In the present sate of development of search gear on planes, a location of low-flying enemy planes cannot be made … near the water. Special gear is not yet available for this purpose.
Kriegsmarine Operations Staff, 27 November 1943
Operation of own night fighters has just begun. No result is yet to hand.
(U-boat Command, 30 November 1943)
On 8 October 1943, a Bf 110 of 4./ZG 1 was shot down south of the Isles of Scilly, its crew telling their British captors that “night flying as such did not come within the activities of the Gruppe … The recent tendency has been, however, to fly a regular dawn patrol … in an endeavour to intercept Allied A/S aircraft returning to their bases”. Meanwhile however, Hauptmann Fritz Kunkel, Adjutant to Fliegerführer Atlantik, was taking steps to combat anti-submarine planes during the hours of darkness.
The British Y-Service began detecting unfamiliar wireless activity over Biscay during the night of 5/6 November, attributing it to an “unidentified unit Bordeaux”. Four nights later, two Ju 88 were due to cross the coast west of Lorient at 1430 GMT and return three hours later, the British noting an anomaly—the place suggested V./KG 40 yet the duration was more typical of 3.(F)/123’s routine evening security reconnaissance. On 12 November there were flights by Ju 88s from Bordeaux, one in the early hours, the other lasting just 60 minutes in the evening. The 29th brought a “special evening operation by unidentified Ju 88 possibly of V./40 from Bordeaux” from 1700–2200 or, as the Kriegsmarine noted: “During the night of 29 November one of our heavy fighters was sent out on night fighting in the area of Cape Ortegal”.
The probability that these are patrols by night fighters is now a strong one.
(Bletchley Park Operations Watch, 6 December 1943)
The unit’s strength on 3 December was 7 Ju 88 and 2 (1) crews, its stated role “night fighting with special equipment”. That day a Ju 88 flying from Bordeaux between 0225 and 0643 had been assessed as “possibly a night fighter”, along with another intended to be active from around 1815–2245 hrs. Confirmation came in the form of an activity report from Fliegerführer Atlantik deciphered eight days after the event:
Detachment Hptm. Kunkel with 1 Ju 88 free lance night patrol (word illeg.) Cape Ortegal without sighting the enemy.
There was a further operation, of five hours, planned for the evening of the 4th, but neither this nor its predecessors could be linked to any W/T traffic. It appears that the principal source of British information so far had been notifications (usually relayed by the Kriegsmarine) to coastal defence units to expect friendly aircraft at given places and times:
… a great many (up to twelve per day) of these naval circulars come to hand, covering both operational, training, and inter-aerodrome flights by all types of aircraft …
SALU WEST No. 816 (8 July 1943)
Early in December, assessing the new development, British analysts noted that:
The duration of the flight was about 4–5 hours, sometimes in the first half of the night and sometimes in the second. There is no evidence yet of any communication between ground and aircraft on flight other than the usual M/F homing and landing …
This knowledge gave a new significance to earlier cases where single Ju 88s had flown sorties of around four hours from Bordeaux:
The intelligence became much clearer on the night of the 6th, when intentions were signalled for two individual Ju 88 flights from Bordeaux-Mérignac. W/T was heard from both, thanks to bad weather which necessitated their being diverted to land at Cognac, the resulting calls identifying them as aircraft ‘A’ and ‘B’. While overflying six Spanish fishing boats during this mission they found their Lichtenstein sets “jammed on all three frequencies”, the effect ceasing after four minutes. Two weeks later, and unknown to the Allies, Kommando Kunkel had attained at strength of 7 (2) Ju 88 but with just one operational crew, reportedly Hptm. Kunkel’s own. Meanwhile, a British intelligence report issued on 15 December had referred to “The night fighters at Bordeaux (Detachment Hptm. Kunkel)”, the earliest Allied mention of the name that I have found so far.
A planned operation from 0100 on 23 December to cover outbound surface ships was cancelled. Twelve vessels from the 8th Destroyer and 4th Torpedo Boat Flotillas had been assigned to shepherd the returning blockade-runner Osorno (given the cover name Bernau for this operation) into the Gironde but in the event they did not leave port until shortly before dawn. On Christmas Eve, Ju 88 ‘A’ was again operational, returning to Mérignac after three hours in the air, for a landing at 2210. The Y-Service noted that it used the Staffel call sign of 1./ZG 1 but that an ‘A’ was known to be “one of the night fighters” and that “1./ZG 1 should not operate from Bordeaux”. On Christmas Night itself, ‘A’—using a radio procedure “associated probably with 2./ZG 1”—was homing on Bordeaux from over the sea at 2030, landing just over an hour later. For the Kommando’s last known operation of the year, a night fighter was due to be out over the Bay from 0215–0645 on what a British analyst termed “the now customary ‘free hunt’”.
continued on next page …
PART ONE OF SIX
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Article © Nick Beale 2018–2020