Norwegian Resistance sinks troopship with timed mines

Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.

Way back in 1940 Churchill had sought to ‘set Europe ablaze’ withe the establishment of the Special Operations Executive which supported resistance groups throughout Europe. A series of very significant sabotage operations against the German nuclear programme had been mounted in Norway. Even though Norway now appeared to be something of a backwater, which the Germans surely would wish to evacuate at some point, there were some very determined members of the Resistance who wanted to carry on the fight. Attacks on German troops meant fewer men who might be transferred back to Germany to carry on the main battle.

One man who had already been involved in a number of successful sabotage operations, as well as escaping from Gestapo custody when he was arrested in 1941, was Max Manus. On the 16th January he would successfully carry out an audacious attack on German shipping, carrying his explosives into Oslo harbour right under the noses of the Wehrmacht. He did so at a time when the Germans were on high alert for sabotage attempts, with soldiers positioned around the docks with orders to fire at anything floating in the water in case it might be a frogman.

The following report reads like it might be fiction, perhaps from an episode of Mission Impossible, but comes from the Special Operations Executive’s file recommending Max Manus for the Distinguished Service Order:

Manus planned and carried out the operation which saw the sinking of the ship ‘Donau’ approx 9,000 tons and the damaging of the ‘Rolandseck’ of approx 2000 tons.

It was not a straight forward operation as the limpet mines, the rubber boat and other equipment had to be concealed first on a wharf in Oslo harbour that was used for the embarkation of German troops. This in itself was a hazardous operation, but the shear audacity of Manus’ methods saw him through.

Brazen use was made of a well of a lift which led from the deck of the wharf to the lower platform whereby the equipment could be stowed. To get through the guard entrance at the dock a decoy vehicle was used with the occupant creating a nuisance of himself with the guards.

The second vehicle, with Manus and packed with all the equipment was then waved through … the ruse had worked. But to Manus’ chagrin the wharf was full of Germans. However, fortune favours the brave and with great daring, and in full view of the Germans, the equipment was unloaded close to the lift. The car was then driven out of the dock.

Later, when the wharf was clear of Germans, the equipment was stowed away in the lift and taken down to the lower section. Manus was aided by two loyal Norwegian workers.

The plan was to attack a large, heavy transport ship, but Manus had to wait some days until a suitable target presented itself. On the 15th January the ‘Donau’ arrived from Aarhus and Manus made the decision to attack her (NB. The ‘Donau’ had previously been used to transport Jews from Norway to Germany whereby many of them were taken to Auschwitz where their lives were sadly and cruelly taken).

Early next morning, Manus, with a helper met with his dock contact, but the man was not at all optimistic. The water surrounding the wharf was full of floating ice, a German soldier had recently fallen in and a search was in progress and finally a number of horses had been tied off to the door entrance which led to the lift. Manus decided to carry on.

Manus and his companion, Roy Nielsen dressed in full British battle-dress with over 100 metres of cordtex tied around their waists, but all concealed under boiler suits, approached the dock guard and proceeded to take part in a comic sketch to aid them through the gate…

Nielsen ‘slipped’ on the icy ground, much to the amusement of the guard … it worked, though, and they were through, despite a cursory inspection of their papers.

Once again the sheer audacity and bravery of the Norwegians had come to the fore. However, the atmosphere was still tense as the guards that were posted on the wharf to protect the ‘Donau’ regularly aimed their rifles and shot in to the water at anything that was suspicious.

Fortunately, the horses had been embarked and the door was clear to enter. The lift was positioned so that the two men could slip underneath it. Looking through a small chink they could see Germans approaching, but all the Germans wanted to do was to get out off the wind. There was at least 8 degrees of frost and it was exceptionally cold in the biting wind. After a while the Germans moved on and Manus’ contact on the docks carefully locked the door.

A rope ladder was let down amongst the wharf timbers but soon the rungs were full of ice: the rubber dingy was also lowered and blown up to the covering tune of a German sergeant drilling an unfortunate squad.

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers.

Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

The going was tough as they inched their way forward through the ice using oars and an axe. Navigating carefully alongside the ‘Donau’ they placed their limpets aft of the engine room. With all the limpet mines in place they made their way back to the wharf, but then noticed the ‘Rolandseck’ arriving on the other side of the wharf.

Manus knew this was too good an opportunity to miss. Despite both men being soaked through and very cold, they fetched the one remaining limpet from their improvised store. The German patrol boat returned once again, but as before it failed to spot the armed Norwegians and once it had moved off the duo paddled their way alongside the ‘Rolandseck’ and planted their limpet on its side.

During this operation the ‘Donau’ left its mooring moving into open water with two tugs attending alongside. This meant that light now streamed under the wharf making it even more hazardous for the men as they returned, but to their relief nothing untoward happened and they made it safely back to their timbered shelter.

The dingy was disposed off by knifing and the men once more donned their boiler suits. Suddenly, the sound heavy steps approached the door way and then men stood ready with their Sten guns cocked for action, but to their immense relief it was their contact who had come to open the door. The men stepped out on to the wharf and made their way past the guard at the dock entrance who again laughed at Nielsen’s unfortunate earlier ‘accident’. Manus and Nielsen stepped aboard a tram and made their way home.

At 22:00hrs the ‘Donau’ was in the sound just off Drøbak having just dropped off her pilot. The Captain had just increased speed when the explosion occurred. The Captain attempted to beach the ship and ran her ashore at full speed with crew jumping off in all directions. Despite the beaching the ship settled at the stern and sunk in 25 metre of water’.

It is not known how many casualties there were aboard the Donau, although a large amount of equipment was lost, as well as many unfortunate horses. Roy Nielsen was to die in a Gestapo round up of resistance fighters on 4th April but Max Manus managed to evade the same series of raids. He went on to be awarded Norway’s highest military honour the War Cross, for the second time, for his part in this raid. Read more about his career at Nuav.net.

Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway's small Jewish population to Germany - almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway’s small Jewish population to Germany – almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.

V1 carrying Heinkel IIIs ambushed over North Sea

A German Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111 H-22 with a  FZG 76 (V1) flying bomb.
A German Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111 H-22 with a FZG 76 (V1) flying bomb.
German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops, portrayed intense attacks by numerous V1 flying bombs. This was a huge exaggeration.
German propaganda leaflets, aimed at British troops, portrayed intense attacks by numerous V1 flying bombs. This was a huge exaggeration.

The German V1 attack on London had been defeated by intensive air defences and then the advance of the Allies in Europe. V1 rockets continued to be targeted on Antwerp and Holland in an attempt to disrupt the Allied supply lines – with little significant effect.

However there remained on alternative means of targeting the rockets at Britain. The forerunner of the air launched cruise missile was a Nazi adaptation to use Heinkel bombers to get the V1s within range of Britain and fire them whilst in mid air. They could only be crudely targeted and the ultimate destination was only determined by the engine cutting out, as before. 1,176 missiles were launched against Britain but a large proportion either failed to launch properly or failed to reach the land.

Once again the Allied superiority in cracking German codes was to give them a huge operational advantage. Although they could not completely neutralise the attacks they could be in precisely the right position to fight back.

Richard Leggett was a Mosquito pilot who participated in the counter-arrack on the Heinkels in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1944:

The British ‘Y’ Service would get information that V1-carrying Heinkels would be taking off, and we’d be told that at such and such a time they would be in place. No other op was as tidy as this. We looked at our watches and thought, ‘My goodness, they’ll be here in another few minutes’; and sure enough, right on the button, it would all happen. It was a question of whether you’d be the lucky one because there were lots of us.

I looked at my clock and knew that at around 02.30 hours there would be several Heinkels in the usual place. The enemy obviously did not know we were going to meet him.

Being in a position to stab him in the back in the dark was a nice way to fight a war. One was mentally tuned to this. We felt sorry for our bomber chaps. We in the night fighter force didn’t have to drop bombs on women and children. We had to kill Germans who were trying to do things to our women and children with nasty weapons. It was a very clear and clean way to fight.

Sure enough, almost on the dot we saw the flash of a V1 being launched. At the same time ground control said they had contact.

Tally-ho!

There might be twelve, thirteen, fourteen of these Heinkels, all doing it at once. It was a timed op. Then they’d turn to port. I don’t know why but they always did this. Then they would go down very rapidly and head for home. Our job was to lose height quickly, go below 100 feet and pick up the Heinkel.

The Mk X was a good AI, but there were a lot of sea returns and it depended on the expertise of the navigator. I had a very good one. Sure enough, the Heinkel turned left and at two to three miles we got a contact.

It wasn’t a good night. There was rain and ‘stuff’ about. The Germans only came when the weather was bad.

We started to close. It was still dark and there was a lot of cloud. You knew perfectly well that on our straight and level course behind him we would get a tremendous wash from his engines. I felt it. Then for some reason, he started to turn away slightly, as if he had an indication that we were behind him. It foxed us a bit.

Eventually, it settled down again. I closed in on him. It was in cloud. Guns and sights were harmonized at about 200 yards but we could not get a visual, although we could feel his slipstream We dropped away and my navigator picked up contact again.

Some people might have lowered their undercarriage at this point, but l didn’t like to. I had as much flap as I dared and managed perfectly well. We waited and we waited.

Off Den Helder I was getting concerned. We’d followed him for fully fifty-five minutes. We waited as patiently as one can in this situation and eventually, as the dawn was coming up I closed in at 300 yards range. I fired my cannon in his slip- stream and had to put on a lot of throttle to prevent a stall.

I got a number of strikes on it and that was it. The Heinkel went in very quickly. When we broke away the cloud base was only at 200 feet. It was a beautiful morning.

This account appears in The Men Who Flew the Mosquito: Compelling Accounts of the ‘Wooden Wonders’ Triumphant WW2 Career

Heinkel 111H-22 of 7./KG 53 Legion Kondor crashed in Holland and one of the five man crew survived.

Not all the Heinekels were intercepted before they could launch their weapons. The aiming point was apparently Manchester – but they fell over a very wide area of northern England. BBC Shropshire has an account of a V1 from this raid that fell outside Newport. Aircrash Sites has analysis of where the V1s fell around Manchester.

31 of the 45 missiles launched on this night fell on England (although accounts vary), with the worst single incident being in Oldham where 27 people were killed. The times of the attack differ from that given by Leggett.

Another German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops.
Another German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.

Eisenhower closely guarded against Nazi infiltrators

An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II '204' from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II ‘204’ from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.

The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.

There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.

While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.

The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944

I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.

He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.

The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.

The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.

One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.

The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.

Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.

Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.

Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.

Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.

Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.

He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.

See My Three Years With Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945

There is an account of capturing some of the spies on the 19th December by Tom Bailey of the 82nd Airborne.

Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited  airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.

“Madeleine” – Noor Inayat Khan executed at Dachau

Noor Inyat Khan was executed at Dachau.
Noor Inyat Khan was executed at Dachau.

Noor Inyat Khan had been an unlikely agent for the Special Operations Executive, many of the staff at her training school believed she was too naive and honest to survive the treacherous world of spying. Yet she was fluent in French and an accomplished radio operator, and she was sent to France to support the French Resistance in preparations for D-Day.

She arrived in Paris at a particularly dangerous time. The Gestapo had begun to unravel the Prosper/Physician network which she had joined, and made mass arrests of men and women in the Resistance movement. She became the only SOE radio operator to remain working in Paris, occupying a vital position. Even though it became obvious that the Gestapo had her description and were actively looking for her, she chose to remain in Paris and continued her work.

She was eventually arrested just four months after arriving in France. She was to demonstrate a stubborn resistance to the Gestapo’s interrogation and was soon recognised as a difficult and dangerous prisoner because of her escape attempts.

Eventually she was taken, with three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman, to Dachau concentration camp. All four were executed in the early hours of 13th September 1944, accounts vary as to how they were treated prior to execution.

The George Cross citation:

Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed.

She refused however to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group. She remained at her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.

The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name “Madeleine”. They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch.

The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were now in a position to work back to London. They asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts at escape. She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but she refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for “safe custody”. She was the first agent to be sent to Germany.

Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November; 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison has also been interrogated and has confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN, when interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or her colleagues.
She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12th September, 1944. On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.

Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.

As a woman and a Muslim the Noor Inayat Khan story has found resonance in recent years. The Noor Inyat Khan Memorial Trust promotes peace and understanding in her name. A recently released film Enemy of the Reich tells her story.

Left to right; Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman were also executed at Dachau on the 13th September 1944.
Left to right; Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman were also executed at Dachau on the 13th September 1944.

The first ballistic missile attacks – V2 rockets

German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight
German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight

On 8th September the British newspapers were full of reports of the rapid Allied advance through France and Belgium. A further victory was also apparent.The British had conquered the German V1 rocket attacks and there was widespread reporting of a statement made by War Cabinet member Duncan Sandys who had claimed that “except possibly for the last few shots, the battle of London is over”.

He had praised the assistance of United States officials who:

had thrown themselves into the job of beating the bomb as if New York or Washington had been the victim of the attack…

The latest American equipment for use with British heavy guns was ordered earlier in the year when flying bomb attacks began to look imminent. The necessary priority was accorded by the President as a result of a personal request by the Prime Minister.

Intelligence, agents, air reconnaissance and photo-interpretation units warned us in the first place what Hitler was preparing for us, and since then we have directed our bomber forcesm with remarkable precision onto the weak links and bottlenecks in the enemy’s organisation. The visitation which London has so bravely borne has been painful enough.

Had it not been for the vigilance of the intelligence services and the unrelenting efforts of the British and American air forces, her ordeal might have been many times more severe.

A highly concentrated barrage of anti aircraft guns on the south coast had proved to be very effective in knocking the V1 rockets out of the sky. Those that got through the barrage were often intercepted by pursuing aircraft, either Typhoon or the latest Spitfires, which just had the speed to catch them. On 28th August 90 out of 97 V1 rockets fired at London had been brought down by the guns, and only four missiles got through to hit London. Soon the Allied advances on the continent would put them completely out of range.

Gunners at a mixed anti-aircraft battery on the South Coast mark their names on a shell case after shooting down a V1 flying bomb with only one round, 6 August 1944.
Gunners at a mixed anti-aircraft battery on the South Coast mark their names on a shell case after shooting down a V1 flying bomb with only one round, 6 August 1944.
Workmen carry out temporary 'First Aid' repairs to houses in a London street following the explosion of a V1 Flying Bomb.
Workmen carry out temporary ‘First Aid’ repairs to houses in a London street following the explosion of a V1 Flying Bomb.

However the Minister had been evasive when questioned about whether there was a “V2” rocket:

I think we’ve got enough to deal with if we stick to the V1 we do know quite a lot about it … but in a very few days’ time I feel the press will be walking over these places in France and they will know a great deal more about it than we do now. It would be very dangerous for anyone to make a statement now.

Allied intelligence knew about the V2 but had little information on how close the Germans were to making them operational.

In fact the Germans had been struggling with the problem of the V2 rockets exploding in mid air. On 30th August they had introduced modifications which seemed to have solved the problem. Just before noon on the 8th a German rocket battery in occupied Belgium had pumped eight tons of alcohol and liquid oxygen into their rocket and fired it at Paris. Six people were killed and thirty-six injured.

The damage in Staveley Road, Chiswick after the first V2 rocket hit London.
The damage in Staveley Road, Chiswick after the first V2 rocket hit London.

At 6.43pm that day Chiswick, west London was rocked by a massive explosion, closely followed by another boom that was heard across London. The first explosion had been real enough – caused by 760 kilos of Amatol. The explosion that was heard just after it was the supersonic missile breaking the sound barrier as it re-entered the atmosphere. It had been just minutes since the missile had left the Hague in Holland.

Three people had been killed in Staveley Road, Chiswick, although casualties were light given the thirty feet wide, eight foot deep crater.

The Brentford and Chiswick Air Raid Precautions centre reported Incident 636 of the war:

Eleven houses demolished, 15 seriously damaged and evacuated. Blast damage to 516 houses. St Thomas rest centre opened to house sixteen. The WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] incident inquiry point opened to the 10th. 14 families re-housed, three billeted.

Attempts by the Press to report the ‘Mystery Explosion’, the site of which had been visited by several unusually senior military figures and politicians, were blocked by the censor. Locally the reason given was ‘a Gas Main explosion’. Over the following weeks Londoners were to become familiar with this phrase.

See Christy Campbell: Target London: Under attack from the V-weapons during WWII

Cutaway drawing of a German V2 rocket.
Cutaway drawing of a German V2 rocket.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr dies in secret drone mission

The prototype Hochdruckpumpe gun in 1942, during the development programme in Poland. The "High Pressure Pump" gun was designed to fire 300 shells a minute at London.
The prototype Hochdruckpumpe gun in 1942, during the development programme in Poland. The “High Pressure Pump” gun was designed to fire 300 shells a minute at London. The operational version was built underground in France during 1943-4, with an array of barrels all aimed at London.

On 13th June 1944 the Nazis had begun firing the first of their Vergeltungswaffen (“retaliatory” “reprisal” ) weapons at England. The V1 pilotless jet aircraft was a relatively crude affair but Allied intelligence was aware that more sophisticated rocket weapons were also under development, designated the V2. A number of the launch sites had been identified in occupied France and it was a priority programme of the heavy bombers to put them out of action. The Allies were not aware that there was a third Vergeltungswaffen weapon under secret development – the V3 pump gun.

It was fortuitous therefore that Allied reconnaissance had identified the site of the V3 gun in northern France, even though they believed at the time that it was a V2 launch site. It was placed on the priority target list in any event.

An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Mimoyecques site in northern France, with annotations. The chalk hill was soft enough to excavate the tunnels needed for the 430 foot long barrels.

The Mimoyecques site had already been attacked by RAF Bomber Command but such was the concern about the potential threat posed by the V2 that it was decided that further attacks were needed, in an attempt to completely obliterate it. It was now decided to use one of the Allied secret weapons in order to attack the site with a massive explosive force.

Under development were early ‘drones’ – pilotless aircraft. At this stage all that the Allies were developing were remotely controlled conventional aircraft. The remote control only operated once the aircraft was in the air – so pilots were needed to get them airborne. They then had to parachute out of what was effectively a flying bomb – ‘the Baby’ under the control of other – ‘Mother’ – aircraft flying alongside.

A B-24 Liberator bomber - those used as 'robots' in Operation Aphrodite were designated BQ-8. [This aircraft B-24J-55-CO (s/n 42-99949) belonged to 93rd BG, 328th BS; lost 21 September 1944 over Belgium]
A B-24 Liberator bomber – those used as ‘robots’ in Operation Aphrodite were designated BQ-8. [This aircraft B-24J-55-CO (s/n 42-99949) belonged to 93rd BG, 328th BS; lost 21 September 1944 over Belgium]

Experienced volunteer pilots were needed for what was a dangerous experiment. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr was a US Navy pilot who had been flying the B-24 Liberator in anti U-boat operations from England. A colleague of Kennedy described the mission, when years later it was declassified:

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, the oldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, died on 12 August 1944, flying an experimental drone aircraft.
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, the oldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, died on 12 August 1944, flying an experimental drone aircraft.

Joe, regarded as an experienced Patrol Plane Commander, and a fellow-officer, an expert in radio control projects, was to take a ‘drone’ Liberator bomber loaded with 21,170 pounds of high explosives into the air and to stay with it until two ‘mother’ planes had achieved complete radio control over the drone.

They were then to bail out over England; the “drone,” under the control of the mother planes, was to proceed on the mission which was to culminate in a crash-dive on the target, a V-2 rocket launching site in Normandy.

The airplane … was in flight with routine checking of the radio controls proceeding satisfactorily, when at 6:20 p.m. on August 12, 1944, two explosions blasted the drone resulting in the death of its two pilots. No final conclusions as to the cause of the explosions has ever been reached.

Lt. McCarthy of the 8th Combat Camera Unit was an eye witness in a US Mosquito aircraft monitoring the experimental flight:

the Baby just exploded in mid-air as we neared it and I was knocked halfway back to the cockpit. A few pieces of the Baby came through the plexiglass nose and I got hit in the head and caught a lot of fragments in my right arm. I crawled back to the cockpit and lowered the wheels so that Bob could make a quick emergency landing,

Top Secret telegram to General Carl Andrew Spaatz from General Jimmy Doolittle, August 1944 reporting the failure of the mission:

ATTEMPTED FIRST APHRODITE ATTACK TWELVE AUGUST WITH ROBOT TAKING OFF FROM FERSFIELD AT ONE EIGHT ZERO FIVE HOURS PD ROBOT EXPLODED IN THE AIR AT APPROXIMATELY TWO THOUSAND FEET EIGHT MILES SOUTHEAST OF HALESWORTH AT ONE EIGHT TWO ZERO HOURS PD WILFORD J. WILLY CMA SR GRADE LIEUTENANT AND JOSEPH P. KENNEDY SR GRADE LIEUTENANT CMA BOTH USNR CMA WERE KILLED PD COMMANDER SMITH CMA IN COMMAND OF THIS UNIT CMA IS MAKING FULL REPORT TO US NAVAL OPERATIONS PD A MORE DETAILED REPORT WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU WHEN INTERROGATION IS COMPLETED

Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross:

For extraordinary heroism and courage in aerial flight as pilot of a United States Liberator bomber on August 12, 1944. Well knowing the extreme dangers involved and totally unconcerned for his own safety, Kennedy unhesitatingly volunteered to conduct an exceptionally hazardous and special operational mission.

Intrepid and daring in his tactics and with unwavering confidence in the vital importance of his task, he willingly risked his life in the supreme measure of service and, by his great personal valor and fortitude in carrying out a perilous undertaking, sustained and enhanced the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

John F. Kennedy was later to pay tribute to his eldest brother:

His squadron, flying in the bitter winter over the Bay of Biscay, suffered heavy casualties, and by the time Joe had completed his designated number of missions in May, he had lost his former co-pilot and a number of close friends.

“Joe refused his proffered leave and persuaded his crew to remain on for D-day. They flew frequently during June and July, and at the end of July they were given another opportunity to go home. He felt it unfair to ask his crew to stay on longer, and they returned to the United States. He remained. For he had heard of a new and special assignment for which volunteers had been requested which would require another month of the most dangerous type of flying.

“…It may be felt, perhaps, that Joe should not have pushed his luck so far and should have accepted his leave and come home. But two facts must be borne in mind. First, at the time of his death, he had completed probably more combat missions in heavy bombers than any other pilot of his rank in the Navy and therefore was preeminently qualified, and secondly, as he told a friend early in August, he considered the odds at least fifty-fifty, and Joe never asked for any better odds than that.

See JFK Library for more on Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

The V3 weapon was never fired at England, in all probability it was too experimental a device to be deployed effectively, and in any event the earlier RAF bombing had done sufficient damage to prevent its use.

The French Resistance hit back against the occupation

With undercarriage lowered to reduce speed, a B-17 of the 94th BG drops supplies to the French Resistance at Vercors, 14 July 1944.
With undercarriage lowered to reduce speed, a B-17 of the 94th BG drops supplies to the French Resistance at Vercors, 14 July 1944.
Maquisards gathering supply canisters dropped by an Allied aircraft, Haute Savoie.
Maquisards gathering supply canisters dropped by an Allied aircraft, Haute Savoie.

As the Allies remained locked into Normandy conflict, all over France the French Resistance became more audacious with their sabotage operations. In some areas they started open uprisings. It was a risky strategy against the much better armed German forces.

Henri Rosencher had travelled from Warsaw to study Medicine in Paris before the war broke out. His war began as a member of the French Hesistance. After training with the British in North Africa he became an expert with explosives. He then returned to France to assist the Resistance with their activities in the period following D-Day.

On the morning of the 17th of June, I arrived in the area of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, the “maquis” [zone of resistance] under the command of Commander Terrasson.

They were waiting for me and took me off by car. The job at hand was mining a tunnel through which the Germans were expected to pass by train. The Rail resistance network had provided all the details.

My only role was as advisor on explosives. TNT (Trinitrotoluene – a very powerful explosive) and plastic charges were going to collapse the mountain, sealing off the tunnel at both ends and its air shaft. When I got there, all the ground work was done. I only had to specify how much of the explosive was necessary, and where to put it. I checked the bickfords, primers, detonators, and crayons de mise à feu.

We stationed our three teams and made sure that they could communicate with each other. I settled into the bushes with the team for the tunnel’s entrance. And we waited. Toward three p.m., we could hear the train coming.

At the front came a platform car, with nothing on it, to be sacrificed to any mines that might be on the tracks, then a car with tools for repairs, and then an armored fortress car. Then came the cars over-stuffed with men in verdi-gris uniforms, and another armored car.

The train entered the tunnel and after it had fully disappeared into it, we waited another minute before setting off the charge. Boulders collapsed and cascaded in a thunderous burst; a huge mass completely covered the entrance. Right after that, we heard one, then two huge explosions.

The train has been taken prisoner. The 500 “feldgraus” inside weren’t about to leave, and the railway was blocked for a long, long time.

Henri Rosencher: ‘Salt, Ash, Flame‘ Paris, 2000: Editions du Félin 10, rue La Vaquerie 75011

Unfortunately the Resistance uprising in the Vercors area was to end terribly, with brutal and widespread reprisals by the Nazis. As a Jewish Communist Rosencher was especially vulnerable when eventually captured by the Germans, but survived the war in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, and later Dachau. However none of his extended family in Poland survived the war.

Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun.
Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun.

The V1 ‘doodlebugs’ begin hitting London

German personnel fitting the wings to a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb at a launching site.
German personnel fitting the wings to a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb at a launching site.
A German Fiesler Fi 103 flying-bomb (V1) in flight, as seen by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before the fighter destroyed the V1 by cannon fire.
A German Fiesler Fi 103 flying-bomb (V1) in flight, as seen by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before the fighter destroyed the V1 by cannon fire.

Hitler has sustained his faithful Nazi followers with promises of secret wonder weapons that would transform the war situation. Also known as ‘Vengeance’ weapons, the first ‘V’ weapon appeared – and dropped – over London on the 13th June. It was little more than a bomb with a pair of wings powered by a pulse jet – a crude navigation system turned it into a basic cruise missile – but an innovation for its time. When the jet engine fuel ran out the bomb simply fell from the sky, exploding on impact.

By the 16th June the Nazis were prepared with several hundred V1 rockets ready, and they launched their most intense attack on an unsuspecting London. The very existence of the V1 had not yet been officially acknowledged nor had the bombs acquired their popular nicknames – the ‘doodlebug’ or the ‘buzzbomb’. Within days a huge re-organisation of London’s air defences would be underway, with many more spotters and anti-aircraft guns covering the area between the south coast and London. For the moment the defences were largely unprepared for the new threat.

This anonymous account was by a young man serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, based at the Royal Military Depository, Woolwich, in central London:

How many filled the night sky above us we would never know, only after the war were we to learn that Hitler had fired 244 V1s simultaneously from Cap Gris Nez, just over the English Channel near the French port of Calais.

How many sped over Woolwich, with many exploding within a few miles of us, we can not know, but of the 244 fired from France, less than 90 miles and a quarter hour flying time away, 73 got through to Greater London.

A quarter hour later came the second salvo, again a score or so flew overhead towards the German ‘Bullseye’ targeting ‘zero’ – Tower Bridge.

After the racket of every anti-aircraft gun in south east London blazing hopelessly away at the V1s, flying faster than an Allied fighter we knew of – although the first jet engined fighters of the RAF and USAF were soon in combat against the simple impulse jet engined V1s, they were too few to have any impact on the thousands fired against London in the earliest attacks.

It soon became apparent that the many barracks, depots, Royal Arsenal and Dockyards of Woolwich, with the great ‘Royal’ docks of North Woolwich, of Woolwich Garrison Town were a prime target – the shuddering building around us, crash of falling glass, hailing ack-ack shrapnel on the roof above and roadway outside, the deafening detonation of one tonne warheads too close by, and the sound of civilian fire engines bells hurrying to yet another ‘incident’ was a cacophony of noise repeat regularly at quarter hour intervals.

The night dragged on towards dawn.

At first the ‘all-clear’ siren wailed after each salvo headed towards London, only to be almost immediately followed by yet another warning when coastal radar spotted yet another salvo fired from just across the Channel, a mere twenty five miles from Folkestone.

But after the first few attacks the ‘all clear’ was not sounded, nor for many, many days – until the Nazi launchers ran out of supplies to keep up regular barrages.

In the early hours, hours after the attack commenced, the anti-aircraft guns fell silent, gradually as each battery used up its supply of shell or when the gun barrels became to hot to fire safely.

Not far from the Repository, on Woolwich Common close to the Royal Artillery Barracks, was a barrage balloon manned by WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) girls. The balloon was aloft when the attack commenced but grounded next morning; whether on orders or not, it was just as well, had it ‘caught’ a ‘Buzzbomb’ an brought the V1 down, chances were that it could have crashed headlong into the crowded barracks.

Daylight came, the sky was leaden with low storm clouds, still the V1s kept coming, but at random intervals.

Instructions came that the normal daily routine was to continue.

At breakfast time our squad lined up ‘in order of march’ to march the quarter mile alongside Woolwich Common to the Cookhouse at RA Barracks. In true British Army fashion we set off three abreast from outside the billet hut towards the vast Artillery Barracks.

There was an eerie silence as we marched towards the Repository gate, past rows and rows of low corrugated iron sheds full to the roof with wooden cases of glass ether bottles, the Medical Corps reserve stocks for the invasion of Occupied Europe.

With sidelong glances at the lethal, highly inflammable stockpile of anaesthetic ether, thousands of cases of the stuff, hundreds of tons of it, we dare not think what would happened to us if a V1 hit our camp and its depot.

We had barely reached the camp gate when the sound of yet another Buzzbomb heading directly towards us, out of sight above the scudding clouds.

It came rapidly closer until almost directly overhead, then the engine stopped. By this time we all had learnt from the terrible experiences of the night, what to expect, but instead of doing the logical thing and dropping to the ground and making the best use of what cover there was, we just gapped open mouthed eyes transfixed on the clouds were the silence had come.

I suppose, like myself, we all wanted to see what this strange weapon we had seen apparently ablaze a few mornings before, looked like.

Our curiosity was soon salved, there about forty five degrees above the horizon came a small plane, about as big or smaller than the ubiquitous ‘Tiger Moth’ training planes, but single winged like the German Messerschmitt fighter, even to the German Luftwaffe cross on its wings and fuselage.

In an instant the ‘plumber’s blowlamp’ sound I had been reminded of on hearing the V1 the first time, made sense. There was not propeller, nor engine cowling at it from, just a bullet-pointed nose with a short pipe protruding from its apex.

But above the fuselage and over the tail fin was, to mind, the nozzle of a blowlamp, but flameless – obviously a simple rocket engine.

Whether out of sheer horror, or just curiosity, we stood rooted to the ground watching the missile spearing out of the clouds and diving diagonally towards the earth, across our line of sight – straight towards the huge frontage of the RA Barracks overlooking the vast Parade Ground – straight towards the Cookhouse just behind the Officer’s Quarters in the frontage.

The mental image of that sight still haunts me – the terrible realization that many of my REME pals, still quartered at the REME block at the Barracks, would be lined up or at breakfast in the Mess Hall the missile was seemingly about to blow to smithereens.

Seconds later the flying bomb was lost to our sight behind he barrack frontage, then the flash of its explosion and the sighting of ornamental masonry caught in the blast and shooting skywards, then the boom of the explosion split the silence of the early morning.

Read the whole account on BBC People’s War

A view over the rooftops of London captured on cine film as a V1 flying bomb explodes close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right.
A view over the rooftops of London captured on cine film as a V1 flying bomb explodes close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right.
A cut-away and annotated drawing of the Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb, (also known as FZG 76 or V1 weapon). From a secret report prepared on 16th June for circulation to units of Air Defence Great Britain.
A cut-away and annotated drawing of the Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb, (also known as FZG 76 or V1 weapon). From a secret report prepared on 16th June for circulation to units of Air Defence Great Britain.

0100: Taxable, Glimmer, Mandrel and Titanic

The range of deception plans that successfully confused the Germans about what was happening in the hours before the invasion.
The range of deception plans that successfully confused the Germans about what was happening in the hours before the invasion.

The Allies had two major deception plans, Fortitude North and Fortitude South, which convinced the Germans that there were further invasions planned for both Norway and the Pas de Calais area of France. There also were a series of tactical deceptions accompanying Operation Neptune, the D-day invasion. These combined innovative use of Radio Counter Measures with some practical measures on the ground. These both presented a variety of false threats to Germans and concealed the real threats.

On the night of 5th/6th the sense of confusion was enhanced by the actual drops of the parachute troops. The drops of both the British 6th Airborne and the US 101st and 82nd Divisions were unintentionally widely dispersed, mainly as a result of the weather. Even when they knew there were real parachutists dropping, the Germans had difficulty making sense of what their real objective was.

When the Allied invasion fleet crossed to Normandy on the night of June 5/6, 1944, it did not meet a single attack by the Luftwaffe or by enemy E- or U-boats. When our parachute troops were dropped a few hours before the assault they landed with negligible casualties, though we had expected a 25 per cent loss. After our initial landings the enemy held back his main reserves for 18 or 48 hours, and enabled us to secure a firm foothold.

These were the chief results of the greatest hoax in military history – a hoax carried out almost entirely by 105 aircraft of the Royal Air Force, by 34 small ships of the Royal Navy, and by R.C.M. (Radio Counter Measures). In the planning of Operation “Overlord” (the code word for the Normandy invasion) it was considered essential that the enemy should be made to believe that the assault would come not on the Normandy beaches but farther north in the Pas de Calais between Cap d’Antifer and Boulogne.

This was the task of R.C.M. The responsibility for carrying it out rested with Bomber Command. But long before the operational planning could be commenced, much preliminary technical work had been carried out by the Telecommunications Research Establishment. For two months before D-Day, and for the month following our landings, Bomber Command played a leading part in the hammering of German coast defences and the “softening-up” process round the French coast. The German night fighter force, based in north-west France, invariably reacted strongly to these attacks by our bombers.

Well-Rehearsed Deception

The great chain of enemy radar stations round the French coast were always equally alert. In the conviction that our technical devices were so highly developed that we could confuse the enemy into mistaking a carefully-planned feint for the real thing, R.C.M. was ready with a complicated and well-rehearsed scheme of deception.

The scheme was in five parts, each with a separate aim but linked in one general plan. The five parts went under the code names Taxable, Glimmer, Mandrel, A.B.C. Patrol, and Titanic. Their aims were (1) to simulate diversionary attacks by air and sea away from the real assault area; (2) to provide cover for the genuine airborne landings; (3) to throw the German radar system into such a state of confusion that enemy reaction to our intentions would be delayed and greatly minimized. On the night of June 5/6 the five parts of the R.C.M. plan went simultaneously into operation, as follows:

In “Taxable”, eighteen small ships of the Royal Navy steamed towards Cap d’Antifer at a speed of seven knots to suggest a landing on that part of the French coast. As enemy radar could quickly sum up the size of this force and dismiss it as not being a serious threat, one of the R.A.F.’s most experienced squadrons, No. 617 – led by Group Capt. G. L. Cheshire, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. – flew in support. Every minute of the 3½ hours op the operation, the aircraft of this squadron dropped twelve bundles of “Window” – the thin metallized strips which produce false echoes on the enemy radar screens and so confuse their plotting.

Flying in box formation over an area 12 miles wide and eight miles deep, the aircraft had to fly in a continuous orbit gradually nearing the French coast, to give the impression of a large convoy heading slowly towards it. The effect was heightened by the Navy ships towing balloons which would reproduce a “big ship” type of echo on the enemy radar screens, and also by our aircraft jamming the German radar to prevent recognition of the “Window” deception.

Exactly the same deception was practised in a direction heading for Boulogne. In this case (“Glimmer”) 16 ships were covered and “magnified” by 218 Squadron. In two areas in the Channel – due south of Littlehampton and due south of Portland Bill – twenty aircraft of 199 Squadron (“Mandrel”) maintained a jamming barrage which covered the enemy’s coastal reader frequencies, reduced his warning system, and screened our own aircraft.

They flew at 18,000 feet at a constant distance of 50 miles from the enemy coast and with positional error of never more than five miles from ten fixed points in the Channel, and jammed the Hun radar for hours on end. In this task they were joined by four Fortresses of No. 803 Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

In the area between Taxable and Glimmer, 29 Lancasters flew for 4½ hours in “A.B.C. Patrol” to lure the enemy night fighters away from the actual landing areas. They, too, added to the confusion on the German radar by providing between them 82 jamming transmitters. A secondary reason for this patrol was the hope (speedily fulfilled) that the Germans would mistake it as top cover for the “invasion” simulated by Glimmer.

While all this was going on, dummy airborne invasions (“Titanic”) were carried out at two points – one slightly east of Fécamp, the other halfway down the Cherbourg Peninsula. Dummy parachute troops were dropped at both points; in addition, enough of the invaluable strips of “Window” were dropped to give the harassed enemy radar operators the impression that this airborne invasion was twenty times larger than it was.

The actual invasion forces sailed on their appointed course without any interference by air or sea. Through R.C.M., the enemy appreciation of the main direction of our attack was completely wrong. In R.C.M. operations on the night before D-Day only three of the 105 aircraft taking part were lost.

This unattributed account first appeared in the “Now It Can Be Told” column of ‘The War Illustrated’ magazine on March 15, 1946.

What this account does not acknowledge is the contribution of the three man SAS teams who accompanied the dummy parachutists. They were very vulnerable as they dropped in isolated locations in the midst of the Germans and then tried to attract their attention – it was a highly dangerous operation that sustained significant casualties. They played 30 minute recordings of men shouting and distant gunfire in a variety of locations to augment the confusion created by the dummy parachutists. The secrecy behind the operation has meant that their sacrifice is not often remembered.

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

A Lancaster bomber dropping 'Window', the tin foil strips that appeared as a mass of aircraft on German radar.
A Lancaster bomber dropping ‘Window’, the tin foil strips that appeared as a mass of aircraft on German radar.

2200: BBC ‘the dice are on the table’

Resistance member setting an explosive charge on a railway line.
Resistance member setting an explosive charge on a railway line.

Andre Heintz was a member of the French Resistance:

In early May 1944, my leader’s wife came to the school where I was teaching. She made me learn six sentences by heart, and also gave me their meanings. The messages would be broadcast just before the invasion, giving us a sign to start our acts of sabotage.

It seemed an awfully long time between the beginning of May and 1 June, when the first message was finally broadcast, signalling that the invasion would happen within the next week. That Sunday, 4 June, I went to a party at a friend’s house. As I stood there with people dancing all around me, I had this strange feeling that I was like a little god, because I could see into the future. I wanted to warn all my friends to go into hiding, but of course I couldn’t say anything, not even to my parents, because I was sworn to secrecy. I stood there wondering how many of my friends would survive.

The next day, Monday 5 June, we knew that something would happen soon, because the train from Paris didn’t reach Caen – the lines had been sabotaged. That evening I heard two messages – ‘the dice are on the table’, meaning we should sabotage railway lines; and ‘it’s hot in Suez’, meaning we should attack telephone lines.

Read the whole of his story on BBC People’s War

Get a full illustrated history of D-Day and the Normandy campaign, explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.