Military Review

Kriegsmarine combat swimmers: landing in Normandy


“Even if mini-submarines can be brought to the peak of technical requirements, we will not be able to consider them as appropriate for operational goals, because two torpedoes are too small weapons and because adverse weather conditions in the form of strong waves will not allow the proper use of this type of vessel. during operations. Moreover, the range is insufficient, bearing in mind the increased distances in which we have to wage a war. "

- considered the State Councilor of the Third Reich Rudolf Blom.

Despite the extremely voluminous Russian historiography dedicated to World War II, many episodes of the hostilities that were waged by our allies in the anti-Hitler coalition remain extremely little known to us.

The countermeasures of the opposing side are no less secret - and one of such episodes was the landing in Normandy.

Very often those events are described solely from the point of view of land confrontation. By default, it is believed that the Germans did not really try to resist the Allied naval invasion. And the topic of our conversation today will be devoted to this particular episode.

Landing in Normandy

“British warships continuously fired at the positions of our infantrymen, who were fighting heavy battles ahead, on the front of the invasion bridgehead. Our actions certainly made a lot of sense: we had to silence these batteries. At night, huge silhouettes of ships loomed on the sea, unleashing squalls of fire on the shore. These were battleships, cruisers and destroyers, concentrated in huge numbers. This is where we should have fallen into something! The chances of success seemed to me much more real here than in the Anzio area, where we did not find the enemy. "

- from the notes of the midshipman Karl-Heinz Pothast, a naval saboteur of the "K" formation.

After the relatively successful debut of naval saboteurs in Anzio, Germany produced a new batch of human torpedoes.

Formation K was already preparing to receive weapons and again immediately go to Italy, but the situation changed dramatically. The German command correctly interpreted the intelligence signs - more and more evidence of the impending Allied invasion of France began to be discovered.

The Germans assumed that the landing would take place on one of the sections of the French Atlantic coast - in the English Channel or Pas-de-Calais. The command of the naval forces understood that the allies would concentrate for this purpose a huge number of warships and, accordingly, could easily suppress any attempts by the German Navy to inflict a landing the fleet allies at least some tangible losses in the naval war.

And yet the remnants of the German Kriegsmarines needed to fight. The German fleet prepared to attack the enemy every night with all available ships that could only carry guns or torpedo tubes on board.

Formation K was also to take part in these attacks, including the Neger man-controlled torpedoes.

Despite the prejudices among the command that reigned in relation to the asymmetric means of naval warfare, during the operation in the area of ​​the Anzio-Nettun bridgehead, they proved their combat value. In turn, the naval saboteurs demonstrated outstanding qualities that testified to their ability to achieve their goals.

However, despite this, the Nazis understood perfectly well that in order to organize such a large foothold for the invasion, the British and Americans would have to provide strong and reliable security. Accordingly, the entire armada of allied destroyers, cruisers, gunboats, torpedo and patrol boats could, in the shortest possible time, create an environment in which the combat activities of the Neger would be completely paralyzed. The Germans, however, hoped that until then they would get at least a few nights.

Several nights, during which the human torpedoes will have time to collect a bloody harvest, using their main trump card - surprise.

The command of formation "K" took into account all the mistakes and difficulties of the "Italian debut", having previously sent their operational inspector to the area of ​​the enemy's invasion. Its main task was to ensure the most favorable conditions for the normal launching of flotillas of small sabotage and assault weapons arriving in the area of ​​hostilities.

Captain First Rank Fritz Boehme was appointed as inspector. Under his command was transferred a solid cargo convoy, which immediately transported 40 "Neger" with pilots and technical personnel. A forest a few kilometers off the coast of the Seine Bay was chosen as an operational base. In turn, the launching site was found in the nearby small resort of Ville-sur-Mer, which was located about 10 km south-west of Trouville.

The main concern of Fritz Boehme was to ensure the smooth launch of the Neger to the water. The Inspector had studied the reports well and was aware of all the difficulties that the naval saboteurs faced during the raid on Anzio.

This time, two sapper companies were attached to Formation K, whose task was to prepare the coastline. They made passages in a dense network of wire, mine and anti-tank obstacles along the coastline, which led to two long half-dams (buns). These structures turned out to be extremely useful for the purposes of combat swimmers: at low tide they found themselves quite far out to sea, and at high tide they were flooded. The groins were modified - the sappers erected wooden descent paths on them, which took them even further into the sea.

Thus, at high tide, it was possible to easily roll out carts with "Neger" directly into the sea. Of course, this greatly facilitated the difficult task of deploying combat craft.

So, on the night of July 6, 1944, German man-controlled torpedoes delivered the first blow to the Allied invasion fleet in the Seine Bay.

Unfortunately, no detailed description of that battle has survived. It is only known that the Germans launched 30 devices.

The combat successes of the compound were extremely modest - at the cost of the lives of 16 pilots, the Nazis managed to torpedo only two Allied ships.

The next night (7 July) the Germans decided to repeat the attack. At 11 pm, the human torpedoes set off again on a mission.

Next, let's give the floor to a direct participant in those events - midshipman Karl-Heinze Pothast:

“At about 3 o'clock in the morning I, advancing in the northwest direction, came across the first lines of enemy patrol ships. I was able to distinguish six silhouettes. The distance to the nearest of them, when I passed it, was no more than 300 m. I was not going to spend a torpedo on this trifle, so I was glad that I had passed them unnoticed. This time the Neger was sailing excellently, and I was determined to find and destroy a large enemy warship.

About 3 hours. 30 minutes. I heard the first explosions of depth charges. Shots were also heard, but this time the anti-aircraft guns did not hit aerial targets. Probably, one of ours was spotted in the moonlight, or found another way. After all, now our sabotage sortie, unfortunately, was no longer sudden for Tommy.

The depth charges did not cause any harm to me, I felt only a slight concussion. For about 15 minutes I did not move, waiting for further events to unfold. A group of merchant ships passed on the left side, but it was too far away, and besides, I had already got it into my head that I had to sink only a warship.

Continuing to sail, at about 4 am I saw a destroyer not far away and established that it belongs to the Hunt class. But when I approached 500 m, he turned to the side. The low speed of the Neger did not give me any chance to catch up with him. The excitement at sea increased somewhat. I noted with satisfaction that I did not feel fatigue or other signs of deterioration in my physical condition, although I had already been at sea for more than 5 hours.

After another 20 minutes, I saw several warships ahead on the left, marching in formation of a ledge. They crossed my course. The largest of the ships sailed last, at the farthest distance from me. I figured that I would probably be just in time to reach the torpedo attack distance of the last ship, unless the formation changed course. We were getting closer quickly. Then the two forward ships began to turn around, probably in order to rebuild. The latter, who now seemed to me to be a large destroyer, was apparently waiting for the leading ships to complete their maneuver. He walked at the slightest pace. It even seemed that he was turning at anchor. I was getting closer to the big destroyer every minute. When the distance to the enemy ship was about 500 m, I once again remembered the rule that I myself taught my junior comrades: do not release a torpedo prematurely, continue to improve my position. And now there were only 400 m left - the enemy turned more and more sideways towards me, that's only 300 m - and I fired my torpedo ...

Then he immediately turned to the left. When I fired, I forgot to time it. For a terribly long time nothing was heard. I was about to hang my head in complete disappointment, when suddenly a blow of incredible force rang out under the water. The Neger almost jumped out of the water. A huge column of flame shot up into the sky on the stricken ship. A few seconds later, the fire already blinded me, thick smoke overtook my torpedo and tightly enveloped it. For a while, I completely lost the ability to navigate.

It was only after the smoke cleared that I saw the struck ship again. A fire was raging on him, he gave a roll. His silhouette was significantly shortened, and I suddenly realized that his stern had been torn off.

Other destroyers at full speed approached the burning ship, throwing depth charges. The waves from the explosions rattled my carrier torpedo like a piece of wood. The destroyers fired indiscriminately in all directions. They didn't see me. I managed to slip out of the zone of the most effective fire of their light airborne weaponswhen they, abandoning the pursuit of an unknown enemy, hastened to help the damaged ship. "

Ironically, Midshipman Pothast was one of the few first set of German naval saboteurs to survive the war.

And he, among other things, turned out to be the most effective pilot of the Neger man-torpedoes. In the end, it was Karl-Heinz who torpedoed the largest loot of the K compound - the light cruiser Dragon of the Polish emigration naval forces.

Gloomy results

After the battle on July 7, Formation K suffered significant losses.

Many cars and pilots were lost - even then it became clear that the capabilities of the "Neger" were exhausted, but the command sent them into battle twice more.

The next attacks took place at the end of July, as well as on the nights of 16 and 17 August 1944. The successes, frankly, were not impressive - the most notable of them was the torpedoing of the British destroyer Isis.

By the time of the landing in Normandy, the allies had almost complete information not only about the combat capabilities of the "Neger", but also knew extremely much about the activities of the "K" unit (up to the presence of personal files for the ordinary servicemen of the unit). The use of human torpedoes did not come as a surprise to them - on the contrary, it was expected and prepared for it.

The British and Americans organized a layered defense system. And after the raid on Anzio, the Negera were not an unpleasant surprise for the sailors of the anti-Hitler coalition.

The main advantage of human torpedoes - surprise - was lost. And in Normandy, German saboteurs over and over again went to certain death.

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  1. Olgovich
    Olgovich 28 May 2021 05: 54
    "At low tide they found themselves quite far out to sea, and at high tide they were flooded. The groins were modified - sappers erected wooden descent paths on them, which took them even further into the sea.

    Thus, at high tide it was possible to easily roll out carts with "Neger" right in the sea at low tide, they found themselves quite far out to sea, and at high tide they were flooded. The groins were modified - the sappers erected wooden descent paths on them, which took them even further into the sea.

    Thus, at high tide it was possible to easily roll out carts with "Neger" right into the sea "

    were they rolled out during low tide, tk. were they afloat at high tide?

    An interesting, but dead-end was the branch of the fleet's development, possible only because of despair and lack of funds and time.

    A real hunt was arranged for the defenseless low-speed "Negroes": ships and planes were chasing them with passion ...
    1. Anzhey V.
      28 May 2021 11: 30
      were they rolled out during low tide, tk. were they afloat at high tide?

      No, as I understand it, it was in the evening during high tide, so that the launching was not too long and aviation could not detect it)
      1. Normal ok
        Normal ok 28 May 2021 23: 13
        Thank you for the article. read a lot before. But, very well collected and summarized in the article.
  2. Asad
    Asad 28 May 2021 05: 59
    He lived to have gray hair, and to his shame he did not even know about such units. The author is not the first plus!
    1. The leader of the Redskins
      The leader of the Redskins 28 May 2021 06: 50
      I subscribe to your words. In my youth, I read an article about these human torpedoes, but it was very superficial, with some kind of hand-drawn image, and it was all permeated with criticism - they say, no success, from the word at all.
      And here it turns out, they even took part.
      Thank you author!
      1. Anzhey V.
        28 May 2021 18: 58
        Thank you, Leader!)
        1. Normal ok
          Normal ok 28 May 2021 23: 17
          As a child, I had a book with a chipboard stamp with an overview of the actions of the Navy of a potential enemy. the book was old from the 50s. And, there were blueprints for man-torpedoes.
    2. Anzhey V.
      28 May 2021 09: 58
      Thank you Assad!

      A new article on the use of remotely detonated boats in Normandy is on the way ...
      1. The leader of the Redskins
        The leader of the Redskins 28 May 2021 19: 38
        "lens" or how are they correct there?)
  3. Nikolaevich I
    Nikolaevich I 28 May 2021 08: 41
    Well, the Japanese were also heroes with human-controlled torpedoes! A series of such torpedoes received the name "Kaiten" At first, the "kaitens" were developed on the basis of the "Type 93" torpedo ... In general, 7 types of "kaiten" were developed, but only Type 1 reached the battle ... At the beginning of the alleged "long journey" , the Japanese were not going to easily part with their lives and the "kaitens" were equipped with a catapult system ... but they realized that this event, in general, was useless (who would save the Japanese pilot, even if the pilot ejected into the water alive?) That's why the catapult was removed ...
    This torpedo had a diameter of 1 m, and a 1550 kg charge was placed in the bow of the hull. It was assumed that this charge should be enough to sink even a large enemy ship. The fuses were 3: 1. contact for an explosion when torpedoing the enemy; 2. electric - to detonate the warhead and automatic hydrostatic, which was part of the self-destruction system. For the engine there was an oxygen cylinder with a capacity of 1550 liters, another 9 cylinders with a capacity of 160 liters each ensured the operation of the rudders. There were 4 small tanks for trim control. The total length of the Type 1 torpedo was 14,75 m. Since the diameter of 1 m was too large for any torpedo tube, it was decided that the kaiten would be placed outside the submarines using a special design and connected to it through a special airlock for pilots. One carrier submarine could be armed with 4 torpedoes. These weapons were also installed on surface ships, but in reality they were used extremely rarely. It was also planned to create coastal bases for "kaiten" in order to protect the coast of Japan itself, but this was never implemented

    A small retractable telescope could be used to correct the course. However, in reality, the periscope was rarely used, since the detected torpedo was shot by the Americans. The pilot independently started the engine and fired his weapon at a depth of several meters in order to hit the enemy in the underwater part. .About 300 "kaiten" were built, in combat conditions no more than 100 were used ... The combat use of human-controlled torpedoes did not justify itself, tk. production costs and human losses were much higher than the damage inflicted on the Americans. In total, the Japanese kaiten destroyed the large American tanker Mississinewa, and they were able to destroy or damage no more than a dozen boats and ships.

    1. Catfish
      Catfish 28 May 2021 14: 55
      Volodya, hello! hi

      A small retractable telescope could be used to correct the course.

      Mabut is a periscope after all? And it turns out that they had two instruments there - a telescope for observing the moon and a periscope for examining the sea surface. (joke) wink
      1. Nikolaevich I
        Nikolaevich I 28 May 2021 16: 12
        I wish you good health, Kostya! Periscope, of course! I wanted to fix it, but my wife is to blame! negative She called for dinner at the wrong time! While having lunch, I forgot to fix it! request And from a different angle, a telescope, perhaps, would also be useful! As part of astronavigation! yes In general, as a certain vague Red Army soldier said in the film Chapaev "...:" In war, and a pig is a gift from God! " winked
        1. Catfish
          Catfish 28 May 2021 16: 18
          ... as a vague Red Army soldier said in Chapaev's film. "

          So he suffered for his idea, Vasil Ivanovich kicked him. wink
          And the Japanese would not have helped, they still would have been kicked by Sam Jonovichi. laughing
  4. Cure72
    Cure72 28 May 2021 10: 37
    Anjay thanks for the continuation. Very interesting articles!
    1. Anzhey V.
      28 May 2021 14: 10
      Thank you, glad you like it)
  5. alekc75
    alekc75 28 May 2021 10: 52
    look for the old film experiment of Dr. abst. there is about swimmers
    1. Timofey Charuta
      Timofey Charuta 28 May 2021 14: 28
      A rather good film for its time - "The Experiment of Dr. Abst", although it is very far from the historical truth. It turns out that the Fritzes lobotomized the unfortunate Italians and used them like sea battle zombies. Screen adaptation of Nasibov's novel "Mad Men".

      Apparently inspired by the book of a certain Becker "German naval saboteurs", it seems so. It was published in our military publishing house in the 50s. I read it as a schoolboy and went nuts ...

      There was also a Soviet film - "They were known only by sight" - about Italian combat swimmers in the Black Sea (now this would be attributed to the genre - military fiction).

      1. Catfish
        Catfish 28 May 2021 22: 15
        now it would be attributed to the genre - military fiction).

        Why, they were on the Black Sea and even after the war they claimed that their torpedo boats were sunk light cruiser "Tashkent", however, with our "underwater" saboteurs, everything is really from the field of unscientific fiction. smile
  6. Knell wardenheart
    Knell wardenheart 28 May 2021 11: 52
    I heard about human torpedoes (Japanese and German), but I didn't know this particular episode of application.
    Thanks for the good article!
    1. Anzhey V.
      28 May 2021 14: 10
      Thank you Knell!)
    2. Nikolaevich I
      Nikolaevich I 28 May 2021 16: 22
      Quote: Knell Wardenheart
      About human torpedoes (Japanese and German) hearing

      Italians and British had something similar to Japanese, German "human torpedoes" (but not quite!) ...,
      1. Knell wardenheart
        Knell wardenheart 28 May 2021 16: 39
        The Italians, as far as I remember, developed mini-submarines for sabotage operations, there was no talk about some kind of self-sacrifice or torpedo attacks, they were interested in the means of covert penetration and installation of explosives on targets or objects located in the harbor territory.
        Neither speed nor autonomy (electric motor) allowed them to act against ships - and they were designed not from torpedoes, but separately.
        Alas, I have not heard anything about English projects, although it is quite logical that they were developing this, taking into account the need to eliminate the German captured fleet.
        1. Nikolaevich I
          Nikolaevich I 28 May 2021 23: 03
          Quote: Knell Wardenheart
          there was no talk about some kind of self-sacrifice or torpedo attacks, they were interested in the means of covert penetration and installation of explosives on targets or objects located on the territory of the harbors.

          And yet ... in the "military-technical" information, Italian, English "tugs of underwater saboteurs and mines" are called "human-guided torpedoes"! English "Chariots" were created on the basis of the trophy Italian SLC "Maiale" ... Besides, when mentioning "Italians" and "English", I said: "something similar, but not quite", comparing with "Germans"! Therefore, you should not ascribe to me Italian and English "kamikaze"!
          1. Knell wardenheart
            Knell wardenheart 28 May 2021 23: 47
            Sorry if I hurt you by putting it inaccurately!
            I just meant the fundamental difference between the Italian project and the German-Japanese one. The Japanese Germans made torpedo tubes as an anti-ship weapon on the high seas, both in the kamikaze version (Japanese) and in the secretive hunter version. The Italians made just a mini-submarine for sabotage (the Japanese also had projects of special mini-submarines for sabotage, which they tried to use in Pearl Harbor, but they, like Italian mini-submarines, differed from "human torpedoes" as I understand this term - as the nature of the task, and the specialization of the design, and the presence of more than 1 crew member on board). In my opinion, these are completely different things, although I will not argue - those who used them really knew better.
            1. Nikolaevich I
              Nikolaevich I 29 May 2021 00: 52
              I'm not "angry" with you ... just explained! By the way, when the Italians first "thought" about their "sabotage tug", they first took the "biggest" torpedo (!) That they had at their disposal ... And mini-submarines are somewhat different! They could, for example, land saboteurs ashore behind enemy lines, deliver the same "man-controlled torpedoes" to the desired "point" ... at the same time, they could also use "ordinary" torpedoes ...
  7. hohol95
    hohol95 28 May 2021 12: 37
    Next, you should probably wait for an article about boats of the "Linze" type and their Italian progenitors.
    Dear Author! Do you have any data on the attempt to destroy the battleship Royal Soverin transferred to the Soviet Northern Fleet by the Bieber mini-boats?
    1. Anzhey V.
      28 May 2021 14: 11

      So far, unfortunately, I have not been interested in this issue, but I will not apply it - I really like the topic of asymmetric means of naval warfare)
      1. Catfish
        Catfish 28 May 2021 14: 50
        Andrey, good afternoon and thanks for the article. hi

        I read the book about the compound "K" in my youth, then, during the "Khrushchev thaw", we had a lot of translated Western literature, including this book.
        Potkhasta remembered the last name to this day, and if my memory serves me, he was sure that he had sunk a large destroyer and only after being captured, during interrogation, he learned from a British officer that it was a cruiser: "Anyway, congratulations, you sunk a cruiser, an old, but still a cruiser. "
        I still vaguely recall the activities of formation "K" in the Crimea and Taman, in particular Operation Hope, named after the local Russian friend of Lieutenant-Commander Prinzhorn, she, as the author of the book wrote, "by storm" took the headquarters of the flotilla and demanded clear eyes of a gallant drop. But he was on a mission and the staff, being delighted with this lady, assigned her the name of the planned operation. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the details, everything was read a long time ago. smile

        It would be very nice if you undertook to cover the activities of this compound on our territory.
        Yes, something else comes to mind about the explosions of bridges on rivers in order to hold back the advance of our troops.

        I wish you success and look forward to the next article. Best wishes, M. Kot. drinks smile
        1. Anzhey V.
          28 May 2021 19: 03
          Thank you so much for your kind words, comrade Cat!

          I will definitely try to highlight the episodes of the activity of the compound "K" indicated by you. drinks
          1. Catfish
            Catfish 28 May 2021 22: 10
            Well, we will wait and, I hope, not for long. smile drinks
        2. Andrey Zhdanov-Nedilko
          Andrey Zhdanov-Nedilko 29 May 2021 17: 52
          I am sure that after the war, the NKVD diminished the sexual fervor of this collaborationist, sending her to the more northern regions of the USSR, so to speak, to freshen up. Frosts in Norilsk and Kolyma remove stupidity well, that's for sure. So Nadezhda would have had to go there, if she did not have time to get away with her Germans.
  8. Kostadinov
    Kostadinov 16 July 2021 10: 03
    The main mistake in my opinion is that they imitated only the technique but not the tactics of the Italians - the attack of ships only in the port.
    An attack at sea is not effective for human torpedoes. Later, the Japanese also convinced them.