Tuesday, June 30, 2015
11. Verkehr mit Kleinfahrzeugen (MFP) in the Black Sea
The Marinefährprahm (MFP) , "naval ferry barge", was the largest landing craft operated by Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. It served a variety of roles (transport, minelayer, escort, gunboat) in the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas as well as the English Channel and Norwegian coastal waters. Originally developed for the proposed invasion of England (Operation Sea Lion), the first of these ships was commissioned on 16 April 1941, with approximately 700 being completed by the war's end in May 1945.
The Germans had some very nice coastal barges and lighters. The MFP (Marinefährprähme) which did not begin construction until December 1940. Another famous type was the MAL (Marine-Artillerie-Leichter) which first appeared in 1943.
By 1942 the Allies had taken their toll of Axis merchant shipping in the Mediterranean. The shortage of ships to carry supplies to Rommel's army led the Axis to use landing craft to ferry supplies across the Mediterranean. These landing craft were known variously as F-boot, F-lighter, Seibel ferrys, Marinefährprähme and etc. The Italians had copied these as the Motozattera or MZ-1.
The KRIEGSMARINE built the following types of Marinefährprähme (MFP):
type A: only 5 units
type A1: adopted to use former Soviet heavy tanks of 52 t weight
type AM: minelayer with a capacity of 52 mines and 25 t loading
type B: greater height (3,19m instead of 2,74m)
type C: greater height of the loading room (3,29m)
type C2: similar to type A1 for heavy tanks
type C2M: similar to type AM with mine loading capacity
type DM: minelayer with a capacity of 54 mines
Moreover there were special rebuilds as repair ship, tanker, Q-ship, etc.
According to GRÖNER, the only MFP rebuilt into a Q-ship was F368 (type A), which was armed with 2 x 7.5 cm guns and a S-device.
The MZ were either type A (virtual copies of the German MFP Type A-C) or Type B, where the 3" gun was repositioned behind the steering position. They were used for coastal transport and to transport tanks to North Africa from the continent. Many were later used by the Germans up until the end of the war.
The chase and ultimate sinking of Germany’s monster battleship Bismarck (24–27 May 1941) involved no less than five RN battleships, two aircraft carriers, nine cruisers, and 18 destroyers. Bismarck had completed its sea trials the previous month. (Captain Ernst Lindemann was granted special permission to refer to the ship as “he,” in honor of former chancellor Otto von Bismarck.) In the initial stages of the battle, fire from Bismarck’s consort, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (some claim that the fatal fire came from Bismarck), caused the British super-battle cruiser Hood to explode with the loss of all but three of its 1,500 crewmen. It was only Hood’s second serious combat in her 20-year lifespan. Although by 1941, Hood was elderly and unmodernized (plans to thicken its armor protection had been aborted with the onset of war), its loss was considered a national tragedy. Hood was the fastest and largest capital ship of the time, actually weighing some 5,000 tons more than the new Prince of Wales class of battleships. Prince of Wales, in its first engagement, and with workmen still aboard, did not fight efficiently and was the target of both German warships; it broke off the engagement and fell away under cover of a smokescreen. (Bismarck was also a new battleship, but it did have the advantage of several months of work-up cruises.) As if losing Hood were not bad enough, now a Royal Navy battleship, part of a superior British force, had retreated in the face of the enemy. Actually, the RN side of the battle had been badly handled, with Admiral Lancelot Holland in Hood allowing Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to cross the T of his two main warships; Holland paid for this blunder with his life. But King George V (sister ship to Prince of Wales) and Rodney had devastated Bismarck’s upperworks with concentrated fire. It was finally dispatched some 600 miles off the French coast by torpedoes from the cruiser Dorsetshire. There is even some persuasive argument that its own crew scuttled Bismarck in a final act of defiance. (Prinz Eugen managed to escape the British net, later made the Channel Dash with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, was used as a target vessel after the war [surviving two atomic explosions at Kwajelein/Bikini Atoll in July 1946], and sank after an accident disabled its stern.)
The Third Reich’s battleship ambitions were every bit as grandiose as those of any other naval power. Germany’s naval chief, Eric Raeder, was in close harmony with Adolf Hitler’s global goals. Raeder and Hitler foresaw Germany eventually going to war with Great Britain, the United States, and even Japan, and envisioned a fleet for those eventualities. As a temporary deterrent to Great Britain, the aborted Plan Z (1939) envisioned 10 (some sources say six) super- Bismarcks of 56,000 tons, three battle cruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 249 submarines, with top priority over air force and army requirements, all to be completed in six years. Plan Z was the basis for the even larger blue-water battleship-based navy programs of 1940 and 1941, drawn up to take on the rest of the world’s major naval powers and featuring capital ships of 98,000–141,500 tons armed with 20-inch guns. It is also indicative of German battleshipmindedness that its navy never completed an aircraft carrier.
Thanks to post-World War I Allied policies, the Third Reich entered World War II with only fast and modern battleships (not counting those two nearly-valueless pre-dreadnoughts). Its three pocket battleships laid down in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and thus predating Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933) were Lutzow, Admiral Scheer, and Admiral Graf Spee. (Lutzow was originally named Deutschland, but Hitler, worried about the domestic reaction if a warship named after the German nation were sunk, ordered it renamed.) Although high speed was supposed to be the main advantage of these small capital ships, their average of 28 knots was soon enough surpassed by the following Scharnhorst class’s 32 knots. Nonetheless, the Deutschlands/Lutzows, a well-balanced pioneering design, served as the embryo of many later, much larger warships, such as the Scharnhorst class, and Germany’s first and only true post-World War I first-class battleships (Bismarck and Tirpitz), as well as for the Royal Navy’s King George V class, and even for the last three U.S. Navy battleship classes. The Lutzows were also notable for their pioneering of welded construction and unique diesel propulsion, the latter a feature never repeated in any other capital ship. They could also be called cruisers (and were actually reclassified in 1940 as heavy cruisers), but their six 11-inch guns were not matched in any other cruiser until the U.S. Alaskas, which were officially classified by the U.S. Navy as large cruisers. Whatever the nomenclature, these were the Kriegsmarine’s most successful heavy units. Specifically designed as commerce raiders that were to be more powerful than any faster warship, the three destroyed some 300,000 tons of Allied shipping. Thus the Scharnhorsts and the Lutzow/ Deutschlands did what battle cruisers were supposed to do— attack enemy commerce—and avoided what battle cruisers were supposed to avoid—enemy battleships—something the Royal Navy, to its cost, never learned.
The Scharnhorsts (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) were both laid down in 1935. There is little question that these two units were true battleships, but even with more than twice the displacement of the Lutzows, they mounted only the same 11-inch main guns. The German admiralty planned to up-gun these warships at the beginning of World War II, but the complexity and the costs not only of the bigger guns themselves but also of their intricate mountings precluded this proposal in the German Navy (or in any other navy, for that matter).
Bismarck and Tirpitz were the last and by far the most powerful battleships built by Germany. Although nominally still bound by the London Naval Agreement, they exceeded its tonnage limitations by a wide margin. In this case “wide” can be taken literally; they were the broadest-beamed of any contemporary capital ship, which gave them outstanding stability. (Only the aborted U.S. Montanas would have measured wider.) Their intricate internal subdivision made them extraordinarily difficult to sink. Yet at the end of the war, and in sharp contrast to World War I, not one German capital ship survived to be turned over to the Allies.
While the Second World War resembled the First in that the largest operations of all were waged on one continent, Europe, it also resembled its predecessor in that much of the struggle took place at sea. Until the spring of 1943, submarine warfare probably represented the one method by which Germany could have beaten Britain and forced it to surrender. Conversely, first Britain’s survival and later its ability and that of its larger and more powerful American ally to bring forces to bear against Germany (and Italy) depended on their command of the sea-lanes. Though the Mediterranean was never more than a side theater, here, too, ultimately it was command of the sea that decided the issue. The difference between the two world wars was that, from 1918 to 1939, military aviation developed far more rapidly than warships and merchantmen did. By the time World War II broke out, there was still much argument about how much air support navies required, how it should be organized, and what tasks it should carry out, but the principle that they could not operate without such support had been firmly established.
Having already said something about the Mediterranean, and leaving the Pacific until later, here we shall focus on the Atlantic. In 1939–45, as in 1914–18, without the sea-lanes across the Atlantic, Britain could not exist and would have to surrender sooner rather than later. As in 1914–18, what decided the issue was not so much a Mahan-like encounter between opposing fleets as a long struggle of attrition. That struggle was waged mainly by light naval units and the aircraft that worked with them. As in 1914–18, one of the first things the British did was to revert to the convoy system and to blockade Germany. The Germans on their part used their submarine fleet to impose a counter-blockade.
Seen from the viewpoint of airpower, the struggle was not symmetrical. Wherever they went, the British could and did use aircraft, whether land-launched or carrier-borne, to hunt for German submarines as well as the few other blockade runners, armed and unarmed, that got through. Whatever may be said about relations between the navy and the RAF, cooperation between it and Coastal Command was always exemplary. Meanwhile the German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, owing partly to geography—Britain still stood between it and the open ocean—and partly to its peculiar relationship with the Luftwaffe, did not have nearly as much support from the air. Lacking it, the Naval War Command, the Seekriegsleitung, in Kiel had to rely mainly on RDF (radio direction finding), ELINT, and SIGINT to receive warning that Allied convoys were setting sail, on what course, with what destination, and so on. The ability of submarine captains to locate their prey was greatly, perhaps fatally, reduced. They were forced to spend more time on the surface, where they were vulnerable both to surface ships and to aircraft; coming under attack by the latter, all they could do was either submerge or fire a few shots from the guns some of them started carrying from 1943 on.
From the Allied point of view, the worst moments in the anti-submarine struggle were the first half of 1942 and the first half of 1943. The worst month of all was June 1942, when 700,000 tons of merchant shipping were lost. During both periods, airpower played a critical role in defeating the menace. Based in Scotland, Ulster, Iceland, Greenland, and along the North American coast from Newfoundland to the south, aircraft protected convoys and searched for submarines. Either they attacked those submarines on their own, dropping depth charges on them, or else they acted as the eyes of hunter-killer groups made up of destroyers and other light naval vessels. The more time passed, the more technological progress and the introduction of more long-range aircraft limited the ocean spaces where submarines could operate in relative safety. Some historians claim that this factor was the most important reason why the Allies eventually came out on top. As one German U-boat captain told his commander in chief, successful attacks on convoys were only possible as long as there were no Allied aircraft around.