Wesertag - Anti-Shipping Operations
German Anti-Shipping Operations In Support of Wesertag - Article by Adam Thompson
At 0500 hours on 9 April 1940 German forces commenced Unternehmen Weserübung - the joint invasions of Denmark and Norway. For its part, the Luftwaffe was to be heavily committed to the invasion flying paratroop and supply drops, demonstration, bombing, reconnaissance and fighter sorties. However, since the Royal Navy was the prime threat to any German invasion of Norway, a heavy influence of anti-shipping was to be seen in the operations of the German air forces. For this reason it was the task of the Küstenfliegergruppen to reconnoiter the western flank of the operational area - the North and Norwegian Seas - for the approach of enemy naval forces.
Despite the fact that Wesertag – the date set for invasion - was 9 April, extensive reconnaissance of Norwegian and North Sea waters had been conducted the day before by aircraft from KüFlGr. 506 and the Fw 200 from the Fernflugstaffel 1 as far north as 63 degrees north in preparation for the invasion. To go with these reconnaissance sorties, on Wesertag minus one a force of 24 He 111s from II./KG 26 2 was sent to raid Scapa Flow in an attempt to disrupt the Royal Navy as it was putting to sea in preparation for its own foray into Norwegian waters. In a raid that Groβadmiral Raeder had forecast would be a failure, the attacking force of Heinkels was intercepted by Hurricanes from 43 and 111 Squadrons. In the ensuing encounter four bombers were either shot down or later crashed, as a result of damage – three of these crews were lost and three crewmembers of the remaining bomber killed when it crashed 12 miles west of Delmenhorst. Despite these efforts by KG 26 the British Home Fleet was still able to put to sea, yet it was not long before the Fleet was again to be intercepted.
On the day of the invasion, extensive reconnaissance was carried out by the Küstenfliegergruppen which flew a total of 49 sorties over waters west of Norway in search of the British Fleet which had already put to sea. Thirty-six of these sorties were flown during the morning while the remaining 13 were sent out during the afternoon. If British units were detected during these sorties then it was up to the Kampf- and Sturzkampfgeschwader to intercept and destroy them. For this reason, part of the operational plan for the invasion of Norway stipulated that:
“[Kampfgeschwader] 26 will, with the I. and III. Gruppen, operate against British naval forces in the North Sea. On Wesertag [the day of the invasion] minus one, KG 26 will move to Marx from Delmenhorst, KGr. 100 from Lüneburg to Nordholz while II./KG 26 will operate directly from Blankensee. The He 111 H-4s will carry as many SC500 bombs as supplies permit, the remainder to be equipped with SC 250s with Ignitor 38 fuses. From dawn on Wesertag all units will mount a two hour alert. One Staffel from KG 26 will fly to Stavanger during the late morning of the 9th, land there, and then maintain full alert to operate against British naval forces.”6
Kampfgeschwader 26 Losses on raid to Scapa Flow, 8 April 1940
i) Oblt. Alfred Donke, 4./KG 26, shot down by Fl. Off. D.L. Bruce of 43 Squadron. Crashed into the sea at 2035 the sea. Three men rescued by RN. One man MIA
ii) Uffz. Mathäus Hofer, 6./KG 26, shot down by Fl. Lt. Peter Townsend of 43 Squadron. Crashed into the sea. All crew lost
iii) Lt. Kurt Weigel, 6./KG 26, force-landed at Wick (RAF) after interception by Sgt. Jim Hallowes of 43 Squadron. Two men KIA, two men POW
iv) Fw. Erich Morann, 4./KG 26, force-landed 12 miles west of Delmenhorst after interception by Sgt. J. Arbuthnot of 43 Squadron. Three men KIA, one man safe.
So serious were the German anti-shipping intentions that it wasn’t just KG 26 that was directed to fly this type of mission during the invasion. Virtually the Luftwaffe’s entire Kampf-, Küsten-, and Sturzkampfgeschwader detailed for Weserübung had been given similar instructions. In fact the Germans were so aware of British naval forces stationed so close to the main operational area, that they had assembled an air force heavily fleshed out with bomber units to combat any such threat. The aerial forces assembled to form X Fliegerkorps for the invasion under the command of Generalleutnant Hans Geisler, had as its striking force, the following units:
UNIT AIRCRAFT BASE A/C AVAILABLE
Stab./KG 4 He 111 P-4 Fassberg 6
I./KG 4 He 111 P-4 Perleberg 36
II. /KG 4 He 111 P-4 Fassberg 36
III./KG 4 He 111 P-4 Lüneburg 17
Stab./KG 26 He 111 H-3 and H-4 Westerland 6
I./KG 26 He 111 H-3 and H-4 Varel 36
II./KG 26 He 111 H-3 and H-4 Marx 36
III./KG 26 He 111 H-3 and H-4 Westerland 26
Stab./KG 30 Ju 88 A-1 Westerland/Sylt 1
I./KG 30 Ju 88 A-1 Westerland/Sylt 25
II./KG 30 Ju 88 A-1 Westerland/Sylt 30
III./KG 30 Ju 88 A-1 Westerland/Sylt 13
KGr. 100 He 111 H-3 Nordholz 27
In addition these bomber units were supported by the Ju 87s of I./St.G. 1 while escort and fighter duties were to be provided by the Ju 88C-2s of (Z)./KG 30, the Bf 110s of I./ZG 1 and I./ZG 76 and the Bf 109s of II./JG 77. To complete the list of units available to Geisler for the planned invasion there were also the seaplane and flying boats of the Küstenfliegergruppen while transport duties were carried out by predominantly Ju 52/3m equipped Kampfgeschwader zur besonderen Verwendung (KGzbV) units.
On the day of the invasion, Wesertag, the Küstenfliegergruppen 106, 406, 506 and 906 flew almost continual coastal and sea-lane reconnaissance sorties in addition to sorties carried out by the Arado 196 seaplane flying from the cruiser Admiral Hipper in an effort to keep abreast of the situation developing at sea and British intentions.
The first reconnaissance missions on the day of the invasion were flown by crews of KüFlGr. 406 and lifted off from Hörnum at 0520 hours. In all ten sorties were sent out by KüFlGr. 406 that morning and were followed up an hour later (0603hrs.) by aircraft from KüFlGr. 106 and KüFlGr. 506 with aircraft from KüFlGr. 906 also participating in reconnaissance duties. It was through this concentration of forces, combined with good fortune that at 0855 on Wesertag a British Fleet was first sighted south-west of Bergen by an aircraft of 2./506. Throughout the remainder of the day almost continual updates flowed into X Fliegerkorps, not just on the British Fleet steaming towards Norway, but also on an assortment of other enemy shipping in and around Norwegian waters.
Thanks to these continual updates streaming into X Fliegerkorps headquarters, on the afternoon of 9 April over 100 sorties were launched (See Table 1) against the inbound British Fleet. The raid was made up of Ju 88s from KG. 30, He 111s from KG. 26 and Stukas from StG. 1. Unable to make the distance to the target and return, the Stukas instead bombed and sank a Norwegian destroyer off the Norwegian coast. Yet the interception had come too late as earlier in the day the destroyer had caught the German supply ship Roda in open waters and sunk her.
While the Stukas were at work on the Norwegian destroyer, the main force of German bombers had been able to locate the British fleet. Attacking through a withering barrage of anti-aircraft fire the bombers attacked and were able to sink the destroyer HMS Gurkha. In addition to this the battleship HMS Rodney, and the cruisers HMS Southampton, Devonshire, Sheffield, Glasgow and Galatea were all damaged to varying degrees. To supplement the damage that had been wrought, the attack had forced many of the British vessels to withdraw from their positions and return to Scotland for resupply. In most cases the resupply was for anti-aircraft ammunition as the prodigious use of such ammunition during the defence of the Fleet had meant that some ship’s lockers were up to 40 percent empty after the last wave of bombers had departed the scene. Considering the size of the attacking force, which numbered some 88 aircraft, the results that had been achieved, were considerable.
Table 1: Sorties against British Home Fleet, 9 April 1940
UNIT AIRCRAFT PURPOSE NUMBER OF SORTIES LOSSES 1./KüFlGr 106 He 115 Reconnaissance 8 1 KüFlGr 406 Do 18 Reconnaissance 8 1 1./KüFlGr 506 He 115 Reconnaissance 10 - 2./KüFlGr 506 He 115 Reconnaissance 10 - 2./KüFlGr 406 3./KüFlGr 406 2./KüFlGr 906 Do 18 Reconnaissance 13 2 (1 each from 2./KüFlGr 406 and 2./KüFlGr 906) I./StG. 1 Ju 87 Anti-Shipping 22 - KG. 26 He 111s Anti-Shipping 41 - KG. 30 Ju 88 Anti-Shipping 47 4
Yet this was not the only success of the day. Whilst on an armed reconnaissance earlier in the day, aircraft from 8./KG 4 had found and sunk the 735 ton Norwegian destroyer Æger in Amøyfjorden, close to Stavanger.
For all the successes achieved during the day, against enemy shipping, the Germans did not have it all their own way. During the days action against shipping the Germans had lost two Do 18s, one each from 3./406 and 2./906, and one He 115 lost from both 1./106 and 2./506 in addition to four of K.G. 30’s Ju 88s which were shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the British vessels, including that of Hauptmann Siegfried Mahrenholtz, Gruppen Kommandeur of III./KG. 30. Yet despite these losses the victory was worth the loss in men and material. For the British the loss of the Ghurka had been a heavy blow, but what was more discouraging was that several ships, thanks to the uncontrolled expenditure of anti-aircraft ammunition, had been forced to turn for home and resupply which effectively negated their presence in the operational area at a crucial time during the battle. Fearing further attacks, the British Fleet abandoned their sortie and either withdrew or held station in fear of further attacks.
Given the successes of the previous day and the lingering fear of British interference at sea, X Fliegerkorps again detailed raids, aimed at the British Fleet and its base at Scapa Flow. Held back in readiness, the Stukas of 1./St.G. 1, which had flown to Norway the preceding afternoon, along with twelve He 111s from KG. 26 based in Denmark, were in position to intercept any Royal Navy attacks on either Oslo or Bergen. As an anti-shipping strike force, the aircraft available were inadequate, but should the situation become critical the He 111s of KGr. 100, which were based at Nordholz, were available for action. Indeed, during the afternoon KGr 100 participated in an armed reconnaissance, finding and attacking a convoy in the mid-afternoon. For all intents and purposes the raid was a failure. No ships were sunk or damaged during the attack but a 1 Staffel machine returned with Ofw Richard Röder, the flight mechanic, dead and Uffz. Alfred Traupe, the gunner, wounded.
Far from content to let this miserable action be the only anti-shipping strike of the day, a raid was organised for the afternoon which was to strike at the home of the British Home Fleet – Scapa Flow.
According to Lagebericht West Nr 218 vom 10./11.4.1940 21 the day’s operations directed against enemy shipping was summarized thus:-
C) At 1240, ten aircraft of KGr 100 are sent out on an armed reconnaissance searching for shipping off the Shetlands and Orkneys. Between 1617 and 1640 east of the Orkneys in the Moray Firth two convoys consisting of 14 steamers, 10 destroyers, 2 cruisers and 4 individual steamers. The convoy and steamers are heading on a westerly heading, the warships on a northerly heading. At 1740 off the southern tip of the Orkney Islands 2 battleships, 3 cruisers and 6 destroyers and spotted on a north-northwesterly heading. This fleet was attacked without recognizable success. Throughout the flight Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and ship borne flak harass the unit. In an air battle a Hurricane fighter was shot down.
D) At around 1250, six airplanes of 1.(F)/122 take off for a reconnaissance mission in the northern area of the North Sea. At 1700 1 battle-cruiser (Hood?) with 4 cruisers as well as several destroyers are spotted on a course steering north-west off the Orkney Islands. Concerns raised this may be the same fleet as reported by KGr. 100 under figure c). Aircraft short encounter with two Lockheed aircraft with no result.
E) At 1100 an He 111 of 3./ObdL is sent on a reconnaissance mission to Scapa Flow. The aircraft is shot down with the loss of all crew.
G) Between 1238 and 1239 II./KG. 26 take-off for operations over the North Sea. On the basis of information supplied under c) and d) the gruppe heads towards the Orkneys. Due to bad weather attacks were limited. At 1840 from 700 metres, coming out of cloud, a surprise attack was launched on a destroyer with two SC 500 bombs. At 1850 an attack on a cruiser was unsuccessful. The attack had to be called off due to worsening weather. (Cloud base had dropped from 700 to 500 metres and visibility was less than a kilometer.) Two aircraft were lost, while one other crash landed at Stavanger.
H) Nineteen aircraft of I./KG. 26 – taking off about 1820 – head out to attack the reported naval forces east of the Orkney Islands. Due to worsening weather and the approach of nightfall many crews did not find their target. Of those that did some were unable to attack due to being blinded by floodlights carried by the ships. Those aircraft that did bomb could not observe their results because of the blinding effect, though a large warship was probably hit with one SC 250 bomb. During the attack three floodlights and some flak was knocked out. The defense of the ships was an unknown quantity of flak and about 200 floodlights. In addition Gladiator fighters also tried to intercept the bombers. One of these was shot down.
I) Nineteen aircraft of KG 30 take off at 1837 to attack the enemy naval forces in Scapa Flow. Seventeen aircraft were able to attack. Several near misses on the tidal walls and one SD 500 hit on a cruiser were observed. Within the area 2 cruisers and several destroyers were noted. In the northern part of the bay 2 cruisers with some destroyers and steamers were also spotted. Defense of Scapa Flow was provided by floodlights and ground and ship based flak. One aircraft was lost in the attack.
As with the operations carried out the day before, the Luftwaffe, in co-operation with the Küstenfliegergruppen, had been able to, with relatively small forces, tie up a large force of the Royal Navy that could otherwise have been making its presence felt in Norway. Yet the attack was not without its down side. As with the day before an experienced Gruppen Kommandeur had been lost, namely Oberstleutnant Hans Alefeld of I./KG. 26
Table 2: German Sorties Against Enemy Shipping, 10 April 1940
UNIT AIRCRAFT PURPOSE NUMBER OF SORTIES LOSSES KüFlGr 106 Do 18 Reconnaissance Unknown 1 KüFlGr 406 Do 18 Reconnaissance 8 - 3(F)/ObdL He 111 Reconnaissance 1 1 1(F)/122 He 111 Reconnaissance 6 - KGr. 100 He 111 Armed Reconnaissance 10 1 KG. 26 He 111 Anti-Shipping 54 6 KG. 30 Ju 88 Anti-Shipping 1923 2
The operations of the first two days of Unternehmen Weserübung set the pace of operations against enemy shipping in the weeks that followed. Other than the reconnaissance Gruppen involved in searching for and plotting enemy surface vessels, the main task of interception lay mainly with KG 26 and 30. Depending on the availability of resources and the priority assigned to targets at times other units were involved in anti-shipping strikes. For instance the He 111s of 7./LG 1 accompanied aircraft from 3., 5. and 6./KG 26 on 13 April to attack destroyers that had been sighted north of Vigra Island,24 while on 18 April the long-range Fw 200s of I./KG. 40 attacked the aircraft carrier Furious in a fjord north of Tromsø and gained a near miss, damaging the ships propellers. Right up until the British withdrawal of their positions in Norway and the ultimate surrender of the country, the Luftwaffe continued to seek out and actively engage enemy shipping.
Table 3: German Units Positively Identified As Operating Against Enemy Shipping During Weserübung
KüFlGr. 106 Do 18
KüFlGr. 406 Do 18
KüFlGr. 506 He 115 Do 18
KüFlGr. 606 Do 17
KüFlGr. 906 He 115 Do 18
Fernaufklärungsgruppe ObdL. He 111 Do 215
(F)/122 He 111
St.G. 1 Ju 87
KGr. 100 He 111
KG. 26 He 111
KG. 30 Ju 88
I./KG. 40 Fw 200
7./LG. 1 He 111 Ju 88
The invasion of Norway proved to be the moment of truth for sea-versus-air, forces. For almost the entire time of the invasion of Norway running battles between sea and air forces raged off the Norwegian coast. This demonstrated conclusively that fleets could not effectively operate without air cover in areas within reach of enemy bomber units. As April wore on and flowed into May and then June, the various units of the Luftwaffe assigned to the invasion continued to aggressively target British and Norwegian shipping. In these endeavours the Luftwaffe was undoubtedly assisted by the Küstenfliegergruppen which was becoming increasingly equipped with more modern aircraft. As the epicentre of battle shifted further north in Norway so to the Luftwaffe was able to deploy to airfields in southern Norway which greatly extended the range of its anti-shipping strike and reconnaissance forces.
Table 4: Royal Navy Vessels Lost To Aircraft during Weserübung
09/04/40 Destroyer GURKHA (1,870t) Sunk by aircraft bombs, off Stavanger, Norway
20/04/40 Trawler RUTLANDSHIRE (458t) Attacked by aircraft and grounded, Namsos, Norway
25/04/40 Trawler BRADMAN (452t) Sunk by aircraft, West Coast of Norway.
25/04/40 Trawler HAMMOND (452t) Sunk by aircraft, Aandalsnes. Norway.
25/04/40 Trawler LARWOOD (453t) Sunk by aircraft, West Coast of Norway
28/04/40 Trawler CAPE SIRETOKO (590t) Sunk by aircraft, West Coast of Norway
29/04/40 Trawler CAPE CHELYUSKIN (550t) Sunk by aircraft bombs, off Norway
30/04/40 Sloop BITTERN (1,190t) German bombers off Namsos, Norway
30/04/40 Trawler JARDINE (452t) Sunk by own forces after damage by aircraft, West Coast of Norway.
30/04/40 Trawler WARWICKSHIRE (466t) Sunk by aircraft, Trondheim area, Norway.
3/05/40 Destroyer AFRIDI (1,870t) Sunk by aircraft bombs, off Norway
3/05/40 Trawler ASTON VILLA (546t) Sunk by aircraft off Norway.
3/05/40 Trawler GAUL (550t) Sunk by aircraft off Norway.
3/05/40 Trawler ST. GORAN (565t) Sunk by aircraft, Namsos, Norway
21/05/40 Trawler CAPE PASSARO (590t) Sunk by aircraft, Narvik area, Norway
22/05/40 Trawler MELBOURNE (466t) Sunk by aircraft, Narvik area, Norway
25/05/40 Special service vessel MASHOBRA (8,324t) Damaged by aircraft, and beached at Narvik
26/05/40 Boom defence vessel LOCH SHIN (255t) Capsized at Harstad, Norway, after being damaged by aircraft and beached.
26/05/40 Cruiser CURLEW (4,290t) Sunk by aircraft, bombs, off Ofotfiord, Norway
10/06/40 Armed boarding vessel VAN DYCK (13,241t) Lost in convoy probably by German air attack, Narvik area, Norway
i) Lagebericht West Nr 218 vom 10./11.4.1940
ii) Generalquartiermeister (6.Abt.)Loss reports
iii) Goss, Chris Sea Eagle.: Luftwaffe Anti-Shipping Units. Volume 1: 1939 – 1941 Chevron, London. 2005
iv) Creek, Eddie and J. Richard Smith Kampfflieger, Vol. 2 1933 – 1940 Classic Publications, London. 2004
v) Hooton, E.R. Phoenix Triumphant. The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe Arms and Armour Press, London. 1994
vi) Shores, Christopher with John Foreman, Christian-Jacques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjorn Olsen, Fledgling Eagles Grubb Street, London. 1998
vii) Wakefield, Kenneth The First Pathfinders. The Operational History of Kampfgruppe 100 Crecy Books, London. 1992
viii) Michael Holm http://www.ww2.dk The Luftwaffe, 1933 – 1945
ix) Dybvig, Olve http://www.luftwaffe.no SIG Luftwaffe
x) Smith, Gordon http://www.naval-history.net ROYAL NAVY VESSELS LOST AT SEA, 1939-45