Monday, June 8, 2015

Sailors in Berlin

The plan
It started all with an phone-call. In the KTB of the OKM, with the date of 24th April of 1945 at 24:00 hrs, it is recorded as follows:
Kpt z.S. ASSMANN informed the OKM via phone about a Führerbefehl. HITLER had given the order to VAdm VOß to transport some battalions of the Kriegsmarine, fully equipped with all kind of infantry weapons, to Berlin. He wished the sailors to join the defense of Berlin.

The plan was for two battalions of sailors from 1. SStR to be air-lifted into Berlin already the next night(25th/26th of April). The units thus had to march immediately to distant air-fields.

- The so-called alarm battalion from Stralsund had to march to the seaplane base at Pütnitz near of Ribnitz, from where 175 men were to be flown with the 3./I./TG 1, which was equipped with a floatplane version of the Ju 52, and to Tutow, from where another 288 men were to be flown with Ju 352‘s of the Squadron „Mauß".

- Another alarm battalion from Rostock, 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 the island of Fehmarn, 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 co-operate. He mobilized the 1.SStR in Stralsund and the 1.FuMLAbt on Fehmarn. These 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.

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 battalion, CO was KKpt Wolfgang DITTMERS, stationed on Dänholm
- 2.SStA (2. Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 2nd naval instruction battalion, CO was KKpt Franz MAYERHOEFFE, stationed in Flensburg-Mürwick
- 3.SStA (3. Schiffstamm-Abteilung), the 3rd naval instruction battalion, 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 unarmed, except some carbines for the ranks, and very few submachine-guns for some officers. More about this battalion later.
- 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 had drafted these men to prevent them from being mowed down at the front, a process commonly known as „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 rear (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, ammunition 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-battalion was the recently decorated Kptlt Franz KUHLMANN. The officer corps of this battalion was a mix of officers of the entire 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 to attacks of the Russian „Nähmaschinen" ('Sewing machines' – Landser slang for 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; it was regarded as a real nuisance, 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 to 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 t of Panzerfäuste and Panzerschrecks. 40 soldiers and 4 t of ammunition 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 loaden 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 succesfull 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 fights in Berlin.
A further Ju 352 (G6 + .X) couldn‘t land in Gatow, due to heavy machine gun fire from the ground. 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 lead 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 to 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 to Olt z.S. Clemens ZUBORG, an Olt of the reserve and then adjutant in the staff of the alarm-battalion, mentioned the landing of 2 Ju 352‘s and the arrival of about 80, maybe 100 sailors, in the Reichskanzlei, which they had to defend.Kptl Franz KUHLMANN wrote in his memoirs 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.

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 near 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 the 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, the 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, that 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 succeeded in his third try. On board were some 40 sailors. They were used to defend the airport just a few minutes after landing. One officer, Lt z.S. Horst THIELE, was last seen in a machine-gun position.

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 to leave Gatow, as all other planes (maybe II./TG 4) didn‘t wait for wounded soldiers.

The MarSchB 903
As earlier mentioned, 3. SStA of the 1. SStR had already been mobilized by late April, and was known as MarSchB 903. CO was FKpt Richard STEFFEN. It was organized into 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 from 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 battalion marched to Wustershausen, as Döberitz had just been 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 battalion 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 coming from Berlin themselves – got properly armed with the help of the military police. With them, a platoon of recruits of the 3.MarInfDiv, were transported in 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 under 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 platoon, OFhr z.S. Walter NORTHOFF wrote in his memoirs: "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. BOTTLEMBERG. He was a very impressive man, commanding a Regimental group within the Divisional group "von HAKE". He issued our coy the order to hold a bridgehead on the eastside of the Havel, as a corps and several thousands of refugees were retreating in our rear. 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 battalion got more weapons and closed the road leading from Waren to Güstrow for one day. After this day this battalion vanished in the general retreat.

Other sailors in the battle
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.

Also possible could be, that the navy-soldiers of the Marine-Verbindungs-Kommando (~navy liaison command) beim Führer (VAdm Voß) were part Kriegsmarine battle-group in Berlin.

By Michael Lenz

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