continued …

NAG 13 put up four aircraft from Dinard which reported 15 ships in the Start Point area and an 6 of over 5,000 tons in harbour at Dartmouth. Another pair of Bf 109s took off at 0937 GMT, intending to cover Falmouth but the operation was broken off after encountering 8/10 cloud. German radar warned of pursuit by four British fighters from 1040–1047, in mid-Channel between the Lizard Peninsula and Brittany. A German evaluation next day counted 234 LCT, 3 LST, 254 small landing craft, 170 auxiliary landing vessels and 15 transports in and around Portsmouth. The landing craft there were judged sufficient for two formations of about 11,000 men while the transports could take 40,000. Photographs of Brixham and Dartmouth showed 19 LST and 116 LCT: sufficient for another two divisions without their heavy equipment. The Kriegsmarine’s verdict was that “the formation of the point of main effort in the Western Channel is hereby re-confirmed”.

The sightings off Portsmouth prompted a raid by IX. Fliegerkorps that night. A prisoner from 4./KG 2 described this as the unit’s first anti-invasion operation, aiming to sink vessels in an inlet east of the city and bottle up the remainder moored there. According to British Intelligence:

The majority of the bombs apparently fell in the sea. No shipping was hit … It speaks well for German ignorance of invasion concentrations that this shipping was immediately attacked — twice during the following night and in each of the succeeding nights until the moon became too bright.

In the view of Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth:

Bombing was indiscriminate and there was no evidence of mining. No naval casualties and no important damage to naval property.

There were two 1.(F)/121 losses arising from this attack. Oberleutnant Hermann Kroll (pilot and Staffelkapitän) and Ofhr. Werner Meyer (Bordfunker) formed one of the crews assigned to photograph the results of the raid, making their first sortie over the target at about 2300 GMT; they returned safely but a second aircraft with the same task did not. On their second trip, at 0307 GMT, Kroll and Meyer were themselves shot down into the sea off Portsmouth. Kroll’s body was recovered by a Royal Navy vessel but Meyer survived to be taken prisoner.

The first Me 410, that of Fw. Kurt Stoll, was brought down at Le Havre by F/L Rogers, in a Mosquito of No. 85 Squadron. Stoll and his two crewmen, Fw. Herbert Kraupatz and Uffz. Hans Ziegler, all perished. Their aircraft was unusual in having three men aboard and a week earlier the Staffel had been asked to report on experiences with the installation of folding seats (Krückensitze, lit. “crutch seats”) in the Me 410, presumably to accommodate the third man. Kroll’s machine was shot down at first light on the 26th, east of Portsmouth, by F/L Burbridge, also of No. 85 Squadron.

NOTE: It was learned from ULTRA intercepts that “Me 410 a/c of 1.(F)/121, W.Nr. 170026 and 170032, had not returned from operational flights on 25/4 and 26/4.” If we infer the word “respectively” at the end of that sentence then Fw. Stoll was flying 170026 and Obltn. Kroll 170032; both Messerschmitts were A-3 models.

Speaking to a fellow captive (and, unwittingly, to British microphones) the day after he was shot down, Werner Meyer had this to say:

Our Staffel flies at night, another … with 109s and 190s flies by day. It was an Oberleutnant who did it: he was at 12,400 m in a 109, with 340 km/h on the clock in level flight. Coming at him from above were six fighters [but] apparently they’d spotted him too late because in any event he dived away from them immediately, over 700 km/h, and it seems they couldn’t catch him.

Portsmouth would be raided for the next three nights as well but with precious little effect on invasion preparations.

The 4.(F)/123 took over Bf 109 G-5, W.Nr. 110052; once in the Staffel, this Messerschmitt became blue 11 (the figures outlined in white) and its wreck was found at Saint-André-de-l’Eure at the end of the Normandy campaign. On the 27th, FAG 123’s Technical Officer would indent for three 10 cm armoured »Galland« windscreens, needed in connection with fitting third seats into Me 410 aircraft of Westa 51.

NOTE: It was found alongside the smashed fuselage Bf 109 G-4, W.Nr. 14759, blue 2 (outlined white) and Bf 109 G-6/R3, W.Nr. 20355, blue 7 (outlined white). The latter was an unlucky machine: it was damaged 5% (airscrew and oil cooler) on 7 June after fuel shortage led to a forced landing from which Ltn. Klawen emerged unhurt on; two days later, flown by Gefr. Seinwill, it had been shot up by an enemy plane and made another forced landing. With its minor damage patched up by the Staffel, it was flown away but while taxying after a night landing it clipped a Storch which was 1% damaged in its turn. On 16 June Ltn. Begemann of 4.(F)/123 was flying W.Nr. 20355 when he had to abandon an operation owing to engine damage. The aircraft overturned while landing on 14 July and the damage this time was 55%.

26 April 1944

The Germans did not rely solely on aircraft to watch the seas around Britain. Shortly before midnight on the 25th an action had broken out 50 km NE of Cap Barfleur, between Free French destroyer La Combattante, the frigate HMS Rowley and “a force of E-Boats from Boulogne, apparently attempting an armed R/C [reconnaissance] of the eastern channel Assembly Ports.” In the early hours, E-Boat S.147 was sunk by La Combattante and 12 prisoners were taken. Their interrogation indicated that elements of two Schnellboot ("E-boat" in English) flotillas had been on a reconnaissance in force to establish whether landing vessels reported by German aircraft on the 25th were in fact about to attempt an invasion. The Seekriegsleitung War Diary records that the boats had been dispatched to Selsey Bill on the basis of air reconnaissance but were detected prematurely by British radar..

Two Bf 109s of NAG 13 were up from 0543–0707 to cover a strip of land including Brixham and Dartmouth from 4–5000 m, their photos showing (amongst others) 10 tank landing ships, 52 LCTs of different sizes, two cargo vessels and a tanker. They were subjected to inaccurate medium AA over Brixham, while in Dartmouth MTBs put up light AA. Again the German airmen were warned of pursuing fighters.

NOTE: The MTBs of the Free French 23rd Flotilla were based in Kingswear, across the river from Dartmouth, alongside the Royal Navy’s 15th Motor Gun Boat Flotilla.

A fragmentary report of an early morning operation by two Bf 109, apparently from 4.(F)/123 on security reconnaissance, stated that the pilot of the lead aircraft had been slightly wounded in an attack by eight fighters, over the sea about 60 km north of Port-en-Bessin. As interpreted by the RAF’s Y-Service:

On the second sortie (3 aircraft) combat seems to have taken place with Typhoons and Typhoon Bombers. 2 aircraft reported that they had received hits, one pilot being wounded, but were able to reach base, possibly Évreux or Bernay.

Large forces of Typhoons were indeed operating against targets in France that day but there is no record of their engaging in any combat with Bf 109s, let alone registering a “damaged” claim, so quite what happened — if anything — remains unresolved.

Pairs of aircraft were detected over the Channel around midday and early in the evening but none appears to have ventured overland. Further east, two Bf 109s of 4.(F)/123 made an unproductive flight south of Beachy Head and two from the 5. Staffel saw a 20-strong convoy in the Thames Estuary.

In a presentation to the Seekriegsleitung, a Luftwaffe Liaison Officer advised that ships spotted at sea off the English coast on the 24th had not been picked up again in photographs. Großadmiral Dönitz considered it essential to establish whether the landing vessels there were suited to short- or long-distance traffic while Gruppe West advocated a mining operation using anti-clearance detonators but was told that the available aircraft were too few and the risk of the Allies discovering and reproducing the detonators was too great.

27 April

The Isle of Wight and Portsmouth area was raided in the early hours. Red marker flares fell over Portsmouth but the bombing was described by the Admiralty as “indiscriminate over sea and land” causing civilian casualties and hitting houses but no ships were damaged. Despite this, the Royal Navy authorities were concerned:

C-in-C Portsmouth considers, from the evidence of E-Boat prisoners, that E-Boat activity in his command on the night 25th/26th was probably the result of enemy air R/C [reconnaissance] of the Isle of Wight on 25th April, and thinks that the provision of strong air cover in that area is of extreme importance from now onwards.

And:

Denial of R/C [reconnaissance] to the enemy is of extreme importance for defence of the concentration in Isle of Wight area prior to “Overlord” and during the course of exercise “Fabius” [a series of practice landings from 2 May onwards] for which loading has now commenced.

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