Wednesday 27 October 2021

Sonderkommando Blaich 'raid' on Fort Lamy, January 1942 - 'anecdote' or feat of arms?



Two views of Theo Blaich and his Messerschmitt Me 108 "Taifun" prior to his departure on his pre-war 'Afrika Rundflug' (which took place during December 1938). 




Below, Blaich's Taifun with the Staffelabzeichen of the so-called "Sonderkommando Blaich"probably painted following the raid on Fort Lamy for the purposes of German propaganda.




Theo Blaich was a pre-war adventurer and 'explorer' - a German 'Lawrence of Arabia' - responsible for planning and executing one of the 'longest' bombing raids of the war - the 'spectacular' attack on Fort Lamy (capital N'Djamena in Free French Chad). Often described as a 'feat of arms' ('Husarenstreich' in German) it was, in the view of this blog, a fairly derisory effort mounted by a single He 111 that has been 'sensationalised' ever since, some even comparing it to the Doolittle raid! An 'exploit' perhaps - but one of limited impact as a more 'objective' look at the efforts of the Sonderkommando based on the German and French sources would surely conclude. The ECPA- D in Paris has a large amount of material that can be previewed ..although reproduction fees for the photos - over 55 taken by PK reporter Fritz Dettmann on the raid alone - are horrendous.. 

African explorer and plantation owner, Theodor Blaich was already a civilian pilot and owned his own personal Bf 108 when he enlisted in the Luftwaffe. Serving as a 'technical advisor' to Rommel and his Afika Korps, Blaich's 'Sonderkommando' was set up to counter the Long Range Desert Group but had so little impact that  there has been little or nothing written about it in English. Blaich's sole He 111 was a II./KG 4 machine (WNr. 4145) fitted out with a supplementary fuel tank (normal fuel capacity 4285 litres) enabling the machine to fly a 2500 km round trip carrying a pay load of just sixteen SC 50 bombs. The Fort Lamy raid was launched from Bir Misciuro ('Campo Uno') 600 km south of Hun on 21 January 1942.

Below; Heinkel He 111 mit Staffelabzeichen "Sonderkommando Blaich" and in the background, Blaich's car and Me 108 "Taifun", all featuring the Staffel emblem.





According to a recent video " the raid destroyed all oil stocks and 10 aircraft.."  Yet photos of the scenes appear to show plenty of intact oil barrels with the columns of smoke some distance from the photographer.  A recent article has an account from one French eye witness describing how base personnel man-handled barrels away from the scene of the fires ....in addition no a/c installations were hit and no aircraft were lost. The official 'bilan' (balance sheet) was 400,000 litres of fuel destroyed while 200,000 litres were saved directly from the fires. In fact according to figures published by Alain Godec, Free French fuel reserves stocked in and around Fort Lamy totalled some 2,500,000 litres!

Left; map of  the 'raid' against Fort Lamy flown on 21 January 1942 - from Alain Godec's article. 

As the Heinkel turned for home, columns of smoke rose up into the skies and the one imagines the crew looking down on the scenes with something approaching satisfaction. The anti-aircraft defences at Fort Lamy eventually reacted but the Heinkel crew were unaware of any defensive fire. In fact the Germans had been fortunate to 'hit' the target at all - they got lost on the way to Fort Lamy, running into a sandstorm an hour after take off. The meteorologist at Hun (Houn - 60 kms south of Tripoli) - who had forecast fine conditions for the raid - was apparently a British secret agent. Blaich and his crew also got lost on the way back, running out of fuel and eventually having to put down in the desert some 200 kms from Campo Uno. In fact  as Mark Felton explains his video (see below) while the Italians' 'path-finding' for the mission was a total failure, they did eventually locate the German raider(s) 'Funkpeilung' from their 3W transmitter in the desert after some five days under 36 C temperatures and rescued them. According to wikipedia, " while the attack on Fort Lamy caused only minor damage to installations and light casualties it did destroy vital fuel supplies. It reduced the supplies for the Free French Forces and the RAF in the region by half (according to Allied sources). The raid also caused the French general Philippe Leclerc to strengthen the anti-aircraft defences at Fort Lamy and to start hit-and-run operations against the Italian forces in Fezzan region.." Yet the raid on Fort Lamy had no bearing on LeClerc's 1942 campaign - which it was intended to hinder - and rather illustrated the Luftwaffe's inability to mount any kind of meaningful strategic operation. Blaich later commanded NSGr.7 (from October 1944 I think) and was awarded the DKiG (German Cross in Gold).  There were no awards handed out for the Fort Lamy 'attack'.




The PK reporter Fritz Dettmann who accompanied the raiders also authored the book 'Mein Freund Marseille' - which may go some way to explaining the 'propaganda success' enjoyed subsequently by Blaich.  You could possibly describe the raid as a 'feat of arms' ..but hardly a success. 

Theo Blaich (seen left) died in 1975.  His obituary was published in Jägerblatt and was written by Ed Neumann. There was not much detail on Blaich's life unfortunately -  he died aged 75 (born 1900), adventurer and explorer he spent time in his teens flying and travelling, mostly to central America - owned banana plantations in the Cameroons West Africa during the mid to late 20s - on the outbreak of war enlisted in the Luftwaffe with his own aircraft.

On the French side there were claims made about the efficacy (or not) of Fort Lamy's anti-aircraft defences. French writer  Alain Godec commented;

  ".. the officer commanding the guns did not see the German aircraft despite claims that they had clearly identified the aircraft on the approach. One gunner claims that the Bofors guns could not hit the aircraft because it was flying at 3500m (as compared to 1500m in the official report) and even says that the bombing was done North to South. The rumours among the Free French in Chad indicate that the crews were either having a nap or were playing cards, apparently unconcerned given that there were so many aircraft movements. When you look at the picture in Carrell's book depicting at least one bomb exploding with the river Chari in the back-ground  you can clearly see that the altitude was not 3500m (beyond Bofors guns range) but much lower. You can also simulate this on Google Earth..."

 

"..Select N'Djamena and play with the altitude. One thing I forgot to say is that the aircraft type and nationality was only discovered later on. The report mentions that the bombing "was done at 1235 GMT by a twin-engine bomber camouflaged by large orange and brown stripes without any markings". The nationality of the aircraft was only discovered when the two unexploded bombs were examined and destroyed three days later. In a local Fort-Lamy newspaper, an article reports that "Fort-lamy was bombed by an unknown aircraft and that the bombs were of a German make.." 



Below; refuelling Blaich's He 111 at 'Campo Uno' from drums carried by the accompanying Italian SM. 81 'Pipistrello'  prior to launching the 21-22 January raid. According to a German-language article on the raid (Flugzeug 5/86), the Italians were to accompany the raiding Heinkel and act as 'pathfinders'.  The Heinkel missed Fort Lamy by some 200 kms and only found the target by following the rivers Schari/Lougone. The crew landed in the desert -lost- some 200 kms from Campo Uno on the return leg of the mission. With diminishing water rations the crew were located after some five days in the desert.



Below; Blaich at the controls of a Me 108 having just landed at Campo Uno. Standing alongside him is the Count San Severino, Italian desert 'specialist'..






Above; 'colorized' (?) screen capture from the Mark Felton video below. A single click to view here

Monday 25 October 2021

Me 163 Rocket Interceptor (Crecy reissue) and Pen and Sword's 'Air Battle for Moscow' - new Luftwaffe books

 




"Me 163 Rocket Interceptor" is a revised and updated combined edition of the two original Classic volumes on the Me 163 from the same authors which have long been out of print. It will be of particular interest to those those (like me) who don't have the original two volumes. (Vol I was always impossible to get at a sensible price)

The book is a hardcover with dust jacket and has 406 numbered pages (plus 10 unnumbered pages before chapter 1), not 464 pages as the Crecy website Me 163 Rocket Interceptor states.  (thanks to 'Daggerr')

From the publisher's blurb;

"This meticulously researched history of the Luftwaffe’s innovative yet daunting rocket-powered interceptor draws on rare archival and private sources, along with recollections of many former pilots who flew this radical aircraft. It provides the most thorough record available of the design, development and operational history of a remarkable aircraft.

The origins and development of early rocket-powered and tailless aircraft are traced from the late 19th century to the interwar years, as well as the test programme at Peenemünde and ensuing missions flown by Erprobungskommando 16. Following a study of Me 163 production, the authors then present a detailed diary of point-defence combat operations conducted against the Allied air forces over north-west Europe in 1944-45 using the Me 163 by Jagdgeschwader 400.

There is a study of late-war training by the Ergänzungsstaffel/JG 400 and IV./EJG 2, and for the first time, the story of the little-known Italian involvement with the German rocket fighter. The reader is also offered a detailed overview of Me 163-based design projects and planned swept-wing and ultra-high speed development, as well as the story of Allied, Japanese, French and Soviet post war testing
..." 

The Luftwaffe blog caught up with project manager/editor Robert Forsyth for a brief comment on the re-release;

Hello Robert, can you comment on the Me 163 reissue through Crecy for the 'Luftwaffe blog' please?;

Hi, yes I was involved with it, in as much as I was project manager/editor and we put the book together, but I have had no involvement with content per se, other than editing

 Being a 'revised' edition can you provide some insight into what this 'revision' amounted to and what was the thinking behind releasing just a single volume?

Well, the original 2002/03 editions have been sold out for years and fetch high prices on-line, and Crecy have had quite a few enquiries about possible reprints, so they decided to do a new single, bind-up volume. The revisions involve a few minor corrections here and there, some small additions, some new operational and post-war photographs, and revised and new line drawings. It was a whole new book and layout in terms of production. Bear in mind the initiative was with Crecy, rather than the authors, so they were just given the option to relook at it which, of course, they took up.

And  finally, Robert, how is that 'Climax Blues Band' book of yours doing ? I've just been reading that they were great friends with Black Sabbath.

Yes, all being from the Midlands, two of the band were good mates with Ozzie back in the 1970s. There is a story about him giving them lift and the car crashing into the wall of a pub after a night out, or something like that. The book sold out in six months, which was wonderful as I didn’t know what to expect and it was all sold off Facebook and personal contact, and I am ‘trying’ to get onto the second volume, but aeroplanes keep getting in the way! (in a nice way!)

Also on this blog 


Also new;

# 98 in the Batailles Aeriennes series from Lela Presse
 The Regia Aeronautica on the Channel front - "Le Corpo Aereo Italiano" by Cynrik de Decker



from the publisher's blurb;

" ..an unknown and unique episode of the famous Battle of Britain. Mussolini, unwilling to remain in the shadow of a triumphant Führer, sent a large contingent of his Regia Aeronautica to Belgium hoping to participate in the invasion of England. But, dogged by misfortune, the Italians failed to shine in the predominantly gray skies of northern Europe. And with good reason - their aircraft were mostly obsolete and poorly equipped and their crews unprepared for the harsh climatic conditions. It didn't take much more to turn the adventure into a bitter failure! Italian 'propaganda' was of course able to glorify the actions of  Italian aviators, but the results obtained were almost nil since no British aircraft fell victim to the Duce's fighters! On the contrary, Italian losses were heavy. This 'sabre-rattling' simply highlighted the shortcomings of the Regia Aeronautica, which was largely unsuited to a modern conflict. This does not detract from the quality and courage of the Italian airmen who lived and died during this episode.." 

 Ten-page pdf extract on the Lela Presse website here

also new;



" Air Battle for Moscow 1941-1942" by Degtev and Zubov provides, according to the publisher Pen and Sword, the first detailed description of one of the most vital but least well-known air battles of WWII. Preceded by extensive recce overflights the battle for Moscow - Operation Clara Zetkin - was launched on 22 July 1941. The book has comprehensive coverage of all air actions over Moscow up until April 1942 with further volumes apparently planned. In fact the Luftwaffe's 'campaign' against Moscow was far from the sustained offensive such a term implies - raids flown against the Soviet capital by more than 100 Luftwaffe aircraft occurred on just three dates, while all other sorties were flown by small groups or just single bombers. Even the torpedo bombers of I./KG 28 operating on the southern sector carried out periodic attacks on Moscow.  However, the Luftwaffe had suffered serious losses during 'Barbarossa' and was now significantly weaker than at the start of the offensive. While, by December 1941, the strategic position of the Germans " looked stable and encouraging" - presumably from Berlin -  this was  in reality the Germans' first crisis, and it was taking place in the East - even as Rommel was retreating and the Americans were entering the war. On December 2, 1941 German troops advancing along the Minsk highway reached the area of  Golitsyno and Aprelveka, 18 km from Vnukovo and 30 kms from Moscow. Three days later the German assault on Moscow had all but fizzled out and the text focuses on the Soviet counter-offensive, especially the 'Christmas slaughter of the Luftwaffe'.. In the days just prior to Christmas 1941 from 17 to 23 December it was cloudy and snowing in the Moscow area. Russian fighters limited themselves to short flights lasting 40-50 minutes at low level but VIII Fliegerkorps suffered it heaviest losses since the beginning of the campaign. In addition, on 20 December while transferring from Gorstkova airfield to Dugino seven Ju 87s of III./StG 2 crashed in a snowstorm killing six crew. But the failure of the 'Typhoon' offensive against the Soviet capital did not apparently cause serious alarm. The authors highlight that Soviet pilots almost invariably reported large amounts of enemy military equipment destroyed - statistics are quoted monthly, while individual losses and claims are detailed in the text. By way of example, of the 8,262 sorties flown by the 6th IAK PVO during November 1941, 4,600 were cover sorties sorties for Soviet troops, 1500 were ground attack and 2,000 air defence - 190 aircraft were claimed downed, 660 trucks and 156 tanks were destroyed. Actual German aircraft losses in the Moscow area amounted to just 30 machines. The authors detail the lack of any accurate assessment of the results of Soviet air attacks on German ground forces and also comprehensively explain the difficulties encountered by both sides in mounting operations in the severe cold, concluding that "Russian aircraft were even less ready for winter ..[ than the Germans ..]".  In the first five months of the German offensive the death toll from bombing raids amounted to barely 1,400, a tally commensurate with the derisory numbers of aircraft that the Germans were able to deploy - the German 'vultures' rarely numbered over 100. These forces were of course, far from the 'thousands' cited in 'official' reports  - "Stalin's propaganda lives on in Russia" Bad weather and the small numbers of German aircraft committed meant that damage in the city - according to an NKVD report - was relativly light.  Appendices detail losses sustained by participating Kampgeschwader and the long-range recce units, while the main text features personal accounts from the 'standard' German-language unit histories - KG 53, KG 100, KG 4 and KG 26 - and detailed accounts of claims and losses. While the Soviet authors quote extensively from both Russian and German sources, just occasionally the text lapses - rather strikingly - into what I imagine to be typical WWII Red propaganda language; 

" the young Wolfram von Richthofen was an ardent fanatic ready to faithfully serve any regime that would give him an opportunity to realize his only passion in life - to fight and destroy. The coming to power of the Nazis gave Richthofen unlimited opportunities for the implementation of his characteristic bloodthirsty inclinations.. "  

Fortunately for readability,  similar descriptions of the 'fascist vultures' are rare.  Overall then an interesting and detailed account. 
 

" Why didn't the Germans deploy their fighters massively to stop the bombing campaign?"

 


"...When the British and Americans were bombing Germany in WW2, why didn't the Germans just send up all their interceptors to stop the 'thousand' bomber raids?.." A video from the TIK history channel. A single click to view here

Wednesday 20 October 2021

"Nazis in the Air" - the 'politicisation' of the Luftwaffe with Victoria Taylor - "We have ways" Podcast

 



"..How politicised was the Luftwaffe? Second World War aviation expert Victoria Taylor joins Al Murray and James Holland to examine the history of German airmen, Hermann Göring and the Nazification of the Luftwaffe..."

Monday 18 October 2021

unusual mottle finish on JG Friedrich - ebay photo find #343

 ebay photo find courtesy of Marco Meyer

 Stabskennung nach Art des JG 2



Wednesday 13 October 2021

Flugzeug Classic 11/21 exclusive - new pictures of the Me 209



The latest issue of 'Flugzeug Classic' has published new images taken by the-then 'famous' photographer Alexander Stöcker, portraying, in addition to the notorious Me 209 V4 '+ 14' with a fine snake on the forward fuselage, two other Me 209s depicted as being'operational' - for propaganda purposes. Coded '+ 3 ' and '+ 12 ', both long winged, totally unknown to date and can be seen in the sample pdf for the current issue, link below. The front cover image of '+ 14 ' shows an SC 250 being 'loaded' although with no ETC belly rack fitted - and no room to fit one - such ordnance simply could not be carried by this machine.

" ..Sometimes the most effective weapons in the history of war are 'paper tigers'. The German Luftwaffe produced a number of these. Their new "miracle fighter", the Me 209, did not roll not out of Messerschmitt's workshops, but from the offices of the Propaganda Ministry, which produced a series of photographs which showed the viewer the impression of the hustle and bustle of a "209" task force. But the photographic smoke candles were duds - the experienced viewer can immediately see the deception. And so the photos disappeared before the public got to see them. Now the clumsy efforts of the Ministry have resurfaced and provide us with rare images of the Me-209-V prototype..." 

 Below; A close-up of the front cover of 'Flugzeug Classic' 11/21 and link to a 10-page sample PDF on the publisher Geramond's web site 

Also on this blog;


And announced well over a year ago, still no sign of the A&A Models kits, although according to their FB page the A&A Models Me 209 V1 in 48 scale is due imminently..








Monday 11 October 2021

"..holidays in Cazaux.." - Ergänzungsjagdgruppe JG 2 in Cazaux, near Bordeaux, France during the summer of 1941










Yellow-nosed Emil in service with the Ergänzungsgruppe of JG 2 during 1941. Left, Uffz. Helmut Rainer (KIA on August 6, 1941). Second left, Uffz. Karl-Heinz Munsche. Second right is instructor and ace Ofw. Kurt Goltzsch. Note that most of the unit's Emils featured a white band around the rear fuselage.


In late 1940 an auxiliary training Staffel subordinated to JG 2 was established in Le Havre. It was intended to toughen up young pilots fresh from training before they were thrown into the hard combats of the Channel front. Initially led by Hptm. Hubert Kroeck (a veteran of JG 53), it was Oblt. Horst Steinhardt -a former reconnaissance pilot- who commanded the Staffel from February 1941. Steinhardt had under him a number of experienced pilots who had participated in almost all the missions of the previous year; thus I. Gruppe gave up Stabsfw. Franz Jaenisch and Ofw. Josef Keil, II.  Gruppe were temporarily deprived of the services of Fw. Hans Otto and Kurt Goltzsch, while the third Gruppe seconded Fw. Rudolf Rothenfelder, to help train the unit’s fledgling pilots. Early in the year the training regime at Le Havre / Octeville was only half-hearted at best, chiefly because of the weather, but also due to the amount of leave granted to the different instructors.

Pilots who had flown against England received up to four weeks leave together with a pay bonus of two to three hundred Reichsmarks. The return of spring coincided with that of all the instructors. The timing was appropriate to restructure the unit: the Ergänzungsstaffel of the "Richthofen" became an Ergänzungsgruppe commanded henceforth by a Kommandeur, in this instance Hptm. Jürgen Roth (who had commanded I./JG 2 up until the start of the Battle of Britain). A second Staffel was established. The Ergänzungsgruppe of JG 2 was quickly split in two when the Stab and its Staffel charged with basic training (Ausbildungstaffel) moved to Cazaux in the Arcachon region, leaving the Einsatzstaffel at Le Havre.

Ergänzungsjagdgruppe in Cazaux is a film in the Karl Höffkes film archive. Screen captures presented here with permission





Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-2 'Yellow 5', Ofhr. Heinrich von Einsiedel of 2. (Ausb.) Erg.St./JG 2 at the controls during the summer of 1941. Note the yellow engine cowl appears to have been 'toned down' with an overspray of RLM 74.





Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel in his 'yellow 5'. A great grandson of the Imperial German Chancellor Bismarck, Graf von Einsiedel was posted to the Eastern Front with JG 3 but was taken captive during August 1942. 

As a POW he would go on to become one of the leading members of the National Committee for a Free Germany (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland), an organisation established by German officers held in Soviet captivity to sponsor propaganda activities against the Nazi regime.



 While the units of JG 2 operating over the north of France were in almost constant action (far more so than the detachments in Brittany), the pilots of 2. (Schul) Erg./JG 2  continued their training programme in  an almost holiday-like atmosphere in Cazaux.  Activities on the agenda each morning included lectures, firing exercises, formation flying, some aerobatics.

 


Left; Betanken der Maschinen refuelling an Emil. The nozzle has a spring-loaded valve to prevent fuel flowing back while the 'second' hose attachment is to collect any fuel 'overflow' via a bucket. Note the fuel filler cap is attached by chain to the fuel tank opening. See Laurent Freidine's article in 'Luftwaffe Gallery 6'


left; II. Gruppe ace and future Knight's Cross bearer  Ofw. Kurt Goltzsch. Note he has a throat mike around his neck. Also seen in the screen grab of the Emil 'white 7' below.

left;  this section of the Agentur Karl Höffkes footage shows bullets being belted up by hand and MG magazines being installed in the wings of an Emil.










 

In the afternoons, the young pilots who were not designated to be in the single alert Rotte or who were not required by one of the many constraints of military life were able to relax on the shores of the nearby lake or even go to Bordeaux to visit the old town, go shopping or even spend some time in the "hot neighbourhoods" of this bustling city - see the film section entitled 'Bordelle'.. In early summer 1941, the ranks of the instructors in Cazaux were further swollen with the arrival of some veterans, among them Oblt. Franz Fiby. Some of their 'students' would go on to make their mark on the history of the Geschwader such as Lt. Leopold Wenger (who returned to training after a few weeks with 3. Staffel) or Uffz. Karl-Heinz Munsche.







 The young Austrian Leopold 'Poldi' Wenger, a future Ritterkreuzträger, described his stay in a letter home;

 " 29 June 1941: I passed briefly through Paris before reaching Bordeaux the next day. Here, we’re spending a good time and enjoying some peace and even solitude on the banks of a lake. We are surrounded by woods. The nearest hamlet houses three hundred souls. The heat is suffocating: temperatures have risen to as much as 40 to 50 degrees while the men have been issued with tropical helmets. The unit’s tailor has cut me a uniform jacket made of lighter fabric. Today, it is so hot that I walked around bare-chested, just wearing my uniform trousers. The sentries on guard duty all wear the tropical helmet and summer uniform. I have not had any luck yesterday - after a swim, I wanted to enjoy some sun. There was a fresh breeze blowing from the Bay of Biscay and it was very pleasant. But when I woke up two hours later I was sore all over, having been burnt badly in the sun. I'm moving again, with difficulty, because the pain is still very bad. Here, the water is not drinkable. We even wash our teeth with mineral water and when it runs out, we often have to fall back on wine, of which we have a large quantity. We fly very often. This afternoon, I went on a little yacht on the lake with an Unteroffizier. There was a bit of breeze and it was very pleasant..."


Also on this blog; 








Sunday 3 October 2021

new from Mortons - "Luftwaffe fighters -combat on all Fronts" (1)


 Flying out of Jassy in Romania, Friday July 4, 1941 would be another very successful day for III./JG 77 over the southern sector of the Eastern Front. That evening, during an escort sortie for the Stukas of StG. 77, Gruppenkommandeur Maj. Alexander von Winterfeldt in his 'Doppelwinkel' dealt the Fangschuss (coup de grâce) to an unidentified Soviet SB-2 medium bomber. His fellow Stabsschwarm pilots Oblt. von Prittwitz and Hptm. Nonn were also both credited with an SB-2 downed. This was von Winterfeldt's 9th 'kill' of WWII to add to the four he had returned during the Great War. The following day he would be awarded the Ritterkreuz for the excellent conduct of his Gruppe.



and a milestone for the Luftwaffe blog  - 5 million page views passed this week