Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Operation 'Platinfuchs' Was an Early Nazi Defeat on the Eastern Front

Operation 'Platinfuchs' Was an Early Nazi Defeat on the Eastern Front

by SÉBASTIEN ROBLIN The Soviet navy during World War II is perhaps best remembered for its vigorous role in the doomed defense of the ports of Odessa and Sevastopol in the Crimean Sea. However, in the Arctic north, the Soviet warships would have a major impact in the opening months of the war with Nazi Germany.

Nazi WWII Plan to Attack US With Sub Missiles

Nazi WWII Plan to Attack US With Sub Missiles

In the closing weeks of World War II in Europe, American intelligence determined that a detachment of German submarines had been dispatched to launch a cruise missile attack on the East Coast of the United States. The U.S. Navy deployed forty-six ships and dozens of aircraft to annihilate the incoming submarine wolf pack.

The Definitive Collection Of Secret Nazi Weapons

The Definitive Collection Of Secret Nazi Weapons

Underwater missiles that could have hit New York, jet-powered bombers that were nearly impossible to intercept, sub-orbital bombers, vertical launch rocket fighters, or infrared visors are just a few of many in this definitive collection of incredible Nazi weapons. Be happy that those bastards never got to mass produce them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lessons Learned – The Luftwaffe Over the Reich 1942

This Fw 190A-3, “brown 12,” saw long service in II./JG 26. Here it prepares to roll out under the close supervision of a large ground staff.

As winter 1942/43 set in, both the Luftwaffe and USAAF worked feverishly on equipment and tactics. Armorers on every American bomber base in England improvised fittings in the noses of their B-17s and B-24s to accommodate various additional machine guns. New formations and tactical doctrines, most stemming from the fertile mind of the 305th Bomb Group commander, Colonel Curtis LeMay, were established throughout the Eighth Air Force. The staggered 18-plane combat box, known to the Germans as a Pulk (bunch), was but one of his ideas.

The Bf 109 and Fw 190 models reaching the Luftwaffe at the end of 1942 differed only in detail from those of 1941. Both fighter designs showed unmistakable signs of reaching maturity. Weights continued to rise, and engine power had to be increased to keep pace. Barred from major increases in engine compression ratios by Germany’s chronic shortage of high-strength, high-temperature metal alloys and high-octane aviation fuel, engineers sought chemical additives to increase the energy of the detonations within the existing engines’ cylinders. The Bf 109G-1’s DB 605A engine had introduced nitrous oxide (GM-1) injection as a means of temporarily boosting engine power at altitude. The Bf 109G-4 was based on the G-1, but lacked the earlier fighter’s complicated cockpit pressurization system, and was equipped with a new radio, the FuG 16Z, which had multiple channels and homing capabilities. The Fw 190A-3 had a new BMW 801D-2 engine with greater power than its predecessor. Cooling louvers cut into the cowling finally solved the Focke-Wulf fighter’s overheating problem. The Fw 190A-3 was succeeded in late 1942 by the A-4, which had the FuG 16Z radio. While flying at their preferred altitudes the Bf 109G-4 and Fw 190A-4 were equal in performance to the best RAF fighter, the Spitfire IX.

Most of the new fighters arriving at JG 2 and JG 26 bases at the end of 1942 were Bf 109s. Kurt Tank’s Fw 190 was now in chronic short supply. Having overcome most of its original problems, it was now in great demand on all of the Luftwaffe’s widespread combat fronts, for reconnaissance and ground-attack duties as well as in its original air-superiority role. If someone had to give them up, the two Kanalgeschwader were the most logical choices, as the performance of the Fw 190 dropped off markedly above 7,500 meters (25,000 ft.), which happened to be the altitude flown by the B-17 formations. On the other hand, Willi Messerschmitt’s latest fighter, the Bf 109G-4, was in its element above 9,000 meters (30,000 ft.). By the spring of 1943, III./JG 26 was equipped exclusively with Messerschmitts, while I./JG 2 and II./JG 26 were flying a mixture of Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs. Mixed equipment did not prove satisfactory at the Gruppe level, and these two Gruppen were allowed to turn in their Messerschmitts for more Focke-Wulfs, remaining Fw 190 units until the war’s end.

When II./JG 2 returned from North Africa it was re-equipped with Bf 109s. Each of the two Kanalgeschwader now had two Fw 190 Gruppen and one Bf 109 Gruppe. The Bf 109 was an excellent dogfighter, especially at high altitudes, and later played a useful role as high cover over Germany, taking on the Allied escort fighters while the Fw 190 units concentrated on the bombers. However, the fighters of Luftflotte 3 rarely had time to form up for such coordinated attacks, and the Bf 109 and Fw 190 Gruppen were forced to attack the bomber formations independently. The Fw 190A-4’s armament mix of two MG 17 light machine guns, two MG FF 20-mm cannon, and two MG 151/20 20-mm cannon was considered effective against all targets. However, the Bf 109G-4’s standard armament of two MG 17s and one MG 151/20 was too light to do much damage to B-17s and B-24s. In the next model of the Messerschmitt fighter to enter service, the Bf 109G-6, the MG 17s were replaced with heavier MG 131s. Plumbing for yet another chemical additive, MW 50 (methanol–water), was added to increase low-altitude performance, but most pilots noted instead the deterioration in maneuverability resulting from its increased weight. They gave it the derisory nickname “Beule” (boil) for the bulky fairings covering the MG 131 breeches.

The Bf 109 was always notorious for its fragile construction. All in all, the Fw 190 was a much more survivable aircraft, and was the mount preferred by most of the western Jagdflieger (fighter pilots) in 1942–3. Erich Schwarz, an experienced Kanaljäger (Channel fighter), quoted a favorite saying in JG 26: “When a Focke-Wulf crashed, Professor Tank made the broken parts thicker. When a Bf 109 crashed, Professor Messerschmitt made the parts that had held together thinner.” In Schwarz’s opinion, “The Bf 109 was a good airplane, but could not compare with the Fw 190. The Bf 109 had great success in the east, but the enemy there did not have the technically developed arsenal that we faced in the west.”

General Galland kept the pressure on Major Oesau and Major Schöpfel. Their percentage of successful interceptions had to be sharply increased; only then might the new threat be nipped in the bud. At year’s end Galland was working on a set of detailed tactical regulations prescribing the methods of attack on heavy bombers. In his post-war interrogation he summarized their content as follows. Fighter units were to fly on a course parallel to and on one side of the bombers until about 5 km (3 miles) ahead of them. They were then to turn in by Schwärme and attack head-on. They were to aim at the bombers’ cockpits, open fire at 800 meters (875 yards), and maintain a near-level course, passing above their target after ceasing fire. The second approved attack method was from the rear, which required concentrated attacks; the fighters were to attack by Schwärme in rapid succession and at high speed, and pass over the bombers after ceasing fire.

In Galland’s mind, one key to success with these tactics was for the fighters to maintain formation, or at least visual contact, in order to permit repeated concentrated attacks. Keeping position above the bombers was essential—and yet, from now until the end of the war, the German pilot’s favorite method of ending an attack from either front or rear was with a split-S, which left him far beneath the attacked formation, and alone. Many pilots facing the hailstorm of defensive fire felt an irresistible urge to break off their attacks too soon. Although the bombers’ guns did not bring down many German fighters, their streams of .50-inch tracers did in fact form an extremely effective defensive shield. Despite Galland’s wishes, German formation attacks were rarely carried out exactly as prescribed. Some pilots would invariably break away prematurely, and the rest would pass through the bomber formation at whatever angle and orientation promised the best chance for survival. The formation leaders found it difficult to reassemble the scattered fighters, and each successive attack could be counted on for no greater than half the strength of the one preceding it.

The Luftflotte 3 fighter commanders, apparently on their own initiative, were themselves working to improve the efficiency of their interceptions. Attack formations were to be increased in size, and tactics were to be modified. On December 20, most attacks had been made from dead ahead—12 o’clock level, as viewed from the bombers. The bombers were in effective firing range for only a fraction of a second at the closing speed of roughly 900 km/h (550 mph), and the flat angle of attack and the high altitude made range estimation extremely difficult. Pilots could not help but worry about the possibility of colliding with their target, and many broke off their attacks far too soon. JG 26 veteran Karl Borris has stated that, after experimentation, the optimum attack angle was found to be from dead ahead as before, but from ten degrees above the horizontal. A constant angle of fire could be maintained, similar to that practised often against ground targets. The proper lead was attained by keeping the Revi’s crosshairs on the nose of the bomber. Distance estimation was simplified, and even the less experienced pilots could score hits. Thus was born the form of attack most feared by bomber crews—from 12 o’clock high.

The year ended with the great German offensive aspirations in south Russia and the Mediterranean in tatters. A growing night-bomber offensive against the Reich’s industrial and population centers demanded build-up of the integrated radar, Flak, and night-fighter defenses. Yet the upper Luftwaffe leadership still maintained that offensive air action was the best way to keep the Reich’s enemies far from its borders. Bomber production continued at a high level throughout 1942, and Luftwaffe research and development teams pressed ahead with the next generation of offensive air armament.

A recent student of German air defenses has concluded, “By the end of 1942, the USAAF may have been in the war, but from a German perspective it appeared to make very little difference.” The Eighth Air Force had been blooded in combat, and the German fighter pilots and command staffs from Luftflotte 3 and Lw Bfh Mitte accorded the new enemy considerable respect. Yet the measures taken to strengthen the daylight defenses against this new threat remained piecemeal and counterproductive. The needs of the combat fronts took precedence; fighter deployments in Luftflotte 3 had to divide their efforts between air defense and a number of other operational tasks, and the few regular fighter units in the Reich territory had to be buttressed by training units. Yet the Reich itself was virtually inviolate by day in 1942, and the existing defenses seemed to be holding their own against Anglo-American daylight strikes into the occupied western territories. Jeschonnek definitely summed up the prevailing wisdom when he told one of his staff officers, “Galland can take care of the [daylight] defense in the west with one wing.” 1943 would see this attitude put to a most severe test.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Ghost Ship

SMS Dresden

Following the almost complete destruction of Spee’s East Asia Squadron, Sturdee’s two battle cruisers were ordered to return home immediately. That left Stoddart’s cruisers to patrol the South Atlantic and the south-eastern coast of South America, although these would be joined shortly by other warships, including the battle cruiser Australia. The survival of the Dresden, however, and to a lesser extent that of the armed merchant cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich, caused Stoddart and the Admiralty serious concern. The root of the problem was that no one seemed to have any idea where Dresden might be lurking and British traffic along the Chilean coast was at a virtual standstill. The southern portion of that coastline consisted of such a labyrinth of bays, inlets, fjords, headlands, capes and islands that searching for a single ship was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Stoddart was looking but having no success at all. At the Admiralty some thought that Dresden might be in hiding elsewhere, perhaps even in the East Indies, an alternative that would place the Australian and New Zealand trade routes at risk. At a time when British warships were being withdrawn to home waters, this would not be a welcome addition to available resources. Fisher, never one to lose an opportunity to plunge a knife into an enemy’s back, took full advantage of Dresden’s escape. ‘If the Dresden gets to the Bay of Bengal by means of colliers arranged with Berlin, we shall all owe a lot to Sturdee,’ was his vindictive comment.

In fact, the answer was a lot simpler. She changed her position regularly and was living a sort of hand-to-mouth existence on fuel supplies and rations supplied locally by an efficient organisation known as the Etappendienst (roughly, Service Organisation), which had been set up throughout South America on the outbreak of war to keep German ships supplied. In Chile there were some 28,000 immigrants of German origin, most living in small agricultural settlements close to the coast, but others were prominent members of the diplomatic, banking and business circles in cities like Santiago and Valparaiso and were eagerly recruited into the Etappendienst’s intelligence section. There were also some 4,000 former citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but as many of them hailed from Dalmatia and had little liking for the Vienna establishment, they were not considered to suitable material for recruitment. Against this, there were a number of neutral ship owners and masters only too happy to pocket German gold in exchange for partisan favours.

The British residents in Chile were at something of a disadvantage in these matters as they were smaller in numbers and more widely dispersed, the only community similar to that of the German settlements being a tiny Welsh community over the border in Argentine Patagonia. However, the Etappendienst made little attempt to conceal its own activities and carried out its work in so brazen a manner that British intelligence was able to accumulate so much evidence that by the end of November 1914 it became possible to lodge the strongest possible diplomatic protests. Non-German public opinion in Chile was outraged and the government had no wish to be seen as hostile to the United Kingdom. This placed a brake on the activities of the Etappendienst but was unable to halt them altogether.

Aboard the Dresden, Captain Ludecke wondered just how much the Berlin Admiralty expected him to achieve. Her presence was clearly affecting the movements of Allied shipping, which was not inclined to leave the safety of neutral harbours. This in itself meant that he was unable to prey on it, which was frustrating in the extreme. Again, while the Etappendienst could supply provisions and a limited quantity of coal, replenishing the cruiser’s magazine with 4.1-inch shells was beyond its powers. In fact, Ludecke had almost no main armament ammunition left, and certainly not enough for a prolonged engagement.

Following Dresden’s escape from the Battle of the Falklands, Ludecke had brought her round the Horn into the Pacific at midnight on 8 December. On the afternoon of 9 December he anchored her in Sholl Bay, Tierra del Fuego, to cut sufficient wood to replenish his fuel. Two days later a Chilean destroyer arrived and reminded him that as a combatant he had exceeded the twenty-four hours that belligerent warships were allowed to remain in neutral waters. He therefore up-anchored and proceeded to Punta Arenas, where he arrived on 12 December. The local authorities told him he could stay as long as was necessary to refill his coal bunkers, contravening government orders that Dresden was not to be allowed into the port on any account. In the event, Ludecke cut short his stay and put to sea again at midnight on 13 December.

That was the last most people heard of Dresden for many weeks. For the next fortnight she hid in Hewitt Bay, then moved to Weihnacht Bay. On 19 January 1915 a supply ship, the Sierra Cordoba, joined her there. In Ludecke’s opinion, she was not carrying sufficient coal for him to resume the role of a surface raider. In fact, the Etappendienst had despatched no less than five colliers that would enable him to strike wherever he wanted. These were the Gladstone, Josephina, Eleana Woorman, Bangor and Gottia, but for a variety of reasons none of them would reach him. The crew of the Gladstone disliked the risks involved in their work and mutinied even before they had rounded the Horn; Josephina was captured by the Cornwall near the Falkland Islands; Eleanore Woorman tried to run for it when challenged by the Australia and was sunk by gunfire in the same area; while Bangor and Gottia sailed, respectively, from Baltimore and Buenos Aires too late to play a part in subsequent events. On 21 January 1915 Ludecke received a signal from Berlin suggesting that he should try returning to Germany by following the same route as sailing vessels. One suspects the Kaiser’s involvement in the suggestion, which was hopelessly adrift from reality. The fact was that numerous sailing vessels of different nationalities would be encountered along the way Dresden would be identified, reported and tracked down. Ludecke replied that his engines were now in such a poor state that they would be unable to produce anything like the speed required to break through the Royal Navy’s North Sea blockade.

On 6 February Ludecke steamed Dresden into Quintepeu Fjord in the Gulf of Ancud. As the ship slipped through the narrow entrance to the fjord between towering cliffs that soared 1,500 feet above the level of the water, the rattle and clatter from her over-worked machinery filled the space with harsh echoes. When daylight began to fade a flotilla of sailing craft, assembled by the Etappendienst and led by a prominent German-Chilean merchant, Senor Enrique Oelkers, entered the fjord and berthed alongside the cruiser. Entire families had brought with them supplies, coal and some good things that had become just memories to Dresden’s seamen, including beer, sausages and strudel. Musical instruments were produced and a party followed. Oelkers had brought along several mechanics and they set to immediately, doing what they could to effect necessary repairs in the engine room. Some parts that could not be repaired on the spot were shipped to Puerto Montt and Calbuco, where facilities for their restoration existed.

On 14 February the pleasant interlude came to an end. Repaired and refuelled, Dresden and Sierra Cordoba pushed out into open water through a howling blizzard, leaving behind a persistent legend that they left a wooden box of Mexican treasure, waterproofed in tar. It has yet to be found and perhaps it is as well to remember that sailors’ yarns do not always dovetail exactly with naval history. Having reached a point some 200 miles off the Chilean coast, Ludecke turned north in search of prey. His search went unrewarded until 27 February when, 560 miles south-west of Valparaiso, he captured and scuttled the British barque Conway Castle, bound for Australia with 2,400 tons of barley aboard.

The fruitless efforts of Stoddart’s cruisers to locate Dresden had been watched with such amusement by the Etappendienst that its operatives decided to introduce a little wry humour. They spread reports that Dresden could be found in Last Hope Inlet, the furthest inland of a tangle of fjords reaching northwards from Smyth’s Channel. The inlet was searched twice, the only result being that Bristol damaged her rudder on an uncharted shoal and had to be dry-docked briefly.

At the end of February Ludecke sent Sierra Cordoba into Valparaiso to replenish her coal supply. At this stage he felt reasonably secure, but the truth was that Dresden was nearing the end of her career. Glasgow’s signals officer, Lieutenant Charles Stuart, intercepted a message from the Etappendienst to the Dresden. During the war’s early days a copy of the German signal code had been captured by the Imperial Russian Navy in the Baltic and passed to the British Admiralty. The Admiralty’s Room 40 OB had cracked the code in December and was able to inform Stoddart that the Etappendienst’s message instructed Dresden to meet her collier at a point 300 miles west of Coronel on 5 March. Kent was promptly ordered into the area but did not reach it until 7 March.

There was nothing to be seen and the following morning a heavy fog restricted visibility. During the afternoon the fog lifted, revealing Dresden lying some 12 miles to the west. Captain Allen immediately gave chase, working Kent up to a speed of 21 knots. Dresden, however, was known to be the fastest ship in her class and had benefited from the recent attention of Senor Oelkers and his mechanics. Despite the fact that Kent’s funnels were glowing red hot and trailing sparks she began to pull away steadily until by 20.00 she was hull down and all that Allen could see of her was her masts and funnel tops. Within an hour she had disappeared completely.

It was decided to shift the search to the remote Juan Fernandez Islands and in particular the island of Mas a Tierra. Three ships were involved – Luce’s Glasgow, Allen’s Kent and an armed transport, the Orama. At this point Stuart intercepted another message for Dresden. When decoded it instructed her to meet another collier at the group’s principal island, Mas a Fuera, also known today as Robinson Crusoe Island because for five years it had been the home of Alexander Selkirk, upon whose adventures Defoe had based his story.

Ludecke anchored Dresden in the island’s Cumberland Bay on 9 March. There was no sign of a collier and he had less than 100 tons of fuel in his bunkers. He received a signal from Berlin granting permission for him to accept internment. The island’s governor was informed that he would await the arrival of a Chilean warship so that the necessary formalities could be concluded and sent four of his officers off to Valparaiso in a local sailing ship so that they could retain their freedom.

When the British ships approached the bay on 14 March Dresden was still flying the German ensign and had therefore not been interned by the Chilean authorities. Glasgow opened fire at 8,400 yards, scoring hits with her first two salvos. Kent joined in and Dresden, unable to manoeuvre on account of still being anchored, replied to the best of her ability. This was not great as she had so little ammunition left and after three minutes’ firing Ludecke sent up a white flag to join his ensign. As this clearly indicated a wish to parley and discuss surrender terms, Luce also gave the order to cease firing.

A boat pulled away from Dresden to come alongside Glasgow. A smart lieutenant climbed to the deck, punctiliously saluted the quarter deck and the officer of the watch, and introduced himself as Wilhelm Canaris. He was taken to Luce’s cabin where he argued courteously for the best terms possible. For his part, Luce could only demand complete surrender as an alternative to sinking. It hardly mattered that no agreement was reached as Canaris had simply been sent to buy time while Ludecke and his crew opened their sea cocks, underwater torpedo tube doors and condensers to let in the sea. When it became obvious that this would take too long to sink the ship, explosive charges were rigged to blow out the bottom of her forward magazine.

As Canaris left it was observed that the German crew were leaving their ship and heading for the shore. Next, the Chilean governor arrived, outraged that the British had flagrantly disregarded his country’s neutrality and engaged in a battle against a vessel that was under the protection of his country’s flag, to say nothing of damage caused to Chilean property. The last claim was dubious in the extreme as Luce had ensured that the small settlement in the bay was well out of the line of fire. There could, however, be no doubt that in terms of international law he had acted improperly. A suitable apology accompanied by a bag containing £500 in gold as compensation for the ‘damage’ seemed to dilute the governor’s sense of outrage somewhat. At 10.45 a huge explosion erupted aboard the Dresden and she began to sink, slowly at first, then rolled over and disappeared.

During the short action eight of Dresden’s crew had been killed and sixteen wounded. Luce sent the latter to Valparaiso in Orama so that they could receive hospital treatment and did not request their internment. Four days after the sinking the British left following the arrival of a Chilean warship to transport the 300 officers and men of Dresden’s crew to internment on Quiriquina Island in Talcahuano Bay. The Etappendienst engineered the escape of several, the most prominent being Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris who managed to make his way back to Germany, part of the journey allegedly being made through the United Kingdom. This would not have been too difficult as he was fluent in four languages, including English and Spanish, and was given every possible assistance by German merchants in Chile. Having reached England, it would not have been difficult for him to obtain a passage to Holland, Norway or Sweden, all of which were neutral and maintained communications with Germany. He subsequently served as a U – boat commander in the Mediterranean, ending the war with eighteen kills to his credit. In due course he rose to the rank of Admiral and during the Second World War he served as Chief of the Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence Service. On several occasions his position enabled him to frustrate the designs of Hitler and his Nazis, whom he hated. He was arrested in the wake of the July Bomb Plot against Hitler, imprisoned and humiliated, then hung just weeks before the war ended. During his time in office he kept a model of the Dresden on his desk as a reminder of a more honourable era.

As for Dresden herself, she remained alone on the bed of Cumberland Bay for many years. With the advent of scuba diving as a hobby she began to receive occasional visitors and was then used by the Chilean Navy for diver training. In recent years a team of Chilean and German divers recovered the ship’s bell which, in November 2008, was presented by the Chilean government to the German Armed Forces Museum in Dresden. The ship’s story caught the imagination of the novelist C.S. Forester and provided the inspiration for his book Brown on Resolution, which also deals with the fate of a German cruiser that has escaped from the Battle of the Falklands.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) - North German Federal Navy

The Battle of Havana on 9 November 1870 was a single ship action between the German gunboat Meteor and the French aviso Bouvet off the coast of Havana, Cuba during the Franco-Prussian War. 
At 8 a. m. on November 7 the Meteor arrived in Havana harbour after leaving Nassau some days before. An hour later the French aviso Bouvet arrived from Martinique, steaming in from the opposite direction. The next day the French mail steamer SS Nouveau Monde left the harbour for Veracruz but was forced to return a few hours later due to fears that she would be captured by the Prussian gunboat. Later that day the Meteor's captain, issued a formal challenge to the captain of the Bouvet to fight a battle the next day. The Bouvet accepted and steamed out of the harbour to wait for the Meteor. The Meteor had to wait 24 hours before it could meet the French vessel due to neutrality laws, since Spain was a neutral country during the conflict. 
Upon the end of the 24-hour waiting period, the Meteor steamed out to meet the Bouvet which had been waiting 10 miles (16 km) off the border of the Cuban territorial sea. As soon as Meteor had passed the border line, Bouvet opened fire on the German gunboat. The battle came to an inconclusive end when the Bouvet, which had closed the range in an attempt to board the Meteor, suffered damage to a steam pipe which knocked out her propulsion and was forced to retreat into neutral waters under sail, whereupon she came under the protection of Spain once again. Neither ship was permanently disabled, mostly suffering damage to masts and rigging (the Bouvet's boilers and machinery remaining intact and functioning) and very few killed and injured on either side. The battle was not considered significant by commentators of the day.

Prussia’s victory over Austria in 1866 had led to the formation of the North German Confederation the following year and, with it, the transformation of the Royal Prussian Navy into the North German Federal Navy. In the summer of 1867 the navy took possession of the armored frigates Friedrich Carl (6,000 tons, from La Seyne) and Kronprinz (5,800 tons, from Samuda), followed early in 1869 by the 9,800-ton armored frigate König Wilhelm, the former Turkish Fatikh, which the navy had purchased from the Thames Iron Works in 1867 after the sultan defaulted on its contract. Krupp received the artillery contracts for all three ships, having developed all-steel muzzle- loading rifles superior to the latest Armstrong rifled muzzle loaders. 78 Production problems delayed delivery of the first guns until the summer of 1869, prompting the postponement of a scheduled West Indian cruise by the new “armored squadron” until the following summer. In July 1870 the onset of war with France forced another change of plans. 

Wishing to complete the process of German unification with a victorious war against the French, Bismarck succeeded in baiting France into declaring war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. As the Prussian army and its allies from the lesser German states mobilized and crossed onto French soil, the north German navy deployed the small ram Prinz Adalbert as harbor watch at Hamburg and concentrated its three armored frigates with the small turret ship Arminius at the new North Sea base of Wilhelmshaven; meanwhile most of the unarmored fleet was dispersed to defend the Baltic coast. The French fleet enjoyed a great superiority over the north German navy. Its 400 warships included seventeen seagoing frigates in the same class with the König Wilhelm, Friedrich Carl, and Kronprinz. French navy leaders pondered attacks on Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, the destruction of merchant shipping, and cooperation with the army in landing troops on the north German coast. But the navy and the army had done little prewar planning for amphibious assaults, and the fleet included too few of the small vessels needed for close coastal operations. In any event, French navy leaders concluded that they could execute landings only on the beaches of the Baltic. Such operations were unthinkable without an alliance with Denmark, which resolved to remain neutral following the Prussian army’s invasion of France in the first days of the war. 

Nevertheless, the northern squadron, under Vice Admiral Bouët-Willaumez, moved from the Channel into the Baltic, while the Mediterranean squadron, under Vice Admiral Martin Fourichon, relocated to the North Sea. Together they seized enough merchantmen early in the war to deter German-flagged vessels from venturing out. At the onset of bad weather the French squadrons withdrew to Cherbourg, but by then the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan (2 September 1870) had decided the outcome of the war. After the imperial government gave way to a republic over thirty warships were disarmed, their men and guns put to use ashore in the defense of Paris and other northern cities. Meanwhile, naval units left in the Mediterranean evacuated the French garrison from Rome, abandoning the city to be annexed by Italy. France pursued the war for another five months, sustained in part by American arms shipments that the north German navy could do nothing to stop. The only action beyond European waters came on 9 November 1870, when the 350-ton screw gunboat Meteor, commanded by future admiral Eduard Knorr, engaged the 800-ton dispatch steamer Bouvet in an inconclusive two-hour duel off Havana. 

Throughout the war, the north German navy at best annoyed the French. Admiral Prince Adalbert himself underscored the irrelevance of sea power in the Prussian– German strategy by spending the war with the army, as he had in 1866. At the end of the first week of August 1870, Vice Admiral Jachmann took the König Wilhelm, the Kronprinz, the Friedrich Carl, and the Arminius on a sortie all the way to the Dogger Bank but encountered no French warships. The French made their first appearance in the North Sea, off Wilhelmshaven, shortly after Jachmann returned to port. Thereafter, the durable Arminius went out on more than forty sorties while the armored frigates were idled by engine trouble. 

On 11 September Jachmann finally took all three frigates out on a second squadron sortie, but by then the French already had left for home. After the French navy seized a number of German merchant ships early in the war, Bismarck authorized commerce raiding against the French merchant marine. In November 1870, after most of the French navy had returned home, Captain Johannes Weickhmann took the corvette Augusta to the Atlantic coast of France, where he captured three ships at the mouth of the Gironde in January 1871. The action caused alarm in nearby Bordeaux, then serving as temporary capital of the new Third Republic. With several French armored frigates bearing down on him, Weickhmann took the Augusta to the safety of Vigo in neutral Spain, where it remained blockaded until the war ended. The Augusta’s three prizes were the only French merchantmen taken by the Germans in the war. In comparison, the French navy captured no German warships but seized more than 200 merchantmen, paralyzing German overseas trade for more than half a year. 

At its birth the German empire ranked as the foremost military power in Europe, but the negligible role played by the Prussian and the north German navy in the wars of German unification left deep scars on the younger generation of the officer corps. The frustrated young men included Lieutenant Alfred Tirpitz, then 21 years old, who spent most of the Franco-Prussian War at anchor in Wilhelmshaven aboard the König Wilhelm. For Tirpitz, the humiliation of 1870 helped shape his later conviction that Germany must have a fleet capable of offensive action.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

‘Big Bertha’ – The 42cm Mortar and Short Naval Cannon Battery 37

In 1913 Krupp produced a 42cm howitzer on a Radgürtel wheeled chassis under the code name ‘M-Gerät’. It had an 800kg shell, with 150kg of explosive filler, and a 9,300m range.

It was road-transportable in five sections, although each of the five pieces weighed between 16–21 metric tons (16,000–21,000kg). Each prime mover was 5m long, the entire vehicle 12m. In total the mortar weighed 70 metric tons (70,000kg). The mortar could be reassembled using a crane in four hours, but six to eight hours of hard work was necessary to prepare the entire mortar position. It is easy to see the mobility advantage possessed by the 21cm howitzer, which weighed about an eighth as much.

The availability of high-capacity mechanical prime movers was the prerequisite for the towed 42cm mortar. Even heavy draft horses were limited to loads of 6,000kg, and only for a limited time. In the absence of mechanical prime movers, heavy guns and mortars could only be moved by rail and fired from on or next to the tracks. The first experiments with mechanical prime movers were conducted in exercises at Metz in 1908.

Short Naval Cannon Battery 3 was pulled by requisitioned agricultural steam ploughs and locomotives. Although they weighed 2,000kg, they had never been designed as artillery prime movers and therefore were of limited tactical usefulness, as they could not pull such colossal loads for long distances. They also varied considerably in size and manufacturer. They required large quantities of coal and water and gave off clouds of black smoke. The crews were their usual farm drivers. Nevertheless, this field-expedient mobility for the 42cm was a resounding success. Due to Belgian demolitions the rail-mobile guns would never have got near Liège in time to affect the outcome of the battle.

All this made the choice of a firing position difficult. In addition, once the mortar was emplaced, the barrel could move left and right only as much as necessary to adjust fire. Shifting targets required a prime mover to haul the trail of the mortar around, necessitating an even larger gun position.

Ten to fifteen 900kg shells were brought forward on each rail wagon to be offloaded at a rail siding about 15km from the battery position, onto lorries, three to a vehicle. Unloaded near the gun position, each shell and powder charge were put onto a shell carrier and pushed by three men along a plank road to the gun position. They were hauled up to the loading tray by the ammunition crane on the mortar. The range was regulated in part by the size of the powder charge, in part by the elevation of the mortar

The first test-firing of two M-Gerät mortars took place at Krupp’s private firing range at Meppen in February 1914, followed by more test-firing at the artillery MTA at Kummersdorf. These required ‘certain improvements’ on the mortars. Mobility exercises were conducted using the steam agricultural tractors near the Krupp works at Essen. Large farms were given subsidies to have the tractors on hand when needed.

A total of four batteries with seven 42cm mortars were on hand in 1914: three rail batteries with five mortars and one battery with two wheel-mobile mortars.

The development of the mobile, fast-firing, highly accurate 21cm mortar, directed by FOs with telephones, led the German siege artillery to develop a new form of siege warfare, the verkürztes Verfahren, a hasty attack. Where normal siege doctrine required a laborious and methodical deployment and advance, in the verkürztes Verfahren the 21cm would rapidly occupy a defilade position, followed by an immediate, intense bombardment and, if necessary, quick assault by infantry and combat engineers. At Liège the Germans employed the verkürztes Verfahren, and not the conventional siege doctrine, with devastating effectiveness, and which caught the Belgians and French completely by surprise.