Planning the “Dash” III

Hans-Jürgen Rudolf REINICKE [centre],  (*10/08/1902†29/01/1978)

On 30 December just after dinner an urgent signal was brought to Reinicke aboard Scharnhorst. It was from Naval Group West in Paris ordering him to report there at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day. As the message said Admiral Ciliax was also being ordered to report in Paris, he realized it was more than a routine matter.

It was too late to catch the evening train to Paris so he took one the next morning. It was evening when he arrived at the Gare Montparnasse and crossed Paris to the Gare de l’Est to meet Admiral Ciliax recalled from home leave in Germany by the same cryptic message from Group West. It was not surprising that Ciliax, never noted for his good temper, came off the train in one of his blacker moods.

“What’s this all about, Reinicke?” he growled more than once. But his Chief of Staff could not enlighten him. They would both have to wait for their appointment next morning.

It was New Year’s Eve. They had a meal, split a bottle of champagne, and went to bed early.

The next morning they went to Group West headquarters and waited in a conference room for Alfred Saalwächter. He soon appeared with Admiral Schniewind, the new operational commander of the German Navy. Saalwächter briskly told Ciliax and Reinicke the news—the Führer wanted the three ships to leave Brest, proceed to their German home ports and then to Norway for operations there.

But Admiral Saalwächter revealed he was worried about the fate of his great ships. After he told them of the Führer’s demands he asked for their frank opinions. He was trying to organize expert opposition to dissuade the Führer. When Ciliax raised many objections against Hitler’s scheme, he told him to go away and put them in writing. After Ciliax had written his detailed objections, Saalwächter forwarded them with his own report to Raeder.

He wrote: “I submit herewith conclusions for the comprehensive scrutiny that has been ordered into the question of the withdrawal of the Brest Group eastwards through the Channel.

“The hazards applicable to a voyage of battleships through the Channel eastwards are summed up at the end of the outline.

“I view these hazards as being very great. I must for this reason alone give an urgent warning against it being carried out.

“On the 12 November I commented that one single surprise move to the west by one or by several battleships was feasible. But conversely, a move eastwards of the battleships is one combined with too great a peril. Subsequent navigation through the Channel would be rendered impossible because the element of surprise would have departed.

“It can be executed only during the period of the longest nights. It must be accompanied by control of the mine situation and air preponderance in the Channel.

“I do not take the view that the new experiences in the East Asian theatre of war can be taken as proof of the uselessness of battleships to abandon our warfare in the Atlantic.

[The sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft.]

Our opponent does not think so, as the unchanged characteristics of his heavy forces show.

“I advocate, as I have always done, the conception that the essential tasks of our battleships lie in the Atlantic.

“Our numerical inferiority affords us opportunities for success only by surprise offensive sorties directed at the enemy’s weak points which are to be found in his long Atlantic supply routes, and not by continually facing with defensive action a greatly superior enemy.

“At this time the best possibilities of success for the Brest Group lie in surprise action against north to south convoys. The Brest Group’s achievements already go to show that the enemy feels and fears this threat and straightaway tries by air attacks to rid himself of it.

“This pressure can only be made permanent if our battleship strength actually goes to sea. Yet even during the long period of repairs the enemy can hardly foretell with exactitude when one or several of the ships are able to pounce. Withdrawal of the Brest Group from the Atlantic means releasing the enemy from this strategic pressure.

“The plan for tying down his heavy naval forces in the Atlantic falls apart. Maintenance of pressure on other theatres of war such as East Asia and the Mediterranean must also stop. A perceptible strengthening of English sea power in East Asia will follow, thereby impeding Japan.

“In addition to actual strategic prizes, there is great prestige for our enemy. On the other hand there would be a great loss of prestige for us which would be made far worse if the ships were lost by the voyage through the Channel. Political consequences very damaging to us and our allies are inevitable.

“If our ships disappear from the Atlantic or from the Atlantic position people would rightly talk about a ‘lost battle’. Naval actions from Norway would not make up for such a move.

“We do not stand there on the Atlantic just for raiding possibilities against the enemy supply routes. We threaten Scotland, Iceland, the North Arctic and Russia.

“In the Norwegian harbours the aerial danger and with it the stresses for the Luftwaffe would hardly be less. The enemy at all times could by choice of place and time have greater superiority. Liaison with any battleships in the Atlantic would be impossible.

“I am convinced that the problem of the Atlantic position as it is at present cannot be gone back upon later. In any case, it is clear that a “bringing back again” of the ships would be enormously difficult.

“Finally, there are indications that if our ships withdrew from the Atlantic after a lost battle, to appear again in home waters and remain there it would be injurious to the psychology of our own ships’ companies, of the entire Navy and of the German people.

“I am therefore convinced that it would now be a very serious mistake by us at this time to withdraw the ships from Brest in their Atlantic position.

“I consider their remaining there, even though with heavy damage and lengthy repair times, is the correct course.

“There remains for consideration only the slight relief of the Luftwaffe which would come about in Brest.

“If the withdrawal plan of the Brest Group to the East is adhered to, then examination might be made as to whether Prinz Eugen should take part. By the cruiser remaining at Brest, at least a portion of the present strategic operations of the Brest Group would remain in being to confront our enemy.

“I submit with this report extracts from three letters of C-in-C of the ships (Ciliax), corresponding to my point of view, which he sent me after the first conference on the matter in Group West.

“Should the question be put through the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht to the Navy: ‘Break-out or Disarm?’ then I would say with a heavy heart that against the ‘Break-out’ with its enormous risks, I would prefer temporary disarmament. For when the fortunes of the day change the ordnance could be restored, whilst a loss of these valuable ships and their crews could only bring damage without benefit.”

It was a gloomy and defeatist document and Hitler was to have none of it. He was concerned that the constant BAF bombing was slowly fraying the fabric of crew morale.

Although unaware of Hitler’s plan and Saalwächter’s strong objections, the BAF bombing of Brest increased in December. And for the first time photographic planes revealed that all three ships seemed to be preparing for sea.

On Christmas Eve the Admiralty ordered seven submarines to form an “iron ring” around the approaches to Brest.

The navigator of Scharnhorst, 42-year-old Helmuth Giessler, was on Christmas leave. When he went off, neither he nor any other naval officers at Brest had any inkling that Hitler was holding a pistol at Baeder’s head demanding the ships leave Brest. At that time not even Admiral Ciliax had the faintest suspicion of their fate.

Giessler came back from his leave on the same day as Vice-Admiral Ciliax returned from the New Year’s Day conference with Admiral Saalwächter at Naval Group West in Paris. That evening Ciliax summoned him to his cabin. As navigating officer of the flagship he was responsible for the whole squadron so he had to be one of the first to be told about the plan. Ciliax informed him in his usual brusque way about the proposed operation. He added crisply, “Consider your needs and requirements, Giessler, and what preparations you consider necessary. You have until morning!”

With these words the Admiral dismissed him. That night Giessler climbed into his bunk but did not get a wink of sleep. He tossed about all night with the information racing through his brain.

A voyage of these great battleships through the narrow English Channel had been so improbable that he had hardly looked at the Channel charts—he had never considered them as waters where the Scharnhorst might sail. Now the problem was how to obtain these charts without arousing gossip and suspicion.

Next morning he called Chief Petty Officer Wehrlich to his cabin and handed him a list. “I require these charts, of the Mediterranean and these charts of Icelandic waters,” he said. “Also these of the West African coast.” He also demanded pilot books of the Mediterranean and everywhere else he could think of. Wehrlich kept bringing so much navigational material that towards the end of the day he could hardly enter his cabin for papers and books. Among this pile of material were his charts of the English Channel. In the middle of all his other requests, Giessler had slipped in a casual order for them.

Giessler had an extra problem. He knew Wehrlich was not experienced enough for the magnitude of his task—but Wehrlich’s predecessor, Lt. Johann Hinrichs was. He was the man he wanted at his side to help plan this vital operation.

He was now the skipper of a fleet of mine-sweeping trawlers, but when Giessler explained the situation to Ciliax, a puzzled Hinrichs received a secret signal posting him back to Scharnhorst. When he arrived Giessler let him into the secret. During those January days they sat together in the navigator’s cabin. Giessler kept muttering to himself “Ach so,” and humming tunelessly as they pored over his charts. They worked out the tides, times of darkness, depth of water, and the complete timetable the ships must try and adhere to hour by hour on the voyage from Brest to Wilhelmshaven.

While Giessler was working out his plan, unknown to him something happened which was to help him. On 2 January, the Royal Navy’s submarine “iron ring” faded away. High submarine losses in the Mediterranean and a bottle-neck in the training programme caused the “subs” to be withdrawn—and surveillance left to the RAE

Yet, as if to confirm Hitler’s attitude, at 8:30 p.m. on 6 January 1942, a RAF bomb burst against the hull of the Gneisenau as she was lying in Number Eight Dock. Several yards of her armour were ripped and two compartments were flooded.

On 12 January, Admirals Raeder, Saalwächter and Ciliax were summoned to Wolfs Lair for the final full-scale conference. Raeder brought his Chief of Staff, Admiral Fricke, while Ciliax was accompanied by Captain Reinicke, his own Chief of Staff, and Saalwächter by his mine expert, Commodore Friedrich Rüge. The. Luftwaffe was represented by Göring’s Chief of Staff, Lt.-General Jeschonnek, accompanied by one of Germany’s famous fighter aces, Col. Adolf Galland, who had fought in the German Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War and was a veteran of the Rattles of France and Britain.

They arrived in a snowstorm at Wolfs Lair. Lt.-General Jodl, Hitler’s personal military adviser, who lived and worked there, described the Führer’s headquarters as “a cross between a monastery and a concentration camp.”

Hitler spent his days in a concrete bunker with a 20-foot thick roof. It was a sealed box with no window and no outlet to the open air. Next door was another similar concrete bunker used by Hitler as his map room, where he stood waiting for them. After giving them the Nazi salute he asked them to be seated round the big conference table.

At Hitler’s request, Raeder opened the session, saying, “The question of the passage of the Brest Group through the Channel has been examined by all agencies concerned. In the light of the Führer’s opinion, the German Fleet’s primary task is to defend the Norwegian coast and ports and, in so doing, it should use its might unsparingly. Since you, mein Führer, informed me that you insist upon the return of the heavy units to their home bases, I suggest that Vice-Admiral Ciliax report on the details of how this operation is to be prepared and carried out, and that Commodore Ruge subsequently report on the necessary mine-sweeping measures, to enable you, mein Führer, to make the final decision afterwards.”

Hitler replied: “The Naval Force at Brest has, above all, the welcome effect of tying up enemy air forces and diverting them from making attacks upon the German homeland. But with our ships at Brest, enemy sea forces are tied up to no greater extent than would be the case if the ships were stationed in Norway. If I could see any chance that the ships might remain undamaged for four to five months and, thereafter, be employed in operations in the Atlantic, I might be more inclined to consider leaving them in Brest.

“Since in my opinion such a development is not to be expected, I am determined to withdraw the ships from Brest to avoid exposing them to chance hits day after day. I fear that there will be a large-scale British-Russian offensive in Norway. I think that if a strong task force of battleships and cruisers, practically the entire German Fleet, were stationed along the Norwegian coast, it could, in conjunction with the German Air Force, make a decisive contribution towards the defence of the area.”

Then it was Ciliax’s turn. “I recommend the necessity of leaving Brest under cover of darkness, taking maximum advantage of the element of surprise, and of passing through the Straits of Dover in the daytime. This will make the most effective use of the means of defence at our disposal.”

Hitler agreed, saying, “I emphasize particularly the surprise to be achieved by having the ships leave after dark.”

Ciliax said, “I must stress emphatically that a very strong destroyer and fighter protection must be provided on the day of the break-through itself from dawn to dusk.”

“I am aware of the decisive role to be played by the Air Force in this enterprise,” replied Hitler and turned to Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, Lt.-General Jeschonnek, who said, “I do not believe I will be able to provide constant unfailing protection for the ships with the available 250 fighters which cannot possibly be reinforced.”

Even in the presence of the Führer he was exhibiting the Luftwaffe’s traditional reluctance to co-operate with the Navy. But with Hitler’s cold eyes upon him, Jeschonnek hastily promised to draw on the existing night-fighter formation to provide dawn fighter protection.

Hitler then asked for opinions as to the possibility of using the northern route saying, “I do not care which route is selected by the Navy, if only it is successful in getting those ships transferred to Norwegian waters.”

The four Admirals explained that the northern route was not suitable for several reasons. Baeder commented, “The present disposition of enemy forces is against such a move; there are two or three battleships and two aircraft-carriers in the Home Fleet. Moreover, the German air forces would not be able to provide the necessary air cover.”

Commodore Buge, commanding the seaward defences of the occupied French coast, including the mine-sweeping and mine-laying forces, was asked to report. Buge was able to assure Hitler that the menace from mines, always regarded as the main danger to forcing a passage through the Channel, was not as bad as imagined.

Baeder, still unsure of the Luftwaffe’s full support, repeated his demands to the Air Force for a very strong fighter cover. He also asked for attacks on enemy torpedo plane bases in the early morning of the day of the break-through, and possibly a few days earlier.

Lt.-General Jeschonnek replied stiffly, “The constant air cover demanded will leave insufficient aircraft for the heavy air battles that are sure to develop on the day of the breakthrough. We may expect our fighter force to become very inferior in strength—at least during the afternoon. Also our own anti-aircraft personnel are susceptible to fatigue in the afternoon as experience has shown.”

Col. Galland, who was to command the Luftwaffe fighter cover, also offered his opinion, “The strong Spitfire forces at the disposal of the British will render things difficult for the long-range fighters which we are going to employ.”

Raeder remarked that tide and daylight would determine the timing of the operation. That was the reason the date could not be changed. When he asked what should be done in case one or several ships were unable to move on the date set, Hitler decided, “If two battleships are in a position to move, they are to undertake the operation, if necessary without the cruiser. If only one battleship and the cruiser can move, they must do likewise. But in no case should the Prinz Eugen do so alone.”

Then Hitler, cutting through both air and naval objections, said briskly, “The ships must not leave port in the daytime as we are dependent on the element of surprise. This means that they will have to pass through the Dover Straits in the daytime. In view of past experience I do not believe the British capable of making and carrying out lightning decisions.

“This is why I do not think they will be as swift as is assumed by the Naval Staff and the Admiral Commanding Battleships in shifting their bomber and pursuit forces to the south-eastern part of England for an attack on our ships in the Dover Straits.

“Picture what would happen if the situation were reversed!—if a surprise report came in that British battleships have appeared in the Thames estuary and are heading for the Straits of Dover. In my opinion, even we would hardly be able to bring up air pursuit forces and bomber forces swiftly and mediodi-cally.”

He added dramatically, “The situation of the Brest Group is comparable with that of a cancer patient, who is doomed unless he submits to an operation. An operation, even though it might be a drastic one, will offer at least some hope that the patient’s life may yet be saved. The passage of our ships through the Channel would be such an operation. It must therefore be attempted.”

Finally Hitler said, “Nothing can be gained by leaving the ships at Brest. Should the Brest Group manage to escape through the Channel, however, there is a chance that it might be employed to good advantage at a later date. If the ships remain at Brest their ability to tie up enemy air forces may not continue for long. As long as they are in battle-worthy condition they will constitute worthwhile targets, which the enemy will feel obliged to attack. But the moment they are seriously damaged—and this may happen any day—the enemy will discontinue his attacks. In view of all this and in accordance with the suggestion of the C-in-C Navy I decide that the operation is to be prepared as proposed.”

That was it. After the conference Hitler entertained his admirals and generals at dinner in the concrete shelter where he lived. He ate frugally as usual but was more genial than anyone had seen him for a long time. He said, almost jovially, “You will find that this operation will turn out to be our most spectacular naval success of the war.”

He revealed his only doubt—would the Luftwaffe manage it? He realized that Galland with his fighters was the key figure in the operation. Saying good-bye to him he asked quietly, “Do you think they will bring it off?” When Galland assured him he thought they would he dismissed him with a rare smile.

The decision was made. Far from dismantling the great ships the Germans were to fight them through the English Channel in daylight. An attempt like this had not been made by an enemy of England for over three centuries—since the Spanish Armada of 1588.









Few German soldiers were committed Nazis, but all took into the invasion a faith in Hitler and his generals created by two years of victories, and the younger ones several years of indoctrination in school and the Hitler Youth about German racial superiority. The welcome they received, particularly in Ukraine and the Baltic States, and the enormous early captures of Soviet troops boosted that euphoria, but it faded somewhat after weeks of tramping over seemingly endless plains, and finding that however many of the enemy they killed or captured, more came at them the next day. Panzer crews were shocked to find the newest Soviet tank, the T-34, superior to their hitherto unstoppable Panzer Marks III and IV, but in 1941 there were few of them.

The defeat at Moscow affected morale little; they attributed it more to the weather than to the enemy, and expected to reassert their superiority when summer came. This they duly did, only to suffer another winter disaster at Stalingrad. This depressed them more, but Manstein’s successful counter-offensive in February 1943 somewhat restored morale.

The crunch came at Kursk. The Prokhorovka tank battle was the swan song of the Panzers as attack spearheads, until the abortive Ardennes and Balaton offensives of 1945; the infantry for the first time experienced failure in summer, decisive Soviet air superiority and the start of a series of Soviet offensives that dwarfed even that of Stalingrad. Most German soldiers remained disciplined and skillful to the end, but after Kursk they fought in fear of the consequences of defeat rather than in expectation of victory.

A typical German soldier from a tank destroyer unit, who fought in the east from the very first day, summed up his experiences as follows. First encounters with the Red Army suggested they would not be much trouble, but `things were different later.’ Many felt they should not have invaded, but it was not safe to say so. His belief that the war was lost came with the retreat from the Volga in 1942, but he and his comrades expected to be shot if captured, so they fought hard and nobody deserted or defected.

He had a month’s home leave in mid-1942; before going on leave soldiers were sent to a transit camp for two weeks, and fed better than usual, so as to make a better impression at home. On leave they were privileged to wear civilian clothes and received extra rations of food and chocolate. He found home front propaganda so untruthful that he listened mostly to the BBC; this was punishable by imprisonment or death, but soldiers sent back to the Soviet Union thought they would probably be killed anyway, so were not deterred. He was shocked by the poor standard of replacements for casualties, and his friends envied him when a leg wound finally removed him from the front. He `would not wish his worst enemy’ to have to fight the Russians.

In the Third Reich’s last throes desertions increased, despite the activities of SS execution squads. So many units retreated, to surrender to the Anglo-Americans rather than the Red Army, that General Eisenhower had to threaten to close the Elbe crossings against them. Their fears were not baseless; the Anglo-Americans released most of their prisoners within two years, whereas those taken by the Soviets were kept as forced labour from four to ten years.


The Red Army had a draconian disciplinary code together with Stalin’s 1941 Order 270, which defined `voluntary surrender’ (i. e. if neither wounded nor unconscious) as treason. Yet the first six months saw mass surrenders on an unprecedented scale. Since only a little over half the Soviet population was Russian, soldiers’ attitudes to the war covered as wide a spectrum as the civilian populations from which they came. The instinct for self-preservation kept most in the ranks, but surrender at the first opportunity was rife in 1941, particularly among conscripts from the recently annexed Baltic States and former eastern Poland.

The backbone of the Red Army was the ethnic Russian, mostly a peasant or first-generation urban worker. He retained the hardiness and self-sacrificing qualities of his forebears, but added basic literacy and familiarity with machinery that they lacked. His training and tactics were generally primitive – right until the end of the war, infantry attacked frontally in successive waves, with little regard for casualties; outflanking manoeuvers were usually left to the tanks and motorized infantry. The heavy casualties affected morale less than they might have; they were frequent enough to become regarded as normal, and the soldiers had no basis for comparison with other armies. In the later campaigns, material superiority and experience substantially reduced them, though they remained high compared to what allies and enemies alike regarded as acceptable.

Apart from the first weeks, when some units fled in panic, there was nothing resembling the breakdown of discipline that disrupted the Russian Army in 1917, though there were numerous instances in 1941-42 when NKVD troops were stationed behind the front-line soldiers, to shoot any who ran away. Unlike in World War I, no cases were recorded of collective refusal to obey orders. This owed something to the regime’s greater ruthlessness, but probably more to indoctrination. Unlike its predecessor, the Red Army, through its political officers, took much trouble to tell the troops why they were at war, and to inculcate hatred of the invader.

Communist values were not particularly emphasized; membership of the Communist Party was not easily granted, and most troops were below the minimum age for membership. However, Communist Party members in the armed forces were expected to set an example to the rest, and many set one good enough for soldiers’ applications to join the Party to rise, especially on the eve of major campaigns.

The cult of Stalin was all-pervading, but it was only in films that soldiers went into battle shouting `For the Motherland! For Stalin!’ Many would, much later, admit putting more trust in God, others that they went into the assault shouting obscenities. One who ended the war in Berlin recollected that:

…luxuries such as leave seldom came our way. Food was monotonous but usually adequate, clothing, especially for winter, much better than the Germans had, but small amenities such as playing cards, dominoes, writing materials or musical instruments were scarce, and usually the first things we looted when we took a German position. Correspondence was censored, and we learned not to criticize our leaders, especially Stalin, because such criticisms attracted heavier punishment than disclosure of military secrets. We knew few of those anyway, because we were only told what we were going to do at the last moment, or sometimes not at all, and the command we mostly heard from our officers was just `follow me.’ Most of our officers earned our respect for their readiness to lead, but we wished they had been trained to do more than just take us to attack the Germans head on. We respected the Germans as soldiers, and to begin with many of us doubted our own propaganda about German atrocities. But when we began recapturing territory and seeing what they had done there, we came to hate them, and when we reached German soil some of us vented our hatred on German civilians, even on some who claimed to be Communists, in ways I still shudder to think of. As the war ended, Stalin ordered us to change our attitude to the German people, and even to start feeding them. That did cut down the amount of murder and rape, but it didn’t stop us looting, or beating up any Germans who didn’t accept that they were the losers.

Speer: A Man of his Culture I

After his release from Spandau prison, Speer professed to have been plagued by an oppressive feeling of guilt. In his Playboy interview he made the dramatic claim to have made a one-way trip to hell from which he had not yet returned. One cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for Speer’s erstwhile friend Rudolf Wolters’s outrage at his loudly broadcasted expressions of remorse and his public appearances in the penitent’s hair-shirt. It was never at all clear what Speer meant by guilt. His expression of general or overall guilt at Nuremberg was an empty formula, although it turned out – much to the surprise of his defence attorney – to have been a masterly tactic that helped save his skin. Guilt in this context seems to have meant little more than overall responsibility for things that had happened while he was in office, but with which he was not directly concerned. In the judicial sense of the term his guilt was palpable, but this form of guilt had been exculpated by twenty years in prison. Or was this feeling of guilt merely remorse? After all, things had not turned out for him quite as he had hoped. By late 1944 Speer began to think about his place in post-war Germany. With his close connections with the captains of industry, his proven managerial skills and his untarnished popular image he imagined that he was certain of a stellar career in the business world. With so many architects indebted to him, he could also head a major architectural practice. There would certainly be a lot of work to do.

Gitta Sereny spent twelve years of research and took 747 pages to come to the conclusion that Speer had rediscovered the ‘intrinsic morality’ he had in his youth. This was a singularly modest return for all her efforts. Those best placed to judge were not easily impressed. Georges Casalis, the Protestant pastor in Spandau, had felt that Speer’s wrestling with problems of guilt while in prison were genuine. Upon his release he rapidly became so absorbed in his wealth and fame that he was no longer troubled by conscience and abandoned his spiritual quest. Father Athanasius, in whom he confided while attending frequent retreats at Maria Laach, realised that although Speer was well aware of his mistakes, failures and shortcomings, he lacked the spiritual insight that might have enabled him to overcome any deep-rooted sense of guilt. Without any genuine expression of repentance springing from his inner being, his attempts to grapple with the past were unlikely to amount to much more than window-dressing.

It was difficult to believe that Speer’s concept of guilt had much to do with what either Georges Casalis or Father Athanasius understood by the term. Speer was a typical example, as Sebastian Haffner had noted, of the new managerial type. He believed in action, without considering the consequences of his deeds. He operated in the world of the practical and the horizontal and had little patience with the moral, spiritual and vertical. Speer lived in the modern world where God is dead. He would have agreed with Mephistopheles when he said: ‘The world does not remain silent to the proficient. He does not need to wander in eternity.’ Mephistopheles is a remarkable precursor to the Speer type. In Faust Part I, Goethe presents him as an old-fashioned medieval German devil, but in Part II he is a man of the world, a cynic, a technocrat and a management consultant. Unlike Speer, he then relapses into the total debauchery to which some of his epigones are prone. Speer sometimes fashioned himself as Faust, but he more closely resembles the Demon.

Joachim Fest and Wolf Jobst Siedler were both struck by the pride that Speer showed in having enabled the German armed forces to continue the struggle for as long as they did. There can be no doubt that Speer did indeed help to prolong the war longer than many thought possible, as a result of which millions were killed and Germany reduced to a pile of rubble. To take pride in such an achievement did not quite fit with his public image as a public penitent, handing over a fortune to the victims of National Socialism, renouncing the material pleasures of life and living on locusts and wild honey. Speer, rejoicing in his successful and lucrative rehabilitation, was at times prepared to acknowledge that his appearance as a conscience-stricken prophet in a technological wilderness was a sham.

He argued that his guilt was based on omission rather than commission. He clearly implied that guilt by omission was necessarily the less reprehensible. His self-serving public display of scrupulosity sidestepped a confrontation with the true nature of what he had done. He had not merely looked away. This was not an argument over the validity of his ignorance, nor was it a question of due moral diligence. He had been an active participant in Nazi crimes. This was something that he refused to admit, even to himself. There was no sorrow at the wrong he had caused, no hint of remorse, no genuine apology. Refusing to admit the full extent of his wrongdoing, even to those in whom he could count on absolute discretion, he could never free himself from the anxiety that he might eventually be unmasked. He lied in order to be able to live with himself. He confessed to a lesser evil so as to conceal a far greater iniquity. He saw himself as having been seduced by Hitler, a victim of the age of technology and blinded by success. Unable to confront the past honestly he could never find true peace of mind. As Goethe remarked: ‘An active person is without a conscience. Only an observer has a conscience.’ Speer the observer was in no position to judge the active Speer. Although his sense of guilt was usually little more than a nagging unease and a lingering fear that his past might once again come under judicial scrutiny, there were moments when it seemed as if he wanted to confess so as to free himself from the burden of his Nazi past. How else to explain why he suggested that Schmidt approach Wolters or his admission to Hélène Jeanty Raven that he had indeed heard Himmler’s speech in Posen.

Taking Speer’s memoirs and his Spandau Diaries at face value, Mother Miriam Pollard of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance saw Speer’s twenty years in quasi-monastic isolation in Spandau prison, during which he trudged along the road to Emmaus, as resulting in his receiving God’s redemptive embrace, having embarked on the long journey from remorse to restitution and expiation. ‘Hitler,’ she writes, ‘had taken him a fair way to hell, but when Speer finally stopped and turned, he could still find the road back to reason, humanity and grace.’ This is something Speer flatly denied when he told the Playboy interviewer that the descent into hell was an exhilarating ride, but a one-way trip. Mother Miriam has an answer to why Speer was tormented by Heidegger’s ‘oblivion of being’. Although to her mind Speer had been honest about the past, had accepted responsibility for wrongdoing and the punishment he had been given, had made due reparation and offered up a vicarious expiation for others, there was one critical piece missing. That was his inability, due to inadequate spiritual instruction, to accept forgiveness. Nevertheless, the penitent Speer is elevated to almost saintly status. ‘In his redeemed and redeeming self he was delivering the guilt of the world into the re-creative embrace of God.’ Speer’s daughter Hilde is taken to task for her scepticism about her father’s ‘converted heart’.

This image of a soul-searching Speer, wrestling with the past and through years of deprivation and incarceration, living a life immersed in the redemptive death of Christ, making an act of public expiation for an entire nation, finds artistic expression in a remarkable sculpture by Yrsa von Leistner. This portrait, finished shortly before his death, shows Speer’s agonised and tortured face emerging from a block of marble. A red streak in the marble runs diagonally across his face, which Mother Miriam saw as a harbinger of his imminent death, but also as ‘a sublime meditation on the mystery of the redemption’. Given what we now know about Speer it is difficult not to feel that Mother Miriam, out of the generosity of her soul, is reading something into the material that is simply not there. Similarly, Yrsa von Leistner’s portrait suffers from a severe dose of the kitsch that mars much of her work. Speer abandoned his Protestant faith as a young man and was constitutionally incapable of finding his way back to it. Rudolf Wolters’ mockery of the repentant Speer with a hair-shirt and a diet of locusts, coupled with Hilde’s adamant disbelief, are far more convincing than the image of Speer the redeemer.

Speer played a dual role in post-war Germany. Here was one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich, who condemned Hitler as a criminal and who made a public, if circumscribed, confession of his own guilt at having been complicit in an immoral regime. But more importantly, he provided a thick coating of whitewash to millions of old Nazis. This was a man who was closer to Hitler than any other, yet who maintained his personal integrity as an apolitical technocrat, who told the Nuremberg Tribunal that he had only had a ‘vague sentiment’ of what went on in the concentration camps. Here was the man who provided exculpation for an entire generation. If a man so close to Hitler, with such immense power and with close connections to all the leading figures in the Third Reich, was unaware of the mass murder of the European Jews, how could the myriad of lesser figures possibly have known? Speer was Hitler’s closest associate – so close indeed that Joachim Fest was convinced that there were distinct homoerotic overtones in the relationship – yet who kept his integrity, innocent of all the evil done by the regime. For Wolters, he was Hitler’s ‘unrequited love’. Reinhard Spitzy, a hard-nosed diplomat seconded to military security in the Reich Security Main Office, said that whenever Speer visited the Obersalzberg he and Hitler would disappear to pore over architectural drawings like a couple of lovers. His publisher, Siedler, got so carried away by this extravagant talk that he described him as an ‘angel who came from hell’. The psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich said of him that he was a ‘sensitive guilty-innocent’. For others, less given to such convoluted and largely meaningless utterances, he was simply the perfect example of the idealistic, hardworking German, who fell under Hitler’s spell. He was stylised as a Parsifal who lacked the simple-mindedness and incorruptibility with which to resist Klingsor’s magic. He was by nature detached and standoffish, awkward in society, haughty and arrogant, without any real friends and anxious to avoid the company of others. He thus appeared to be a man apart. This helped to save him from the gallows and made the successful reconstruction of his public image possible.

So great was the need to believe the Speer myth that Siedler and Fest were able to strengthen it, even in the face of mounting evidence against him by professional historians. Fest held fast to his vision of the Third Reich as a regime, like any other, held together by blinkered specialists, of whom Speer was the perfect example. He was the gentleman among the gangsters. He was not someone who ranted and raved about the world Jewish conspiracy, but a conventionally civilised anti-Semite who confessed to having had an ‘unpleasant feeling’ when in the presence of Jews. He did not worry his head about Jewish slave labourers in his brickyards. He did not spare a thought about his Transport Corps in the Soviet Union as it moved stolen works of art back to Germany, or when it resettled German Mennonites in Himmler’s eastern outposts. Part of the Corps’ remit was, after all, to help implement the resolutions of the Wannsee Conference. Speer was no more lacking in empathy than Wernher von Braun, who was unconcerned about the slave labourers worked to death in underground factories building his beloved rockets; or Ferdinand Porsche, in whose works thousands of prisoners of war and forced labourers died; or Alfried Krupp, for whom Speer built special concentration camps for a hundred thousand ruthlessly exploited slaves.

Speer made staggering profits from the ‘Aryanisation’ of property in Berlin. He assembled a fine collection of early nineteenth-century romantic art, much of which was purchased at bargain basement prices from legitimate dealers, many of the previous owners having been forced to sell. Göring’s generous gift of a hundred hectares of woodland, adjacent to his magnificent estate at Oderbruch, was prudently overlooked. Fest took Speer’s preposterous claim to have always preferred the simple life, and to have easily adjusted to the austerity of his Spandau cell, at face value. He remained silent about Speer’s inhuman treatment of the Berlin Jews who stood in the way of his grotesque plans to rebuild the city. Had Fest bothered to have done his homework, he would have known that Speer was involved in the building of the prisoners’ barracks at Mauthausen, later to complain, much to Oswald Pohl’s irritation, that he found them far too luxurious. He was however well satisfied with the facilities at Auschwitz, on which he had commissioned a special report. Himmler, Heydrich, Oswald Pohl, Hans Kammler and Dr Karl Brandt, to name but a few, were among Speer’s closest associates. All were complicit in mass murder on an unimaginable scale. It is inconceivable that Speer knew absolutely nothing of this aspect of their efforts to build a new Germany.

He ordered every effort to be made to support Hitler’s last desperate gamble in the Ardennes offensive in late 1944. When it failed, it is to his credit that he did what he could to counter Hitler’s Nero Order and to save whatever could be saved, at least in the Ruhr. It is all too easy to overestimate Speer’s role in the final stages of the Third Reich. A scorched earth policy was impossible to implement. The vast majority of Germans had had more than enough. They wanted an end to the horror, not a horror without end. They were prepared to wave the white flag, even at the risk of the death penalty. Dying a hero’s death in a war that was already lost seemed utterly pointless.

Speer: A Man of his Culture II

In der Mitte Generalfeldmarschall Milch, links Staatsrat Dr. Schieber, Chef des Rstungslieferungsamtes
Aufnahmedatum: 1943

Speer the miracle worker is every bit as mythical as Speer the innocent, apolitical artist. This reputation rests on the calculations made by the Ministry of Armaments’ chief statistician, Rolf Wagenführ. The figures are indeed remarkable. Armaments production rose threefold from February 1942, when Speer took office, to July 1944. This is all the more astonishing given that this dramatic increase happened despite the Allied bombing offensive, dwindling supplies of raw materials and labour shortages. Wagenführ attributes this to a significant increase in the productivity of labour from a baseline of 100 in January 1942 to 234 by July 1944. Rationalisation also made it possible to produce more weapons using fewer raw materials. Productivity was further enhanced by drastically reducing the number of different weapons produced. The Speer ministry also put an end to the constant modification of individual weapons. Further savings were made by concentrating orders for weapons in the ministry, rather than leaving them in the hands of diverse institutions within the armed services. The self-determination of industry meant that firms were obliged to share their know-how, thereby making substantial savings. The system of committees and rings put small and inefficient enterprises out of business. The armaments industry suffered initially from start-up problems resulting from the rapid growth of capital stock and the labour force, but Speer benefited as industry rapidly learnt from experience.

Some argue that a significant improvement was made with the fixed price system that did not become the norm until 1942. Hitherto profits had been mainly calculated on the percentage of capital employed. The problem here was that this did not force less resourceful producers to meet standard pricing. It also necessitated complex bureaucratic controls to make sure that all was on the level. Now fixed prices were negotiated on the basis of good to average producers. Profits were made by producing at a lower cost. No awkward questions were asked as to how costs were reduced. That this was largely due to the ruthless exploitation of all forms of labour was conveniently overlooked.

There is no evidence to show that the change from cost prices to fixed prices made a significant difference. Fixed prices were already in effect in significant sectors of the armaments industry. Furthermore, fixed prices were based on previous cost prices. Generally speaking cost prices were used to cover risks when launching a new product. Fixed prices were often adjusted – particularly in the aircraft industry – when excess profits were made. The tax authorities, however, were careful to ensure that incentives to innovation and efficiency were not removed by excessive taxation. As a result, substantial profits were made throughout the war.

Wagenführ’s macro-economic data, the report of the US Strategic Bombing Survey and Speer’s compelling memoirs created the impression that there had indeed been an armaments miracle and that Albert Speer was the brightest star in the National Socialist firmament. It only needed a cursory examination of the evidence to show that there had already been a substantial increase in armaments production long before Speer began to work his miracles. This was deliberately disguised by choosing the exceptionally low production figures in January and February 1942 as the baseline. The relatively low production figures in 1940 and 1941 had little to do with inefficiency and low productivity. They were the result of deliberate military-political decisions. Speer’s much vaunted changes in the pricing system in May 1942 did not make a significant impact. Before that date there had been price reductions that suggest there were already sufficient incentives to increase efficiency.

Problems about the ways in which the armaments index was weighted are compounded by Speer’s deliberate manipulation of the figures in order to appease Hitler. This left the Wehrmacht wondering where on earth these weapons were that were listed in Speer’s public recitations of staggering production figures. The productivity figures are equally suspect. They were only based on productivity in firms that were under the aegis of the Armaments Inspectors. They do not include statistics from the armaments industry in the occupied countries.

Further doubts about the armaments industry stem from the fact the branches that showed outstanding rates of growth were initially not under Speer’s ministry. He did not take over control of naval armaments until October 1943, and Luftwaffe armaments remained independent until June 1944. Productivity in the aircraft industry was marginally higher than the overall armaments index. Naval productivity was fractionally less. This raises the question whether there was anything exceptional about Speer’s much-vaunted rationalisation programme. There are serious doubts whether the dramatic increase in the number of committees and rings resulted in any significant exchange of information between firms. Nor was this such a great innovation. They had been created by Todt. There had been effective exchanges of information between firms that were directly controlled by the army. Similar arrangements existed in parts of the aircraft industry.

Systematic rationalisation came relatively late and not infrequently proved to be a mixed blessing. Shipbuilding was rationalised in the summer of 1943. Production figures were impressive, but U-boats that were not seaworthy did not improve the navy’s fighting power. In the aircraft industry there was a steady increase in the number of different types and their variants. It was not until the summer of 1944 that a serious effort was made to address this problem.

A report commissioned by Hans Kehrl as head of the Planning Office in early 1944 suggests that Speer’s rationalisation efforts did not amount to much. Shortage of labour was a constant and increasing problem. It was compounded by the waste caused by the frequent introduction of new programmes combined with ongoing technical modifications. The Krupp Grusonwerk AG in Magdeburg was obliged to make eight significant changes in its tank-building programme in the course of 1943. The Eisenwerk Oberdonau GmbH in Linz had to make 1,474 modifications to the spare parts they provided for the Panther tank between July 1942 and March 1944. The Henschel aircraft company, that had built the Ju 88 bomber for years, was ordered to cease production in 1943 and make the Me 410 ‘Hornet’ fighter bomber. The Hornet proved ineffective in its role as a bomber destroyer, so that in 1944 the company was obliged once again to make the Ju 88. The end result was a disastrous drop in productivity. Hans Kehrl frequently complained that Speer did not address these problems with due concern.

Although many of the measures ascribed to Speer had been implemented before his appointment as Minister of Armaments, the question remains how it was that armaments production increased significantly during his time in office. In part this was due to the learning process in the first two-and-a-half years of the war. In the two years before he became minister, the amount of capital invested in enterprises controlled by the army for weapons production increased threefold. Much the same was true of the aircraft industry. In the first year of the war the workforce in the armaments industry doubled. Unskilled labourers had time to learn their trades, so that Speer inherited a highly skilled workforce. In his address to the Gauleiters in Munich on 24 February 1942, just a few days after his appointment, Speer paid ample tribute to Fritz Todt. He listed the enormous increases in efficiency, output and productivity that had been achieved by the ministry under his leadership. By February 1942 there had been a fourfold increase in the value of machine tools delivered to the armaments industry. This was a rate of increase that Speer was unable to match and it provided him with the solid foundations for further growth.

One factor that inhibited growth during Todt’s time in office was a widespread belief that this would be a short war. After the spectacular victories over Poland and France it seemed that the Wehrmacht would make short work of the Soviet Union. Firms such as Daimler-Benz were therefore loath to invest heavily in armaments production because they wanted to be well prepared for the post-war market. With Operation Barbarossa in ruins it was obvious to most that this was going to be a long hard slog and that industry would be wise to become fully involved in war production. Ample rewards were there for those who could produce the goods.

Until 1943 wage-adjusted labour productivity remained below the 1939 level. Thereafter it made a spectacular increase, until it began to tail off by the end of 1944. Rationalisation, centralisation, standardisation, the closing down of redundant firms and pricing had little to do with this achievement. Since the overwhelming majority of the eight-million-strong workforce in the armaments industry were forced labourers, prisoners of war or slaves, and German workers were ruthlessly exploited, the unit cost of labour was necessarily extremely low. The achievement of the armaments industry under Speer was no armaments miracle. There was no discontinuity between him and his predecessor. The economy was not transformed from a ‘peacetime economy in wartime’ into a full-scale wartime economy. A number of rationalisation measures had taken place under Todt. Others came into force relatively late, at a time when production figures had already peaked. Fixed prices were already in place, offering ample incentives to cut costs. Many of the achievements of the armaments industry were thus due to continuity and the long-term effects of measures that had been taken before Speer took office.

Speer may not have been a miracle worker and he had no particular gift as an architect, but, recognising his own shortcomings, he readily delegated to men of exceptional talent and energy. This made him an outstanding organiser and manager. At times he claimed to be an artist who had been forced into an alien world. Alternatively he described himself as an apolitical technocrat enthralled by a world of scientific know-how and applied science. In fact he was neither. As an architect, with grim confidence he followed the example set by others: first Tessenow, then Troost, and lastly Hitler. Even his finest achievement, the Cathedral of Light at Nuremberg, was probably suggested to him by the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and her cameraman Walter Frentz, whom Speer had met while canoeing. Having no technical expertise whatsoever, he relied on others. This left him vulnerable to attack from ambitious underlings. Being neither artist nor technocrat his unique position was solely due to his close relationship with Hitler. Once that was compromised he was left virtually powerless. All that remained was a set of mutually beneficial relationships that could only be sustained because the Third Reich was falling apart, the dictatorship crumbling.

What makes Speer so particularly frightening was that this hollow man, resolutely bourgeois, highly intelligent, totally lacking in moral vision, unable to question the consequences of his actions, and without scruples, was far from being an outsider. He was of the type that made National Socialism possible. The Third Reich would never have been so deadly effective had it relied on the adventurers, thugs, half-crazed ideologues, racist fanatics and worshippers of Germanic deities that people the public image of the regime. Speer is the outstanding representative of a widespread type that made the regime possible. That so many found his carefully staged post-war image so thoroughly convincing points to an insidious danger. As Sebastian Haffner so shrewdly remarked, we can get rid of the Hitlers and the Himmlers, but not the Speers. They are still with us. They are immediately recognisable and every bit as dangerous.

Messerschmitt Bf 110 C and D

Designed in 1934 by Willy Messerschmitt’s Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bf ), the first Bf 110 V1 prototype flew in May 1936. An aircraft of very mixed fortune, the wartime-production Bf 110C joined the German air force in early 1939. The strategic fighter was intended to perform as a heavily armed escort fighter to accompany bombers deep into enemy territory, blasting a path through all opposition, and raiding deep into enemy heartland. Seen as offering a multi-role capability, and complementing their primary force of single-engined light fighters, the heavily armed twin-engined Bf 110 raised considerable enthusiasm and high expectations. Special Zerstörer (destroyer) wings were formed, and regarded so highly that most of the best fighter pilots were posted to them. The two-seat, twin-engined monoplane Bf 110 had a span of 16.25 m (53 ft 5 in), a length of 12.1 m (39 ft 8.5 in), a height of 3.5 m (11 ft 6 in) and an empty weight of 4,500 kg (9,920lbs).

Powered by two 1,100-hp Daimler-Benz DB 610A engines, it had a speed of 562 km/h (349 mph), and a range of 850 km (528 miles) but this could be significantly increased to 700 miles by jettisoning underwing fuel tanks. Armament was formidable, including two forward-firing 20-mm Oerlikon MGFF cannons (placed in ventral position), four forward firing Rheinmetall 7.92-mm MG 17 machine guns (fixed in the nose), and one 7.92-mm MG 15 manually aimed in rear cockpit. Four 250-kg (551-lb) bombs could be carried in underwing racks. Right before the war a photograph appeared in the German press, showing the new Messerschmitt bomber Me 210 Jaguar; this was an elaborate hoax (in fact a Bf 110 with a glazed nose photographically superimposed) to fool the British and the French. Too late to be tested in the Spanish Civil War, the Messerschmitt Bf 110 met its requirements and, despite unimpressive maneuverability, performed extremely well in the close-support role in the Polish, Norwegian, Dutch and French campaigns. The Battle of Britain, however, proved a turning point in the Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter’s career. Lacking a powerful rear defensive armament, agility and acceleration ability to cope with the opposing fast, agile and modern single-engine British fighters, it proved itself almost as vulnerable to Spitfires and Hurricanes as were the bombers it was suppose to protect. Suffering heavy losses, the result was that the escort Bf 110s themselves had to be escorted by Bf 109 fighters. As a long-range fighter/light bomber, the Bf 110 was a flop. Despite this setback and its ultimate failure in its originally intended role, the Messerschmitt Bf 110s continued to serve in all theaters. Improved D and E versions with many improved sub-types performed in various roles in 1941 and 1942, in less dangerous skies in the Balkans, North Africa and Russia, including ground and shipping attacks, light bomber runs, glider tug work, and long-range reconnaissance. By 1942, production was scheduled to end, and the aging Bf 110 was supposed to be replaced by the new Messerschmitt Me 210. The failure of the latter led to the Bf 110 being reinstated (G version) and modified well beyond its original design. Though outdated in 1943, the Bf 110 G was built in larger numbers than all other versions combined. The type found its true niche in the defensive role in which its heavy armament, long range, and ability to carry airborne radar made the Bf 110 useful again. Away from opposition fighters, its destroyer capabilities could work once more. Mainly used as night fighter, the improved G version was powered by two 1,475-hp Daimler-Benz DB B engines, and fitted with flame dampers on the exhausts. Mounting Lichtenstein radar, heavy MG 151 oblique-firing Schräge Musik guns (and eventually 21-cm rocket tubes), the Bf 110 achieved remarkable successes as much as a night fight as day interceptor. That was to change when the Bf 110’s nemesis, long-range escort single engine fighters (P-47 or P 51 for example), returned to the scene. By March 1944, due to heavy losses, the Bf 110 was forced to with draw from the daylight air war above Germany. A final version (Bf 110 H ground attacker) was produced in February 1945, after a total of 6,050 of all types had been manufactured.


By the end of 1938 the DB 600 had been dropped and the DB 601 B-1 engine chosen to power the next Bf 110 variant – the C series. The DB 601s’ radiators were fitted under the aircraft’s wings, slightly outboard of each engine nacelle. Beneath the nacelles themselves were small oil coolers and air scoops. Rounded wingtips, which had been a feature of all previous Bf 110s, were replaced with squared off tips.

A series of 10 pre-production C-0s were built, followed by the full production C-1. The first of these were delivered to Luftwaffe units in early 1939 and a total of 195 were made up to the beginning of the Second World War. Further variants of the C series included the C-2, which had a FuG 10 radio fitted, the C-3 which had its MG FF cannon upgraded to MG FF/Ms, the C-4 which had better armour protection for the crew and the C-4/B which added a pair of bomb racks to the basic C-4. The line was further extended with the C-5 reconnaissance version, which had both MG FFs removed and an Rb 50/30 camera installed, the C-6 with a single MK 101 30mm cannon attached via an under-fuselage mount and a C-7 based on the C-4/B but with centreline bomb racks able to carry double the payload – two 500kg bombs compared to the earlier design’s two 250kg bombs.

Work on the Bf 110 D long-range variant had begun during the second half of 1939. This was designed, initially, to extend the standard Bf 110 C’s operational range by adding a large and ungainly-looking fuel tank to the aircraft’s underside. This streamlined tank extended from halfway back under the nose to the rear of the crew canopy and could hold 1050 litres of additional fuel. Its bulbous appearance resulted in it receiving the nickname `Dackelbauch’ or dachshund’s belly and the huge additional drag it created meant it was largely dropped after the initial run of Bf 110 D-0 pre-production machines, which had been converted from existing C series aircraft.

The D-1 was set up to accommodate a pair of 900 litre drop tanks, one under each wing, but was also designed with fittings for an improved Dackelbauch. Those that actually received the tank were designated D-1/R1, while those that had the drop tanks instead were the D-1/R2 – the `R’ standing for Rüstsätz.

The D-2 kept the drop tanks but added centreline racks for a pair of 500kg bombs, while the D-3 featured a lengthened tail so that a rescue dingy could be installed. Either 300 litre or 900 litre drop tanks could be added with the two bomb racks as an optional replacement. The final `D’ variant was the D-4, which again retained the drop tanks but had both MG FFs removed and an Rb 50/30 camera fitted.

The Bf 110 had proven itself a capable enough fighter up to the beginning of the war but during the Battle of Britain it struggled to match the capabilities of the nimble Spitfire and Hurricanes fielded by the RAF. By the end of 1940 Messerschmitt was already lining up its replacement, the Me 210, which was expected to offer true multirole capability as well as far exceeding the abilities of the Bf 110 in all of its existing roles. However, the Me 210 was dogged by developmental problems that kept it from entering front line service in any great numbers. Messerschmitt therefore continued to work on the Bf 110 – which had by now also begun a new career as a night fighter.

Starting during the summer of 1940, night fighter units were equipped with a mixture of Bf 110 Cs and Ds and enjoyed some measure of success against increasingly obsolete RAF types such as the Hampden, Vickers Wellington and Armstrong Whitley. Initially, the night fighter Bf 110s were unmodified and sought out their prey with the aid of searchlights on the ground but they were quickly fitted with features such as exhaust flame dampers and improved radios.

The Bf 110 was particularly well suited to operations against the RAF’s bomber fleet after dark because its large canopy offered much better visibility than that of a Bf 109, it could stay in the air longer to stalk the enemy, and it packed a powerful enough punch to quickly disable or destroy a large aircraft. At night, its relative lack of manoeuvrability was not a problem.

Bf 110 C

First major production series, DB 601 engines.

Bf 110 C-0

Ten pre-production aircraft.

Bf 110 C-1

Zerstörer, DB 601 B-1 engines.

Bf 110 C-2

Zerstörer, fitted with FuG 10 radio, upgraded from FuG III.

Bf 110 C-3

Zerstörer, upgraded 20 mm MG FFs to MG FF/M.

Bf 110 C-4

Zerstörer, upgraded crew armour.

Bf 110 C-4/B

Fighter-bomber based on C-4, fitted with a pair of ETC 500 bomb racks and upgraded DB 601 Ba engines.

Bf 110 C-5

Reconnaissance version based on C-4, both MG FF removed, and Rb 50/30 camera installed, uprated DB 601P engines.

Bf 110 C-6

Experimental Zerstörer, additional single 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 101 cannon in underfuselage mount, DB 601P engines.

Bf 110 C-7

Fighter-bomber based on C-4/B, two ETC 500 centreline bomb racks capable of carrying two 250, 500, or 1,000 kg (2,204 lb) bombs, uprated DB 601P engines.

Bf 110 D

Heavy fighter/fighter-bomber, extreme range versions based on C-series, prepared to operate with external fuel tanks. Often stationed in Norway.

Bf 110 D-0

Prototype utilizing C-3 airframes modified with 1,050 L (277 US gal) belly-mounted tank called Dackelbauch (“dachshund’s belly” in German).

Bf 110 D-1

Long-range Zerstörer, modified C series airframes with option to carry Dackelbauch belly tank and underwing drop tanks.

Bf 110 D-1/R1

Long-range Zerstörer, Dackelbauch ventral tank, option to carry additional wing mounted 900 L (240 US gal) drop tanks.

Bf 110 D-1/R2

Long-range Zerstörer, droppable 85 L oil tank under the fuselage instead of Dackelbauch ventral tank, two wing mounted 900 L (240 US gal) drop tanks.

Bf 110 D-2

Long-range Zerstörer, two wing-mounted 300 L (80 US gal) drop tanks and centreline mounted bomb racks for two 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs.

Bf 110 D-3

Long-range Zerstörer, lengthened tail for rescue dinghy. Either two wing-mounted 300 L (80 US gal) or 900 L (240 US gal) drop tanks could be fitted. Optional fitting of ETC 500 bombracks (impossible with 900 L drop tanks).

Bf 110 D-4

Long-range recon, both MG FF removed, and Rb 50/30 camera installed, two wing-mounted 300 L or 900 L drop tanks.

BB Tirpitz

Tirpitz and the ill-starred Bismarck were planned during the first years of the Nazi Regime as part of a class of heavy battleships which were to have a standard displacement of 45,000 tons; they followed the 33,000 ton battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as a further stage in the re-birth of the German Battle Fleet. It was intended to follow Tirpitz and Bismarck with six super-battleships of 60,000 tons, four large battlecruisers of 35,000 tons, six large fleet aircraft carriers, and all the battlecruisers, destroyers and other attendant craft needed to make a bid for supremacy on the high seas. Tirpitz was laid down at Wilhelmshaven in October, 1936, launched in April, 1939, and completed in November, 1940. She commissioned on 25 January, 1941, and spent the remainder of the year carrying out extensive trials, overcoming the inevitable teething troubles and working up into an efficient fighting unit. During this period she visited Kiel, Gdynia and Danzig, returning to Kiel at intervals for repairs and adjustments.

Meanwhile attention was being paid by the Germans to the future employment of their heavy naval units. In spite of the reverses suffered in the loss of, first, the pocket battleship Graf Spee and then the battleship Bismarck and also the blockading of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which had been at Brest since mid-March, 1941, there still remained formidable operational units for deployment. In August, 1941, Admiral Raeder (Commander-in- Chief of the German Navy) recommended the concentration of heavy ships in northern waters as promising strategic results. In December, 1941, Hitler demanded a concentration of battleships and pocket battleships in northern waters because latest intelligence had firmly convinced him that a British landing in northern Norway was imminent; he was deeply concerned at the possible catastrophic results of such a landing and said “The fate of the war will be decided in Norway”. The outcome was that in mid-January, 1942, Tirpitz sailed for Norway and approximately a month later Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made their historic dash through the English Channel in a successful effort to regain German ports.

Tirpitz’s first sortie was made from Trondheim in March, 1942, after a Russia-bound convoy had been shadowed by German reconnaissance aircraft. Torpedo carrying Albacores of the Fleet Air Arm made contact with the ship off the Lofoten Islands on 9 March and launched an unsuccessful attack following which Tirpitz retired at high speed. She returned to Trondheim and remained in that area until early July, 1942. On 7 July, British reconnaissance aircraft sighted Tirpitz off Tromsø and on 8 July the Russians claimed to have attacked her off North Cape with torpedoes fired from a submarine. The ship was next located at Bogen Fjord, near Narvik, where she remained until October, 1942, when machinery defects which had developed during the previous months made it desirable for her to return to Trondheim for repairs before the onset of the Arctic winter.

On 11 January, 1943, Hitler, furious at the failure of an attack on a convoy by Hipper and Lutzow, announced his intention of decommissioning the large ships. He told Raeder that the present critical situation demanded the application of all available fighting power, personnel and material, and that the large ships must not be permitted to be idle for months. On Hitler’s instructions Raeder produced a memorandum on the decommissioning of the large ships; he strenuously contested the decision but to no effect. Following this, Raeder resigned and was succeeded by Dönitz. Decommissioning of certain ships was put into effect, but following strong representations from Dönitz, Hitler agreed to keep Tirpitz and Scharnhorst in commission; Dönitz reasoned that these heavy units, together with Lutzow and six destroyers, would form a fairly powerful task force. On 2 February, 1943, Hitler issued an order for the cessation of work on the building of large ships.

The machinery repairs to Tirpitz appeared to have been completed (with spares brought from Germany) by the end of February, 1943, at which time she was reported as undergoing exercises in Trondheim Fjord. She left the Trondheim area in March, 1943, and joined the Scharnhorst and Lutzow in the Narvik area. The three ships left Narvik in company on 27 March and arrived in the Kaa Fjord, between Tromsø and North Cape, on 2 April. They stayed in this area until 7 September. On 9 September they carried out a raid on the Norwegian Islands of Spitzbergen with the object of destroying Allied bases and installations which were alleged to have been set up there. This raid indicated that the German battleship was likely to become more active and plans were therefore made to attack her with the X-Craft which had just come into operational service.

Three of the six X-Craft which were despatched to make this attack in the Kaa Fjord, to which Tirpitz had returned after the Spitzbergen raid, successfully negotiated the inner defences around her on 22 September and two of them laid their explosive charges on the sea-bed under or near the ship before being destroyed. At least two of these charges detonated as intended and the resultant damage immobilised Tirpitz for six months. At the end of this period, that is mid-March, 1944, she was reported as running trials in the Altenfjord and arrangements were made to lay on a bombing attack by Fleet Air Arm Barracudas from the Home Fleet Carriers. The first attack was made on 3 April by 40 Barracudas in two waves escorted by ship- borne fighters, just as Tirpitz was on the point of leaving her berth to run an extensive series of sea trials to test the repairs. The attack was a complete surprise, 14 hits were scored in spite of very low cloud, a smoke screen and the difficulty of attacking over mountains, and though the material efficiency of the ship was not seriously impaired, the heavy casualties meant that she would not be able to fight an action for some time.

Tirpitz was still in Kaa Fjord when she was again attacked by Fleet Air Arm aircraft on 17 July and 22, 24 and 29 August. Observer posts, which had been set up some distance from the anchorage, were able to give warning of these raids and a thick smoke screen, heavy anti-aircraft fire and low cloud prevented the attacks being pressed well home. Two hits were scored on 24 August but again no vital damage to the ship resulted.

The urgent necessity of releasing for the Far East the capital ships held at Scapa to counter the menace of Tirpitz made it imperative to render the ship inoperative at an early date. On 15 September, 1944, she was attacked at her anchorage in the Kaa Fjord with the new 12,000 lb. M.C. bombs (Tallboys) which had been developed primarily for land demolition purposes. 21 Bomber Command Lancasters, operating from a Russian base, found the ship almost completely obscured by smoke. Only one hit (at the fore end) was registered owing to the extreme difficulty of carrying out a high level bombing attack in the poor visibility conditions prevailing, but severe damage was caused and Tirpitz was henceforth incapable of being a threat to shipping. However, this fact did not become known to the Allies until the termination of the war, and the attacks continued.

Following this latest damage the Germans held a Conference at which they decided that as it was no longer possible to make Tirpitz ready for sea and action again, the ship’s remaining fighting efficiency should be utilised as a reinforcement of the defences in the Polar Area. On 15 October Tirpitz was moved to a berth near Tromsø and arrangements were made to protect her with anti-aircraft and smoke defences and land-based aircraft. This berth was supposed to conform to special requirements laid down at the Conference, one of which limited the maximum depth of water in the anchorage to a figure which would have prevented the ship from capsizing; the depth at the position in which Tirpitz was finally moored exceeding this limit and a hasty attempt was made to build up the sea-bed by depositing dredged material around and under the ship, which became known as “The Floating Battery”.

On 29 October, 1944, Lancasters again attacked with 12,000 lb. bombs. Heavy cloud obscured the Tromsø anchorage and militated against accurate high level bombing but a near miss off the port quarter produced flooding aft.

Finally, on 12 November, 1944, the somewhat inactive operational career of Tirpitz was brought to a close when Lancaster aircraft bombed her with 12,000 lb. Tallboys for the third time, scoring hits which – aided by one near miss – caused the world’s only “unsinkable” battleship to capsize in about ten minutes with the loss of some 1,000 lives.

Ship Description

There was nothing sensational about the design of Tirpitz; she was merely a very large battleship, designed on conventional lines, propelled by three screws driven by steam turbines and mounting eight 38 cm. (approx. 15-in.) guns in twin turrets, arranged in the conventional way, two forward and two aft. This German mastodon was designed to a standard displacement of 42,600 tons, although the displacement reported for Treaty conditions was 35,000, the same as that of the King George V and Washington classes of battleship, which were genuinely designed to this size. In the deep condition she displaced 50,000 tons and had a draught of nearly 34 ft. Other things being equal this greater displacement would have been accompanied by greater ability to withstand damage. Although she measured 822 ft. overall, her most impressive dimension was her beam of 118 ft. which would have prevented her from passing through the Panama Canal. It was always thought that this implied a very deep “bulge” for protection against underwater attack, but it is now known that there was nothing remarkable about her underwater protection which was, in fact, inferior to that fitted in both British and American contemporary Capital Ships. The very large beam was adopted to provide an abnormally high initial stability. Such measures, however, may often reduce the resistance of the ship to the more severe states of damage. It is doubtful whether Tirpitz was at all better than her allied counterparts in this respect.

Information gained from a survey of the wreck and numerous drawings brought from Germany confirm that Tirpitz’s reputed fine watertight subdivision, and consequent “invincibility”, were a complete myth; her subdivision was very similar to that of our own Capital Ships, and indeed those of all major sea Powers. Her watertight integrity was in several ways subordinated to requirements of convenience; for example, every transverse watertight bulkhead in the ship was pierced by watertight doors on the lower and middle platform decks, a menace which has been eliminated from H.M. ships for many years, and the engine rooms seemed to contain far more space than was needed.

Some of the available weight was used to secure a very high speed. Tirpitz was designed to develop 150,000 shaft horse-power which enabled her to make over 30 knots in the average action condition, and she was capable of developing 165,000 shaft horse-power for sudden bursts of over 31 knots. Her range based on an oil fuel capacity of 5,000 tons was over 10,000 sea miles. More fuel could be carried in an emergency.

More of the extra displacement in Tirpitz was accounted for by the fact that her 38 cm. guns were mounted in twin turrets rather than the weight saving triple and quadruple arrangements used in modern American and British Capital ships. Also the Germans fitted separate low angle and high angle secondary batteries rather than the dual purpose mountings used in Allied ships. She thus had twelve 15 cm. (5.9-in.) low angle guns in twin turrets, three on either side of the amidships superstructure, and sixteen high angle 10.5 cm. (4.1-in.) guns in twin mountings – four on each side. A further battery of sixteen 3.7 cm. (1.46-in.) mountings for close range anti- aircraft work was also provided.

This powerful armament was controlled by range-finders and director sights on the forward and after conning towers, and on the fore top. There were smaller range-finders for the secondary armament, one on each side of the bridge. The 10.5 cm. H.A. armament was controlled by four special gyro stabilized directors, one to port and one to starboard of the bridge, and two on the centre line abaft the main mast.

Tirpitz’s general layout is illustrated by the small-scale drawings below. It will be seen from the drawing that the machinery spaces, consisting of six boiler rooms, three engine rooms and miscellaneous compartments housing auxiliary machinery, the magazines and shell rooms, and other vital compartments such as fire control rooms, were well protected by a long armoured citadel. The sides were of 320 mm. (12.6-in.) thick cemented armour plates from 8 ft. below the waterline up to the battery deck and thinner plating of 145 mm. (5.7-in.) thickness to the upper deck. In addition, the third deck down was armoured with 80 mm. (3.15-in.) non-cemented plating over the machinery spaces and 100 mm. (3.94-in.) over the magazines between the torpedo bulkheads, while the sloping deck armour between the centre portion and the base of the side armour was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in way of machinery spaces and 120 mm. (4.72)-in.) in way of magazines. There were extensions of the citadel by thinner armour, the lower belt being 60 mm. (2.36-in.) plating forward and 80 mm. (3.15-in.) aft and the upper belt being 35 mm. (1.38-in.) forward and aft. While there was no deck armour before the forward magazines, deck protection aft over the steering gear compartments was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in thickness. This armoured citadel, re-inforced by a strength deck (the upper deck) which was 50 mm. (1.97-in.) thick generally, afforded efficient protection against splinters and all but the largest bombs dropped from a considerable height. Barbettes, and turret sides and roofs, and greater ability to withstand damage. Although she measured 822 ft. overall, her most impressive dimension was her beam of 118 ft. which would have prevented her from passing through the Panama Canal. It was always thought that this implied a very deep “bulge” for protection against underwater attack, but it is now known that there was nothing remarkable about her underwater protection which was, in fact, inferior to that fitted in both British and American contemporary Capital Ships. The very large beam was adopted to provide an abnormally high initial stability. Such measures, however, may often reduce the resistance of the ship to the more severe states of damage. It is doubtful whether Tirpitz was at all better than her allied counterparts in this respect.

Information gained from a survey of the wreck and numerous drawings brought from Germany confirm that Tirpitz’s reputed fine watertight subdivision, and consequent “invincibility”, were a complete myth; her subdivision was very similar to that of our own Capital Ships, and indeed those of all major sea Powers. Her watertight integrity was in several ways subordinated to requirements of convenience; for example, every transverse watertight bulkhead in the ship was pierced by watertight doors on the lower and middle platform decks, a menace which has been eliminated from H.M. ships for many years, and the engine rooms seemed to contain far more space than was needed.

Some of the available weight was used to secure a very high speed. Tirpitz was designed to develop 150,000 shaft horse-power which enabled her to make over 30 knots in the average action condition, and she was capable of developing 165,000 shaft horse-power for sudden bursts of over 31 knots. Her range based on an oil fuel capacity of 5,000 tons was over 10,000 sea miles. More fuel could be carried in an emergency.

More of the extra displacement in Tirpitz was accounted for by the fact that her 38 cm. guns were mounted in twin turrets rather than the weight saving triple and quadruple arrangements used in modern American and British Capital ships. Also the Germans fitted separate low angle and high angle secondary batteries rather than the dual purpose mountings used in Allied ships. She thus had twelve 15 cm. (5.9-in.) low angle guns in twin turrets, three on either side of the amidships superstructure, and sixteen high angle 10.5 cm. (4.1-in.) guns in twin mountings – four on each side. A further battery of sixteen 3.7 cm. (1.46-in.) mountings for close range anti- aircraft work was also provided.

This powerful armament was controlled by range-finders and director sights on the forward and after conning towers, and on the fore top. There were smaller range-finders for the secondary armament, one on each side of the bridge. The 10.5 cm. H.A. armament was controlled by four special gyro stabilized directors, one to port and one to starboard of the bridge, and two on the centre line abaft the main mast.

Tirpitz’s general layout is illustrated by the small-scale drawing (Figure 2) which has been prepared for this report from larger scale drawings found in the Naval Arsenal at Kiel. It will be seen from the drawing that the machinery spaces, consisting of six boiler rooms, three engine rooms and miscellaneous compartments housing auxiliary machinery, the magazines and shell rooms, and other vital compartments such as fire control rooms, were well protected by a long armoured citadel. The sides were of 320 mm. (12.6-in.) thick cemented armour plates from 8 ft. below the waterline up to the battery deck and thinner plating of 145 mm. (5.7-in.) thickness to the upper deck. In addition, the third deck down was armoured with 80 mm. (3.15-in.) non-cemented plating over the machinery spaces and 100 mm. (3.94-in.) over the magazines between the torpedo bulkheads, while the sloping deck armour between the centre portion and the base of the side armour was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in way of machinery spaces and 120 mm. (4.72)-in.) in way of magazines. There were extensions of the citadel by thinner armour, the lower belt being 60 mm. (2.36-in.) plating forward and 80 mm. (3.15-in.) aft and the upper belt being 35 mm. (1.38-in.) forward and aft. While there was no deck armour before the forward magazines, deck protection aft over the steering gear compartments was 110 mm. (4.33-in.) in thickness. This armoured citadel, re-inforced by a strength deck (the upper deck) which was 50 mm. (1.97-in.) thick generally, afforded efficient protection against splinters and all but the largest bombs dropped from a considerable height. Barbettes, and turret sides and roofs, and conning towers were protected by armour on the same generous lines.

Four sea-planes which were carried for spotting and reconnaissance were accommodated in special hangars abreast the funnel and under the main mast. They were launched by a fixed athwartships catapult between the funnel and the main mast.

It will be seen from this description that the Tirpitz and her sister ship, the Bismarck, were formidable – if conventional – fighting units which required our best ships and weapons to counter them, and which were capable of defeating attacks by heavy shell and all but the heaviest bombs. While Tirpitz remained in the Norwegian Fjords, powerful British units had to be kept in Home waters to protect our shipping.


Emperor Sigismund, aged approximately 65.

Sigismund of Luxembourg (15 February 1368 in Nuremberg – 9 December 1437 in Znaim, Moravia) was Prince-elector of Brandenburg from 1378 until 1388 and from 1411 until 1415, King of Hungary and Croatia from 1387, King of Germany from 1411, King of Bohemia from 1419, King of Italy from 1431, and Holy Roman Emperor for four years from 1433 until 1437, the last male member of the House of Luxembourg. Sigismund von Luxembourg was the leader of the last West European Crusade – the Crusade of Nicopolis of 1396 to liberate Bulgaria and save Constantinople from the Turks. Afterwards, he founded the Dragon Order to fight the Turks. He was regarded as highly educated, spoke several languages (among them; French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin) and was an outgoing person who also took pleasure in the tournament. Sigismund was one of the driving forces behind the Council of Constance that ended the Papal Schism, but which in the end also led to the Hussite Wars that dominated the later period of Sigismund’s life.


During the period of internal wars in Hungary, relations between the kingdom and its neighbours changed profoundly and irreversibly. Ottoman expansion reached Hungary in 1389 and the kingdom was soon compelled to adopt a defensive policy to counter this threat. From this time until the catastrophe of Mohács, Hungary lived, almost without interruption, under the constant menace of Ottoman raids and invasions, which, besides straining her economic and military forces to the limit, also led to internal conflicts. Proud of their ancestors’ warlike traditions, the nobility found the necessity of a defensive policy unacceptable. They demanded the same offensive attitude towards the Ottoman empire as had for so long prevailed towards others. The failures that were bound to follow were invariably blamed on those who happened to be in power.

In early 1389, Lazarus, prince of Serbia, confirmed his allegiance to Sigismund, but he was killed in June at the battle of Kosovo, and his son Stephen Lazarević soon became an Ottoman vassal. In early 1390 Turkish troops devastated the region of Timişoara, in 1391 they did the same in Srem, and thereafter their incursions became regular occurrences. Sigismund took the threat seriously from the very first moment. As early as the autumn of 1389 he led an expedition to Serbia, taking Čestin and Borač by siege, and he repeated the action in 1390 and 1391. In 1392 he pushed forward as far as Ždrelo, but Sultan Bayezid, who arrived there in person, refused to give battle. In 1393 the barons led a campaign along the southern frontiers, and Sigismund was also there in August 1394. In early 1395 he mounted an expedition against Moldavia and forced its prince to submit, but this success proved only temporary and Moldavia soon shifted back under the influence of Poland. By this time Wallachia had passed temporarily under the suzerainty of the Ottomans, who raided Transylvania for the first time in 1394. Mircea cel Bătrîn, prince of Wallachia, who had hitherto opposed Hungary with Polish support, asked Sigismund for help in order to regain his land. On 7 March 1395, in Braşov, he agreed to be a vassal of Hungary. However, on 17 May the Hungarian army sent to Wallachia was defeated and its commander, Stephen Losonci, killed. In July Sigismund himself invaded the province, restored Mircea to his throne and recovered from the Ottomans the castle of Minor Nicopolis on the Danube.

These wars were exhausting and yielded only meagre results. Consequently, Sigismund decided to settle the Turkish problem once and for all. He set about organising a major enterprise with the ambitious aim of driving the Ottomans out of Europe. In 1395 his envoys made a tour of the courts of Europe and an embassy may also have been sent to the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. As a result of these efforts the Pope declared the planned expedition a crusade, and by the summer of 1396 an army of considerable size had assembled. Alongside the Hungarians and their Wallachian auxiliaries, the core of the army was made up of Frenchmen, with John of Nevers, heir to Burgundy, at their head, though knights also came from Germany, Bohemia, Italy and even England. In August the army, led by Sigismund, invaded Bulgaria along the Danube and laid siege to Nicopolis. Bayezid, leading the counter-attack in person, marched to relieve the beleaguered castle, and it was there that a European army faced the Ottomans for the first time. The battle, which for a long time was to determine the nature of Hungaro-Ottoman relations, took place on 25 September 1396. The crusader army was virtually destroyed, allegedly as a consequence of the ill-considered actions of the French knights. As for Hungarian casualties, several barons were killed, Palatine Jolsvai captured, and Sigismund himself barely escaped with his life, fleeing on a ship to Constantinople and returning by sea to Dalmatia in January 1397.

The catastrophe of Nicopolis demonstrated that the Ottoman empire represented a power against which Hungary was unable to wage an offensive war, even with support from abroad. The hope that Ottoman attacks might be stopped through a single determined effort vanished. From this point on priority was given to defence rather than to offensive campaigns. The kingdom had to learn how to live with the constant menace of Turkish incursions.

The Ottomans did not try to conquer Hungary for a long time. In contrast to the Balkan states, which were easily crushed, the kingdom was to remain a rival of the empire right up to the end of the fifteenth century. For the time being it was not Hungary’s existence that was threatened but the supremacy that it had been able to impose upon its southern neighbours. However meagre the palpable results of Louis the Great’s wars had been, they had demonstrated that Bosnia, Serbia and Wallachia belonged to Hungary’s sphere of influence. The Ottoman conquest caused Hungary to lose this position: instead of launching offensive campaigns, the kingdom was forced now to defend itself. Nor should the humiliating effect of the Turkish incursions be underestimated. Hungary, which had not suffered a major external attack since the Mongol invasion, now found herself exposed to plundering raids by the Ottomans year after year.


The immediate consequence of the defeat of Nicopolis was a revolt by the Lackfi. The former palatine, who had been deprived of office since 1392, contacted Ladislaus of Naples and was joined in his conspiracy by his nephew, Stephen Lackfi junior, and by a grandson of Ban Mikcs. But that was all the support he could muster. The rest of the league remained faithful to the king, who was therefore able quickly to put down the revolt after his return. The two Lackfi were enticed to the royal court and killed there in February 1397, and the enormous wealth of their family and of their supporters was confiscated.

From this time on Sigismund became increasingly determined to rule alone. The barons of the league were slowly but steadily pushed aside. Only Kanizsai and Detricus Bebek, the new palatine, remained in office after 1398. Their place was taken by hitherto unknown persons, partly from the household, partly from abroad. Immediately after the suppression of the revolt the king took into his service Count Hermann of Cilli (Celje) from Styria, who was to remain his closest confidant (before even Stibor) until his death in 1435. Cilli was given, as hereditary grants, first the town of Varaždin in 1397, then the district of Zagorje in 1399. From this time on, he and his successors gave themselves the title ‘count of Cilli and Zagorje’ and were the greatest landowners in Slavonia. Cilli’s staunch ally was Eberhard, a cleric who probably came from the Rhine region and who in 1397 was appointed bishop of Zagreb. He summoned to Hungary his nephews, lords of Alben in Germany, and persuaded the king to invest them with large estates. It was in 1398 that Filippo Scolari, who was the Buda representative of the trading house Bardi of Florence, was engaged by Sigismund. He was a count of the chamber for the time being, but was later to make an astonishing career under the name of Pipo of Ozora.

Sigismund’s endeavour to enlarge his independence manifested itself no less in his reforming activities. In October 1397, in response to the disaster of Nicopolis, he convoked a diet to meet at Timişoara with the intention of organising effective defence against the Ottomans. Forty-five of the 70 articles that were accepted simply reiterated the Golden Bull and Louis’s decree of 1351, but the remaining 25 contained important innovations. Whilst being willing to confirm in principle the nobility’s freedom from compulsory mobilisation for an offensive war, he suspended this privilege in view of ‘the great necessity of this kingdom’. He promised that ‘once the present wars are over’, that is, after the Ottoman threat had passed, the nobles would regain their ancient liberties. But for the time being he required them to take up arms ‘in person’, whenever he called them, and to make war on the frontiers, or even beyond, under his leadership or (in his absence) that of the palatine. Those not complying with royal orders would be liable to a fine of one florin per tenant if they had any, and of three marks, equalling twelve florins, per head if they did not. He also ordered that all the landowners ‘must equip, as a soldier should be, one archer from every 20 peasant tenants and lead him to war.’6 With a view to enforcing the edict as smoothly as possible Sigismund ordered a general census of landowners and their tenants in every county. This is the first such attempt that we know of in medieval Hungary, though unfortunately only the roll from the county of Ung has survived. Troops were being raised from landowners according to the number of their tenants as early as 1398. Known as militia portalis, these troops would constitute an important part of the army in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The nobility received little in return for these encroachments upon their liberties. Sigismund agreed not to grant ‘promotions’ of daughters in cases where there was a male heir within the fifth degree of kinship. In another article, he promised that he would remove all ‘foreigners’ from their offices, but stipulated that exception should be made for Stibor, Eberhard and Maternus, bishop of Transylvania. These were, of course, the very persons against whom the protests underlying this article had been aimed in the first place.

The burden of war had also to be borne by the Church. Albeit ‘only for the time of the war against the heathens’, the king seized half of all ecclesiastical revenues, the tithe included, promising that the money would be spent solely on the defence of the kingdom.7 Finally, referring to the fact that he had often been forced to yield to extortion in the past, Sigismund had himself invested with the authority to recover all estates that had been given – whether as a hereditary grant or as a mortgage – to persons who had done nothing to merit them; but he would issue special letters patent to his adherents to exempt them from this provision.

Although the decree of Timişoara had been prompted by the Ottoman threat, the ultimate insolubility of that problem soon discouraged Sigismund. With growing intensity, his attention was drawn to the affairs of the Luxembourg dynasty. His brother, Wenceslas, had no children and Sigismund could expect one day to succeed him in Bohemia and Germany. In his struggle with baronial leagues Wenceslas frequently turned to his brother for help, and Sigismund did in fact devote much of his time to Bohemian affairs. He went there in person in 1393 and 1396, while in 1397 he took the field against Procop, his old enemy. He left for Moravia at the end of 1399 and having spent nearly a year abroad, only returned in December 1400. In the meantime, the crisis in Hungary had come to maturity.


On 28 April 1401 the barons, led by Archbishop Kanizsai and Palatine Bebek, arrested the king in the castle of Buda. They demanded that he should get rid of his foreign counsellors once and for all. Sigismund refused to yield, preferring captivity, and the government was assumed by the prelates and barons in the name of the Holy Crown, which was now regarded as vacant. Kanizsai took the title of its ‘chancellor’, while the council issued orders under the ‘seal of the Holy Crown’. Various plans were put in motion with a view to filling the throne: Ladislaus of Naples, Wladislas II of Poland and William of Austria emerged successively as possible candidates. However, the barons were unable to come to an agreement, and Sigismund’s captivity did not last for long. It was Nicholas Garai, the king’s faithful supporter, who secured his release on 31 August 1401. Garai brought the king to his castle of Siklós and handed over his own son and brother as hostages. Through Garai’s mediation a compromise was finally agreed upon at Pápa on 29 October, as a result of which Sigismund was restored to his throne. In return he granted immunity to the rebels, and promised to remove his foreign followers with the exception of Stibor, a promise that he was determined to break as soon as possible.

Thus it was Sigismund who won the first battle, and Wenceslas, observing events from a distance, was of the opinion that his brother was ‘more powerful than ever before’.8 Acting as if his captivity had never occurred, Sigismund began immediately to reinforce his authority. Not only did he refuse to remove his foreign supporters, but, adding insult to injury, he also became betrothed to the daughter of Hermann of Cilli, Barbara, whom he married in 1405. Since Cilli’s other daughter, Anne, was Garai’s wife, the three families became linked to one another by affinity. Before returning to Bohemia in January 1402, Sigismund took some important security measures, bestowing the most important royal castles upon his adherents. In September he paid a short visit to Pressburg in order to sign a treaty with Albert IV of Austria, who was an old friend. Sigismund designated him as governor of Hungary during the period of his own absence, and made the assembled barons and nobles promise that in the event of his dying without a male heir they would accept Albert as king. He removed Detricus Bebek from the office of palatine, putting Garai in his place, thus disposing of his last enemy, with the exception of Kanizsai, who still held the dignity of arch-chancellor.

These measures prompted the leaders of the opposition to take a decisive step. They offered the crown to Ladislaus of Naples, who had already sent troops to Dalmatia in 1402. At about Christmas 1402 they made a solemn oath of allegiance to him at the tomb of Saint Ladislaus in Oradea, and at the beginning of 1403 the revolt broke out. This time the rebels had a real chance of victory. They were led, as in 1401, by Kanizsai and Bebek, but their movement was much stronger than before, for they were joined by the archbishop of Kalocsa, the bishops of Eger, Oradea, Transylvania and Győr, Emeric Bebek, prior of Vrana, son of Detricus, and by nearly all the magnates, with the exception of Garai and some of his kinsmen. The provincial nobility rallied to the revolt in great numbers, and the general feeling of discontent even drove some of the king’s former supporters into opposition. The rebels of the eastern counties were led by the two voivodes of Transylvania, Nicholas Csáki and Nicholas Marcali, both of them the king’s own creations.

Against the rebels Sigismund could rely on his barons, his household and the towns, which all remained faithful to him. The most important castles, such as Buda, Visegrád, Pressburg and others were securely held by his foreign captains. Yet his throne was saved by the swift and determined action of Stibor, Garai, John Maróti, Peter Perényi and several other barons who promptly mobilised their contingents and within weeks dispersed the enemy, who had been gathering in rather too leisurely a fashion. At the end of July Sigismund himself arrived from Bohemia, and by the time the army of the eastern provinces crossed the Tisza he had reached Pest. He surrounded Esztergom, Kanizsai’s residence, then had the Holy Crown brought from Visegrád and set upon his head in a public ceremony, making palpable that he was the real lord of the kingdom. King Ladislaus had arrived at Zadar in the company of Angelo Acciajuoli, legate of Boniface IX, on 19 July and was crowned there by Kanizsai on 5 August, but this was too late. He left for Italy as early as November, after appointing one of his supporters, Hrvoje, as duke of Split and bestowing upon him the government of Dalmatia. Sigismund’s authority was never fully restored in this province, a fact that was to bring about its permanent loss by Hungary.

The barons could do nothing but surrender. The first to lay down their arms were Csáki and Marcali, who on 8 October mediated an agreement with the other rebels at Buda. The king granted a pardon to all those who would submit before a fixed date, and promised to restore their possessions and to annul the grants that he had made to their detriment during the revolt. Bebek and Kanizsai and their kinsmen, who did not lay down their arms before the term expired, were accorded a special pardon, but some of their castles were confiscated and Esztergom itself taken into royal hands for some years. By the spring of 1404 virtually the whole kingdom had been pacified, only a couple of fortresses continuing to resist the king’s troops.

Sigismund’s struggle with his barons ended with his complete victory. He was to have no difficulty in maintaining his control over Hungary during the 34 years that remained of his life. Many years would be spent far away from the kingdom, yet he would never again face opposition. His enemies at home, weakened and demoralised, could only accept defeat and wait for better times.