Monday, June 8, 2015

Kriegsmarine Air Units

Kustenflieger: The Operational History of the German Naval Air Service 1935-1944 Hardcover – 1 May 2013
by Adam Thompson

From its very inception, the little-known Küstenfliegergruppen, the German coastal air service, was hindered by restrictions imposed at the Treaty of Versailles and the rising dominance of Hermann Goring's Luftwaffe. Its size, capability and mandate were suppressed, and in 1944, the last Küstenfliegerstaffeln was disbanded in favour of the Luftwaffe s own naval air units. From early designs and development in the interwar period, including its involvement in the Spanish Civil War, to the heroic deeds of various Sonderkommandos during the Second World War, Küstenflieger: The Operational History of the German Coastal Air Service 1935-1944 charts the fascinating history of this obscure but dynamic German fighting unit. Based on original material from German archives and illustrated with 120 photographs, many previously unpublished, this is the first major work on the subject and essential reading for historians, modellers, and naval aviation and Second World War enthusiasts.

The defeat did not hinder the German leadership from drawing valuable conclusions from its experiences. While most of the lessons learned refer to the support of operations over land, the involvement of air assets in the air war over the sea will be the focus of this paper.

After the end of the war, the German navy had quickly recognized that the aircraft is also a valuable means of warfare at sea. In the later stage of WW I, the naval aviation had flown attacks over sea and proved the effectiveness of such actions against naval assets. It was recognized, that the aircraft seriously increased the effectiveness of the old means of conducting war over land and sea. It was also noted that this required a high degree of coordination and that, from a naval point of view, meant aircraft involved in operations over the sea should belong to the navy. Grand Admiral Raeder, at that time the CINC of the navy, advocated the creation of an aerial structure, which belonged entirely to the navy and was able to cover the whole spectrum of naval warfare.[1] The German naval war staff emphasized that a single command would be most efficient in sea warfare and that the navy should have its own air arm which was trained and experienced in naval warfare. They recognized the ability to scout and quickly respond to changes in the naval tactical situation by the use of airplanes. Therefore, they advocated the build up of a strong naval arm which capable to cover the required tasks.

The OKL did not agree with this point of view and demanded that everything that flies, including over sea and against sea targets should be under control of the Luftwaffe. The diverging point of views led to a compromise solution and by 1935, it seemed as if the navy would have an independent Naval Air Force. However, by 1939, the CINC of the Luftwaffe was Reichsmarschall Göring and his intentions were to revise completely the agreement. He managed this, and eventually the only roles left for the Naval Air Force were naval reconnaissance and operation against fleets in contact with the navy. One of the consequences of this significant change was that airplanes would in the future be tailored to the Luftwaffe needs, which were more focused in cooperating with the army. “The planes, special equipment and weapons, except mines, were designed and developed by the German air force construction departments according to naval specifications…”

By the outbreak of the war in 1939, all that was left to the navy as a Naval Air Force were a total of 14 Staffeln coastal reconnaissance planes and 1 ship borne Staffel. The Luftwaffe had taken over operational command of almost all flying units and the only assets really under the influence of the navy were the Küstenfliegerstaffeln.

The few forces that were assigned to the navy at the outbreak of the war were divided into two commands, these being Führer der Luft West (FdL West) naval air command west, and Führer der Luft Ost (FdL Ost) naval air command east. A total of 15 Staffeln were left to the tactical command of the navy. The General der Luft was the next higher commander of Führer der Luft West and Ost.

By the end of November 1939, the distribution of units was as follows:
Führer der Luft West
Führer der Luft Ost
1.-3./KFG 106
He 115; D0 18; He 59
1.-2./KFG 306
He 60; Do 18
1.-3./KFG 406
He 60; Do 18; He 59
2./KFG 606
Do 18

1.-3./KFG 506
He 60; Do 18; He 59

1.+3./KFG 706
He 60; He 59

4.-6./TG 186
Ju 87; Me 109
1./BFG 196
Ar 196
5./BFG 196
He 60

The reconnaissance units were manned by officers who came mostly from the navy and therefore had the required naval background to conduct operations over the sea.

Tasks put on the Naval Air Force were determined by the OKM. From the beginning, the navy had seen their air assets as an augmentation to their fleet and assigned the task of aerial reconnaissance and patrol.[2] It considered this task the most important, and initially, all the available equipment of the navy was acquired for the sole purpose of fulfilling this task. During the progress of the war, due to rising difficulties and ongoing negotiations, the navy also expected their air forces to engage in aerial mine laying and combat when fleets clashed. As the significance and possibilities of air power over the sea became more and more apparent, tasks were added to include anti-shipping, anti-submarine warfare and also support of maritime operations.

Germany’s Luftwaffe and the Naval Air Force were clearly structured and embedded in a functioning chain of command. The somewhat unfortunate decision of having Feldmarschall Hermann Göring, who had close ties to the Nazi party, as the CINC of the Luftwaffe facing the experienced CINC of the Navy, Admiral Raeder, led to compromise solutions already during the build up phase of both services.

The navy had very early recognized, that for the effective employment of airplanes over water, they needed to control their own air assets. Backing down on the previous agreement reached between Göring and Raeder left the navy with only a small air force and little influence on the conduct of the air war at sea.

Operations of the naval air arm
In 1939, the naval air force consisted of a small number of planes and officers, whose background was mostly from the navy. The variety of aircraft in service with the navy was limited to five different types. Göring and Raeder had agreed to modernization and expansion of the fleet. However, what was available at the outbreak of the war was generally not “state of the Art” equipment.

Equipment and tasks
            The total number of available aircraft was 228. For these assets, the navy had foreseen several tasks, which they should be executing. The He 59 (Heinkel 59) was supposed to be engaged in mine laying and torpedo operations against enemy shipping, a role that demanded technological equipment on a high standard and a fairly big payload capability to deliver mines, that the He 59 did not possess. The He 59 was a floatplane and not very manoeuvrable, which made it unsuitable for any other task but aerial reconnaissance. Even though the task of mine laying operations had been transferred to the Luftwaffe, the navy kept this limited capability with its unsuitable He 59.

            The He 60 and Do 18 (Dornier 18) were both used for reconnaissance purpose. The latter was engaged in long-range reconnaissance over sea, whereas the He 60 was used merely for short range or ship borne reconnaissance. Using the naval air force for scouting was the task with the highest priority in the eyes of the navy. Therefore, its crews had been trained to exercise this role and had little training in other areas of air warfare.

            In expectation of the delivery of the aircraft carrier “Graf Zeppelin”, the navy had acquired a certain number of Ju 87 “Stuka” (Junkers 87 dive bombers) and Me 109 (Messerschmitt 109) fighter aircraft to conduct trials and prepare for their employment over the sea. Up to the carrier delivery, however, all that the naval air force could provide was reconnaissance over water. The required aircraft or the equipment to conduct anti-shipping operations was not available to the navy. The Ju 87 was a short to medium range bomber and therefore only suitable for operations close to the coastal areas. 

Operations conducted by the Naval Air Force were hampered by the lack of suitable equipment. The available assets were not on the desired high technological standard. Whereas the Luftwaffe was in control and developing planes, which suited its needs, the navy had to conduct its operations with floatplanes that were only useful for reconnaissance purposes and did not perform very well in aerial combat. The lack of an airplane which could have been used to perform long-range reconnaissance as well as long-range bombing, torpedo employment and aerial mine laying, had decisive impact on the operational capability of the naval air force.

            The reconnaissance work of the naval air force had proved to be of high value to the navy. On several occasions, naval reconnaissance had provided the inferior German navy with positions and warnings about enemy shipping. It had also cooperated in several occasions with the Luftwaffe and ensured that Luftwaffe bombers successfully acquired their targets.

            The naval air force was predominantly a floatplane service and the assets available had proven to be sufficient for the task the navy had assigned for them. During the first few months of the war, sea-air reconnaissance was initially the only area where cooperation between navy and Luftwaffe was required due to the limited range and area coverage of the planes. Technical disadvantages however, especially during the winter when the sea harbours froze over and made sea plane operations impossible, forced the navy to revert to the use of land planes which were in possession of the Luftwaffe and therefore completely under Luftwaffe control. Every request for support was fully dependent on the goodwill of the Luftwaffe leadership. Most of the reconnaissance results passed on to the navy were bi-products from the Luftwaffe’s own reconnaissance work for its bombing attacks. Again, training of aircrews proved to be a hampering factor. Reports provided by Luftwaffe aircrews “did not possess the degree of accuracy as regards position, identification and types, sighting and contact reports…” since the Luftwaffe crews were not familiar with the naval environment.   The navy did not achieve tactical control over Luftwaffe reconnaissance assets.  Hitler himself became involved in the struggle between the navy and the Luftwaffe in February 1941 and decided that the Luftwaffe had the sole responsibility for reconnaissance for its own bomber operations, as well as for naval reconnaissance operations. Limited assets forced the division of the reconnaissance forces. This division forced priorization of naval and Luftwaffe reconnaissance tasks and eventually led to the air force command putting the naval requests behind their own, as it better understood the importance of its own requirements than the naval demands.  The Luftwaffe leadership did not understand the difference between achieving direct success in attacking enemy shipping and the indirect pressure exercised on the enemy by simply possessing the capability to inflict damage on a fleet.  

In the case of both forces, the Luftwaffe and naval air force, operating in the same area, had to operate side by side. The Luftwaffe was to assign units to the sea areas, even if the areas contained sea targets which belonged to the navy, and accept the risks that are involved when conducting multi-service operations in one area. In the case that navy sea operations should demand the participation of the Luftwaffe, command would remain in Luftwaffe hands. Operations of the naval air force were in most cases restricted to reconnaissance with the exception of mine-laying. Even though this was generally to be a Luftwaffe responsibility, an agreement was in place that limited the Luftwaffe’s freedom to coordinate measures with the navy.

The Luftwaffe had slowly taken over control of the war in the air and the navy had to adjust its aerial operations entirely to the Luftwaffe. Only by the exception was the Luftwaffe was involved in missions that the naval air force could plan on its own.

Control and training of flying units involved in maritime operations were also under the responsibility of the Luftwaffe, except for the units which were specifically allocated to the navy. These units were the Küstenfliegerstaffeln under the operational command of the General der Luft, which again, tied them to the Luftwaffe. The air force had established itself as the service responsible for the conduct of aerial warfare over sea.

When naval air operations were almost completely stopped during the icing over of the seaplane harbours, the Luftwaffe had the chance to prove its versatility and effectiveness and took over missions that were usually flown by the Naval Air Force. Having the units subordinate to the General der Luft did not strengthen the navy’s position and allowed the Luftwaffe to gain the upper hand, thus creating the impression that operations of the naval air force kept diminishing in importance towards the overall war effort. The Luftwaffe had proven to be more operationally effective and was therefore in the stronger position.

[1] Eberhard Weichold, A Survey from the Naval point of View of the Organization of the German Air Force for Operations over Sea, 1939-1945. Essays by German Officers and Officials on World War II, (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Inc.), 1-3.

[2] James S. Corum, The Luftwaffe, Creating the Operational Air War 1918-1940. (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 265.

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