Fliegerführer Atlantik on the 3rd reported the strength of Sonderkommando Rastedter as 3 (2) He 111, 3 (1) Ju 188 and 7 (4) crews. Its role was described as Funkmeßaufklärung — radar reconnaissance, in the snese of searching for radar rather than with it.
The Kommando was active on 10 nights during December, so far as is known. Ju 188 NK+ZG was on patrol on the morning of the 1st; shortly after midnight it was the turn of an He 111. The Ju 188 was again due up at 1300 on 4 December: crossing the coast near Lorient it was expected to return at 2130 but was not seen again. The British recorded no calls to the missing aircraft nor, as so often heard in other cases, any suggestion that a search and rescue operation was mounted. The loss of Ju 188 W.Nr. 280010 (NK+ZG) was listed by the Quartermaster General as being from 9./KG 40 probably because this Staffel had administrative and disciplinary responsibility for the Sonderkommando, a common arrangement in the Luftwaffe. The plane’s five crewmen were:
The presence of a second Wireless Operator is indicative of the aircraft’s involvement in some aspect of electronic warfare or signals intelligence. A colour photograph of NK+ZG appears in Chris Goss’s book “Sea Eagles Volume Two” (Classic, 2006); its dorsal turret has been replaced by a T-shaped antenna and a second aerial appears to be fitted on the upper forward curvature of the cockpit glazing.
He 111 SQ+MX soldiered on, operating during the mornings of both 5 and 7 December, details of the first of these flights being signalled to the destroyer flotilla, while the second was announced to Z 27; both messages included a protocol for reporting “ship targets in the area.” On the 6th two Ju 88 night fighters, “A” and “B” of Kdo. Kunkel, had their own encounter with suspect trawlers. At 1900 [local time?], around 140 km WNW of Bordeaux, they encountered six Spanish fishing vessels, only to find their Lichtenstein radars “jammed on all three frequencies” for four minutes after they had passed over the boats. Fliegerfüher Atlantik rated the report unreliable after he had dispatched another aircraft to investigate which did not experience the same interference. For its part Marine Gruppe West, after months of trying to find any, “also [did] not believe that Spanish fishing vessels possess radar gear.”
An unspecified Heinkel was up early on the 12th and another was due to make an “exercise flight” from Bordeaux to the Gironde Estuary and back on the afternoon of the 14th. On the 15th, an He 111 marked F8+CI was expected to take off from Mérignac at 0130, cross the coast due west of the aerodrome 15 minutes later and following the route 14 West 2685 – 24 West 3754 – 14 West 9916 – Mérignac, returning in the hour from 0930. The Heinkel was called without success by its ground station from 0858 but does not appear to have suffered any major misfortune since the same code letters would be picked up by monitoring on other dates and no corresponding loss was reported by the Quartermaster General. This new marking moved Bletchley’s Naval Section to note that:
… the I Staffel of KG 40 has not previously been identified. Other aircraft of the Special Detachment have been referred to by their factory markings.
F8+ was the unit code of KG 40 but the letter “I” was skipped in the normal Staffel marking sequence, making it an understandable choice for a special unit attached to the Geschwader but not part of its regular structure. Also on 15 December, an He 111 was due to take part in morning and afternoon target practice sessions in the St. Nazaire area but in this role is more likely to have belonged to Fliegerzielgeschwader 2 than to Kdo. Rastedter.
Intelligence on the mission of 18/19 December included an early-morning position fix from Rennes on aircraft “I”, apparently on its way back to base. Concluding the Kommando’s activities for the year, an He 111 was due up in the early hours of the 28th and 31st, giving way to a three-week hiatus before another operation by the unit became known. Winter weather undoubtedly played a role in this but conversely other Fliegerführer Atlantik units were flying on days when Rastedter’s did not.
More information came to the Allies from the crew of a III./KG 200 Fw 200 which ditched in the Atlantic on 28 December: reportedly, the Kommando was equipped with “one Fw 200, one He 111 and three or four Ju 88’s or 188’s carrying special radio equipment”. They were said to be both investigating and jamming Allied ASV frequencies, as well as W/T communications between aircraft and fishing vessels thought to be monitoring German naval activity (see above). Rastedter himself was billeted in the Hotel Splendide, Bordeaux. His unit’s main difficulty was said to be Allied anti-submarine aircraft only switching on their ASV sets for short periods — perhaps as little as three minutes. This, along with what the Germans thought was the radar’s narrow search angle, afforded few opportunities to detect and analyse its signals. However the Fw 200’s pilot claimed that a close-range photo of a Sunderland which he had obtained had allowed the experts to deduce ASV’s wavelength from the size of its antennae.
From the same prisoners, the RAF learned something of Rastedter’s cooperation with Kommando Kunkel which was said to operate Ju 88 night fighters equipped with Lichtenstein radar and a passive search receiver. Using data from Rastedter’s ferret aircraft, it was intended that they should hunt the British ASV aircraft threatening the U-boats in transit to and from their Biscay bases.
As the year turned, Fliegerführer Atlantik issued a paper, “Options for Combatting Allied Shipping Traffic in the Atlantic”. It offered this bleak assessment:
Biscay today is just as much blockaded as the North Sea in the [First] World War. The German Naval leadership has exchanged the North Sea “angle of death” for the Biscay “triangle of death”.
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