October 1943

On 30 Sept. fishing vessels equipped with radar were detected in BF 8356 and 9271. If positive results are obtained by our air reconnaissance operating on the afternoon of 1 Oct. it is planned to send out our destroyer sub-division on 2 Oct. to seize the suspicious vessels …

War Diary, Kriegsmarine Staff, Operations Division, 1 October 1943

Having taken off at around 2150 on the 1st, next morning He 111 “F” gave an estimated time of arrival at Bordeaux/Mérignac of 0530, approaching from the NW. Only four minutes out, he was notified that fog would prevent him from landing but it is not known where he was diverted. Meanwhile at 0422, another He 111 had taken off, apparently to co-operate with two destroyers looking for Spanish trawlers suspected of carrying radar. It was back down by 0530 and the warships were told that fog would preclude another take-off so the operation was postponed to the following day. “F” duly set off again from Mérignac at 0418 on 3 October, its landing being reported at 1000. Another reconnaissance was flown on the 4th, from 0003–0916 but brought no results and so the 8th Flotilla was stood down to normal notice.

ZTPG170193

The next day’s operations ended in some confusion thanks to misunderstandings between the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. At 0100, Fw 200 F8+MK was to take off on a nine or 10-hour flight attempting to locate the supposed radar-carrying trawlers, only to report at 0210 that it was on its way back and would be landing in about 20 minutes. Already in the air, He 111 “F” was ordered to take over from the Focke-Wulf and report the position of any suspect vessels. A further signal to “F” from Fliegerführer Atlantik at 0600 was misinterpreted by Kap. z. See. Ermendenger who soon reported his ships at immediate readiness, intending to sail at 0702. It took three-quarters of an hour before it was explained that the Flifü’s signal was to an aircraft, not to the destroyers, and that they could stand down as no trawlers had been found. By this time, Heinkel “F” had already returned to base.

In the early hours of 6 October the destroyers were told that another He 111 was airborne in search of the suspect trawlers and was expected to land between 0900 and 1000. What was new however was that a Ju 188, “G”, was to follow up at 1530; it was homing for a landing at Mérignac at 2016. An He 111 had also been due to take off around midday for a “direction-finding flight” over Arcachon Bay but whether this was an operational or a training sortie if not clear. However, the British analysts now felt they had enough information to add a note to their daily report:

Fw 200, Ju 188 and He 111 aircraft have now all been identified in connection with operations of the Special Detachment at Bordeaux. The object of these operations may well be W/T interception.

In other words these searches were now thought to be passive rather than active, listening for enemy transmissions.

Another He 111 trawler-hunt was planned for 1300 the following day; passing in and out over the coast at Cap Ferret, the Heinkel was supposed to be in the air for seven or eight hours. Both an He 111 and the Ju 188 were to continue the search on the 8th, from 0106–1000 and 0620–1300 respectively, but no traffic was heard that would confirm that these flights had taken place. The next day, a signal at 0809 advised the 8th Destroyer Flotilla that the He 111 up since the early hours had yet to find anything. The Ju 188 was due to be aloft once more that afternoon. A crew from II./ZG 1 shot down on 8 October and captured by the Allies “were aware that special R/T interception aircraft did operate over the Bay.”

An He 111 due to fly on 10 October saw its mission cancelled by bad weather but another was able to take off at 0112 next morning. There was another operation intended early on the 14th but the weather again forced a cancellation on the 15th. Aircraft “F” was homing on Bordeaux from 0106 on the 18th; operations were cancelled and so another Heinkel due to have taken off at midnight may well not have done so. Unusually, an He 111 crossed out over the coast at midday on 20 October, heading for a position west of Brest; the following day saw two He 111 take off around midnight and a Ju 188 at 1000.

22 October: Spanish fishing vessels southwest of the Gironde and north of San Sebastian were searched without result by a group of minesweepers, as they were reported by the Luftwaffe to be suspected of carrying radar.

23 October: Eight Spanish fishing vessels, suspected of carrying radar on board, were searched without result by two patrol vessels ten miles north of San Sebastian.

War Diary, Kriegsmarine Staff, Operations Division

A single Heinkel was to fly in the small hours of the 24th and two again on the 28th. The following day represented a small landmark from the Allied point of view if not the Luftwaffe’s — to quote the Naval Section’s report for the 29th:

ROUTINE NIGHT PATROL BY SPECIAL UNIT AT BORDEAUX

1 He 111 up 2359/28 in Bordeaux to cross coast West of Bordeaux, returning between 0800 and 0900/29. Aircraft was not heard in W/T.

N.B. Previous description of these patrols as ASV patrols should be disregarded as evidence is inconclusive.

In hindsight this re-evaluation and the one above seem overdue. While we cannot now be certain of all the factors contributing to the original interpretation it appears as if those concerned could see no operational value in repeatedly passing eight or nine hours over the sea at night if one was not actively searching with radar. It seems strange now that they did not think of anyone searching for radar (or other signals) when both sides had been doing just that since before the war.

Two He 111 were operating on the 30/31st, taking off 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after midnight while on the last might of the month one Heinkel was due to take off at midnight, aircraft “X” being called without response by a Bordeaux ground station from 0344–0526.

NOTE: “Called without response” sometimes meant that the aircraft had been lost—as corroborated by other wartime or modern sources—but not always. The wireless and radio sets of the 1940s were not wholly reliable, for example, and messages to or from an aircraft could go unheard. In this particular case there was no traffic picked up to suggest any air/sea rescue effort in search of a missing aircraft.

continued on next page …

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