A still youthful looking Admiral Yamamoto. Source unknown.
Just as Patton, Ike and Nimitz led with their hearts and souls for America, Admiral Yamamoto did the same for his country… from even before WWII started.
He had tremendous foresight and used it to modernize the Japanese fleet – both on the water and most of all, in the air.
This is not said to glorify or sympathize with the Japanese military of World War II. It is just a statement of fact. Admiral Yamamoto – given his duty and orders by the Japanese government and as career military – was going to do his utmost to defeat America if it came to war…
…but he knew down to the tips of his ten toes and eight fingers the Japanese Empire would end if they were to take on the Americans and Brits.
Yamamoto’s gift for leadership and his intelligence was noticed by his superiors. In 1915, Yamamoto was rewarded by a jump in rank to Lieutenant Commander.
Trouble was… He possibly felt being called Lt. Commander Torano just didn’t cut it. He may have felt there was a ball and chain in having the last name of Torano. If you recall, that was still his last name. His father – Sadayoshi Torano, one of the last true samurai – chose the wrong side and lost in a civil war.
In another way of looking at it, if you had an opportunity, would you stay with the last name of Clanton… or change your name to Earp?
It’s All in the Name
Now that he was on the rise, Lt. Commander Isoroku Torano caught the eye of the – you guessed it – the Yamamoto family.
Everything on Preserving the Past II is to preserve the past for future generations. With this in mind, Preserving the Past II is the sequel to Preserving the Past which was originally created to help Clarence Simonsen publish his research mostly on nose art. Little did I know then was how much research Clarence had done. Preserving the Past has more than 150 stories and this one 35.
This is post number 36 on Preserving the Past II.
Two messages from Clarence about someone’s father.
The color is from my 2001 book – RAF & RCAF Aircraft Nose Art in WWII. You can use no copyright problems. The other two were taken at ex-Handley Page Repair Depot at Rawcliffe, after 23 May 45, by F/L Harold Lindsay. Roll #5, Print #1 is the full image, Ottawa negative RE-77-82. The nose image was Roll #5, Print #2, negative RE77-83. These were obtained by me…
Mensch und Dilemma – (original)
Zum besseren Verständnis möchte ich mich noch in ein paar Sätzen über den Charakter meines Vaters äußern: Wie schon gesagt war er ein sehr genügsamer und bescheidener Mensch.
Zwar hatte er seinen Stolz, der beruhte aber auf menschliche Eigenschaften und auf menschlicher Leistung. Seine Natur war immer friedlich und er war nicht der Typ Mensch, der als kampforientierter Angreifer zu bezeichnen gewesen wäre. Er war immer bei klarem Bewusstsein und kühlem Kopf, diese Eigenschaften führten ihn bei allen seinen Handlungen und Tätigkeiten.
Er hätte nie irgendwelche Drogen konsumiert, ich selbst habe ihn nie alkoholisiert erlebt in den 37 jahren in denen ich ihn kannte. Er war immer bestrebt und auch in der Lage zielorientiert zu handeln, wenn um ihn herum großes Chaos und Panik herrschte.
Er war auch kein Großmaul der besonders laute Töne machte wenn sich etwas besonderes ereignete. Er hätte sicherlich nicht voller Stolz gejubelt bei der Vernichtung des Gegners, er hätte immer auch an die andere Seite gedacht: Jeder Besiegte ist ein Opfer und er selbst hätte auch besiegt werden können.
So ist es ihm schließlich wenig später ergangen, am 24.08.1944, am 19.04.1945 und bei weiteren Situationen in seinem Leben. Das ist sicher der Grund warum er mir nie von den Ereignissen des 29.04.1944 erzählt hat. Ich bin mir heute ziemlich sicher er hätte mir alles erzählt, wenn ich ihn danach gefragt hätte. Doch damals wußte ich nicht über diese Angelegenheit, deshalb kam es nie zu einem Gespräch darüber.
Eine kleine Anekdote noch, denn seinen inneren Stolz hatte er sich immer bewahrt: Einmal hat er mir erzählt, wenn Hitler zu seinen Wehrmachtsangehörigen gesprochen hat, begann er seine Rede mit den Worten: Soldaten von Heer und Luftwaffe, -Männer der Marine… Erklärend sei gesagt mein Vater war kein klassischer Nazi und er war kein Parteimitglied, die Worte des Führers aber hatten bei den jungen Männern starke Wirkung. Im Endeffekt für jeden Soldaten eine Gratwanderung den eigenen guten Charaktereigenschaften zu folgen, oder dem vom derzeit politischen System erzeugten Hordeneffekt zu folgen (Propaganda!).
Text from Willi Küllertz
Humans and dilemma (free translation)
For a better understanding I would like to express myself in a few sentences about the character of my father.
My father was a very frugal and modest person. Although he had his pride, it was based on human qualities and on human performance. His nature was always peaceful, and he was not the type of person who would have been a combat-oriented attacker.
He had always a clear mind and was cool headed. These traits of characters led him in all his actions and activities. He never consumed any drugs, and I never saw him drunk in the 37 years I knew him. He was always eager and able to act purposefully when there was great chaos and panic around him. He was soft spoken and never shouted when something special happened.
He would certainly not have been proud in annihilating the enemy, he would have always thought of the other side as well: every defeated one is a victim and he himself could have been defeated. This is what happened to him a little later, on August 24, 1944, and April 19, 1945, and in other situations in his life.
That is certainly the reason why he never told me about the events of April 29, 1944.
I’m pretty sure today he would have told me everything if I had asked him, but then I did not know about this matter, so there was never a conversation about it.
A small anecdote, because he had always preserved his inner pride: Once he told me that when Hitler spoke to his members of the military, he began his speech with these words: soldiers of army and air force, men of the navy… To explain, my father was not a classic nazi and he was not a party member, but the leader’s words had a strong effect on the young men. In the end, for each soldier a tightrope walk either to follow their own good character traits or the current political system (propaganda!).
Texte de Willi Küllertz (traduction libre)
L’homme et le dilemme –
Pour mieux comprendre, je voudrais écrire quelques phrases sur le caractère de mon père : Comme je l’ai déjà dit, c’était une personne très frugale et modeste.
Bien qu’il ait eu sa fierté, elle était basée sur les qualités humaines et l’accomplissement humain. Il était toujours d’une nature paisible et il n’était pas le genre de personne qu’on pourrait appeler un attaquant axé sur le combat. Il était toujours avec la conscience claire et la tête froide, ces qualités l’ont guidé dans toutes ses actions et ses activités.
Il n’a jamais consommé de drogue, je ne l’ai jamais vu ivre une seule fois dans les 37 ans que je l’ai connu. Il était toujours prêt et capable d’agir avec détermination quand il y avait du chaos et de la panique autour de lui. Il n’était pas non plus une grande gueule. Il ne parlait pas fort quand quelque chose de spécial arrivait.
Il n’aurait certainement pas applaudi avec fierté en tuant son adversaire, il aurait toujours pensé à l’autre camp : chaque vaincu est une victime et lui-même aurait pu être vaincu.
C’est ce qui lui est arrivé un peu plus tard, le 24 août 1944, le 19 avril 1945 et dans d’autres situations de sa vie. C’est certainement la raison pour laquelle il ne m’a jamais parlé des événements du 29 avril 1944. Je suis presque sûr qu’aujourd’hui, il m’aurait tout raconté si je lui en avais parlé. Mais à l’époque, je n’étais pas au courant de cette affaire, donc il n’y a jamais eu de conversation à ce sujet.
Une petite anecdote comme mot de la fin parce que mon père avait toujours gardé sa fierté intérieure : Un jour, il m’a dit que quand Hitler parlait aux membres de la Wehrmacht, il commençait son discours par les mots : soldats de l’armée et de l’aviation, hommes de la marine… Pour expliquer, mon père n’était pas un nazi classique et il n’était pas membre du parti, mais les paroles du Führer ont eu un fort effet sur les jeunes hommes. En fin de compte, c’était une marche sur la corde raide pour chaque soldat pour soit suivre ses propres traits de caractère ou suivre l’effet de hordes créé par le système politique actuel (propagande !).
Back in his home country, Wilhelm had worked in various companies as a locksmith. The war was lost and so was his plan about the navy to complete a technical degree. He did not have Abitur*, and the times were not so favorable in the early years to resume this plan.
Abitur means high school grade to continue and study on in an university in Germany. Abitur is the graduation of a Gymnasium, a German grammar school.
After his daily work he went to evening school and on 13th of December 1957 he received his master examination in mechanical engineering. He often said, “If we had not lost the war, today I would have been able or in a better condition to have studied and finished the university with an academic degree in technical engineering will full recognition.
Master craftsman’s certificate from Wilhelm Küllertz
(from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
In 1955 and 1956 both his parents had died, and he inherited his parents’ home. He had to pay out his two sisters accordingly. So he decided in 1958 and 1959 to go abroad, where currently in a short time more money than in Germany. In Colombia he worked at Pizano Triplex y Madeiras, a large manufacturer of wood-based materials in Barranquilla, as the workshop maintenance manager. In 1960 he was then back again in Germany. He found work at Kleibaumhüter Maschinenbau in Wiedenbrück.
After the death of the owner in 1961 he took over with his friend and colleague
Willi Stemick and started the business and founded his own company “Küllertz & Stemick – Mechanical Engineering and Turning” in Wiedenbrück.
In 1962 he founded a family of their own. He married his wife Elisabeth née Ewers. The family has two sons.
Wilhelm Küllertz approx. 1955 – 1960 (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
For health reasons, after a serious operation he got a stroke. At the time, the two sons were still too young and not yet sufficiently qualified to take over the business as it was originally planned.
His partner Willi Stemick, who was about 10 years older, had been in retirement for several years. The company was closed in 1988. As a pensioner Wilhelm Küllertz often expressed the wish to go to France again, where he had been in captivity. He was still hoping to see again someone from the family with whom he had spent part of his life.
His wish would probably have come true. He still had many plans as a pensioner. Plans for such a trip did not come because on September 15th, 2000 Wilhelm Küllertz died. His straightforward, honest, industrious and kind human nature has always distinguished him. With those who knew him, he left many lasting memories. He is still very well remembered by Fauré-Roux family.
Wilhelm Küllertz as a pensioner approx. 1995 – 2000 (from author’s private collection)
From the remaining crews of both sunken ships, the naval battalion “Narvik”, was formed shortly after and it was located in the Gironde-Sud fortress. This was a welcomed support to the units who were there. The Battalion headquarters was located in St-Vivien and the task of the unit was to monitor of the perimeter of the fortress by several blocking points. Thus unintentionally Wilhelm Küllertz became like his comrades a foot soldier from then on which was quite dangerous.
For the most part, the fortress was spared fighting. However targeted attacks by FFI pose a major problem. The FFI fighters were not recognizable as such, since they did not wear a uniform. Any civilian could have been a FFI fighter and be a potential danger. FFI attacks were extremely feared.
The second major problem in the fortress was the inadequate supply of food for the troops. Sometimes, however, there were ways that get food. It has been reported that one night, in a well planned action a cow was caught in the meadow and slaughtered.
So the fortress existence dragged on until mid April 1945, when the French liberation troops under colonel Milleret stormed the fortress. Suddenly everything went very fast and every day was marked by constant fighting. The French ground forces received support from US bombers. It was the first time napalm was used massively to dislodge the last remnants of German defenders and killed them.
Formal notification of the soldier’s whereabouts on the front line – above the envelope, and below the content (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
During these waves of attacks, Wilhelm Küllertz was near St. Vivien. He was involved in hand-to-hand combat with a dark-skinned US soldier. In this fight – man against man – this attacker wanted to stab him with his bayonet. Wilhelm stopped the attack by reacting with a defence movement. Instead of being killed he was finally able to escape. Only a permanent scar on his ring finger reminded him every day of this minor incident. According to WAST* information, he was captured on the 19th of April, 1945 near Le Verdon.
WAST means Wehrmachtsauskunftsstelle which is an official German federal agency in Berlin to explore the history of WWII soldiers with any kind of documents and reports.
The first sign of life from October 1945 as prisoner of war in the camp 184 Soulac – front and back (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
A second card after another half year of uncertainty – Front and back (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
First, Wilhelm Küllertz spent about the first year of his time as a prisoner of war in the PG Depot 184 in Soulac. His duties there included, among other things, were deforestation and forest clearing work, the construction of wooden houses and other buildings and searching and defusing mines. According to his accounts, the minesweepers had the highest rate of injured and dead prisoners of war. According to his accounts, often only 8 out of 10 people came back to the camp in the afternoon from a mine-clearing operation. Accidents causing deaths were common among mine sweepers. He was lucky and he remained accident-free. Also he reported about the bad food supply situation.
According to his accounts, the guards (mostly French colonial soldiers) almost daily, before the morning roll call, had to carry out the dead bodies of the prisoners of war who had died the night before. They either had died for lack of food or from infectious diseases that were prevalent in the camp. The sanitary conditions in the camp were extremely poor, paired with hunger and deprivation, which was a good breeding ground for death.
Hard to believe: Wilhelm Küllertz as a prisoner of war. Visibly emaciated and downright deformed, probably due to malnutrition and physical exhaustion (source: Fauré-Roux family).
But fate would be good to Wilhelm. He was lucky and could finally leave the camp. From then on he served as a laborer on the farm of the winegrower Albert Fauré-Roux in St-Gaux near St-Germain d’Estuil. His duties there were about taking care of cattle, working in the vineyards and taking care of all the work that had to be done. Although he was a German prisoner of war it did not take long to practically became part of the family. His patron Albert Fauré-Roux had been in the same predicament in World War I. According to his daughter-in-law, he had been as a French prisoner of war working for a German farmer. So this is why he probably knew how important it was to be fair and decent with Wilhelm.
Wilhelm Küllertz enjoyed many freedoms on the farm. So regularly he got pocket money, for example to drink a beer in the village on Sundays. His patron often meant well with him. Regularly he had a few bottles of wine that Albert gave him. Albert always said that Wilhelm should keep the red one for himself and drink it himself, because it would be good for his health. He should better exchange the white wine for cigarettes because white wine makes shaky fingers anyway.
Wilhelm learned about working in the vineyard, but he also taught Albert about many technical things or how to keep the horse during shoeing horseshoes or other general choirs. The patron just knew about vineyards. Working in the vineyards was directed by the stars, and when there was a full moon no work like cutting vines or something like that was done in the vineyards.
In short, the patron and his German prisoner of war were mutually beneficial to each other.
Albert’s parents were not ready to live under one roof with a German war prisoner, so a new building had to be built. Building this house was one of the jobs Wilhelm had to assist and help. Also during the building of an extension to the new house, he had to live in an old building on the other side of the street in a separate room, which is still used today as an office. Instead of running water, he had a fountain in the old building directly in the courtyard in front of the house.
The old residence of the agricultural estate in St-Gaux, in the summer of 2018.
The German prisoner of war was housed in an attic (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz).
The old fountain in the courtyard still exists, today no longer in operation (from the personal collection of Wilhelm Küllertz)
It’s in this attic that the prisoner of war was living. Today the room serves as an office. On the photo is Mrs. Claudie Fauré-Roux, daughter-in-law of Patron Albert (from a personal collection)
There was also a close friendship between Wilhelm Küllertz and Denis Fauré-Roux, Albert’s son. Denis was born in 1944. The little boy of that time felt that the German war prisoner was a great strong brother. Denis died in 2010 at the age of 66. For all those years he had fond memories of his great friend Wilhelm, called Willi. Denis often told his family about the great time he had with his friend so the family knew many stories and details of this great friendship. In the first few years after Wilhelm’s return to Germany there was still regular correspondence.
But over time this contact stopped. The reasons are still not known. One had then assumed over the years that Wilhelm Küllertz would have died in a plane crash. But it was completely different.
Wilhelm Küllertz remained a prisoner of war on the farm until almost the end of 1948, and he wasn’t back home in Germany until Christmas 1948. When he was just 17 years-old when he left his parents’ home and went to war. So for more than 6 years he had had the most beautiful years of his life far away from his homeland, and was captured in a war. Wilhelm had to join the navy instead of joining the army and be a cannon fodder in the Eastern front in Russia.
Letter of 11 December 1948 after his arrival at home – front (Source: Family Fauré-Roux)
Letter of 11 December 1948 after his arrival at home – backside (Source: Family Fauré-Roux)
Letter of 10 July 1949 – backside (Source: Family Fauré-Roux)
Letter of 10 July 1949 – front page (Source: Fauré-Roux family)
Denis Fauré-Roux, the only child of Albert and his wife
(source: Fauré-Roux family)
This is the continuation of the story of a German sailor as told by his son Willi. His father Wilhelm Küllertz did not talk much about the attack of the Beaufighters who sank the T24 torpedo boat so I went on the Internet to find more information… which I did!
In the estuary of the Gironde, both ships appeared together several times. Because of fuel scarcity and unrepaired damage from different attacks since April 29, 1944, both ships were used to protect against air raids on Royan and Le Verdon region as floating anti-aircraft ships. After the evacuation of Bordeaux in the August 1944, the fortresses of Gironde-North (Royan) and of Gironde-South (Le Verdon) were formed.
On 24 August, 1944, the T24 and the Z24 lay again on stand by in the Gironde estuary. They suffered another serious air strike from two squadrons of Coastal Command, RCAF 404 Squadron, and RAF 236 Squadron. The ships were attacked by a total of 18 Beaufighter combat aircraft. This was one of the first rocket attacks in history.
During this battle T24 received some hits below the waterline and sank immediately. Z24 was still able to reach Le Verdon but later in the night also sank. There were many dead and injured. However the harbour protection flotilla was able to save most of the seamen. Wilhelm Küllertz survived the attack without any major injuries and he was able to escape the sinking boat in time. Despite the rough sea (the strong current of the Gironde) he was able to survive and was saved. According to his own accounts, he was unharmed and he was able to support the rescue work and he helped to save lives. I know that my father got awarded the iron cross (both classes). He never told me for what actions he received the two classes. My guess is that he got the second class with many others of his ship after the fight with the Athabaskan, and possibly they gave him the first class for his efforts to save lives in the Gironde after the sinking of the T24.
I am not the author of the following story originally written in French.
The story of the attack as described is quite remarkable, and tells of the sinking of the T24, the ship of Willi Küllertz’s father.
August 14, 1944, the beginning of the end of Z24 and T24
I’m going to present you with a true story, which my father told me when I was a kid and of which I found traces in my grandfather’s archives. These are historical facts that took place in the Gironde estuary and retrace some of the Kriegsmarine’s feats of arms in the region. The text is quite long and I tried to decorate it with pictures from different periods of the different ships taken on site.
German fleets in Gironde:
The first fleets arrived in Gironde in the summer of 1940. For four years, under the authority of the 4. Sicherungsdivision, these fleets were responsible for escorting convoys along the southwest coast and ensuring the safety of the Gironde estuary.
2. M. Flotille of Korvettenkapitän Kurt Thoma arrived at the end of August 1940 to clear the minefields. The following month came the 4.Vp.Flotilla of K.Kpt. Karl Wilhelm Müssen which was based in Bordeaux. In January 1943, the 2.M.Flotille was transferred to Bénodet, then replaced in Royan by the 8.M.Flotille of K. Kpt Gerhard von Kamptz.
At the beginning of August, the port of Royan was home to the 2. Sperrbrecher-Flotille of K. Kpt Rudolf Kömer. In the spring of 1942, the 8.M.Flotille left the Gironde to join the English Channel and was replaced by the 6.M.Flotille of the K.Kpt Hans John. This one, was joined in March 1943 by the 28.M.Flotille, of the K.Kpt Gerhard Bidlingmaier, which was based in Pauillac. Finally in June, the 6.M.Flotille joined Concarneau and the 8.M.Flotille returned to Royan. In 1944, only the 8. and 28.
The 2 M. Flotillen, the Sperrbrecher-Flotille and the 4.
Vp. Flotille remained in Gironde, all of which were destroyed in August by Allied aircraft.
This patrol fleet, incorporated in Germany on 25 September 1939, is equipped with 19 coded vessels from V404 to V411, V413 to V415, V420 to V422 and V424.
2. Sperrbrecher flottille
This fleet, established in Wessermünde, Germany on 1 July 1940, consists of merchant ships adapted for the dredging of magnetic mines. It lines up 18 buildings. The Tulane was once transformed into a command ship; this fleet, formed in Germany in 1936, has 13 M35 or M39 class vessels.
This fleet was formed on March 14, 1941 in Kiel-Wik, and is assigned to Royan for use in dredging, convoying and protection missions for ships in transit along the coast. It has 14 vessels of types M35, 38, 39 and 40.
This fleet, reconstituted on May 15, 1942, has 14 vessels of class M39.
Constituted on December 1, 1942, with the crews of the former 18. M-Flottille, this fleet has 9 vessels of type M40.
The 8. Zerstorer flotilla
At the beginning of 1943, blockade breakers had increasing difficulty falling through the mesh of the net set by the Anglo-Saxons. The High Command therefore decided to transfer a fleet of destroyers to Gironde in order to protect their movements in the dangerous Bay of Biscay.
Chosen for this mission, the 8.Z. Flotilla left Norway to reach Le Havre on March 6 after a short visit to a German port. In two night stages, the Z23, Z24 and Z32 reach the Gironde, which they reach on the morning of 8 March, after having spent the previous day in Cherbourg. Escorted to the estuary by the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim, they finally arrived in Bordeaux at 8:00 am. The Z37, which remained in Le Havre for damage, will join Royan on the evening of 19 March with the T2.
The destroyers then carried out several escort missions, Operation Sacco to protect the Himalayan blockade breaker, or Operation Arno to meet the Pietro Orseolo arriving from the Far East. On May 3, the Z23, Z24 and Z32 left the Gironde for a series of exercises in the Gulf. On its return on May 6, the Z23 reached La Pallice where it will remain in general overhaul for four months, until August 10. The other two destroyers are returning to Bordeaux. A patrol took them to Brest on June 4, but they returned to Royan five days later. On June 14, they set sail to meet U-564, which had just issued a distress call. But the Z32 had to turn around on mechanical problems and the Z24 arrived too late, the submarine having been sunk by a Whitley of the No. 10 OTU. His crew, rescued by U-185, was transferred to the destroyer that took him to Gironde.
At the beginning of the following month, the Z24 and Z37 left to collect the U-180, U-518 and U-530 returning from operations. They accompanied them to Bordeaux on July 3. Finally, on July 22nd, the Z24, Z32 and Z37 escorted the U-117, U-459 and U-461 departing in operation. In the following months, the fleet’s activity will consist of a few trips to the Bay of Biscay to carry out manoeuvres and firing and torpedoing exercises. On November 5, the fleet was reinforced by the destroyers Z27 and ZH1, which arrived at Le Verdon in the evening. In December the fleet also participates in the escort of blockade breakers returning from the Far East.
On 1 January 1944, the Z24 was transferred to La Pallice to undergo a major overhaul at the Kriegsmarinewerft, which would last four months. On January 29, three destroyers set sail for a series of exercises in the Gulf. But in the night the Z32 violently collided with the Z37 following a false manoeuvre, causing a torpedo to explode aboard the latter. Fires broke out on both destroyers, but they were brought under control. Severely damaged on starboard aft, the Z37 can be towed by the Z23 to the Chantiers de la Gironde, but it will remain unavailable until it is finally scuttled on 25 August. The Z32, with its bow down, will remain unavailable until May 2. Fleet activity will be relatively limited until landing.
However, on March 9, the Z23 and ZH1 departed for the southern Bay of Biscay to meet the Japanese submarine I-29, which they escorted with the T27 and T29 torpedo boats to Lorient.
On May 5, the fleet was joined by the Z24, which had just completed its overhaul.
A final exercise was conducted in the Gulf by the four destroyers between May 17 and 19, then the Z23 moved to La Pallice for a new overhaul.
Thus, it was only with three destroyers that the 8.Z-Flottille, commanded by the Kpt.z.S Theodor Freiherr von Mauchenheim, left the Gironde on June 6 to fight the Allied invasion fleet. Only the Z24 will return from there, to be sunk in front of the Verdon on August 24th in the company of the T24. The Z23, damaged on 12 and 16 August by British heavy bombers targeting the port of La Pallice, will be scuttled on 21 August.
Objective: annihilation of surface forces
At the end of July 1944, the British launched a major offensive (Operation “Kinetic”) against the last ships of the Kriegsmarine on the Bay of Biscay coast. The formidable fighter-bombers of Coastal Command have appeared above the estuary and in one month, they will cause a real slaughter. Their first victim was the auxiliary dredger M4457 ex-C.P. Andersen (423 BRT) which was sunk on 28 July in front of Hourtin. During the same attack, the V410 patrol boat was damaged. Infested with mines and continuously overflown by fighter bombers, the waters of the estuary become extremely dangerous. With the month of August, the descent into hell for the Kriegsmarine’s ships based in Gironde will be fast and irreversible.
Navigation is becoming increasingly difficult, hampered by the many magnetic mines that pose a significant threat. Almost every night, a dozen Halifax from Bomber Command come to drop them off in the estuary. Heavy dredgers and Sperrbrechers do their best to clear mines, but the task is enormous. On August 11, two dredgers from the 8.M-Flottille left Bordeaux with supplies for the fortress of Saint-Nazaire. But at 7:55 pm in front of Pauillac, the M27 of the ObIt.z.S. Christoph Schickel hit a mine and sank. The shipwreck caused forty-one deaths, including the K.Kpt. Arnuif Hoizerkopf, Commander of the flotilla. Damaged on August 17 at 12:20 am, the M363 heavy dredger managed to return to Bordeaux. The next day, the M304 was also damaged. The auxiliary dredger M4207 ex-Les Baleines (253 BRT) is less fortunate. It sank at 18:57 near buoy No. 35, and the main threat to shipping in Gironde came from the sky. On the morning of August 12, thirty-five Mosquitos of No. 235 and 248 Squadrons attacked ships operating at the entrance to the estuary. In front of Royan, they attacked with a bomb and cannon a heavy dragger and three patrol boats. Seriously hit, the M370 must ground at 10:20.
In front of Le Verdon, the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim is only slightly damaged at 10:30 am, but its hours are limited. The patrol boat V410 ex-Germania (427 BRT), burned at 10:45 am, was abandoned by its crew who killed two people. The large Sperrbrechers are one of the favourite prey of hunter-bombers.
On the morning of August 13, at 9:30 am, eighteen Beaufighters from No. 236 and 404 Squadrons led by W-Cdr A. Gadd surprised the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim (5339 BRT) and the Sperrbrecher 6 Magdeburg (6128 BRT) at anchor in front of Royan.
Attacked by rocket and cannon, they retaliated violently but were quickly set on fire. They will sink in the morning of the next day. The crews suffered many casualties, including thirteen deaths on the Schwanheim and eight on the Magdeburg. An aircraft from No. 236 Squadron was shot down.
On August 14, the Mosquitos damaged the Destroyer Z24, which had been spotted the day before without being attacked, and the tanker Schwarzes Meer (3371 BRT) in front of Le Verdon. Just out of repair following the June 9 engagement in Brittany, the destroyer received five rockets and a hundred shells that still caused major damage.
On August 21, after several days of bad weather, the fighter-bombers returned to the estuary. At 5:30 pm, the Mosquitos of No. 235 and 248 Squadrons sank the heavy dredger M292 and damaged the patrol boat V407. Three days later, they sank in front of Royan the patrol boat V473 ex-Ferdinand Niedermeyer (286 BRT). On the same day, August 24, the Beaufighters obtained their greatest victory by destroying the K.Kpt Z24 destroyer. Heinz Birnbacher and the Kptlt’s T24 torpedo boat. Wilhelm Meentzen in front of the Verdon (I will come back to this episode in partculier)
The last victim of the fighter-bombers is the small patrol boat V411 ex-Saarland (435 BRT) which was attacked on 26 August at 17 h 30 in front of Royan and sank following the explosion of his boiler. The next day, the V404 ex-Baden (321 BRT) and the M4206 ex-Picorre (287 BRT) were scuttled at Royan. The surviving crews of all these destroyed or scuttled buildings, especially those of the Sperrbrechers, will train in the Festung Gironde Nord, under the orders of the F.Kpt. Fritz Drevin, the Marine-Battalion Tirpitz, which will be integrated into the fortress’ defensive system (we can talk about all this one of these days, Laurent). From now on, apart from the small Hafenschutzbootts, there is not a single operational ship left in the estuary, the last of which were scuttled in Bordeaux. The destroyed Kriegsmarine has ceased to rule the Gironde.
On August 25, immediately after the departure of the last two U-Boote, the mining of the port of Bordeaux was undertaken. But the destruction of port facilities required by OKW will not happen. Indeed, with the approval of Gen. Lt. Albin Nake, the K. Kpt. Ernst Kûhnemann (Hafenkommandant) only had many ships scuttled in the Garonne during the day to cause a traffic jam. A dam has been set up at Lagrange, about ten kilometres downstream of Bordeaux. By effectively blocking the port, it will prohibit its use. Eighteen vessels, including former blockade breakers, were scuttled in three groups (downstream group: five vessels including Osorno (6951 BRT), Eisa Essberger (6103 BRT), Usaramo (7775 BRT) and Scharlacheberger (2877 BRT); central group : six vessels including Himalaya (6240 BRT), Rastenburg (4479 BRT), Tannenfels (7840 BRT) and Stanasfalt (2 468 BRT); upstream group: seven vessels including Fusijama (6 244 BRT), Nordmeer (5646 BRT) and Schwarzes Meer (3371 BRT). In Bordeaux itself, some twenty ships are sunk on the quays or in the middle of the Garonne, including the Sperrbrecher 3 Belgrad, the heavy dredgers M262, M304, M363 and M463 on the 28.M-Flottille, the auxiliary dredger M4442 ex-Touquet (251 BRT), the patrol boat V407 ex-Dorum (470 BRT), the tender Nordsee, the tanker Frisia (953 BRT), the cargo ships Derindje (3063 BRT), Dresden (5567 BRT) and Merceditta (1162 BRT), and the trawlers Brook (237 BRT) and Sardella (329 BRT). Twenty-two other ships were scuttled at Bassens, including eighteen dredges and the Burano tanker (4450 BRT). At the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde, the Sperrbrecher 14 Bockenheim and the destroyer Z37 are out of service, the last one in the major refit form. In all, nearly 200 boats representing 170,000 BRTs were intentionally sunk. Finally, the submarines U-178, U-188 and ITU-21 were scuttled in the U-Bunker (the Bordeaux submarine base), all of whose interior installations were dynamited.
August 14, 1944, the beginning of the end of Z24 and T24
T24 in the foreground
La 8. Zerstörer flotilla, placed under the command of the Kapitan zur See Freiherr Theodor von Mauchenheim Genannt Bechtolsheim, formed by Z24, Z32, ZH1 and T24, was attacked on June 9, 1944 off Batz Island, by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of Captain B. Jones. As a result of this engagement, the affected Z32 ran aground on the island of Batz, the severely damaged ZH1 sank and sank, while the Z24 and 724 managed to reach Brest.
On July 1, the Z24 and T24 left Brest for Bordeaux under the command of the new “pacha” of the 8. Zerstörer flotilla, the Fregattenkapitan Ritter und Edier Herr George von Berger (ex Kdr of the Z32), who had transferred his staff and fleet leader flag to the Z24.
On August 14 in Verdon, the Z24 was attacked by two British twin engines while it was in hiding. Slightly damaged by rockets and unable to be repaired on site, it reached Bordeaux with the T24. Both were then moored near hangar No. 13 (Sperrwaffenlager).
On August 22, under pressure from the FFI, the order to evacuate the Bordeaux naval base was given by Konteradmiral (Ing) Cari Weber, commander of the Kriegsmarinewerft. A large number of materials, weapons and food were then transferred to the Z24 from neighbouring warehouses. During the manoeuvre, some sailors of Alsatian origin left and joined the resistance. Moreover, it did not remain inactive to hinder the departure of the Germans, because at the end of the afternoon hangar n°13, full of explosives, jumped. The resistance had dug a tunnel under the nearby street to mine it. As a result of the explosion, several German soldiers were killed and many wounded were evacuated to the Z24. After loading, the Korvettenkapitàn Birnbacher gave the order to sail and the Z24 was allowed to drift about a hundred metres, without using the machines, until the Kommando returned from the arsenal that had remained on land to sabotage the remaining installations.
For its part, the T24 of the Kapitänleutnant Meentzen, still under repair, is not ready and remains in port amidst the shipwrecks that the Germans have just sunk to obstruct.
On the morning of August 23rd, the Z24, supported by two U-boats, the U-219 and the U-437, joined Le Verdon. The U-219, of the XB type equipped with a Schnorchel, is placed under the command of the Korvettekapitän Walter Burghagen and belongs to the 12.U-Boot-Flottille de Bordeaux. He joined Jakarta in August 1945. The U-437, type VIIC, is commanded by the Kapitänleutnant Hermann Lamby and belongs to the 6.U-Boot-Flottille of Saint-Nazaire. He will return to Bergen on 21 September 1944.
The Z24 escorted by the U-boats finally reached the Verdon harbour on the evening of the 23rd, but it no longer held on its anchor and had to let its machines run to compensate for the flow, because it was not necessary to be surprised by a possible air attack. For its part, the T24, which can finally go to sea in the afternoon of 24 August, joins it in the harbour and stands 400 metres from the Z24, while the U-Boote rest in shallow water nearby. At around 7pm, the fighting was ordered as Beaufighters from Davidstow Moor’s Wing arrived from the East. These fighter bombers, belonging to Coastal Command, are specialized in attacking surface units. In fact, two squadrons led by the Squadron Leader E.W Tacon will engage the two surface ships, with ten aircraft from N°236 Squadron and eight aircraft from N°404 Squadron. The Beaufighters then dived on both buildings. The T24 is the first to face the assault. At the same time as the ships’ Flak was unleashed, the attackers poured a 25-pound rocket rain and 20 mm shells. In a few minutes the Z24 and T24 were surrounded by a cloud of machine-gun fire from the air.
The T24 was then severely hit and the Z24, although less hit, received enough hits on goal to cause fatal damage.
For its part, the Flak of the ships, having tried to oppose the attack, could not adjust its fire under the pressure of the eighteen Beaufighters. Shortly thereafter, the T24 burned and began to sink following breaches below its waterline by the 25-pound rockets.
The ships of the Hafenschûtz flottille Gironde, anchored in the block port under the direction of the Kapitänleutnant Otto Wild, were then quickly dispatched to the site and collected the crew of the T24, including the Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Meentzen.
The T24 will only deplore eighteen dead or missing, while the Korvettenkapitàn Heinz Birnbacher judges the damage suffered by its ship, which is also severely affected. Two possibilities were then offered to him, either the ship ran aground on a sandbank or he joined the nearby port of call. It is the latter solution that will be adopted. The Z24 then collapsed along the breakwater and the crew evacuated the ship with their thirty wounded. The cranes, installed along the quayside, set to work, the essential equipment and the 2 cm and 3.7 cm Flak parts were unloaded in a hurry, as the Z24 slowly but dangerously lay down on the starboard side, bowing towards the sea. At about midnight, with some of the crew still on board, further explosions from the engine room sounded. The Z24 capsized by breaking its mooring lines connecting it to the breakwater. As he slowly straightened up, the sailors left behind climbed into the superstructures but the place shrank. The men then jumped into the Gironde. Once again, the ships of the Hafenschûtzflottille Gironde were called upon to rescue the personnel. Life belts and buoys were then thrown, but many sailors were swept away by the strong current at this location and it was impossible to swim against it. Unfortunately, many sailors are entangled in anti-torpedo nets before they can be recovered. At one o’clock in the morning on August 25, the Z24 was engulfed by the waves and two sailors, who could not leave the shore, sank with it.
Throughout the night, the two grounded crews were grouped together in the hall of the ferry terminal before being housed with the inhabitants. The next day, some of the technical cadres (officers and mechanics non-commissioned officers) were to be sent to Blaye to join the ground units retreating north from the Bordeaux region. But as the liaison proved impossible, they would remain in place.
On 27 August, on the orders of Kapitän zur See Hans Michahelles (Seekommandant Gascony), See-Battalion-Narvik was formed at Verdon with the crew members of the former Z24 and T24, as well as part of the staff of the 8.The Fregattenkapitän Ritter, an Edler Herr George von Berger, took over the position of Chief of Staff of the fortress. For his part, Korvettekapitän Karl Heinz Birnbacher took over the destiny of the Marine-Battaillon-Narvik with Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Meenzen and Kapitänleutnant Brehnke. This unit, with two infantry companies, was assigned to the light support points of the forward line and fought with the energy of despair against the French forces of the Médoc Brigade.
The story of the attack as described in this book.
Sailor’s Grave Auf einem Seemannsgrab da bliihen keine Rosen. (On a sailor’s grave no roses bloom.) Part of refrain of song sung by the Kriegsmarine in wartime Germany.
By now, the work of the Strike Wings` in France was nearly over. Their attacks, combined with those of Bomber Command and the Navy, had almost wiped out the remains of Marinegruppekommando West. The surviving U-boats had departed for Norway. In their hopeless situation, the Germans were scuttling many of their damaged surface vessels, after removing their guns. Only two important warships were still afloat. These were the destroyer Z.24 and the torpedo boat T24, the two vessels that had survived when the Kriegsmarine had tried so courageously to attack the western flank of the allied invasion forces. These two warships, still well-served and deadly, were thought to be in the port of Le Verdon on the southern tip of the mouth of the Gironde estuary. Yet another Allied naval squadron, called Force 27 and consisting of the cruiser Mauritius with two destroyers, had damaged T-24 on 15 August in an engagement near La Pallice, but now the German warships were in the shelter of coastal batteries. The allied warships positioned themselves ten miles off the mouth of the Gironde and waited for an air attack.
This was the last major effort required of the Davidstow Moor Strike Wing. Tacon was briefed to lead ten Beaufighters from 236 and ten from 404. All armed with cannon and 25 lb rockets. Takeoff was late in the day, at 16.15 hours. The Wing was scheduled to attack near the limit of its range, perhaps returning in darkness. Tacon’s navigator, Flying Officer W. Brian Wardle, gave his pilot a course for a position a few miles north of Arachon Bay. En route, two Beaufighters of 404 Squadron turned back with mechanical trouble. The remaining eighteen aircraft made their landfall and turned north to the Gironde estuary. Tacon could see the two warships in the harbour of Le Verdon.
‘Keep down low, everyone’, he called. `We’ll head to the estuary first and fly along it for our climb. Then straight out to sea after the attack’
Tacon hoped to take the enemy by surprise, but the two vessels had steam up by the time the Beaufighters dived. The flak was probably the most intense that the crews had ever experienced, streaming up from the warships and the harbour defences. Nevertheless, every Beaufighter followed Tacon’s leadership in one of the most dangerous and determined attacks made by a Strike Wing. Records of the results of the attack from German sources are understandably fragmentary. It is known that several 25 lb warheads smashed into T-24 below the waterline. These ‘wet hits’ must have caused an uncontrollable rush of sea-water into the hull, for she sank almost immediately. There is no record of the casualties amongst her complement of 198 or of the fate of her captain, Kapitanleutnant Meentzen; many must have been killed or wounded.
Z-24 lasted a little longer. She received numerous hits above and below the waterline. Her starboard engine was put out of action but she remained afloat. There was time to tow her the short distance to a quay at Le Verdon, where she was made fast alongside the harbour railway station. Frantic efforts to patch the underwater holes were to no avail, for at 23.55 hours the same night she capsized and sank. There are no records of the casualties or the fate of her captain, Korvettenkapitan Birnbacher, but it seems likely that they were less severe than in T-24. It is known that the Senior Officer of the 8 th Zerstorer-Flotille survived, but the attack marked the end of Kapitan zur See von Bechtelsheim’s command which was now entirely obliterated. Sunivors of the two vessels claimed to have shot down Beaufighters but, once again, these claims were incorrect.
Although none of the Beaufighters was shot down, fifteen were damaged. They were a long way from home, with darkness ahead.