Escort of two M-boats will be on the 200 metre line at dawn. Expect our own night fighter aircraft.
Signal to U-373, 2051 GMT, 3 January 1944
Aircraft ‘A’ was operating again from 0215 on 2 January, crossing out to sea west of Mérignac and returning at 0642 apparently to Mont de Marsan. On the 1st, U-373 had sailed from La Pallice but was severely damaged two days later by aircraft. Unable any longer to dive and compelled to turn back, U-373 was told to expect cover from night fighters on 3/4 January and a dawn rendezvous with two minesweepers about 175 km SSW Brest. In the event, the take-off intended for 0150 on the 4th was scrubbed but the submarine made it into port nevertheless.
On the 6th, the Kriegsmarine Chief of Staff asked that Luftflotte 3 should fly night fighter sorties over Biscay because it was:
… intolerable that the enemy should be able to make his night raids completely without hindrance and cause losses to our submarines right on our own doorstep … During the night of 6 January there were again reports from seven submarines about enemy air raids in the Bay of Biscay … The noticeable frequency of these … demands action by our night fighters.
Although their own War Diary had recorded a night fighter patrol six weeks earlier and such aircraft had co-operated in important naval operations since then, discussions continued next day, as if none of this had happened. On 7 January, the Operations Staff again considered “the urgently needed night fighter operations over the Bay of Biscay”, having obtained the following information:
1. Wilde Sau … have no radar sets … operations over the Bay of Biscay thus hinge on a chance meeting … with an enemy plane … the Fw 190 can only carry out short flights and since a night operation over the sea by a single-engined plane (especially when visibility is none too clear) means completely blind flying with all its strain on the pilot, the effort expended is out of proportion to the possible results.
2. Wilde Sau with Ju 88 C-6 … have no radar sets or homing receivers and also depend on a chance sighting on a bright night.
3. Freelance night fighter operations using Hohentwiel … are possible in theory, but they are wasteful as planes can only be located at distances up to 15 kilometres. Also they can only be carried out on bright nights as the enemy plane must be perceptible to the naked eye for the actual attack. Therefore the only way to achieve success is to employ a large number of planes.
They concluded that:
… freelance night operations over the Bay of Biscay cannot bring satisfactory results unless the fighters are equipped with homing sets which respond to the radiations of the enemy locating planes (ASV and Rotterdam sets). Therefore the [fighters] must be equipped with the Flensburg set and "Naxos Z" and also a Lichtenstein or wide-angle set, so that they can spot and bring down the enemy also on dark nights.
It was decided to take the question up with the Luftwaffe Operations Staff, as if it was not already being attempted; the discussion as recorded and translated is not about expanding or speeding up an existing initiative. The Navy’s apparent amnesia over something they attached so much importance to is something of a mystery.
Bad weather over Biscay seems to have severely curtailed flying for much of January and nothing more was heard of possible German night fighter activity until the 29th when two Ju 88 were due up from Bordeaux at 1510 to operate off the mouth of the Gironde before returning at 0030 on the 30th. The British thought this was a “night exercise by Ju 88s of ZG 1 — Bordeaux”.
Night fighters continue to operate singly from Bordeaux and Nantes, never more than one in one night … So far they have had no success whatsoever.
British appreciation of the period 6–12 February
On 4 February a Ju 88 was due to cross the coast at 0145 and return 4½ hours later, this being assessed at Bletchley as “probably the freelance patrol as far as Cap Ortegal”. This new knowledge was almost certainly thanks to the capture of crew members from an Fw 200 of 8./KG 30 which had ditched on the Atlantic on 28 December. Among the Fliegerführer Atlantik units these prisoners identified was “Sonderkommando Kunkel, 3–4 Ju 88s or 188s, Bordeaux/Mérignac” and they related how it was co-operating with Kdo. Rastedter, having drawn several pilots from III./KG 40, one of them an Ofw. Gerber. Its aircraft were said to be equipped with Lichtentstein radar as well as a “a type of search receiver”. Their aim was to orbit surfaced U-boats crossing the Bay, in the hope of intercepting the Allied aircraft hunting them; as 1943 drew to its end Kunkel and Rastedter had still been working up suitable tactics. The prisoners did not name the passive detection system but Chris Goss has published a photograph of a Kdo. Kunkel Ju 88 C-6, "4C+AA" with Lichtenstein antennae on its nose (probably FuG 212, see below) and a FuG 227 Flensburg antenna on its port wing. Most sources suggest that latter device did not enter service until Spring 1944 (although as we have seen, the Navy had known about in January), suggesting that initially the Kommando was using another device, possibly FuG 350 Naxos which became available in Autumn 1943.
Three sorties were mounted on the 5th: one from 0115–0615 and two at 2045, when Ju 88s ‘E’ and ‘G’ were ordered up immediately on a freelance operation (»freie Jagd«). It was at this time that the Kommando transferred to Nantes and on 7 February it was intended that a lone Ju 88 should operate from there from 0140–0615 hours. Aircraft ‘D’ (using a II./KG 40 frequency) reported its position 217 km SW Nantes at 0138. If this was a Kunkel Ju 88, it had taken off earlier than the announced intention of 0140 and a return at 0615. There was a hiatus in detected activity until 0104 on the 15th when ’T’ reported that it was breaking off its mission and, using the factory call sign BK+MR (a Ju 88 C-6), established contact with Kerlin Bastard (Lorient) and at 0201 was coming in for a landing.
An early hours sortie was also planned for 16 February, the next after that (and the last of the month) being announced for 0100 on the 20th, returning at 0550 hours. No W/T appears to have been intercepted in either case. The Kommando lost a Ju 88 in a crash on take-off from Nantes on 21 February. The three crewmen were all killed and are buried in Pornichet: Hptm. Erwin Burghoff (pilot), Ltn. Theodor Pfisterer (observer) and Uffz. Hans-Joachim Wolpers (wireless operator); their unit was recorded as Kdo. Kunkel Fliegerfüher Atlantik.
continued on next page …
PART TWO OF SIX