Seenotdienstverbände Unit Histories

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Seenotstäbe und Seenotverbände
(Sea Rescue Staffs and Sea Rescue Formations)



General Background

From its small pre-war beginnings in 1936, through its large wartime expansion, the Luftwaffe's Seenotdienst (Sea Rescue Service) served with great distinction on all fronts. During the course of the war, 11,561 rescues were made, which includes 3,815 Allied military personnel. But the Service's finest moment came in the closing months of the war in Courland (Kurland) and East Prussia when it transported to safety thousands of wounded, refugees, and children before they could be overrun by the vengeful Red Army. The Seenotdienst paid a heavy price for its dedication, losing 278 of its personnel between 1941 and 1945 with a further 114 reported as missing.
A special comment needs to be made regarding the so-called “The Noncombatant Status Controversy” that plagued the Seenotdienst during the first years of the war. Were the rescuers of downed aircrew and others adrift in the sea noncombatants and therefore protected under international law?

German Position. From the outbreak of the war, all air-sea rescue aircraft were painted white and marked with a large red cross in the conviction that they had noncombatant status under international law. During the campaign in Norway, the British left these aircraft alone because, according to the Germans, they rescued British crews, or at least were available to do so. But in July 1940, when the Battle of Britain was in its opening phase, the British government announced over the radio that aircraft of the German Sea Rescue Service would not be permitted to operate freely over the Channel or near the English coast. This was followed at the end of August by a direct order from the British government to all military commands to engage and destroy all German air-sea rescue aircraft and vessels whenever encountered. Left with no alternative, orders were soon issued by Luftflotte 3 in Paris, presumably on instruction from Berlin, to remove the red cross markings and repaint all aircraft and vessels in the standard camouflage pattern of the time. From then on and throughout the remainder of the war, Allied aircraft ruthlessly attacked German air-sea rescue planes and ships wherever they were found. In fact, these attacks were so pervasive that fighter escort was needed for many routine rescue missions. A significant number of these incidents were investigated by the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau and can be inspected today at the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg im Breisgau.

British Position. The British held that international law made no such hold-harmless provision for air-sea rescue services. The action by the British government to deny noncombatant recognition appears to have been based solely on legal interpretation, since no evidence seems to have been offered of any violations by the Seenotdienst until well after the decision was made to commence hostilities against air-sea rescue aircraft and vessels. From 1941 on however, British wartime documents maintain that Seenotdienst aircraft and ships carried out shipping reconnaissance, convoy escort, anti-submarine patrols and weather-reporting in addition to their regular duties. There was another and perhaps even stronger motive at play, too. The British wanted to do the rescuing themselves so they could interrogate as many downed Luftwaffe personnel as possible, and this could not happen if the Seenotdienst got there first. A much more comprehensive discussion of this touchy subject can be found at , including the role Bletchley Park Enigma and RAF “Y” Service decrypts played in this decision during July 1940. Did the Seenotdienst have direct orders from Berlin and Luftflotte 3 to spot and report on convoys?

For more, also see: (this needs to be gone over carefully for precise loss info for July and August 1940 that’s given in this thread by “Seaplanes” and “Peter Cornwell”).


Wartime Chain of Command

1939 to May/June 1942

Inspekteur des Seenotdienstes Berlin (L In 16) (Inspector of Sea Rescue Services)

Seenotdienstführer (Sea Rescue Service Commander)
Seenotzentrale (L) (Sea Rescue Control Center (Air))
Seenotbezirksstelle (Sea Rescue District Station)
Seenotstaffel (Sea Rescue Squadron)

May/June 1942 to October/November 1944

Inspekteur des Seenotdienstes Berlin (L In 16 ) (Inspector of Sea Rescue Services)

Seenotdienstführer (Sea Rescue Service Commander)
Seenotbereichskommando (Sea Rescue Regional Command)
Seenotkommando (Sea Rescue Detachment)
Seenotstaffel (Sea Rescue Squadron)
Seenotflottille (Sea Rescue Boat Section)

October/November 1944 to May 1945

Inspekteur des Seenotdienstes Berlin (L In 16) (Inspector of Sea Rescue Services)

Seenotgruppe (Sea Rescue Group)
Seenotstaffel (Sea Rescue Squadron)
Seenotflottille (Sea Rescue Boat Section)

Tables of Organization Numbers and Comments

Seenotdienstführer (Sea Rescue Service Commander)

KStN 1551 (L) and KStN 5142 (L)

Exercised operational control over all Seenotdienst staffs and units within the area of the Luftflotte or theater for which he was responsible.

Seenotbereichskommando (Sea Rescue Regional Command) (SBK)

KStN 1552 (L) and KStN 5153 (L)

Based on all evidence from the Bundesarchiv’s Luftwaffen-Personalamt assignment orders and from

the Roba/Craciunoiu work, Seaplanes Over the Black Sea, that is primarily founded on the KTB of Seenotzentrale (L) Schwarzes Meer (later becoming Seenotbereichskdo. XII), the numbered SBKs

were first established in June 1942. It even appears that the order may have been dated 1 June 1942 with an effective date of 30 June 1942.

Seenotkommando (Sea Rescue Detachment) (SK)

KStN 1553 (L)

The SKs appear to have been assigned numbers for the first time in May 1942. Unfortunately, the actual order directing this organizational change has not been found and apparently did not survive the war. The following SKs were all ordered disbanded by OKL/Chef des Generalstabes effective 19 Aug 44: 1-8, 11-14, 16, 17, 20-28, 30 and 35.

Seenotstaffel (Sea Rescue Squadron)

KStN 5157 (L)

After the first of these were formed in 1939, they underwent three wartime re-designations:

Seenotflugkommando 1, 2, 3, 4, 5(1939 - Jun 41)

1. – 9. Staffel/Seenotgruppe d.Lw.(Jun 41 - May 42)

1. – 10. Seenotstaffel(Jun 42 - 19 Aug 44)

Seenotstaffel 20, 50, 51, 60, 70, 80, 81(19 Aug 44 - 8 May 1945)


KStN ? (L) Seenotflottille (Sea Rescue Flotilla)

KStN 1500 (L) and KStN 1510 (L) Seenotergänzungsflottille (Sea Rescue Reserve Training Flotilla)

This was the rescue boat service of the Seenotdienst. It employed hundreds of small craft over the course of the war, ranging from tiny 2-man motorboats up to 65-ton launches with a crew of 10 (there is a full listing of these in Jung et al, pages 205-23). The first of the Seenotflottillen appears to have been formed (or ordered formed) on 1 June 1942, which was the date of the order directing a major reorganization of the Seenotdienst. The Seenotzentrale (L)s were replaced by the numbered Seenotbereichskommandos, the Seenotstaffeln became independent, and the rescue boat service, which previously had been a component of the Seenotzentrale (L), was formed into independent Seenotflottillen.

Unit Histories

This page provides links to all of the Seenotdienstverbände Unit Histories held on this wiki. There will be an "Index" page in the left-hand column and links to individual unit histories in the right-hand column.

Exceptions to this are units covered by one individual page - they are listed in the left-hand column.

Index Page Unit/History
Seenotdienstführer Seenotdienstführer 1
Seenotdienstführer 2
Seenotdienstführer Luftflotte 3
Seenotdienstführer 3
Seenotdienstführer 5
Seenotdienstführer Mitte
Seenotdienstführer Mittelmeer
Seenotdienstführer Norwegen
Seenotdienstführer West
Seenotbereichskommando Seenotbereichskommando I
Seenotbereichskommando II
Seenotbereichskommando III
Seenotbereichskommando IV
Seenotbereichskommando V
Seenotbereichskommando VI
Seenotbereichskommando VII
Seenotbereichskommando VIII
Seenotbereichskommando IX
Seenotbereichskommando X
Seenotbereichskommando XI
Seenotbereichskommando XII
Seenotbereichskommando XIII
Seenotbereichskommando XIV
Seenotbereichskommando (L) (10)
Seenotkommando Seenotkommando 1
Seenotkommando 2
Seenotkommando 3
Seenotkommando 4
Seenotkommando 5
Seenotkommando 6
Seenotkommando 7
Seenotkommando 8
Seenotkommando 9
Seenotkommando 10
Seenotkommando 11
Seenotkommando 12
Seenotkommando 13
Seenotkommando 14
Seenotkommando 15
Seenotkommando 16
Seenotkommando 17
Seenotkommando 18
Seenotkommando 19
Seenotkommando 20
Seenotkommando 21
Seenotkommando 22
Seenotkommando 23
Seenotkommando 24
Seenotkommando 25
Seenotkommando 26
Seenotkommando 27
Seenotkommando 28
Seenotkommando 29
Seenotkommando 30
Seenotkommando 31
Seenotkommando 34
Seenotkommando 35
Seenotstaffel 1. Seenotstaffel
2. Seenotstaffel
3. Seenotstaffel
4. Seenotstaffel
5. Seenotstaffel
6. Seenotstaffel
7. Seenotstaffel
8. Seenotstaffel
9. Seenotstaffel
10. Seenotstaffel
Seenotstaffel 20
Seenotstaffel 50
Seenotstaffel 51
Seenotstaffel 60
Seenotstaffel 70
Seenotstaffel 80
Seenotstaffel 81
Seenotflottille Seenotflottille 1
Seenotflottille 2
Seenotflottille 3
Seenotflottille 4
Seenotflottille 5
Seenotflottille 6
Seenotflottille 7
Seenotflottille 8
Seenotflottille 9
Seenotflottille 10
Seenotflottille 11
Seenotflottille 12
Seenotflottille 13
Seenotflottille 20
Seenotflottille 40
Seenotflottille 50
Seenotflottille 51
Seenotflottille 60
Seenotflottille 70
Seenotflottille 80
Seenotflottille 81
Seenotgruppe d.Lw. Stab/Seenotgruppe d.Lw.
I./Seenotgruppe d.Lw.
II./Seenotgruppe d.Lw.
III./Seenotgruppe d.Lw.
Seenotgruppe (L) Norderney
Seenotgruppe Seenotgruppe 20
Seenotgruppe 40
Seenotgruppe 50
Seenotgruppe 51
Seenotgruppe 60
Seenotgruppe 70
Seenotgruppe 80
Seenotgruppe 81
Seenotgruppe (L) Norderney
Seenotzentrale (L) Seenotzentrale (L) beim Admiral der norw. Westküste
Seenotzentrale (L) Aegaeisches Meer (or Ägäis)
Seenotzentrale (L) Athen
Seenotzentrale (L) Boulogne
Seenotzentrale (L) Brest
Seenotzentrale (L) Bretagne
Seenotzentrale (L) Cherbourg
Seenotzentrale (L) Dieppe
Seenotzentrale (L) Holland
Seenotzentrale (L) Kanalküste
Seenotzentrale (L) Nord
Seenotzentrale (L) Normandie
Seenotzentrale (L) Norwegen
Seenotzentrale (L) norwegischen Westküste
Seenotzentrale (L) ostw. Ostsee
Seenotzentrale (L) Polarküste
Seenotzentrale (L) Schwarzes Meer
Seenotzentrale (L) Sizilien
Seenotzentrale (L) z.b.V. VIII. Fliegerkorps

© H.L. deZeng IV, 2024


  1. Dierich-VdL, pp.283-97; PRO London: AIR 40/British Air Ministry (A.I.3.(E)) “Organisation of the Air/Sea Rescue Service in the G.A.F.", 31 January 1944; Air Ministry (A.I.3.(E)) "Numbered Units of the G.A.F. Air/Sea Rescue Service", 30 October 1944; DEFE 3 ULTRA signals; British Air Ministry publication S.D.431 (Secret) The Organisation of the German Air Force (January, 1943); AFHRA Maxwell AFB: decimal K113 Karlsruhe Collection Seenotdienst studies; decimal 512 various Air Ministry intelligence reports; decimal 512.619 British AirMin CSDIC P/W Interrogation Reports in microfilm rolls A5415-18, interrogation report CSDIC/CMF A.446; AFHRA Maxwell: decimal 512, Air Ministry document A.I.12. Y/29 G.A.F. Establishment Schedule Numbers; NARA WashDC: RG 242/T-405 roll 45, frame 950; T-77 Luftflotte 5 OB charts; T-971 roll 18; T-321 roll 39; T-311 roll 79; T-311 roll 187; Green-Warplanes; O.Tuider-Die Luftwaffe in Österreich 1938-1945 (Wien, 1985); Jung, Dieter, Berndt Wenze1 and Arno Abendroth, Die Schiffe und Boote der deutschen Seef1ieger 1912-1976, (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Ver1ag, 1977), pp.170-223; K.Born-Rettung zwischen den Fronten: Seenotdienst der deutschen Luftwaffe 1939-1945, (Hamburg: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn GmbH, 1996).