Kunkel (night fighter) operating exclusively from Nantes (not Bordeaux)
British appreciation of the period 27 February–11 March
On the 8th, ZG 1’s Technical Officer reported that Ju 88 C-6, W.Nr. 750814 was off the strength of “third ZG 1” (whether this meant Gruppe or Staffel is unclear). This machine had been 100% destroyed when it crashed during “night training”.
Two Ju 88s took off from Nantes at 2345 on 9 March with orders to fly to a point about 150 km SW Vannes. Torpedo boats T27 and T29 had left port that morning and at 2039 had reported from about 120 km NW Santander that an aircraft was shadowing them so they were steering a deceptive course. Marine Gruppe West ordered that they should “draw [the] shadower away from Kiefer by energetic fake courses”. Shortly after midnight they were advised of “one Ju 88 up for night fighting in your area”.
Kiefer (= pine) was the Japanese submarine I-29. She had left Singapore on 10 December, carrying a party of diplomats and engineers; on 14 February a German U-boat had met her to pass over Naxos and Wanze G2 radar warning receivers and she had escaped an air attack on 4 March. She was due to rendezvous with the destroyers Z23 and ZH1 at around 0700 on the 10th but had arrived early and was passing the night on the bottom. The morning rendezvous was duly made and the two torpedo boats joined later but the Allies were aware of what was happening and mounted attacks throughout the day, leading to a number of clashes between ZG 1’s Ju 88s and the Mosquitoes and Beaufighters of coastal command. I-29 survived and night fighter cover was laid on for the night 10/11 March. Kunkel’s unit was placed at readiness during the hours of darkness to prevent Allied aircraft shadowing I-29 and her escorts, one Ju 88 taking off from Nantes at 0150 hours. Its wireless traffic was heard over the next quarter hour and two more were in contact with base just after 0400; ‘G’, one of the latter pair, signalled at 0422 that it was landing.
I-29 entered Lorient on 11 March and a week would pass before the Kommando was again in action. On the 18th some eight aircraft of ZG 1 carried out an evening patrol over the Bay, returning to Kerlin Bastard at around 1900. Two hours later, no fewer than six Ju 88 from Kdo. Kunkel were due to leave Nantes on a freie Jagd, ‘G’ landing at 2343. As Bletchley Park noted: “The number of night fighter Ju 88s concerned here is rather larger than that of any group previously operating together”. A night fighter was due to operate off La Rochelle overnight on the 20th/21st—“presumably against minelayers” in Bletchley’s opinion—but no W/T was heard.
Remarkably, from the 23rd the Kommando planned to operate seven nights in a row. This sequence began with two Ju 88 in the early hours of the 23rd, one of which, ‘E’, gave an ETA in Nantes of 0505 hrs. Another was due to be aloft for four or five hours from midnight on the 24th but there was no W/T to confirm this; the following night’s flight was to be from 2100–0220 but again nothing was heard. Two Ju 88 were scheduled to depart within five minutes of one another on 26 March and at 2222 GMT they found F/O Hieromin Czyzun’s Wellington Mk. XIV (‘F’ of No. 304 Squadron) 332 km West of Brest. The rear-gunner reported two Germans closing on the Wellington’s tail and they came in very close before opening fire. After evasive action had failed the rear-gunner shot back and:
… one German flew under our tail, leaving a long trail of smoke and flame. A second later there was an explosion just above the water, an enormous flash lit the cockpit as if it was daytime.
The second aircraft kept up the attack but proved more cautious and soon broke off. The Wellington’s rear-gunner was wounded, there was damage to his turret and to the plane’s port wing. Sergeant Kazimierz Barański won the DFM for his part in this action which was reported to have involved “two Me 110s”. Bletchley Park surmised that:
A single hostile aircraft plotted by ADGB [Air Defence of Great Britain] flying in over LAND’S END at [2312 GMT] and then turning and flying S. towards USHANT may have been the surviving Ju 88.
Single sorties were announced for each of the next three nights but the only W/T corroboration came when ‘I’ was heard landing in Nantes at 0150 on the 29th. An example of the signals warning of the Kommando’s flights:
Signed Naval Communications Officer, St. Nazaire, stamped 2000/28/3:
1 Ju 88 will take off at 2100 hrs. in 14 West North HR, crossing the coast in HQ, return at 0200 hrs. crossing coast in IQ.
continued on next page …
PART THREE OF SEVEN