BRITAIN SURVIVES THE BLITZ, SEPTEMBER 1940–MAY 1941 Part II

Shortly after the bombing, the Isle of Dogs, one of the worst affected areas, was visited by a Mass Observation investigator. He found considerable damage in the area, with a bomb having fallen about every 50 or 60 yards. Many shops were shut or destroyed, although all the pubs were open. Transport was chaotic, with the main routes out of the area (the Blackwall Tunnel and the Greenwich foot subway) closed. The only way out was to walk or wade through mud to an improvised ferry. Gas and electricity supply was non-existent, which meant that most food had to be consumed cold. Immediately after the raid there had been no water for 12 hours. Telephone services were only available from the police station and postal deliveries were unreliable. After the raid there had apparently been a certain amount of panic and many had left with the few belongings they could muster. Some had decamped to Greenwich Park but others had trekked into the country. All told, the MO investigator estimated that two-thirds of the population of 5,000 had gone, with the caveat that most of the men seemed to be at work. He added apprehensively that there ‘was very little smiling and few jokes’. We will return to this theme later.

For London this was just the beginning. During the remainder of September the capital was bombed on most days and every night, the emphasis gradually shifting to night bombing because of the toll taken on the bombers by the RAF. That month on average 238 tons of high explosive and 14.5 tons of incendiary bombs were dropped on London every 24 hours. About 7,000 people were killed in the raids and about 10,000 seriously wounded. In all 15,000 fires were started, the worst night being 19 September when there were 1,142 fires.

Bad weather reduced the number of large raids in October. The days when more than 100 tons of high explosive were dropped decreased to 19 out of 31. However, London suffered some form of raid on every day and the total tonnage dropped was approximately 5,000. The number of incendiaries is not known with any accuracy but the Germans, for reasons that are obscure, seemed to use fewer per raid than in September. About 4,300 people were killed in these raids and 6,500 seriously wounded. Some 8,200 fires were started, the worst night being that of 14 October when there were over 1,000.

In November, London was raided on most nights but on a much reduced scale. Bad weather often kept German incursions to a minimum. In all there were just eight occasions when over 100 tons of high explosive were dropped and only four occasions on which more than 100 people were killed.

This was not the end of London’s ordeal. It was heavily bombed on 28–29 December, 11 January, 8 March, 17 and 19 April and, finally, on 10 May 1941. Nevertheless these were sporadic raids and it is the experience of the concentrated raids that will be dealt with in depth here. By the time that bad weather in November 1940 limited the raids, London had been bombed for 56 consecutive days. This was unprecedented in the history of aerial bombing. Before the war, the small town of Guernica had been destroyed in an afternoon, Rotterdam had been bombed on just one occasion and Warsaw for eight days. The civilian population of London had therefore undergone an unparalleled and shocking experience – 13,000 had been killed, 18,000 severely wounded and about 24,000 fires started. Homes were damaged or destroyed at the rate of 40,000 per week in September and October 1940 but the severe raid on 19 April 1941 in itself affected 178,000 houses. The number of homeless in rest centres was never much less than 20,000 on any given night in the first months of the Blitz. A total of 200,000 people were made homeless from September 1940 to June 1941.

How did this onslaught further the German aims of breaking the morale of the country and crippling its industry? There are a number of factors that have to be considered. The first is the sheer size of London. In 1939 it encompassed 1,156 square miles of territory and had a population of 8,500,000. It was the largest city in the world. However, it has been estimated that just over 1 million people (evacuated women and children, and men moving into the armed forces) had left London in 1939 and they were followed by another 900,000 during the period of the bombing. Offsetting this was a considerable drift back to London from evacuation points during the whole period. Perhaps it would be conservative to estimate the population at about 7 million during the Blitz. If, taking the figures already cited, we estimate that about 12,000 people were killed in the concentrated bombing period, this amounts to 0.17 per cent of the population. If the seriously wounded are added in we have a figure of about 30,000 or 0.43 per cent. This means that the vast majority of Londoners came through the Blitz unscathed so far as major injury or death is concerned. The Luftwaffe had a long way to go before it could kill or maim widely across the capital. In this sense London was just too big a target for the Luftwaffe.

Some light is shed on this by examining the composition of the force that was attempting to reduce London to ruins. The Luftwaffe had about 1,400 bombers operational during the period of the Blitz. But in order to conserve aircraft and rest crews it was usually impossible for the Germans to send more than 300 or 400 bombers over London on any given night. When they occasionally exceeded this number, as they did on 7 September 1940 and on 17 April and 10 May 1941 (to select just three examples), they were not able to match this effort again for some days. And it must be remembered that in the pre-war years the Germans had built up a force of tactical bombers, well designed to aid the army but unable to carry the heavy bombloads of the later Allied aircraft such as the Lancaster and the B17. Most German bombers could carry approximately 1 ton of bombs and in a large raid drop 300 or 400 tons of high explosive. With the introduction of the Max, a bomb of 2,500 kilograms, the Luftwaffe was occasionally able to deliver a heavier load, but their efforts never matched the raids on Hamburg when Bomber Command was able to deliver 10,000 tons of bombs on just four nights.

Of course some areas of London were bombed much more heavily than average figures indicate. We have noted that after the raid of 7 September two-thirds of the population of the Isle of Dogs decamped. Although Chelsea was not a prime target for the Germans, the vagaries of bombing in 1940 meant that because it was on the river and proximate to Westminster it was hit hard. One air-raid warden in the area (Jo Oakman) noted every ‘event’, as bombings were called, which she attended. Between 4 September and 29 December she was called out on over 400 occasions. If these are plotted on a map of an area bounded by Sloane Street, Cheyne Walk and the Brompton Road, the detail on the map disappears under a mass of red dots. And some of the ‘incidents’ she attended had multiple victims. On 11 September she visited 57 Cadogan Square, only to find that a shelter had been hit and some occupants ‘crushed beyond recognition’. Her comment ‘heaven help us all’ summed up the helplessness of those in the Air Raid protection squads. Almost every diary from the period contains the words ‘frightened’, ‘terrified’ or something similar. One account was entitled ‘Journal Under The Terror’, a reference to the period under Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. The diarist described the night of 8 September as ‘a night of horror, a hell on earth’. The proprietor of a cinema in East Ham, one of the worst affected areas, wrote:

This week has turned us into a very frightened and a very desperate crowd of people … Men on my staff that were in the last war show their misery in the present situation more openly than the rest … Stranded in the theatre all night with half a dozen of them it was very pathetic … These old sweats are very defeatist in their views and keep rubbing in the terrible future they think we have in store for us. All my friends and acquaintances are quite sure they ‘can’t stand much more of this night after night’.

Nevertheless, despite the anxiety and fear, we know that even in areas that were badly bombed the Germans failed in their attempt to induce mass panic. Certainly some left the city. There were 25,000 ‘unauthorised evacuees’ to various towns and villages in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire by 15 September. Others trekked out to areas such as Epping Forest and the Chislehurst Caves at night, but many came back to work during the day. Indeed, special trains were laid on to assist them. In this regard it is worth noting the MO finding that of the 301 inhabitants of one street, 23 per cent of the women and children had gone but just 3 per cent of the men – no doubt because most of the men had to remain in reasonable proximity to their work.

How did people cope with the Blitz and carry on with their normal lives? Many factors seemed to have helped. Some are quite mundane. Most people simply had to go to work, for without work there was no pay and without pay there was no sustenance. And for most people work was an ingrained habit. This factor is often overlooked in analyses of the Blitz but it cannot be emphasised too strongly. Work was the bedrock of industrial society then as it is now. Many diarists mention this. Phyllis Warner made much of the fact that the horror was mixed with everyday routine. She picked her way to work past bomb craters and still did her job although there was a large hole in the roof. Even in the most difficult of circumstances people would stick to their jobs. One bank employee walked to and from work, although it was a journey of 12 miles and it took him three and a half hours each way. Only unexploded bombs kept him away. Others were just too busy or were in such key areas that stopping work never occurred to them. A sister on a children’s hospital ward records the daily terror, regularly notes her lack of sleep, but is only concerned about the babies and children under her care and their screams of terror when the bombs fall. There are innumerable other examples, but work and the routine of work should not be underestimated as providing the spur to continue.

Another factor was the sheer difficulty of leaving. Those who left either had a relative in the country or trekked back during the day. But for most, their support network in the form of family and friends was nearby. And the services they needed to sustain them if their house was demolished were also local. There were rest centres, mobile canteens and other facilities run by the local council. Few had the resources to move away from this network. Indeed, the majority of people did not own a car, the most immediate and personal means of transport. There was always the railway and some availed themselves of it, but the question remained of where to go and to whom to appeal for support on arrival. At other times it was German bombing that prevented this particular escape route from functioning. In short, there were powerful reasons to remain in the familiar surroundings of street and suburb.

It is in this context that statements to the effect that ‘over the first weekend, the nerve and spirit of those in the East End came close to breaking’ should be taken. That there was some panic is beyond doubt. That some of these people fled to safer areas is unquestionable. It also seems unquestionable that for many, removing themselves from where the bombs were falling was not so much a panic reaction as a sensible precaution. But most remained – either because they had no alternative or to utilise the local support networks. How many of these ‘came close to breaking’ can never be known. All we can observe is what actually happened. Most stayed in place and went to work when they could, hardly indicative of broken morale or mass panic. Perhaps the last word should be that of a keen observer of Britain (and of human nature). Before the Blitz had even started, Raymond Chandler predicted its outcome. He wrote to a friend, ‘as for bombing it will be bad but … the English civilian is the least hysterical in the world’.

It is even possible that the bombing stiffened the resolve of Londoners. Certainly they developed, unsurprisingly, a deep antipathy for the people bombing them. Most diarists record this fact. Vere Hodgson, that most sane and broad-minded of Londoners, thought she might never bother with Germans again.63 Ida Naish hoped to see Hitler in Hell. Winifred Bowman spoke of ‘those swines of Jerries’. Mrs Brinton-Lee compared British soldiers with the ‘bombastic’ or ‘craven’ German prisoners she had met. Finally a survey taken by Home Intelligence recorded that after three months of bombing 68 per cent of the people were in favour of subjecting Germany to a harsher peace settlement than Versailles. The diaries certainly show no overwhelming desire by Londoners to come to any kind of settlement with the country that was bombing them.

And even in these circumstances people displayed that normal tendency to come to terms with their situation. Phyllis Warner, who found the first days of the Blitz an appalling experience, reported on 18 September ‘that I’m glad to say that I’m not as frightened as I was. Last week I couldn’t sleep at all, and found the greatest difficulty in getting through my day’s work, but this week I feel much stronger … It’s just a case of getting over the first shock.’ Others felt the same. G. Thomas reported that by 15 September ‘we seem to be getting used to these battles’, while Ann Shepperd, although near an anti-aircraft battery, was sleeping well by 17 September. These individual impressions are supported by the statistics. Mass Observation noted that those getting no sleep decreased from 31 per cent on 12 September to 9 per cent on 22 September and 3 per cent on 3 October. And the numbers recorded by Home Security as sheltering in Underground stations reached a peak of 178,000 on the night of 27–28 September, but decreased to 105,000 on 5 December, 84,000 on 15 January, and just 63,000 on 11 March as more and more people decided to sleep at home. As the head of Mass Observation put it:

For the first few days of the London blitz, social life was shocked almost to a standstill: one left work in the evening to go home to an air-raid. One emerged from the air-raid in the morning to go back to work, maybe late, that was all; and while it was new, exciting, overwhelming, it was enough. Few had the time or the emotional energy for anything else – at first. Gradually, as the nights went by, priorities began to shift. Home life began to acquire some patterns again. New infrastructures were evolved, suited to the new conditions. Routines were established – going to the shelter or not going to the shelter; eating early before the sirens or packing up a picnic. The repetition of bombing on London, every night, helped give such routines both urgency and rhythm.

A comment is needed at this point on the shelters, both public and private, that were made available by the government. Mass Observation reports are highly critical of public shelters. They were unsanitary, there were too few of them, and some of the surface shelters were shoddily built and in effect little more than death traps. The government, including the new Minister of Home Security, Herbert Morrison, who had replaced the rather ineffectual Sir John Anderson in October, was reluctant to allow the Underground stations to be used as deep shelters. Why, given this situation, was there not some kind of rebellion? There was of course anger – after specific incidents – and many local authorities suffered a backlash due to the inadequacy of the shelters provided. The fact is, however, that most people did not repair to shelters during the Blitz. At its peak only 15 per cent of the population of London used a public shelter and this figure declined from late October to under 10 per cent. Hence the dissatisfaction that did exist had no widespread implications for the war effort.

The final factor to thwart the Germans was Churchill. It is easy now to adopt a cynical attitude to politicians touring disaster areas. But this was 1940 and Churchill’s visits to bomb-damaged areas fulfilled a number of needs. He was often moved to tears at the sight of the homeless and he developed an instant empathy with those whose houses and lives would never be the same. But he also represented something else. He had come to power at a desperate time when a fear was expressed that a British government might go the way of the French. A common call to him as he toured the devastated areas was ‘Give it ’em back’ or ‘when are we going to bomb Berlin?’ His resolute responses were invariably described as ‘reassuring’. In the course of the Blitz, Churchill toured most of Britain’s major cities, cheering people with his obvious concern but also letting them see that as long as he was in charge the war would be fought to the end.

This symbiotic relationship between Churchill and the people is often overlooked. He was seeking to comfort them and assess the response of the local authorities to their plight, but they were also assessing him as an indicator that there was no defeatism in the higher ranks of the government.

He made other interventions as well. It was his minute of 21 September in favour of allowing people to shelter in the Underground that broke the paralysis on the issue that had developed in Cabinet. And it was his experience of destroyed homes on the south coast that resulted in the War Damages Act that saw compensation paid to people for bomb damage.

If the German bombing did not cause a breakdown of society in London, to what extent did it achieve its other aim, that of stifling the capital’s war effort? During the war the ‘key points’ in the city were identified. These were facilities that, if hit or destroyed, could substantially damage the functioning of London as part of the war economy. They encompassed transport facilities, water storage, telecommunications, factories, radar, government buildings and docks. In 1940, 840 such points had been identified in London, a number that increased to 1,109 in 1941. One half to two-thirds of these were factories, 35 were electricity power stations, 23 were gas works, 15 ordnance factories and so on.

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BRITAIN SURVIVES THE BLITZ, SEPTEMBER 1940–MAY 1941 Part III

Let us examine two nights of heavy bombing to investigate what damage the Luftwaffe could inflict on these targets in London. On the nights of 14–15 and 15–16 October, London was repeatedly bombed. On the first night five factories were hit, including one that made instruments for aircraft. In addition six gas works, three electricity supply substations and a water main were damaged, two telephone exchanges were put out of action and six hospitals. No. 10 Downing Street and the Treasury were hit, 10 major roads blocked and five Underground lines affected. Railway services had to be suspended from Broad Street, Fenchurch Street, Marylebone, Charing Cross and London Bridge. Only restricted services could run from Euston, St Pancras and Waterloo.

The next evening the Luftwaffe returned in equal strength. On this night seven factories, two gas works, four electricity supply substations and three water supply facilities were hit, and five docks put out of action. One water culvert at New Bridge Road, Edmonton, supplied London with 46 million gallons of water per day. Fifteen million gallons were restored within 24 hours, but it took 2,000 workers some time to excavate the 2,000 cubic yards of soil to get to the source of the problem. Meanwhile many London suburbs had no running water. Also that night, railway services were again hit badly and the position deteriorated further from the previous bombing. Damage was inflicted on four additional Underground lines, and services from three telephone exchanges were suspended. Finally Marlborough House, the BBC and four hospitals were hit.

This amounted to substantial damage. It made everyday life difficult, getting to work inconvenient, and it did affect the efficient running of the capital. But what the bombing did not do was radically affect the war effort. A total of twelve factories were hit but over 600 were not. The docks were back in operation in short order. The railway lines could be repaired. Buses could replace damaged Underground lines. Routes could be found around blocked roads. Interruptions to electricity and gas supplies were usually short. Couriers could be used by some firms instead of the telephone. The Home Security Report on electricity supply was an indicator of a more general trend:

London suffered the most [of any city in this area]. 30 power stations and three transformer stations were hit, while 1,393 main and secondary transmission cables and 8,590 distribution cables were involved in the general damage. Despite all this it was unusual for stoppages of supply to last longer than an hour. The most seriously affected generating station was that at Fulham, where a 190,000kw plant was not in full operation for a year. The load, however, was taken over by the grid system and the supply was only interrupted for a matter of hours.

This situation applied generally to all of London’s facilities. As for its output of war materiel, it was just too widely spread for the Luftwaffe to make much of an impact. Overall just 35 factories were totally destroyed. Damaged factories were usually soon back in operation and a sophisticated system of sub-contracting provided many alternative sources of supply.

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So far we have dealt only with the Blitz on London. But there was another aspect of the German air assault – the assault on British provincial cities. These phases of the Blitz are not discrete events – there was much overlap between the raids on London and those on the provinces. As we have seen, the Luftwaffe never gave up on attacking the capital. And some heavy raids on the provinces took place while London was being bombed. However, as a generalisation and with one notable exception, London bore the brunt of the enemy attacks from September to December 1940, whereas the Germans concentrated more on the provinces in the early months of 1941. And in this case we cannot stop the story on the last day of December 1940. The campaign to break the British people and the industrial capacity of the country was just as severe in the New Year as it had been in 1940.

The main problem for the Luftwaffe was that provincial Britain was what would now be called a target-rich environment. In the north there were the industrial cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, Sheffield and Leeds. South Wales also had a concentration of industry around Cardiff and Swansea. Along the south coast lay the major ports of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton. In the north-east were major shipbuilding and industrial areas around Hull and Newcastle. Major shipbuilding centres were located at Clydeside and Belfast. Each group of cities could be given a high priority. Spitfires were made around Southampton and at Castle Bromwich near Birmingham. The south coast ports commanded the Channel. The west coast ports saw vital supplies of oil and raw materials arrive from the United States. The ships that kept the trans-Atlantic trade flowing were built and based at Liverpool, the Clyde, the Tyne and Belfast.

Given the plethora of targets and given the fact that the Luftwaffe was hard pressed to assemble many more than 400 bombers per night, it was vital to the fulfilment of their objectives that a plan be developed to maximise the effectiveness of their bombing. No such plan eventuated or even formed in the minds of Goering, Kesselring or Sperrle. All they knew was that the attack on London had neither reduced the RAF to manageable proportions nor collapsed morale. Nor had the capital’s industry and infrastructure been reduced to rubble. Yet they would continue to attack London, while at the same time sending small packets of bombers to a variety of targets around Britain and mounting major raids on a selection of provincial cities. This was the opposite of a concentration of effort, but it was what the Germans would carry through from November 1940 until March 1941.

In that period heavy raids (defined as the dropping of over 100 tons of bombs) would be carried out on London on 12 occasions. Cities such as Southampton, Liverpool, Bristol, Portsmouth, Manchester and many others would be visited by small numbers of bombers and occasionally attacked in force.

The limitations of such methods can be demonstrated by examining one of the best-known provincial raids, the attack on Coventry on 14–15 November 1940. In many ways the city was an ideal target for the Luftwaffe. Coventry was small (a population of just under 250,000 in 1940) but it had many factories making such warlike goods as aero engines, motor vehicles and munitions. Some of these works (such as Daimler) were large, but there was a great number of smaller factories clustered with houses in the city centre around the medieval cathedral. The raid was carefully planned by the Germans. The special pathfinder group (Kg 100) led the way, guided by radio beams that the British failed to jam. Around 7.00 p.m. they dropped a mixture of high explosive with some accuracy on the city centre. The fires started guided the main force of about 440 bombers to the city.

Around 11.45 p.m. the raid reached its height but bombing continued until 6.15 a.m., some German aircraft returning to France to refuel and then bombing a second time. In all over 500 tons of high explosive and 30,000 incendiary bombs were dropped. The havoc caused was considerable. The medieval cathedral of St Michael was destroyed beyond repair. A total of 41,500 houses (three-quarters of all houses in the city) suffered some damage. Of these 2,300 were totally destroyed and 6,000 rendered unliveable. In addition 624 shops and 121 offices were destroyed. The war economy was badly hit. Overall 111 out of 180 factories were damaged and 75 of them completely destroyed. The casualties (570 dead and 1,100 wounded) would have been more severe had not a proportion of the population been out of the city on their nightly trek.

Mass Observation rushed a team to Coventry and they reported on 18 November. The investigators found the damage greater than in any other city including London. They found a feeling of ‘helplessness’ among the population, many of whom had no idea what to do. There were signs of hysteria, terror and neurosis. It would indeed be surprising had there not been such feelings in a city small enough for almost everyone to know one of the dead or injured and with such widespread property damage. The mood soon improved, however. The army was drafted in to help clear rubble and essential services slowly returned. Two days after the raid, arrangements had been made to transport 10,000 people out of the centre, but only 300 actually left.

Nevertheless, considerable damage had been done to the war economy. One of the Daimler aero-engine factories was completely wrecked. It was estimated that it would take a month to restore production. A further 14 factories making engines or components for aircraft had suffered damage, as had such firms as Triumph that made parts for tanks and armoured cars.

Coventry, if not quite ‘finished’ as one observer put it, was certainly on its knees. Further raids of this nature by the Luftwaffe were greatly feared. Home Security concluded that ‘Another such raid might well have put Coventry beyond the possibility of repair.’ But the Luftwaffe did not return. In subsequent days and weeks it turned its attention back to London, then to Birmingham, then Bristol and then to other cities. Coventry did not suffer another major raid for some five months, when 100 aircraft dropped 100 tons of high explosive and incendiaries on it. Casualties were high – some 281 killed and 525 severely wounded. The Daimler works was again put out of operation for several weeks. On the night of 10–11 April there was a further major raid but on this occasion no important target suffered significant damage. These raids were certainly intense, but the five-month interval had allowed Coventry to recover – both in spirit and in productive capacity. By repeated bombing the Germans probably could have obliterated Coventry and that would have slowed British aircraft production significantly. This was a lesson that its citizens were happy for the Luftwaffe not to learn.

This pattern of dreadful destruction and then neglect was repeated by the Luftwaffe throughout the Blitz. Bad weather drastically curtailed their operations in January and February 1941, but by then some in the German High Command were becoming disturbed by the lack of results. On 4 February Admiral Raeder, General Jodl and Field Marshal Keitel expressed their concerns to Hitler. Raeder emphasised the importance of British dependence on imports and its need to continually build escort and merchant ships for the trans-Atlantic trade. As a result Hitler issued a new directive that gave the Luftwaffe at least some direction. He ordered that major raids be concentrated on the western ports that either built ships or received imports. Accordingly, when the weather cleared the Luftwaffe launched a major raid on Clydebank, which contained some of Britain’s largest shipbuilding yards. On the night of 13–14 March over 400 bombers dropped 1,100 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on Clydebank. The loss of life was massive because many workers lived close to the shipyards – over 1,200 were killed and 1,000 injured. Clydebank was a rather self-contained area just to the west of Glasgow. Of its 60,000 inhabitants, just 3,000 remained after the raids – the rest had fled to safety. Indeed, there was not much to return to – only seven houses out of a total of 12,000 remained undamaged. The damage to the actual shipyards was not extensive, but the dispersal of the population had serious repercussions for the industry. John Brown’s shipyard normally employed 10,000 workers, yet a week after the raids just 6,500 had reported for work. Another week was to pass before the yard was 75 per cent effective.

For one of the very few occasions during the Blitz the deductions drawn by Home Security were alarming:

There is a real danger that continued and concentrated attacks on the residential areas of the ports will lead to a large-scale movement of the population, as a result of damage to houses and public services. These attacks may prove more effective in hampering the work of the ports than accurate bombing of the port facilities themselves. Undoubtedly provision of relief for the homeless and facilities to enable the workers to get back to work is of vital importance.

Home Security was no doubt correct. Many more raids on this scale would have seen vital works such as John Brown’s shut down through lack of labour. Yet once again the Luftwaffe did not follow up the attack. Over time the workers were rehoused and returned to their tasks.

In keeping with Hitler’s directive, Belfast suffered a major raid in mid-April. The shipbuilders Shorts and Harlands were out of production for three weeks. Some 20,000 people were made homeless by this single raid. Yet there was again no follow-up and shipbuilding in Northern Ireland was soon back to normal.

If we follow the pattern of bombing during February, March and April 1941, we can see that the Luftwaffe attempted to follow Hitler’s directive. There were raids on Swansea, Hull, Bristol, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Barrow and the Tyne in this period. But the pattern of one or two night raids repeated itself. Plymouth was hit particularly hard in April to the extent that civil administration almost broke down. Mass Observation reported much dissatisfaction with the local authorities. Yet Plymouth survived. This time there would be no more raids because Hitler had begun to regroup the Luftwaffe for operations against Russia.

The last period of the Blitz presents one of the great question marks over German strategy. Liverpool was the port through which flowed most supplies from America. Before May 1941 the weekly tonnage handled by the docks was 181,562 tons. It was an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. Indeed, Liverpool was raided on over 60 occasions between the outbreak of war and May 1941. Yet many of these raids were flights by just one or two aircraft and most did not attain the status of a major raid. The main exceptions were the nights of 12–13, 13–14 and 14–15 March. In these three nights over 450 tons of high explosive were dropped, causing damage to the docks and to commercial and residential buildings.

Despite these three nights it could be reasonably stated that before May 1941 Liverpool had not received from the Germans the attention warranted by its importance. That all changed in the first week of May. From 1 May the city was bombed for seven consecutive nights. In all 839 tons of high explosive were dropped along with hundreds of thousand incendiaries. The raids killed 1,900 people and seriously injured 1,450. At one stage four miles of docks were engulfed in flames. On the night of 3–4 May the SS Malakand, which had 1,000 tons of ammunition on board, was hit and exploded, virtually destroying the Huskisson Dock. A total of 70,000 people, almost 10 per cent of the total population, were made homeless and trekking became a way of life for many. Mass Observation reported widespread dissatisfaction with the local authorities and described an atmosphere of ineptitude, lack of energy and drive on their part. A strong rumour circulated that martial law had been declared. It had not but this was probably a comment on the population’s view of the local leadership.

By the end of the week the capacity of the docks had been reduced to just 25 per cent, a potentially disastrous situation for Britain. Yet even during the Merseyside Blitz the Germans could not concentrate on just one target. In the middle of their campaign against Liverpool they diverted major forces of bombers to Barrow, Belfast, Glasgow and Hull. Thus the number of bombers over Merseyside dropped from 293 on the night of 3–4 May to 55 on the following night, to 27 on the following two nights, then back up to 166 on the final night.

But the surpassing folly from the German point of view was that this series of devastating raids came at the very end of the Blitz. After one more massive attack on London on the night of 10–11 May, the bombers were gradually withdrawn to the east for the impending attack on the Soviet Union. Slowly Liverpool returned to some kind of normality. By mid-May the docks were unloading just less than half their normal tonnage and by mid-June they had returned to full capacity. The thousands of trekkers also returned. In fact most of the dock workers who trekked only did so at night and returned to their jobs during the day, so the same everyday imperatives that acted to keep London going through the Blitz applied at Liverpool as well. For the remainder of the war Liverpool continued to be the main destination for American imports. Any chance that the Germans might have had to cut this lifeline had gone.

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The Blitz failed in its objectives. The Germans could neither cow the British people into surrender nor destroy the fundamentals of their war economy. The Luftwaffe, which was never developed as a strategic weapon, proved inadequate to the task. It had too few aircraft that carried inadequate bomb loads, had too many targets to hit and lacked a coherent overall plan. Civilians, it was proved, could stand up to bombing over a prolonged period without cracking, despite the rather feeble defences the British could deploy against the night Blitz and the government’s ramshackle shelter policy.

However, this is much more apparent now than it was then. When they put their minds to it the Luftwaffe could deliver concentrated blows – against London, Coventry, Glasgow, Belfast, Plymouth, Birmingham and other centres – that caused havoc and destruction to an extent never witnessed in Britain before. To those under the bombs this certainly did not seem like an air force too feeble to prevail. No city or country had ever been subjected to the level of aerial bombardment experienced by Britain in these months. In this sense those in charge of Home Security were only being prudent in their attempts to test the daily ‘morale’ of the people. Their methods might appear amateurish today but there seems little doubt that the overall tenor of the reports must have given some comfort to those in authority. Panic at times was reported; there was some looting; defeatist talk was occasionally expressed. But the solidarity of the population was no myth. Most carried on with their lives as best they could. After the constant series of reverses that marked the first part of the year, the ordeal suffered by the British might have been the last straw. That it came nowhere close to delivering a knock-out blow says much about the resolution of a determined people. They had accepted Churchill’s proposition that this war had to be fought to the end. Indeed, there was some concern that the government might fall below this level of resolve. Churchill’s presence in the bombed cities reassured them that this would not be the case, as did his assurances that when the time came Nazi Germany would receive a greater measure of destruction than had been meted out to Britain. He was as good as his word.

Tallinn disaster

Soviet cruiser Kirov protected by smoke during evacuation of Tallinn in August 1941.

Bombs start to fall near ships moored in Tallinn for the evacuation.

Reval Hafen 1.9.1941 (Tag der Eroberung)

The Port of Tallinn on 1 September 1941 after having been seized by the Germans.

Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs.

Soviet Convoy Tallinn to Kronstadt: Night of 27/28  August 1941

The major Soviet warship and transport losses came in August in one of the least known, although the worst, convoy actions of the entire war. The Soviets sought to relocate smaller warships from Tallinn to Kronstadt and to evacuate as many personnel by ship as they could before the Panzers arrived in the Estonian capital. In the German attack on the hastily formed Soviet convoy the Soviet Navy lost 18 small warships and 42 merchantmen and troopships, most to a night encounter with a dense minefield. The following day, as all major warships fled the convoy, Luftwaffe dive bombers struck floundering and exposed troopships and transports. Only two survived. Total loss of life was at least 12,000.

The evacuation of Soviet troops from the Estonian capital Tallinn is probably the largest destruction caused by sea mines in a single operation. Soviet minesweeper force was too weak and managed to clear only a narrow channel through the “Juminda” barrage. In the zone between Point Juminda and Kalbådagrund were 3 000 mines. To prevent minesweepers from sweeping channels in this barrage there was also a 150 mm battery on Point Juminda. Light forces threatened the evacuation convoys from the north. The Germans had also total air supremacy. The Baltic Red Fleet had earlier during the Summer used a route close to Estonian coast, but now it was forced to the middle of Gulf of Finland. Navy ships and transport vessels were to travel through a single narrow 150-mile channel.

Three large convoys carried most of the troops. A fourth convoy was made of smaller vessels. Many smaller vessels sailed alone. The total number of naval ships and small vessels was 153 and the number of transports and other vessels was 75. The ships and vessels were to be ready for departure on the roads off Tallinn between the net barrage and boom defence by 22.00 hours on 27 August. A force seven north-east wind delayed the beginning of the operation for more than 12 hours. The submarine chasers, launches, minesweepers and other small vessels could not sail in such weather. As a result, the evacuation fleet had to make its way through the mine barrages in darkness. The Baltic Red Fleets ships formed three task forces; the main force, covering force and rear guard. The main force was to protect the first and second transport convoys in the most dangerous section of the route, from Point Juminda to Suursaari island. The covering force was to protect second and third convoys between the islands of Keri and Vaindlo. The rear guard was to protect the third and fourth convoys from the rear. The small submarines M 98 and M 102 were sent to patrol areas south from Helsinki.

The first convoy had been planned to depart on 27 August at 22.00 hours. A convoy plan in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by a minesweeper and the merchantmen in a single line, three submarines followed the merchantmen and the two destroyers were the last ones. The flanks were covered by coastal patrol ships, MO-type patrol boats and a tug.

Minesweeper       Nr. 71, Krab                            First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 72, Dzherzhinski                              First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 57, Viesturs (former Latvian)                      Second pair, also T 298

Minesweeper       Nr. 91, Lyapidevskiy                              Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 52, Buyok                         Third pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 56, Barometr                  Third pair

Mobile base          Leningradsoviet                    

Headquarters ship               Vironia, former Estonian merchantman       2026 brt                 

Transport                VT-524 (former Latvian merchantman Kalpaks)         2190 brt                 

Transport                VT-547 (former Estonian merchantman Järvamaa)  1363 brt                 

Icebreaker             Kristjanis Voldemars           1932 brt                 

Floating workshop               Serp-i-molot                          

Transport                VT-511 (former Estonian merchantman Alev)            1446 brt                 

Transport                VT-530 (former Estonian merchantman Ella)              1523 brt                 

Transport                VT-563 (former Latvian merchantman Atis Kronvaldis)            1423 brt                 

Submarine             Щ 307                      

Submarine             Щ 308                      

Submarine             M 79                        

Destroyer               Svirjepyi                                   

Destroyer               Surovyi                   

Coastal patrol ship              Bayan                       Left flank, minesweeper without sweeping gear

Patrol boat            MO-507                   Left flank

Coastal patrol ship              Ametist (former Estonian Sulev)                      Left flank

Tug          OLS-7                        Right flank

Patrol boat            MO-208                   Right flank

Coastal patrol ship              Kasatka                    Right flank

The submarine Щ 301, motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1201, KTЩ-1206, KTЩ-1208, KTЩ-1209, KTЩ-1210 and KTЩ-1211, transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin), salvage vessel Neptun, schooner Urme (in tow) were also included in the first convoy, total 36 vessels. One reference list only 32 vessels, he has not listed Щ 301, Ivan Papanin and Urme. Instead of Neptun he lists salvage vessel Saturn. One reference differs in the list of motor mine sweepers, KTЩ-1201, -1203, -1204, -1205, -1206 and list of patrol boats, MO-204, MO-207.

The plan of the second convoy in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Azimuth, Moskva and merchantmen in a single line and the Tshapaev as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       No. 43 LVP-12                        First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 44 Izhorets-38                                 First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 42                     Second pair

Minesweeper       No. 47 Izhorets-69                                 Second pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1510                                 Third pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1511                                 Third pair

Netlayer                  Azimuth                 

Gunboat                 Moskva                  

Transport                VT-523 (Kazhakhstan)                         

Transport                VT-584 (former Estonian merchantman Naissaar)    1892 brt                 

Motor schooner  Atta (former Estonian)                       

Transport                VT-505 (Ivan Papanin)       3374 brt                 

Transport                VT-537 (former Latvian merchantman Ergonautis)                   

Netlayer                  Vjatka                     

Transport                VT-550 (former Lithuanian merchantman Shauliai)                  

Netlayer                  Onega                     

Transport                Everita                    

Coastal patrol ship              Tshapaev                                 

Patrol boat            MO-214                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1512                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-200                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1514                                 Right flank

The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka), tug KP-12 towing TK-121 and tug Tasuja towing sweeper No. 86 (Izhorets-33), patrol ship Shors, sweepers No. 84 (Izhorets-28), No. 88 (Izhorets-31) and No. 121 (Izhorets-71), motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1203, KTЩ-1204, KTЩ-1205 and KTЩ-1509 were also included in the second convoy. Transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) is included in the convoy plan but it is listed in the first convoy. Minesweeper No. 42 is included in the convoy plan, but it is not listed. The second convoy had according to and 34 vessels, but one reference lists only 21. Two references lists agree with the larger vessels, but some smaller vessels are not listed.

The plan of the third convoy was two pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Amgun, the merchantmen in a single line and Kolyvan as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       Nr. 58, Osetr                          First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 33, Olonka                       First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 35, Shuya                         Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 83                       Second pair

Gunboat                 Amgun                    

Transport                VT-518 (Luga)                       

Transport                VT-512 (Tobol)     2758 brt                 

Transport                VT-581 (former Estonian merchantman Lake Lucerne)            2317 brt                 

Tanker                   TN-12                      

Transport                VT-581 (Balhash)                                   

Transport                VT-546 (former Estonian merchantman Ausma)       1791 brt                 

Transport                VT-574 (former Estonian merchantman Kumari)       237 brt  

Transport                VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka)              3974 brt                 

Transport                VT-529 (Skrunda)                                  

Salvage vessel      Kolyvan                  

Patrol boat            MO-501                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1104                                 Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1109                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-502                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1101                                 Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1106                                 Right flank

The third convoy included also minesweeper Jastreb. The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) in the convoy plan is listed in the ships of the second convoy. According to, and the third convoy had 21 vessels, inluding the Vtoraya Pyatiletka. Minesweeper Jastreb is not in one reference’s list, but there is sailing ship Hiiusaar.

The fourth convoy was made of 11 smaller vessels. It had.

Coastal patrol ship              Ost                           

Coastal patrol ship              Razhvedtshik                         

Gunboat          I-8 armed tug           

Minesweeper       5M2 (Piksha)                         

Minesweeper       8M1 (Povodetsh)                                  

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1503                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1504                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1505                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1506                                

Salvage vessel      Saturn                     

Tug          LP-5                          

Barge      TT-1         Torpedo transport              

One reference adds to this list a large number of vessels: Submarine Щ 301, mine sweepers Izhorets-12, Izhorets-17 and TЩ-86, motor mine sweepers Jastreb, Vaindlo, Voronin, KTЩ-1208, -1209, -1210, -1211, motor torpedo boat TKA-121, survey ships Sekstant and Vostok, tugs Esro, Kaja, Paldiski, Venta, Vilma, KP-6, KP-17 and S-101, sailing ship Atta, VR-6, coastal ships Vaindlo and Vormsi, transport Everita and ice breaker Tasuja. There were 38 vessels.

The main Soviet battlefleet under the command of Vice-Admiral V. Tributs, departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. The cruiser Kirov was Tributs’ flagship.

Cruiser   Kirov                        

Flotilla leader       Leningrad                                

Destroyer               Gordyi                     

Destroyer               Jakov Sverdlov                      

Destroyer               Smetlivyi                                  

Submarine             Kalev (former Estonian)                     

Submarine             Lembit (former Estonian)                  

Submarine             S 4                            

Submarine             S 5                            

Icebreaker             Suur Tõll (former Estonian)               2417 brt                 

Mine sweeper     T-204 (Fugas)                        

Mine sweeper     T-205 (Gafel)                         

Mine sweeper     T-206 (Verp)                          

Mine sweeper     T-207 (Shpil)                          

Mine sweeper     T-217                       

The small vessels in the main force were motor torpedo boats No. 37, 73, 74, 84, 103, 113 and 114, MO-class patrol boats No. 112, 131, 133, 142, 202 and 204. The submarine Щ 405 may have been in the main force.

The covering force sailed under command of rear admiral Pantelejev.

Flotilla leader       Minsk                      

Destroyer               Skoryi                      

Destroyer               Slavnyi                    

Submarine             Щ 322                      

Submarine             M 95                        

Mine sweeper     T-203 (Patron)                      

Mine sweeper     T-210 (Gak)                            

Mine sweeper     T-211 (Rym)                           

Mine sweeper     T-215                       

Mine sweeper     T-218                       

The small vessels in the covering force were motor torpedo boats No. 33, 53, 91, and 101, MO-class patrol boats No. 207, 212, 213 and 510. The submarines M 98 and M 102 were in the covering force, but they were sent to patrol south from Helsinki.

The rear group was made of old destroyers and small patrol ships. The rear group was under command of rear admiral Rall.

Destroyer               Artyom                   

Destroyer               Volodarskiy                            

Destroyer               Kalinin                     

Coastal patrol ship              Burja                        

Coastal patrol ship              Sneg                        

Coastal patrol ship              Tsiklon                    

The small vessels in the rear group were motor torpedo boats No. 51 and 61, MO-class patrol boats No. 5, 195, 197, 204, 210, 211 and 232.

The first transport convoy sailed between islands Naissaar and Aegna at 12.15. A mine exploded in the sweeping gear of the first sweeper pair at 13.09 hours, four miles NW Aegna island. The second convoy passed Naissaar and Aegna at 15 hours and the third convoy 20 minutes later. The fourth convoy sailed at 14:15. The main force of Baltic Red Fleet weighed anchor and departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. It took the lead with the cruiser Kirov as flagship.

The Navy ships and convoys formed a line 15 miles long. The first convoy passed Keri island at 16 hours and was off Juminda peninsula at 1800 hours. Soon thereafter the ships sailed directly to the mines. The steamer Ella was first to sink. Then began German air attacks, artillery fire from Finnish coastal batteries and later in the evening torpedo attacks by German Schnellboots and Finnish patrol boats. All this caused confusion, the train of ships stretched and sailing through the 200 m wide swept channel became impossible. The sweeping equipment of many sweeper were damaged by explosions and drifting mines cut loose from moorings were great danger. The sunset was at 20.40 hours and at 22 hours the visibility was only a cable length. Warships were not giving much protection to merchant ships, as they were fully occupied with drifting mines.

On the evening of 28. August following ships were lost:

    At 18.05 VT-530 (Ella) from the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.20 tug LP-5 (S-101) from the fourth convoy that tried to rescue people from Ella hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.30 icebreaker Kristjanis Voldemars from the first convoy was sunk by bombs.

    At 19.40 the minesweeper Nr. 71 (Krab) sailing in the first sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.11 submarine S 5 hit a mine and sank in 40 seconds.

    At 20.20 rescue vessel Saturn towing Vironia hit a mine and sank.

    At 21.45 Vironia hit a mine and sank. Vironia from the first convoy was damaged by air attack 18.30 and taken to tow by Saturn from the fourth convoy.

    At 20.30 gunboat I-8 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.48 submarine Щ 301 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.50 destroyer Jakov Sverdlov hit a mine and sank after 5-6 minutes.

    At 21.57 transport Everita from the second convoy hit a mine and sank. The ship had drifted slightly too much south from the sweeped lane.

    At 22.05 the minesweeper Nr. 56 (Barometr) sailing in the third sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.15 coastal patrol ship Tsiklon from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.30 destroyer Skoryj from the covering force hit a mine and sank while towing the damaged flotilla leader Minsk.

    At 22.45 destroyer Kalinin from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 destroyer Volodarskiy from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.05 destroyer Artyom from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 VT-518 (Luga) from the third convoy hit a mine. As no towing was possible, the master decided to scuttle the ship.

    Barge TT-1 hit a mine and sank.

    The armed tug OLS-7 disappeared during the night.

Other ships lost on 28.8. are:

    VT-547 (Järvamaa) hit a mine and sank at 21.00 near Suursaari, or was mined and sank 29.8. at 17 hours west from Suursaari.

    Hiiusaar was bombed.

    Schooner Atta was torpedoed by Finnish VMV-17.

Before midnight the four convoys had to anchor in the middle of the barrage. The main force had sailed through the mine barrage and anchored north from Vaindlo. Flotilla leaders, four destroyers and few transports from I, II and IV convoys were north of Mohni lighthouse and the bulk of transports from the II and III convoys north from Juminda. On the morning of 29. August the ships continued their way. Bombers attacked again and sank several transport ships. Without air cover and anti-aircraft guns and their possibility to manoeuvre limited by mines, they were easy targets. During that day following ships were lost:

    At 05.30 tug I-18 was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 05.30 tug Paldiski was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 06.51 a vessel sank in mine explosion, it might have been the salvage vessel of the third convoy, Kolyvan.

    At 07.43 coastal patrol ship Sneg hit a mine and sank 30 minutes later.

    At 08.39 a ship was sunk by mine.

    At 08.41 another ship was sunk by mine. These two ships may have been transports Naissaar and Ergonautis from the second convoy.

    At 09.06 VT-501 (Balkhash) from the third convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 12.30 VT-512 (Tobol) was sunk by bombs.

    At 13.00 VT-546 (Ausma) was sunk by bombs.

    At 15.00 VT-524 (Kalpaks) was sunk by bombs.

    at 15.07 VT-520 (Evald) was sunk by bombs.

    At 17.40 VT-563 (Atis Kronvaldis) was sunk by bombs.

    At 18.10 tanker No 12 was sunk by bombs 5 miles east of Suursaari.

    VT-529 (Skrunda) was hit 5 miles NW Vaindlo and the ship was scuttled 30.08.

    VT-511 (Alev) was damaged by bombs and sank few miles west from Lavansaari.

    VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) was sunk by bombs.

A number of ships were beached at Suursaari during 29.8.:

    The floating workshop Serp-i-molot was damaged by bombs and beached on southern end.

    VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) was hit by bombs and the ship was run aground on west coast of Suursaari.

    VT-581 (Lake Lucerne) run aground on south end of Suursaari after bomb damage.

    VT-550 (Shauliai) was hit by bomb and towed to Suurkylä harbour on Suursaari.

The main naval forces arrived to Kronstadt in the afternoon of 29.8. The only transport that survived was Kazakhstan. The ship was damaged by bomb 29.8. at 07:15 near Vaindlo and it arrived to Kronstadt 2.9.

Zubkov summarizes the losses during Tallinn evacuation as:

    22 navy vessels, these were 5 destroyers, 3 coast guard ships, 2 minesweepers, 2 submarines, one gunboat, one motor torpedo boat and 8 patrol boats.

    43 other vessels, including 19 transports, one tanker, one ice breaker, a floating workshop, 7 tugs and two rescue vessels.

by Jari Aromaa.

The History of the Russian Navy I

Top: Y.A. Apanasovich. The cruiser Sverdlov. 2008 Bottom: L.K. Akentiev. Our Arctic. Nuclear Submarine 705. 2015

Top: L.K. Akentiev. “St. Phoca” at Cape Flora. 2015 Bottom: M.P. Goncharov. Squadron battleship “Tsesarevich”. 2001

Russian Navy 1695-1900

The Russian Navy was founded by Peter the Great (1682-1725) in the Baltic to protect Russia from then powerful Sweden and on the Sea of Azov to counter the Ottoman Empire. Catherine the Great extended Russia’s control to the Black Sea by adding a fleet based at Sevastopol. Russia maintained small flotillas on the Caspian and White Seas. By the end of the eighteenth century there was also a Pacific Squadron that supported the Russian-American Company colony in Alaska. From Catherine II’s reign until the late 1820s, periods of friendly relations with Britain allowed the Baltic Fleet to deploy to the Mediterranean in a series of campaigns against the Ottomans. A Russian squadron joined an Anglo-French fleet in the victory over Mehmet Ali at Navarino in 1827. Thereafter until the 1854-56 Crimean War, the Baltic Fleet declined into the autocrat’s naval parading force. At the same time the professionalization of the Black Sea developed apace as a result of superior leadership, notably Admiral M. P. Lazarev, and continuous operations in support of Russia’s protracted war with Caucasian mountaineers. Nakhimov’s overwhelming victory against a Turkish Squadron at Sinope in late 1853, which brought Anglo-French intervention in the Crimean War, was, in fact, a continuation of the Black Sea Fleet’s mission to isolate the Caucasian theater of operations from maritime supply.

The 1856 defeat that saw the Black Sea Fleet abolished and made very clear the need for rail connections to link south Russia with the Moscow-St. Petersburg core and to avoid a Baltic blockade, also came at the crucial time when the great steam-and-steel revolution was taking place. This coincided with the scrapping of the IRN’s sailing ships and their replacement both by modern warships, such as those which visited the United States in 1863-64, and in a revival of concern with naval strategy and tactics. Though reduced in size to one thirty-sixth of the million-man army, the 28,000 men in the navy were much more technically proficient and efficient.

Between the beginning (1696) and the end (1917) of its history, the Imperial Navy had far more influence than its modest size and marginal role would suggest. Three key themes emerge. The first concerns the role of the navy in national strategy; the second the relationship between the navy and the process of technological modernization and Westernization; and the third the issue of the professionalization of the officer corps. By the mid-nineteenth century the latter involved the development of a system of advanced schooling for officers, the cultivation of a shared vision of the service through publications for the officer corps (the official and unofficial sections of Morskoi sbornik), and the unsuccessful resolution of the especially difficult question of officer advancement (chinoproizvodstvo) which turned on the conflict between promotion based on bureaucratic seniority or talent and achievement.

The navies that Peter built on the Sea of Azov and in the Baltic were fleets in being that, as in the later Soviet case until the 1950s, had deterrent value, but also served as a “second arm” supporting amphibious operations against hostile shores, a mission that the Black Sea Fleet also developed. Given the demands of maintaining a continental army, the navy had few levers to use to extract bigger budgets. After the early combined operations under Peter, the navy languished until the reign of Catherine II, when it once again dominated the Baltic and won command of the Black Sea. In this period the IRN did venture out of the Baltic and enjoyed some success in battle. Because of the nature of the final struggle with Napoleon, a continental war fought in alliance with Britain and as a result of the debt incurred in prosecuting that war, the navy once again went into decline. The exception to this being the mounting of scientific expeditions and round-the world cruises. Russian naval officers came to see such deployments as necessary for the training of professional naval officers.

The history of the navy from Petrine days to the end of its second century reflected the patterns and tensions between repressive, militaristic autocracy and thoughtful, visionary obshchestvo (educated society). The Crimean War dealt a heavy blow to that structure, challenged its institutions and stimulated the Great Reforms, which included the emancipation of the serfs as a basic move toward a more productive economy and the needs of the armed forces.

In this the admiral, General-Admiral Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevieh, played an important role from 1854 in protecting and training five future ministers in bureaucratic politics and administration and instilling in them the hope that virtue and talent would triumph. He also cultivated an alliance with the naval officers who had been proteges of Admiral Lazarev and brought them into the senior leadership of the navy. With no Black Sea Fleet because of the demilitarization of the Black Sea, this leadership focused its attention on the modernization of the Baltic Fleet and the development of a Pacific Squadron. The visits to the United States in 1863 of Baltic and Pacific squadrons were part of a new naval strategy that embraced such deployments as a deterrent threat to British trade.

By the time of the Great Reforms (1856-70) following the Crimean defeat, the navy was allowed to play a wider role through modernization so as to help the Russian Army preserve the country’s great-power status. From 1856, then, the Russian Navy developed in parallel with Western naval forces and created its own industrial base in alliance with private enterprise. This development rested upon the cultivation of a professional officer corps, where initiative and experience took precedence over seniority. In 1877-78 the Black Sea Fleet, which was almost non-existent-remilitarization had only become possible in 1870 and there were no yards or mills in the South to build modern ironclads-managed to neutralize a much larger Turkish Navy through the aggressive use of mines and torpedoes.

Believing that he should, unlike most Russians, consult affected parties, the grand duke turned Morskoi sbornik (Naval Digest) from a dull official bulletin into a lively journal of discussions, which helped clarify the confusions and the liberations of the Great Reforms.

These abolished the ancien regime and introduced a new world in which local organizations governed what was within their ken. This very much affected the army deprived of its privileged aristocratic officers and its serf soldiers. It also touched an increasingly technological steam and steel navy after 1860. At the same time the implications of the reform process frightened many conservatives in the Imperial family (notably the heir to the throne, the future Alexander III, the bureaucracy, and society). Konstantin Nikolaevich was for them a “red,” a dangerous figure whose ideas could lead to the undermining of the autocracy itself. After the death of Alexander II, the new tsar moved to remove the grand duke from his post as general-admiral and other state offices.

With the grand duke’s departure from leadership of the navy, leadership of the Naval Ministry passed into the hands of men who once again cultivated appearances at the expense of accomplishments and saw initiative and experience as grave dangers to institutional stability. The naval counter reforms, especially the tsenz (promotion based on positions held and time in service) created a bureaucratized force. The Naval Ministry reverted to the purchase of major combatants abroad and failed to develop a staff system to guide the navy in preparation for war. The full implications of this decline were only revealed by the destruction of the Russian squadron at Port Arthur and the defeat of Rozhestvennsky’s squadron at Tsushima (1905).

Russian Navy WWI

Peter the Great founded the Russian Navy in the early 1700s. The main fleet operated in the Baltic Sea with a squadron on the Sea of Azov which expanded later that century to become the Black Sea Fleet. During the Crimean War the sailors and guns of the Black Sea Fleet played a distinguished role in the defence of Sebastopol. However, the Baltic Fleet was reduced to passivity having proved itself incapable of breaking the Anglo-French blockade. When the empire expanded eastwards a Pacific Squadron was established with its base at Vladivostok. The remilitarization of the Black Sea at roughly the same time led to a further period of expansion but due to limited resources, the Baltic Fleet was somewhat overlooked. However, pressure from France following the 1894 treaty led to an increase in the strength of the Baltic Fleet to counter the growing naval power of Germany. As a result French companies received ship-building orders as Russian heavy industry did not have the capacity to build complete, modern warships.

The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for the Russian Navy that lost virtually all of the Pacific Squadron as well as much of the Baltic Fleet which sailed to its doom at the battle of Tsushima. With severely limited resources the navy was faced with the dilemma of, “we must know what we want” in terms of ship types and whether it should concentrate on the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic or Black seas.

1906–1914

Although there had been a Navy Minister for decades his role was that of junior partner in the War Ministry where the army was regarded as the more important service. Strategically the navy’s role was to support the army.

In 1906 a Naval General Staff was established under the new State Defence Committee but was almost immediately at loggerheads with the Navy Minister Admiral A. A. Birilov who regarded the new body as an upstart creation of little value. Both the Navy Ministry and the Naval General Staff produced plans for modernisation and reform, but neither was acceptable on the grounds of cost. Furthermore the army and the Council of State Defence objected, complaining that they exceeded the Navy’s defensive role. As the arguments and politicking dragged on the Tsar intervened. Nicholas II, in common with his cousins George V and Wilhelm II, liked ships and wished to expand Russia’s overseas influence by the possession of a strong, modern navy. However, the Third Duma (1907–12) preferred to invest the money that was available in the army. Consequently the annual naval estimates became a matter of prolonged debate.

A series of emergency grants provided for the replacement of several ships lost at Tsushima and as money from increased state revenues and French loans filled the treasury and Turkey began to expand its fleet in the Black Sea, it was decided to increase the size of the fleet both there and in the Baltic. While a considerable proportion of this money was invested in capital projects such as shipyards, dry docks and improved port facilities, a large ship building programme was also approved. With the appointment of a new Navy Minister who was more receptive to reform, Admiral I. K. Grigorovich, in 1911 the Duma began to look more favourably on the naval estimates. On 6 July 1912 the Tsar signed a £42,000,000 expansion plan. The problem was that many of the ships laid down under this programme were not scheduled for completion for some time. Furthermore they were highly dependent on foreign expertise and equipment, and the overseas contracts were not placed with Russia’s likely allies. As with heavy artillery procurement orders were made with German companies as well as those of Britain and France.

1914

At the outbreak of war two Russian cruisers, paid for and on the point of completion in German yards, were commissioned into the German navy. According to the 1914 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, four Dreadnoughts and two cruisers were also under construction for the Baltic Fleet, as were three Dreadnoughts and nine cruisers for the Black Sea Fleet. These new capital ships were to be complemented by thirty-six new destroyers and a large number of submarines and auxiliary vessels. The majority of these ships were due for completion within the next few years. By 1914 Russian naval expenditure only lagged behind that of Britain and the USA having overtaken Germany and other potential enemies. Indeed Russia and Britain were on the point of signing a naval agreement when the war broke out. But the Russian Navy was not to be committed offensively during the war years and the majority of its operations were defensive.

1914–17

As noted in Plan 19 both fleets were subordinated to Stavka. The HQ of the Black Sea Fleet was at Sebastopol, the headquarters of the Baltic fleet at Helsingfors (Helsinki) in Finland, having major bases at Kronstadt and Riga. The Navy Ministry at Petrograd acted as a clearing house for orders from Stavka.

As the Pacific Squadron took virtually no part in the war it is mainly the operations of the Baltic and Black sea fleets that concern us here and as little or no co-ordination was possible each will be dealt with individually.

Baltic Sea Fleet

At the outbreak of war the Baltic Fleet put a carefully planned defensive mining programme into operation. Russian mines were reputedly the best and most effective used by any navy in the war. The objective of this was to prevent the movement of German naval units against the capital or the flank of NW Front. The officer in charge of mining was Captain A. V. Kolchak who was to advance swiftly to the rank of Admiral. The major achievement of the Baltic Fleet during 1914 was the capture of a set of German naval code books from the Magdeburg during August thus enabling Allied intelligence officers to monitor German movements.

For the next two years the Baltic Fleet’s major units were preserved in anticipation of a decisive fleet action. The burden of offensive operations was undertaken by the eleven submarines of the Baltic Fleet and a small number of British submarines that reached Russia via the Arctic or by running the gauntlet of German patrols at the mouth of the Baltic. Although the submariners of both navies did sterling work against coastal traders plying the Baltic, the bulk of the Russian fleet remained in harbour. Such passivity had a dire effect on the officers and men leaving them prey to apathy and politicisation. Protected by the increasingly complex web of minefields the sailors’ discipline eroded slowly. Cruises were limited due to the lack of British anthracite coal stocks which were in short supply (although interestingly enough, thousands of tons of coal had in fact been stockpiled at Archangel and Murmansk but were instead being used to ballast ships returning to their home ports after delivering munitions to Russia). The sailors’ dockside work was also inhibited by the blanket of ice that built up on the harbours and the ship building programme was held up because many of the vessels under construction were designed only to take German-made turbines. The overall result of all these problems was a number of crews with little or nothing to do.

When the army’s rifle shortage became critical in 1915 the navy exchanged its Russian rifles for the Japanese Arisaka to ease ammunition supply problems. Japan also salvaged ships from the Russo-Japanese War, which were re-commissioned by the Russians and a Separate Baltic Detachment was formed but it did not manage to return to the Baltic.

Problems

The first outbreak of trouble occurred on the cruiser Rossiia in Helsingfors during September 1915. The sailors protested about poor food, overly harsh discipline and “German officers”. Rumours of the treachery of the “German officers” had been growing since the loss of the cruiser Pallada when on patrol duties in November 1914, though the fact that it went down with all hands did not enter into the gossip mongers’ tales.

The navy seems to have had a greater proportion of officers with German sounding names than the army and being a smaller service they were more noticeable. Indeed the commander of the Baltic Fleet in 1915 was Admiral N. O. von Essen who apparently considered “russifying” his name during this period. Although the ringleaders aboard the Rossiia were arrested it did not prevent further problems in November 1915 when part of the crew of the battleship Gangoot rioted beyond their officers’ control over poor food. More worrying for senior commanders was the refusal of neighbouring vessel’s crews to train their guns on the mutineers. Finally the threat of a submarine putting torpedoes into the Gangoot put a stop to the mutiny. A series of arrests were made resulting in those men being assigned to disciplinary battalions. Disciplinary battalions, usually 200 men at a time, were often sent to NW Front until Twelfth Army complained that they more trouble than they were worth. Subsequently the disciplinary battalions were detained at the naval bases where they became progressively more difficult to control.

As 1916 wore on morale declined still further. Whenever ships changed commanders or officers transferred and attempts were made to tighten discipline where it was perceived to be too lax the men reacted with dumb insolence or worked at a snail’s pace. That November Grigorovich expressed his concerns to the Tsar during an interview at Stavka. However, Nicholas refused to discuss internal security matters nor did he respond to written reports on similar matters. The situation was summed up in a report from the commander of the Kronstadt base to the navy’s representative at Stavka. “Yesterday I visited the cruiser Diana…I felt as if I were on board an enemy ship.… In the wardroom the officers openly said that the sailors were completely revolutionaries.… So it is everywhere in Kronstadt.”

In November 1916 the Russian defences claimed their greatest victory. A force of eleven German destroyers became entangled in minefields while hunting coastal traffic and within forty-eight hours seven were lost and one severely damaged. There was no Russian shipping in the area as they had intercepted radio transmissions and stayed away.

Boredom and lack of activity were not the only reasons for the men’s increased disillusionment with the war and the regime. Service in the navy demanded a different sort of recruit to those of the army. The literacy rate amongst sailors was approaching seventy-five per cent, (in the army it was less than thirty per cent) a higher standard of proficiency with technology was vital as were teamwork and initiative, all qualities which fostered a more highly skilled and integrated body of men. The close proximity to urban, industrial centres inevitably led them to be exposed to extreme political viewpoints and the discussion of conditions ashore. Consequently when the revolution came in March 1917 the sailors of the Baltic Fleet were ready and willing to participate.

The Black Sea Fleet

The Black Sea Fleet (Admiral A. A. Eberhardt) followed a more aggressive policy, mounting operations against the Bosporus on 28 March 1915 and again the next month in support of the Gallipolli expedition. By way of drawing the Turks attention to the Black Sea coastline pretence was made of reconnoitring the shore for possible landing sites as had been agreed with the Western Allies. The Anatolian coastline slowly came to be dominated by the Russians which forced the Turks to rely more and more on the slower overland route to supply men and munitions for their Caucasian Front. When Bulgaria entered the war several raids were made against coastal shipping but the presence of German submarines limited such operations. However, it was in support of the right flank of the Caucasian Front that the Black Sea Fleet made its strongest contribution.

In August 1916 Kolchak was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet. In November the Black Sea Fleet suffered its greatest loss, the newly completed battleship Emperatritsa Mariia which blew up in Sebastopol harbour with over 400 casualties. For the remainder of the war the Black Sea virtually became a Russian lake and increasing use was made of the navy to ferry and escort supplies to the army. The reasons noted for the decline of the Baltic Fleet were much less pronounced amongst the Black Sea sailors. The simple fact that the men were more or less continually involved in an active war and were not subject to urban influences to the same extent as in the Baltic saved the Black Sea Fleet from the worst excesses of the March Revolution. Kolchak took many of his ships to sea when the situation in Petrograd became serious and only returned to harbour when the Tsar had abdicated. Thus, when dozens of officers of all ranks in the Baltic Fleet were being murdered by their men the Black Sea Fleet remained comparatively quiet.

The navy and the revolutions

The speed with which the Baltic Fleet’s sailors responded to the March events in Petrograd points to a sense of unity of purpose, although not necessarily a carefully tailored uprising guided by a single mind. When the revolution began the sailors supported it from the outset and were prepared to shoot any who stood in their way. This included their officers, although many were also killed as retribution for past behaviour. On 16 March Admiral A. I. Nepenin, commanding the Baltic Fleet, informed the Provisional Government, “The Baltic Fleet as a military force no longer exists.” As far as he could see his ice bound ships had raised red flags.

In both fleets committees were established with powers similar to those in the army. The difference between the fleets was Baltic Fleet’s greater degree of militancy and involvement with the affairs of Petrograd. During the July Days Baltic Fleet sailors were heavily involved but the actions subsequently launched to contain radicalism seem to have achieved little but the further alienation of the men. Despite this the sailors supported Kerensky during the Kornilov affair but by the end of September the Provisional Government exercised very little authority over them.

The History of the Russian Navy II

Top: M.P. Goncharov. BOD Admiral Isakov. 2012 Bottom: S. M. Ananko. Gloomy morning. 2012

Top: S. M. Ananko. TAVKR “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov” while practicing combat training tasks at sea. 2016 Bottom: S. M. Ananko. The heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great. 2016

SOVIET NAVY WWII

Popularly known in the West as the “Red Fleet,” the Soviet Navy was divided by geography and ship and base disposition into the Baltic Fleet, Black Sea Fleet, and Pacific Fleet. It suffered a bloody purge in 1930, and was intermittently purged by Joseph Stalin after that. From 1935 Stalin ended debate over whether the Soviet Navy should deploy as a “Jeune École” fleet equipped only for “small wars” or deploy as a “Mahanian” blue water battlefleet that sought “command of the sea.” He chose the latter and thereafter launched a shipbuilding program that centered on battleships, heavy cruisers, and other large capital warships. Stalin insisted on building battlecruisers as well, a ship type for which he exhibited a pronounced preference against all professional advice. The purpose of the big ships was to gain mastery of the sea around the northern coastlines of the Soviet Union: on the Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea, and Sea of Japan. That essentially clear, rational, traditional naval outlook was complicated by personal quirks and oddities of the views and personality of Stalin. Most important among his direct interventions was refusal to build aircraft carriers, a decision that reflected his limited understanding of how navies projected power.

Stalin at first looked to the United States for assistance in building a blue water fleet of battleships and battlecruisers. His request to commission a U.S. shipyard to build a battleship for the Soviet Navy was spurned. Stalin turned next to Adolf Hitler for technical aid, from the end of their partnership in conquering Poland in 1939 to the start of Hitler’s BARBAROSSA invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Stalin paid Hitler back by extending operational cooperation to the Kriegsmarine in its war with the Western Allies. A special naval base was set up for the Germans at Lista Bay near Murmansk that was used by the Kriegsmarine to facilitate the WESERÜBUNG invasion of Norway in April 1940, while several other Soviet ports were opened to German warships. The Soviets also aided transfer of a German auxiliary cruiser around Siberia to prey on Allied shipping in the northern Pacific. For this assistance the Kriegsmarine provided Moscow specialized naval equipment, ship schematics, and a partially completed cruiser in a form of barter exchange. This odd situation reflected Stalin’s long-term view of the need to build up Soviet naval power and misreading of the German Führer’s intentions. Stalin’s view contrasted sharply with Hitler’s belief that any short-term naval aid to Moscow would prove irrelevant once he unleashed his armored legions in the east.

The Baltic Red Banner fleet began the war with just two World War I–era battleships and two cruisers. These remained confined to the base at Kronstadt. It also had 19 destroyers and 65 submarines of varying quality, as well as a fleet air arm of over 650 planes. During the Finnish–Soviet War (1939–1940) the Baltic fleet moved to cut off Finland from sea lanes to Sweden, but no naval engagements ensued with Finnish surface ships. That changed with BARBAROSSA, as the Kriegsmarine joined the fight in the Baltic. The Germans moved dozens of minelayers, minesweepers, and other coastal warships to Finland before June 1941, and afterward established a major base in the port of Helsinki. Most naval action in the early part of the German–Soviet war in the Baltic was confined to laying sea mines, sweeping for mines, U-boat attacks, and aerial attacks by the Luftwaffe on exposed Soviet ships. There were several small Soviet and German amphibious clashes over a number of small islands. The major Soviet warship and transport losses came in August in one of the least known, although the worst, convoy actions of the entire war. The Soviets sought to relocate smaller warships from Tallinn to Kronstadt and to evacuate as many personnel by ship as they could before the Panzers arrived in the Estonian capital. In the German attack on the hastily formed Soviet convoy the Soviet Navy lost 18 small warships and 42 merchantmen and troopships, most to a night encounter with a dense minefield. The following day, as all major warships fled the convoy, Luftwaffe dive bombers struck floundering and exposed troopships and transports. Only two survived. Total loss of life was at least 12,000.

The naval garrison on Kronstadt held out for 28 months during the siege of Leningrad, then used its big guns to support the Red Army in the operation that finally broke the siege in January–February, 1944. Meanwhile, in 1942 the Soviet Navy went on the offense in the Baltic. It sent submarines deeper into the sea, where they enjoyed some success against German and Finnish shipping plying trade routes from Sweden and along the coastline of Germany. Several Swedish ships were sunk inadvertently, which moved the Swedish Navy to introduce a convoy system and on occasion to depth charge Soviet boats. The most successful Soviet naval operation in the Baltic was an amphibious lift of nearly 45,000 troops to Oranienbaum in 1944, during the offensive that lifted the siege of Leningrad. An even larger set of amphibious operations landed Red Army soldiers and Soviet Navy marines on a number of small, but key, islands in the Gulf of Riga in late 1944. The situation in the air was also reversed by 1944, as Red Army Air Force and Soviet Navy planes harassed and sank congested German shipping. From 1941 to 1945 the Soviet Baltic fleet lost one old battleship (to bombs), 15 destroyers, 39 submarines, and well over 100 minesweepers, smaller warships, and transports, as well as numerous landing craft. A modern battleship under construction before the war was locked in port by the siege of Leningrad and never completed.

The war began disastrously for the Soviet Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which was bombed at anchor on the first day, June 22, 1941. Before that attack the Black Sea Fleet comprised a single modernized dreadnought, four cruisers, dozens of older and new destroyers, 47 old submarines, nearly 90 motor torpedo boats, and sundry coastal craft. It had 626 aircraft, mostly of obsolete types. The Black Sea Fleet was also responsible for the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov, and patrolling the lower Don and Volga Rivers. A 59,000 ton giant super battleship, the “Sovetskaia Ukraina,” was still under construction when the bombs started to fall, just like its sister ship in Leningrad. When Army Group South took the port of Nikolaev during the Donbass-Rostov operation, the “Sovetskaia Ukraina” was captured. Once the terrible siege of Sebastopol began, the Fleet’s main port was closed to naval operations and ships scrambled to relocate to ports farther east. The first Black Sea Fleet amphibious operation was a landing of 2,000 marines behind Rumanian lines near Odessa, a desperate action that failed to save the city. Instead, between October 1–16, 1941, an evacuation of over 86,000 soldiers and 14,000 other Soviet citizens was carried out from Odessa. The Fleet facilitated large-scale amphibious landings at Kerch-Feodosiia in December 1941. Without effective Kriegsmarine opposition in the Black Sea, the Soviets took the Germans in the Crimea by surprise. They came ashore in force, over 40,000 strong, at more than two dozen locations behind the main enemy force, which was investing Sebastopol. More troops were sent in via an ice road over the Kerch Straits. A larger amphibious and airborne operation was planned to retake the entire Crimean peninsula in January 1942, but it was canceled when the situation badly deteriorated. When the Germans assaulted in May with their main force, relocated from Sebastopol, the Soviet Navy evacuated survivors across the Kerch Straits.

All this time, the Black Sea Fleet maintained a 240-mile lifeline into Sebastopol under constant and heavy Luftwaffe attack. By late 1942 the Fleet faced German and Italian small craft flotillas that were shipped overland and reassembled in the Crimea. The Soviets also faced at least six Axis submarines in the Black Sea, including one from Rumania. In February 1943, the Soviets carried out two amphibious landings around Novorossisk. The smaller landing established a beachhead that held on, and was successfully reinforced by sea. On September 10 the port fell when Black Sea Fleet leaders used over 130 small boats to enter and assault the harbor. However, in October the Fleet lost three new destroyers to land-based bombers, after which Stalin forbade its commanders to expose any surface ships to danger. More landings were made in German rear areas to block the Wehrmacht on its long retreat out of the east. These were mostly wasteful of Soviet lives and forces. Worst of all, the Soviet Navy failed to prevent evacuation of over 250,000 Axis troops of Army Group A across the Kerch Straits during September–October, 1943. That was mostly Stalin’s fault: he refused to expose any large surface ships to German bombing, lest they be lost. That lessened the victory at Sebastopol achieved by Soviet ground forces in May 1944: a flotilla of small ships and barges was massively bombed and shelled, but 130,000 German and Rumanians escaped who could have been stopped by the big guns of destroyers, cruisers, and the Fleet’s unopposed dreadnought that Stalin would not allow into action.

Pacific Fleet operations were minimal and strictly defensive until the Manchurian offensive operation (August 1945). Most submarines were therefore released for service in the North Sea. To get there, they made a remarkable voyage across the Pacific, down the coast of North America, through the Panama Canal, and across the Atlantic to Murmansk or Archangel. Not all survived the journey. Those that did took up duty scouting for and protecting arctic convoys from Britain. In September 1943, the Soviet Navy was denied any ships surrendered by the Regia Marina to the Royal Navy at Malta. They went to the British instead. The Soviets did acquire a number of German surface ships in late May 1945, along with a share in those U-boats that were scuttled by their captains or sunk by the Western Allies.

Soviet Navy – Post WWII

In the immediate post-war years the only naval units of even marginal significance were three battleships: a Russian vessel dating back to tsarist times and two British ships of First World War vintage, which had been lent to the USSR during the war. One of the latter was returned to the UK in 1949, having been replaced by the ex-Italian Giulio Cesare, which the Soviets renamed Novorossiysk.fn3 There were also some fifteen cruisers – a mixture of elderly Soviet designs, nine modern Soviet-built ships, a US ship lent during the war (and returned in 1949), and two former Axis cruisers, one ex-German, the other ex-Italian. There was also a force of some eighty destroyers, also of varying vintages and origins.

During the 1940s and 1950s these Soviet warships were rarely seen on the high seas, apart from a limited number of transfers between the Northern and Baltic fleets, which tended to be conducted with great rapidity. The only exception was a series of international visits, mainly by the impressive Sverdlov-class cruisers, which were paid to countries such as Sweden and the UK. The navy suffered a major setback in 1955 when the battleship Novorossiysk was sunk while at anchor in the Black Sea by a Second World War German ground mine, an event which led to the sacking of the commander-in-chief, Admiral N. M. Kuznetzov; he was replaced by Admiral Gorshkov.

In the early 1960s, however, individual Soviet units began to be seen more frequently in foreign waters, as did ever-increasing numbers of ‘intelligence collectors’, laden with electronic-warfare equipment. These ships, generally known by their NATO designation as ‘AGIs’, monitored US and NATO exercises and ship movements. The original AGIs were converted trawlers and salvage tugs, but, as the Cold War progressed and the Soviet navy became increasingly sophisticated, larger and more specialized ships were built, culminating in the 5,000 tonne Bal’zam class, built in the 1980s. In addition to such ships, conventional warships regularly carried out intelligence-collecting and surveillance tasks, particularly when Western exercises were being held. Apart from general eavesdropping on Western communications links and studying the latest weapons, such missions helped the Soviet navy to learn about US and NATO tactics, manoeuvring and ship-handling.

The Soviets also put considerable effort into espionage (human intelligence, or HUMINT, in intelligence jargon) against Western navies. This included the Kroger ring in the UK, which was principally targeted against British anti-submarine-warfare facilities, and the Walker spy ring in the USA, which gave away a vast amount of information on US submarine capabilities and deployment.

The growth and increasing ambitions of the Soviet navy were best illustrated by the size, scope and duration of its exercises. The first important out-of-area exercise was held in 1961, when two groups of ships – one moving from the Baltic to the Kola Inlet and the other in the opposite direction (a total of eight surface warships, four submarines and associated support ships) – met in the Norwegian Sea. There they conducted a short exercise before continuing to their respective destinations.

In early July 1962 transfers between the Baltic and Northern fleets again took place, coupled with the first major transfer from the Black Sea Fleet to the Northern Fleet. This was followed by a much larger exercise, extending from the Iceland–Faroes gap to the North Cape, which included surface combatants, submarines, auxiliaries and a large number of land-based naval aircraft. The activity level increased yet again in 1963, and the major 1964 exercise involved ships moving through the Iceland–Faroes gap for the first time, while units of the Mediterranean Squadron undertook a cruise to Cuba. By 1966 exercises were taking place in the Faroes–UK gap and off north-east Scotland (both long-standing preserves of the British navy) and also off the coast of Iceland.

In 1967 the naval highlight of the Arab–Israeli Six-Day War was the dramatic sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat by the Egyptian navy using Soviet SS-N-2 (‘Styx’) missiles launched from a Soviet-built Komar-class patrol boat. Not surprisingly, Soviet naval prestige in the Middle East was high, and the Soviets took the opportunity to enhance it yet further by port visits to Syria, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Algeria, employing ships of the Black Sea Fleet.

The following year saw the largest naval exercise to date; nicknamed Sever (= North) it involved a large number of surface ships, land-based aircraft, submarines and auxiliaries. The exercise covered a variety of areas, but the main activity took place in waters between Iceland and Norway. One of the naval highlights of the year, for both the Soviet and the NATO navies, was the arrival in the Mediterranean of the first Soviet helicopter carrier, Moskva.

Further exercises and deployments took place in 1969, but in the following year Okean 70 proved to be the most ambitious Soviet naval exercise ever staged. This involved the Northern, Baltic and Pacific fleets and the Mediterranean Squadron in simultaneous operations, with the major emphasis in the Atlantic. A large northern force, comprising some twenty-six ships, started with anti-submarine exercises off northern Norway between 13 and 18 April, and then proceeded through the Iceland–Faroes gap to an area due west of Scotland, where it carried out an ‘encounter exercise’ against units from the Mediterranean Squadron. The two groups then sailed in company to join the waiting support group, where a major replenishment at sea took place. Other facets of the exercise included units of the Baltic Fleet sailing through the Skaggerak to operate off south-west Norway, and an amphibious landing exercise involving units of the recently raised Naval Infantry coming ashore on the Soviet side of the Norwegian–Soviet border.

This was a very large and ambitious exercise, from which the Soviet navy learned many major lessons, one of the most important of which was the falsity of the concept of commanding naval forces at sea from a shore headquarters. Such a concept had been propagated for two reasons: first, because it complied with the general Communist idea of highly centralized power and, second, because it also avoided the complexity and expense of flagships. Once Okean 70 had proved this concept to be impracticable, ‘flag’ facilities were built into the larger ships, although the Baltic Fleet continued to be commanded from ashore.

The exercise which took place in June 1971 rehearsed a different scenario, with a group of Soviet Northern Fleet ships sailing down into Icelandic waters, where they reversed course and then advanced towards Jan Mayen Island to act as a simulated NATO carrier task group, which was then attacked by the main ‘players’. Again, a concurrent amphibious landing formed part of the exercise.

There were no major naval exercises in 1972, but in a spring 1973 exercise Soviet submarines practised countering a simulated Western task force sailing through the Iceland–UK gap to reinforce NATO’s Northern flank, while a similar exercise in 1974 took place in areas to the east and north of Iceland. Okean 75 was an extremely large maritime exercise, involving well over 200 ships and submarines together with large numbers of aircraft. The exercise was global in scale, with specific exercise areas including the Norwegian Sea, where simulated convoys were attacked; the northern and central Atlantic, particularly off the west coast of Ireland; the Baltic and Mediterranean seas; and the Indian and Pacific oceans. Overall, the exercise practised all phases of contemporary naval warfare, including the deployment and protection of SSBNs.

In 1976 an exercise started with a concentration of warships in the North Sea, following which they transited through the Skagerrak and into the Baltic. Although not an exercise as such, great excitement was caused among Western navies when the new aircraft carrier Kiev left the Black Sea and sailed through the Mediterranean before heading northward in a large arc, passing through the Iceland–Faroes gap and thence to Murmansk. NATO ships followed this transit very closely, as it gave them their first opportunity to see this large ship and its V/STOL aircraft.

The following year saw two exercises in European waters, the first of which was held in the area of the North Cape and the central Norwegian Sea. The second was much larger and consisted of two elements, one involving the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea, while in the other ships sailed from the Baltic, north around the British Isles and then into the central Atlantic. Also in 1977 the Soviet navy suffered the second of its major peacetime surface disasters when the Kashin-class destroyer Orel (formerly Otvazhny) suffered a major explosion while in the Black Sea, followed by a fire which raged for five hours before the ship sank, taking virtually the entire crew to their deaths.

In 1978 the passage of another Kiev-class carrier enabled an air–sea exercise to take place to the south of the Iceland–Faroes gap. Similar exercises followed in 1979 and 1980. The 1981 exercise involved three groups and took place in the northern part of the Barents Sea.

There were no major naval exercises in 1982, but the following year saw the most ambitious global exercise yet, with concurrent and closely related activities in all the world’s oceans, involving not only warships, but also merchant and fishing vessels. In European waters, three aggressor groups assembled off southern Norway and then sailed northward to simulate an advancing NATO force; they were then intercepted and attacked by the major part of the Northern Fleet.

The major exercise in 1985 followed a similar pattern, with aggressor groups sailing northeastward off the Norwegian coast, to be attacked by a large Soviet defending task group which included Kirov, the lead-ship of a new class of battlecruiser, Sovremenny-class anti-surface destroyers and Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyers, as well as many older ships. There was also substantial air activity, which included the use of Tu-26 Backfire bombers. Although not apparent at the time, this proved to be the zenith of Soviet naval activity, and in the remaining years of the Cold War the number and scale of the exercises steadily diminished.

These major exercises enabled the Soviet navy to rehearse its war plans and to demonstrate its increasing capability to other navies, particularly those in NATO. There were, of course, many smaller exercises, such as those involving amphibious capabilities, which took place on the northern shores of the Kola Peninsula, on the Baltic coast and in the Black Sea. It is noteworthy, however, that the vast majority of the exercises held in European waters, and particularly those held from 1978 onwards, while tactically offensive, were actually strategically defensive in nature, involving the Northern Fleet in defending the north Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the area around Jan Mayen Island.

Soviet at-sea time was considerably less than that of the US and other major Western navies. The latter maintained about one-third of their ships at sea at all times, while only about 15 per cent of the Soviet navy was at sea, reducing to 10 per cent for submarines. The Soviets did, however, partially offset this by placing strong emphasis on a high degree of readiness in port and on the ability to get to sea quickly.

Modern Russian Federation Navy

The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a severe decline in the Russian Navy. Defense expenditures were severely reduced. Many ships were scrapped or laid up as accommodation ships at naval bases, and the building program was essentially stopped. Sergey Gorshkov’s buildup during the Soviet period had emphasised ships over support facilities, but Gorshkov had also retained ships in service beyond their effective lifetimes, so a reduction had been inevitable in any event. The situation was exacerbated by the impractical range of vessel types which the Soviet military-industrial complex, with the support of the leadership, had forced on the navy—taking modifications into account, the Soviet Navy in the mid-1980s had nearly 250 different classes of ship. The Kiev class aircraft carrying cruisers and many other ships were prematurely retired, and the incomplete second Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier Varyag was eventually sold to the People’s Republic of China by Ukraine. Funds were only allocated for the completion of ships ordered prior to the collapse of the USSR, as well as for refits and repairs on fleet ships taken out of service since. However, the construction times for these ships tended to stretch out extensively: in 2003 it was reported that the Akula-class submarine Nerpa had been under construction for fifteen years. Storage of decommissioned nuclear submarines in ports near Murmansk became a significant issue, with the Bellona Foundation reporting details of lowered readiness. Naval support bases outside Russia, such as Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, were gradually closed, with the exception of the modest technical support base in Tartus, Syria to support ships deployed to the Mediterranean. Naval Aviation declined as well from its height as Soviet Naval Aviation, dropping from an estimated 60,000 personnel with some 1,100 combat aircraft in 1992 to 35,000 personnel with around 270 combat aircraft in 2006. In 2002, out of 584 naval aviation crews only 156 were combat ready, and 77 ready for night flying. Average annual flying time was 21.7 hours, compared to 24 hours in 1999.

Training and readiness also suffered severely. In 1995, only two missile submarines at a time were being maintained on station, from the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The decline culminated in the loss of the Oscar II-class Kursk submarine during the Northern Fleet summer exercise that was intended to back up the publication of a new naval doctrine. The exercise was to have culminated with the deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov task group to the Mediterranean.

As of February 2008, the Russian Navy had 44 nuclear submarines with 24 operational; 19 diesel-electric submarines, 16 operational; and 56 first and second rank surface combatants, 37 operational. Despite this improvement, the November 2008 accident on board the Akula-class submarine attack boat Nerpa during sea trials before lease to India represented a concern for the future.

In 2009, Admiral Popov (Ret.), former commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, said that the Russian Navy would greatly decline in combat capabilities by 2015 if the current rate of new ship construction remained unchanged, due to the retirement of ocean-going ships.

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin announced a plan to build 51 modern ships and 24 submarines by 2020.[32] Of the 24 submarines, 16 will be nuclear-powered. On 10 January 2013, the Russian Navy finally accepted its first new Borei class SSBN (Yury Dolgorukiy) for service. A second Borei (Aleksandr Nevskiy) was undergoing sea trials and entered service on 21 December 2013. A third Borei class boat (Vladimir Monomakh) was launched and began trials in early 2013, and was commissioned in late 2014.

The Belgian Army in World War I

75mm TR gun battery on the move.

10.5cm gun of type Krupp used by the Belgian army.

Belgian Artillery

Belgium, for centuries a major center of small arms production, also boasted the Cockerill and FRC ordnance foundries. Both firms, however, directed the majority of their sales to foreign clients, thus placing the Belgian army in the rather odd situation of obtaining cannons from outside sources. Before and during World War I, Belgium consequently fielded French and German designs either obtained from abroad or manufactured under license by Cockerill and FRC. During World War I the Belgians fielded a variety of field guns, such as the 75mm M05, the 75mm Model TR, the 105mm M13, the 75mm M18, and the 120mm field howitzer.

After the German invasion, the plan to send the army to the Meuse was abandoned and it stayed on the Gette River, as Selliers wanted, with the exceptions of the army divisions (ADs, equivalent to other countries’ “corps”) at Liege and Namur. Liege was quickly outflanked by two German cavalry divisions which had to withdraw because they could not cross the Meuse. The Germans vastly outnumbered the Belgians and expected a quick surrender. General Leman, despite knowing Liege could not hold out, refused to give in and the fortifications drove back the German waves, causing such losses that several divisions had to leave the line. The Germans brought overwhelming force, driving the Belgian forces guarding the areas between the forts into retreat. The fortresses continued to fight, the last surrendering only on August 17. Not only did the defenders of the Liege forts and their commander become national heroes and symbols of Belgium’s determination to resist, the delay they imposed on the Germans allowed the French to complete their mobilization and may have cost the Germans the war in the West.

Between August 15 and 19, there were bitter debates at Belgian headquarters over withdrawing to the national redoubt at Antwerp. Albert had good intelligence that the Germans were planning to attack in central Belgium while the French military mission insisted the Germans lacked the strength and called the Belgians cowards for planning a retreat while the Allied forces were marching to link up with them. The Belgians began their withdrawal on August 18 and Brussels fell two days later while Namur was besieged and its garrison forced on August 23 to withdraw into France and thence back to Antwerp.

The Antwerp redoubt was not as impregnable as the Belgians hoped and the war minister’s men started discussing a retreat from Antwerp on September 29. On the 7th, with the Germans threatening the line of retreat and crossing the Scheldt, Colonel Wielemans, counting on de Broqueville’s support, but without informing Albert, ordered the retreat of the army to the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal. Galet found out the next day but was unable to stop the move. Antwerp fell on October 10 and the army began a difficult retreat to the Yser River. Thirty thousand Belgian troops fled to the Netherlands where they were interned and another thirty thousand were captured. The retreat was well-prepared and the eventual resistance on the Yser would have been impossible without the munitions and supplies saved from Antwerp.

One of the big controversies regarding the Belgians in Antwerp, and one which inevitably led to comparisons with his son accepting a capitulation in 1940, is whether Albert was prepared to accept a separate peace in 1914. The story goes that Albert was ready to give up but was dissuaded by a combination of de Broqueville, the queen, and Ingenbleek. This contrasts with the behavior of his son in 1940, who was not dissuaded. Most historians, however, seem to give the story little credence.

The Belgians who arrived at the Yser position on October 15 were in a terrible state and unable to launch an attack as desired by the French. Even Galet liked the Yser position because it was good for defense, still on Belgian soil, close to the sea, and, as Henri Haag notes, had the advantage over the Antwerp redoubt of sparing Belgium’s “rich cities” from being on the front lines. The Germans wasted no time in attacking the new positions while the Belgians counterattacked and there was a dogfight for nine days until the Germans “ran out of steam,” sparing the exhausted and disheartened Belgian soldiers.

The flooding of the Yser was one of the most dramatic tactics of World War I. Armies in Flanders had used controlled flooding for centuries and the Flemish lowlands were lands regained from sea and swamp with an extensive irrigation and drainage system. The Belgians would have only to open some sluices in Nieuport and then close them again before the tide went out. This was done on October 27. The German offensive, which had resumed, was stopped and the stunned Germans pulled back.

The front would remain static for over three years, with the Belgians holding a long front with no strategic reserves and thus unable to pull any entire division out of the line for a rest. Moreover, the Belgian army of the end of 1914 was barely holding on. There were only 52,000 of the original field army of 117,500, with a deficit of 2,000 officers, a severe lack of ammunition, exhausted artillery, and tired men in ragged uniforms. The Belgians and Germans were separated by the water, with some additional flooding in March 1918. Service on that front was extremely unpleasant and unhealthy.

The Belgian army was reorganized in January 1918, abolishing the brigade headquarters within the divisions, with `army divisions’ constituted by two infantry divisions. The army as a whole now numbered 170,000 enlisted and 5,700 officers. It would become involved in the bitter fighting started by the last-ditch German offensives of spring 1918. Although the main German effort, code-named `Michael,’ was aimed further south, the Germans also planned an attack, `Georgette,’ in Flanders, scheduled for April 9 and aiming for the ports of Calais and Dunkirk, outflanking the Allies in that region. On April 14, the Belgians found themselves fighting to prevent a German encirclement of Ypres, defended by the British to the right of the Belgians. The Germans launched an attack on the Belgians on April 17 and after initial success, found themselves stalled in bitter hand-to-hand fighting. Despite the Germans breaking into the Belgian support trenches, they were hit by Belgian artillery and driven back by Belgian infantry, losing 800 prisoners. The German offensives across the Allied front ran out of steam and in September, the Allies went over to the offensive. Because the Belgian constitution barred foreigners from commanding the Belgian army, King Albert was appointed to command the Flanders Army Group, consisting as well of French and British units. Ten Belgian infantry divisions attacked on the night of September 27-28 and rapidly broke through the Ger- man lines, flowed over the German artillery batteries, and pushed the front back as far as eleven miles, with an average of four miles across the front. The Belgians captured 6,000 prisoners and 150 guns on that one day. They continued to push back the Germans until October 2, when there was a twelve-day pause. The second phase of the offensive, also involving the French, began on October 14 and ended on October 30, with another offensive on the Lys River lasting until November 3, as the Belgians advanced towards the Scheldt River and reached Ghent, where the front line would stay until the German armistice of November 11. The Belgians suffered grievously in these last offensives, losing more than 1/5 of the effectives (1/3 of all Belgian casualties of the war out of a total of 44,000) between October 4 and November 11.

The Peace

In September 1918, the Belgians delivered a note to the Allies urging modifications of the 1839 treaties in the name of guaranteeing increased security. The Belgians understood this increased security as based on territorial revisions that would boost the country militarily and economically. From Holland, Belgium tried to get the land it had lost in 1839: Flemish Zeeland and Dutch Lim- burg. Possession of the former would give Belgium the south bank of the very important Scheldt River and about half of its channel. These would solve a number of difficulties and give the Belgians complete control over the Ghent- Terneuzen canal. Possession of the latter would similarly ease Belgium’s eco- nomic and military situation. The General Staff was calling for acquiring these lands, and part of the Rhineland, as early as December 1914. In addition, Belgium hoped to create a canal to the Rhine across the prospective new territory. The Belgian military squelched anti-annexationist propaganda in the army but allowed the pro-annexationists to propagandize. An undated, but probably wartime, note to the Belgian legation in London discussed Belgium’s obtaining the above-mentioned lands and declared that “these increases wisely considered and skillfully administered would not constitute a canker in the flank of the fatherland.” Unfortunately, as historian Sally Marks notes, as reasonable as the demands were from the Belgian perspective, there was no way they were going to get them. Lead Belgian negotiator Paul Hymans observed that the Scheldt River separated Flemish Zeeland from the rest of the Netherlands which in any case ignored the region. In fact, Flemish Zeeland was much more tied in to Belgium than to its mother country although the population would prefer to stay in the Netherlands. The Belgians tried harder to get Limburg, the part of the Netherlands that dangles between Belgium and Germany. Dutch possession of this strip severely hampered Belgian defense because it pre- vented the Belgians from basing their defense on the line of the Meuse River. At the same time, it was far from clear that the Dutch would be willing or able to defend it. The Belgian military, absorbing the lessons of the recent war, and looking for better defenses and protection for Liege, particularly wanted the territory.  

Before Paul Hymans submitted Belgium’s territorial demands to the Powers in Paris, the Belgian General Staff had presented a memorandum about a new border. The General Staff saw two alternatives, the `green line’ and the `black line’ (so named for the colors drawn on the maps), both based on the idea that Belgium would succeed in getting Limburg and Luxembourg. The military desired the `black line,’ which called not only for the acquisition of most of Eupen and Malmédy, the cantons lost in 1815, but also for changes in the Ger- man-Dutch and German-Luxembourg borders. These would cement Belgian control over the railroad linking the German Rhineland cities of Cologne and Trier, keeping it under possible Belgian artillery fire in the event of a German attack. The generals were not deluded about being able to hold for long, but they thought the black line could buy time for the Meuse defenses to be readied.

The Belgian military and other `annexationists,’ including many in the Min- istry of Foreign Afairs, had supported Belgium’s territorial claims, not because of any arguments based on common (or allegedly common) ethnicities but rather in the hope of strengthening the nation and of avoiding French encircle- ment should Luxembourg and the Rhineland fall to their recent ally. The can- tons of Eupen, Malmedy, and the two parts of Moresnet would serve as useful bases for a defense of Belgium at the frontier by pushing said frontier further east. They hoped thereby to secure Belgian security and independence, while some even hoped to lift Belgium out of `small power’ status. In addition, many in the “political class” sought, through the acquisition of parts of the Nether- lands, to bolster the position of Francophones against the Flemish nationalists and those demanding social reforms and to restore the Catholic political dom- inance by annexing more “Catholic” territory.

The Belgian Socialists and Flemish nationalists, the same groups who would hold rearmament hostage in the mid-1930s, opposed any Belgian acquisitions. The Socialists feared annexation would empower reactionaries and opposed territorial demands, especially those against Holland. They recognized that the populations concerned had no interest in joining Belgium. They did want to change the regime of the Scheldt which, they believed, left Belgium at the mercy of the Dutch. It should be pointed out that the Socialists were far from unanimous on the issue. The Flemish nationalists were loathe to harm the Netherlands or strengthen the Belgian state. Rejecting the `Activists’ and their wartime collaboration, many Flemish nationalists called for making Flanders more Flemish and suspected any territorial demands on the Netherlands that would harm relations and Flemish interests. They were more concerned about economic control over the Scheldt and Meuse rivers, including a canal joining Antwerp and Liege. Other anti-annexationists feared antagonizing Belgium’s neighbors or making their nation dependent on a great power. They also wanted to preserve Belgian neutrality. It was the annexationists who held sway since 1916 and dominated the peace delegation. In fact, despite popular enthusiasm for mentions of resolving outstanding issues with the neutrals as well as the Allies, most Belgians rejected annexationist ideas and concentrated on rebuilding the nation and, to the extent they cared about politics, worried much more about domestic issues, such as the language issue, than about territorial demands.

In any case, the Belgians argued that Germany’s invasion in 1914 had destroyed the system of Western European “equilibrium” established in 1839 to keep the peace and shown how pointless the system was. It was therefore reasonable to end it and properly provide geographically for Belgium’s defense. This would not result in many annexations because most of the land would be simply “restituted.” Naturally, this argument alarmed Belgium’s erstwhile allies as well as the Dutch. The French saw it as a threat to their own expansionist aims, the British saw Belgian control over the mouth of the Scheldt as a threat to their security, and the Americans saw a violation of national self-determination. These issues circumscribed the room for maneuver of the Belgian government, which had to “act prudently, not explicitly define the object of the demands, but `pose the problem’ before the Allies,” who would recognize the justice of the Belgian claims and act on them.

The Belgians also cast covetous eyes on Luxembourg. In 1915 the government was unanimous in its desire for the Grand Duchy. This desire was shared by the Annexationists such as Pierre Nothomb, who advocated closer ties between the two countries. The arguments raised went from the historical (it was part of Belgium until 1839) to the practical/historical (Luxembourgois neutrality benefited and protected Germany). However, the French were also interested in the Grand Duchy and had their own claims. Despite Belgian aid, few Luxembourgers were really interested in joining Belgium while most wanted to remain independent and, eventually, most Belgians recognized that and reduced their hopes to an economic union. Eventually, the French promised to persuade the Luxembourgois to enter an economic union with Belgium, but only in exchange for the French keeping the most important railroad and the Belgians signing a military convention with France. The Belgians were deeply disappointed and offended that they did not get all they wanted. Bel- gium did pick up four German-speaking cantons in the east from Germany as well as some African colonies. Belgian troops also took part in the occupation of the German Rhineland, which they would leave in 1929.

Robert Devleeshouwer observes that conditions really were not favorable to Belgian territorial adjustments. He points out that in none of the desired territories did the locals really want to join Belgium while most Belgians did not care either. What is surprising is that so many Belgian politicians believed it possible to succeed. Their nationalism was inflated by the victory over Ger- many and they hoped to see the Allies force the Dutch to give in. The campaign for annexation was led by the government through straw men, especially Pierre Nothomb, who had remarkable access to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the support of other departments. Nothomb was key in the founding of the Comité de Politique Nationale (Committee of National Policy) to support a “large, strong, and united Belgium.” This committee took a maximalist approach to territorial demands, including the creation of a Rhenish buffer state dominated by Belgium. The Committee obtained 275,000 signatures on its petitions and the support of government ministers, generals, and communal councils although the government never openly supported it.

Failing territorial acquisition, the Belgians in Paris sought to achieve conditions in the Rhineland that would prevent another German invasion, because they all believed Germany was still the greatest threat. For a time, some of the Belgians, such as the chief negotiator Paul Hymans, like the French, who felt equally threatened, supported an independent, or at least autonomous, Rhenish state, or, at least, permanent Allied occupation thereof. Other Belgian delegates Émile Vandervelde and Jules Van den Heuvel did oppose the idea for fear of increasing French power and leverage over their nation.

In his memoirs, Belgian foreign minister, and sometime prime minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, observed that the friction between the two countries came as a result of the French premier’s mistreatment of Hymans and the lack of French support for Belgian demands.

Chuck Yeager – encounter with an Me-262

“Yeager’s First Jet” by Roy Grinnell (P-51D Mustang)

Chuck Yeager had grown up poor on a hardscrabble farm alongside the Mud River in Myra, West Virginia. As a kid he butchered hogs, picked beans, and shot squirrels to help put food on the family table. In high school he was a fine athlete, playing on both the football and baseball teams. He was also a good student, particularly in mathematics. His hobby was tinkering with old cars.

In 1941, Yeager joined the US Army Air Corps as a private, serving at the Victorville, California airfield where he showed special aptitude as a mechanic. After two years he was promoted to sergeant and chosen for pilot training at Luke Field, Arizona, where Yeager’s instructors said he was a natural. They taught him to fly in a Stearman biplane, and soon he was wringing it out in aerobatics. He won his wings and a promotion to Flight Officer on 10 March 1943.

Assigned to the 363rd Squadron of the 357th Fighter Group, Yeager moved up to flying P-39s at the Air Corps base at Tonopah, Nevada. Training there was rigorous. Some of his squadron mates washed out, and others were killed in accidents. Yeager’s reactions to these misfortunes was a shrug. Anybody who bought the farm was “a dumb bastard,” which was a fighter pilot’s way of handling the possibility of his own death. One of Yeager’s fellow pilots was Bud Anderson, who flew with him throughout the war and became a life-long friend. Together they and the other young studs often visited the bars and whorehouses in Tonopah, and sometimes raised enough hell to be chased by the sheriff.

The group was then sent to California for training to fly as escorts for bombers. While there Yeager met his future wife, Glennis Faye Dickhouse. “She was pretty as a movie star,” he said, “and making more money than I was.”

Next, the group moved to Casper, Wyoming for still more training. On 23 October 1943, Yeager very nearly lost his life when his P-39’s engine caught fire and he had to bail out. He made a rough landing, fracturing several vertebrae. For a while it was questionable whether he would ever fly again, but he refused to give up, and after a long hospital stay convinced doctors that he’d fully recuperated. He rejoined his squadron just in time, for at the end of December, the 357th Fighter Group was shipped overseas to England.

Early in 1944 the unit became the first in the 8th Air Force to be equipped with Mustangs. The pilots received the rugged new fighters with great enthusiasm. Yeager thought the P-51 was the best aircraft he’d ever flown, and named his “Glamorous Glennis,” after his girlfriend.

On his seventh mission, escorting bombers to Berlin on 4 March, he posted his first victory, shooting down a Bf-109. The following day he flew escort duty again, and over France he was bounced by three Fw-190s. The German pilots were old hands; while two of them attacked him from behind, the third dove on him and shot up his Mustang. The engine seized, and he bailed out. He landed in a forest, bleeding from numerous injuries, and hid there for two days.

During that time he had nothing to eat but a chocolate bar, and at night would sleep huddled under his parachute. On the third day he was discovered by a farmer, who put him in touch with members of the French Resistance.

On 30 March, with the help of the Maquis, Yeager escaped to Spain. It was a miserable trip, climbing over the Pyrenees in the freezing cold and sleeping in caves, while the Germans searched the mountains from the air in a Fieseler Storch. But he eventually made it to Madrid, where he stayed until the U.S. consulate arranged for his return to England on 15 May.

His troubles were not over, however. He was told a regulation prevented anyone who had evaded capture from going back into combat. The theory was that if he were shot down again he might reveal information concerning the Resistance to the Germans. Yeager appealed directly to General Eisenhower, who cleared him to rejoin his group.

With his extraordinary flying skills, his 20/10 eyesight and his aggressiveness, Yeager established an excellent record. He once downed five German fighters in a single battle. And on 6 November 1944, he saw an Me-262 for the first time.

That day Yeager’s group, led by Major Robert Foy, was returning from a mission to Germany. The fighters were escorting B-24s that had bombed factories near Minden, 70 kilometers east of Osnabrük. With the 357th was another fighter group, the 361st, also flying Mustangs.

Once the bombers reached a safe area, the two fighter groups left them and split up. The pilots of the 357th swung west, heading back to base, and a few minutes later were attacked by five Me-262s of Kommando Nowotny. Yeager turned to meet them. He’d heard about the new type of aircraft, but actually witnessing their speed was a surprise. One of them fired at him and missed, and as it hurtled by, he opened his throttle and put his Mustang into a vertical bank. When he came about he fired his .50-caliber machine guns and got a few strikes on the jet. Moments later the enemy aircraft vanished into cloud.

In chasing the Me-262, Yeager had become separated from his wingman and the other Mustangs in his group. Now he was alone. He eased back on his power settings, and again turned for home.

As he flew over Achmer, he noticed what he thought was a well-disguised airfield with an extremely long runway. He decided to have a closer look, and descended toward it. His combat report described what happened next.

“I spotted a lone 262 approaching the field from the south at 500 feet. He was going very slow, about 200 mph. I split-essed on him, and was going around 500 mph. Flak started coming up very thick and accurate. I fired a single short burst from around 400 yards, and got hits on his wings. I had to break straight up, and looking back saw the enemy aircraft crash-land about 400 yards short of the field. A wing flew off outside the right jet unit. The plane did not burn.”

This was Yeager’s only encounter with an Me-262. By war’s end he’d posted eleven and one-half victories, most of them over Bf-109s.

Flying the Me-262 in Combat

As Me-262 pilots gained more experience in flying the Me-262 in combat, all were in agreement that special measures should be taken to protect them at the beginning and end of their flights. For one thing, there was a need for the airfields to be more effectively disguised. The pilots concurred that the huge nets over the hangars and other installations were fairly effective, but they felt that overall, the camouflage could be improved.

The runways were the worst problem. They were easy to spot from the air, and scorch marks left on the pavement by jet engine exhausts were a sure tipoff to enemy airmen flying reconnaissance. As much as possible, the pilots said, runways should be hidden when not in use.

For another thing, it would help to have piston fighters fly top cover when Me-262s were taking off and landing. It was obvious that the enemy had quickly become aware of the jets’ vulnerability at those critical times, and that was when they did their hunting. More 88mm flak batteries would be a good idea as well.

Admittedly, only a handful of Me-262s had been lost in combat so far, and some of those were destroyed by AA fire. One such incident had occurred when Lt. Rolf Weidemann was hit over Diest while on a bombing mission. Another was when German flak gunners in Holland mistook Unteroffizier Herbert Schauder’s aircraft for an Allied bomber and shot it down. But the others had been lost while the jets were just getting off the ground, or when they were on final approach.

The talk then turned to tactics. Once aloft, speed was a boon, of course—but it could also be a hindrance, especially if the pilot didn’t know the best way to use it. In a dogfight, the standard practice of scissoring was fine for a Bf-109 or an Fw-190, but not for an Me-262. An astute enemy flier would realize he could outmaneuver an attacking jet by turning inside it, which had been done a number of times. The pilots were aware that making abrupt turns was to be avoided. Bank too sharply in an Me-262 and you ran the risk of engine flameout. It had led to fatal accidents even in practice flights, and if you lost power in combat the game was up.

Therefore, whenever possible, an Me-262 should rely on a fast-closing attack from astern—that was when the jet was at its best. Baudach could attest to that, and so could many of the others. You wanted to line up on the enemy and give him a good squirt with the cannons before he knew you were there. Deflection shots were far more difficult, again because of the jet’s speed. And the Revi gunsight wasn’t much help, either. Any angle greater than 30 degrees usually insured a miss, thanks to the enemy’s ability to break quickly.

Attacks on bombers presented special problems, which were different from engaging a fighter. It was true that Feldwebel Lennartz had easily shot down a B-17 over Stuttgart back in August, but that was because the Fortress had been alone. That in itself was unusual, inasmuch as the bombers almost always flew in large fleets. Their standard battle formations comprised tight combat boxes, which enabled them to protect one another with massed machine-gun fire. An enemy squadron of twelve aircraft formed such a box, with four elements of three aircraft each. A group would have three squadrons, or 36 planes. A wing consisted of three groups, for a total of 108 bombers. On some raids the Allies would fly five or six wings, or even more. And now with hundreds of Mustangs escorting the bombers, the Me-262 pilots were heavily outnumbered.

Although they’d encountered heavies several times since Lennartz’s victory, the jets had claimed only a few kills. The pilots agreed that having to deal with large numbers of fighter escorts was the main obstacle, especially now that the Mustangs were ranging freely out in front of the enemy formations. And even when an Me-262 penetrated the fighter screen and reached the bombers, the jets’ speed was again a factor. Typically the bombers would be flying at about 350 kph, and an Me-262 attacking at more than twice that rate would have little time for a firing pass. If you weren’t a good shot, you had almost no chance to make a hit.

Some pilots felt it would be best to use the boom-and-zoom type of attack, diving on the enemy from above and firing, then pulling up and away. The angle of the dive would present the largest silhouette of the bomber, resulting in more of a target to shoot at. Others said it would be better to continue the dive after firing rather than risk a rapid pull-up. Or maybe boom-and-zoom would be all right if the dive were kept very shallow. The so-called roller coaster attack might also work, though it wouldn’t allow the pilot much time to fire with accuracy.

But what the pilots couldn’t dispute was that no matter how they did it, attacking a Fortress in an Me-262 was a lot better than in an Fw-190 or a Bf-109. Many of the pilots were veterans of such battles, and closing on the tail of an enemy bomber through a hail of .50-caliber bullets was not a pleasant task.

Most of all, the pilots wanted more aircraft. They realized the Messerschmitt plants were doing their best to produce them, but the supply was a trickle. With more Me-262s, they were sure they could blow enough of the Allies out of the sky to make a real difference.

And one other point. Supposedly they were at Lechfeld to form a special jet squadron, which was to be fully staffed with qualified pilots. Ideally, it would be led by a commander who knew his business, yet so far that person hadn’t appeared. When would he?

General Galland answered that question on 26 September, when he ordered Major Walter Nowotny to take charge of the unit. Nowotny had all the ability the Me-262 pilots could hope for, and all the credentials to prove it. Fine-featured and slim, with black hair and a cocky attitude, Nowotny was one of the Luftwaffe’s top aces. Only 23, he’d already posted 255 victories.

Most of the major’s record had been achieved on the eastern front, where his exploits were legendary. On several occasions he’d made multiple kills, knocking down five or six of the enemy in a single battle. And on one memorable day over Leningrad, he shot down ten Soviet aircraft.

He’d also displayed great personal courage. In a dogfight with Soviet I-53s off Riga Bay, his Bf-109 was riddled with machinegun bullets. The battered fighter crashed into the frigid waters, and Nowotny climbed out just as it sank. Cold and wet and bleeding from wounds, he spent three days and nights in a rubber dinghy before reaching shore.

On another sortie, near Novgorod, he destroyed four Ratas while refusing to bail out of his smoking Bf-109. Afterward he crash-landed, and leaped from the flaming wreck as it skidded along the ground. When he recovered from his wounds, he flew an Fw-190 and continued to run up his score.

In recognition of his heroism, Nowotny was awarded Germany’s highest decoration, the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. The Luftwaffe then assigned him to administrative duties, rather than risk losing him, but he hated being grounded and agitated constantly to get back into the air. He got his wish when he was sent to Pau for training in an Me-262. The aircraft was made for him. He loved the speed, and the sense that only the best of the best could fly this entirely new and superior type of fighter.

After he took command, the unit was officially dubbed Kommando Nowotny and moved to two airfields in northern Germany. One was at Achmer, the other at nearby Hesepe. Nowotny immediately set about expanding his outfit into a complete fighter gruppe. When at full strength, the gruppe would have three staffeln of 16 aircraft each. There would also be a Stabschwarm, or headquarters flight, consisting of four more. Thus Kommando Nowotny would eventually comprise 52 jet fighters.

Like a good commander, the major listened carefully as his pilots expressed their views. They said that because Me-262s needed a long takeoff run, the runways at Achmer and Hesepe were barely acceptable. Nowotny had them lengthened. Next, the pilots complained about inadequate camouflage. The major saw to it that new, better designed nets holding clumps of brush were made up. He had the nets arranged so that they could be positioned quickly over the airfields, including the runways when they were not in use. Then there was the problem of vulnerability when taking off and landing. Nowotny petitioned General Galland to send piston fighters, so there would be top cover for the jets over both fields. Galland transferred a gruppe of Fw-190s to Achmer. This was III/JG54, commanded by Hauptmann Robert Weiss.

There were four staffeln under Weiss. They were led by Hauptmann Karl Bottlander and Oberleutnants Willy Heilmann, Peter Crump, and Hans Dortenmann. All had extensive combat experience.

Their Focke-Wulf fighter was the D model. Pilots called it the Longnose Dora because it mounted a liquid-cooled 2100 hp Jumo 213A V-12 engine, rather than the air-cooled radial BMW. Armament was two 13mm MG131 machine guns and two 20mm MG151/20E cannons.

Finally, there was the need for more flak batteries. Nowotny applied pressure, and they were installed. The batteries were the latest type, which had been expanded from four 88mm cannons to eight. Each gun would fire 120 rounds per minute, lofting 10 kg shells as high as 10,600 meters, where they would explode in a burst of steel splinters.

The major drilled his pilots hard. He had them fly several times a day, practicing combat maneuvers. The sessions were not without misfortune, however. On 4 October, the Kapitan of 2 Staffel, Hauptmann Alfred Teumer, was on final approach when both his engines failed. The Me-262 slammed to earth, killing him. Nowotny replaced him with Oberleutnant Franz Schall, who had scored 117 kills while serving with I/JG52 in Russia.

The Kommando was still nowhere near full strength, when on 7 October, Nowotny led 11 of his charges to intercept American bombers attacking Magdeburg. The target was an aircraft production plant. When the Me-262s arrived, Nowotny saw that the oncoming bombers were B-24 Liberators. He estimated there were 300 of them, and probably more. They were flying at 6,500 meters, and escorted by P-47s that were apparently equipped with extra fuel tanks to increase their range.

The jets were the first on the scene, though the major knew from radio transmissions that controllers were sending squadrons of piston fighters as well. He could hear the excitement in the pilots’ voices. As he gained altitude in readiness to lead an attack, his flight was seen by the Thunderbolts. The American fighters came up to do battle, but were unable to climb as fast as the jets. Nowotny picked out a P-47, rolled over and dove on it.

The enemy pilot’s wingman must have warned him, because the P-47 broke left in a tight turn and Nowotny was unable to line up for a shot. As he flashed through the swirl of enemy aircraft, he was careful not to handle his Me-262 as roughly as he would an Fw-190, instead recovering gracefully and climbing once more. At that point, a flight of Bf-109s showed up, and the fighting immediately became a series of dogfights. Nowotny and the others in his Kommando tried to break through the P-47s, so as to get at the bombers.

Oberleutnant Franz Schall succeeded. He attacked a Liberator, making the type of shallow dive his fellow airmen felt would be most effective. When he fired his cannons he was only about two hundred meters above the B-24, and the shells hit the cockpit. Apparently the strikes killed the pilot and copilot, because the bomber flipped over and went into an inverted spin, out of control. Schall knew better than to watch it go down. Instead, he pursued another B-24, but had to break off because of machine-gun fire from the bomber and from others in the box.

As the enemy began their bomb runs, Oberfähnrich Heinz Russel ignored warnings about attacking too closely from the rear. He slipped in behind a B-24 and concentrated his fire on the tail. Because of his speed there was time to fire only a few shells, but they silenced the tail gunner and did enough damage to the aircraft to send that one down as well. Unfortunately for Russel, a P-47 caught him just as he was pulling up after firing at the bomber. Pieces of the jet were torn off by the Thunderbolt’s machine guns, and both its engines quit. Russel jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. The crippled 262 had slowed down, but it was still moving so fast that when Russel jumped, it was as if he’d run into a brick wall. Nearly senseless, he opened his parachute by instinct alone. When he landed he was bruised, but thankful to be alive.

Before fuel shortages forced the jets to withdraw, Feldwebel Lennartz again scored. The bomber he attacked had still not dropped its bombs, and when his cannon shells struck the B-24, it exploded.

Oberleutnant Paul Bley also lost his aircraft that day, but not to enemy gunfire. Instead he made too hasty a turn, which caused his engines to fail, and he was unable to restart them. He too bailed out, and like Russel, lived to rejoin the unit and fight again another day.

The P-47 that shot down Russel was flown by Col. Hubert Zemke, commander of the 56th Fighter Group known as Zemke’s Wolf Pack. In the confusion typical of those huge air battles, Zemke thought he had destroyed a Bf-109. It was only when his combat film was viewed that he learned that he’d scored one of the first aerial victories over an Me-262.

As for Nowotny, the major was more than satisfied by the way his pilots had acquitted themselves. They’d made a few mistakes, but by and large they were operating just as he’d hoped. And he was sure the best was yet to come.

On the same day as the Magdeburg raid, another battle took place near Achmer. It began when 8th Air Force Lieutenant Urban Drew of the 362st Fighter Group approached the area in his Mustang. Drew was the leader of the 375th Fighter Squadron, and he and his pilots were returning to base after escorting B-17s in attacks on targets in Czechoslovakia.

There had been reports of Me-262s operating in the vicinity, and Drew was keeping a sharp eye out for them. As he looked down, he was startled to see two twin-engine aircraft taxi onto a runway and take off. Drew realized at once what they were. He ordered his Deputy Squadron Leader, Captain Bruce Rowlett, to cover him.

Drew’s combat report described what happened next:

“Waited until both jets were airborne, then rolled over from 15,000 feet and caught up with one Me-262 when he was 1,000 feet off ground. I was indicating 450 mph. Me-262 couldn’t have been going more than 200 mph. I started firing from approximately 400 yards, 30 degrees deflection, and as I closed, I saw hits all over the wings and fuselage. Just as I passed him I saw a sheet of flame come out from near the right wing root, and as I glanced back I saw gigantic explosions and a sheet of red flame over an area of 1,000 feet. The other Me-262 was 500 yards ahead, and had started a fast climbing turn to the left. I was still indicating 440 mph, and had to haul back to stay with him. I started shooting from about 40 degrees deflection, and hit his tail section. I kept horsing back, and hits crept up his fuselage to his cockpit. Just after that I saw his canopy fly off in two sections, his plane roll over and go into a flat spin. He hit the ground on his back at 60 degrees angle and exploded violently. I did not see the pilot bail out. Two huge columns of smoke came up from the Me-262s burning on the ground.”

The first aircraft Drew destroyed had been flown by Leutnant Gerhard Kobert. The pilot of the second was Oberfeldwebel Heinz Arnold. The action was witnessed from the ground by Hauptmann Georg-Peter Eder, who had intended to lead the flight but was prevented from taking off because of an engine flameout.

For unexplained reasons, Hauptmann Robert Weiss’s Fw-190s were not in the air providing cover when Drew attacked. Also, the crews of the flak batteries were slow in reacting; it wasn’t until the two jets were piles of blazing wreckage that the gunners opened up.

When the 88mm shells began bursting, Drew ordered his wingman, Lieutenant Robert McCandliss, to join him in making evasive maneuvers at treetop level. Instead, McCandliss, who was on his sixteenth mission and had not yet achieved a victory, disobeyed and attacked the flak batteries. That proved to be a mistake. The gunners were only too happy to have a shot at the American pilot who dared strafe them. There were so many batteries in the area that all the crews had to do, was put up a barrage, and the Mustang flew straight into it. The last Urban Drew saw of McCandliss’s Mustang, it was afire from nose to tail and going down. There was nothing to be done for him; the squadron leader flew on.

Drew was not aware of it, but McCandliss had just enough altitude to bail out. He jumped clear, pulled his ripcord, and the chute blossomed. The hard landing sprained his ankles, but otherwise he was not seriously hurt. German troops quickly surrounded him and took him prisoner, and he spent the rest of the war in a Stalag Luft in eastern Germany.

When Drew returned to base, he was anxious to see his combat films, but to his irritation, the gun camera had malfunctioned and he could not verify his claims. The others in his flight had not seen the Me-262s destroyed, so they couldn’t back him up.

In the weeks following the attack at Achmer, the many small plants that were constructing components of the Me-262 increased their efficiency. As a result, the pace of assembly also improved, and the aircraft were turned out in greater numbers. Though most of these were the pure fighter, a few of the fighter-bombers were still being built, even though their performance in combat continued to be less than satisfactory. Not only were they unable to bomb with accuracy, they were also 100 kph slower than the fighters, which made it easier for enemy pilots to shoot them down.

Nevertheless, the Air Ministry was not willing to give up on the idea of the Sturmvogel as Hitler’s high-speed bomber. When Messerschmitt was ordered to come up with a new version, his team designed the Me-262 A/2a/U2. In this aircraft the entire forward section was removed, including the cannons, and a new nose made of glazed wood was fitted in its place. A bombardier lay inside the nose and focused on the target with a Lotfe 7H bombsight. Examples of the jet were sent to Lager Lechfeld for testing.

Flown by Gerd Lindner and Karl Baur, the Me-262 A/2a/U2 achieved good results. According to the test pilots’ reports, bombs dropped from altitudes as high as 5,000 meters landed with acceptable accuracy. But there were problems with the aircrafts’ aerodynamics, and the project stalled. Another version of the Me-262 the team designed was a trainer with two seats in tandem. This would enable instructors to fly with pilots being introduced to the aircraft. Not many of the two-seaters were built; most pilots new to the jet received only ground instruction, and learned by flying it.

As more Me-262s went into service, American fighter pilots kept them busy in dogfights, which prevented many of the jets from attacking the bombers. As a result, most of their victories, as well as their losses, occurred in combat with Mustangs and Thunderbolts. Leutnant Schreiber also had success in engagements with Lightning F-5s, shooting down two of them in one battle on 29 October.

For Schreiber, the day was memorable for another reason as well. The Lightnings belonged to the RAF 7th Photo Recon Group, and were accompanied by Spitfires. After Schreiber got his second kill he pulled up in a climbing right turn, and his Me-262e collided with a Spitfire. Both aircraft burst into flames. The British pilot, Flight Lieutenant Wilkins of RAF 4 Squadron, was killed. Although singed and only halfconscious, Schreiber jumped from the burning wreckage and popped his chute. He landed intact, and a day later was back in the air.

Also on 29 October, Feldwebel Büttner and Oberfeldwebel Göbel of Kommando Nowotny ran across a flight of P-47s that were shooting up a train. The low-flying Thunderbolts made perfect targets. Each pilot chose one and dove on it, taking care not to pick up too much speed. One quick burst of cannon fire from the cannons was all that was needed. As the two P-47s spun in, the others quickly rose to give chase, but all they saw were wisps of exhaust smoke as the jets pulled away and disappeared.

With additional Me-262s becoming available, General Galland was eager to establish more units with them. In the first of these, KG54 was given the new designation KG(J)54, and received its jets at the beginning of November. I Group of this unit was established at Giebelstadt, and a second part of it, designated IIKG(J)54, was sent to Neuburg. A training unit was also formed, and stationed at Lechfeld, with Hauptmann Eder appointed commander. The pilots assigned to the unit were all veterans, so instruction simply covered the characteristics of the aircraft. Eder would lead them in combat when he thought they were ready.

A major problem was the growing shortage of J2 jet fuel. Pilots were limited to one hour of flying circuits of the field, two hours of aerobatics, one hour of cross-country, one hour of flying at high altitude, and two hours of practicing formation flight. Many accidents occurred, most of them fatal.

By then American pilots were encountering Me-262s with increasing frequency. On 1 November, three wings of 8th Air Force bombers were en route to bomb Gelsenkirchen, a city on the Rhine, when they were attacked by four jets of Kommando Nowotny. The B-17s and B-24s were escorted by Mustangs of the 20th and 352nd Fighter Groups, as well as Thunderbolts of the 56th Group.

The bombers were flying at 8,500 meters, a higher altitude than usual. But the Me-262s were still higher, and despite the enormous disparity in numbers, the jets dove in with cannons blazing. Oberfeldwebel Willy Banzhaff sent his shells into a Mustang of the 77th Fighter Squadron, killing the pilot, Lt. Dennis Allison. Other Mustangs gave chase, but they had no hope of catching the Me-262. Banzhaff could have escaped altogether, but he committed a tactical error. Instead of continuing his dive, he pulled up. A P-47 pilot, W.L. Groce, shouted into his mike: “Spread out, and we’ll get him if he turns!”

Banzhaff did, climbing and swinging left. Groce and Lieutenant W.T. Gerb of the 352nd poured machine gun and cannon fire into the jet, and its port engine became wreathed in flames. The aircraft went into a spin, and Banzhaff bailed out.

Groce then followed an order that had recently been issued by the USAAF High Command. He came about and fired at the German who was hanging defenseless in his parachute harness. This was a practice Luftwaffe pilots could not believe was happening, but it was. Many Americans as well could hardly believe the order, and refused to carry it out. Fortunately for Banzhaff, Groce missed.

But Banzhaff’s good luck was not to last much longer. On 3 November, he and another member of Kommando Nowotny were flying near Hesepe when they were spotted by the pilot of a Hawker Tempest Mk. V. One of the most powerful piston-engine fighters of the war, the Tempest mounted a 2,400 hp Napier Sabre engine and was armed with four 20mm Hispano cannons. RAF Wing Commander J.B. Wray was at the controls, and reported:

“I was flying at about 18,000 feet when I sighted two Me-262s. They were camouflaged blue-grey and were flying in a southwesterly direction. They saw me and turned in a wide arc to port. I had already launched an attack, opening to full throttle and diving. My speed was in the region of 500 mph. I closed to about three hundred yards on the starboard aircraft and opened fire with a four-second burst, hitting the tailplane. The Me-262 continued on course and started to pull away, but before he got out of range I fired again. Suddenly a large piece flew off the aircraft and he flicked over onto his back and disappeared downwards into cloud in an inverted position. I followed, but the thickness of the cloud made it impossible for me to maintain contact.”

Wing Commander Wray did not learn until after the war that the jet had sustained fatal damage. It crashed at Hitfeld, and its pilot, Willy Banzhaff, was killed.

On 5 November, Me-262s of Kommando Nowotny attacked another fleet of 8th Air Force bombers. Feldwebel Büttner shot down a Mustang and a Thunderbolt, and Oberfeldwebel Baudach also destroyed a Thunderbolt. Nevertheless, they were unable to penetrate the fighter screen and get at the heavies.

By then a few more American fliers were learning the best way to engage the jets. Among them was a pilot who in later years would become one of the world’s most famous airmen. He was Charles E. Yeager.