The Death of Göring and the Victory of the Luftwaffe
by Mr Bluenote
Shortages of much needed raw materials had become increasingly apparent as
The Third Reich’s economy and its armed forces grew, especially as not only
the services within the Wehrmacht itself, but also several civilian agencies
competed for copper, steel, iron and other vital, but scarce resources. In the
early Summer of 1938, Hitler was warned that there would have to be a
significant reduction in the Wehrmacht’s rate of re-armament and expansion as
the stock of said resources were virtually used up. That, of course, affected
the Luftwaffe as well, but Milch put the slowing tempi to good use as he made
several factories re-tool and upgrade their production lines to more modern
designs instead of the older designs made so far.
And so it begins
Power is a war but to you it’s just a game
Power is glory, power is gold
Power is chaos and you’re out of control
Power isn’t freedom, power is a cage
Power is your sin and it feeds my rage!
- Claw Finger, Power.
Born from the dark,
in the black cloak of night
to envelop its prey below,
deliver to the light.
To eliminate your enemy,
hit them in their sleep,
and when all is won and lost,
the spoils of war are yours to keep!
- Megadeath, Architecture of Aggression.
On the 1st of September, 1939, the armed forces of Hitler’s Third Reich initiated Fall Weiss – Plan White – and begun an undeclared war with Poland as German Army Groups crossed the border. Thus started what was to be known as the Second World War. Seen in retrospective the Great War of 1914-18 wasn’t so great any more as the entire world would soon erupt into flames and happily let itself get consumed in total war for some 8 years.
In the early morning of the 1st of September, Luftwaffe launched massive concentrated strikes on the Polish air bases, communications and transportation hubs and army assembly areas. The actions of the Luftwaffe insured a certain amount of success. Even though it didn’t destroy the Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej - Polish Air Force –, or WLOP, on the ground, it nonetheless decimated the Polish air units and wrecked havoc on its ability to counter the swarms of German fighters and bombers who waged war on Poland from above.
At the beginning of Fall Weiss the Luftwaffe was a truly formidable and well-oiled machine of war. Its basic strength was some 350,000 men, of which some 200,000 were in the air force itself, 90,000 were in the FlaK units and 60,000 were in the air signals units. Luftwaffe had a strength of just below 4,000 operational aircraft, including some 2,300 frontline units - 700 medium and heavy bombers and nearly 1,500 fighters - and some 500 transport aircraft - mostly the venerable and tried 3-engined Junkers Ju-52.
In comparison the Polish Air Force numbered about 900 aircraft of all types, most of which were obsolete. All of the Polish fighters, however, were of a relative modern design and made in Warsaw by a state-owned company called the PZL – short for Polish Air Works. The Polish Air Force was under the direct control of the Polish Army and mostly limited to ground support missions, which would harm it when faced with the air-to-air combat trained Luftwaffe pilots. The Polish pilots were well-trained and got the most out of their aircraft, but could not overcome the size, skill and determination of Wever and Milch’s Luftwaffe.
Even though Milch saw the Luftwaffe’s very vertical organisation in four separate territorial commands, based on the Flutflottes, as a in build weakness – he apparently would have liked a system closer to that of the British with a horizontal organisation, with commands for fighters, bombers, air defence and ground observers - the system nonetheless worked. The organisation got somewhat cumbersome when used to project power beyond the borders of the Third Reich, but the versatility, skill and adaptability of Luftwaffe’s personnel at all levels more than made up for this. Furthermore the increased coordination within the Wehrmacht between Army, Navy and Air Force gave the German military an invaluable edge when combat was finally joined and the war started.
Luftflotte – Air fleet – 1 under Air General Udet went into action in support of Generaloberst - Colonel General - Fedor von Bock’s Army Group North as it blitzed its way through the Polish Corridor to Danzig. Air General Löhr’s Luftflotte 4 struck out in support of Generaloberst Gerd von Rundtstedt’s Army Group South as it moved out from its positions in Silesia, Moravia and Slowakia.
All the Poles could do was to pray to the All Mighty, that the Western Powers would help them. Sill, no-one in Warsaw truly believed or trusted that the leader of the western powers, the British PM, Neville Chamberlain - the very same man who had prevented a Polish mobilisation -, would rise to the challenge, and events proved them right. The British and French did, however, declare war on Germany on the 3rd of September, but not much more. After 22 days of fighting it was all but over for the Poles.
The Fall Weiss-campaign had lasted less than two months and ended in the fourth partition of Poland. Luftwaffe had suffered the loses of some 280 aircraft and 330 airmen of which some 100 were only lost, not killed, and used over half its stores of munitions, but compared with the Army’s losses, however, the Luftwaffe’s casualties were very low. The Army’s losses were surprisingly heavy, especially considering how brief the battle for Poland had been. German casualties total some 48,000 of which 16,000 were killed. Fully one quarter of the panzers the German committed to battle were lost.
A troubled Empire
London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared-and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look at us
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing
- The Clash, London Calling.
I’m diggin’ my way to something better
I’m sowing the seeds I take for granted
This thorn in my side is from the tree I’ve planted
It tears me and I bleed
- Metallica, Bleeding Me.
One might argue that the inevitability of another Great War lies more with the British than with the Germans. On the 28th of May, 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain and headed a Conservative government that more than anything else became synonymous with the foreign policy that later became known as Appeasement. Hitler was no doubt a man driven be insane urging, but Chamberlain was the man who could have stopped him – instead he would be the man who sold the world, quite literally.
Between 1937 and 1939, Chamberlain and his supporters in the Cabinet and in the Conservative Party felt that Germany had been badly treated by the Ententé in the aftermath of the Great War – later to be known as World War I. Chamberlain therefore thought that the German government had genuine grievances and that these needed to be addressed and rectified. The British Government therefore agreed to most of the German territorial demands and thus spurred Hitler on…
Battle of the Sea and Air
Laurels, human triumph, bestowments from the past
Victories don’t mean a thing if they don’t last
We are just marching towards extinction with blinders on our eyes
Jeopardizing everything we’ve lerned and come to realize
You call that wise?
- Bad Religion, New America.
Even on the waves there is fighting
Where fish and flesh are woven into sea
One stabs the lance while in the army
Another throws it into the ocean
Arise, arise seaman arise
Each does it in his own way
One thrusts the spear into a man
Another then into the fish
- Rammstein, Reise, Reise.
The Kriegsmarine had taken to the idea of a naval airforce with great enthusiasm. And with good reason as the naval aviators of the Kriegsmarine already had proven their worth during Fall Weiss.
Not surprisingly, the Kriegsmarine, or more precisely Operation Group East, had held an overwhelming superiority over their opponents in the Polish Navy, but both out of fear of mines and an eagerness to see their new air units in action, the OKM had decided to let the cocky young naval aviators of the Kriegmarine’s Luftstreitkräfte Kommando, KLK, lead the onslaught. On the 1st of September, the first operational squadrons of the KLK, three in all, attacked the still moored ships of the Polish navy at its primary anchorage at Oksywie near Gdyna. The new second generation Fieseler Fi-167 torpedo bombers and some Ju-87 dive bombers (on extended loan from OKL) had sunk two destroyers, the Grom and B?yskawica, the minelayer Gryf and several minesweepers despite heavy anti-aircraft fire from both ships and land. Furthermore a pair of FW-200 Condor naval bombers had sunk two Polish submarines, the Orze? and Ryd as they tried to escape the Baltic.
With these victories under its belt, the Kriegsmarine not only helped finance the various training programmes of the Luftwaffe – as mentioned earlier basic pilot and aircrew training were under Luftwaffe’s aegis, and then specialised training would follow under the auspice of the Kriegsmarine -, but they also shared the burden of research and development with the Air Ministry and Luftwaffe itself. Two of the main areas of cooperation was helicopters and RADAR.
All the way back in 1937, the OKM - the Kriegsmarine’s High Command - had considered making use of the emerging new type of aircraft and as the war began to loom ever closer, the OKM made a request for a naval helicopter capable of operating from its major surface vessels.
Several German inventors, among them most notably, Doktor Heinrich Focke and Anton Flettner, had been working on some rather sophisticated and promising designs for a while. Especially Dr. Focke’s helicopter – the Fw-61 - got a lot of attention from both the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe after several successful demonstrations in 1938 – one were Germany's much celebrated aviatrix, Hanna Reitsch, had flown the little machine inside the Deutsch-landhalle Sports Stadium in Berlin. In mid-1939 a testpilot, Kurt Beck, actually flew one of the new Focke-Achgelis Fa-223 Drache - Dragon -prototypes from a platform mounted on the KM Lützow – a pocket battleship of the Deutschland class.
After the successful conclusion to the Polish campaign, the Air Ministry, the OKM and OKL pooled their somewhat meagre resources in an effort to develop and built a series of useful prototypes for further evaluation and use by all three services of the Wehrmacht. The Heer had shown some interest as well in these new machines, and the ever resource and money strapped Milch had been quick to include the Heer in the project. The project ended up under the daily control of Air Generals Felmy and Student. The energetic and visionary Student already seemed to have an use in mind for the helicopters…
The first real helicopter, the Focke-Achgelis Fa-223 Drache, was an extremely advanced design with impressive capabilities for its time. The Fa-223 was fundamentally an extension of the concept which had produced the smaller Fw-61 and employed a generally similar arrangement of twin counter-rotating rotors mounted on outriggers from the main airframe and driven by a fuselage-mounted radial engine. In the case of the Fa-223, however, the engine was installed amidships in the fabric-covered steel-tube fuselage to the rear of the 4-seat passenger compartment. The forward part of the cabin was a multiple-panelled enclosure made up of flat Plexiglass panels, and the aircraft was fitted with a tricycle undercarriage.
Soon, after having consulted with Air General Student, and the OKL, a more radical design was proposed; the Fa-284. Focke-Achgelis would produce a 4-rotor helicopter by joining two outrigger engines together in tandem with central fuselage centre-section. The large so-called heli-crane would be powered by two 2000hp BMW engines - that were synchronised which mat that the Fa-284 could work on one engine alone - and capable of lifting a payload of some 7 tonnes and was therefore able to haul such loads as armoured vehicles and trucks… or 24 fully armed paratroopers form Student's elité combat units, the Fallschrimsjägers.
The most capable German helicopter developed during this period would , however, be the Unterseeboot Jaeger Fl-41 Grief - Griffin. At the end of 1940, it became apparent to the leadership of the Kriegsmarine, that the helicopters in the Navy's inventory – primarily the Fa-223 Drache and the lighter FW.61- were not of the size to accomplish anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions. The Kriegsmarine’s own FW.61 was too small and the Luftwaffe and Heer’s Fa-284 on the contrary was far to large. Thus in late 1940, the Kriegsmarine began to look around for a new heavy helicopter to be designed specifically for the ASW role. In early 1941, Anton Flettner and his design bureau was awarded a contract calling for the building of three prototypes of Unterseeboot Jaeger Fl-41 Grief. The heavy, rather cumbersome machine used Flettners patented counter-rotating, intermeshing twin rotors in a tandem-rotor layout each driven by twin-engines with an inertia damping system to reduce the shake of the control stick.
The three UJ Fl-41 Greif’s in the original contract were extensively tested on the deck of a cruiser with such encouraging results that work was speeded up and a series of 24 were ordered.
Lessons Learned and Choices Made
Onwards, onwards into destruction
We must live until we die
And the child says to the father
Don't you hear the thunder
That's the king of all the winds
He wants me to become his child
From the clouds falls a choir
which crawls into the little ear
Come here, stay here
We'll be good to you
Come here, stay here
We are your brothers
- Rammstein, Dalai Lama.
Now we’ve rewritten history,
The one thing we’ve found out,
Sweet taste of vindication,
It turns to ashes in your mouth!
- Megadeath, Ashes in Your Mouth.
Meanwhile in Berlin, OKW prepared for the new campaign with frequent nervous conferences. On 27th of September, a jubilant and highly exited Hitler instructed the Wehrmacht’s Commanders-in-Chiefs, that they should be prepared for an continuation of hostilities and prepare an offensive against France as soon as possible. Hitler, as he often did, fixed new dates for the invasion in rapid succession, but he bowed to the Luftwaffe’s requirement of no less than five days of guarantied fine weather so that the French air force could be destroyed, which basically meant that the invasion of France could not happen before at the earliest spring of 1940. The OKW sighed collectively in relief….
Both Wever and Milch, however, were acutely aware that time was working to Germany’s disadvantage, even with the improved and streamlined production set-up they had initiated. Intelligence put the combined British and French air strength at close to 4,000 bombers and some 1,500 fighters on the 1st of January, 1940. Out of those 5.500 aircraft about sixty percent were operational at all times (the intelligence estimate would later be proven to be grossly inaccurate as the French Air Force was quite a bit larger). Of course the air forces of the Low Countries had planes as well, but neither of the two countries, or Luxembourg, really troubled the planners at OKL. OKL knew, from both its own sources and from Abwehr – the primary German Intelligence Agency -, that both Britain and France were purchasing as many aircraft from the United States of America as they could possibly get their hands on, as well as boosting their own production (by May 1940, French manufacturers were producing 619 combat aircraft per month, American firms were adding 170 per month, and the British were producing 368 aircraft per month. By comparison the Germans produced some 700 combat aircraft pr month during most of 1940), so it would only be a matter of time before the Luftwaffe found itself confronted by a numerically equal, or more likely numerically superior, enemy. Generally speaking, the French Armee l’Air didn’t concern the Germans as much as the British Royal Airforce did. Thankfully, both nations, especially the British, seemed obsessed with building bombers, especially heavy 4-engined ones like the British Short Stirling or the French Farman 222. Rumours of a new British super-fighter caused a lot of worry in OKL as well as the appearance of deadly French Dewoitine-figther did. Again, thankfully, the first proved never to be built (after the war Dowding would rant on about this fighter, which apparently should have been called the Spitfire and would, according to Dowding, have been able to defeat any German fighter) and the second was never built in sufficient numbers.
A Sonderstab – special unit – under OKL’s operations division soon did a study on Tactical Aims for the Luftwaffe in the Western Theatre of Operations with a separate focus on a prolonged conflict with Britain. Wolfram von Richthofen, who led the Sonderstab’s work, emphasised: "the equipment, state of training and strength of the Luftwaffe cannot bring about a quick decision in any war with Britain in 1939, but it is likely that a decision can be reached by airpower somewhere in 1940 if the right circumstance should arise! As we cannot expect to achieve anything more than a disruptive effect, we must aim for the destruction of most of RAF’s combat power and that of the RN’s ability to wage a successful naval war due to our control of the air and that this will lead to an erosion of the British will to fight. Certainly a war of annihilation against Britain appears out of the question with the means at hand!" Both Wever and Milch felt rather confident, though, as the Kriegsmarine’s KLK grew in strength and had shown its capabilities in handling its anti-shipping duties. Furthermore the Me-109’s with their drop tanks was capable of reaching deep into British air space and thus providing the more vulnerable bombers with escorts. However, the He-111 bomber was thought to be somewhat inadequate in both range and numbers, but the senior officers in the OKL and the in Milch’s Air Ministry thought that fighters would decide the outcome of any conflict with Britain anyhow. As Air General Udet was quoted at the time: "Give our boys air superiority over the British Isles and the Tea Drinking Surrender Monkeys will sue for peace in a jiffy!"
In little more than 6 years, Milch and Wever had made the Luftwaffe into perhaps the finest air force ever. Several things still needed to be corrected, though. Luftwaffe’s command and control system was far from being perfect, furthermore the standard of blind-flying was not high enough and the various stockpiles – fuel as well as both spare parts and ammunition of all sorts - were dangerously low. Some steps was taken to correct this immediately, such as Luftwaffe forward observers and ground-to-air liaison officers with the avantgarde of the Heer’s units, a more streamlined system of communication with a central command and control unit for each Luftflotte and a centralised air defence for all of Germany – aka the Home Chain. The continuous improvements in RADAR by the research team working under the auspice of the Air Ministry opened up for a whole new range of opportunities, besides the Home Chain integrated air defence system. One was the concept of an airborne early warning and command and control aircraft.
The experimental FunkMessGeraet G-series of airborne RADARs were small enough to be fitted into a larger aircraft, so three Dornier Do-19 heavy bombers were fitted with the RADAR and an impressive radio suite. The Dorniers would provide airborne early warning and command and control functions for the strike elements of a Luftflotte. The idea was proven sound in a series of mock air battles over southeastern Germany in early 1940.
So sound actually, that Wever and Milch put Focke Wulf Flugzeugbau, the designers of the long range FW-200 Condor, in charge of constructing a purpose built early warning and command and control aircraft. The plane, named FW-331 Eule – Owl –, would provide Luftwaffe’s Luftflotte and eventually smaller units with early warning, strike and interceptor control, search and rescue guidance and serve as a communications relay. The FW-331 Eule would be staffed with 12 men, all highly trained as they would be called upon to do on the spot threat analyses, exercise control of counteraction against air targets AND keep the rather volatile equipment running. The ungainly FW-331 Eule – it was a high-wing 4-engined aircraft with a multitude of antennas and a huge parabolic disc containing the FMG G-11 Wotan RADAR suspended in a rotating suspension beneath the fuselage and an extremely weird looking multiple-surface tail unit - was designed and built in record time as the FW design team based it on designs already on the drawing board. The FW-331 Eule was test flown the 23rd of March, 1941, far too late to participate in the Battle of Britain, but the lessons learned from designing the plane led to more of the older Dornier Do-19’s – in the process of being phased out by the newer Heinkel He-177 Geier – Vulture - being equipped with communication and RADAR technology to fulfil this role temporarily. The FW-331 Eule would, however, prove its worth over the Soviet Union in the years to come…
The usefulness of RADAR was proven beyond any doubt on the 13th of December, 1939, when the Seetakt-equipped pocket battleship, Graf Spee, engaged three British cruisers in the South Atlantic and due to its superior gunnery sank two of them and mauled the third quite severely. A panic stricken British Admiralty vectored everything the Royal Navy had in the area in the direction of Graf Spees’ last know position, but the German warship had already moved on at full steam.
Another important issue for the Luftwaffe in late 1939 and early 1940 was that of airfields. The airfields had not been built with an eye to the size of the new generation of aircraft that was to come and was thus by far too small for its intended purpose. Albert Speer - Hitler’s’ architect of all people, and a personal friend of Milch’s - and his organisation had volunteered for duty immediately after the war had begun, but had been asked to concentrate on building the Reichs many new marvellous buildings, that Hitler so loved. Speer and Milch, however, knew each other from various social occasions and Speer suggested that his organisation could be of use to the Luftwaffe. Various pre-produced concrete elements and the use of RAD-teams led by Luftwaffe’s newly created Construction Brigades – the name given for Speers organisation when working for the Luftwaffe – soon constructed new and enlarged older airfields with impressive haste. During the invasion of France, Norway and to a lesser extend Denmark and the Low Countries, the Construction Brigades would prove invaluable to Luftwaffe.
The short victorious war with Poland had shown that, while highly accurate, the dive bombing Stuka’s were not really all that effective, or safe, on a modern battlefield, so an initiative was taken to upgrade those in service and to replace them as soon as possible - which might take some time as the Luftwaffe was chronically short on resources. The first series of Ju-87’s were upgraded with two 37mm cannons, so they could stay on the battlefield longer instead of just making one bomb run, as well as being reduced to single seaters and furthermore had the landing gear made retractable. The weight saved was used on armour plating around the cockpit.
We few, we happy few…
Steal dreams and give to you
Shoplift a thought or two
All children touch the sun
Burn fingers one by one by one
Will this Earth be good to you?
Keep you clean or stain through?
So wake up sleepy one
It’s time to save your world
You’re where the wild things are
Toy soldiers off to war
- Metallica, Where the wild things are.
Live in virtue, no desire
In the grave an angel’s choir
You look to heaven and wonder why
No one can see them in the sky.
- Rammstein, Angel
Even though the British PM, Neville Chamberlain, seemed very popular amongst the public (On the outbreak of the War public opinion polls showed that his popularity was 55%. By December, 1939, this had increased to 68%), he was seen as an uninspiring and somewhat weak war leader by many of the members of the House of Commons. Especially after the Graf Spee incident. The confidence of Royal Navy, and the Chamberlain government, had suffered a hard blow in mid-December, 1939, when the KM Graf Spee and three RN cruiser met head to head, so to say, in the South Atlantic. The KM Graf Spee sank two of the cruisers with what seemed like little effort and badly damaged the third. To boost both his own standing in the House and the morale of the RN, Chamberlain appointed Winston Churchill as First Sea Lord, thus placing him at the Royal Navy’s helm once again. Immediately morale amongst the sailors began to rise as "Winston is back" messages flashed across the globe.
Churchill had always viewed air power as an important, if not downright essential, part of modern warfare. So important that he, during his first term as First Sea Lord, established the Royal Naval Air Service – later renamed Fleet Air Arm - and an Air Department at the Admiralty. Actually, Churchill was so smitten with flight, that he himself took up flying, but much to his beloved wife’s joy, dropped the lessons after a series of crashes and near death experiences.
In the Autumn of 1939, the FAA consisted of 20 squadrons and some 230 aircraft. The success of the Kriegsmarine’s Luftstreitkräfte Kommando - KLK -, and Churchill’s cabinet appointment soon gave a new impetus to naval aviation as air powers deadliness in regards to shipping was proven beyond doubt by the KLK during the brief Polish campaign. In the Summer of 1940, when war truly came to Britain, the FAA’s strength was nearly doubled, but as we know to no avail.
Churchill and several of his key staff members in the Admiralty saw the FAA as vital to the protection of not only the Royal Navy’s warships, but also to that of civilian merchantmen. Britain's continual existence depended the merchant navy’s ability to keep the country fed and its armies supplied. The Royal Navy was seriously hampered in its ability to protect civilian traffic as there had been laid down too few destroyers in recent years. Once again Chamberlain and his government was to blame, but Churchill, now being part of that government, had to keep quite and make do. One way to make do, was to reinforce the FAA, and to get as many anti-aircraft guns installed on RN ships as possible.
In sharp contrast to the bomber-loving generals in the RAF, Churchill believed in a more balanced airforce, that not only included strike planes, but also fighters. As he said during a meeting in the Old Admiralty Building: "What good is a sharp sword, if one has no shield?" Desperate for some good modern planes Churchill commissioned a modern mono-plane fighter, of which the FAA had none, and a strike aircraft, to replace the aging Swordfish.
The chosen fighter was the Miles M.20. The M.20 was an all-wood construction and powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine, which gave it an acceptable, at the time, speed of some 460km/h. It had a good all-round visibility, and could attain a height of over 10,000 km. The Miles M.20 proved faster and to have a greater ceiling than the American Wildcat. It would, however, not enter service until after the armistice, but would see action against the KLK when Britain re-entered the War in ’44.
The second design chosen was that of the Blackburn Firebrand. The Firebrand was meant as a fighter, but after the commission of the Miles M.20, the Blackburn Firebrand was then redesigned as a fast torpedo bomber. The Firebrand was powered by a powerful Bristol Centaurus radial engine. The Firebrand was a rather clumsy plane, but it could sustain a lot of punishment, which would come in handy during the second round of the war from 1944 to ’47. After the end of hostilities in ’47, the Firebrand was decommissioned and replaced by an all-round jet aircraft, the DeHavilland Firefly.
Even as the FAA strove to reshape itself, the RAF kept on developing its heavy bomber force. Heavy bombers was not, however, the only planes being built for RAF. A fleet of lighter and medium bombers were developed as well – mostly the Vickers Wellington and the Fairy Battle. All things considered, the RAF was not completely blind to the fact, that Britain had to have a defence against the Luftwaffe as well as being able to bomb Germany into rubble, so a fast, well-armed interceptor, the Hawker Hurricane, was also developed sidelong with an escort fighter, the Paul Defiant.
Until 1936, the Royal Air Force had operated either single or twin engine bombers. The growth of Luftwaffe and their development of heavy multi-engine bombers soon led RAF to consider building their own 4-engined heavy bombers.
The Short company had submitted a proposal for such a plane in 1936. Short's proposal would soon be accepted and the Short Sterling was thus born. The Sterling, which was to be the mainstay of the Bomber Command, was a 4-engined, mid-wing heavy bomber powered by four liquid cooled Rolls Royce Goshawk engines. It had a crew of 6: two pilots, an observer/navigator, radio operator and two gunners manning the nose and tail turret. Provision was also made for a remote control turret in the lower portion of the rear fuselage. Armour would be fitted along with sound proofing and even a toilet. In order to keep the takeoff and landing run within limits, Short's Chief Designer, Mr.Lipcombe, felt that the wing length should be enlarged from some 30 meters to around 40 meters. While this created problems with the size of existing hangars, the proposal was accepted. The enlarged wing span would later prove to be a very good idea indeed as the Short Sterling was able fly higher and longer than otherwise.
In early 1940, RAF was a deadly offensive force, at least on paper, as Bomber Command boasted 2,000 operational combat aircraft – out of which some 1,200 was heavy bombers. This was in sharp contrast to Fighter Command, that had less than half the strength of Bomber Command measured in numbers.
Battle of the Icy North
You take a mortal man
And put him in control
Watch him become a god
Watch peoples heads a’roll
- Megadeath, Symphony of Destruction.
Take a look to the sky just before you die
It is the last time you will
Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky
Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry
Stranger now, are his eyes, to this mystery
He hears the silence so loud
Crack of dawn, all is gone except the will to be
Now they will see what will be, blinded eyes to see
- Metallica, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
As the Germans overran Poland, the war seemed to fizzle out. This did not please the offensive minded Churchill, and he soon considered ways to bring the war to Germany. The successful sinking of the KM Graf Spee south of Iceland in February, 1940, not only gave Churchill a lot of political capital – the picture of him congratulating the crew of HMS Hood is notoriously famous amongst Churchill-defenders to this day -, but also – which would prove to be less fortunate - fuelled his adventurism. Churchill soon began to ponder a limited blockade or even an invasion of Norway.
Despite objection by other members of the Cabinet, Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to deploy submarines and to lay mines in Norwegian territorial waters in order to interrupt the flow of high grade iron-ore from neutral Sweden to Germany. The iron-ore was vital to the German war industry as it was used to make, among other things, ball bearings. Churchill hoped the move would not provoke much of an initial response in Norway, Sweden or Germany, since said countries were looking with growing alarm at the massive Soviet troop build-up in the Kola Peninsula and around Leningrad. The mining operation along with what was termed as aggressive submarine patrols was to take place in early March, 1940.
In Berlin, Grand Admiral Raeder and his staff at OKM was deeply worried, and their growing concerns about a possible British adventure in Norway peaked when Abwehr reported that enemy submarines were concentrated along the Norwegian coast and especially around the port of Narvik. On the 19th of February, Raeder stated, that he felt that some kind of British operation in Norway was imminent, and urged Hitler to take action in the matter. With Hitler’s somewhat reluctant acceptance, the OKM began to draw up plans for a counter-invasion of Norway – Operation Feldherrenhalle. F-Day was set as the 12th of March as weather and light conditions would allow for extended air and sea operations. Since surprise was of the essence, it was noted that the progressive shortness of the northern nights would preclude any offensive operations after the 15th of April.
Now the Norwegian debacle began to live a life of its own as both sides began to escalate their plans in response to the other part's perceived moves and aims. The British Admiralty received intelligence regarding German intentions and moved up their own operations, as did the Germans when Abwehr noted a further increase in British activity in the North Sea and so on. Soon both parts planned full scale invasions and/or counter-invasions. In Oslo, the Norwegian capital, as well as in Copenhagen, the Danish ditto, military, intelligence and foreign service personnel began to get increasingly troubled, if not downright panicky. The point of no return was reached when the Danes reported a German flotilla carrying a full division - apparently General Eduard Dietl’s 3rd Gebirgsjaeger Division - of mountain troops sailing on a northerly course out of the Baltic. At Home Fleet’s HQ, it commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir Charles Forbes, spurred on by Churchill in the Admiralty immediately ordered counter measures to be taken. Soon both Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy ships steamed towards Norway, with the Germans holding a slight advantage in speed as they had departed first.
Many senior Royal Navy officers didn’t really believe that the Germans were about to invade Norway for real. They saw it as a deliberate rouse to lure the RN away from the real battlegrounds; the Channel and Atlantic. This was a misconception based on the Royal Navy’s own doctrine, as the RN would never initiate an amphibious operation on that scale without total control of the surrounding sea. Not surprisingly this contributed to the British lack of enthusiasm in the Norwegian Adventure, or Churchill’s Folly as it was later labelled by reactionaries amongst the Conservatives in the House of Commons. It was, however, interesting to see that the post-war political alliance between hardline pro-action Conservatives – led by Anthony Eden -, and ditto Labour-men -, led by Attlee and Bevin -, already was beginning to take shape in early 1940, as they defended Churchill's actions. It would take some time to mature, but by ’43 Lord Halifax’ government finally fell and war was soon resumed under the Attlee-Bevin-Eden trojka.
Back to Norway, in the early morning of the 12th of April, 1940, the Kriegsmarine launched a series of amphibious landings along the coast of Norway at Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansund, Trondheim and Narvik. The landings were headed by marines from the Kriegsmarine’s Kampfgruppe Hamburg, Kampfgruppe Kiel and Sonderabteillungs Tirpitz, Ingenohl and Bergmann and commandos from Abwehr’s Brandenburg-force. There were also airborne assaults by Luftwaffe’s new crack elité parachute brigades on Norway's airports at Stavanger and Oslo.
Air General Student’s new wonder weapon – the Focke-Achgelis Fa-284 helicopter - was also tested and proved to work quite well as airborne stormpioneers were landed on both Copenhagen, Oslo and Bergen’s coastal forts, which all lacked suitable air defences. Only as the Stormpioneer units replayed their successful operation in Belgium did the Allies rather belatedly learn what had happened to the suddenly silenced forts.
The helicopters were not the only new weapons deployed in Norway as the Heinkel He-177 heavy 4-engined bomber and Junkers Ju-88 medium bomber also made an appearance albeit not in numbers. Both planes proven to be fairly good designs that still, however, needed some work. Beside the new aircraft, a new type of munitions was also used; the 500kg SD-4-H1 cluster bomb, which was used to deny the enemy ground or airfields. The SD-4-H1 contained 78 hollow-charge submunitions that could either penetrate an armoured vehicle or crate a runway. As an added bonus, so to say, some of the bomblets could be set with a timer, so they would explode later. This weapon would be used extensively in the French campaign and the Battle of Britain as well as on the Eastern Front.
The landings and air drops were supported by additional Heer forces either landed or flown in from Germany via hastily overrun Denmark – noted as the war’s quickest invasion next to that of Luxembourg. Within 24 hours after the undeclared start of hostilities, the Wehrmacht had three ready, if not whole, divisions and several kampfgruppen – battle groups – on the ground in Norway. Furthermore, and most important, the Luftwaffe had a number of operational airfields under its command – airfields that were being hastily expanded with the help of Speer’s men in the Construction Brigades.
This meant that the British forces would land on a hostile shore – most of the time as the areas earmarked for the landing of British troops where either overrun or in the process of being overrun – and under a sky dominated by the Luftwaffe and KLK. The German control of the skies cost the British dearly as first seen when HMS Renown and its accompanying eight destroyers under the command of Admiral Whitworth was spotted by a flight of KLK’s reconnaissance planes operation out of Trondheim and attacked and sunk by a combination of dive and torpedo bombers immediately thereafter. The lack of FAA and RAF fighters in the area meant that any British attempt to launch air strikes of their own was doomed – as the sinking of HMS Furious and her battle group proved beyond any doubt - as the Germans soon brought their superior and RADAR-guided C3I in form of both ground units and RADAR-equipped Dornier Do-19’s to bear. All in all, the British intervention in Norway was an unmitigated disasters as both naval, ground and air units got slaughtered by the Germans. Often the Germans used their naval vessels to lure the RN to attack, only to be counter-attacked by either Luftwaffe or the KLK.
The only real set back suffered by the Germans – besides the sinking of KM Gneisenau - was the catastrophic attempt to invade Iceland as part of Operation Feldherrenhalle. A group of fast transports were racing ahead of the main invasion force to Iceland, where it was hoped that the 3,000 German troops aboard could take Iceland in a surprise attack. The ships, however, were spotted by HMS Hood and her mixed cruiser-destroyer escort and sunk with less than a 100 survivors.
From the beginning of Operation Feldherrenhalle to the end of the campaign in little less than two months later, a total of 370 ships carried over a 100,000 troops, some 16,000 horses, 20,000 vehicles, and more than 100,000 tonnes of supplies to Norway at a cost of under twenty ships. While the German losses were slight, the Royal Navy had suffered a major defeat and heads rolled in both the Cabinet (Churchill’s) and in the Admiralty (Forbes’ amongst others). Only by the slightest of margins did Neville Chamberlain keep his post as PM (mostly due of the lack of any serious contender than anything else).
I came, I saw…
Let us have peace, let us have life
Let us escape the cruel night
Let us have time, let the sun shine
Let us beware the deadly sign
The day is coming
Can we survive the blitzkrieg?
- Metallica, Blitzkrieg.
Lashing out the action, returning the reaction
Weak are ripped and torn away
Hypnotizing power, crushing all that cower
Battery is here to stay
- Metallica, Battery.
In most of the world’s capitals, including Berlin, politicians and senior officers alike looked at the Norwegian campaign with a mix of stunned fear and surprise. In OKM, Grand Admiral Raeder feared that the success of the Kriegsmarine, or more correctly the KLK – the Kriegsmarine’s airforce -, would give Hitler some rather unreal ideas about its capabilities. In both the OKL and OKH, the commanders were more surprised than fearful, but somehow they foresaw this success leading to more and more exaggerated war aims. London was, however, without doubt, along with Paris, the capital most affected by the Norwegian disaster, or Churchill’s Folly. The Chamberlain government only stayed in power with the slightest of margins, as the opposition, with Churchill out of the picture for good, could not muster a viable alternative. Among the senior air force and naval officers a state of near panic was evident, as the decisiveness of air superiority and the ability of air power to radically influence a given battle began to sink in. It began to dawn on several of the more visionary generals and admirals that the one-tracked focus on bombers, or offensive air power, was perhaps wrong, and that more fighters were needed to gain the apparent vital air superiority. It was, however, too late. Operation Feldherrenhalle had barely ended, but already the Panzers were rolling again. This time westwards…
The political situation in Germany after Göring’s death had not initially played out in Hitler’s favour as the reactionary forces, as the Nazis called them, within the armed forces seemed to strengthen. This was one of the reasons why Bormann had been so keen to built up the Luftwaffe, not to mentioned the fact that he himself benefited politically from its successes, as it was the youngest and most loyal branch of the Wehrmacht. The Kriegsmarine had proven to be very apolitical, whereas the Heer was full of old-school Junkers and we-know-best-types. For a long time Hitler lacked the political power to settle the score with said generals, so he and his cronies turned to other means; they looked far and wide for trustworthy officers, not necessarily Nazis, but people whom the Junkers in OKH and OKW at least didn’t like, promoted them and whenever possible put them in key positions. In early 1940, this had gotten men like Hausser, Guderian, Rommel, Schörner, Model and von Manstein into either senior command slots or other equally powerful positions – the apolitical Erich von Manstein was for example head of OKW’s operational department, while Heinrich Guderian lead the Schnelltruppen – basically the Panzer forces – and the aging Paul Hausser was head of the OKH. Men like Rommel. Schörner and Model led the Armies bursting into France.
The invasion of Western Europe - Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France - was devised by the von Manstein-Hausser-Guderian trio. Basically it called for a diversionary attack, so to say, on Holland and Belgium in the hope of drawing the Allied Armies north, followed by a powerful panzer force cutting through the Ardennes region, thus avoiding the Maginot line, and racing for the Channel Coast. If everything worked out according to the plan - Operation Hermann -, most of the Allied land forces would be caught in Belgium. The ultimate goal of Opr. Hermann was to force the British and French governments to seek an armistice and eventually recognise Germany’s claims in Eastern Europe and perhaps to rearrange the Franco-German border a bit here and there. After the impressive German victory in Norway Hitler’s lust for more grew, though….
In early May, when the weather was just right, Luftwaffe unleashed a series of attacks on Belgian and Dutch airfields. Swarms of primarily Ju-87’s, Ju-88’s and He-111’s, loosely escorted by Me-109’s, overcame whatever limited defenses the Dutch and Belgian air forces could mount. Within the first two days, the air power of mentioned countries were reduced to nothing, and the Luftwaffe turned to France.
The first operational squadron of the new Henschel Hs-129 close air support, or CAS, aircraft took to the air during those initial assaults, as did the twin-37mm armed Ju-87’s. The idea of a heavy quick-firing gun instead of bombs proved to be nearly brilliant as the battle of Montcornet showed. An armoured counter-attack by the French 4th Division threatened to rip a hole in the German front, but the French attack got stopped in its tracks by continuous air attacks by Ju-87’s and a handful of the extremely deadly Hs-129.
France had, as Britain, focused on building an impressive bomber force, and thus neglecting the fighter arm of their air force. This proved to be a major mistake and the France Armee l’Air was completely unable to stop the waves of German aircraft washing in over its borders. Backed by a handful of RADAR-equipped Do-19’s the German fighters made short work of any serious resistance put up by the French fighters, and the German CAS and medium bombers thereafter more or less roamed at will.
As the Stuka and Panzerknacker’s supported the advancing armies with both pinpoint and terror attacks – the mere sound of the howling Stuka’s often brought fear to the French soldiers -, and the medium bombers struck hard at rail heads, supply dumps and communication centers the French will to fight slowly began to crumble. The German air crews had had plenty of training and on-the-job experience performed their task with great success and haunted the retreating French armies. The combination of almost total air superiority, close air support and continuous interdiction was a winning one. The French were on the ropes from day one, to paraphrase Air General Udet, who along with his old partner from the Hermann Göring Legion’s adventures in Spain, Wolfram von Richthofen, headed Luftwaffe’s operations in Western Europe, albeit under the Chief-of-Staff, Air General Albert Kesselring’s, personal supervision, though.
The heroic exploits of the German pilots during the Battle for France would later be made into a very successful Riefenstahl-movie, Die Jungen Adler – the Young Eagles –, which featured many of the most prominent young German aces, Galland, Steinhof, Lutzow and Mölders amongst others. The fighter pilots soon became the superstars and darlings of the Reich at the time. Adolf Galland’s cartoon painted Me-109 would win even more fame, and he himself rapid promotion, in the victorious Battle of Britain, where his entire squadron, JG-26, would be named after him; the Galland Circus...
During the opening stages of the Battle for France, thousands of SD-4-H1 cluster bombs, which had proven so useful and deadly in Norway, and its bigger brother the SD-6-G, was dropped on French roads and air fields with good results, to say the least. The submunitions ruined roads as well as runways and made the clean-up process expensive and costly because of the timer-set and rigged bomblets left behind.
The British and French air forces did, however, try to take the war to the Germans, but again the fighter-heavy Luftwaffe, along with its impressive ability to control the skies both at the front and over its homeland, proved to much for the inexperienced Allies and each attempt only increased the losses of their air forces. The only Allied plane to have some successes were the heavy Short Sterling, which at times were able to survive air attacks the lighter bombers could not.
In late May, 1940, the main Allied Armies had been trapped in a shrinking pocket in southwestern Belgium – around a coastal town called Dunkerque -, the French government had been forced to flee Paris as the city was enveloped by German panzers under the command of Hasso von Manteuffle – and had apparently begun to sue for peace in some form -, and RAF had relocated their last operational squadrons from France to southern Britain, soon followed by several French squadrons.
During General von Manteuffel’s crossing of the River Meuse, helicopters and fallschrimjägers were used to spearhead the attack. This early go at a combined arms operation nearly failed catastrophically as the airmobile troops ran into heavy fire from emplaced French 20mm anti-aircraft guns on the opposite side of the Meuse. All the employed Fa-284. Focke-Achgelis helicopters suffered extensive damage, and a full third – along with their crews and compliment of 24 paratroops each - were lost. Luftwaffe were quick to gloss this over, but Student, and the senior leadership in the OKL, never forgot the Meuse Incident…
Where the French government had begun to explore the possibly of an armistice, the Dutch and Belgian governments had already surrendered. The fall of the impregnable fortress of Eben Emael on the very first day of Operation Hermann had shaken the Belgians badly – General Student and his airmobile stormpioneers would all later be congratulated and showered in medals by an exuberant Hitler – who knew nothing of the Meuse Incident. Likewise had the airborne operations and Brandenburger-infiltrations in Holland along with the rapid German advances on every part of the front. With the Low Countries out of the picture, and France crumbling fast, the OKH and OKL concentrated on the remaining battleworthy remnants of the Allied Armies in Dunkerque.
At the same time an opportunist Stalin launched the long awaited invasion of Finland and the Baltic countries. The three small Baltics states were overrun without much of a problem, whereas the Red Army soon bogged down in Finland due to both Finnish resistance and its own incompetence. In the Mediterranean the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, began eyeing the French and British possessions in North Africa as well as Greece and Yugoslavia on the Balkans with ever growing interest.
Dunkerque Bloody Dunkerque
There goes the siren that warns of the air raid
Then comes the sound of the guns sending flak
Out for the scramble we’ve got to get airborne
Got to get up for the coming attack.
Jump in the cockpit and start up the engines
Remove all the wheelblocks there’s no time to waste
Gathering speed as we head down the runway
Gotta get airborne before it’s too late.
Running, scrambling, flying
Rolling, turning, diving, going in again
Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die
Run, live to fly, fly to live. aces high.
- Iron Maiden, Aces High.
You can’t take back, that one mistake
That still lives on after life it takes
In that one day, that changed our lives
And bitter memories are left behind.
- The Offspring, The End of the Line.
After the rapid and impressive advances by the German Wehrmacht in the opening stages of Operation Hermann, the French government found itself forced to flee Paris and soon initiated armistice-negotiations. Meanwhile the French ground forces in central and southern France continued to resist along with the French 1. Army around Lille, that basically were caught alongside the British Expeditionary Force in the Dunkerque Pocket in Northwestern France - the last remnant of the Allied forces in Belgium had either given up or been pushed south into France by General Paul Hausser’s German 6th Army in mid-May.
There was one bright spot seen from London, though, and that was Royal Tank Regiment performance against General Walther Model’s Panzer forces near Arras. For some time it seemed like the Royal Tankers and infantry troops from the Durham Light would stop the Germans and reverse the tides of war (at least in that area) for the time being. The British Matilda’s seemed superior to anything the Germans had, which led to some later misconceptions regarding the value of the Matilda tank. Fast and decisive action by the Luftwaffe’s cannon armed Stuka’s and some of the increasingly popular and called for Panzerknacker’s quickly put out that last glimmer of hope. Left on the Arras-battlefield was some 70 burning British tanks and numerous armoured personnel carriers along with lorries and heaps of dead men. General Model later decorated several men from the ground-to-air liaison command, who had put themselves in the thick of battle to vector in close air support. The actions of said men, and Luftwaffe FlaK crews – calmly having turned their deadly 88mm AA guns at the onrushing British tanks and thus throwing in their lot with their Heer comrades -, did much to create an unbreakable bond between the Heer and Luftwaffe – as later seen in the Eastern War.
The catastrophically Battle of Arras and the campaign in France in general finally led to the Chamberlain governments downfall as Labour, the Conservatives, Eden’s War Party and Lord Halifax’s Oldguard Tories, and the Liberals, led by the Chamberlain-critical Clement Davies, found the present PM wanting to say the very least. Precious time was lost while Atlee, Bevin, Eden and Halifax-supporters in the House of Commons tried to find a new compromise candidate for PM. For some time Eden hoped to be the man, as did Labours’ Clement Atlee, but after nearly a week of at times quite heated debate, Lord Halifax – having the King’s backing – emerged as the new Prime Minister.
Once at the helm, Lord Halifax found the situation on the Continent to be worse than expected – the French 1. Army, and the BEF itself, were being hammered and it was only a question of time before the German Heer along with the Luftwaffe and the few Kriegsmarine units involved drove the Allied Forces into the ever shrinking Dunkerque Pocket – the French 1.Army had finally been dislodged from Lille and was now being routed towards Dunkerque. There was no question that the Germans would sooner or later drive the BEF and its French allies into the sea, or more likely force them to surrender. Halifax therefore ordered the implementation of General John Gort’s Operation Dynamo, a plan to evacuate of troops and equipment from Dunkerque.
The situation became even worse when General Sir Edmund Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff – CIGS – was shot down on his way to the Continent. General Ironside had wanted to brief General Gort, the BEF’s commander-in-chief, in person and get a first hand impression of the situation. PM Halifax blamed the RAF for not having provided sufficient escorts to CIGS’ flight, but in reality the flight of Me-109’s of JG 20 - led by yet another famous German ace, Staffelkapitän Walter Oesau -, had brushed the escorts aside and downed every single one of the Hawker Hurricanes along with Ironside’s transporter. The death of General Ironside would lead to some animosity between Number 10 and RAF’s Fighter Command, and more unfortunately to Halifax accepting Bomber Command’s proposal of City Bombing...
In the Dunkerque pocket, General Gort was in truly dire straits. His men were running out of supplies, especially the vital anti-tank and anti-aircraft ammunition, but also other essentials such as food and fuel. The Germans seeming hell-bent on conquering Dunkerque just kept coming. From the south the XIXth Panzer Korps under General Heinz Guderian – the overall German Panzer commander in person – battled its way with the usual haste along the Channel coast from Abbeville towards Boulogne, Calais and ultimately Dunkirk. Moving south from Belgium, the German 6th Army continued its advanced as well, but was slowed down because of its lack of armour and motor transport – the infantry, however, moved forward with typical determination and was within artillery range of Dunkerque on the 28th of May.
The only thing keeping the Germans from overrunning the Dunkerque Pocket was ironically the French 1. Army, that had regrouped and now stubbornly stood its ground first behind the River Lys, and later behind the Yser as German forces outflanked their positions. Several occasions of helicopter-scare, however, nearly sent the French troops retreating, but younger officers now held command in the 1. Army and proved to the world that the French could still fight and fight hard. The French resistance would be to no avail, though, as the British – even troops being repatriated from German POW-camps after the war - blamed the French, along with the Americans and Soviets, for their defeats.
Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who was in charge of Operation Dynamo, planned on using a combination of destroyers, transports and civilian vessels to evacuate BEF-troops via Dunkerques fine, but rather small herbier. However, the harbour soon became unusable due to sunken and wrecked ships as Luftwaffe and the KLK pressed home their attacks again and again, while more and more Heer artillery were brought forth to take part in the mayhem. Admiral Ramsay therefore shifted focus to the nearby beaches and begun to evacuate troops from them instead. This had one serious side-effect – the beaches were not sheltered in any way, nor protected from air attack. Even though several AA guns were being placed and the ships themselves had been issued with more anti-aircraft guns – due to Churchill’s foresight -, the beaches soon turned into a regular slaughter house – the shallow water turning a rather ominous red colour – as low flying German fighters and the deadly Hs-129 strafed everything and anything that moved.
As part of the German attempt to prevent the escaped of the BEF and the French 1. Army, German planes begin to mine the Thames Estuary and Channel sea lanes as well as bombing British Channel ports. As the first British civilian bomb casualties are reported, the RAF attacks Rotterdam's refineries and tries to interdict the German Heer’s movements as well as Luftwaffe’s infrastructure, but once more find their light bombers no match for the superbly led and controlled Luftwaffe. The German attacks on British ports, however, prompt Halifax to give RAF’s Bomber Command the final go ahead on their City Bombing-scheme. Within a fortnight waves of Short Sterlings and the new Manchester heavy bomber will begin to bomb German cities without any regard to civilian casualties.
Between 26th of May and 2nd of June, 1940, the Royal Navy tried its best to bring back as many British troops as possible. Their task was doomed from day one, however, as the Germans dominated the sky above Dunkerque completely and extensive mining operation forced the British ships to use only three approaches - X, Y and Z - as well as running at reduced speed. Still, the gallant sailors carried on with suicidal recklessness and bravery.
A typical example of the near chaos in those dark days are the sinking of the British destroyers HMS Wakeful, Grafton and Comfort on the 29th of May. HMS Wakeful was hit and sunk by a torpedo from the German Schnell-boot, S30. HMS Grafton, which was nearby, tried to rescue the sailors from HMS Wakeful, but is itself hit by another torpedo from S30. As HMS Grafton begin to sink, yet another British destroyer, HMS Comfort, moves up to help, but HMS Grafton opens fire on her in the mistaken belief that she’s a German ship. The dying HMS Grafton actually sinks the Comfort! 25 other vessels are also sunk by Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine air crafts near Dunkirk on this day.
The losses around Dunkerque are not the only serious losses suffered by the Royal Navy in May. Patrolling near Iceland, the British battleship, HMS Warspite, is engaged by a German U-boot, U-46, and damaged extensively. HMS Warspite is later sunk by a flight of KLK FW-200 Condors flying from the newly established KLK base at Narvik as it desperately tries to reach a safe port. One of the Condors are downed by anti-aircraft fire from Warspite and one of her destroyer escorts, while the two others are damaged. Condor pilots will, however, continue to make low-flying attacks on warships for the rest of the war as it is the only way to ensure a kill.
In the early morning of the 3rd of June, 1940, the three senior British Generals – Gort, Brooke and Montgomery - along with their grim faced troops finally surrenders as German infantry heads into Dunkerque itself from both north and south.
All in all some 600 ships of all sorts – even civilian vessels -, participated in Opr.Dynamo, and some 200 were sunk by air attacks, mines or Schnell-boote attacks. Adding to that, the RN lost 18 destroyers – nearly half the number committed-, 12 transports and even 2 cruisers, that had tried to give fire support to the retreating ground troops. In the end, Royal Navy and civilian crafts brought some 25,000 men home from Dunkerque – it had been a devastating disaster.
The RAF, be it Bomber Command or Fighter Command, played little role in Opr. Dynamo as the Luftwaffe were able to intercept them either to the south or out over the Channel. Thus the catastrophe at Dunkerque further alienated RAF as both troops and sailors felt let down, to state it rather politely, by Fighter Command. Admiral Ramsay would later write an infamous book , Betrayed, where he solely lay blame for the Dunkerque disaster on the shoulders of RAF.
The French General Weygand, having seen the British abandoning, or trying to abandon, the French, resigned his position as did the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud. On the 5th of June, Phillip Petain, the hero of the Great War, took power and immediately and without further ado accepted German peace terms. Under the terms of the armistice, northern France and the regions north of Vichy – Petain’s seat of government - came under German occupation. Luftwaffe’s Construction Brigades soon swarmed over the place, building new airfields and enlarging older ones as they had done in Norway and Denmark.
During the Battle for France nearly 2 million French soldiers were taken prisoner. An estimated 420,000 Allied soldiers, mostly French, were killed defending France whereas only some 35,000 German soldiers had lost their lives during the invasion.
The British and French, both politicians and military officers alike, had seriously underestimated the strength of the German arms, and had payed the ultimate price for it. France was utterly defeated and Britain, once more, stood alone against a Continental superpower.
A Cold day in Hell
Pride you took
Pride you feel
Pride that you felt when you’d kneel
Trust you gave
A child to save
Left you cold and him in grave
I see faith in your eyes
Never you hear the discouraging lies
I hear faith in your cries
Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by deepened nail
Follow the God that failed
- Metallica, The God that Failed.
Downed by law
Live in infamy
Rub you raw
Witchhunt riding through
This shortest straw has been pulled for you
Pulled for you
Pulled for you
- Metallica, The Shortest Straw..
The sky over Western Europe was not the only place where war reigned supreme in mid-1940, In Finland, the Red Army of Soviet Russia advanced steadily against a more and more desperate Finnish Army. By June, 1940, the Finns were on the ropes and had run out of supplies, ammunition and manpower, while the Red Army were well supplied, armed to the teeth and growing in numbers on a daily basis. Still, the gallant Finns fought on, aided by volunteers from Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Italy and the US. Both Sweden and Italy did their best to supply the Finns with much needed material as well as modern weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns.
The Italian aid to Finland was a major point of controversy between Hitler and the Italian Duce, Benito Mussolini. Their disagreement actually grew to a point where it soured their otherwise fine personal relationship. It didn’t help, that both Count Ciano and Marshall Balbo were both strongly in favour of an independent and very pro-Finnish, or more correctly anti-Soviet, political stance. It was even rumoured that Ciano, who was Italian Foreign Minister, had received some feelers in regards to the Italian position in the Mediterranean from his British colleague around the fall of France in mid-40.
On the 14th of June, the Red Army finally came within range of Helsinki, the Finnish capital. The Finnish Army, now basically a broken force, nonetheless dug in and fought suicidally for every street, every house, and every basement. The Red Army soon proclaimed victory, but the fact was that it took the Soviets a full month to subdue the city, and even then Soviet soldiers had to travel in numbers to be relatively safe. Nor would there be any formal surrender as it was believed that most of the Finnish government died in the ruins of Helsinki along with most of the high command – most notably Marshal Mannerheim himself. Besides, nobody really came forth to negotiate with the Soviets… Hundreds of thousands of civilians and some of the remaining army units from Northern Finland fled to Sweden and Norway after the fall of Helsinki. In Sweden, they were welcomed and placed in refugee camps and generally treated very well, but in German occupied Norway, they were interned and handed back to the Red Army without much ado.
The remainders of the Finnish armed forces still in Finland, however, went underground and continued the armed struggle – a struggle generously supplied by Sweden and, whenever possible, the British and Italians. Occupation duty, soon simply known as Bielaja Smertj - the white death -, in Finland would be most Red Army-conscripts worst nightmare for years to come.
The outside world, naturally, was quite horrified by the naked Soviet aggression, but equally, if not more, impressed by the tenacity and devotion of the Finns. None more so than the Fascists in Italy. Mussolini, who have just barely avoided getting into the war so far – having been faced with both Ciano and Balbo’s adamant opposition -, was stunned by Hitler’s all to obvious friendship with Stalin and the fiendish Soviet Union. Now Mussolini in earnest began to reconsider Ciano’s hint of a possible agreement with the British – most of Italy’s territorial ambitions lay within the Vichy French colonial sphere anyway. Soon Italian and British diplomates – sometimes modern historians claim that Ciano and Eden actually met in person in Madrid, but this is not substantiated – got together in utmost secrecy in Spain, and hammered out a deal that would forever change the political landscape of the Mediterranean.
In early July, the Regia Marina sortied and headed towards the two major Vichy French naval bases in the Mediterranean, Toulon and Oran. Italian ground troops shuffled from east to west in Libya, while the Regio Esercito began to dig in rather ferociously in Northern Italy, and air units redeployed left and right as well.
In Tokyo, the German betrayal of Finland to the Soviet Union, as well as the carving up of Poland – a former Japanese partner and near-ally -, prompted some rethinking as well, especially after the British seemed much more accommodating in regards to Japan’s needs…
Terror from Above
You’re children of the damned
Your back’s against the wall
You turn into the light
You’re burning in the night
You’re children of the damned
Like candles watch them burn
Burning in the light
You’ll burn again tonight
You’re children of the damned
- Iron Maiden, Children of the Damned.
Still the window burns
Time so slowly turns
And someone there is sighing
Keepers of the flames
Can’t you feel your names?
Can’t you feel your babies crying?
Mama they try and break me
- Metallica, Hero of the Day.
The performance of the RAF was considered disappointing during Germany's Blitzkrieg assault on the Low Countries and France, to say the very least. The German arms simply seemed unstoppable. By the end of the campaign, the RAF had lost more than 1,200 aircraft, both fighters and bombers, whereas the German losses, through still painful, were far less, as only some 600 planes were lost in action – losses easily replaced by the finely tuned Luftwaffe production apparatus and training organisation. Adding to the British losses were those of its allies; Holland, Belgium and France. All three nations had basically seen their air forces wiped out during Operation Hermann. Some French squadrons had escaped to Britain, though, but after the Franco-German armistice their crews were quickly interned.
The French air crews were not the only Frenchmen interned by the distrust- and vengeful British. Some 50 French warships had sought refuge at Plymouth and Portsmouth after the Fall of Metropolitan France. All of said warships were seized rather heavy handedly by the Royal Navy, but in some cases only after overcoming armed French resistance. Not that the British at this point minded teaching the treacherous French a lesson or two…
Nor were the French the only ones to suffer the wrath of the British. In mid-June, 1940, Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Aircraft Production, was noted to have said; "the sky is the limit (for plane purchases from the USA) as long as we pay up front and in cash!" With spending running at some £2.5 million per day on aircraft alone, Lord Halifax found the American merchant-attitude to be ungentleman-like and very distasteful. The cash-for-goods-policy of the United States would do much harm to the US-British relationship, and would in the end lead to Britain’s pro-Japanese foreign policy. Many Brits found that they got used by the American capitalists, who got rich and fat while British soldiers died in droves and the civil population starved defending freedom and democracy across the globe.
Meanwhile the preliminary phase of Battle of Britain began as Luftwaffe launched a series of attacks on Channel convoys and port facilities from their new bases in France and the Low Countries. The first major air strike were launched at the Swansea docks and at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Pembrey in Wales. Some 70 planes took part with the further aim of tempting RAF’s Fighter Command into battle. In a third attack, the Auxiliary AA ship, HMS Foyle Bank, was sunk in a German air attack on the docks at Portland in Dorset. Due to heavy losses at the hands of the Luftwaffe and KLK, the British was soon forced to suspend all future seaborne traffic in the Channel, and several RN surface vessels were rebased as well.
Air Captain Werner Mölders, leader of III/JG 53, and Germany's top ace with some 25 kills to his name, was shot down over the Channel during one of the many clashes between Luftwaffe and RAF Fighter Command in mid-40, and would be recorded as the first pilot to be rescued by the Kriegsmarine’s new Search and Rescue helicopter service. The helicopter was fast becoming a wonder weapon to most Germans. In OKL, however, the Meuse Incident was still painfully clear in memory, and as a result General Student and several helicopter designers were working on armoured and armed helicopters. Ironically, it would be the British that introduced the first so-called gunship when they re-entered the war in ’44.
As the first German u-boot base in France were opened at Lorient, Grand Admiral Raeder and his subordinate, u-boot Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Dönitz, had a series of major arguments regarding the deployment and tactics of the Kriegsmarine’s u-boot arm. Admiral Dönitz wanted his boats to harass British merchant shipping as in the Great War, whereas Raeder wanted the focus to be solely on warships. In the end, Raeder triumphed, as he was backed by the Luftwaffe and most of OKW as well. Lessons so far had taught the Germans that one cannot terrorise a nation into surrendering, one has to deprive them of the means to defend themselves, and in the case of Britain that meant to hunt down the ships of Royal Navy and sink them, while the ability of the Royal Air Force to defend British air space was destroyed, or at least seriously hampered. "Anyway, if this does not work, one can always try to starve them out!" As Raeder laconically noted to a furious Dönitz. Dönits nonetheless did as ordered.
As part of that overall strategy, Luftwaffe and KLK air units deployed to launch a campaign against various RN anchorages, especially the Royal Navy’s primary anchorage at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. All of Luftwaffe’s heavy bombers were shifted to Luftflotte 5’s area of responsibility in Norway and basically used to carpet bomb Scapa Flow, while medium bombers and KLK aircraft were used to hit individual ships. Long range Me-109’s flew escort missions for most of the trip and hoped to catch intercepting RAF fighters, or anything else foolish enough to take to the air. A picket of U-boote were placed near the anchorage, backed up by smaller surface vessels. Besides hoping to slowly wear the Royal Navy down, this tactic served to spread the RAF, and RN, thin as Germany attacked on a multitude of fronts. This would only get worse for the British as the major surface elements of the Kriegsmarine soon sortied…
As they got hammered on sea, land and air, the Royal Air Force was finally beginning to understand the power of airborne RADAR and communications, as the Germans quite often simply handled the air battles much, much more effectively than the British. This was be seen all to clearly when the British Big Wing-formation encountered the much loser German formations based on the now rather famous open finger four-formation. German commanders simply vectored in more aircraft or lured the British into ambushes set up either by other air units or by ground or sea based FlaK – now quite often RADAR guided. The war was not without German set-backs or losses, though, but generally Wever, Milch and officers at OKL had great faith in their pilots, planes and doctrine, not to mention themselves – history would prove them right, at least for now…
Eager to prove itself, and set it itself apart from the failures of Fighter Command – the loss of General Ironside still marred its reputation -, Bomber Command in the summer of 1940 unleashed its strategic air offensive against targets inside Germany, known as the City Bombing-scheme. The first target for City Bombing was Hamburg – a major port city on the North Sea coast. Figures vary, but between 500-600 heavy bombers - Short Sterlings and the new superheavy DeHavilland Manchester - attacked Hamburg and basically destroyed the city as fires swept through the Old Town and among other things set the fuel tanks at the docks ablaze. Later Bremen would be hit as well, but this time the German air defences were ready and on their collective toes, so to say. While damage was extensive, the bomber stream were intercepted repeatedly and almost 100 planes were either shot down or damaged beyond repair. Still, Bomber Command would keep on bombing German civilian targets throughout the rest of the war.
Needless to say, Hitler was furious and demanded direct retaliatory strikes against British cities. Luftwaffe’s commander, General Wever, along with a more cautious Milch, flatly refused and offered to resign. Surprisingly Hitler relented, but now viewed Wever with suspicion – something that would come back to haunt Luftwaffe’s chief before long.
The appearance of high flying and superheavy British bombers would lead the Germans to consider building a new generation of bombers themselves, that had pressurised cabins and an even greater bombload - and to speed up Kurt Tank's FW-190 project. At Junkers and Messerschmitt engineers begun to work...
And Battle is Joined…
Things are not what they used to be
Missing one inside of me
Deathly lost, this can’t be real
Cannot stand this hell I feel
Emptiness is filling me
To the point of agony
Growing darkness taking dawn
I was me, but now he’s gone
No one but me can save myself, but it’s too late
Now I can’t think, think why I should even try
Yesterday seems as though it never existed
Death greets me warm, now I will just say good-bye
- Metallica, Fade to Black
The horsemen are drawing nearer
On the leather steeds they ride
They have come to take your life
On through the dead of night
With the four horsemen ride
Or choose your fate and die
- Metallica, The Four Horsemen.
Britain was almost completely surrounded by German military might in the summer of 1940. Luftflotte 5 – the 5th Air Fleet - was based in Norway with its headquarter at Stavanger. Luftflotte 2 had bases all over Northern France and the low Countries with tis headquarter at Brussels. Finally Luftflotte 3 occupied bases in the rest of France with their headquarters set up in Paris. A German Luftflotte controlled both fighters and bombers in combined operations, and made extensive use of combined operations, where bomber lured the RAF into action and fighters were thus vectored in by command and control aircraft or actually guided by RADAR-equipped Dorniers or ground stations. In addition to Luftwaffe’s already impressive display of power, the German Kriegmarine’s air arm – KLK – had units based at Narvik, Trondheim and Ghent, that took part in the mayhem by round the clock anti-shipping operations. To top things off, German naval vessels, be it the dreaded u-boote or surface vessels of some kind made Britain lifeline even more precarious. Britain was indeed surrounded…
Since the old warhorse, the He-111, was slowly being phased out by the Luftwaffe, one of the Heinkel factories began to produce a variant solely for Kriegsmarine use - the torpedo carrying He-111K – and two staffel of H-111J’s were converted into torpedo bombers. This gave the KLK and even bigger punch. Furthermore the production of Gustav Schwartz Propellerwerke’s rocket assisted anti-ship glide bomb, the Gustav XX was given priority as its first use had proven so effective – sinking the battleship HMS Warspite. Luftwaffe also began to explore the possibly of a rocket assisted glide bomb, or just a remote controlled unassisted glide bomb, for their own use – such a weapon would be a excellent weapon of choice should one need to destroy a bridge or perhaps one single house without resorting to British tactics – after the City Bombing operations had begun anything involving large amount of bombs dropped from many planes were suddenly "British tactics" – Guernica had somehow been forgotten, it seemed.
As mentioned the Germans started what was to be known as the Battle of Britain with heavy attacks on Channel traffic, ports and linked infrastructure, later the German also began to raid deeper and deeper inland. It seemed that the German were intent on destroying the Royal Navy’s capacity to use and ultimately defend the Channel. Furthermore, Luftwaffe planners hoped to lure the RAF into a running attrition battle for control of the skies over Britain.
Up north, Luftflotte 5 and KLK units continued to bomb Scapa Flow and intercept traffic to and from the RN anchorage. While the British air defences were quite strong, the nearly round-the-clock attacks took their toll and casualties mounted, especially since RAF fighters were few and far between, needed as they were in Southern Britain. Extensive German mining operations also took place. Furthermore various Kriegsmarine units began to appear in the hope of either actually engaging RN units or at least to lure them out in the open where either air units or u-boote could get at them. The British unwillingness to fight under hostile skies, so to say, prompted the OKM to begin assembling their major surface units for a major offensive, and to force the sea trials of KM Hermann Göring…
The Battle of Britain now begin in earnest with an intense air battle over the Dover, as 400 German planes of various sorts strike the port city. RAF Hawker Hurricanes, among them the newest models with increased enginepower and a heavier armament, intercepts and are soon engaged in a life and death struggle with their arch-nemesis, the Me-109’s. The British claim some 60 Luftwaffe planes down for the loss of 26 RAF fighters. In reality, only 30 Luftwaffe planes, including a few unlucky bombers, were shot down, while the RAF had lost 39 planes, mostly fighters.
Because of RAF’s Bomber Commands attacks on German cities, Luftwaffe decides to shift their focus slightly and try to hamper Bomber Commands activities by attacking their airfields, facilities and bomber producing factories. However, even under growing pressure from Luftwaffe, Bomber Command continued to strike back. The Short Sterling proved quite deadly, but suffered great losses to German interceptors and FlaK – especially the new RADAR guided 105mm and older 88mm the Germans had begun fielding in large numbers made a rather bloody impact on the bomber streams heading into Germany. Another plane that would lead its mark on air warfare, the superheavy DeHavilland Manchester, also saw action around this time.
The DeHavilland Manchester was a four-engine super heavy bomber and for a long time – until the Bristol York and the DeHavilland Lancaster in the 50’s and 60’s – the world’s largest bomber, and among the largest planes ever flown. When the Manchester entered service, it was one of the most advanced bombers of its time, featuring innovations such as a pressurised cabin, a central fire-control system, and remote-controlled machinegun turrets. It was designed to be a high altitude daytime bomber and proved rather successful at this. It was without doubt the most successful bomber used by RAF’s bomber Command during the ’39-’40 War, but is probably best known for carrying the nuclear weapons used to destroy Nuremberg, Köln and Dresden, thus ending the War in 1947. Unlike many other bombers, the Manchester remained in service long after the War. By the time it was replaced by Bristol’s York in the 1950’s, some 2,000 Manchesters had been built all in all.
Just outside Krakow, a newly promoted Oberst Werner Mölders were being introduced to his new command, and said commands new planes: the FW-190. Because of the British bombing campaign, the FW-190’s development had been pushed forth with all haste and sufficient models were now ready for training purposes. OKL had, on Hitler’s order, gathered a selection of Germany’s best pilots for training on the new aircraft. Oberst Mölders, with a broken leg and strained wrist after his bath in the Channel, was to command the first unit in training. Damages that by the way did not stop the young ace from taking his personal FW-190 up for a test flight on his first day a Krakow. "It’s like flying like an angel, an angle of death!" his is later reported to have said. In the years to come, Mölders would become Germany's youngest general, and eventually end up as Commander of Germany’s air defences.
We have no future
Heaven wasn’t made for me
We burn ourselves to hell
As fast as it can be
And I wish that I could be a king
Then I’d know that I am not alone
- Marilyn Manson, In the Shadow of the Valley of Death.
Join in my quest to leave life overturned
Spanning the world wave of doom
Spewing out death with the evil I’ve churned
Awaken the dead from their tomb
Love turns to lust the sensations I’ve felt
Exploring the pleasures of sin
Making the bast of the cards I’ve been dealt
Adjusting the odds so I win
Unleash all my burning wrath
Potential killing machine
Take down all who block my path
Enjoying all that’s obscene... born of fire
- Slayer, Born of Fire.
At the outbreak of the War, the French Navy had been, and still was, a strong and mighty military machine - a force not to be ignored. Between 1926 and 1939, two battlecruisers, seven heavy cruisers and 12 light cruisers had been built. The French battleships were either new or had recently been modernised. Furthermore the French Navy boasted some 140 destroyers and submarines. A fleet of this size could do a lot of damage to a naval power...
In late July, 1940, the most powerful of two battle groups from the Regia Marina – Royal Italian Navy - positioned itself to launch a surprise attack on one of the French Fleet’s major anchorages. Nearly a third of said fleet lay at anchor at Mers El-Kebir – near Oran in Algeria. The French had recently capitulated to Hitler’s Third Reich, and in both London and Rome a lot of questions about the still mighty French Navy, not to mentioned the French themselves, were being raised. In London, the British Admiralty feared that the French Fleet might just surrender itself to Germany, thus giving the much feared and dreaded Kriegsmarine an upper hand in the coming naval war - something to be avoided at all cost the current highly critical situation taken into consideration.
The Italians, most notably Mussolini and his inner circle, felt somewhat betrayed by Hitler and wanted some spoils of war for themselves, and the just defeated French seemed the people to give the Italians an easy victory. The British fears taken into account, not to mention the secret agreements recently signed, the Commando Supremo had planned for a brief victorious war against a France still reeling from its defeat at the hands of the Germans. The main targets were Nice, Savoy, Corsica, French Somaliland, Tunisia and possible some of Algeria. First, however, the French Navy had to be pacified.
Early in the morning of the 19th of July, 1940, the Regia Marina began to bombard the French anchorage at Mers el Kebir and the main naval base at Toulon, where three battleships, seven cruisers, some 30 destroyers were moored as dictated by the recent Franco-German Armistice. At Mers el Kebir, the French commander, Admiral Gensoul, however, soon overcame his initial bafflement and ordered every gun to open up on the Italians. First the heavy guns at the Canastel Battery, Fort Santoni, and the Gambetta Battery, plus the smaller guns at the Espagnole Battery opened up, then the moored ships joined in. The two present battlecruisers, Strasbourg and Dunkerque, tried to sortie, but got hammered by torpedo carrying Savoia Marchetti S.79’s. The gallant French resistance proved of little effect, as the Italians had the advantage of being able to move freely and had total air superiority. Soon the ships and shore batteries were beaten into submission, and after 5 hours of combat, Admiral Gensoul finally ordered the colours struck. At Toulon there was no surrender, only a general slaughter as the Italians hammered the helpless French defenders from both sea and air. Furthermore, it seemed that several ships mysteriously blew up. Later it was discovered that Italian naval commandoes had placed demolition charges on the ships mere hours before the attack.
Some 30 Italian divisions launched a head-on assault on the Franco-Italian border, while other units crossed into Tunisia, French Somaliland and landed on Corsica. The only operation to go according to plan was the landing on Corsica. The Island fell without much of a fight, but occupation duty on the annexed island soon proved to be nearly as harrowing an experience as the Soviet Russian occupation of Finland. The ease of Corsica’s conquest would not be repeated as the French defended themselves with great ferocity, but as always with little skill elsewhere. In French Somaliland, General Nasi soon overcame the French defenders, but he paid a steep price in blood. At the Italo-French border the campaign soon stalled completely and so did the initial attack into Tunisia – the French fortifications at the Mareth line were simply to much for the Italians, who lacked artillery, be it heavy or light. Italo Balbo devised a daring plan, however, and used air transports to land and air drop troops behind the Mareth line, which did - as planned - cause panic among the French, who soon began a full retreat from their positions. Italian infantry immediately began to advance…
One thing that finally tipped the scales of war in Italy’s favour was the use of air power. During the Franco-German War, the French airforce - Armee de l'Air - had been all but destroyed, while the Italian Regia Aeronautica – Royal Italian Airforce – had grown in both numbers and power as the very newest designs entered service – the lessons of Luftwaffe taken to heart by the fathers of the modern Italian air force.
As the Great War grounded to an end in 1918, the various Italian air units had nearly 2,000 planes on their collective rosters. Most of them was of foreign make and design. However, where bombers were concerned, the Italians kept up and the huge Caproni bombers were as modern as any other bombers made at the time – or so the Italians believed at least. In the following years the Italian aircraft industry began to develop its own designs - a trend that became even more prevalent after the Fascists take-over. As in Germany some ten years later, the new regime created a new independent air force. On the 28th of March, 1923, the Regia Aeronautica were formally born. In the years to come Italy produced a vast and impressive range of aircraft covering every aspect of modern air warfare. Furthermore the Italian air industry designed revolutionary panes that time and time again broke speed, altitude and range records. The men of the Regia Aeronautica and the Facists Party, as well as ordinary Italians took great pride in their achievements. The numerous successes gave the Regia Aeronautica a unique status amongst the branches of the Italian Armed Forces, and men like Italo Balbo and Mecozzi used that status to built a very powerful elité air force based on the German Luftwaffe with well-trained pilots and the best equipment possible, even if it meant fewer numbers – an eternal bone of contention between Balbo and Mussolini…
Now the Regia Aeronauctica could roam at will, and most certainly did so. In 14 days, the Regia Aeronautica conducted some 800 bomber sorties and dropped over 300 tonnes of bombs, while some 1,400 fighter sorties were flown.
In the end, roughly 12.000 French soldiers, 5,000 sailors and some 500 civilians lost their lives. The event permanently tarnished relations between Italy and Germany, not to mention the relations between Italy and France – not that anybody really cared about the feelings of the French. The only sea– and battleworthy part of the French Navy was the squadron based at Dakar plus the units in Indochina. The warships at Dakar soon steamed towards the Indochinese bases, where they would be sunk by the Japanese in mid-1941. Italy gained pretty much all of their objectives except Nice.
The not so brief, but yet victorious war had driven home some of the lessons already learned by studying the all-conquering German Luftwaffe. Better and more powerful engines were needed as well as better armament and armour. A secret Italo-British programme was established via Spain and Turkey, and soon designs for planes such as the Reggiane Re.2000 and the Macchi MC.200 were studied in London, while blueprints for powerful Rolls-Royce engines as well as heavy machine guns and machine cannons were beings examined with great interest in Rome.
In the Far East, the Imperial Japanese Navy – Nihon Kaigun – was from the early days of flight extremely interested in naval aviation. Still, its more conventional surface elements – the battleships - were incredible powerful and all in the Nihon Kaigun was a force to be feared by all nations with interests at sea. It was about to become even more dangerous. Its naval aviation arm, based on 10 aircraft carriers and nearly 2,000 superbly trained naval aviators – arguably the finest pilots in the world -, played a key role in Japanese naval doctrine and it was thus natural that the IJN headquarters in Tokyo paid a lot of attention to the havoc the German Luftwaffe wrecked on the British Royal Navy.
Basically, the event that took place in far-away Western Europe in the summer and autumn of 1940 prompted the Nihon Kaigun, in spite of fierce conservative opposition, to form the Kido Butai – Air Fleet. The Kido Butai composed of all ten of the Nihon Kaigun's carriers, be it fleet or light carriers. With the creation of the Kido Butai the far-sighted commanders and planners of the Imperial Japanese Navy had at its disposal a mighty tool of war. The concentrated air power gathered in the Kido Butai alone could – theoretically, at least for now – sweep all opponents from the sea. Later as the Japanese grew more confident of the idea of the Air Fleet, doctrine shifted from the old tried and tested battleline based on heavy ships of the line to lighter more mobile, but surprisingly deadly, carrier task forces comprised of three fleet carriers and two light carriers. The exact makeup of the carrier task forces would varied a great deal in reality, though. Especially as new technology helped make both the carriers themselves and their air complement more powerful and deadly.
Politically the Japanese also sought out new ways to deal with their troubles. As mentioned, a great distrust of Germany and the Soviet Union manifested itself after the annihilation of the Polish state and the occupation of Finland. It was thus logic to seek new, or rather old in this case, allies. British and Japanese diplomats soon began to hold frequent meetings, where new lines were drawn on maps of China and South East Asia…
A brief respite
Hey you, see me, pictures crazy
All the world I’ve seen before me passing by
I’ve got nothing, to gain, to lose
All the world I’ve seen before me passing by
You don’t care about how I feel
I don’t feel it any more
- System of a Down, Atwa.
Hey, I’m feeling tired
My time, is gone today
You flirt with suicide
Sometimes, that’s ok
Hear what others say
I’m here, standing hollow
Falling away from me
Falling away from me
Day, is here fading
That’s when, I would say
I flirt with suicide
Sometimes kill the pain
I can always say
’it’s gonna be better tomorrow’
Falling away from me
Falling away from me
- Korn, Falling away from Me.
The brief Franco-Italian war gave ground for some concern in Berlin, but no measures as such were taken – other than a few extra units deployed to the Italo-German border and some diplomatic notes being exchanged - as Hitler and the German leadership in general were pretty certain that the Italians were not about to declare war on Germany or do anything equally foolish. The warming relationship between Germany’s two former Axis partner, Italy and especially Japan, and Britain was still a matter of strategic importance and concern as British resources could now be devoted to the defences of the British Isles instead of being spread thin. Still, it would be some time before the new strategic situation would manifest its ramifications for real and as of now the British were on the ropes as both the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe for the time being attacked the Royal Navy, the RAF and British infrastructure and industry more or less at will.
It was, however, a very short time. Not that the British resistance in general was mounting. RAF Fighter Command was forced to relocate some of its already meagre assets north to deal with the strategic attacks on Scotland and the various Royal Navy anchorages and bases, and to give some added protection to Bomber Command’s bases, that was coming under increasing attack from both German aircraft as the British bombers streams formed up, and from bombing both with ordinary munitions and the new devilish cluster bombs. All in all, the air defences of Southern Britain weakened. It was even rumoured the RAF Fighter Command was nearly forced to pull some of their fighters all the way back to Northern Ireland for refits and recuperation.
Luftwaffe’s problems was of another kind, though. They were wearing themselves down. Since the outbreak of the war in September, 1939, the pilots, as well as air and ground crews had been held at nearly constant combat readiness, not to mentioned seeing action 24/7. Even with the highly successful and expanded pilot training organisation set up by Wever, and Milch’s streamlined production apparatus, the German Air Force was running itself into the ground. Much to Hitler’s fury, and his own annoyance, Wever had to call a temporary halt to major operations in July, 1940. Luftwaffe would use the brief downtime to utmost effect, and return to the skies over Britain even stronger than before, armed with newer and even deadlier weapons as well as planes – factories now produced FW-190 fighters, Ju-88 tactical bombers and He-177 strategic bombers in numbers…
Luftwaffe was not the alone with its woes. The Kriegsmarine’s Air Force - the KLK - had suffered heavy losses in material and had spend an impressive amount of munitions – especially the new and hard to replace glider bombs and air dropped acoustic mines and torpedoes. The loss of pilots and air crews had so far been fairly light as the contested sea gave the Kriegsmarine the chance to use surface vessels to save their downed pilots as well as the new heliborn search and rescue service – famed for rescuing a very wet Werner Mölders. Furthermore, the early introduction of Kriegsmarine aircraft had led to several innovations, such as suits, rafts, beacons and other survival equipment, designed to keep air crews alive in the often freezing waters of the North Sea and the Baltic.
Air General Wever, and the OKL in general, having been somewhat disappointed with the value of intelligence gathered by Luftwaffe’s in-house intelligence service, sacked its head, Oberst Josef Schmid and had his office merge with that of Signals. The new overall leader, newly promoted Air General Wolfgang Martini – of RADAR fame-, would prove a great boon in the months to come. The promotion of Martini, and Luftwaffe’s emphasis on SigInt, was something of an omen of things to come; air warfare was getting increasingly dependent on electronics of all sorts as would be seen in the next round of the Battle for Britain.
At the same time Wever used the downtime to promote a series of young, aggressive fighter aces to JG-commanders, as well as setting up some new Lehrgruppen for respectively intruders and night fighters. Once more Wever, backed by nearly all his subordinates, clashed with Hitler over the need to dedicated valuable resources to defensive instead of offensive actions only, but he succeeded in getting his way, primarily by using the need of intruders as the prime argument – besides, it seemed the idea of a powerful long range twin engine fighter played well with some secret planes being drawn up by the OKW. Wever now began to look around after a suitable aircraft design and found an old Kurt Tank-design; the twin engine FW-187 Falke - Falcon. The design would need some work, but would eventually – after an incredible brief time, even in spite of Milch’s somewhat irrational opposition to the project - remerge as the FW-220 Raubvogel. The Raubvogel – Bird of Prey - armed with four of the recently developed Mk108 30mm cannon. The 30mm cannon would earn a fearsome reputation first on the Eastern Front, but also among the British when battle was joined again in ’44. The German air crews rather fittingly named the Mk108 the Pneumatic Hammer because its heavy distinctive firing sound. Such was the power of the Pneumatic Hammer that only a short burst was need to bring down even a De Havilland Manchester. The FW-220 was driven by two immensely powerful 2,000hp Daimler-Benz supercharged engines and equipped with the new FMG G Hugin RADAR. The Raubvogel turned out to be a very versatile aircraft that could be used in both the role of intruder – Fernnachtjäger -, attacking the RAF bombers when they were most vulnerable – forming up into streams or about to land –, or as a night fighter - Nachtjäger. Until the FW-220 would enter service, the equally versatile Ju-88 would make do.
Wever, knowing full well Hitler had taken a dislike to him – the two men had butted heads a few times too many recently - and most likely had him pecked for replacement sometime soon, tried to diffuse the mounting tension between OKL and the Führer’s HQ/OKW by appointing the fawning, but otherwise fairly intelligent and capable Hans Jeschonnek as his personal liaison to Hitler’s FHQ. Air General Jeschonnek’s devotion to Hitler, if not Nazism, did mollify Hitler’s suspicion and growing dislike of Wever to a certain degree, and thus brought the Luftwaffe commander a new lease of life, so to say. Wever hoped, he could remain in place as C-in-C of the Luftwaffe at least until the Battle of Britain was, if not over, then for all purpose won. Looking at his selection of commanders, Wever picked – with the assistance of Milch in the RLM - two as his possible replacements and began to groom them both as his eventual replacement. Both men were hard and stubborn – just the kind of man who could, and more importantly would, stand up to Hitler-, but extremely efficient and skilled. The two men, Albert Kesselring and Wolfram von Richthofen, so far had little or no idea of their Commander in Chief’s plans for them. Wever personally favoured von Richthofen, as Kesselring sometimes were a bit too stubborn and set in his ways, but the former had Hitler’s attention which would be a tremendous help. Both men would nevertheless rise to prominence in the years to come, one as C-in-C of the Luftwaffe, as predicted and planned for by Wever, the other as Air Minister after Milch’s assertion to Armaments Minister after the Paris Peace Accord had been signed in late ’40.
The Luftwaffe and its sister organisation, the KLK, was not the only branch of the Wehrmacht that had problems. Admiral Raeder, the C-in-C of the Kriegsmarine, had faced continuous problems with Admiral Dönitz, the Führer der Unterseeboote – chief of submarines -, over tactics and overall strategy in regards to submarine warfare as well as the constant divergence of funds from the – in Dönitz somewhat biased eyes – all important U-boote to the Kriegmarine’s Luftstreitkräfte Kommando - KLK. Dönitz was hell-bent on attacking British merchant shipping with U-boote just as in the last war – a strategy that nearly broke the British, but also drew the United States into the war. Raeder, along with his supporters and the Luftwaffe leadership, wanted to focus on the destruction of the Royal Navy, or at least make the fight seem lost to the British public, by the use of combined arms – that is both surface ships, uboote and aircraft. Furthermore Raeder, quite rightfully, feared that excessive use of the U-boote would draw the USA into the war with disastrous consequences for the Vaterland. Raeder, after yet another row, decided that enough was enough and replaced the wilful Dönitz with the more genial, but not less capable Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, who, as Dönitz, had extensive experience from commanding U-boote and had so far been the head of organisational part of the Kriegsmarine’s submarine branch. At the same time, Raeder used the opportunity to reorganise the submarine branch, and remanned von Friedeburg’s new post Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote – BdU -, instead of the old Führer der Unterseeboote, and promoted von Friedeburg to Konteradmiral – Rear Admiral. Konteradmiral von Friedeburg’s former post at Organisation was given to Eberhard Godt, and the young, but highly aggressive Günther Prien was put in charge of Operations. The submarine branch was now ready to take full advantage of the weakened state of the Royal navy…
The British themselves used their respite as best they could. Air defenses were ungraded, airfields repaired, shelters dug, munitions hoarded etc etc. Furthermore, a new more powerful version of the Hawker Hurricane saw the light of day – a new extremely powerful engine had replaced the already quite muscular older one, and more armour had been added, along with a bubble canopy and a 20mm machine cannons only armament consisting of six wing mounted cannons. This would prove to be the final version of the Hurricane. Sadly, this new constellation made the Super Hawker rather difficult to fly, but its deadliness had been increased tenfold, though. A version made for carrier duty had also been introduced - the Sea Hurricane - which featured a tail hook and a reinforced fuselage. As the Super Hurricane, it was hard to handle, but the Sea Hurricane nonetheless filled an important gap, as the RN could now defended itself with some hope of success against Luftwaffe and KLK air attacks. The Super Hawker would prove a match for its arch-nemesis, the Me-109, but unfortunately for the British the Me-109 was about to be replaced with the even deadlier FW-190.
The British were not the only ones working frantically at boosting the defensive and offensive capabilities of their air force. Around the Empire engineers and designers were crunching numbers and drawing up new designs as men being haunted by unspeakable things. One of the designs soon to enter service was the Australian developed Boomerang long range fighter. Furthermore the blueprints acquired from the Italians were undergoing intense scrutiny, and while usually underpowered and undergunned, the planes proved to be in fact nothing less than brilliant. The Reggiane Re.2000 and the Macchi MC.200 would begin production within a year and would enter service as the Bristol Rex long range fighter and the Hawker Mordred interceptor. The MC.200 would undergo some redesigns to streamline the fuselage and to incorporate the important bubbled canopy. Both planes would be armed with a combination of 20mm cannons and 12.7mm machine guns, and equipped with respectively a Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine and a ditto Griffon 65.
Over the Seas
Now I’m not pretty and I’m not cool
But I’m fat and I’m ugly and proud - so fuck you
Standing out is the new pretension
Sreamline the (sic)ness, half-assed aggression
You gotta see it to believe it, we all got conned
All the mediocre sacred cows we spawn
Put your trust in the mission
We will not repent - this is our religion
- Slipknot, I am Hated.
With a little evil inside
Feed on your nothing
You’ll never live up to me
I’ve stricken you
Feed on your nothing
And you’ll never live up to me
- Disturbed, Awaken.
Even though highly isolationist, the events playing out around the world did not go unnoticed in the US. A lot of factors influenced US decision making in latter half of 1940. One of them was Germany’s apparent decision not to use the U-boote as they did in The Great War, to ravage merchant shipping in the Atlantic. Furthermore the highly polished image of the young Luftwaffe kampfliegere – as depicted in Leni Riefenstahl’s movie, Die Jungen Adler –, along with the heroic struggle – German propaganda ran rampant in the US after the fall of France - of the heavily outgunned and outclassed Kriegsmarine played well with the American public, who was always looking for new heroic types, and the American tendency to root for the underdog.
Churchill, the disgraced formed First Lord, also played a vital role in fuelling the anti-British sentiment in the USA, albeit rather involuntarily. After having sulked for a while, Churchill went on an extended tour of the US to drum up support for the British cause. This proved highly counterproductive, as the Americans flocked to hear the old Briton speak, they were all swayed by his powerful rhetoric and gained nearly boundless sympathy for the bulldog-like man who always fought for what he believed in and on principle stood up to bullies. Unfortunately the American public somehow got the idea that the bullies Churchill had stood up to were his own country men, men like Halifax and Chamberlain. The fact that the Halifax Government seemed to be getting very cosy with the Japanese didn’t help the British image in the US either.
The US Army Air Force did not exactly sleep during this time, but they took their time waking up, so to say. And when they finally did, the USAAF drew a series of wrong conclusions about air warfare. First of all, military analysts soon concluded that the British air losses, especially their very high casualty rate among bomber crews, happened because of a lack of sufficient defensive armament, armour and insufficient aircraft size – hard to image when one consider that RAF Bomber Command fielded the monstrous DeHavilland Manchester. The Americans simply put went for bigger – as always one is tempted to say. The effect of fighters on the fighting over Europe somehow seemed elusive to the Americans, but a few decent designs for long range fighters – the US was a nation bordering the endless Pacific and not quite endless Atlantic after all– were picked for further study, and would eventually led to a series of powerful twin boomed and engine long range fighters with 12,7mm machine gun and 20mm cannon armament.
Likewise did the Japanese Imperial Navy - Nihon Kaigun - new emphasis on air power, not spur the US Navy into a frenzy of activity. To many US Admirals, the carrier was still a curiosity, and everybody knew that battleships ruled the waves, so the responds to the creation of the Kido Butai was simply, like with the bombers, to built even bigger and heavier armed battleships – the Admirals did, however, remember to included expanded programmes for shipborne AAA. So where the Japanese, and to a lesser extent both the British and the Germans, began to turn away from the old idea of battleships being Queens of the sea, the US almost crowned them God-Empresses.
One thing the Americans and Japanese, along with the Italians and Argentinians – the helicopters from Argentinian Pescara Autowerke would be Sikorsky’s main commercial rival for most of the 20th century -, all could agree upon was the use of helicopters in its capacity as a search and rescue vehicle. Whereas the Japanese and Italians fumbled around quite a bit, the Americans had a working model from Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation within less than 4 months. Eventually the helicopter would enter service with the US Navy, and later the US Coast Guard as well, as the Si-41 America, and while being fairly troublesome to fly, the sturdy, little helicopter would prove to be quite popular with the US Navy’s air crews – especially those in danger of needing rescue at some time.