I want to start with the detective. A detective who has not yet been solved. Either because it was difficult, or simply reluctant to dig. But - a very instructive case. It seems that everything is clear, the guilty were appointed, but the sediment remained so light.
There are usually two sides to detective stories. But we have one here, and besides, which is not just lying recklessly, but does it in a very peculiar way. That is, on the one hand, it seems like it is necessary to get rid of it, but on the other hand, not to drop your face into the mud. The second is very difficult to do.
It is about Operation Vikinger, which the Kriegsmarine tried to carry out on February 22-23, 1940. A profound military operation was planned, but it turned out ... Everything turned out from the "Das ist fantastish" area.
In general, the Second World War, many countries started very so-so. The Americans had Pearl Harbor, the British had "Compound Z" drowned just like that (and this, remember, the battleship "Prince of Wales" and the battle cruiser "Ripals"), we have simply incomparable actions of the Baltic fleet in the Tallinn flight and raiding operations of the Black Sea Fleet ...
Were the Germans better?
No! Were not!
Yes, the submariners had successes such as the sinking of the Royal Oak directly in Scapa Flow, while the German submariners drowned the aircraft carrier Korejges, but the surface forces had nothing to boast of. Especially after the "Admiral Graf Spee" took rest at the mouth of the La Plata.
Yes, there was just a deafening victory when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the auxiliary cruiser Rawalpindi in a “battle”.
But this victory looks more like a redemption, since there was very little honor for the two battleships: the Rawalpindi was a mail steamer with six 152-mm guns, and against such a ship, 18 281-mm guns is the very thing.
But the case that will be discussed - before this show, even how the British divorced Lansdorf and he gave the order to blow up and sink the "Admiral Count Spee" fades. Since everything was simple there, combat plus military cunning. And here - a combination of circumstances and mysticism.
But let's go in order.
1940th year. There is a "strange war" in which the British and the Germans pretend that they are diligently fighting, someone with whiskey, someone with schnapps. But in fact, nobody does anything. All who have served know how dangerous this state of affairs is. When there is no fighting and the personnel are not puzzled by anything.
In such situations, the personnel begins to think that it definitely entails extremely negative consequences. And we have to do something about it. But this is common knowledge.
In general, in the headquarters of the Kriegsmarine they thought something like that. There is no other way to explain the planning of the operation to disperse the British fishermen in the Dogger Bank area. Who came up with the bright idea that fishermen do not fish there, but collect intelligence information, history is silent. But in the depths of the naval headquarters, a plan for Operation Viking was developed ...
The entire operation against the British fishing fleet resulted in an all-European disgrace, since the British did not know until the last moment what threat was hanging over them, and the Germans ... The Germans lost two destroyers.
In general, the ships lost everything. Another question is HOW.
Considering that there were only 22 destroyers in the Kriegsmarine, then losing two, that is, almost a tenth, was somewhat wasteful. But this was not yet the Norwegian operation ... Although, if we consider it as a prelude ...
In general, two ships were killed, more than half a thousand sailors, and the enemy did not even know that such an operation was being prepared against him.
Operation Vikinger itself raises some doubts today. Judge for yourself: six destroyers, and a German destroyer is a ship of a slightly different nature than the British and French. If we take the 1934 Zerstörer, then this ship is closer to the French leaders of the Jaguar class, both in displacement and in armament.
Six such ships going to chase fishermen ... 30 128-mm barrels against fishing seiners and schooners ...
We walked in a well-known area, it was here, from October 17, 1939 to February 10, 1940, that the Germans installed nine minefields with a total of about 1800 mines to impede the movement of British ships.
In general, German destroyers and minelayers laid mines not only in the North Sea. In terms of throwing mines, the Germans were generally excellent specialists, the British flew into German mines throughout the war, not knowing about the setting under their noses.
Well, the North Sea was a breadbasket for fishermen, and therefore war was war, and the entire east coast of Britain went out to sea and caught fish. And the Dogger Bank, which became famous in 1915, was generally the fattest place in terms of fishing. It is not surprising that this area has always had a large number of British ships and boats.
Who in the headquarters of the West Naval Command had the idea that the British fishermen could cover the British submarines, and therefore it is necessary to disperse them - we will never know. But six large ships quietly went out to sea and headed for that area. With the most, as they say, good intentions. Sink and capture a number of trawlers to strain both the British population and the fleet, which, in theory, should have rushed to protect the fishermen.
That is why a prize team was located on each destroyer, whose function was to seize enemy ships and deliver them to their ports.
Out to sea:
Z-1 "Leberecht Maas", corvette commander-captain Basseng
Z-3 "Max Schultz", corvette commander-captain Trumpedach
Z-4 "Richard Beitzen", corvette commander-captain von Davidson
Z-6 "Theodor Riedel", corvette commander-captain Bemig
Z-13 "Erich Koellner", commander of the frigatten-captain Schulze-Hinrichs
Z-16 "Friedrich Eckoldt", commander of the frigatten-captain Schemmel.
In general, in theory, there should have been a cover from the Luftwaffe, but somewhere above it was decided that it would be fat. Such a formidable force for terror of some fishermen is too much. Therefore, aerial reconnaissance was carried out on February 20, and on the 22nd the ships moved on.
On the same day, the Luftwaffe planned hostilities away from the Dogger Bank area, off the east coast to the mouth of the Humber River. In general, no one was supposed to interfere with anyone.
In fact, the history of the relationship between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe was very difficult. Of course, the Navy really wanted to have its own Aviationso as not to run to Goering and beg every time. But it was difficult for the “first Nazi” to break, and therefore German Ernestovich, having said that “everything that flies is mine,” left the sailors only seaplanes, and even then, not for long. Subsequently, everything generally took the form of a farce, when the commander of the ship could not order the commander of the seaplane on the ship where to fly and why. Well, legally it happened. In fact, of course, he ordered.
Overall, the relationship between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe was not exactly strained, but rather peculiar. The fleet could only use its seaplanes for laying mines, reconnaissance and patrolling. Everything else the Luftwaffe reserved.
If we add to this the fact that both structures had their own ciphers and cards, and the communication lines were very conditional, then one can only imagine how “easy” it was possible to organize and coordinate the operation. Any.
In general, the Kriegsmarine acted by itself, the Luftwaffe by itself. And nothing could be done about this throughout the war. Such is the mess, actually.
February 22, 1940. At about 12 noon six destroyers set out to sea. Above them hangs an "umbrella" from the Messerschmitts Bf.109 squadron JG.1. Naturally, before that scouts flew out, who were supposed to "fix" the route.
The destroyers left and went according to the approved course. The planes, having seen them off, returned back to the airfields.
It was already dark when around 19.00 the ships of the flotilla began to pass the minefield along the trodden corridor. The ships sailed in convoy, Friedrich Eckoldt, Richard Beitzen, Erich Koellner, Theodor Riedel, Max Schultz and Leberecht Maas. The ships were in order, watchmen and lookouts were in their places, there was a slight fog on the sea and - the most unpleasant thing - a full moon.
At 19.13 the signalmen of the Friedrich Ekoldt noticed a twin-engine aircraft flying at a low altitude (about 60 meters) along the line of ships, as if identifying their belonging. The destroyers sailed at a speed of 26 knots, with an interval of 1,5-2 cables.
The wake was clearly visible in the moonlight, and the commander of the flotilla frigatten-captain Berger ordered the speed to be reduced to 17 knots, hoping to hide the tracks of the ships to a minimum.
At 19.21 the plane, apparently turning around, appeared again. It was decided on the ships that it was like a stranger, they played a combat alert and the crews of "Richard Beitzen" and "Erich Keller" opened fire on the plane from 20-mm machine guns.
The plane turned away and disappeared into the darkness. On the Keller he was identified as British, but on the Maas - as his own. The crew of the plane, dodging the shells, clearly decided that the ships were enemy.
That was the point. In the darkness of a February evening, looking at the flag of belonging from the plane is another task. A lot of black, a lot of red, which in the dark is the same black. And there is a white one, but it still needs to be considered. So when they didn’t see the flag, but saw the flashes of anti-aircraft guns, there were definitely strangers here.
At 19.43 the plane returned with very determined intentions. On the "Leberecht Maas" he was noticed and reported that the plane was coming in from the stern. And then something unexpected happened for the crew of the destroyer - the plane, flying by, dropped two bombs. And got one.
The Maas opened fire (belatedly), so the plane left and the destroyer began to figure out what had happened. The bomb exploded between the pipe and the bridge. The Maas stopped and signaled that it needed help. The Ekold approached the Maas, the others were at some distance. The Ekold began to prepare for towing, but at that moment the shooting began again on the Maas. The plane is back!
And he didn't just come back with the words "I'll arrange it for you here," but dropping four bombs and hit two! One hit the stern, and the second in the same area as the bomb that hit the first, in the chimney area.
It exploded. The bomb went as far as the engine room and turned everything into bloody stuffing there. A column of smoke, steam and fire rose into the air. And when the smoke cleared, only the sinking halves remained of the Maas: the destroyer broke in half and began to sink!
And he sank.
At 19.58, the flagship ordered all ships to lower boats to save people. Keller, Beitzen, and Ekold lowered the boats and began rescuing the Meuse's crew.
In fact, right there (at 20.02) the show was continued by "Theodor Riedel". At first, the destroyer heard a submarine. The acoustician heard, and the crew of the bow gun saw the traces of torpedoes. Plus, an explosion was supposedly heard at some distance.
In general, in the conditions of the nix that began, even the emerging Kraken would be quite in the subject. So "Theodor Riedel" launched an attack on the submarine according to the bearing given by the acoustician. At 20.08, Ridel dropped a series of four depth charges.
Everything would be fine, but the destroyer was moving somewhat slower than it should have been according to the instructions. And the bombs might not have been placed quite correctly. In general, "Riedel" was blown up by its own depth charges. One did not explode, but three were more than enough for the destroyer. The gyrocompass was disabled and the steering was completely out of order.
"Riedel" got up, the commander of the ship ordered to stop the disgrace (that is, bombing), the crew put on life belts and start repairs.
Max Schultz was ordered to search for the submarine.
In general, a mess began in the square, openly bordering on panic. Submarines, torpedoes, depth charges, a damn plane that kept going into circles in the distance ...
From "Keller" they gave the command to their boats to return to the ship urgently, and then, not making sure that they were all lifted, the destroyer set in motion. As a result, one boat, along with the sailors who were there, was actually crushed by the ship.
The Keller was still circling when the word "Torpedo approaching, submarine cabin on the left 30" was transmitted to the bridge. The commander of the ship, Schultz, decided to go to the ram, ordered to give full speed, but thank God, they figured out that this was not the cabin of the boat, but the bow of the Meuse sticking out of the water.
Torpedoes, of course, existed only in the fantasies of the crew.
At 20.30 the commander of the formation reported on the loss of the Leberecht Maas to the main headquarters. While the headquarters were digesting the information, they were still trying to deal with the submarine on the spot. By the way, how are things with the "Schultz", which was entrusted with the fight against the submarine?
And then it covered everyone again. "Schultz" was nowhere to be found.
While rescuing people from the Maas, while looking for, bombing and trying to ram the submarine, the destroyer Max Schultz simply disappeared.
A roll call was held among the rescued. 60 of the crew of 330 Meuse were on three ships, 24 aboard the Keller, 19 on the Ekoldt and 17 on the Beitzen. Of the 308 people in the Schultz's crew, there was none.
At 21.02 at the headquarters of the Kriegsmarine, a second message was received that the destroyer "Max Schultz" was missing, a submarine was named as the reason for the disappearance. Probable reason.
The headquarters decided that it was time to stop this carnival and gave a reasonable order to curtail the operation and return to the base. For further debriefing.
While the destroyers were going back to the base, operational report No. 172 was laid on the table of the naval command, which also mentioned the participation of aircraft of the 10th Air Corps in hostilities. And in the report it was said that at about 20.00 an armed steamer with a displacement of 3 to 4 thousand tons was attacked, which sank abeam the Terschelling lighthouse. The steamer resisted, firing from a cannon and several machine guns.
Well, good fellows, Goering's guys. It's okay that the gun was 128 mm, and the "machine guns" were 20 mm, the main thing is the result.
Until that moment, the naval command "West" believed that anything but its own aviation was to blame for the death of the "Maas". Alas, after comparing the reports of the pilots and the commander of the destroyer formation, it became clear that the Leberecht Maas had become a victim of the Heinkel No.111 from the 10th Air Corps.
However, there is a slight oddity. In the report of the command of the 10th air corps, it is said about an attack on ONE target. Who then sent Schultz to the bottom?
The most interesting thing is that the British rushed to excuse themselves. That is how they were, strange, but honest. And it turned out generally crazy: their aviation did not fly in that area, submarines did not even pass nearby. Of course, it would be fun to say that yes, we sunk two destroyers, but the British did not sin like that.
And even more, British pilots did not sin of hitting German ships at night. And so that twice is generally from the realm of fantasy.
And rumors that a mess was going on in the Kriegsmarine reached Hitler, who demanded to figure out how it was, to lose two destroyers in one night without a fight.
And on board the Admiral Hipper, apparently for the sake of solidity, a troop of investigators and interrogators were deployed. These investigators interrogated all the crews of the destroyers (except for the "Schultz", of course) and aircraft, after which they established: the sinking of the Leberecht Maas was the case of the bombs of the Heinkel No.111 crew under the command of Feldwebel Jager from the 4th squadron of the KG 26 squadron Yager admitted that, yes, he made two calls with bombs on the ships unidentified by the crew, which opened fire on the plane.
And here the questions of a detective nature begin, because the sinking of "Max Schultz" was also hung on Jager.
First, let's list all the reasons that could have drowned Max Schultz quietly and naturally.
1. Airplane attack. It doesn't matter what was there, the bomb hit the cellar, the depth charges on the deck.
2. Submarine and its torpedoes.
3. Depth charges. Their.
1. Airplane. Very, you know, attracted. The fact that the brave but touchy sergeant major Hunter (Jager is a hunter in German) was hung with all the dogs is understandable. They knew how at all times and in all armies of the world.
But here's the problem: the version does not fit. Jager made TWO runs, both along the Meuse. The destroyer seemed to be against it, the crews fired. The fact that having sunk the Maas, Jager flew off with the company to the Schultz and just as swiftly sunk it - well, nonsense. For some reason, there is not a word in the reports that they were firing at the plane from the Schultz. And again, well, at least one person, but could have survived ...
Jager had time. If he spent 15 minutes on the "Maas" in two stages, and the report on losses went at 20.30, then there was a carriage time. Another question is why no one saw anything, and in the initial report it was said about one goal?
Apparently, gentlemen, the investigators transparently hinted that nothing will happen to Jager for this orgy, so there will be more destroyer, less destroyer ... The Fuhrer himself is waiting for the results, why lock up, right?
But it is doubtful. And in terms of ammunition, too, the He 111 took a lot of bombs, but still the stock is not infinite.
2. Submarine. Thanks to the British, now we know that there were no submarines, like aircraft, in the Sabbath area. So all the torpedoes existed only in the panicked heads of German sailors. Which does not do them honor at all.
3. Your depth charges. On the one hand, how would you have to throw it under yourself in order to drown the ship? If a bomb from the same "Heinkel" hit the stern, where the ready-made depths lay, then yes, it would bang so that everyone jumped. And certainly such a show could not fail to be noticed from other ships.
But the last point is quite probable.
4. Mine. Such a normal sea creature with a hundred kilograms of TNT, capable of breaking a ship of such a class as a destroyer. Even as worn out as a German destroyer. And here it is quite a normal option, history knows many cases when ships were blown up by mines so that almost no one was saved.
Where are the mines in the swept fairway? Yes, from anywhere. They could have dropped British planes (which they were doing throughout the war), they could have delivered British destroyers. They could have wiped it badly, by the way, and left a couple. By the way, there is information that it was in this area that two British destroyers were doing something. It may have been mines. Perhaps they were doing something else. There is no exact data.
All in all, the operation was amazing. Two ships went to the bottom, one went for repairs due to the fact that he had done himself.
Not a single shot from the British. Not a single torpedo. The Germans themselves coped very well, because the main problem is the lack of interaction between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. Precisely because there was a complete mess in coordination, the German aircraft was fired upon by German ships, mistaken for the enemy and drowned one of them.
The panic that began further helped. While dodging "torpedoes", while bombing and ramming the "submarine", we somehow lost another ship. German, British - not so important, it is important that "Max Schultz" was not where it was needed.
Personally, it seems to me that the destroyer really fell out of the corridor, carried away by the search for a "submarine" and ran into one or even two mines. No one was saved because they simply did not see. Night, February ... Baltic. Everything was done by ice water.
And they didn’t see it because they didn’t know where to look. The Maas went in formation with the rest of the ships, they saw it, received signals from it, saw how the destroyer fired at the plane, and so on. And no one really watched the "Schultz" stepping aside, so the destroyer calmly went alone to look for the submarine, alone it was blown up, it is not clear where, and sank there.
Although, you know, on February night there can be other layouts, right?