Torpedo dropping aircraft: positive evidence of use by enemy. At least 3 attacks of which two during this August.
(Admiralty War Diary, 14 August 1940)
During the 14th, Lorenz told the Division that weather conditions would preclude day or night operations that day; nevertheless,he later reported making a dusk attack south of The Smalls Lighthouse. His search had evidently been difficult, with 10/10 cloud at 1,000 m., and rather than have to jettison his torpedoes before landing he had attacked an unusually small target, a steamer of 1,400–2,000 tons. His first torpedo passed astern of the ship while a gyro failure meant that the second curved around its bow.
Early on 16 August, Lorenz reported having launched torpedoes against a 5,000 ton vessel north of The Smalls, again without success. The first one had gone astern while the second, with a 4º greater offset angle, had passed even further behind and Lorenz concluded that the launch gear was not yet functioning properly. He had spent 5 hours and 20 minutes in the air and this was a seemingly rare occasion when one of Lorenz’s attacks was noticed by the British. The intended victim reported an unsuccessful attack WSW of The Smalls with one torpedo which broke surface several times before settling into its run. According to the Admiralty:
Trawler Solan H 184 attacked by 3 aircraft at 1415/16 10 miles W.S.W. Smalls. One aerial torpedo dropped which missed. Ship was then machine-gunned. Aircraft left on approach of a destroyer. No damage or casualties.
Far from being a 5,000-tonner, the Solan was a 115 foot-long Milford Haven trawler of 294 tons. Built in 1930, a newspaper report of August 1936 had described her as having “every conceivable gadget that goes to make for efficiency in fishing”; her skipper in 1940 appears to have been Arthur Howe. Lorenz was not the only pilot harassing shipping in the Irish Sea that August, the Admiralty’s War Diary recounting numerous attacks by aircraft, usually with bombs and guns. One whose nature is more ambiguous took place eight hours after the attempt on the Solan:
M.V. Crane: received 2201/15. Ship being attacked by aircraft 7 miles West of Stack.
Enemy aircraft reported as having machine gunned M.V. Crane at 2205/15 in position 055º South Stack Lighthouse [Angelsey] 5 miles. Two objects which dropped in sea failed to explode.
There was no sortie on the 16th and the weather the next day was unsuitable too. What was more, Lorenz was down to his last four torpedoes and asked when he might be getting more. At 21.00 hrs. the 9. Fliegerdivision replied that Luftzeuggruppe See in Kiel was sending him another ten. On the 18th however, Hptm. Ernst Hechler (Operations Officer on the staff of 9. Fl. Div.) asked the Division to send 20 aerial torpedoes to Brest as well as two urgently required setting tools for parachute mines (80 of which had been tested so far). For his part, Lorenz signalled that he would be taking off at 18.30 hrs. and asked for the activation of his usual beacons.
The steam trawler Valeria (198 GRT) was sunk by three aircraft on the afternoon of 18 August although her crew of nine was rescued. According the Naval Chief Staff Officer at Milford Haven this was “by bomb, torpedo and gunfire” but modern references attribute this sinking to bombs alone.
Lorenz flew in daylight on the 19th, 1T+BH returning to Lanvéoc at 17.45 hours, but again he rated the weather as too poor for a night sortie. He later reported that 1T+BH had been in action for 6 hours and 38 minutes on the 18th and 19th of August and that checks (on the Heinkel?) were continually being carried out. Also on the 19th, the Division approached the Aerodrome Regional Command to get Lorenz a car and “to ensure him every facility” since he had been assigned “special duties in connection with aerial-torpedo operations.”
A German ground observer unit, Offiziers-Spähtrupp 412, reported that at 21.40 hrs. RAF aircraft had dropped 12 bombs between Lanvéoc airfield and the seaplane base, causing some small, easily extinguished fires which did no damage.
On the 20th, Lorenz was again able to fly in daylight, setting off at 15.55 and returning to report that:
1T+BH landed at Brest at 2125/20 [GMT]. The task had been carried out. An attack on a steamer of eight to ten thousand tons was made at 18.35. Two torpedoes were dropped at ranges of 400 and 600 metres. The first torpedo had a gyro failure (G.A. Versager) which caused the torpedo to run on a circle and finish up on a course opposite to the original track.
The second torpedo also had a “G.A. Versager”. Its initial course was parallel to that of the target.
The attack took place at the northern end of the St. George’s Channel.
According to Bletchley Park an “outside source” (the Admiralty?) confirmed that two torpedoes had been launched by an aircraft against a ship near Anglesey although it is not obvious which vessel this may have been. For example, Trawler M was attacked by four aircraft at 11.00 hrs, 18’ west of The Smalls but rather than torpedoes the report speaks only of one bomb being dropped, which missed. The next day Lorenz took off at 08.30 hrs. and was in the air for 6 hours and 13 minutes:
At 12.45 [GMT] I attacked a steamer of 5,000 tons at the southern end of the North Channel. The state of the sea was 3. Two torpedoes were dropped.
The first torpedo was a surface run and a “G.A. Versager.”
With the second torpedo, the “G.A. spindle” broke. The torpedo was fired with a deflection setting at a range of 300 to 400 meters, but no track was observed.
Bletchley’s analysts commented:
Our agent knows something about torpedoes himself, and is inclined to think that Lorenz uses torpedoes which are set to turn 180 degrees after crossing the target line. Lorenz is being watched, and if he continues to be discursive, we may have further information shortly.
A German who knew something about torpedoes was a naval engineer named Klauke. On the afternoon of the 21st he contacted Kiel, giving the serial numbers of the two Lorenz had dropped that day (as he had done for the previous day) and asking for more. Temporarily out of “ammunition”, Lorenz that evening expressed the hope that he would be allowed to undertake a bombing mission for comparison with torpedo attacks.
Again, several attacks were reported by vessels in the Irish Sea that day. A report was sent from Merseyside to the Admiralty at 13.19 hrs. that the Slieve Donard had been attacked north west of North Stack; the trawler LT 410 reported an attack by three aircraft off The Smalls, with “six bombs and aerial torpedoes dropped” (apparently around 14.30, so too late for Lorenz’s account); and there were other incidnets later in the afternoon.
continued on next page…
PART TWO OF FOUR