out by 6-pounder shells and set on fire during a tank battle with two British Mark IV Males, L45 and L49, from ‘C’ Company, 12th Tank Battalion, Tank Corps.

On some vehicles Mauser 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifles) replaced machine guns. Produced after May 1918, the Mauser was a single shot bolt-action rifle that fired armour-piercing, hardened steel-cored, 13mm semi-rimmed cartridges. Each round had an initial velocity of 785m/s (2,580 ft/s) and could penetrate 22mm armour plate at 100m.

Each Beutepanzer appears to have had its own different camouflage pattern. There does not seem to be any standardisation, although some of them were painted very similarly to the German-built A7V tanks. This may have been because these tanks were also serviced at this location. Some of the workshops were based in Belgian railway facilities. It has been suggested that the paints used by Belgian railway engineers were commandeered by the Germans and used to paint the A7V tanks as well as the captured Allied tanks.

The colours used for the Belgian railway rolling stock were cream/ivory, red/brown and dark green. The Germans would have had access to their Army-standard feldgrau grey paint. A large German Army black cross, called a ‘Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz’, which was a type of Christian cross with arms that narrowed in the centre and had a white border, was painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact they were under new management. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The British tanks in 1918 were now painted with large white-red-white strips on their sides and roofs so they could be distinguished from German-operated Mark IVs.

When a Beutepanzer suffered a mechanical breakdown or ditched on the battlefield they were very rarely recovered; after the weapons were removed the tank was abandoned and blown up. A newly repaired one from the Charleroi workshops was sent to the front to fill the gap in the Abeteilung (battalion) allotted vehicle strength. As time went on and losses increased, BAKP 20 could not keep up with the demand for newly repaired captured tanks.

A small number of other captured Allied tanks were used by the Germans. Between ten and fifteen medium Mark A Whippets were captured but only two were repaired to operational condition and painted with Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz crosses. One of them was sent to Abteilung 13 for the German tank crews to use. Whippets that were beyond repair were still sent to the Abeteilungs so they could inspect them and be familiar with the enemy’s tanks. There are no records of a Whippet Beutepanzer being used in action during the war.

Most of the captured French tanks were used for evaluation and not operationally. There is a First World War photograph of a Renault FT, known as the leichten Kampfwagen FT-17 Renault ‘Hargneuse III’, parked next to a Beutepanzer Mark IV but there is no evidence to suggest it was used in action. There are lots of photographs of Renault FTs with black Balkenkreuz crosses on them but nearly all these were taken during the Second World War when they were used for internal security work in occupied countries.

There are a number of photographs of a working Saint-Chamond French tank under German control. It was called ‘Petit Jean Pas Kamerad’ (‘No Mercy Little Jean’) and it is believed to have been used just for evaluation. The same weapons used on the Mark IV Beutepanzern, the Belgian 5.7cm QF gun and the 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifle), were intended to be fitted to the tank but it is not known if they were mounted and tested as there are no documents or photographic evidence to prove this at present.

There is a photograph of a late production French-built Schneider CA.1 Beutepanzer that had been used in action against the US 1st Infantry Division and was then knocked out by artillery shells near Froissy on 20 July 1918. There are no documents or other evidence that shows the use of any more Schneider CA Beutepanzern by the German Army.

Mark IV Beutepanzern were involved in the last recorded battle of the First World War where German-controlled tanks were used on a battlefield. This occurred on 1 November 1918 near Sebourg. Five tanks were due to move off from the start line at the beginning of the counter-attack, but only three managed to advance with the infantry. Two were quickly knocked out by artillery shells. The third tank lagged so far behind the attacking soldiers that it never saw action.

FROM SICILY TO THE LEVANT

Execution of Conradin in 1268.

Battle of Benevento

In the time of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, northern Italy was divided between factions loyal to Frederick and the supporters of the Church. The Ghibellines, Frederick’s partisans, take their label from an Italianate version of the word ‘Waiblingen’, the name of a Hohenstaufen castle. Guelphs, partisans of the Church, are so-called from the German ‘Welf’, the lineage and war cry of the Bavarian dukes. This simple dichotomy hardly scratches the surface of the complex political situation in northern Italy. There were any number of freebooters faithful to no one but themselves, and even Guelphs could become Ghibellines and Ghibellines Guelphs in certain circumstances. One of the greatest works of literature of all time, Dante’s Divine Comedy, written in Italian, may be read in part as a commentary on the political strife of the period. The writer’s avowedly prescriptive works, like his Latin De Monarchia, are explicitly concerned with the overarching political problems and how to correct them – in Dante’s view by the restoration of strong imperial authority.

It should be recalled that life was not everywhere and always lived according to political labels, no matter how fierce the strife was and how compelling the loyalties to particular political factions. Reading the Divine Comedy as a political commentary is possible, but perhaps not recommended, for it would turn a rich and provocative poem into a flattened and tedious screed. Similarly, while violence and factionalism played themselves out in the Italian cities and to some extent characterized urban life, though not to the point of undermining economic growth, the thirteenth century also saw the expansion of the mendicants (especially Franciscans) into every town, bringing with them their concerns for the poor, for right belief, for the conversion and reform of prostitutes and Jews, indeed for nothing less than a call for total religious renewal. Something of the sort seems to have occurred as early as 1233, that is, even before the mendicants had achieved their evangelical hegemony. The so-called ‘Great Alleluia’ swept the region of the lower Po in that year; it seared the land like pietists’ exuberance in eighteenth-century Germany or the Great Protestant Awakenings of nineteenth-century America.

As far as political stability goes, though, southern Italy and Sicily were in better shape than the north. Frederick II, besides spending a great deal of time on the island in particular, maintained a gifted group of administrators to deal with governmental problems. The institutions within which they worked were remarkably stable and efficient.

The principal political challenge for the Church was how to control Frederick, how to induce him to act as the popes thought a Christian emperor should act. But Frederick, the ‘Wonder of the World’ (Stupor Mundi), was not a man to accept control by anyone, even the pope. Recognizing that the Church would never be successful in inducing Frederick by peaceful or diplomatic means to modify his policies in conformity with its political agenda, Pope Innocent IV decided to try to remove Frederick from the political scene. Formally deposed in 1245, Frederick nevertheless defied his opposition, retained enormous power and continued to threaten what many churchmen regarded as the liberty of the Church.

It was the emperor’s death in 1250 that seemed to provide the papacy with the opportunity to redistribute power in such a way that no single man could ever command at once the resources of Germany, northern Italy, southern Italy and Sicily. Moreover, the desired corollary, so far as the Church regarded it, was that no Hohenstaufen in particular should possess authority in any of these territories ever again. The alternative, again from the papacy’s perspective, would provide for the frightening possibility of the revival of Hohenstaufen claims to all of the territories sometime in the future.

The evident reluctance of Frederick II’s offspring to accept disinheritance motivated the popes to support various non-Hohenstaufen claimants to the German throne, which, being technically elective anyway, did not de jure threaten the inheritance rights of Frederick’s children. Sicily was different. Frederick held it by blood right and presumably could pass it on by blood right. The popes needed in this case not a candidate willing to stand for election but a designated warrior determined to destroy the last vestige of Hohenstaufen claims.

They cast about far and wide for a champion and after many false starts found an effective one in Charles of Anjou, the brother of the French king, Louis IX. Charles had his brother’s grudging support; Louis preferred a political settlement but none was forthcoming. Charles was wealthy. He possessed the income from two great fiefs in France, Anjou and Maine, as well as the income of the county of Provence, which he came into through his wife, Beatrice of Provence. And he had the ambition.

In a series of military engagements, culminating in the battles of Benevento in 1266 and Tagliacozzo in 1268, Charles routed Hohenstaufen forces. Hohenstaufen claims appeared to expire with the deaths of the last direct male Hohenstaufen claimants, one in battle (Manfred, Frederick’s illegitimate son) in 1266, the other by judicial execution (Conradin, the great emperor’s grandson) in 1268. In Constance of Hohenstaufen, however, Manfred’s daughter, there remained the possibility of the resurrection of Hohenstaufen pretensions. This Constance married Peter, the son of James I the Conqueror, of Aragon, who came to the Aragonese throne on the death of his father in 1276. What was needed for Charles of Anjou, since 1266 King Charles of Sicily, was time, enough time for memory of the Hohenstaufen era to fade and for loyalties to the family in Germany, Italy and Sicily to ebb away.

For a while, it seemed as though time was on Charles’s side. But his initial successes were compromised by a style of rulership that dismayed even subjects disposed to be loyal. Charles spent little time in Anjou and Maine; they were administered like other royal provinces of France, although he rather than the Crown received the surplus income from the counties. The centre of his ambitions and concerns was the Mediterranean. Where he suspected resistance to his rule he was brutal. His treatment of Marseilles, the greatest city in his Provençal domains, reduced the port and its government to abject dependency in the 1250s and 1260s. The intense economic exploitation of Sicily and southern Italy led to widespread dissatisfaction, and the tensions between the Angevin military forces that now dominated Sicily and the local inhabitants were rarely far from exploding point. Added to this was the papacy’s apparent distress over some of Charles’s actions, particularly his penchant for picking up titles, like senator of Rome, overlord of Albania, suzerain of Tunisia and King of Jerusalem.

Some of the titles had more of show than substance in them. Charles purchased the title King of Jerusalem from one of the many claimants to the throne of that truncated kingdom, and by doing so he became king in (contested) name only. His senatorship was a particular sticking point in his relations with the papacy, and he wisely abandoned it. The overlordship of Albania did give him some leverage in the Adriatic, but it was inevitable that the great maritime power, Venice, would act if it thought its interests were being threatened.

Charles’s suzerainty over Tunisia came about as a result of his brother’s last crusade (1270). That crusade had been planned under the misapprehension that the Bey of Tunisia would convert if threatened by a major crusading army. The submission of Tunisia would then provide a secure north African staging point for continued Christian expeditions into Muslim lands. In fact, the Bey had not converted and Charles, who arrived at the siege of Tunis just after his brother died from disease, persuaded the army commanders, including his nephew, the new king of France, to abandon the siege and return to France with the pestilence-stricken army. The Bey was willing to make formal obeisance to Charles to expedite the raising of the siege. In the short run this gave Charles and Mediterranean Christians some commercial advantages and religious privileges in Tunisia.

Shallow, temporary and problematic as some of Charles’s claims and titles were, his determined rulership in Provence, southern Italy and Sicily, as well as his extraordinary wealth, raised the spectre that he might some day make the claims and titles meaningful. He thought he had found the way to do so by redeeming French arms in Greece. Following the crusaders’ conquest of Constantinople in 1204, Franks, specifically a cadet branch of the French royal family, ruled the Byzantine Empire. Their rule was never very stable, however, because hostile Greek forces continued to operate in many of the provinces, and under Michael Paleologus would retake what was left of the much weakened empire in 1261.

By the time Charles became active in the central Mediterranean the Greeks had had what was left of their empire back for almost a decade, but they feared a counter-attack from the West, and this at a time when Muslim forces in Anatolia were also attacking the outposts of the resource-depleted Byzantines. One way to keep the Latins at bay was to reassure the papacy that despite the Greek military reconquest from the Catholic French, Michael Paleologus’s intention was to preserve or re-initiate the union of the Churches along the lines of that achieved in the years 1204–61.

Many Greek prelates were vehemently opposed to their emperor’s policies, and he felt compelled on occasion to silence them. Islam seemed on the verge of wiping out the Crusader States. If and when that was achieved, the full force of Islamic retaliation would fall on a truncated Byzantium. The abatement of military hostility from western – Roman Catholic – Christendom was absolutely essential for survival. Anything more than this from the Latins could hardly be expected, but it was better than nothing, and the alternative, a war on two fronts, was too awful to contemplate. Was union with the papal church too high a price to pay for the survival of the empire? Those Greeks who continued publicly and stridently to say ‘yes’ were made to suffer for it.

To the popes, however, Michael Paleologus seemed worth listening to, and in the circumstances Charles of Anjou could scarcely have got the kind of full backing he wanted for an invasion of Greece to reestablish the Latin empire. His dream seemed all the more hopeless in 1274, when Greek prelates sent by Emperor Michael Paleologus to the Second Council of Lyons were ordered to subscribe to the plan that was to be presented there for the union of the Churches. Events in the years after 1274 kept Charles’s hopes alive, though. Greek ecclesiastical and popular resistance to union increased in intensity. The emperor resorted to draconian measures, like cutting out the tongues of dissidents who were undermining the process of reunion. Yet the papacy grew restless and suspicious of what it regarded as the Greek emperor’s feeble efforts to enforce the union.

With papal support Charles, therefore, began to make secret preparations to invade the Byzantine empire. He would justify himself morally by the need to avenge the expulsion of the French from Constantinople in 1261; he would justify himself legally by the Paleologoi’s failure to carry out the agreed-upon protocols of Lyons II. But his preparations were less secret than he wished. A network of spies inhabited Mediterranean political, military and naval circles. Even while Michael Paleologus was pleading his sincerity through emissaries to the Holy See, he was trying to destabilize Sicily through spies and agents provocateurs.

Coincidentally, Charles’s exploitative rule in Sicily, and the behaviour of the Angevin forces that were being built up there for the invasion of Greece, were bringing native resentment to the flashpoint. Other interests operating commercially in the Mediterranean, like Aragonese merchants, were also finding Angevin pretensions and interference in their activities distressing. Moreover, in Aragon it became clear, largely through ambassadorial accounts and spies’ reports, that conditions might soon be ripe for raising the matter of Queen Constance’s claim to Sicily. The French king, fully supporting the family interests of his uncle Charles of Anjou, became suspicious of Aragonese actions, including what seemed to be military preparations. Most historians credit the claim that the Aragonese would certainly have intervened in Sicily sooner or later.

It was sooner, for a native uprising began in Palermo on Easter Monday, 30 March 1282, known as the Sicilian Vespers. The trigger was an Angevin soldier’s insult to a Sicilian woman. Bells rang out the rebellion. Angevin troops were killed in numbers, and Charles’s forces had to deal with the insurgents, while at the same time trying, more or less successfully, to preserve rule in the other cities of Sicily and confine the rebellion to the island. The papacy saw its hopes of a re-establishment of Latin hegemony in Greece and the vigorous reunion of the churches temporarily suspended. Michael Paleologus died in 1282, without knowing the outcome of these unexpected events.

At this moment, Aragon intervened, ostensibly in the name of the Sicilian people and the Aragonese claim to the Hohenstaufen inheritance. Now, Charles had to fight ill-organized but determined rebels as well as the considerable land and naval forces of the Crown of Aragon. The pope denounced Aragon; the French king fulminated and brought pressure on the pontiff to excommunicate and depose the Aragonese king, in favour of the French king’s younger son. Preparations began in northern France to raise an army to invade Aragon in a war that would come to have the status of a crusade against the Christian Iberian kingdom.

Efforts were made to prevent the bloodshed. A plan to have the king of Aragon, Peter III, and Charles of Anjou meet in single combat fell through in a farcical (deliberate?) mix-up of dates. In France the failure to find a way to prevent war was especially exasperating for the royal heir. He, the future Philip IV the Fair, opposed the war. In the days of St Louis his father had married an Aragonese princess, to symbolize the end of tensions between France and Aragon that had been brought about by Louis and James the Conqueror. Philip worshipped the memory of his Aragonese mother and despised his stepmother, a Brabantine, and her entourage, all of whom supported the war. The boy also found solace in the fact that his grandmother, St Louis’s widow, despised Charles of Anjou and bemoaned the war against Aragon.

These matters are important because both at sea and overland the French invasion forces were routed in 1285. The French king died on the retreat from the Pyrenees, and Philip IV came to the throne nurturing an abiding dislike for the papacy’s propensity to shape French foreign policy, an attitude that would have long-term implications for papal-French relations in the later thirteenth century and beyond. The crusade against Aragon was succeeded by the status quo ante on the continent, with drawn-out negotiations meant to save the face of the various contending parties (Philip the Fair’s younger brother eventually gave up his claim to Aragon). To a degree, the negotiations were eased by the deaths of so many interested parties in 1285: besides the French king, who perished in the military campaign, others who died that year included King Peter III of Aragon, Pope Martin IV, who had authorized the campaign, and Charles of Anjou himself.

PLAN ‘Z’

Stefan Dramiński.

Thus far, construction plans had been conceived in an atmosphere of ‘no war with Britain’. Raeder informed Hitler on several occasions that Germany’s naval development was not sufficient to cope with a war against a major sea power, but each time the Führer replied by saying there would be no war against Britain because such an act would signal the end of the Reich. Not until early 1938 did Hitler tell Raeder that the Kriegsmarine might have to consider meeting the Royal Navy on a war footing. Even then, he stressed that it would not be before 1948 at the earliest.

By 1937, warship development had progressed sufficiently for the first long-term planning policy to be effected. The plan was intended to remain in force for the years from 1938 until 1948, and would see the fleet develop to the limits of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. All the original demands and suggestions for new warships were evaluated by Kpt.z.S. Werner Fuchs, and put down on paper as Plan ‘X’. (X being the ‘unknown’ from algebraic equations.) This was an immense document and could not be considered under the terms of the Naval Agreement, so he modified the details and reduced the plan to a practical size. His tailored version was designated as ‘Plan Y’ and was laid before the Supreme Naval Command, who modified the ideas still further. The final version then became known as ‘Plan Z’. It has been suggested that the ‘Z’ stood for ‘Ziel’ or ‘goal’ but the sequence simply progressed from the letter ‘X’ – often used for an unknown quantity in algebra – and just happened to end with ‘Z’.)

Plan ‘Z’ had been conceived under the ideal of ‘no war with Britain’, but matters had to be reconsidered after Hitler told Raeder that there were voices in Britain who were clamouring for another war and Germany might have to fight the Royal Navy after all. However, there were no alternative options and plans went ahead the way they had been formulated.

When the ‘Z’ Plan was being formulated, there were two distinct opinions on naval warfare in the German Navy. One idea, which received the backing of the Supreme Naval Command, was to build a powerful surface fleet consisting of mainly battleships and cruisers. The other idea was to develop a navy centred on submarines and small craft such as torpedo-boats.

Plan ‘Z’ was strongly opposed by Kpt.z.S. Karl Dönitz, who could only muster a long list of foul adjectives to describe the decision. Another opponent of Plan ‘Z’ was Fregkpt. Hellmuth Heye who, acting on an instruction from Raeder, produced a thesis on the subject of war with Britain. He concluded that it would not be possible to defeat Britain by pitting German battleships against her merchant shipping. But it appears that nobody took much notice of Heye during the summer of 1938. Perhaps this was because he was an individualist with unconventional and ‘quite mad ideas’ – which he fully demonstrated towards the end of the war by building up the Midget Weapons Unit to a fantastically high standard, against terrific odds and in an incredibly short time. In addition to Heye, there were several other submarine supporters in the Supreme Naval Command: Hermann Boehm, Fleet Commander, and Hermann Densch, Commander-in-Chief of Reconnaissance Forces, were both in favour of U-boats. In fact, Densch had a pet-saying: ‘We must build submarines on every meadow, in every shed and on every stream – it is our only hope of winning.’

But theirs were only faint cries in the wilderness, for the majority were in favour of a battleship navy. Many in the Supreme Naval Command kept repeating their stereotype views that there would be no war with Britain, and that, under war conditions, Dönitz’s submarine tactics would be found wanting. Several powerful men in the High Command maintained their belief that only the mightiest and heaviest battleships would penetrate the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. They considered submarines to be outdated and obsolete weapons.

The High Command also had some knowledge of Britain’s asdic, which, it was thought, might prevent a successful submarine war. Similarly, they pointed to the Prize Ordinance Regulations (pages 41 and 201), which imposed numerous operational limitations on submarines and further restricted their effectiveness.

The final decision on the type of construction policy to adopt was made by Hitler. The Naval High Command gave him two alternatives: either a battleship fleet or a U-boat dominated navy. Hitler chose the surface fleet outlined in the ‘Z’ Plan and, on 27 January 1939, gave the programme top priority – just over six months before the outbreak of the Second World War. So, it is safe to say that the ‘Z’ Plan had little influence on the outcome of the war.

The new capital ships were to be equipped with eight 406mm (16 inch) and twelve 150mm (6 inch) guns; they would carry four aeroplanes, have a top speed of thirty knots, and a range of over 12,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of just under twenty knots. (Construction of Bismarck and Tirpitz had, of course, already started before the ‘Z’ Plan was formulated.) The Chiefs of Staff also examined what had been Germany’s main weakness during the First World War – that of trying to operate far out in the Atlantic from bases in the German Bight. This problem was solved by planning to put the new long-range battleships based on the Deutschland into the South Atlantic where they would be serviced by supply and repair ships seeking out remote spots in the Southern Ocean for the more lengthy repairs.

8.8cm serving with user nations other than Germany

The 8.8cm FlaK 18s on parade in this photograph are believed to be part of the batch sold to Argentina in 1938. The tractors are either Pavesi or Fiat/Spa models. 

American gunners emplacing a suitably marked captured 8.8cm PaK 43 for use against its former owners.

During the Second World War 88s served with several user nations other than Germany. Between 1936 and 1945 it was felt necessary to hand out or sell 88s to various nations that were either allied to or sympathetic to Germany’s war aims, despite the ever-increasing need to equip the German armed forces with as many anti-aircraft guns as could be manufactured.

One of the very first transfers of 88s came with the sale of a batch of about eighteen 8.8cm FlaK 18s to Argentina. This was a commercial sale negotiated directly with Krupp AG, which delivered the guns to Buenos Aires in about 1938. Once in Argentina, the guns defended the national capital for many years up to and after 1945 but apparently never fired a shot in anger.

Another pre-1939 transfer involved the guns taken to Spain by the German Condor Legion of ‘volunteers’ fighting alongside the Nationalists during the civil war. They initially took with them four four-gun batteries of 8.8cm FlaK 18s and a fifth battery arrived soon after to form what became known as the FlaK Abteilung 88, or F/88. Contrary to general belief these German-held guns were retained primarily for the air-defence role and rarely fired at ground targets.

More 88s arrived for issue direct to the Spanish Nationalists as the war progressed. It was the Nationalists, always short of up-to-date artillery, who pioneered the use of the 88 against ground targets – German observers duly made note of the fact and reported back to Berlin accordingly. When the Germans left Spain in 1939 they left all their guns in Spain to be adopted as one of the mainstays of Spain’s air defences. By 1945 their numbers, including 88 examples of the FlaK 36, had grown to 140. More were to be added later (see below).

Once Italy entered the war alongside Germany in 1941 it was found necessary to pass large amounts of German war materiel to their new combat ally since the equipment levels of the Italian armed forces were dangerously low and often of poor quality. This particularly applied to anti-aircraft guns for although the Italians already had a gun as good as the German 88 in production, they did not have enough of them and their ability to manufacture more was limited. The Italian gun was the Ansaldo Cannone da 90/53 CA, which was ordered into series production in 1939 but by mid-1943 only 539 had been delivered in static, towed, armoured vehicle and truck-borne forms. Once in service the guns were added to the array of somewhat ancient and varied guns already in the Italian anti-aircraft gun inventory and some were diverted to coast-defence duties. While numbers of Cannone da 90/53 CA did see field service in North Africa, the Germans saw fit to eke out their numbers by handing over a number of 88s to the Italians, who took them over as the Cannone da 88/56 CA modello 18-36. The exact number is not known but all remaining examples still in Italy reverted to German ownership after the Italian armistice of July 1943.

Once the German take-over of Czecho-Slovakia was completed during 1939 the new state of Slovakia came into being already aligned with Germany. The new state assumed their share of the old Czecho-Slovak military inventory, the heavy anti-aircraft gun park being largely made up of Škoda 8.35 cm kanon PL vzor 22/24 pieces from a previous design generation. As the Slovak Army was assigned to duties in support of Operation Barbarossa, the Germans decided to hand over 24 8.8cm FlaK 36 and 37 guns (along with a wide array of other military equipment), the first 4 of them arriving during March 1941, together with the first batches of what would become a total of 17,280 rounds of ammunition. By March 1944 the outstanding twenty guns, all of them /2 carriage static guns, had been added to the original four. Most of these guns were retained for home defence, and served on with the restored Czecho-Slovakian state after 1945.

Finland had a somewhat confusing war posture between 1939 and 1945, at times being allied with Germany and at other times being hostile. In 1941 Finland was on the side of Germany because of their desire to redress their defeat and loss of territory following the 1939–1940 Winter War with the Soviet Union. Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union gave Finland the opportunity to participate in what they termed their Continuation War. Over the years the Finnish air-defence arm had managed to accumulate a motley collection of anti-aircraft guns from all over Europe. During 1943 these were supplemented when the Finnish state purchased 18 towed 8.8cm FlaK 37 guns from Germany to equip 3 6-gun, anti-aircraft batteries defending Helsinki. These three batteries were controlled by three imported Kommandogerät 40 fire-control predictors, known locally as the Lambda.

A further seventy-two FlaK 37s were acquired during 1944, this time on /2 static mountings. Of these, 36 guns were assigned to the defence of Helsinki, with Kotka, Tampere and Turku each receiving 2 6-gun batteries. There was also a twelve-gun battery at Kaivopuisto, another part of the defences of Helsinki. All these guns served on until well after 1945. The Finns knew their guns as the 88mm: n ilmatorjuntakanuuna vuodelta 1937 mallia Rheinmetall-Borsig (ItK/37 RMB), for some reason allocating their provenance to Rheinmetall-Borsig (although reference has been found to an alternative RT).

Perhaps the most unusual end-users of the 88 during the war years were the Allies. By late 1944 the Allied land forces in Europe had advanced so far from their cross-Channel supply resources that front-line supply stocks often ran dangerously low during bad weather or when shortages of transport arose. Those supplies included artillery ammunition so it became a common expedient for front-line units to turn the considerable quantities of captured artillery equipments against their former owners and use up any available stocks of captured ammunition.

Both British and American batteries employed such measures, the US Army going as far as forming ‘Z Batteries’, specifically to utilise captured artillery and ammunition, within their field artillery battalions. At one stage, in November 1944, the US First Army’s 32nd Field Artillery Brigade created two provisional battalions that were fully equipped with captured German artillery equipments. Included in the captured haul were 8.8cm FlaK and PaK guns, 10.5cm and 15cm field howitzers and French 155mm GPF guns previously adopted by the Germans. This impressment of captured 88s by the Allies was a battlefield expedient that usually lasted only as long as the captured ammunition stocks lasted. However, as early as June 1943 the US Army did go to the extent of preparing and issuing a service manual for the 8.8cm FlaK 36 (TM E9-369A) following extensive technical studies carried out on equipments captured in Tunisia.

Post 1945

Once the Second World War was over most German 88s were either scrapped or relegated to being war trophies or museum pieces. Yet some European nations, having inherited heaps of weapons once the German armed forces had left the countries they had formerly occupied, decided to arm their newly emergent armed forces with German weapons, at least until something better could be obtained (usually via American military aid). These weapons included the 8.8cm FlaK 18/36/37 series – no PaK 43 series weapons seem to have been adopted by any nation after 1945, although many of their technical innovations were studied and often utilised.

Numerous nations fell into this category. This included Norway, which took over no less than 360 88s out of a total of 505 left behind when the Germans departed, the balance being mostly scrapped before the Allies decided that they might be useful to defend post-war Norway. The Luftwaffe had organised these guns into four FlaK Brigades headquartered at Oslo (173 guns), Stavanger (86 guns), Vaernes (86 guns) and Tromsø (158 guns). Some of the guns involved had a dual air-defence/coast-defence role and where possible the Norwegians simply took over the existing installations.

The Norwegian total of 360 guns included 141 towed FlaK 36, plus 15 in static installations. There were also 55 towed FlaK 37s and 139 static. These guns served on until the early 1950s when they began to be supplemented and then replaced in the air-defence role by numbers of American 90mm Gun M1A1 and M2s. Even then the 88s soldiered on because in 1957 125 88mm guns were transferred to the coast artillery. In this role they lasted only until the mid-1960s when they were withdrawn as part of a policy to limit Norwegian coast-artillery equipments to those with calibres of 105mm, 127mm and 150mm (all former German naval guns) to ease the training and logistic situation. Norway investigated the adoption of the 8.8cm PaK 43/41 (possibly for employment as a coast-defence gun) but it does not appear to have been accepted for their service.

Other post-war user nations included Yugoslavia, where some guns were assigned to coast defence installed in specially constructed concrete bunkers having overhead protection. Another post-1945 user was Czecho-Slovakia, which took in any remaining FlaK 41s in addition to the other FlaK models; all were eventually replaced by Soviet equipments. A few Yugoslav 88s reportedly survived to see limited action during the Balkan Troubles of the 1990s.

France also adopted 88s abandoned once the Germans had left France, sending numbers of FlaK guns to be used in their post-war Indo-China campaigns along with an array of ex-Second World War (and even First World War) artillery relics, including former Japanese artillery pieces. The French 88s had nothing to do with air defence once they got to Indo-China as the local opposition did not have any aircraft assets, so the guns were employed in the direct- or indirect-fire artillery role. As such they were probably the last 88s to take part in a full-scale, live shooting war.

Other nations adopted the 88 as a long-term measure, one of them being Finland. By 1945 that nation had accumulated numerous types of anti-aircraft gun but they regarded the ninety FlaK 37s they had acquired during 1943 and 1944 as the best in their inventory. The guns emplaced around various Finnish cities were retained until 1969 as air-defence weapons (the last personnel assigned to them were trained during 1967) and even then their service careers continued. The guns were passed to the Coast Artillery arm where they soldiered on until the end of the twentieth century. At first they were installed as mobile, low-trajectory coast-defence weapons but gradually they were relegated to training duties and eventually to simply firing during exercises to conserve ammunition that would otherwise have been fired by more modern weapons, a role an ever-decreasing number of 88s is still performing to this day. Many guns are still held in storage as reserve weapons, although their possible utility as such seems more unlikely as the years progress. Ammunition for these guns was manufactured locally by the concern that, after several name changes, became Patria Vammas.

Perhaps the most involved user nation of the 88 after 1945 was Spain. By 1945 the numbers of FlaK 18 and 36 guns sent to Spain, in attempts to keep Spain’s General Franco at least sympathetic to the Germany cause, had reached 140. An additional ploy to keep Spain on the German side was to offer manufacturing licences for various German weapon designs, among them being the 8.8cm FlaK 18. Licence negotiations commenced as early as May 1941 but it took time to establish the required manufacturing facilities, not the least difficulty being obtaining the necessary raw materials and machine tools at a time when Europe was at war.