They had been just thirty hours out from Bordeaux steaming around the northwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula when the big RAF flying boat was intercepted and shot down. Although the German fighter pilots claimed their victim as a Sunderland, it was in fact one of only three Shorts S.26 "G" class, four engined flying boats. This particular one was named "Golden Fleece". It had been detected by Mannheim’s radar at a distance of just over one hundred kilometres (approximately sixty-two miles) northwest of the Fleet and a schwarm of He 100T-1 fighters had been launched specifically with the task of intercepting and shooting down the suspected maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
The Atlantikflotte was en route to strike at the British base at Gibraltar and the need for secrecy was paramount. Whilst they hadn’t gone unnoticed when departing Bordeaux Roads, it could be expected that they were bound for the Azores or perhaps to attack British convoys in the Atlantic. The German Fleet comprised the two light carriers Dortmund and Dusseldorf escorted by the battlecruiser Schlieffen, Fleet Control cruiser Mannheim and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, both of which had recently joined the Atlantikflotte, the light cruisers Guichen, Gloire, Montcalm and Chateaurenault plus ten destroyers and several destroyer escorts. Mannheim was the first of her class to see action in the Atlantic.
Oberfahnrich zur See Reimar Egert drew on his
cigarette as he lounged under the stern round down. The wake from Moltke
was turning the oily water to phosphorescence as the carrier put to
sea. After two operational voyages to the Azores from Bordeaux and
back, plus some time as fighter defence at NAB Brest, he was considered
an old hand. He had eight victories to his credit, all earned from the
cockpit of a Bf 109T, and three of these had been at sea. He had a fond
spot for that old warhorse, as he called it. But the He 100T, which was
proving extremely popular with the lesser-experienced pilots, was
replacing it. He glanced at the young pilot standing alongside him.
Fahnrich zur See Anton Fleischmann was his new rottenflieger. Straight
from Tragerfliegerschule, he was still too young to even smoke, Egert
thought to himself. Fleischmann was his third rottenflieger, his second
since he had transferred from the Luftwaffe after the Battle of France
to the Kriegsmarine Trager arm. Fleischmann’s predecessor was now a
rottenfuhrer in another Kriegsmarine staffel. He finished the cigarette
and flicked the butt into the sea. He patted Fleischmann on the
shoulder and walked off to his bunk.
He took a photograph of the dying submarine to record his success. Leutnant zur See Fritz Langenbach already had a submarine kill prior to this one. His first success was a Royal Navy submarine lurking off Trondheim in mid 1942 and he was the first to admit that it was only by pure luck that he had stumbled across it and even luckier that he sank it. That was followed by another but unsuccessful attack two months later in the same area. Eight months and over one hundred and twenty more fruitless patrols later, he made his third sighting but failed to gain a kill in the Kattegat where a Royal Navy submarine was trying to gain entrance into the Baltic Sea. This latest kill, however, was the first whilst operating from one of the light carriers on escort duty with a convoy to the Azores. The other had been whilst he was serving at a Naval Air Base. Photo taken, he put the Leica back in the spring clip that held it in the special bracket under his seat.
Langenbach was flying a Junkers Ju 87C-5/U2; one of the new, purpose-built submarine hunters introduced into service in mid 1943. In truth, it wasn’t really new, rather an older Ju 87C that had been replaced in staffel service by a slightly more up to date Ju 87E and had been returned to Weser-Flugzeugbau Gmbh at Bremen for modification. Its most obvious feature was the exceptionally large bulge under the fuselage. It carried the latest sea search radar in a large, symmetrical radome between the fixed undercarriage legs. His radar operator, Klaus Wittenberg, sat behind him in a cockpit darkened by a painted ceiling and canvas side blinds as he monitored the Blaupunkt radar screen. His rearward defensive machine gun had been removed and the main armament now comprised two 20 mm MG FF cannon in the wing leading edges fired by the pilot. It was this modification, the upgrading of the main armament from rifle calibre machine guns to cannon that justified the U2 designation. The inner, underwing bomb racks carried the four 100 kg (221 lb) depthbombs whilst each of the outer racks carried a 300 litre (66 gallon) droptank.
The Soviet air attack, when it came in, lacked subtlety. The thirty or so low-level bombers just bored in, guns blazing. Although the terrain restricted radar warnings of any real value, they had been detected by radar as a potentially hostile target as soon as they crossed the coastline somewhere between Vyborg and Leningrad. A couple of minutes later, a minesweeper on the outer escort fringe confirmed the identity of the attackers, just before it was literally blown out of the water by a Pe-2. Some of the attackers were carrying rocket projectiles and a salvo of ten RS-132s was equivalent to a salvo fired by a light cruiser. It was just such a salvo that destroyed the small minesweeper.
The CAP of four other Heinkel He 100Ts plus Egert and his three companions were vastly outnumbered, and although another schwarm of fighters held on alert on the catapults was already being launched, it was still insufficient to prevent the attackers from reaching the ships. Directed towards the still not visually detected Soviet attackers, they dived from their patrol height of 2,500 metres, trading height for speed. The Soviet bombers were down around three hundred metres and quickly became visible to the Kriegsmarine fighters.
The Soviet attackers were of two different aircraft types. There was a score of Iluyshin IL-2 Stormoviks, single engined, single seater, heavily armoured, ground attack aircraft, notoriously difficult to shoot down and several twin engined Pe-2 light attack bombers. It was learnt later that the Pe-2s were used to guide the IL-2s to the combat zone.
The first four He 100Ts had bounced the leading element of Soviet bombers. Despite the ferocity of the Heinkel attack, the IL-2s seemed invulnerable. Then one started to trail a thin plume of smoke which quickly thickened and sprouted flames at its base. One down! The successful pilot called his kill over the radio. Egert and his schwarm fell on three bombers at the rear of the formation. With no Soviet escort, there was no need for the wingmen to guard the tails of their leaders. Egert concentrated first on the gunner of his selected victim, a Pe-2. Ignoring the sporadic bursts of heavy machine gun fire, he closed in and held his fire until almost the last moment. The burst from his machine guns killed the gunner and chewed holes in the fuselage of the bomber.
It was the fastest fighter around and the Kriegsmarine snapped it up. The older He 100T-3s were decidedly obsolescent. The newly acquired Me 155Ts were stop-gap fighters only and there were a number of problems associated with both their airframes and the engines. Unfortunately, the jets would not be available for some time yet. So when Focke-Wulf offered their new and revised design for the Fw 190 powered by a big 2,400 hp eighteen cylinder radial engine, the BMW 802, the Kriegsmarine was delighted. This air cooled engine also promised improved performance at high altitude.
We were the first fighter staffeln to re-equip with this magnificent beast called appropriately "See Wulf" (Sea Wolf). We flew our old He 100T-3s to Stettin where they were subsequently overhauled and sent to the carrier fighter pilots’ schools. We were ferried by a company Fw 300 to the Focke-Wulf field at Cottbus to undergo conversion training on our new fighters. This took four weeks. The program was fairly standard for Kriegsmarine conversion training and consisted of – 1) three, thirty minute sessions of circuits, 2) two, one hour flights of aerobatics and manoeuvring, 3) one hour of high altitude flight at 9,000 m (29,500 ft), 4) one hour flight in rotten for combat manoeuvres, 5) a simple ninety minute navigation exercise over the Baltic, 6) more combat manoeuvring, and 7) finishing with gunnery practice. It took a little longer than usual due to the onset of winter weather, the vast difference in aircraft types and the vital need of training for the ground crews and mechanics.
embarked our staffel of fifteen Fw 190Ts plus the II Gruppe Stab with
another four Fw 190Ts and another fighter staffel bound for duty at NAB
Trondheim, equipped with a mix of sixteen He 100T-3s and T-4s. There
was also a half staffel of eight, sea search radar-equipped,
anti-submarine Ju 87C-5s from Tr.G 192 and six Fl 282T helicopters,
plus a staffel of fifteen BV 237T-2s bound for NAB Narvik. In addition,
we had a new type of aircraft on board. When we first saw what we took
for the Siebel Si 204 light transport/communications aircraft on the
flight deck, we were somewhat surprised as we’d never seen such a large
aircraft on a carrier before. On this particular occasion, there were
eight of them, each with a strange circular dish mounted on top of the
fuselage and a number of aerials sticking out of the fuselage and
wings. We later learnt that they were Si 204MEs, (M for Marine and E
for Elektronisch). Four were being delivered to Trondheim NAB, the
others would stay with us to Narvik and back. It was only when the
carrier left Kiel and we attended a general flight briefing that we
learnt that these aircraft were carrying radar and fighter direction
controllers. Their job was to augment the radar coverage normally
provided by land based radar units. The airborne units had a "look
down" capability which covered that gap normally associated with
surface radars which looked up and thus left an area in which the enemy
could approach unseen, ie beneath radar coverage. With these aircraft
in operation, the carrier and her consorts would steam inside a ‘radar
A Letter Home. . . . . . . . . . 1
Convoy to the Azores. . . . . . . . . 4
Seehund. . . . . . . . . . 12
Carrier Training and Qualification Trials. . . . . . . 15
Gibraltar Raid. . . . . . . . . 18
Picchiatelli. . . . . . . . . . 22
Air Strike in the Gulf of Riga. . . . . . . . 25
Barbarossa, Kriegsmarine Style. . . . . . . . 30
Battle of Cape Finisterre. . . . . . . . . 34
Combat Air Patrol. . . . . . . . . . 49
Trondheim. . . . . . . . . . 54
Kolibri. . . . . . . . . . 58
Unterseebootsjager. . . . . . . . . 62
See Wulf. . . . . . . . . . 66
Arctic Attack. . . . . . . . . . 74
Naval Air Base, Brest. 79
Battle of the North Sea. . . . . . . . . . 82
The Early Jets – A New Era 91
See Fuchsen . . . . . . . . . 95
Unternehmen Zauberer. . . . . . . . . 99
Map of The North, Norwegian and Arctic Seas . . . . . 53
The illustrations in greater detail . . . . . . . 104
Appendix One. Ships.- True or Fictitious Status. . . . . . 107
Appendix Two. Kriegsmarine Carrier Classes. . . . . . 109
Appendix Three. German Naval Ranks (and other approximate equivalents). . . 109
Appendix Four. Some Fighter Aircraft Data Comparison. . . . . 110
Appendix Five. Staffel Organisation . . . . . . 110
Appendix Six. Kriegsmarine Fuselage Codes 111
Appendix Seven. Time Frame. . . . . . . . 112