Over Arctic Waters - Seeaufklärungsgruppe 130
by Henry L. deZeng IV
During the war, nearly half of the Luftwaffe's maritime and coastal reconnaissance strength in terms of seaplanes was deployed in Norway. This brief account of SAGr. 130 will hopefully show the type of missions many of these seaplane reconnaissance units were assigned, typical equipment and methods and, perhaps most importantly, the dangers faced by their air crews.
Like most Luftwaffe units that came into being in the latter period of the war, SAGr. 130 was a composite of previously existing Staffeln. The Gruppenstab was formed 15 July 1943 at Tromsø by renaming Stab/Küstenfliegergruppe 706, 1.(F) Staffel likewise at Tromsø on the same date from 1. (F)/Küstenfliegergruppe 706, 2.(F) Staffel also at Tromsø on 15 July from 2. (F)/Küstenfliegergruppe 706 and 3.(F) Staffel at Trondheim on 15 July from 2.(F)/Küstenfliegergruppe 406. The Stab at the time had one assigned Arado Ar 196A for liaison and courier purposes while the three Staffeln each had an average of 8 to 10 Blohm & Voss BV 138C-1s on strength. In terms of personnel, the original KStNs (TO&Es) from just before the war called for 6 officers and 8 men for the Gruppenstab and 18 officers and 148 men in each of the three Staffeln, although these numbers are believed to have been somewhat reduced during the war.
The primary mission of the Gruppe was to fly armed maritime reconnaissance patrols, convoy search and shadowing (Fühlunghalter) patrols aimed at locating and maintaining contact with the Allied Iceland-to-Murmansk convoys, coastal patrols and occasional antisubmarine patrols, as well as escort missions to help cover German convoys running along the Norwegian coast. Flown at an altitude of 1,000 meters, the standard armed reconnaissance patrols were typically long, almost unbearably boring, and usually occurred in the worst weather imaginable with the constant knowledge that if the aircraft went down there was little chance for survival in the bone-chilling waters of the Arctic. Most of the long-range flights ran 15 to 16 hours over the Norwegian and Barents Seas at a cruising speed of 230 km per hour, taking the crews south-west to the Shetland and Faroe Islands, west to Iceland and the Denmark Strait, north-west and north to Jan Mayen Island, Bear Island and Spitzbergen, and then east as far as the Kara Sea.
To give the lumbering BV 138s the range needed to cover this vast and usually empty wasteland of icy water, they were usually launched from catapult ships. This permitted the aircraft to take off with 5,200 litres of fuel and 6 x 50 kg bombs that were stowed externally under the starboard wing in two rows of three. The three catapult ships most used by SAGr. 130 were the BUSSARD (2,040 GRT with a crew of 54) at Trondheim, SCHWABENLAND (8,188 BRT with a crew of 65+) at Tromsø and FRIESENLAND (5,434 BRT with a crew of 83) at Billefjord. Without the catapult, the BV 138 had trouble lifting off the water with much more than 3,000 litres of fuel aboard thus greatly limiting its range.
Normally flying with a crew of 5, radio silence was maintained unless a vitally important sighting had to be reported. Observation was exclusively visual until spring 1943, when a few aircraft began to be fitted with FuG 200 Hohentwiel maritime search radar. Replacement crews came from the Ergänzungs-Küstenfliegerstaffel (F) at Copenhagen, which is also identified at times in documents as 1. (Erg.)/Fliegerergänzungsgruppe (See), while replacement BV 138s were flown to Norway from List and Travemünde by replacement crews as well as crews returning from home leave in Germany. Only a few aircraft were ever ferried north by full time ferry pilots.
The Stab, which of course controlled the Staffeln, came under Luftflotte 5 for purposes of administration, supply and discipline until 15 September 1944 and then under the Kommandierender General der deutschen Luftwaffe in Norwegen to the end of the war. For operations, however, the Stab was subordinated to Fliegerführer Lofoten (at Bardufoss) from 7/43 to 4/44, Fliegerführer 5 (at Trondheim) from 4/44 to 11/44, Fliegerführer 3 (at Alta, then later at Bardufoss) from 11/44 to 12/44 and finally 5.Fliegerdivision (Trondheim, then Bardufoss, then Moen) from 12/44 to 5/45.
Operations for the just-formed Gruppe did not begin auspiciously. Major surface units of the British Home Fleet together with U.S. naval forces carried out several demonstrations off the coast of Norway during July 1943, and the second of these at the end of the month included the RN aircraft carriers ILLUSTRIOUS and UNICORN. Elements of the force were spotted between the Shetlands and Faroes early in the morning of 28 July by a Ju 88 weather reconnaissance plane and Luftflotte 5 was immediately alerted. Over the course of the day 3.(F)/130 at Trondheim sent out 5 BV 138s to track the surface force and every one of them was shot down. The first two or three were attacked and shot down into the sea by Beaufighters of RAF Coastal Command while the rest fell to Fleet Air Arm Martlet IVs (Grumman F4F Wildcats) from 878 and 890 Squadrons aboard ILLUSTRIOUS. However, in some accounts of this engagement the Royal Navy claims credit for all five.
During August and September 1943, two extraordinary German naval operations took place in the Arctic and SAGr. 130 was called upon to take part in both of them. In the first of these, Operation "Wunderland II", a BV 138 from 2.Staffel began flying reconnaissance for a U-boat pack from the north-east tip of Novaya Zemlya, which was located far behind Soviet lines, along the Siberian sea route to the east where the U-boats were to attack suspected Soviet convoys. The recce flights began on 4 August and continued for two weeks without much result until the meagre supply of aviation fuel provided by the U-boats ran low and the plane was ordered back to Norway. On the return flight it ran out of fuel and had to be ditched, but the crew was rescued by one of the U-boats. More U-boat groups were brought up and the interdiction of the sea route continued to the end of September, only now with some success. On 12 September a second BV 138 met exactly the same fate as the first, only this one was from 1.Staffel. The reconnaissance support provided by SAGr. 130 did not significantly help the U-boats, which sank 6 ships in the area up to 1 October, but it did break new ground in Luftwaffe-Kriegsmarine cooperation in the more extreme reaches of the Arctic.
The other operation, "Sizilien" ("Zitronella"), was equally unusual. It took place between 6 and 9 September and involved an attack on Spitzbergen by a powerful German naval force from Norway that included the TIRPITZ and SCHARNHORST as well as a landing party that consisted of a battalion of infantry from Gren.Rgt.349/230.Inf.Div. As part of the Luftwaffe support force assembled for the operation, 3.(F)/130 was transferred in August from Trondheim to Billefjord, a seaplane base near Kistrand on the Porsangerfjord in Norway's far north. A maximum effort was flown during the operation to cover the surface force with no losses being reported by the Staffel, which remained at Billefjord until November 1944.
Aside from a tragic accident on 8 December 1943 in which 1. Staffel lost its Staffelkapitän, Hptm. Grosse, another BV 138 and crew that failed to return from operations on 25 December, two planes lost to RAF Coastal Command Mosquitos on 21 January and 29 March 1944, respectively, and a routine but permanent transfer of 2. Staffel from Tromsø to Trondheim in April, the Gruppe's operations were relatively uneventful until spring 1944 when the convoy war heated up again. On 1 April, 3. Staffel lost a BV 138 to Martlet (Wildcat) fighters from 819 Squadron FAA aboard HMS ACTIVITY while tracking Convoy JW 58, followed by two more on 30 April and 1 May from 1. Staffel in conjunction with intense U-boat attacks on Convoy RA 59, both of these also being claimed by Wildcats from 819 Squadron. A week later, between 6 and 8 May, 2. Staffel feel victim to British carrier strikes (Operation '"Croquet'") on German convoys along the central Norwegian coast losing three BV 138s to FAA fighters.
Around 16 August 1944, the Gruppe inherited three huge BV 222 6-engined flying boats from 1. (F)/SAGr. 129, which was ordered disbanded at Tromsø on this date. Two of these were apparently taken over initially by 1. Staffel and moored at Tromsø while the third went to the Gruppenstab and was kept at Sörreisa, a secondary seaplane base about 60 km SSW of Tromsø. They were later used to transport troops in northern Norway, although probably not often because of their enormous fuel consumption, that commodity being in very short supply after August 1944.
In the latter part of August, the British Home Fleet launched its third effort to sink the TIRPITZ since the beginning of the year. Dubbed Operation "Goodwood", the large force attacked the battleship in Kåfjord (Kaafjord) near Alta in northern most Norway with 5 carriers between 22 and 29 August, flying multiple strikes with the 198 aircraft embarked. Although the raids themselves were unsuccessful due to the heavy smoke screen covering the entire fjord, 1.(F)/SAGr. 130 lost a total of 5 BV 138s on 22, 23 and 24 August in connection with the operation. Temporarily operating from Billefjord, the three lost on the first two dates were apparently shot down while tracking the carrier force off the coast, while the two destroyed on 24 August were strafed and burned at Billefjord by Seafires from 887 Squadron FAA aboard the carrier INDEFATIGABLE.
From 10 September 1944, 1. Staffel's detachment at Billefjord picked up an additional duty when meteorologists from Westa 6 (based at Banak) were assigned to it and the Staffel ordered to carry out meteorological observations over the Arctic. This task had previously been handled by Westa 6, but it was ordered to cease operations due to the fuel shortage and was disbanded several months later. The weather reconnaissance missions assigned to 1.(F)/130 were flown from Billefjord until November, and then from Tromsø after Billefjord was evacuated. It is not known whether 3. Staffel, which was permanently based at Billefjord, was also called upon to fly weather missions.
Losses continued to mount rapidly during the autumn as British carrier strikes and RAF Coastal Command operations along the Norwegian coast intensified and, in the far north, German forces were withdrawn from Finish Lapland and the Finnmark area of North Norway. Among the losses was the BV 222 assigned to Stab/130, which was attacked at its moorings at Sörreisa on 18 October by Fairey Fireflies from 1771 Squadron FAA aboard IMPLACABLE, set on fire and sunk. The other 6 operational losses to the end of 1944 can be found in the listing of losses that follows.
On 20 November, 3. Staffel reported its 2,000th operational sortie since formation on 15 July 1943, which gives some insight into mission frequency. The level of operations should have been about the same for the other two Staffeln as well. The next month, December, brought major organizational changes for the Gruppe: 2. Staffel at Trondheim was disbanded, 1. Staffel transferred from Tromsø to Trondheim to cover the central and south Norwegian area and 3. Staffel, having just moved from Billefjord to Tromsø in November, remained there to cover the northern area. These dispositions were maintained to the end of the war, although individual aircraft and crews or detachments of several aircraft were frequently moved around to other locations as the situation dictated.
Four losses occurred in rapid succession between 9 and 19 February 1945 in the Norwegian Sea area off North Cape, all of which are believed to have been in connection with torpedo attacks on Convoy JW 64/RA 64 by II./KG 26 (Ju 88s), III./KG 26 (Ju 188s) and a large number of U-boats. This was Germany's last major effort against a Murmansk convoy and although some ships were sunk by the U-boats, the Ju 88/188 torpedo attacks failed miserably and suffered heavy losses as well. The Gruppe's last known combat loss was reported on 22 February during a carrier strike along Norway's south-west coast. By then SAGr. 130 was virtually grounded with few serviceable BV 138s remaining and almost no fuel available. It can be generally said that in 1945 the Luftwaffe in Norway "just sat it out waiting for the inevitable."
On surrender, 8 May 1945, Stab/SAGr. 130 was listed in documents as being at Bodø (other documents give it at Tromsø) with 3 officers and 7 men, but its two BV 222s, now directly assigned to the Stab, were stated to be moored at Sörreisa. BV 222 V-2 (Wnr. 366) was moved to Trondheim on 21 June and later destroyed on 15 October 1945 due to engine trouble and a lack of spare parts. The other Blohm & Voss, BV 222C-12 (Wnr. 330052), was likewise flown to Trondheim in June and from there to Great Britain on 14 July. After evaluation in the U.K., it was shipped to the United States on 27 January 1946 aboard the S/S PORT FAIRY.
The 1. Staffel surrendered at Trondheim with 3 officers, 69 men and two Ar 196s (Wnr. A-3/254 and A-5/444), both of which were scuttled in Trondheim Fjord by the Allies on 12 September 1945. The Gruppe's remaining component, 3. Staffel, surrendered at Tromsø with 1 officer and 87 men, with 2 BV 138C-1s (Wnr. 0176 and 130186) at Stavanger-Sola and 3 Ar 196A-4s (code/Wnr. GA+DV/122, BB+YB/128 and BB+YD/130) at Bodø. Why this Staffel's personnel and aircraft were separated and at three different locations is not known. In any event, the two BV 138s were flown to Trondheim on 11 July and were still there on 21 September 1945. The three Ar 196s were flown to Tromsø on 16 July and were still there in September.
The final accounting of SAGr. 130's assigned aircraft on 8 May 1945 raises an interesting question: where did the 5 Ar 196s suddenly come from? Although it is not known with certainty, it is likely that they came from an autonomous Ar 196 unit variously known as Arado-Kette or Arado-Kette Ostnorwegen. Formed in August 1941 in Germany and immediately sent to Norway, the Kette usually had a strength of 4 or 5 Ar 196s. In August or early September 1944 it was transferred from Aalesund to Trondheim-Hommelvik where it was disbanded in December 1944. At exactly the same time, Ar 196s first began to appear on SAGr. 130's aircraft inventory in quantities of 4 or 5.
There is another question concerning the Gruppe that was not addressed above because significant confirmation is lacking. According to the Feldpost Directory, an official but often misleading source, in late August or early September 1943 1.(F)/SAGr. 130 is supposed to have exchanged identities with 2.(F)/SAGr. 131 and 3. (F)/SAGr. 130 with 1.(F)/SAGr. 131. However, it is not known to what extent this was carried out, since it may only have affected the administrative echelon of the two Staffeln and perhaps a few of the aircraft and crews. Sufficient details to make a credible determination are unfortunately lacking.
Gen.Qu. (6.Abt.)/OKL Loss Reports (Meldungen über Flugzeugunfälle und Verluste...)
WASt Berlin Gen.Qu./6.Abt. Personnel Casualty Reports (Namentliche Verlustmeldungen der fliegenden Verbände...)
BA-MA Freiburg RL 2 III/852ff Summarized Loss Reports (summarischen Verlustmeldungen..
BA-MA Freiburg RL 9/35 Lfl.5 dispositions on 8.5.45
BA-MA Freiburg RL 40/Kart Lfl.5 OB charts 1943-45
NARA WashDC Microcopy T-312 roll 1063 frame 888, roll 1064 frame 061, roll 1070 frames 591 and 969 - all on Lw. dispositions in N Norway 11/44 - 3/45
AFHRC Maxwell decimal 512.625S Lw. OB in Norway 4/45
AFHRC Maxwell AirMin ADI(K) Report No. 358/1943 - interrogation report on the survivors of BV 138 (K6+BK) shot down 28 Jul 43
Letter to author from Dr. Gustav Freiherr v. Rosen (Hamburg), a SAGr.130 veteran, dated 20 Oct 1993
Brown, J.D. Carrier Operations in World War II - Volume One: The Royal Navy. London: Ian Allan, 1968. pp.23-26, 29, 39-40, 42 and 48.
Hafsten, Björn, Ulf Larsstuvold, Björn Olsen and Sten Stenersen. Flyalarm : Luftkrigen Over Norge 1939 - 1945. Oslo: Sem & Stenersen A/S, 1991. pp. 155, 160-61, 185-86, 224-25 and 267.
Kurowski, Franz. Seekrieg aus der Luft. Herford: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn GmbH, 1979. p.259.
Rohwer, Jürgen and Gerd Hummelchen. Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992. pp. 221, 225, 230, 239, 267-68, 274, and 334.
Schwerdtfeger, Werner and Franz Selinger. Wetterflieger in der Arktis 1940-1944. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1982. p.191.
© by Henry L. deZeng IV (Work in Progress, 2022). (1st Draft 2022)