Monday, April 20, 2015

Kriegsmarine in the Battle of Berlin

The last days of the German Third Reich were full of odd things.
Young boys and old men were given arms to defend their home, biplanes were armed with Panzerfäuste, to destroy enemy tanks behind Soviet lines.
Another interesting story, which is unknown to many, is that soldiers/sailors of the Kriegsmarine took part in the final Battle of Berlin in April/May of 1945.

Here is that story:
It started all with a phone-call. In the KTB of the OKM, with the date of 24th April of 1945 at 24:00 hrs, it is recorded as:
Kpt z.S. ASSMANN informed the OKM via phone about a Führerbefehl. HITLER had given the order to VAdm VOß to transport some batallions of the Kriegsmarine, fully equipped with all kind of infantry weapons, to Berlin. He wished the sailors to join the defence of Berlin. As the air-lift would start the next night(25th/26th of April), the units had to march immediately to the distant air-fields.

Firstly the so-called alarm batallion from Stralsund had to march to seaplane base at Pütnitz near of Ribnitz, for the air transport of 175 men with the 3./I./TG 1, which was equipped with a float plane version of Ju 52‘s, (sailors were part of the 1.SStR) and to Tutow, for the air transport of 288 men with Ju 352‘s of the Squadron „Mauß“ (sailors were part of the 1.SStR).
One further alarm batallion from Rostok, with 476 men, had to march to the local air-field (this navy unit is unknown).
The following night (26th/27th of April), it was planned to transport a regiment from Fehrman, with some 1000 men, to Berlin from the airport of Rerik (sailors were part of the 1.FuMLAbt).

It seems, as GrAdm DÖNITZ wished to cooperate. He mobilized the 1.SStR in Stralsund and the 1.FuMLAbt on Fehrmarn. This were also the „bravest“ of his men, he would send to Berlin for the personal protection of the „beloved“ Führer. The highest elite of a supreme-commander, was the impression of HITLER in his bunker under the Reichskanzlei.

Sailors of the 1.SStR in Berlin
1.SStR (1. Schiffstamm-Regiment), which was the 1st naval instruction regiment, CO was Kpt z.S. Herbert ZOLLENKOPF, consisted of:
1.SStA (1. Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 1st naval instruction batallion, CO was KKpt Wolfgang DITTMERS, stationed on Dänholm
2.SStA (2. Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 2nd naval instruction batallion, CO was KKpt Franz MAYERHOEFFE, stationed in Flensburg-Mürwick
3.SStA (3. Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 3rd naval instruction batallion, CO was FKpt Richard STEFFEN, stationed on the Schwedenschanze.
At this time, this batallion was already mobilized as MarSchB 903(903rd naval infantry batallion). It was almost completely unamrmed, except some carbines for the ranks, and very few submachine-guns for some officers. We will have a look at this batallion later on.
4.SStA (4th Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 4th naval instruction batallion, CO was KKpt Herbert BANZHAF, stationed from February of 1945 in Flensburg-Mürwick.
SSS „Gorch Fock“, CO was Kptl Wilhelm KAHLE.
The 1.SStR was augmented in manpower, as it wasn‘t only the Crew I/45 drafted, but also the Crew IV/45 was called to equip. It seems the Kriegsmarine started this conscription, as it wanted to foil their sailors sent to the slaughter, by the campaign „Heldenklau“ [Heldenklau (= Operation Heldenklau) was catchy black humor Landser slang to describe the efforts by the High Command to replace the enormous and steadily increasing losses suffered by the Heer, especially on the Eastern front, during the last year of the war by combing the personnel of the Etappe (also derisively called Etappenhengste, or Home Front Studs, by the frontline soldiers) for men capable of carrying and firing a rifle or Panzerfaust. Literally translated, the word means something like 'grabbing the heroes' (Held = hero, klauen = slang word for stehlen, meaning to steal)].
Around noon on 25th April of 1945, there was the issuing of orders for the Operation „Berlin“ or „Reichskanzlei“. There they stood, not veterans with fighting experience of some years, BUT young, untrained soldiers of the 1927 - 1929 age group.
After the distribution of food, munitions and weapons (mostly captured guns), hand-grenades, Panzerfäuste and some Panzerschrecks, they had to wait for transport. Many of them were from the special navy training course for HF-technology „Tegetthoff“.
CO of this alarm-batallion was the recently decorated Kptlt Franz KUHLMANN.
Also all other officers of this batallion were a mixture of the complete 1.SStR.
On the evening some busses and lorries transported part of them to Pütnitz. It remains unknown if they were transported to Berlin by the floatplane versions of the Ju-52 aircraft.
The rest of the unit arrived at the Tutow air-field at 22:00 hrs. Due the attacks of the Russian „Nähmaschinen“ ['Sewing machines' is also Landser slang to describe the slow-flying Soviet observation plane (max. speed 93 MPH), the Polikarpov Po-2 bi-plane, whose motor sounded like a sewing machine from the distance (you must have heard and seen it on the Narva front, Rudi); it was regarded as a real nuisance, aka pain in the butt, because it would sometimes also drop small fragmentation bombs that caused death or injury to the Landsers on the ground. To get even, they would fire their rifles at them, often bringing one down in the process] it looked like the transport flights would have to be postponed. Once again there was a phone call from Berlin, GFM KEITEL pointed out the importance of this airlift. So, Mjr MAUß, CO of the „Großraumtransportstaffel“ (~large capacity transport squadron) , made all clearance for the commencement of the airlift. With great difficulty 5 or 6 Ju 352‘s were cleared to take-off. There had been a of loss of 5 planes (4 Ju 352‘s and 1 Ar 232) the night before(24th/25th of April) on a supply operation for the encircled 9th Army.
Between 01:35 hrs and 02:35 hrs on 26th of April all left Tutow. The aim was to land at the Berlin airport Gatow, as the Tempelhof airport wasn‘t available as of 23rd of April, due heavy Russian attacks, and it fell to them the following night.
It seems, each Ju 352 carried 40 soldiers, which is their maximum troop capacity. At least one Ju 352 had in addition 4 to of Panzerfäuste and Panzerschrecks. 40 soldiers and 4 to munitions means, that the aircraft was close to the maximum load of this type of plane
OFw Herbert SCHULZ (G6 + .X) was the first to take-off from Tutow, as he received the landing permission in Gatow. His plane came under heavy attack from all types of weapons. With only one engine it was not possible to fly a full laden Ju 352. OFw SCHULZ tried to make an emergency landing, but crash-landed. Somehow, the entire crew managed to escape the explosion of 4 of the Panzerfäuste. On 29th of April they returned to their squadron, which was stationed in Großenbrode at this time. Nothing is known about the fate of the 40 soldiers from this Ju 352.
StFw Kurt BECKER (G6 + RX) wasn‘t successful in landing at the Gatow airport, because of heavy anti-aircraft fire, he decided to return to Tutow, where he landed a 03:00 hrs. These soldiers, including the acting CO of the 1st coy, Kptlt BRANDT, were relieved of the fighting in Berlin.
A further Ju 352 (G6 + .X) couldn‘t land in Gatow, due to heavy machine gun fire from the gound. The plane was hit in the landing gear and in the cockpit, however no crew or troops were wounded. To avoid an emergency landing on the small airport of Tutow -which could have led to a stoppage of all air-lifts in Tutow- he made an emergency landing near Barth. The plane was destroyed, but again no one was injured.
OFw Paul KÖHLER (G6 + EX) left Tutow at 02:35 hrs, but needed almost two hours to land in Berlin-Gatow at 04:25 hrs. Maybe he had tried to land in Berlin-Staaken, according to an officer of the navy. After 20 minutes on ground he took off for Tutow, where he landed a 05:40.
In the literature about the battle of Berlin, whenever some reference is written about the German Kriegsmarine-sailors in Berlin, the numbers mentioned are far too high. According a NCO, his plane was the last one landing in Gatow. In a wood near the airport his group of sailors joined up with another 40 sailors.
According Olt z.S. Clemens ZUBORG, an Olt of the reserve and then adjutant in the staff of the alarm-batallion, mentioned the landing of 2 Ju 352‘s and the arrival of about 70, maybe 80 sailors, in the Reichskanzlei, which they had to defend.
Kptl Franz KUHLMANN wrote in his memoires about his meeting with Adolf HITLER: „At this date, I didn‘t know in which bad health HITLER was. I never thought that the signs of breaking up and the feelings of doom would led to such a chaos to the hierarchy of orders.“
All officers of the unit survived the Battle of Berlin, except one, Lt z.S. BÖING who was killed in the garden of the Reichskanzlei by a mortar grenade.
There are many hints, of the landing of sailors (and other soldiers) on the so called „Ost-West-Achse“. However no exact confirming source is available.

Sailors of the 1.FuMLAbt in Berlin
On 25th April 1945 there was a issuing of an order, in which the CO of the 1.FuMLAbt, FKpt BORMANN(a brother of the Reichsleiter) tried to enlist volunteers for Berlin. He stressed that they had the duty of the close, personal protection of the Führer.
During the 26th April 1945 the first soldiers of the FuMLAbt were transported by MFP(German LTC‘s) from Puttgarden/Isle of Fehmarn to the near of the airport Rerik. On arriving at Rerik, they found that there were no aircraft available. They were ordered to sleep in a nearby hangar/shed. However at 22:00 hrs new orders were given. New groups of sailors were created at random. One witness said, one reduced coy marched to the airport. At the airport no „normal“ transport planes were waiting for them, however there were aircraft of the F.d.F. (personal squadron of the Führer).
At least 3 planes were waiting:
A Fw-200 „Condor“ (CE + IC), the pilot was Hptm Joachim HÜBNER,
a Ju-290 (9V + BK), the pilot was Lt WAGNER,
a Ju-352 (KT + VJ), piloted by Olt SCHULTZE
Some sources say there could have been one other planes involved in this operation:
A second Fw-200 „CONDOR“, the pilot was Hptm Kurt HERZOG or Fw BAUER,
HÜBNER‘s Fw-200 was the first to be loaded and to be clear to take-off.
In his aircraft were 17 sailors. The 14 leather-chairs inside the aircraft were covered for protection by strips of canvas. The last 3 sailors sat on boxes of Panzerfäuste. The highest rank among the sailors was a NCO, OFm(~OBtsM) Julius LANGHALS.
The „Condor“ was in a height of 120 meters, as it was hit by anti-aircraft fire. One of the right engines was burning, the pilot tried to make an emergency landing, but crashed into a house in Wilhelmshorst. 12 of 17 survived, two, because Russians transported them into a hospital, another two were hidden in Wilhelmshorst by civilians, and eight hid themselves in a nearby wood.
Coming near to Berlin, this surviving soldiers saw red flares, so another plane was hit by heavy anti-air fire and had to fly away for an emergency landing.
A sailor of this unknown plane, said -after the war- they landed in Rerik again after 1 hour, because two engines stopped working, after these were hit by anti-aircraft fire.
But Lt WAGNER wrote in his after-flight report, he had to abort his flight with his Ju-290 after 15 minutes due a malfunction of engine No. 3. He landed back again in Rerik at 23:30 hrs, with 50 sailors on board.
Also two sailors on board of WAGNER‘s Ju-290 mentioned, they were never hit by anti-aircraft fire, and returned with three engines to Rerik after a short time.
So another plane with four engines (maybe the Fw-200 of Hptm HERZOG/Fw BAUER) was involved in this operation.
Olt SCHULTZE started with his Ju-352 at 23:40 hrs from Rerik. The airport Berlin-Gatow was under heavy Russian artillery fire, as he tried to land.
At 01:00 hrs, after two attempts to land in vain, he succed in his third one. On board were 25 - 40 sailors. They were used to defend the airport, where they landed just a few minutes ago. One officer, Lt z.S. Horst THIELE, was last seen in a machine-gun possition.
SCHULTZE had to wait for about 36 minutes in Gatow, as he got the order to transport 25 wounded soldiers out of Berlin. His plane was the last, who left Gatow, as all other planes (maybe II./TG 4) didn‘t wait for wounded soldiers.
Sailors of the MarSchB 903:
The MarSchB 903 was the mobilized III.SStA/1.SStR. CO was FKpt Richard STEFFEN.
It was organized in 4 - 5 coys with 500 petty officers, and almost unarmed( except carbines for ranks and NCO‘s and some sub machine-guns for the officers).
On 24th April 1945 in Nauen, just a few kilometers away of the Russian forces, FKpt STEFFEN was ordered by an unknown Kpt z.S.(maybe Kpt z.S. ASSMANN?) to wait for coming trucks, to be transported to Berlin. The trucks didn‘t come, so the batallion marched to Wustershausen, as Döberitz was just occupied by the Red Army. On the next day in Wustershausen, they were stopped by a General and military police. STEFFEN was -this times in very harsh words- ordered back again to Berlin. He refused to lead his almost unarmed batallion to Berlin, as well armed Russian forces were on the route back to Berlin.
So, in Wustershausen 50 or 60 petty officers of the MarSchB 903, which volunteered to fight in Berlin -mostly having been from Berlin- got properly armed with the help of the military police. With them, a platoon of recruits of the 3.MarInfDiv, were transported into the direction of Berlin. CO of this reduced coy with two platoons was an unknown Olt z.S..
On the way to Berlin they came into heavy Russian artillery fire. They dug in, and held their position for 3 days until the 28th April. Then they got the order to retreat to Strodehne. The CO of the recruit‘s platoon, OFhr z.S. Walter NORTHOFF wrote in his memoires:“ The village was full of a small rest of an Wehrmacht‘s unit. This unit had only sub-altern officers (Lt‘s and Olt‘s) and NCO‘s, CO was Obstlt v.d. BOTTELMBERG. He was a very impressive man. He issued our coy the order to hold a bridgehead on the eastside of the Havel, as a corps and several thousand refugees are retreating in our back. He promised we would be rescued by pioneer‘s boats. In the next morning (30th April), we were transported back. After that, our coy became part of the vortex of general dissolving.“
On 27th April the other 450 sailors of this batallion got more weapons and closed the road leading from Waren to Güstrow for one day. After this day this batallion vanished in the general retreat.

Navy Boats in the Berlin area
There were also small boats of the Kriegsmarine on the River/Lake Havel around Berlin. These were captured boats of the former Polish Vistula Flotilla.
At least the former Polish patrol vessel KU-30 is mentioned to have been in action on the River/Lake Havel.

„Unternehmen Reichskanzlei“, by Günther OTT in Jet & Prop 04/95; Verlag Heinz Nickel in Zweibrücken, 1995
„Das bittere Ende der Luftwaffe“, by Ulrich SAFT; Militärbuchverlag Saft in Walsrode, 1992-94
„Schiffsschicksale Ostsee 1945“, by Wolfgang MÜLLER; Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft in Hamburg, 1996
„Gesunken und Verschollen“, by Wolfgang MÜLLER and Reinhard KRAMER; Koehlers Verlagsgesellschft in Hamburg, 1994-96
„Die letzten Kriegstage; Ostseehäfen 1945“, by Heinz SCHÖN; Motorbuchverlag in Stuttgart, 1995
„Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe 1815 - 1945“ Band 8/1, by Erich GRÖNER; Bernard & Graefe Verlag in Bonn, 19..

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