Sunday, 2 August 2015

Deadly Milk Cow encounter

U-422 was a type VIIC uboat, built at Danzig (Gdansk) and commissioned into the ranks of the Kriegsmarine on 10 February 1943. The boat spent five months training intensively, under the command of Oblt. Wolfgang Poeschel, sailing for her first patrol on 1 August of the same year.

Leaving from Bergen,  in Norway, U-422 entered the North Atlantic south of Iceland: after almost two months of uneventful patrolling, the uboat was caught on the surface and attacked by an enemy four-engined aircraft - identified as a Halifax, but also a Liberator could be probable. The attack did not damage the vessel, but left three men badly wounded. It was therefore necessary to request medical assistance: a rendezvous was set in the middle of the Atlantic, with U-460.

U-460 was a type XIV boat, the so-called milk cows: they were designed to assist and refuel at sea the uboats operating in the North Atlantic, and therefore carried no weapons, but mechanical parts, food, medical equipment and, as said, fuel.

The two boats rendezvoused on 4 October, together with other two uboats, U-264 and U-455. The Allied, however, had already implemented very aggressive tactics to intercept these meetings and destroy both operating and refuelling boats. Combining ULTRA interception and aerial coverage, the US Navy created hunter-killer groups,  based on a small aircraft carrier, scoring impressive results.

While the three uboats were attached to U-460 to refuel their tanks, they were caught on the surface by Avengers of the USS Card hunting group. Mounting a coordinated and effective defence, the uboats formed a circle so that they were in position to cover each other's dive. U-455 and U-264 managed to dive and escape, the latter taking damage. U-460, bigger and slower to dive, was immediately attacked and destroyed with depth charges by the American aircraft, only two of its 64 crew surviving. 
A type-XIV uboat refuelling at least two other boats in the Atlantic

U-422 also managed to dive, but was constantly chased and hunted by the enemy. Later in the day the Avenger spotted her again: operating together with strafing Wildcat, the bombers sealed her fate, sinking her with all hands in position 45.13N, 28.58 W

The hunter-killer tactics had proved effective once more: in one single attack, the US Navy stroke a devastating blow to the Kriegsmarine. U-422 was lost with all hands on its first patrol. U-460, one of only ten preciously needed resupply boat was also sunk, and U-264 was heavily damaged forcing her to return to base.
Conning tower of U-460
Other image of U-46

The Uboatwaffe was at mercy of Allied air power, and the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic had inevitably turned. 
The original combat report submitted by the American pilots can be found at this address:
USS Card

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


U-336 was a type VIIC uboat, built at the Nordseewerke shipyard of Emden between March and December 1941, and commissioned on 14 February 1942, under the command of Oberleutnant zur see Hans Hunger. 

The boat left Kiel on 12 November 1942 for her first war patrol, but collided with the escort minesweeper M 1906 and had to return to base. Hunger and his men sailed again at the end of the month, crossing the North Atlantic south of the Far Oer islands and patrolling the waters north of the Azores. 
They met the Belgian vessel President Francqui: the 4,919-ton tanker was a straggler, damaged by U-225 during the attack on convoy ONS-154. U-336 administered the coup de grace to ship, and took her master prisoner. No further enemy targets were encountered, and the uboat safely reached Brest on 8 January 1943.

From March to July, U-336 sailed for two more patrols, 41 and 71 days respectevely, but didn't sink any Allied ship. 
Her fifth patrol though, was to be her last: she left Brest on 14 September 1943 and took up a patrolling position south of the Denmark Strait. On 5 October 1942, the uboat was caught on the surface by a Lockheed Hudson of No. 269 Sqn, operating out of Iceland bases. The Hudson attacked and sank U-336 with its rockets. The uboat was lost with no survivors.

President Francqui remained the only ship sunk by U-336. The fate of this uboat clearly shows how life expectancy for the German sailors had shrunk by the end of 1943, and how Allied air superiority had turned the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic.

This series of photographs were shot onboard a Hudson of No.269 Sqn during routine combat patrols in the North Atlantic

Conditions in Iceland were very harsh: these aircraft belonged to No. 241 Sqn

Monday, 27 July 2015


The Type VIIC uboat U-243 was built from 28 October 1942 at the Krupp yards in Kiel. She was launched on 2 September 1943 and pressed into service exactly one month later, under command of Oberleutnant zur See Hans Martens.

Her first voyage was a small trip from Kiel to Flekkefjiord, from where she sailed on her first war patrol on 8 June 1944. U-243 was ordered to reach the waters off Normandy, her target being the invasion fleet supporting the Overlord operation. 

Three days after, the Uboat claimed its first victim in a very unfortunate accident. At 02.50 hrs, the boat opened fire with its AA guns on an aircraft flying over her at low altitude. The unidentified aircraft answered the recognition signals, but crashed in the sea seconds later. It was, in fact, a Ju 88 returning from a weather reconnaissance mission, and sadly only one crew member survived.
Sources online differ, identifying the aircraft as belonging to Wekusta 3 or Wekusta 5.

The following day, U-243 returned to Bergen due to engine troubles, where the Ju 88 survivor was landed ashore. The boat left again three days later, on the 15th, safely crossed the North Atlantic and positioned herself in the bay of Biscay, ready to hunt enemy vessels. 

Instead of Allied ships, U-243 met her fate on 8 July: at 14.35 hrs the uboat was spotted by a Sunderland flying boat. The German sailors opened fire with their Flak guns, but the Sunderland manage to strafe the aircraft wounding all men on deck and silencing their guns. Six depth charges were dropped which they disabled all engines and crippled to German vessel, causing her to take  a heavy list to port. 
Other sailors came on deck to operate the Flak guns and keep the Sunderland away, but at 15:00 the Germans launched their dinghies and abandoned the boat.

This photo was taken by the Sunderland crew after dropping the six depth charges which sank the uboat
A second Sunderland and a Liberator reached the scene, initially dropping more depth charges: the commander of the first Sunderland, F/O Tilley, dropped a food pack and a dinghy before returning to base. Thirty-eight Germans managed to evacuate the sinking Uboat, leaving eleven of them behind. They were picked up during the night by HMS Restigouche, but commander Martens succumbed to the wounds caused by the strafing Sunderland.

The flying boat was W4030 and belonded to RAAF no.10 Sqn. Its commander, F/O Tilley was awarded the DFC and the gunner, Flt. Sgt Cook the DFM.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Nightfighters in the East: new units


During the spring and summer of 1942, the increasing number of Soviet night raids had found an effective response from the fighters of JG 54. However, the Geschwader was soon called to switch priorities and support the ground forces in the second summer offensive on the Eastern front

Enemy raids however did not stop: Red Air Force bombers continued to harass German lines of communication at night, as well as dropping thousands of partisans in occupied areas. To find a solution to these problems, Wolfgang Falck was sent on an inspection tour in Russia in the summer of 1942. At the conclusion of its tour, he recommended the use of local Luftwaffe resources to mount night fighter patrols along the front.

Falck considered impossible the transfer of any of the existing Nachtjagd units to the East. Bomber Command operations over Germany were in fact escalating and all nightfighter squadrons were hard pressed countering the British bombers. Therefore, he advised making good use of those bomber, zerstorer and reconnaissance pilots who were proficient in blind flying to face the night raids.
The concept was quickly accepted by senior Luftwaffe leaders, and those pilots selected for the role were sent to Wiener-Neustadt to receive further specialised training.

Operations officially commenced in October 1942, but soon the events on the ground dictated a rapid switch in priorities. The Sixth Army was completely surrounded by the end of November, and the newly trained nightfighter units had to divert their duties flying ground attack missions around the Stalingrad pocket, until the Sixth Army surrendered on 5 February 1943.

After a brief respite to recover from the heavy losses sustained, the Nachtjager pilots started exacting a steady toll of Soviet bombers. First to score was Josef Kociok of 10(N)./ZG 1, who claimed two bombers on the night of 12/13 March. Kociok's victories were followed by another future ace's kill: in the night of 15-16 March, Oblt Gunter Bertram scored his first victory.
Leutnant Josef Kociok, KIA 26 September 1943

Posted at NJS (Nacthjagdschule) of Luftflotte 6, Bertram was an experienced pilot, most probably an instructor with the unit, although no sources are available to confirm it. Bertram quickly established himself as a successful hunter, reaching 12 kills in June, less than three months after his first claim.

In the meantime, IV./NJG 5, under the command Hptm Prinz zu Sayn Wittgentstein, moved to the Eastern Front in February. Already an Experte with 22 victories, Wittgenstein quickly found ideal conditions in the east, where there was no electronic/radio jamming and Soviet bombers were less perfomant then their RAF counterparts. The young aristocrat scored two "doubles" on 16-17 and 22-23 April, followed a fifth success on 2-3 May.
The Gruppe was unexpectedly recalled to the Western front for less than two months and then again sent to the East in July, for the forthcoming operations in the Kursk salient.
Once again, Wittgenstein led its unit by example, achieving multiple kills on many sorties, with the exploit of 20-21 July when seven bombers fell under his guns. On 9 August 1943, a DB-3 marked his 60th victory. Wittgenstein was called back to Germany and IV./NJG 5 redesignated I./NJG 100, thus becoming permanently assigned to the Eastern Front.

The other two already mentioned Experten, Kociok and Bertram continued scoring steadily against the Red Air Force, and were occasionally joined my more pilots. Oblt Landau of 10./NJG 5 scored a treble on 16-17 July, while Hptm Lechner added three victories to its Western account reaching 14 on 29-30 July.

The success of these pilots and units did not prevent, however, the Red Army from halting the Wermacht attack at Kursk, thus marking an end to any German offensive operation on the Eastern Front. From that moment until the end of the war, the Luftwaffe and the Wermacht were forced to operate defensively, having lost any strategic edge against the enemy.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Nightfighters in the East: the Beginning

On 21 June 1941, the Wermacht launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The bulk of the Luftwaffe was committed to the invasion and achieved spectacular successes in the first days of the attack, destroying thousands of Soviet aircraft in the air and on the ground.  The tasks assigned to fighter, bomber and ground attack units were essentially tactics: destruction of enemy airfield, lines of communication, supply depots and enemy strongholds. Barbarossa can be considered as the ultimate Blitzkrieg, with the aviation acting as flying artillery for ground forces.

The Luftwaffe had therefore conceived its plans from a tactical point of view: for this reason, no night fighting units had been sent to the Eastern Front, since the threat of night bombing was not considered effective as it was on the Western Front. The Soviet Air Force, however, began almost immediately to mount night operations against the advancing Germans and even attacked Berlin. If the Luftwaffe air superiority was almost undisputed by day, there was not any organized form of night air defense to counter Russian raids.

Luftwaffe units had to improvise, utilizing at the best the longer daylight hours of the summer, flying patrols at sunrise and sunset on known targets. The first kill came on the night of 25-26, when Ogfr Josef Kociok shot down an SB-2. Although it would have taken him long to score more kills after his first victory, he was to become one of the most successful night fighter pilots on the Eastern Front.
Bf 109 G-2 of 9./JG 54 at Krasnogvardeisk in 1942

The second victory was scored on 20-21 October 1941, when an Il-4 was destroyed by Lt Rudolf Altendorf over Berlin. After Altendorf’s victory, the long and harsh Russian winter prevented fighter units from scoring any other night kills. The Luftwaffe was in fact caught totally unprepared for severe cold weather operations: its units struggled for the whole winter period to keep decent serviceability rates by day, with night sorties becoming almost impossible. The following summer, however, a few pilots from JG 54 were to achieve great success against Russian night intruders.

By the summer of 1942, JG 54 was the highest scoring unit of the Jagdwaffe. Operating in the northern sector, the Geschwader experienced ever increasing enemy activity at night. To counter such raids, pilot from III. Gruppe decided to take advantage of the longer summer daylight conditions, mounting patrols at dusk and noon. They were soon rewarded with significant results. On  the night between 7-8 June, 1942, two pilots from 8./JG 54 shot down 6 enemy aircraft: Oblt Gunther Fink destroyed four R-5 bombers, while Lt Hans-Joachim Heyer took other two of the same type.
Hptm Gunther Fink (1918-1943)
The same two pilots scored five more victories on the night of 10-11 June, four aircraft for Fink and one for Heyer. Again on the following night, 11-12 June, they scored one kill each, and they were joined by Hptm Reinhard Seiler who scored twice and Oblt Werner Feise with one. Their victims were SB-2s and R-5s.
III./ JG 54 continued to its exploits over the following night: on 14-15 June Reinhard Seiler destroyed two R-5, Gunther Fink one PS-84 (Li-2), while Erwin Leykauf and Waldemar Wubke got one R-5 each. The following night Seiler scored four more kills against Soviet intruders, and Heyer scored two on the night of 17-18 June.
Oltb Erwin Leykauf

After a few days of apparent calm, night sorties flared up again and the Gruppe had a field night on 22-23 June, destroying 8 enemy aircraft. Two of them were shot down by Reinhard Seiler, and six by Erwin Leykauf. One solitary kill was scored by Oblt Gunther Fink on 24-25 June, followed by six victories on 25-26 June: three of them for Seiler and one each for Leykauf, Werner Feise and Wolfgang Kretschmer, the latter achieving his first victory.

Reinhard Seiler’s last night kills were achieved with a double on the night of 27-28 June. After that date, JG 54 priorities shifted drastically. The entire geschwader was infact heavily committed on daylight operations, supporting the Wermacht for the 1942 summer offensive. Despite that, two pilots managed to achieve their first night kills. Hptm Karl Sattig destroyed to U-2 on the night of 5 July, and Hptm Joachim Wandel shot down seven enemy aircraft on 7-8 July, a single one on 8-9 July, two more on 19-20 July, ending its night exploits with three U-2s shot down on the night of 2-3 August 1942.