Intelligence officers on the Allied side naturally interested themselves in what the Luftwaffe might be able to discover of Allied preparations for a cross-Channel invasion. Throughout the winter of 1943–44 they concluded that “no recce was being flown”, noting how Ob. West’s situation reports always included the formula “PR and visual recce provided no new information.”
In British eyes, anti-invasion reconnaissance began on 18 April. Before then the Germans had apparently confined themselves to security reconnaissance, maintaining an irregular watch over the seas between between Britain and France but not venturing over land. Peter Lucas of Bletchley Park’s Hut 3 Operational Watch was able to note by 7 May how:
It has been repeatedly stated in various sources by the Germans that prior to the beginning of this recce they had no knowledge from air recce of where the invasion concentrations are.
Lucas was contradicted in late August by the interrogation report of 5.(F)/123’s Ltn. Walter Warthol:
In February and March 5.(F)/123 carried out photographic reconnaissances of the harbours at Portsmouth, Southampton and Poole and also over the Isle of Wight. Photographs were taken with 30% overlap from heights of about 12,000 metres, and were extremely clear. On all these flights GM 1 was used.
Warthol must surely have been setting these dates too early or why would the Germans have been comparing their April 1944 results to ones from August and September 1943 (see below)? What is more Warthol’s Staffel normally operated further east, 4.(F)/123 covering the targets in question.
The Ju 188s of 3.(F)/122 meanwhile were watching the North Sea off Holland but had:
… not approached the East Coast since last Autumn; [they] might for some special reason be drawn on to approach on an isolated occasion the coast of East Anglia again, but could not operate regularly in this area because of fighter defence.
The dispatches of the Japanese Naval Attaché in Berlin were being intercepted and read by the Allies. On 13 April, before the German photographic effort had got under way, he reported:
Air reconnaissance shows concentration in Southern England begun and troops concentrating at night.
From an Allied intelligence appreciation of German knowledge of the invasion plans:
On the same day [17 April 1944] Admiral Doenitz issued a proclamation to all ranks on the imminence of the allied invasion of Western Europe … On 18/4 for the first time for six months, S.E. [single-engined] fighter recce aircraft operated over the invasion ports.
On 18/4, for the first time for six months, S.E. fighter recce aircraft operated over the invasion ports.
Late in the afternoon a German aircraft (probably of 5.(F)/123, since this was their sector — see map — sighted 50 ships stationary off Sheerness and others in the Dover Straits. Remarkably, this was the first reconnaissance of the area since September 1943.
Between 11.06 and 11.43 British defences plotted an enemy aircraft flying off the coast near Portsmouth and Selsey Bill and over the eastern side of the Isle of Wight before returning toward Cherbourg. Although this was first attributed to NAG 13 but a pencilled note on the Operational Watch report warns: “Yvonne says R/T is available but the unit can’t be NAG 13” and this was on 4.(F)/123’s normal patch.
At 1750, radio traffic suggested that a cross-Channel reconnaissance was underway, the aircraft being warned of British fighters near Bognor Regis. The flight, which was not picked up on radar, but was controlled from Caen and the plane landed “in the Triqueville area”, perhaps Conches-en-Ouche or Saint-André-de-l’Eure. A little later, German naval authorities were advised of three minesweepers in line astern, heading ENE in the Dover Straits, the British surmising that this may have been a sighting by 5.(F)/123.
At 14.04 GMT, two aircraft of NAG 13 left Dinard on a course which would have taken them over the Brixham – Dartmouth area but the British Home Security Intelligence Summary for the day noted that “no enemy aircraft has crossed the coast”.
The day brought a blow to 1.(F)/121 when three of its Me 410s were shot down while deploying from Buc to Soesterberg, whence they were to accompany a raid on Hull. The Staffel’s Ofhr. Werner Meyer recalled what happened:
All three of the Me 410s (W.Nr. 170009, 170031 and 170088) had burned out after hitting the ground. The first of these machines had carried a FuG 216 tail-warning radar.
Activity over the Channel stepped up considerably. From 0846–0943 “a small formation of aircraft”, thought to be from 5.(F)/123, was tracked off the East Kent coast. It was later learned that they had reconnoitred the Thames Estuary without seeing anything of note, the Japanese Naval Attaché reporting to Tokyo that “recce of Thames shows nothing fresh.”
An enemy aircraft “identified as a Fw 190” was picked up at 1034, 70 km off Selsey Bill and heading NW. Fourteen minutes later it made landfall over Bournemouth, flying over Swanage and Poole before heading back to Cherbourg. At 1054 it reported that it was being pursued by Allied aircraft and was caught attempting a landing at Cherbourg. Bf 109 G-5/AS/U2, W.Nr. 110086 was rated 35% damaged and struck off the inventory of 4.(F)/123.
Two NAG 13 aircraft were up from Morlaix at 1245 for a maritime patrol, followed by three more from Dinard at 1515; nothing was seen other than a lone escort vessel. At 1637 another three machines took off from Dinard with two more 20 minutes later, all bound for Lyme Bay.
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