Hitler faces the collapse of German industry

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.

Few could now rationally believe that Germany could last much longer. With the Allies on or approaching the German borders, in both the east and west, Germany itself was under almost constant bombardment from the bombers. Even if many of the secret weapons programmes had moved underground and continued production, the basic necessities of coal and fuel were in such short supply that it was undermining the whole economy.

Among the the critical targets that had recently been successfully put out of action was the Dortmund Ems canal, a long term objective for the RAF.

Hitler did not need rational assessments, however, and they were unwelcome to him. All he needed was people to keep their faith in him. One of the few men who had come close to becoming his friend, Albert Speer, Armaments Minister, discovered how Hitler now preferred the unwavering zeal of his deputy, Karl-Otto Saur:

On November 11 a new note of alarm entered my frequent memoranda on shutdowns in the fuel industry. For more than six weeks, traffic to and from the Ruhr area had been blocked.

“It is self-evident, given the whole nature of the Reich’s economic structure,” I wrote to Hitler, “that cessation of production in the Rhine-Westphalian industrial area is intolerable for the entire German economy and for a successful conduct of the war… The most important armaments plants are reported on the verge of going under. Under existing conditions there is no way to avoid these shutdowns.”

Denied fresh supplies of Ruhr coal, I continued, the railroads were rapidly exhausting their stocks of coal, as were the gas works; oil and margarine plants were on the verge of shutdowns, and even the supply of coke to the hospitals had become inadequate.

Things were literally moving rapidly toward the end. Signs of total anarchy loomed before us. Coal trains no longer reached their destinations but were stopped en route by Gauleiters [the Nazi regional commanders] who confiscated it for their own needs. The buildings in Berlin were unheated; gas and electricity were available only during restricted hours. A howl arose from the Chancellery: Our coal authority had refused to let it have its full consignment for the rest of the winter.

Faced with this situation we could no longer carry out our programs, but only try to produce parts. Once our remaining stocks were used up, armaments production would cease. In drawing this conclusion I underestimated – as no doubt the enemy air strategists did also — the large stocks of materials that had been accumulated in the factories.

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Around this time Hitler, at a situation conference, commented in the presence of all the generals: “We have the good fortune to have a genius in our armaments industry. I mean Saur. All difficulties are being overcome by him.”

General Thomale put in a tactful word: “Mein Fuhrer, Minister Speer is here.” “Yes, I know,” Hitler replied curtly, annoyed at the interruption. “But Saur is the genius who will master the situation.”

Oddly enough, I swallowed this deliberate insult without any perturbation, almost indiiferently. I was beginning to take my leave of Hitler.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich

Hitler had not been photographed  in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.
Hitler had not been photographed in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.

USS Mount Hood and crew lost in massive explosion

I was coming up the ladder from below decks when a tremendous blast threw me against the bulkhead and partially down the ladder… my first thought was that we had been hit by a torpedo. Got topside in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, just in time to see the initial smoke and flame of the Hood’s explosion. I was mesmerized by what I saw next… the column of smoke rose straight up, and “mushroomed” at the top… a complete preview of how the A-bomb looked a year later. Within one or two minutes a terrific wave rocked the ship.

USS Mount Hood (AE-11) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, on July 16, 1944. She is painted in camouflage Measure 32, Design 18F.
USS Mount Hood (AE-11) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, on July 16, 1944. She is painted in camouflage Measure 32, Design 18F.

Exactly a year after being named after a volcano in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, the USS Mount Hood was lying at berth off Manus island in the Admiralty Islands north of New Guinea. With around 4000 tons of different types of ammunition aboard, USS Mount Hood had travelled from Norfolk, Virginia via the Panama Canal to the Pacific, bringing munitions for ships that would be supporting the Philippines campaign.

She was busy this morning, men were in the process of moving ammunition in all five of her holds, but there was time to run 18 men into shore at 0830. Just 20 minutes later the remaining 249 men on the ship would be disappear in a cloud of smoke.

The explosion of the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands on November 10, 1944. The smoke trails are left by fragments ejected by the explosion. The explosion was not due to enemy action; its cause has never been determined. The USS Mindanao (ARG-3), which lay about 300 m away, was heavily damaged by this explosion and 180 of her crewmen were killed or injured. The Mount Hood had been a new ship, commissioned on July 1, 1944.
The explosion of the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands on November 10, 1944. The smoke trails are left by fragments ejected by the explosion. The explosion was not due to enemy action; its cause has never been determined. The USS Mindanao (ARG-3), which lay about 300 m away, was heavily damaged by this explosion and 180 of her crewmen were killed or injured. The Mount Hood had been a new ship, commissioned on July 1, 1944.

At 0850, local time, on 10 November 1944, USS Argonne lay moored to a buoy in Berth 14, Seeadler Harbor. The USS Mount Hood (AE-11) (Ammunition Ship-11) was 1,100 yards away. USS Argonne’s captain, Commander T. H. Escott:

At the time of the explosion, I was standing outside my cabin… in conversation with the executive officer. By the time we had recovered our stance from the force of the explosion, and faced outboard, the area in the vicinity of Berth 380 (where USS Mount Hood had lay moored) was completely shrouded in a pall of dense black smoke. It was not possible to see anything worth reporting. A second or so thereafter, fragments of steel and shrapnel began falling on and around this ship.

Some 221 pieces of debris, ranging in size from one to 150 pounds, were recovered on board, totalling 1,300 pounds. Several other pieces caromed off USS Argonne’s port side into the water alongside, and others landed on YF-681 (Freight Lighter-681) and YO-77 (Oil Barge -77), the latter alongside delivering fuel oil at the time.

USS Mindanao (ARG-3) (Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ship-3), suffered heavily, moored in a berth between the disintegrating ammunition ship and USS Argonne. Riddled with shrapnel, USS Mindanao suffered 23 killed and 174 wounded in the explosion. USS Argonne suffered casualties, too, as well as the destruction of a 12-inch searchlight, five transmitting antennas broken away, and steam, fresh-water, and salt-water lines ruptured… as well as extensive damage from concussion.

USS Mount Hood (AE-11), smoke cloud expanding, just after she exploded in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Photographed by a photographer of the 57th Construction Battalion, who had set up his camera to take pictures of the Battalion's camp.
USS Mount Hood (AE-11), smoke cloud expanding, just after she exploded in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Photographed by a photographer of the 57th Construction Battalion, who had set up his camera to take pictures of the Battalion’s camp.

D.D. Haverley was among a party of 30 Torpedomen waiting to go ashore from the USS Rainier to be assigned to other ships:

I was coming up the ladder from below decks when a tremendous blast threw me against the bulkhead and partially down the ladder… my first thought was that we had been hit by a torpedo. Got topside in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, just in time to see the initial smoke and flame of the Hood’s explosion. I was mesmerized by what I saw next… the column of smoke rose straight up, and “mushroomed” at the top… a complete preview of how the A-bomb looked a year later. Within one or two minutes a terrific wave rocked the ship.

As I watched the mushroom cloud, I became instantly aware of large and small objects falling from the sky, landing in the water, some very close to us. I can not speak for the thoughts of the skipper of our ship, but suspect that he felt that the harbor was under attack, wanted to get the hell out of there, and wanted to dump us 30 Torpedo men ASAP… we were ferried to shore at once.

About the time we got to shore, the first small craft with casualties started to come in… do not recall if it was raining, but do recall that there was “red mud” everywhere. The utter chaos was a scene from hell.

Initially I thought that because the 30 of us were “ammo savvy”, that was the reason we were immediately pressed into service… the reality was, that here were 30 strong backs that were badly needed.

As the various types of small craft arrived at the beach for the next few hours, it was our job to carry the individual metal “litters” up from the beach, to a growing line of ambulances. Each litter held a body, or parts of a body…as we got near the first ambulance, a corpsman checked each litter, quickly determining the ones that held a “live” body… those were taken to the next waiting ambulance. The corpsman would say “he’s dead, over there” or “in the ambulance”.

Those that were dead or contained only body parts, were laid out three abreast, and soon piles were made with three litters laid crosswise, and three high.

After a few hours in the tropic heat, someone initially decreed that a bulldozer should dig a deep and long trench for burial purposes, basically one big “mass grave”, and the bull dozing began. It was at this point a Chaplain (I do not know his name or denomination) stepped in, and with God-given fury , he stopped the concept of a mass grave and demanded INDIVIDUAL graves for each and every body.

He prevailed, and, there were a number of Japanese prisoners of war on the island who were forced to dig the individual graves. All I could think when I heard that, was “GREAT ! HOW APPROPRIATE !”

Explosion of USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Small craft gathered around USS Mindanao (ARG-3) during salvage and rescue efforts shortly after Mount Hood blew up about 350 yards away from Mindanao's port side. Mindanao, and seven motor minesweepers (YMS) moored to her starboard side, were damaged by the blast, as were the USS Alhena (AKA-9) (in the photo's top left center) and USS Oberrender (DE-344), (top right). Note the extensive oil slick, with tracks through it made by small craft.
Explosion of USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Small craft gathered around USS Mindanao (ARG-3) during salvage and rescue efforts shortly after Mount Hood blew up about 350 yards away from Mindanao’s port side. Mindanao, and seven motor minesweepers (YMS) moored to her starboard side, were damaged by the blast, as were the USS Alhena (AKA-9) (in the photo’s top left center) and USS Oberrender (DE-344), (top right). Note the extensive oil slick, with tracks through it made by small craft.

This was the subsequent account of CDR Chester Gile, USNR,Ret., published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings, Feb., 1963:

Conversations must have been choked off in mid-word, gestures interrupted in mid-air, thoughts ended at mid-point. One moment she was a ship teeming with life, humming with activity. Seconds later, she was a vast black billowing bier which momentarily marked the spot where 350 US Navymen perished without a trace.

Mount Hood was anchored in approximately 35 feet of water. The force of the explosion blasted a trench in the harbor bottom, reported by divers as 1000 feet long, 200 feet wide and 85 feet maximum depth. In the trench was found the largest piece of the ship’s hull- a piece less than 100 feet in it’s longest dimension. Destruction was complete. Nothing was found after the explosion except fragments of metal which struck other ships. There were no bits of human remains, no supplies of any kind, nothing that had been made of wood or paper, with the single exception of a few tattered pieces of a signal notebook, floating on the water several hundred yards away.

The flying fragments from Mount Hood smashed into some 30 other ships and harbor craft bringing the total casualties to nearly 1000 killed or wounded. Some of the harbor craft simply vanished with all hands…

For some unknown reason, Mt. Hood had been anchored in the midst of the ships of the Seventh Fleet Service Force. Casualties to other vessels would have been minimized if the ammunition ship had been spotted at an isolated location a few miles down harbor, off the ammunition supply depot at Lugos, the customary anchorage for ships of this type. Somebody was at fault for designating an anchorage for Mount Hood so near to the other ships.

For more from these and many other accounts see USS Mount Rainier. Includes a transcript of the subsequent official investigation, which simply attributed the accident to “rough handling” of ammunition, without being able to be any more specific.

This account is from David Greenroos a 16 year old Navy man on the USS Mindanao:

Our last anchorage was Seeadler Harbour in the Admiralty Islands, not too far from New Guinea. This was one of the world,s largest natural harbors. I once counted 400 large ships, cruisers, battleships, freighters, troopships, etc. that were anchored briefly in the harbor, preparing for the invasion of Japan. The harbor was relatively empty when the Mt. Hood blew up. If it had blown up while the harbor was crowded, the death toll could have been ten or twenty thousand or more.

Many times, my buddies and I would look over at the Mt. Hood, and we could discern that it flew the ammunition ship flag with the E on it. In fact, we called it the E-11. We often remarked to each other that that ship was illegally parked, according to navy regulations, because an ammunition ship is supposed to be anchored thousands of yards away from other ships. We often felt very uneasy because it was there week after week.

On the morning of the explosion, I had started to work early with a new helper who had been assigned to me. His name was Italo Skortachini, an Italian kid, from New York, I think. There were six minesweepers tied alongside our ship for routine maintenance and repairs, and I was on the outermost of these minesweepers, and Italo was holding a heavy piece of metal for me to weld on a damaged railing of this minesweeper. When the blast happened, I was temporarily knocked unconscious for a second or two. I know that it was very brief because debris hadn,t started falling from the sky yet.

The blast was so strong that it blew off most of my clothes except my underwear, including my shoes. The first thing that I saw was half of Italo’s body on one side of the deck and the other half on the other side. It could have been the sheet of metal that he was holding for me that cut him in half. When I got to my feet, the captain of the minesweeper came out of his cabin and was looking toward my ship, and a flying piece of steel came through the air and impaled him like a spear to the cabin wall, It was in the center of his chest., and he gasped a little bit and then seemed to die.

Debris began to fall from the sky at this time. A large artillery shell fell on the deck, right at my feet, just as a crew member of the minesweeper came up from below. All of the minesweepers were made of wood, so as not to attract magnetic mines as the ship went about its work clearing minefields. The shell did not penetrate the heavy wooden deck of the minesweeper, and just lay there at our feet. I looked at him, and he looked at me. He asked, “Should we run?” I said, “Nobody can run that fast if it blows up. Let’s throw it overboard.” And that’s exactly what we did, expecting to be blown to bits at any second. Meanwhile, he said that there were dead men below, the ship had split open, and we were starting to sink. There were dead and dying and drowning people all around us at this point.

Read the full account at http://ussrainier.com/greenroos.html.

Salvage and rescue work underway on USS Mindanao (ARG-3) shortly after the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up about 350 yards (320 m) away. Note the heavy damage to Mindanao '​s hull and superstructure, including large holes from fragment impacts.
Salvage and rescue work underway on USS Mindanao (ARG-3) shortly after the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up about 350 yards (320 m) away. Note the heavy damage to Mindanao ’​s hull and superstructure, including large holes from fragment impacts.

An improvised method of clearing the German ‘Schu’ mine

During this battle we had to deal with a quarter of a million mines, the worst of these was the Schu mine which was made of wood and could not be detected. These mines were causing a continuous stream of casualties with horrific injuries. The accepted way to find these mines was to crawl along on hands and knees prodding the ground in front with bayonets. Under heavy fire, an unpleasant task, coupled with the loss of those of us, who unfortunately, prodded them in the wrong place and paid with our lives.

The Schu-mine 42 (Shoe-mine), also known as the Schützenmine 42, was a German Anti-personnel mine.  It consisted of a simple wooden box with a hinged lid containing a 200-gram (7.1 oz) block of cast TNT and a ZZ-42 type detonator.  A slot in the lid pressed down on the striker retaining pin, sufficient pressure on the lid caused the pin to move, releasing the striker which triggered the detonator.'
The Schu-mine 42 (Shoe-mine), also known as the Schützenmine 42, was a German Anti-personnel mine. It consisted of a simple wooden box with a hinged lid containing a 200-gram (7.1 oz) block of cast TNT and a ZZ-42 type detonator.A slot in the lid pressed down on the striker retaining pin, sufficient pressure on the lid caused the pin to move, releasing the striker which triggered the detonator.’
A mine-detecting part of 3rd Division at work, 25 November 1944. The leading man is wearing special protective clothing and 'skis' to spread his weight on the ground.
A mine-detecting part of 3rd Division at work, 25 November 1944. The leading man is wearing special protective clothing and ‘skis’ to spread his weight on the ground.

After the bitter struggle for Overloon and Venray, the British still confronted a determined German defensive position west of the Meuse River. The advance slowed as the British tried to replace heavy casualties and then became a miserable slogging match for the remainder of November.

The Germans had by now ample time to build their defences. While Hitler was placing his faith in his miracle weapons – the V2 continued to hit London and Antwerp – some of the simplest technologies were to prove very effective in establishing defensive positions.

Royal Engineer Brian Guy describes how their tactics evolved in the field:

We were now battering at the gates of the German homeland on the Dutch side of the border in the Limburg area, and had to set about breaking his hold on the vital Dutch/German border areas. What follows is a recollection of one of the hardest fought, bloodthirsty, and sometimes, for us, very peculiar episodes of the war in North West Europe.

This battle took place in driving rain amongst the muddy tracks that wandered through the dense conifer woods and over the Molen Beek, this little stream that had been mined on the banks and even under the water, and at the same time was under heavy shell and mortar fire.

Sometimes, sadly, whole groups of men were blown to pieces. During this ferocious fighting, our guns at Oploo made the ground tremble beneath our feet. But by now Overloon and Venraij lay safely in our hands, taken against fierce resistance. Meanwhile we had to deal with a new type of mine: we called them Rigler mines.

Under heavy fire we cleared them by the thousands, and not knowing what to do with them, we stacked them up in ditches or on top of the ground criss-crossed in stacks. With an officer on a motor bike, I made my way down from our battle area to where they were clearing the thickest of these mines and on the way we had to run over a dead Gennan who was lying in the deep-rutted sand tracks. We could not avoid him, the sand ruts were very deep.

When we got there the officer told one of the men to take a mine off away from the rest and see if it was booby trapped. We had turned round and were on our way back to our own area of the fighting when, from behind us, came a gigantic explosion. We yanked the bike around and went back but the whole area was devastated, swept clean of all life.

All those that had been present had disappeared. Sadly, as happens in these circumstances, we put wooden crosses there in the knowledge that later, when they were to be buried in a proper place, there would be noth- ing for the burial squad to find.

During this battle we had to deal with a quarter of a million mines, the worst of these was the Schu mine which was made of wood and could not be detected. These mines were causing a continuous stream of casualties with horrific injuries. The accepted way to find these mines was to crawl along on hands and knees prodding the ground in front with bayonets. Under heavy fire, an unpleasant task, coupled with the loss of those of us, who unfortunately, prodded them in the wrong place and paid with our lives.

How to counter this carnage? Then someone came up with the idea of getting an ordinary garden roller which we did. We welded spikes around the roller barrel, then a soldier would push this roller in front of him, and when it went over a Schu mine, it would blow up and the garden roller would fly up in the air on its specially elongated handle, and then drop down again.

To protect the soldier, he had a cut down gas mask over his eyes with long gauntlet gloves and a woven rope protector strapped round his groin.

Just try to imagine a full scale, ferocious war going on, with heavy aitilleiy and mortar fire and, in the middle of it all, a lonely soldier pushing a garden roller across the battle field and in not too much of a huny, in case he went too quickly and missed detonating the mine. I was one of those lonely soldiers.

And this was demonstrated in front of Field Marshal Montgomery’s second in com- mand, Air Vice Marshal Tedder.

The outcome of all this was, a short entry in the company’s war diaries, stating simply: “The garden roller experiment was a washout.” In fact, it worked surprisingly well, but could not cope with uneven ground.

Shortly after this episode Brian Guy was seriously wounded and flown back to England, eventually being discharged with a 100% disability pension. This account appears in Charlotte Popescu (ed):War’s Long Shadow: 69 Months of the Second World War.

A sapper of No. 1 Dog Platoon, 277th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, with his dog 'Nigger', Bayeux, 5 July 1944. The dogs were used to hunt for mines, especially the all-wooden 'Shoe Mine' which was otherwise undetectable.
A sapper of No. 1 Dog Platoon, 277th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, with his dog ‘Nigger’, Bayeux, 5 July 1944. The dogs were used to hunt for mines, especially the all-wooden ‘Shoe Mine’ which was otherwise undetectable.
A Bren gunner of the 8th Royal Scots at Moostdijk, Holland, 6 November 1944
A Bren gunner of the 8th Royal Scots at Moostdijk, Holland, 6 November 1944

Patton’s Third Army resumes the attack – towards Metz

I woke up at 0300 on the morning of November 8, 1944, and it was raining very hard. I tried to go to sleep, but finding it impossible, got up and started to read Rommel’s book, Infantry Attacks. By chance I turned to a chapter describing a fight in the rain in September, 1914. This was very reassuring because I felt that if the Germans could do it I could, so went to sleep and was awakened at 0515 by the artillery preparation.

Eisenhower and Patton confer together in October 1944.
Eisenhower and Patton confer together in October 1944.
The men of US 3rd Army deal with the mud of Lorraine, October 1944.
The men of US 3rd Army deal with the mud of Lorraine, October 1944.

The town of Metz lies on the French German border, and had lain within both countries during the preceding century, and had been heavily fortified by both countries. The Germans had occupied it in 1940 and it had again reverted back to German territory. Now Hitler saw it as a fortress city to be defended to the death, a major obstacle to the Allied advance into Germany.

After the U.S. Third Army had raced across France they had suffered a frustrating time as the Allied supply lines stretched out and they lacked the fuel and the ammunition to push forward. Once they were ready to go again they faced another frustration – the wet climate of north west Europe’s winters. The scene was set for a miserable and bloody confrontation, one that would continue to frustrate the Army commander, George S. Patton:

I woke up at 0300 on the morning of November 8, 1944, and it was raining very hard. I tried to go to sleep, but finding it impossible, got up and started to read Rommel’s book, Infantry Attacks.

By chance I turned to a chapter describing a fight in the rain in September, 1914. This was very reassuring because I felt that if the Germans could do it I could, so went to sleep and was awakened at 0515 by the artillery preparation.

The rain had stopped and the stars were out. The discharge of over seven hundred guns sounded like the slamming of so many heavy doors in an empty house, while the whole eastern sky glowed and trembled with the flashes.

I even had a slight feeling of sympathy for the Germans, who must now have known that the attack they had been fearing had at last arrived. I complacently remembered that I had always “Demanded the impossible,” that I had “Dared extreme occasion,” and that I had “Not taken counsel of my fears.”

At 0745, Bradley called up to see if we were attacking. I had not let him know for fear I might get a stop order. He seemed delighted that we were going ahead. Then General Eisenhower came on the phone and said, “I expect you to carry the ball all the way.”

Codman, Stiller, and I immedi- ately drove to the Observation Post of the XII Corps, but there was so much artificial fog and smoke from the pots covering the bridges that we could see little. At about 1000, fighter-bombers appeared in force and attacked the known enemy command posts. The day was the brightest and best we had had for two months.

I visited the Headquarters of the 80th, 35th, and 26th Divisions and also saw General Wood. By dark that night every unit was on its assigned objective for the day; unfortunately it started to rain.

See George S. Patton: War As I Knew It

Bombing of Metz, Germany  by USAAF - Mission #226, 12 August 1944 Photo taken from: B-17G #42-97781 The '8' Ball MK III 359BS — Altitude: 20,200 feet, Time: 10:46:30 Pilot: 1Lt Lewis M. Walker
Bombing of Metz, Germany by USAAF – Mission #226, 12 August 1944
Photo taken from: B-17G #42-97781 The ‘8’ Ball MK III 359BS — Altitude: 20,200 feet, Time: 10:46:30
Pilot: 1Lt Lewis M. Walker

USAAF Lightnings vs Soviet Yaks over Yugoslavia

I rushed to the airfield. I was running as six American planes swept low over the ground and attacked our Yak-9s, which were taking off. Before reaching the operations office I saw duty aircraft squadron commander, Hero of the Soviet Union, Captain Alexander Koldunov (subsequently twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Air Chief Marshal, Chief of the Air Defense Forces – Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR), soar aloft with two others.

Early P-38s are shown over California.
Early P-38s are shown over California. France’s Army of the Air was so impressed by Lockheed’s new fighter that it ordered 500 of them in 1940. In an era when “destroyer” or heavy fighters, such as the Me-110, etc. were looked upon as the “heavy cavalry” of the sky, particularly for low level work, the P-38 seemed tallor-made. But it was the turbosupercharged P-38 built for high altitude performance that proved the big fighter’s worth. Unfortunately for early Lightnings, shortages of superchargers kept that important addition off the engines of the Initial production runs and when the British tested their first export P-3Bs, Models 322-16s, they did so without supercharging and the results were mediocre. As a result, production orders for the RAF were cancelled.

On the 7th November the Soviet Army was advancing rapidly near the city of Nis, then in Yugoslavia, now part of Serbia. What happened next, and why, is the subject of a number of different and varying accounts. No doubt both sides tried to keep the matter as quiet as possible at the time, rather than hand a propaganda victory to the Germans.

What is clear is that US Lightning fighter bombers attacked the Soviet ground troops and were themselves then attacked by the Soviet airforce. The number of casualties on both sides varies according to different accounts, but around 30 Soviet troops and airmen died, including General G.P.Kotov. The number of planes shot down in the dogfight above Nis also varies considerably between each account – but several US and Soviet planes were shot down.

It is, apparently, the only occasion in which US and Soviet planes have been in direct combat with each other. Despite all the subsequent provocations and incidents of the Cold War, they never actually fought each other.

Some accounts suggest that the US planes had been invited to provide air support for the Soviet troops but the Soviet advance was so fast that they were 100 kilometres away from where the Americans expected them to be. Other accounts suggest that the US planes navigation was out by an embarrassing 400 kilometres and they made their attack in entirely the wrong location.

Soviet commanders on the scene were not immediately able to understand the situation. This is the account of deputy commander of Squadron 707th Attack Aviation Regiment, 186th Assault Aviation Division, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel Nikolai Shmelev:

“Morning dawned serene November 7. Enveloped in a light haze city of Nis was decorated with red flags and banners. Aviators of our regiment columns entered the spacious parade ground. Taking the report, Colonel Shevrigin gave the command: “At ease!”.

The deputy commander for political affairs Sivud went into the middle order and ordered the 1st and 3rd Squadron deploy to the middle of the flanks and formed a sort of letter “C”.

“Comrades” Solemnly began Lt. Sivud. “Today, the entire Soviet people celebrate the 27th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist …”

“Run!” interrupted someone . “Fascists dive on our airfield!”

Everything, as if on cue, turned their heads to the south. Because over the mountains flew a large group of aircraft. Some of them had fallen into a dive. I heard muffled cries. One after another, over the airfield the others dived.

“Disperse! In the shelter!” Ordered Shevrigin.

“Tell headquarters!” Ordered Lt. Lopatkin.

“I do not understand” Sivud said as we ran together to the slit trench near the fence. “40 planes! Where did they come from?”

And not only Basil – we were all surprised and puzzled. After all, everyone knew that in our area of ​​the war there were no Nazi aircraft. And then – a whole armada! Suponin, Orlov and I watched from the slit trench, under a tree. They were near to the airport – about two kilometers away. We saw how they dived, one after another, and continued to dive, approaching our parked aircraft … And here they are already very close.

“So it’s not the Germans, the Americans! Allies!” Shouted our pilots, when the aircraft became clearly visible, and we saw the insignia of the US Air Force. Yes, it really was the American “Lightning”.

That morning, the deputy commander of the 866 th Fighter Regiment 288th Fighter Air Division, Major Dmitry Crude (later Hero of the Soviet Union) was standing on a nearby mountain. Visibility was perfect, and he admired the endless stream of infantry, marching in the song with a brass band. “And suddenly we heard solemn sounds” recalled the Major, “the roar of planes. Where are they? What, enemy aircraft on this sector of the front? We can not be absolutely sure there are none. So it’s American planes!

What do our allies want ? The first impression was that they were, on their own initiative, providing air cover for our troops, although this was not needed .”

Meanwhile, another group of planes formed a circle over the city, the other was the call for the bombing. The road shrouded in smoke. Our soldiers waving red flags, white patches, signalling the aviators that they were attacking their allies. But all the bombs fell and continued to fall.

I rushed to the airfield. I was running as six American planes swept low over the ground and attacked our Yak-9s, which were taking off. Before reaching the operations office I saw duty aircraft squadron commander, Hero of the Soviet Union, Captain Alexander Koldunov (subsequently twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Air Chief Marshal, Chief of the Air Defense Forces – Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR), soar aloft with two others.

I ordered the whole regiment to take off. I managed to repeat several times: “do not open fire! Signal that we are allies. But the Allies shot down another one of our aircraft. The pilot managed to bail out …”

“Look, our “hawks” have soared!” Dmitry Suponin happily pushed me in the side (ground-attack pilot Nikolai Shmelev complements the story of the deputy regiment commander). In the air our group soared away. Landing gear up, our fighters dispersed at maximum speed from the earth and climbed straight up. They immediately went into action. The first pair off attacked the enemy aircraft. To help them, two more aircraft joined in, and soon the whole regiment took off. …

“The air battle flared up even more. The Americans were dropping bombs, first tried to defend himself. But, unable to withstand the onslaught of our fighters, they went into a formation to better cover each other with fire front guns, and went out towards the city.

One of our “Jacobs” promptly dived from a height on an attacking plane and opened fire. 37-mm cannon shell exploded in the center section of the “Lightning” and, burning like a torch, fell to the ground. The Yak slipped forward, but immediately came under fire from another bomber. Machine-gun fire got into the cockpit of the fighter and the nose, he abruptly went down and crashed. Killed by some of our military friends. My eyes filled with tears …

This account appears in Russian at NVO.NG.RU.

Apparently the original documents relating to the incident remain classified in both countries.

Soviet Yak-9s in flight. 'The pilots who flew it regarded its performance as comparable to or better than that of the Messerschmitt Bf 109G and Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3/A-4.'
Soviet Yak-9s in flight. ‘The pilots who flew it regarded its performance as comparable to or better than that of the Messerschmitt Bf 109G and Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3/A-4.’
A Yak-3 from Regiment Normandie-Niemen, the French Airforce unit that flew alongside the Soviets on the Eastern Front, in flight. 'The Yak-3 was a forgiving, easy-to-handle aircraft loved by both rookie and veteran pilots and ground crew as well. It was robust, easy to maintain, and a highly successful dog-fighter. It was used mostly as a tactical fighter, flying low over battlefields and engaging in dogfights below 13,000 ft'
A Yak-3 from Regiment Normandie-Niemen, the French Airforce unit that flew alongside the Soviets on the Eastern Front, in flight. ‘The Yak-3 was a forgiving, easy-to-handle aircraft loved by both rookie and veteran pilots and ground crew as well. It was robust, easy to maintain, and a highly successful dog-fighter. It was used mostly as a tactical fighter, flying low over battlefields and engaging in dogfights below 13,000 ft’

‘Black Monday’ in Gelsenkirchen – ‘Hell on Earth’

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the  beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 'GE-L', of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 ‘GE-L’, of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 'NP-F' "Friday the Thirteenth", of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 ‘NP-F’ “Friday the Thirteenth”, of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.

As the Allied Air forces returned to the destruction of the Ruhr, the town of Gelsenkirchen was high on the target list. Not only was it an industrial town but nearby lay a synthetic oil facility, creating fuel oil from coal. Air warfare strategists had argued that these synthetic oil plants should be the very top priority. Post war analysis suggested that their comprehensive destruction across Germany, beyond the very considerable levels of damage that were achieved by the bombing that did take place, might well have hastened the end of the war.

Very probably many of the German civilians here would have welcomed the Allies as liberators, just as they had at Aachen. When the Scholven oil plant had been hit in September dozens of Jewish slave workers from Hungary had been killed. Seventeen injured women survivors had been treated by doctors from Gelsenkirchen, and the hospital medical staff had collaborated to hide them from the Gestapo, enabling them to survive the war.

It made no difference where their loyalties lay. The people of Gelsenkirchen were in the firing line for more than one reason.

Joseph P. Krause was 12 years old at the time, living in the Schalke area of central Gelsenkirchen. He vividly remembered “Black Monday”, November 6, 1944 when at 13.47 o’clock, they heard on the radio:

“Strong enemy bomber formations on the approach to Gelsenkirchen” Even while this message was being broadcast all hell broke loose. We fled before the carpet bombing, with the public sirens of “acute air threat” heard in the open.

This air warning automatically turned my stomach, and I always felt a painful diarrhea. I went down the spacious staircase, sprinting from the 1st floor, then, with the smashing of windows and doors by the air pressure of the first bombs, along with my 13 year old sister Hildegard, was thrown on the ground floor. In the hail of bombs and between flying debris and flak shrapnel we got in the public air raid shelter under the Fire Museum at the Kaiser Street, the second house to the left of the Imperial Road 71. Between them was the house with the practice of Dr. med. Kirch Meyer.

My sister Genoveva (19) ran with two children in a panic to the Church of St. Joseph and took refuge in the crypt there. Under the Fire Museum we suffered the ultimate doomsday. Tens of thousands of explosive and incendiary bombs rained down on Schalke. All supply lines were interrupted immediately. No water. No power. No radio signals or warnings. Someone in the basement lit a taper, but immediately it went out by air pressure.

The only orientation offered were some stripes on the walls, which were painted with fluorescent paint. The bombs were fitted with rattling and whistling air screws to increase the horror effect among the civilian population. By the perfidious acoustics of the descending carpet bombing we sensed in advance, when and with what weight, a bomb would hit our neighbourhood, and we ducked instinctively and crouched on the floor. Continually we pressed our fingers in our ears and opened our mouths, so that the tremendous air pressure did not tear the lungs and eardrums. The basement swayed and shook.

From everywhere came animal screams of agony. Children and women were crying hysterically, cursing and praying loudly, threw themselves on the ground, whimpering, pleading in vain for mercy of the invisible God. We were prisoners in hell. Smoke. Heat. Then an infernal roar and crackle. The building had collapsed on us. Smoke crept in through cracks in the walls and shattered doors. The house collapsed on us and burned like tinder. The heat was unbearable.

Through an opening in the back part of the basement staggered in blackened shapes, covered with wet blankets. One of the fugitives voice choked with tears: “Schalke street no longer exists.”

This was Dante’s “Inferno” pure and simple. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. The battered people roared and sobbed in despair and fear of death. Horror and shudder came from every joint. After the first assault wave, with 738 aircraft, abated after an hour, we wanted to leave the shelter, but above us were burned ruins.

The basement entrance (staircase) to Emperor street was half buried by glowing rubble and burning beams, blocking the opening to Schalke road as an escape route, through an infinite sea of flames and was impassable. My mother Mathilde Krause quickly realised the situation and organized the totally desperate, distraught women into a rescue party. She grabbed the still burning parts of the planks and beams and quickly threw them sideways away from the basement entrance.

The rest of us managed the smoldering wood further back, to keep the area passable. My mother threw smaller debris in a high arc through gaps in the barrier upwards to the blazing heat of the fire. So they managed to create a narrow escape hatch, through which we survivors crammed with our scorched, smeared clothes and found the way to freedom. That is, to a roaring hurricane of fire and smoke, while above and around us outstanding beams fell crashing, burning and glowing down from the rubble.

Smoldering pieces of wood rained down. All around blazing Schalke an infinite shower of sparks was drifting. Mothers cried their despair with the deadly fumes into the sky. Then our paralyzing horror: The houses on the street were tipped into huge piles of debris on the road. In the smoldering window holes gaped ghastly horror.

From our house, whose interior was thrown through the perforated façade across half the roadway, struck the blazing flames. Other houses were burning like giant torches. The fire sites produced a terrible undertow as biblical pillars of fire: “The earth was formless and empty,” she was covered with flames. We, a party of crazy desperate people, clung to each other and climbed over the chaos of the burning wreckage towards Schalke market; because in the opposite direction fiercely burned the spiers of St. Joseph, threatening to topple into the street. …

In the maelstrom a fleeing old woman stumbled upon the blazing timbers and lost her hat. She wanted to run after and rush to the rescue of her hat in the flames. I – 12 years old – held her back and instinctively pulled her by the hand away from the fiery storm, and we staggered together over the blazing ruins.

On windows on the first floor of this house or next door, a brightly burning woman with raised arms gesticulating wildly and shrill voice in agony, begged in vain for help.

The Schalke market, enclosed by huge torches of fire degenerated into a single chaotic, Nero-Churchill pyre. Near the restaurant “Bei Mutter Thiemeyer” (of Schalke-04 legend), the old “Imperial Hall”, and in the house next door desperate and completely crazy people – obsessed with naked madness – in the mad hope of being able to save anything, threw pieces of furniture out of the windows of the burning room onto the sidewalk, where they crashed.

The Gewerkenstrasse only consisted of huge, brightly burning or smoldering rubble heaps, which were thrown from all sides criss-crossing each other: An apocalyptic mountains under the deadly sun of Satan. Again and again detonated [delayed action bombs ?]. The air was filled with swirling deadly showers of sparks. The industrial facilities to the north and west of Schalke market mutated into the Hellfire of Lucifer. Everything burned and crackled and roared, people screaming, shaking bitter and desperate. We found emergency shelter in the overcrowded Spitzbunker (“Schalke Sugarloaf”), crammed with bloody people and thick with fumes – in the middle of the Schalke market, which was covered with bomb craters and littered with countless smoldering ruins.

My mother immediately went to help work the pump units which by manual operation supplied fresh air for us, otherwise the occupants were hermetically sealed-off from the outside world by the power cut. Inside, it was stuffy and overheated. We sat on floors and stairs, crammed in like sardines.

The British increased the horror by another, perverse attack wave. So we experienced and survived the second major attack in the evening on the same day, November 6, 1944 at 19:25 o’clock.

Death returned. Schalke was the necropolis, the field of blood, the blast furnace for human flesh. The Evil One again grabbed greedily for us survivors of the earlier disaster.Again the horror returned and cruel destruction was repeated. The “Sugar” was hit twice by bombs in the evening after the second alarm. Our misery was multiplied. We shot through. The “Sugarloaf” shook constantly, so that we thought it would topple over.

Again crying and desperate people, a bunch of lunatics in fear of death, shaken again within a few hours and harassed, blaring or whining children with full SHITTY pants without food and water, without electricity, adults who urinated as infants in their underwear. That’s not to surpass the horror that had befallen Schalke. It smelled of burnt flesh and filth. Where – the hell !!!! – was God on this November 6, 1944?

Even today, after more than 60 years, I weep as an old man, when the calendar indicates the 6th of November. We were driven by the inflamed and uninhibited horror and terror, had survived the eruption of hell, volcanoes of phosphorus, attacks of fire accelerants, the mighty blasts of air mines, the roar of a thousand fires.

Late in the evening a treacherous peace arrived, and before the forces of order arrived, individual groups in the bunker made their way in succession over a still intact emergency stairs to the entrance, to go for “fresh air”. This however, had ​​a penetrating stench of fire, burning and filthy flesh. Around us only debris and conflagrations were seen. Some women stood silently in front of endless suffering, some sobbed, others went mad and roared desperately their pain against the brutal, merciless, bloody sky.

The people shouted in horror, fell weeping into the arms: Schalke was erased, the district smashed, in the cellars burned stinking corpses or the dying. Buried like Pauline Hengsbach who – trapped between fallen beams – was cremated alive.

Konrad Hengsbach was injured in the ear by phosphorus. It was raining fire from the sky – as in Egypt of the Old Testament…. In phosphorus-spray people were charred and cooked at 1300 degrees Celsius, roasted alive.

The unpleasant smell of phosphorus caused nausea. When I today I smell carbide or garlic, the images of the phosphorus-burned strike me again. …

Many had lost their belongings on November 6, 1944, were homeless. God had turned away from Schalke. Our sister Genoveva we thought was dead. Eventually she came back distraught to us, with the two sisters. She had been rescued from the crypt of St. Joseph – the burning Schalke parish church. …

Later, my mother and Mrs Kassner (wife of Dr. med. Hans Kassner) found that the upper house of the Study Director of Adolf Hitler school, despite a hit by an incendiary bomb, offered temporary accommodation. So we lived there temporarily.

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

Where roads were paved, you could not go, because the tar was swollen by the heat of the fires to a viscous mass. In the gym of the high school (entry in Schalke road), which was only partially destroyed, the bodies and body parts were collected, burned, shrunken, shredded. 518 bombing victims were identified. Later statisticians calculated for that day of horror on the battlefield of Gelsenkirchen, the dropping of 6460 bombs and 167,131 incendiary bombs. 17880 houses were bombed to rubble.

The original account can be found in German at Gelsenzentrum. This was just one of 184 bombing raids that the town suffered during the war, killing over 3,000 people in total, with over half of the town destroyed.

From the RAF Bomber Command Official History:

6 November 1944

Gelsenkirchen: 738 aircraft – 383 Halifaxes, 324 Lancasters, 31 Mosquitos.

3 Lancasters and 2 Halifaxes lost.

This large daylight raid had, as its aiming point, the Nordstern synthetic-oil plant. The attack was not well concentrated but 514 aircraft were able to bomb the approximate position of the oil plant before smoke obscured the ground; 187 aircraft then bombed the general town area of Gelsenkirchen.

The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.
The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.

Flooded Walcheren – reconnaissance by Buffalo

On the way back we ran into difficulties at about 1750 hours when the Buffalo, manoeuvring to avoid ‘Rommel asparagus’, got one of its tracks jammed on a concrete bridge that was totally submerged and unseen under the grubby flood water. A motor-cycle was jettisoned along with other heavy ‘non-essentials’ but this did not help to dislodge and re-float the Buffalo and we remained stuck on the bridge. The Dutch Resistance had contacted our patrol when it first entered Kouderkirke and now they came to our assistance, rowing out to rescue both the Brigade L.O. and myself.

An aerial view of the breached dykes and flooding on the island of Walcheren.
An aerial view of the breached dykes and flooding on the island of Walcheren.
LVT Buffalo amphibians during the invasion of Walcheren Island, 1 November 1944.
LVT Buffalo amphibians during the invasion of Walcheren Island, 1 November 1944.

Walcheren island lies to the north of the Scheldt Estuary guarding the approaches to the port of Antwerp. In October 1944 Antwerp had been liberated but remained unusable as Germans continued to occupy Walcheren. During opening moves in the operation to capture it the RAF had bombed the dykes surrounding the island, causing the greater part of it to flood.

The port of Flushing had been captured in a surprise attack on the 1st November. Now attempts were made to advance on the principal town, Middelburg, and overcome the main German resistance.

The British advance was now greatly assisted by the use of amphibious craft – Alligators, Buffalos and Weasels. Joe Brown was an intelligence officer with the Royal Scots involved in the initial advance:

On the evening of November 4, our newly-appointed C.O. (he was previously Second-in-Command of the Battalion), was ordered by the Brigade Commander to stand-by to lead a white-flag party to negotiate the surrender of the German garrison in Middelburg.

The next morning I went with him to join the Brigadier to observe 4 KOSB advancing up both banks of the canal towards Middelburg, the capital of Walcheren. Although the approaches to Middelburg were being shelled, the advance was extremely difficult with a large number of concrete positions to be overcome.

The Brigadier thought the possibility of heavy casualties could be avoided and decided to send a patrol consisting of the Brigade Liaison Officer with myself and the Reconnaissance Officer of “A” Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment (which provided the Buffaloes: amphibious tracked vehicles) to reconnoitre a route to the west towards the main road leading in to the north of Middelburg and determine whether it was possible for a battalion transported in Buffaloes to get into a position to attack Middelburg from the north.

We set off in a Buffalo at about 1445 hours, and it became quickly evident that the difficulties that would face the patrol were the heavy level of flood water surrounding the approaches to Middelburg as well as the extensive minefields and numerous anti-landing devices.

These devices consisted of wooden stakes with explosive charges placed above the flood-level and were interconnected by wires and named by the Dutch Resistance as ‘Rommel asparagus’ after Field-Marshal Rommel who had ordered them to be erected. Initially the progress was slow but we reached Kouderkerke, some four kilometres south-west of Middelburg, without encountering enemy resistance.

After taking time to explore the approaches to the north of Middelburg, the failing light made us decide to return and report to the Brigade Commander that it would be possible in daylight for an infantry force in Buffalos to follow our route and with careful navigation through the various hazards to reach the outskirts of Middelburg and be in a position to attack.

On the way back we ran into difficulties at about 1750 hours when the Buffalo, manoeuvring to avoid ‘Rommel asparagus’, got one of its tracks jammed on a concrete bridge that was totally submerged and unseen under the grubby flood water. A motor-cycle was jettisoned along with other heavy ‘non-essentials’ but this did not help to dislodge and re-float the Buffalo and we remained stuck on the bridge.

The Dutch Resistance had contacted our patrol when it first entered Kouderkirke and now they came to our assistance, rowing out to rescue both the Brigade L.O. and myself. We explained to the Resistance that we needed to get back to Flushing as quickly as possible and although they readily agreed to guide us, they advised we would have to wait for first light to avoid the heavy tidal surge of flood water returning to the sea through the breached sea wall as the nearest crossing point back to Flushing was very close to the gap.

We sheltered in different houses and I shall always remember the kind and warm welcome extended to me. After receiving hospitality I was shown to a bedroom at the top of the house and experienced a few hours rest in the luxury of white sheets!

Two Resistance men called for us in the last hours of the night’s darkness and we set off to begin our wade through the flood water on what proved to be a most hazardous journey.

They had made the crossing before and knew how to attempt it, directing our efforts in handling and positioning large lengths of wood which enabled us to reach an area of submerged ground that the four of us could just about manage to stand and at that stage we were half-way across the gap.

We stood there for a moment to draw breath, clutching one another to keep balance as the tidal waters swept past us; if we had slipped we would surely have been swept into the Scheldt Estuary! With anxiety we viewed the distance still to be crossed but under the leadership and skill of our two friends of the Dutch Resistance and deft use of those valuable logs – we made it!

The men had not yet contacted the Germans but the reconnaissance had proved invaluable in opening up a route by which they could attack the next day. The German commanders in Middelburg were taken by surprise by their swift advance and the British were able to persuade them to surrender. It was only then that the Germans learned how small the attacking force actually was:

Our force of eleven Buffaloes moved into the main square of Middelburg and orders given to the German officers to bring their men into the square and pile their armaments. We had taken 2,000 prisoners with a force of 140 men and as the Germans began to realise this there was signs of unrest. However, this was kept subdued during the hours of darkness by a vigilant ‘A’ Company 7th/9th RS and having positioned well-sited machine-guns of the 7th Manchester Regiment in the four corners of the square.

Just a small part of the Second World War Memoirs of JOE BROWN, which has interesting sections explaining in some detail the work of both Signals and Intelligence officers, as well as his general memoirs of the war. The Daily Mail carried an amusing account of the capture of Middelburg on 7th November, which was reproduced in War Illustrated.

At the time it was common for the British to equate Holland with the Netherlands, as per the original captions to these images, but see comments below.

Low-level vertical aerial photograph taken shortly after the daylight attack on the sea-wall of Walcheren Island, Holland, showing a breach in the wall at the most westerly tip of the island, caused by the extremely accurate bombing, being widened by the incoming high tide and inundating the village of Westkapelle (top right).
Low-level vertical aerial photograph taken shortly after the daylight attack on the sea-wall of Walcheren Island, Holland, showing a breach in the wall at the most westerly tip of the island, caused by the extremely accurate bombing, being widened by the incoming high tide and inundating the village of Westkapelle (top right).
An RAF Humber light reconnaissance car in Middelburg, Holland, November 1944.
An RAF Humber light reconnaissance car in Middelburg, Holland, November 1944.

RAF Bomber Command’s last major raid on Bochum

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.

Once RAF Bomber Command had established itself with substantial numbers of aircraft it had turned its attention to the industrial heartland of Germany. The Battle of the Ruhr had begun in March 1943. From mid October 1944 both Bomber Command and the USAAF 8th Air Force were to revisit the Ruhr region as part of ‘Operation Hurricane’, intended to “demonstrate to the the enemy in Germany generally the overwhelming superiority of the Allied Air Forces in this theatre”. Both the RAF and the USAAF were now able to routinely mount raids of well over 1000 aircraft.

Towns and cities that had already been substantially damaged were now dealt even more devastating blows. Although much of the light industry had by now been dispersed it was impossible to move the heavy engineering and metal works, after the war Nazi Armaments Minister Albert Speer was to acknowledge that these raids had had a substantial impact on armament production.

435 aircraft had attacked Bochum on the 9th October in a raid that was not considered a success, destroying only 140 buildings because the bombing was very scattered in poor visibility. On 4th November 749 aircraft took part and the Pathfinders marked the centre of Bochum successfully – this time over 4,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged and nearly a 1000 people killed. It was the last major raid on the town during the war, in total it would be visited 150 times.

In a Halifax from No 408 RCAF Squadron was Bombardier Alan Stables, who wrote this account of the raid shortly afterwards:

Coming up to the Dutch coast we could see flashes of light flak and the beautiful trace it makes streaming upwards as if fired from a hose. It was dark now and every now and again we would see the loom of one of our own aircraft which was comforting because it meant we were part of the bomber stream

At this point we started climbing. We began to have difficulty at about ten thousand feet and by fourteen thousand feet Dick suspected that we had carburetor icing. We had gone on oxygen at twelve thousand feet and we had to climb to nineteen thousand which was our height to bomb. The aircraft at the head of the bomber stream were at the lowest level with those following stacked up increasing heights so as to lessen the danger of running into someone else’s bombs.

Sok came over the intercom ordering me to jettison some of the bombs as the aircraft just wouldn’t climb. I went back and jettisoned half the load but the best we could make was an extra 1000 feet. We were five thousand feet below everyone else, a very dangerous position to be in and we had at least another hour and a half to go to the target.

Scotty went back to shovel out the Window. Then he returned to his radio to receive the quarter-hourly broadcast from bomber command Then he backtuned his transmitter to German fighter vector-control frequency and broadcast static at full volume from a microphone next to our generator.

[Window was introduced in July 1943. It consisted of 9 inch strips of aluminum foil which showed up on the German radar screens rendering them virtually useless. The German response was to use various forms of illumination available at the target area to make the bombers visible to the night-fighters. Window was still useful in disguising the size of the incoming force and in blinding the radar controlled Flak guns.]

Ahead the searchlights, hundreds of them came to life, pointing accusing fingers against the black sky. I wondered how the hell we would get through them at this altitude without being “coned”, but I didn’t have much time to wonder as the rear gunner yelled “fighter port go”. Down we went to the left in a “corkscrew.” This was our evasive action, but very shortly the rear gunner called to resume course telling us that a Messerschmidt 210 had made a pass at us.

We were now starting into the outer defense of searchlights protecting the Ruhr industrial area. “Aircraft coned on our starboard beam up” I yelled I watched it for a few seconds struggling in the cone like a fly in a spider’s web, flak poured up at it and a Lancaster went down.

“Ready for run-up to the target” — “Christ” I yelled as a fighter came head on at us. The trace of his cannon seemed to be coming right at me . I closed my eyes and said a prayer. The engineer yelled “Port engine on fire Skip, let’s get the hell out.” The cannon shells of the fighter had hit our port inner engine and as I looked out I could see the flames licking back over the wing in which our gas tanks were stored. Sok’s voice came cool over the intercom “Feathering port inner, hit the graviner switches Dick, prepare to abandon aircraft, bomb doors open, drop your bombs bomb-aimer”

[The graviner switches controlled compressed incombustible carbon-dioxide which could be sprayed into the engines and hopefully serving as engine fire extinguishers.]

I looked out, my bombsight was on the target area now burning and smoking from the earlier bombs. The bomb doors were open and I pressed the release tit feeling the bump as the bombs left the aircraft. Then the searchlights coned us and flak started coming up.

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Finally we were down to four thousand feet and out of the searchlights. Sok called the gunners but got no reply. “Bomb-aimer please check the crew. Navigator give me a course.” The dive had put out the fire. I went back to the rear to see if Dave Hardy was hurt. I found the Baron by the rear escape hatch holding his head but not plugged in. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled in his ear. “We’re OK, get back in the goddamn rear turret” “OK, Al, thanks” “What for you nut” I replied. Then I tried to get into the turret, but had to report to Sok that it was impossible.

The Baron wanted to talk but I was off to the rear turret which was jammed sideways and Dave Hardy was gone. This was serious because it meant that now we were defenseless against stern attacks.

Rear gunners baled out by rotating the turret and dropping out backwards. Unfortunately Dave Hardy had pulled out his intercom plug and hadn’t heard that we had got the fire out and when he baled out he jammed the rear gun turret sideways.

This account is just part of a longer piece by pilot David Sokoloff, written in 1996, describing the men who flew the Halifaxs of No. 408 RCAF ‘Goose’ Squadron, based at Linton-on-Ouse, England at the time.

The 70th anniversary of the raid will be commemorated in Bochum, the Bochum website has a sequence of before and after images of the town, which had cleared 2 million cubic metres of rubble by 1949.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.

A small act of resistance in a Japanese POW camp

We started back to the foundry, and now that the bottles were filled when we started back, it became more apparent just how deep the snow was, just trying to walk through it would be difficult for strong healthy men, but we had no choice and so we struggled on. It had been snowing for days, and one of the roofs of the buildings that we slept in had collapsed with the weight of the snow. It killed some of our Canadian Comrades when it caved in.

Lt Yoshida Niigata commandant
Lt Yoshida, centre, commandant of Niigata POW Camp
After the war Lt. Yoshida was captured and jailed for numerous attrocities, the main ones being the murder of an American and Canadian POW by leaving them chained outside the guard house in winter, dressed only in underclothing. He also stole Red Cross packages intended for POWs and distributed the food among the camp guards and friends. Yoshida was never convicted for these crimes. While awaiting trial, he became increasingly depressed and was sent to a high-security mental hospital. A few days later he committed suicide by hanging himself in his room.

It was now almost three years since the Canadian troops that had been based in Hong Kong in December 1941 had been captured by the Japanese. They had endured much in that time and many had succumbed to the starvation diet, forced labour and brutal treatment of their captors.

In early 1943 they had been transferred to mainland Japan where they were employed in hard labour at Niigata POW camp and its satellite establishments, the forced labour included unloading ships, working in mines and a metal foundry. Later in 1943 they had been joined by US prisoners taken prisoner on the Philippines.

Jack Smith describes a day in the life of a prisoner inside Niigata POW camp in November 1944:

It had been snowing heavily during the night, it was time to get out of the “Tatami” a mat woven out of rice straw where I had slept with all my clothes on, it was five A.M. The building did not have any heat. The only washing facility was an old-fashioned hand pump, we helped each other to pump and wash. There was a cone of ice under the spout and the air was cold, with a chilling wind, I splashed some water on my face and rubbed my teeth with my finger to try to clean them.

Tenko!! (Roll Call) searched and then proceeded to breakfast and work by 5.30. We made our way to the Corrugated Building, near the foundry for breakfast. I could hear everyone shuffling along as I was, they must of felt like I did “Miserable” The Building had no heat, it had a three foot foundation to give the inside more height. It was furnished with tables about eighteen inches high. And we were supposed to sit on the concrete floor to eat. We did it different; we sat on the table and ate from the utensils on our laps.

We were followed by some of the other prisoners dragging a two-wheel cart with 2 tubs on it. One tub had cooked rice and the other tub had watery soup made with “Weeds”

The snow had reached a depth of about three feet; at the ground surface the snow was melting, there was six inches of slush below where the ground was and that is where the feet would land. I had tried to make my whittled wooden clogs more comfortable by wrapping paper and a piece of “black–out curtain that I had borrowed “stolen”. My body weight had been slowly dropping and now I weighed about 80 pounds, this was caused by lack of food and sickness

This morning was cold! I was Cold! The building was cold! And the food was cold! It was a tin cup of boiled rice, and a cup of “Dicon” soup (a type of large white radish). The cups were carefully filled level full, a flat stick made sure the ration was of that amount. I was thinking the furnaces in the Foundry would be hot and there would be warmth.

As we passed through the door where the Foundry and welding shop was the “Hancho Doanna’ (Civilian overseer) shouted “Sa Maaie San” (Smith person) “Muticoy jew Sanjo” “Get ten persons, then he told us of our mission today. Oxygen can be a dangerous gas around open fires and so the building that filled the Oxygen Bottles was a good distance away. The usual method of transporting the oxygen bottles to the welding shop was done with a two-wheeled cart pulled by Cows and women drivers, but today the snow was too deep for them. They had the Oxygen bottles laid out with a ten-foot piece of rope attached to each one and we were expected to drag them all the way there and back.

Matsu san, the overseer would not come with us, so we were left to do it without an overseer, we each started dragging an Oxygen bottle. These bottles are universal and used in almost every country in the world, but they come in different sizes. The ones we used were the larger welder type and were heavy when loaded. I started out and as we passed the welding shop I picked up a key for the welding bottles, “This was a No No” but we continued on our way shuffling along, we took turns about every fifty feet breaking a trail and rested every ¼ mile, we were cold and almost exhausted when we finally reached the Oxygen plant.

We were not allowed in the building, so we waited outside, as the bottles were taken in and filled. When each bottle came out filled I took the key and slightly opened the valve so that it would allow the gas to escape slowly. This was a dangerous move to make. If the Japanese considered it to be done intentionally it would mean being tied to the barbed wire fence and left to the mercy of the weather for days. It was necessary for all the men in the party to agree on what was being done. This is one of the great privileges of being a member of the Canadian Army, when the men give their word it was final and there would be no Quarter given.

We started back to the foundry, and now that the bottles were filled when we started back, it became more apparent just how deep the snow was, just trying to walk through it would be difficult for strong healthy men, but we had no choice and so we struggled on. It had been snowing for days, and one of the roofs of the buildings that we slept in had collapsed with the weight of the snow. It killed some of our Canadian Comrades when it caved in.

We were exhausted when we reached the Foundry about one o’clock and we had missed our “Binto” lunch as we were too late, we were glad of the warmth in the foundry, it felt so good, Suddenly! The Japanese Welding Boss, started screaming and yelling because he had no Oxygen! My knees became weak and I knew we were in for it! “Of course we had no idea of how this happened” “We couldn’t possibly open those valves with our fingers” “Maybe it was the guy that filled them didn’t tighten them enough”, “Maybe it was the snow or the ropes”, It almost worked! But were made to stand to Attention, and were all were slapped around and punched while being verbally abused.

Then we were sent back to get the bottles refilled. This time it was easier as a path had been made. We returned to the Foundry almost exhausted. On our return our comrades that were working in the Foundry, as they had an easy day due to the fact that there was no Oxygen to weld with, helped us. We were in time to go back with them to the Camp where we slept. At last I had a glimmer of warmth knowing that we had been able to partially shut down the Foundry for one day, and our fellow Prisoners had a more comfortable day. We felt that in some way we were able to slow up the Japanese War Effort, even if it was a small contribution. Our Comrades also shared in our war effort, but we never did get that missed “Binto” loss made up.

I went to bed that night still cold and wet from our trips to the Oxygen Plant, I was able to remove my sodden wooden clogs, and wring out my pant legs, lay down on the “Tatami” cover myself with the one blanket and bring my feet close to my bum for warmth. My wounded arm was aching, and finally my feet began to ache slightly and I knew they had begun to warm up, I drifted off to sleep.

Jack Smith’s story is from a collection held by the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association. For a survey of conditions in Niigata PoW camp see this Niigata University thesis, by Shigeru Takeuchi.

Niigata inmates at the time of their release in September 1945.
Niigata inmates at the time of their release in September 1945.
Niigata POW camp 5 B, first spotted by planes from the USS Lexington in August 1945.
Niigata POW camp 5 B, first spotted by planes from the USS Lexington in August 1945.

A U boat Captain returns to bombed out Germany

The subway ride spared me the sight of the ruins above, but not of the human ruins below; the thousands of homeless who lived in the underground, the hollow-cheeked women and children on the run, and bewildered soldiers on their way to shattered homes or battered fronts. Privation, hunger and lack of sleep, indifference and resignation marked the faces.

A German picture of the U boats in their massive concrete bunker at Brest in 1942. It was not until 1944 that the RAF developed bombs capable of penetrating them.
A German picture of the U boats in their massive concrete bunker at Brest in 1942. It was not until 1944 that the RAF developed bombs capable of penetrating them.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing damage to the concrete U-boat shelters at Brest, following two Bomber Command daylight raids: the first by ten Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 12 August 1944; the second on the following day by thirteen Lancasters of 617 Squadron, joined by fourteen others from No. 9 Squadron RAF. The target was attacked on both occasions using 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep-penetration ' bombs, which left the roof structure heavily damaged and perforated it in at least two places.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing damage to the concrete U-boat shelters at Brest, following two Bomber Command daylight raids: the first by ten Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF on 12 August 1944; the second on the following day by thirteen Lancasters of 617 Squadron, joined by fourteen others from No. 9 Squadron RAF. The target was attacked on both occasions using 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep-penetration ‘ bombs, which left the roof structure heavily damaged and perforated it in at least two places.
A forty-foot circle hole in the roof of a U-boat pen in Brest which had received a direct hit during the Allied bombardment. The capture of the deep water ports of Brittany did not greatly help the Allies, however, since the Germans had, as in Cherbourg, carried out thorough demolition of the port facilities before surrendering.
A forty-foot circle hole in the roof of a U-boat pen in Brest which had received a direct hit during the Allied bombardment. The capture of the deep water ports of Brittany did not greatly help the Allies, however, since the Germans had, as in Cherbourg, carried out thorough demolition of the port facilities before surrendering.

Herbert A. Werner had captained the last U-Boat to leave the German base in Brest France. U-953 had narrowly escaped RAF bunker busting bombs. She was crammed with evacuating naval personnel and valuable naval equipment – but no torpedoes – when she left Brest on the 23 August. After a perilous journey via La Pallice and Bergen in Norway, he finally arrived in Germany in late October.

U-953 suffered from a number of mechanical problems and needed a complete overhaul. It was the opportunity for Werner to take some overdue home leave. First he had to cross a Germany that was transformed by war:

It was a cold misty day in early November when I departed from Luebeck and headed for Darmstadt by way of Berlin. The express was packed with people who spoke with a hard Baltic accent, people who had fled their homes ahead of the advancing Russians. The refugees — mostly women and children and old folks — wore thread-bare clothes and carried humble housewares; they stood in trembling groups beside their boxes, bundles, valises, and bedding.

Along this pitiful human chain, alarming war news and rumors flashed through the train from compartment to compartment. The eastern front was moving west fast and Koenigsberg was in gravest danger, and the western front was moving east almost as fast.

I leaned at the window in the passageway, deep in forlorn thoughts. At my feet lay the suitcase with the presents for my parents and Trudy. The landscape rushed by, desolate and gray. In time, the monotonous North German plains were broken more and more often by larger and larger clusters of blackened walls, craters, rubble, and cut-off chimneys. Then the ruins themselves became a vast plain of destroyed city blocks, a whole civilization in ruins. We had arrived in Berlin.

People on the move, people in flight. Thousands filled the station. Women in Red Cross uniforms distributed food and a black gravy they said was coffee. Thin young infantrymen, heavily burdened with guns and knapsacks, wearing faded and patched uniforms, moved about like worn old men. I shoved my luggage through the crowded platforms and headed crosstown for the Anhalter Station.

The subway ride spared me the sight of the ruins above, but not of the human ruins below; the thousands of homeless who lived in the underground, the hollow-cheeked women and children on the run, and bewildered soldiers on their way to shattered homes or battered fronts. Privation, hunger and lack of sleep, indifference and resignation marked the faces.

Night had fallen over the city when my darkened train left behind the devastated world of Berlin and shrieked and clanked its way south. I passed the hours smoking, waiting, dreaming. I calculated that I would be home – if not in Darmstadt, then at Father’s new plant — by noon the following day, provided all went well.

However worse was to come. Werner was approached by a young woman who recognised him, even if he did not recognise her as a family friend from five years before.

She had indeed been my sister’s best friend when we had lived near Lake Constance. Then Clara told me that she had always liked my parents, that the long article about them in the local paper had been so well written. – A sudden chill clutched my throat, and I demanded, “What article are you talking about ?”

Her eyes widened, her mouth opened in horror. “Don’t you know?” she stumbled. “No, you didn’t know !” She covered her face with both hands. She did not have to tell me any more.

Everything around me began to turn, very slowly at first, then with a rush, as if a giant wheel had gone out of control. I heard the girl sobbing and saying far away, “Oh, forgive me, poor Trudy and your parents died in the air raid on Darmstadt two months ago.”

In my sickening dizziness, I pressed myself against the glass wal of the compartment to stay erect. The window, the wall, the people faded before my eyes. I clenched my teeth fiercely and fought back my tears; no one should ever see me crying. I closed my eyes and drew a deep, racking breath.

See Herbert A. Werner: Iron Coffins: A Personal Account Of The German U-boat Battles Of World War II

Recovering charred corpses  from underground bunkers following a bombing raid on Berlin, 1944.
Recovering charred corpses from underground bunkers following a bombing raid on Berlin, 1944.
Bomb damage to the elevated railway in Berlin-Schöneberg. The viaduct at the Buelowstraße was heavy distorted on 19 July 1944 after the explosion of a land mine .
Bomb damage to the elevated railway in Berlin-Schöneberg. The viaduct at the Buelowstraße was heavy distorted on 19 July 1944 after the explosion of a land mine .

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