30 March – Today in German History

1941 

  • The German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel began its first offensive against British forces in Libya.

1945 

  • The U.S.S.R. invades Austria during World War II.

1946 

  • The Allies seize 1,000 Nazis attempting to revive the Nazi party in Frankfurt.
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28-29 March 1942 – Bombing of Lübeck

Lübeck Cathedral burning following the raids.

The first major bombing by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command was conducted against the port city of Lübeck. The city dated back to the Hanseatic days, thus many buildings were made of wood. 234 Wellington and Stirling bombers dropped about 400 tons of bombs. Though German defenses were light, 12 of the RAF bombers were still lost in the attack. The damage inflicted was heavy. The first of three waves of bombers used the new blockbuster bombs to blast over the building roofs and windows, allowing subsequent bombers and their incendiary bombs to contents inside of buildings on fire. 1,468 buildings were destroyed, 2,180 were seriously damaged, and 9,103 were lightly damaged; together, this represented 62% of all buildings in Lübeck. Initial German reports showed 301 killed, 3 were missing, and 783 were wounded, but actual deaths might be as high as 1,000; 15,000 people, or 10% of the city’s population, were displaced. After seeing footage of the destruction, German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary “[t]he damage is really enormous, I have been shown a newsreel of the destruction. It is horrible. One can well imagine how such a bombardment affects the population”.

Smaller-scale raids were conducted against Lübeck subsequently. On 16 July 1942, 21 Stirling bombers were dispatched to bomb Lübeck; 8 aircraft reached the city and 2 were lost. On 24-25 July 1943, 13 Mosquito aircraft bombed Lübeck as a diversion for the main target of Hamburg. On 15-16 September 1943, 9 Mosquito aircraft bombed Lübeck as a diversion for the main target of Kiel. On 2-3 April 1945, Lübeck was hit by RAF bombers manned by training crews.

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28 March – Today in German History

HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates.

1942

  • On 28 March 1942, British forces launched one of the most daring operations of the Second World War. Now known as Operation Chariot was an attack on the docks at St Nazaire in German-occupied France. It was a feat of cunning and daring that helped to shape the war at sea. St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as Tirpitz, sister ship of Bismarck, to return to home waters by running the gauntlet of the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy and other British forces, via the English Channel or the GIUK gap.

1945

  • Germany launches the last of the V-2 rockets against England.
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24 March – Today in German History

1918

  • On March 24, 1918, German forces cross the Somme River, achieving their first goal of the major spring offensive begun three days earlier on the Western Front.

    Operation Michael, engineered by the German Chief of the General Staff, Erich von Ludendorff, aimed to decisively break through the Allied lines on the Western Front and destroy the British and French forces. The offensive began on the morning of March 21, 1918, with an aggressive bombardment.


    The brunt of the attack that followed was directed at the British 5th Army, commanded by General Sir Hubert Gough, stationed along the Somme River in northwestern France. This section was the most poorly defended of any spot on the British lines, due to the fact that it had been held by the French until only a few weeks before and its defensive positions were not yet fully fortified. Panic spread up and down the British lines of command, intensified by communications failures between Gough and his subordinates in the field, and German gains increased over the subsequent days of battle. On March 23, Crown Prince Rupprecht, on the German side of the line, remarked that The progress of our offensive is so quick, that one cannot follow it with a pen.


    The next day, German troops stormed across the Somme, having previously captured its bridges before French troops could destroy them. Despite having resolved to concentrate on weaker points of the enemy lines, Ludendorff continued to throw his armies against the crucial villages of Amiens which had a railway junction and Arras which the British and French were instructed to hold at all costs hoping to break through and push on towards Paris. By that time, German troops were exhausted, and transportation and supply lines had begun to break down in the cold and bad weather. Meanwhile, Allied forces had recovered from the initial disadvantage and had begun to gain the upper hand, halting the Germans at Moreuil Wood on March 30.


    On April 5, Ludendorff called off Operation Michael. It had yielded nearly 40 miles of territory, the greatest gains for either side on the Western Front since 1914. He would launch four more offensive pushes over the course of the spring and summer, throwing all of the German army’s resources into this last, desperate attempt to win the war.

2015

  • On March 24, 2015, the co-pilot of a German airliner deliberately flies the plane into the French Alps, killing himself and the other 149 people onboard. When it crashed, Germanwings flight 9525 had been traveling from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany.

    The plane took off from Barcelona around 10 a.m. local time and reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:27 a.m. Shortly afterward, the captain, 34-year-old Patrick Sondenheimer, requested that the co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, take over the controls while he left the cockpit, probably to use the bathroom. At 10:31 a.m. the plane began a rapid descent and 10 minutes later crashed in mountainous terrain near the town of Prads-Haute-Bleone in southern France. There were no survivors. Besides the two pilots, the doomed Airbus A320 was carrying four cabin crew members and 144 passengers from 18 different countries, including three Americans.

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22 March 1941 – End of Operation Berlin

Scharnhorst.

Under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau departed from Kiel, Germany on 22 Jan 1941 to raid Allied shipping. The two surface warships were supported by supply ships and tankers Uckermark, Ermland, Schlettstadt, Friedrich Breme, and Hamburg. They were detected by the British in the Great Belt strait between the islands of Zealand and Funen in Denmark; in response, Admiral Sir John Tovey was dispatched with a fleet of 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 11 destroyers to intercept. While Tovey hypothesized that the German force would enter the Atlantic Ocean south of Iceland, Lütjens decided on the route north of Iceland instead, thus the British fleet failed to make contact with the German fleet.

Allied convoy HX-106, consisted of 41 ships, was en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to Liverpool, England, United Kingdom when it was detected by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 Feb. Captain Otto Ciliax of Scharnhorst offered to use his battleship’s superior speed to draw off British battleship HMS Ramillies escorting the convoy, allowing Gneisenau to overpower the transports. Lütjens, however, opted to abide by Adolf Hitler’s orders to avoid engaging Allied capital ships and broke off the attack. The convoy failed to make the correct identification on the two German battlecruisers, thus Tovey was not alerted of the actual location of his assigned prey.

Scharnhorst & Gneisenau.

The German battlecruisers then set to hunt down Allied convoy HX-111, during which attempt they came across another convoy on 22 Feb en route to the United States after already having emptied their cargo in Britain. This attack lasted over 12 hours, during which 5 ships were sunk. The attack was reported by the convoy.

Next, the Germans sailed south to the Azores off western Africa. They sighted a convoy, but due to the presence of battleship HMS Malaya, Lütjens decided not to pursue; instead, he shadowed the convoy and directed submarines in the area to attack.

Moving into the western Atlantic, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank a freighter, followed by two separate attacks on two convoys that resulted in 16 Allied ships sunk or captured.

Operation Berlin ended on 22 Mar 1941 as the fleet made a port call at Brest, France. The ships had traveled 17,800 miles during this operation, sinking or capturing 22 enemy ships totaling 113,690 tons.

Schlachtschiff Gneisenau.
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