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Fliegerführer Atlantik

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Subject: Martin Harlinghausen, Kampfgeschwader 40, 350th Fighter Group, Battle of the Atlantic
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Fliegerführer Atlantik

Fliegerführer Atlantik
An Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor. The main threat to Atlantic convoys from the air.
Active 1941–1944
Country Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Branch Luftwaffe
Type Luftflotte
Role Anti-Shipping and naval interdiction operations
Size Air Fleet
Engagements First Happy Time
Operation Rheinübung
Operation Berlin
Last battle of the battleship Bismarck
Second Happy Time
Battle honours Second World War
(Battle of the Atlantic)
Martin Harlinghausen

Fliegerführer Atlantik (German: "Flyer Command Atlantic"), was a Second World War Luftwaffe naval command Luftflotte ("Air Fleet"), dedicated to maritime patrol. In February 1941, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe was ordered by Adolf Hitler to form a naval air command to support the German Kriegsmarine’s (Navy) U-Boat operations in the Battle of the Atlantic.[1] Though reluctant, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, agreed to the formation of a specialised naval formation which would remain under the command of the Luftwaffe. It was placed under the control of Luftflotte 3, commanded by Hugo Sperrle.[1] The command had jurisdiction over all Luftwaffe operations in the Atlantic and supported German surface raiders and submarines attacking Western Allied shipping in the Atlantic Ocean, English Channel and Irish Sea. It was disbanded in September 1944.


Naval aviation

In the inter-war period, little effort was made to build a naval air arm. So neglected was this aspect of air warfare, that it was not until 1942, when an effective purpose-built torpedo-bomber group, Kampfgeschwader 26 began operations, that the Luftwaffe possessed an effective anti-shipping capability. Ironically, much of the failure to produce a naval air arm was the fault of the Reichsmarine and its successor, the Kriegsmarine, in the inter-war period. None of the commanders during 1920-1939 paid much attention to the potential of the aircraft in naval warfare. In fact, the most of the effort to plan for a naval air arm came from the Luftwaffe’s Hellmuth Felmy but was propositions found only moderate interest from the naval staff.[2] Part of the navy’s reluctance to fight for a maritime air force was due to the powerful political position of Hermann Göring, who at that time was the second most powerful man in the Third Reich, second only to Hitler. Göring was intent on curbing naval influence in the affairs of German air power.[3]

Early Atlantic operations

The early German military operations were carried out by German submarines in concert with capital ships. In December 1939 the commerce raider German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled after the Battle of the River Plate in the Rio de la Plata estuary, She was successful in sinking a number of Allied ships in the South Atlantic. This marked the last major operation by German capital ships for nearly one year. In the meantime the U-Boats took over the main operations against Allied shipping. Lacking air support – reconnaissance and direct air attack – and having limited endurance due to the enormous distances between German naval bases and the Atlantic shipping lanes, their operations were not as potent was they could have been. At that time British convoy systems were not yet in operation and ships sailed independently making them easy targets for roaming submarines. Faulty German naval torpedoes and limited numbers meant that British shipping losses were much reduced. It is estimated that 300 vessels were saved by the technical failures of German torpedoes in the first year of the war. In the event, it was the Luftwaffe, not the Kriegsmarine were to perfect aerial and naval torpedoes in late 1941. Even considering the limitations of German anti-shipping forces, the sinking of shipping was very high. This situation was to get much worse after July 1940.

Fall of Western Europe

On 10 May 1940, the Wehrmacht successfully invaded and conquered The Netherlands, Belgium and France within 46 days, securing the French capitulation on 25 June 1940. The conquest of Western Europe was not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. The occupation of France positioned the Germans for an air and naval assault on the United Kingdom. The strategic advantage gained by the possession of French air and naval bases on the Atlantic coast put German U-Boats and aircraft some 700 closer to the critical Allied shipping lanes and within range of British ports in the south, east, west and north. This enabled the German submarines to reach much deeper into the Atlantic, all the way to the western seaboard of the United States and Canada – the later being a major source of resources and protection in the shape of the Royal Canadian Navy; the third largest navy in the world by 1945.[4] This advantage enabled the U-Boats to avoid the very dangerous passage to the Atlantic through the North Sea, or worse, the heavily mined English Channel.[5][6]

Battle of Britain and the naval war

Dönitz, as Flag Officer of the U-Boat fleet, was keen to have all available aircraft supporting the attack on British sea communications.

The Luftwaffe lacked the command structure and resources in a number of essential areas. It lacked specialised maritime aircraft designs, a staff interested in naval aviation, and possessed a commander-in-chief who was unwilling to cooperate with both Kriegsmarine top officers Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz, the respective commanders of the Kriegsmarine and U-boat force in June 1940. This ensured that those responsible for the direction of German air power at that time did not immediately recognise the potential damage the Luftwaffe could do to British sea communications, even in its present state. The Luftwaffe was busy replacing its losses from the Western campaign in which it had lost 28 per cent of its aircraft destroyed.[7] It could still command over one thousand medium bombers in July 1940. It did not possess many long-range aircraft or effective torpedoes, nor was it experienced in naval warfare, but the potential threat from aircraft against unarmoured and slow merchant ships, and even warships on occasion, became apparent in the Norwegian Campaign, in April – June 1940 during which large numbers of vessels were sunk by both sides.[8]

The OKL did not view sea communications as the principle target of the air arm. Göring and his chief of staff, Hans Jeschonnek, thought an aerial assault on mainland Britain would destroy its armament factories, the Royal Air Force (RAF), and British morale. The air offensive, they hoped, would be enough to convince the British to sue for peace. Göring and his staff hoped this would avoid a hazardous amphibious landing in Britain, codenamed Operation Sea Lion, from being carried out. Hitler was receptive to this idea, and his Führer Directive No. 17 made sure German efforts went into planning and executing Operation Eagle Attack, which led to a prolonged struggle for air superiority over southern England in the Battle of Britain. In this operation, targeting British shipping came behind destroying the RAF and military industries on land.[9] The strategy demonstrated the extent to which the OKL hoped to win the war purely by the use of air power against land targets.[10]

For the Kriegsmarine, this was the least desirable strategy. Raeder and Dönitz believed the diversion of the Luftwaffe to these tasks was a wasted opportunity and interfered with the demands of the naval staff for support and reconnaissance in the Atlantic.[11] In July and early August 1940 they had convinced the OKL to strike at shipping and ports by mine-laying[12] and it had proven highly effective. The lack of resources meant these operations could not be decisive,[13] but naval staff hoped by striking at the most important centres of British sea communications, the ports of London and Liverpool, and Bristol Channel, in addition to mining, could have decisive results.[14]

By October 1940, the air battles over Britain were dying down. Raeder and Dönitz pressured Hitler to devote more energy to bombing ports as German air strategy shifted to bombing British cities (The Blitz). In the interim period, air attacks on convoys did start once more in November 1940. Dropping mines was the main tactic. Up until that time it had been practice to drop a few mines over a large area, in order to force the British to use large resources to sweep huge portions of ocean. However, to guarantee the entrances to ports were mined effectively to ensure success, as many mines as possible were dropped at once in confined areas. This was successful in the Thames Estuary where the Germans claimed nine steamers sunk and the river blockaded for 14 days.[15] Not until February 1941, when Hitler signed Führer Directive No. 23 emphasising ports as priority targets, was a serious effort made against sea communications. By the end of the air offensive over Britain in May 1941, as the Germans prepared for the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), the Luftwaffe had, on occasion, done serious damage to these targets. Operations against Liverpool were successful. Around 75% of the ports capacity was reduced at one point, and it lost 39,126 long tons (39,754 t) of shipping to air attacks, with another 111,601 long tons (113,392 t) damaged.[16] However, bad weather and the omnipresent Göring consistently resisted attempts by naval forces to gain influence in air power matters throughout the war.[17]



Despite Göring's resistance, and under pressure from the navy, Hitler gave Raeder one Gruppe (Group) from X. Fliegerkorps in Norway, and was a leading authority in anti-shipping attacks with bombs. He was a logical choice to lead Atlantic air operations.[1][19]

Order of battle

Harlinghausen was responsible for organising fleet support, meteorological missions and even coastal protection, although he had barely 100 aircraft operational including Arado Ar 196 float aircraft. His commitment to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, while managing the staff of X Fliegerkorps, he was unable to take the post until 31 March 1941. He agreed with the operational methods of Donitz, who favoured using the four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 "Condors" to shadow convoys and direct U-Boats to their quarry; then a coordinated air-sea attack could defeat the convoy.[20]

Harlinghausen was given meager forced to achieve these ends. KG 40, based at Denmark). Aufklärungsgruppe 122, a reconnaissance unit, was based in several locations; at Amsterdam, Brest and Wilhelmshafen. Stab./KG 40 was known to have just one Fw 200 on strength on 31 March 1941.[21] Owing to Hitler’s order on 6 January 1941, I./KG 40 was initially under the command of Donitz, who at that time was based at Lorient. It had only eight Fw 200s on strength at the end of 1940, and subsequent strength is unknown.[21] II./KG 40 was formed with 1 Staffel on 1 January. The 5th and 6th Staffel worked up on Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 217 E-1s into late June 1941. On 26 July it was declared operational, and transferred to Cognac with 29 Do 217s (12 operational) and one He 111.[22] III./KG 40 was known to have been formed on or about 24 March 1941, and was based at Brest. Strength details are unknown in 1941, but the unit did operate He 111s and the Fw 200.[23] It is estimated by April, 1941, Fliegerführer Atlantik had on strength 21 Fw 200s, 26 He 111s, 24 Heinkel He 115s, and a mixed force of Messerschmitt Bf 110s and Junkers Ju 88s, numbering 12 aircraft. The total number of aircraft by July 1941 had reached 155; 29 Fw 200s, 31 He 111s, 45 Ju 88s, 18 He 115s, 20 Dornier Do 217s, 12 Bf 110s and Ju 88 specialised reconnaissance aircraft.[24]

Equipment and tactics

The Fw 200 was the main weapon in the early rounds of the Atlantic air war. Its combat prowess rested on three vital capabilities: its ability to find targets, to hit targets and then to evade enemy defences. In 1940 the Fw 200s had only rudimentary capability of finding convoys and other suitable merchant targets. On a typical mission, an Fw 200 would fly about 1,500 km from Bordeaux to look for targets, west of Ireland, which would give the aircraft about three hours to conduct its search. Normally, Condors flew quite low (about 500 – 600 metres off the water), which made it easier to spot ships outlined against the horizon and avoided giving Allied shipping much warning. From this low altitude the Condor could search an area approximately the 320 by 120 km (200 by 75 nautical miles), which several crewman searching for ships with binoculars. In decent weather, which was rare in the Atlantic, the observers might spot a convoy 15–20 km (10–12 miles) away, but cloud cover could reduce this by half. In 1941, improved Fw 200s meant longer range, and a four-hour station (up from three) could be maintained, which increased the search area by 25 per cent. In December 1942, the low-UHF band FuG 200 Hohentweil ASV radar extended the search area to four times that of 1940. The radar could detect a ship 80 km (50 mi) away and its beam was 41 km (25 mi).[25]

There were perennial problems for KG 40, and the other ‘Condor units’. Lack of numbers and serviceability meant there was no guarantee that one or two sorties of three to eight hours would be active when a convoy passed through air space in range of the Luftwaffe. Thus the ability of Fliegerführer Atlantik to find convoys remained sporadic until late in the command’s service.[26]

Further limitations were a result of the aircraft itself. A lack of proper bombsight equipment and poor forward visibility meant the aircraft had to attack from low level. This meant an approach at just 45 metres at 290 kph (180 mph) and then release of bombs at 240 metres (790 ft) from the target. This was known as the “Swedish turnip” tactic by crews. This allowed for a high chance of a direct hit or damaging near miss. The Fw 200 carried four SC 250 kg bombs, ensuring a hit potential. Merchant vessels lacked armour or fire-control systems at that time, so a hit or more would have a high chance of sinking a ship. This meant an average of one ship sunk for every attack made. At low level, it was not uncommon for German crews to achieve three out of four hits. However, many bombs failed to explode at low level, owing to improper fusing of the ordnance. Once the Lotfernrohr 7D bombsight was introduced — with a similar degree of accuracy to the top secret American Norden bombsight — more accurate bombing from 3,000 metres (9,840 feet) could take place with an error range of just 91 metres (300 feet). Later Fw 200s were fitted with heavier machine guns and cannon, so that strikes at low level could also damage the superstructure of ships.[25]

Improvements were relatively quick, but the type was a civilian design, converted to military use. Initially Fw 200Bs were built to fly in thin air at high altitude, with no sharp manoeuvring. Kurt Tank – its designer – had made the aircraft’s long range possible by using a light airframe that was two to four tons lighter than its contemporaries. This meant the aircraft did not have fuel tank sealant or armour protection. An under-strength structure contributed to these vulnerabilities, which made the Fw 200 unable to sustain much punishment. The engines were also underpowered, meaning it struggled to stay airborne if one was knocked out. The six unarmoured fuel tanks inside the cabin made it exceptionally prone to bursting into flames. When a Condor attempted to manoeuvre to avoid anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighters, its weak structure could be damaged, causing metal fatigue and cracks, resulting in the loss of the aircraft.[27] In the C variant, major improvements were made to its defensive armament, causing fighters to avoid lengthy duels. However, they operated at low level mostly, to avoid attacks from below. This limited their operational range and options. They could ‘jink’ to throw an enemy aircraft off its aim, but they could not outrun or outturn an opponent. Poor evasion qualities meant the type was not the ideal operational weapon.[28]

High tide: early Atlantic operations

"First Happy Time"

The period, August 1940 to May 1941, was known by the Germans as the First Happy Time, because of the considerable amount of Allied ships sunk for light losses. Even before the formation of Fliegerführer Atlantik, the success of air attack on convoys during this time was almost immediate. Under the command of Donitz, in August 1940 – February 1941, Fw 200s sank 52 ships for only four losses.[29] By Christmas 1940, KG 40 had sunk 19 ships of 100,000 tons and damaged 37 of 180,000 tons. In January, 17 ships were sunk (65,000 tons) and five damaged.[30] February was worse for the British, losing 21 ships to Fw 200s, totalling 84,301 tons.[31]

In January 1941 HX 90, OB 274, HG 50 and SL 61 were successfully attacked. The later raid, on 19 January, sank seven ships from HG 50 and SL 61.[30] On 8 February, U-37 discovered convoy HG.53. The U-Boat reported its presence to Fliegerführer Atlantik. I./KG 40 was dispatched and sank five ships (9,201 grt), although 29,000 grt was claimed. The role was reversed a few days later when Convoy OB.288 was discovered by Fw 200s, and U-Boats sank a number of ships. However, inadequate navigation training, exacerbated by out-of-date meteorological data, created errors in location of reports of up to 450 kilometres (280 mi), while 19 per cent of all reports gave errors in course of up to 90 degrees.[20]

It was not always easy, communicating and coordinating with air and sea forces. U-Boats were unable to make accurate navigation using sun or star sightings and even when convoys were located they had trouble homing in bombers because their short-range transmitters were too weak to reach the aircraft. However, they were strong enough to alter British defences. Harlinghausen was irritated when his aircraft communicated accurate locations and the U-Boats failed to respond. Only when he complained to the BdU did he learn from Donitz that the navy failed to inform the Luftwaffe that there were no U-Boats in the area to respond. By the end of March, 1941, attempts at close cooperation were abandoned in favour of more flexible approached. Donitz noted in his war diary that enemy signals about German air attacks would allow his intelligence (B-Dienst) to locate the convoy – he supposed that this would offer a better chance of interception.[20]

During the first quarter of 1941, the Condors sank 171,000 grt, the vast majority being lone ships. In one case, a sustained attack upon Convoy OB.290 on 26 February 1941 accounted for seven to nine vessels (49,865 grt), all sunk by KG 40 Fw 200s. However, with never more than eight aircraft operational, this was an exception. Soon, British CAM ship (catapult aircraft merchantmen) appeared, and the time of light Condor losses ended.[20][31]

Donitz envisaged a cooperation of air and sea forces in mass attacks against convoys. The wolfpack tactics were proving successful, and he sought to supplement them with the Luftwaffe. The Condors were to break up the convoys, and scatter them so the Wolf packs could move in and dispatch the ships while they were unprotected. In March, the Luftwaffe won back control of KG 40 had placed under Harlinghausen’s control, and success dried up. KG 40 was forced to suspend operations for two weeks (probably due to insufficient support).[32]

British retaliation

The British recognised the threat posed by long-range German naval aircraft and set operations in motion to destroy the Condors at base. A Commando mission was considered but dismissed for operational difficulties and the likelihood of failure and heavy casualties. Instead, RAF Bomber Command was asked to destroy the bases on the Atlantic coast. These operations had been carried out before Fliegerführer Atlantik had been formed. An RAF raid on 22/23 November 1940 destroyed four hangars and two Fw 200s. Follow up raids were unsuccessful, and it was not until 13 April 1941 that three more Fw 200s were lost to air attack. The British failed to disrupt production at the Focke-Wulf plant at Bremen or to destroy more Condors in the field, due to poor bombing accuracy and improved German defences.[33]

Donitz, c-in-c of U-Boats, tried to have Fliegerführer Atlantik reinforced and handed over to the operational control of the Kriegsmarine. He succeeded in gaining control of KG 40 on 6 January 1941, but lost within two months after Göring requested Hitler to allow its return to the Luftwaffe, in exchange for creating Fliegerführer Atlantik to support the submarines. Hitler obliged and Donitz lost his reconnaissance and air units. Göring was more interested in maintaining control over all air units rather than helping the Kriegsmarine knock out British sea communications. With KG 40 back in Göring’s hands, he persisted in refusing to lend them to Donitz. They were frequently diverted to other tasks.[19] The situation facing the small German forces were made worse by operational difficulties. After 1941, Fliegerführer Atlantik never had more than 50 aircraft operational.[34] The feeble number of aircraft available denied German air power the chance to have strategic significance in the Atlantic war.[35]

First reverses

On 30/31 March 1941, the command missed convoy convoy OB 302 as neither the U-Boats nor Luftwaffe could find it. In April KG 40 was only able to make 74 sorties. Attacks had been carried out on the 6 and 16 April and by the end of the month, seven ships had been sunk. More ominously, RAF Coastal Command was making better efforts to defend convoys against air attack. On 16 April, a Bristol Beaufighter from RAF Aldergrove shot down a Fw 200C-3 – the first Condor lost in action to an enemy fighter. On 18 April, another Condor was badly damaged by convoy fire from convoy HG.58, and crashed in Ireland. Further operations failed. OB 316, 318 and 122.html HX 122 escaped the commands shadowing efforts. SL 72 and OB 321 were found on 11 and 14 May, sinking one ship from each convoy, but failed to guide any U-Boats to their targets. In May, only three ships sunk and one damaged.[36] Around this time, the He 111 units were withdrawn owing to heavy losses in the Channel. They were replaced by Kampfgeschwader 26 and Kampfgeschwader 30, which had remained under Luftflotte 5 after the withdrawal of Fliegerkorps X to the Mediterranean. These units made up 20 He 111 and 24 Ju 88s, which operated directly against British shipping and ports.[24] III./KG 40 also converted to the Fw 200 instead of the He 111, to allow it to operate further away from Britain and avoid air attack.[37]

The British response to the Condors was simple but effective. Merchant ships were still lightly armed with anti-aircraft weapons.[37] So when a formation of German aircraft attacked, instead of staying formed in front of the convoy to protect against U-Boats, they withdrew to the rear and formed a tight defensive circle. They then used all the available firepower they could must to deter attacks. It worked when KG 40 attempted to attack HG 65 using the “Swedish turnip” method. The ships drove off the attack. The Germans lost two Fw 200s, one crashed in Portugal, the other in Spain. The Spanish allowed German technical teams to recover the aircraft and crew. OG 66 was also missed. By the end of June, only four ships (6,000 grt) had been sunk for four losses.[38]

Support for surface raiders

Bismarck received no help from the Fliegerführer Atlantik during her last battle.

During the German battleship Bismarck's sortie Operation Rheinübung in May 1941, Fliegerführer Atlantik was tasked with providing cover for its return to port. Kampfgruppe 100, Kampfgeschwader 1, Kampfgeschwader 54 and Kampfgeschwader 77 were made available for this purpose. They failed and Bismarck was sunk. Fliegerführer Atlantik '​ss commanding officer, Martin Harlinghausen, came in for much criticism for failing to help the ship. The sinking of Bismarck ended German surface vessel activity in the Atlantic for the remainder of the war.[39]

The relations between the Kriegsmarine had hardly been improved with the failure of Rheinübung. Since 1937 Göring and the Luftwaffe had thwarted any attempt by the navy to produce a naval air arm. Not only did the Luftwaffe maintain control over all aspects of aviation, the naval commanders, like Raeder and Donitz had to rely, on the Luftwaffe's good will to receive support. In order to have air support, the highest authorities in both services had to consult on the use of units. Even if the negotiations were devoid of friction, it was inflexible and inefficient.[40]

Struggle to be effective

The Hawker Sea Hurricane W9182 on the catapult of a CAM ship.

In June 1941, the enemy's gorwing anti-submarine strength forced Donitz to operate 20°W, beyond the range of the Condors, which now interdicted the sea lanes between Gibraltar and Britain. The command's aircraft were ordered to Bordeaux for this purpose by July. Donitz' decision irritated Harlinghausen, who planned a major offensive in the summer and the relations between the two men cooled, only to warm again when the aircraft reverted to reconnaissance roles supporting U-Boats. Gibraltar traffic was easier to monitor. The Fw 200s flew search patterns from 45°N and 34°S and 19°W (sometimes 25W) and found targets that way.[41]

In July to December 1941, the success of Fliegerführer Atlantik was mixed. After the failed attack on HG 65, Harlinghausen ordered the abandonment of the “Swedish turnip” tactic since they were too vulnerable to improving British defensive armament. In July, the official orders of Fliegerführer Atlantik amounted authorisation for reconnaissance only. No attacks were to be made against convoys only individual ships could be attacked. They found four convoys for U-Boats in July, but made no attacks themselves. However, on 18 July, Hauptmann Fritz Fliegel, a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross holder, attempted to attack convoy OB 346. He targeted the 7,046-ton freighter Pilar de Larrinaga. However the gunners shot his starboard wing off and he crashed into the sea, killing all on board. Another Fw 200C-3 was shot down 400 km (250 mi) west of Ireland by a Lockheed Hudson of No. 233 Squadron RAF. The crew were rescued. In total, four Fw 200s were lost.[42]

On 2 August the catapult British’ concept was validated. From the CAM ship SS Maplin, Lieutenant Bob Everett took off in a Hawker Hurricane and succeeded in downing a Condor shadowing SL 81. KG 40 had some revenge when a Condor sank a freighter, and a U-Boat attack sank five more ships from the 20-strong convoy on 5 August.[42]

British defences forced the Fw 200s to revert to reconnaissance. However, a major battle developed over to separate convoys; HG 73 and OG 74 in September. HG 73 was composed of 25 merchantmen and 11 escorts including HMS Springbank, a catapult ship. A Fairey Fulmar launched, and got within range of the Fw 200s, but its guns jammed. Without air cover was, the convoy was subjected to attack by sea and air. The Condors guided the submarines in and the U-Boats sank 10 ships, including Springbank. Simultaneously, the battle for OG 74 began. This convoy had 26 ships and ten escorts including the first escort carrier to be built – HMS Audacity. A Fw 200 sank a ship picking up survivors from a U-Boat attack (Walmer Castle). The attack altered two fighters, which dispatched the Condor. The Condors kept their distance. However, they soon picked up OG 75, another convoy. Despite poor weather and improved defences, the Condors shadowed OG 75 eight days. But the strong escort limited the attacks to one loss. HG 74 made it to Liverpool from Gibraltar without loss.[43]

An Fw 200 Condor sinking. The machine was shot down and its crew members are exiting the aircraft via lifeboats, spring 1941.

On 6 November, the units of Fliegerführer Atlantik engaged OG 76 in a month-long battle, which lasted until 16 December. The convoy had left Liverpool bund for Gibraltar on 28 October. Sighted by KG 40 on 6 November, six Fw 200s were to shadow and direct U-Boats to it. HMS Audacity was present, and launched her fighters against the Condors, downing one Fw 200. Five U-Boats were guided in, but were repulsed by the escorts and the convoy which made it to Gibraltar unscathed. On 14 December it returned to Liverpool. By 16 December, KG 40 had picked it up. The U-Boats were repulsed again, and the Fw 200s were forced to retreat under fighter attack on 18 December. On 19 December, two Condors were lost to Audacity’s fighters. With the Condors out of the battle, the U-Boats tried on their own, sinking one destroyer and two merchant ships. On 21 December, Audacity was spotted outside the convoy and was sunk in ten minutes. Five of her six fighter pilots from No. 802 Squadron FAA were saved. With the carrier gone, the Condors returned. They noted the presence of an RAF B-24 Liberator, but no engagement is known.[44]

In October, Martin Harlinghausen himself was wounded. Although unusual for a commander, he took part in operations to experience combat conditions for himself. In an attack on shipping in the Bristol Channel, he was wounded. His deputy Ulrich Kessler temporarily took command. Kessler had not held high rank before now, an indicator of how unimportant the OKL viewed Luftwaffe operations over the Atlantic.[45]

The last six months of 1941 had been a severe blow to Fliegerführer Atlantik. It had sunk just four ships (10,298 tons) and damaged two for the loss of 16 Condors, including seven to convoy defences. The carrier ship had validated the concept of the escort carrier, which the Admiralty pursued with interest. The air war over the Atlantic and battle for Britain’s sea communications had turned against the Germans in this period.[43]

On 11 December 1941 Hitler declared war on the United States. While this gave German submarines plenty of targets, the order to send more vessels to American waters made less U-Boats available for cooperation with Fliegerführer Atlantik. Between 1 August 1940 and 31 December 1941, Fw 200s made 41 contacts with convoys, 18 were exploited by U-Boats that sank 48 merchant ships (129,771 grt), along with two destroyers, a corvette and Audacity.[46]

On 5 January 1942, Harlinghausen was replaced by Ulrich Kessler. His time commanding Fliegerführer Atlantik was not a happy one. He was denied thr resources he needed. He was unable to support the U-Boats on the west side of the Atlantic, nor interdict convoy routes while anti-shipping operations turned to the Mediterranean and Arctic Convoys. Italian-designed aerial torpedoes (F5a) had proven successful in the Regia Aeronautica. However, these weapons were given to KG 26 and other units operating against shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and against the Arctic convoys off Norway.[46]


Radar might have helped detect the convoys regardless of the starvation in resources. However, progress was slow. A 136 MHz FuG Atlas was installed in a Fw 200C-3/U3 in July 1941 and the similar Neptune-S was later trialled off Norway, but proved disappointing. When it was compared to a captured British metric (200 MHz) ASV (air-to-surface vessel) MK II from a crashed Hudson in Tunisia, the British radar was found to be far better. By this time Rostock, operating 120 MHz with a 16-nautical-mile (30 km) range was under development, but production was slow and by November 1942 only five Fw 2000C-4/U3s in the west had radar, and one of those was the captured British set. The low-UHF band FuG 200 Hohentweil, operating at 550 MHz, with a range of 43 nm (80 km) was being developed. It entered service in August 1943 in the Fw 200C-6, but Kessler's low place in the pecking order meant only 16 Fw 200s out of 26 in III./KG 40 had radar. It is unknown whether other groups were issued with the radar.[47]

The "Second Happy Time"

Battle for the initiative

Allied counter-air operations

Battles over the Biscay

The radar-equipped Fw 200 C-4. Summer, 1943.

Defeat and dissolution

Normandy campaign

Overall contribution

Commanding officers


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  2. ^ Corum 1997, p. 282.
  3. ^ Isby 2005, pp. 23, 99-100.
  4. ^ Ireland 2003, pp. 44, 67 and Graves, Jenson and Johnson 2003 p. 216.
  5. ^ Isby 2005, p. 125.
  6. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 25.
  7. ^ Hooton 2007, p. 90. and Isby 2005, p. 230.
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  9. ^ Isby 2005, p. 235.
  10. ^ Isby 2005, p. 109.
  11. ^ Isby 2005, pp. 112-113.
  12. ^ Isby 2005, p. 233.
  13. ^ Isby 2005, pp.127-128.
  14. ^ Isby 2005, p. 230.
  15. ^ Isby 2005, pp. 235-236.
  16. ^ Hooton 1997, p. 37.
  17. ^ Isby 2005, p. 23.
  18. ^ a b Hooton 2010, p. 111.
  19. ^ a b Forczyk 2010, p. 29.
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  21. ^ a b de Zeng et al (Vol 1) 2007, p. 129.
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  25. ^ a b Forczyk 2010, p. 30.
  26. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 30, 32.
  27. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 32.
  28. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 33.
  29. ^ Isby 2005, p. 239.
  30. ^ a b Forzcyk 2010, p. 48.
  31. ^ a b Forzcyk 2010, p. 49.
  32. ^ Forzcyk 2010, p. 50.
  33. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 28.
  34. ^ Isby 2005, p. 340.
  35. ^ Isby 2005, p. 242.
  36. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 51.
  37. ^ a b National Archives 2000, p. 107.
  38. ^ Forczyk 2010, p. 52.
  39. ^ Jackson 2002, pp. 50-52.
  40. ^ Isby 2005, p. 244.
  41. ^ Hooton 2010, p. 113.
  42. ^ a b Forczyk 2010, p. 53.
  43. ^ a b Forczyk 2010, p. 59.
  44. ^ Forczyk 2010, pp. 56-59.
  45. ^ National Archives 2000, p. 109.
  46. ^ a b Hooton 2010, p. 114.
  47. ^ Hooton 2010, p. 115.
  • de Zeng, Henry L., Doug G. Stankey and Eddie J. Creek. Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe 1933–1945: A Reference Source, Volume 1. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Publishing. 2007. ISBN 978-1-85780-279-5.
  • de Zeng, Henry L., Doug G. Stankey and Eddie J. Creek. Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe 1933–1945: A Reference Source, Volume 2. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Publishing. 2007. ISBN 978-1-903223-87-1.
  • Forczyk, Robert. Fw 200 Condor vs Altantic Convoy, Osprey London, 2010. ISBN 978-1-84603-917-1
  • Hooton, E.R.. Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe. Arms & Armour Press, 1997. ISBN 978-1-85409-343-1
  • Hooton, E.R.. The Luftwaffe: A Study in Air Power, 1933-1945. Classic Publications, London. 2010. ISBN 978-1-906537-18-0
  • Isby, David. The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea, 1939-1945. Chatham Publishing, London, 2005. ISBN 1-86176-256-9
  • Jackson, Robert. The Bismarck. Weapons of War: London, 2002. ISBN 1-86227-173-9.
  • National Archive. The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, 1933-1945. 2008. ISBN 978-1-905615-30-8

External links

  • Fliegerführer Atlantik @ Lexikon der Wehrmacht
  • Fliegerführer Atlantik @ The Luftwaffe, 1933-45
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