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Monday, October 17th 2011, 2:51pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung

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Monday, October 17th 2011, 2:53pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part One

Monday, 23 June 1941

Vizeadmiral Hermann von Fischel sat in the flag bridge of the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin and looked out over his task force with a not unreasonable sense of pride. The Graf Zeppelin and her sister Peter Strasser were ringed by the four heavy cruisers of Konteradmiral Langsdorff’s First Cruiser Squadron, and beyond them the eight destroyers of Kapitän zur See Rudolf Peters’ Fourth Destroyer Flotilla. Two tankers, Dithmarschen and Uckermark, brought up the rear of the formation. As un-military as they might seem, von Fischel was reassured by their presence; his ships would be at sea for a considerable period.

The morning’s weather was fine – and von Fischel could hear the engines of the Graf Zeppelin’s aircraft begin to come to life. The formation’s combat air patrol had launched some time before, as had the inner antisubmarine patrol. The aircraft on the Graf Zeppelin’s deck were to be launched for gunnery and bombing practice – with the expansion of the Marineflieger there were many new pilots, many new aircrew to train. On this cruise von Fischel knew that they would have much opportunity to hone their skills.

From the corner of his eye von Fischel saw Kapitän zur See Werner Lindenau, commandant of the Graf Zeppelin, approach. As he turned Lindenau stopped and saluted.

“Seetakt reports an aircraft approaching from the west Herr Admiral,” he reported. “It is likely a British patrol aircraft. Our air patrol has been ordered to investigate.”

The Scottish coast was perhaps a hundred miles to their west; it was a reasonable surmise.

“I trust that they will be friendly in their behavior,” von Fischel noted with a wry smile.

“Of course Herr Admiral,” Lindenau replied.

“With Rosyth and Scapa Flow only a few hours steaming away it would not surprise me if we were to encounter a British vessel or two – or perhaps submarines. Yes – submarines. Order the task force to commence zigzag maneuvers – if our mission is to train, let us train under realistic conditions.”

Lindenau smiled and nodded. “Of course Herr Admiral.”


Tuesday, October 18th 2011, 10:27pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Two

Tuesday, 24 June 1941

Dawn found the task force operating in the southern portion of the Norwegian Sea, having passed the Shetland Islands and the bulge of the Norwegian mainland in the night. Despite the fact that it was astronomically summer, the sea air was cold and the engines of the Graf Zeppelin’s aircraft had difficulty coughing to life.

“It will be better when we receive new aircraft,” remarked von Fischel. Delivery delays had not permitted Bordfliegergruppe 201 to convert to the new Fieseler Hammerhaie bomber, and the Graf Zeppelin’s deck was populated by the Junkers Ju87 and the Fieseler Fi167. Their liquid-cooled engines were notoriously fickle at sea.

Lindenau joined him on the flag bridge. “Good morning Herr Admiral,” he said. “It seems that we have lost our shadows for the moment.” He was referring to the reconnaissance aircraft that had tracked their progress into the night. Both British and Nordish pilots had used the presence of the German task force to gain experience in reconnaissance. His own crews had been able to practice interception and fighter direction techniques, all the while maintaining a friendly distance from the foreign aircraft.

“I have no doubt that they will return now that the sun has risen,” von Fischel opined. “It is no great matter.”

“The pilots of both the combat air patrol and antisubmarine patrol have been advised of our intended course change Herr Admiral,” Lindenau advised.

“Good, once they have launched we shall change course. Make certain that the relief patrols are kept apprised of our intended track.”

“Yes Herr Admiral,” Lindenau said solemnly.

With air patrols deployed aloft the signal lamps on the Graf Zeppelin flashed and the task force angled its course to the northwest. As expected, the Sunderlands of the Royal Air Force Coastal Command soon found the German vessels as the sailed northwestward, leaving the Shetlands in their wake.

“Pilot to navigator,” said Squadron Leader Thomas ‘Tommy’ Atkins over the R/T. “What do you make their course to be?”

“Navigator to pilot,” came the reply. “I make their course to be 310 degrees, speed fifteen knots.”

“Probably heading for the Iceland Passage,” Atkins thought. He ordered his wireless operator to report the German’s change in course to their base at Sollom Voe.


Tuesday, October 18th 2011, 10:30pm

Nicely written, Bruce.


Tuesday, October 18th 2011, 10:35pm

Thank you! I hope I can continue to do so.


Tuesday, October 18th 2011, 10:43pm

I agree, good work.


Wednesday, October 19th 2011, 7:22pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Three

Wednesday, 25 June 1941

The bow of the Graf Zeppelin and her consorts now pointed southwest. The German task force had transited the Iceland Passage in the night under the ever-watchful eye of the Royal Air Force or the Royal Nordish Navy – it was not possible to be certain on Seetakt contact alone.

Thus far they had not encountered significant merchant traffic, though as their course took them southwestward von Fischel expected that this would change. For the moment the task force seemed to have the North Atlantic to themselves. Von Fischel stepped inside the aircraft carrier’s bridge.

“Herr Admiral,” announced Kapitän zur See Werner Lindenau, “We have received a signal from Fleet Command. Force Bockenheim has sailed on schedule.”

Von Fischel nodded. His ships would be exercising for quite some time, and part of his mission was to demonstrate that the Kriegsmarine could maintain a force at sea for an extended period.

“Good,” he replied. “We have stayed close to our ports for far too long. What is the weather report?”

“Improving Herr Admiral,” Lindenau reported. “Weather conditions are moderating and we should be able to conduct refueling as planned tomorrow.”

“Excellent,” the admiral said with a smile. “We must keep our destroyers topped off with fuel. They will have priority.”

“Yes Herr Admiral.”

[Situation Map]

This post has been edited 1 times, last edit by "BruceDuncan" (Oct 19th 2011, 10:12pm)


Tuesday, October 25th 2011, 8:05pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Four

Thursday, 26 June 1941

As predicted, the weather in the North Atlantic moderated during the night, and Admiral von Fischel was happy that few additional complications were placed before his task force. Refueling at sea was difficult enough without mountainous seas or treacherous winds to force ships from their course.

The sailors of the German vessels called it “La Cueca”. The Chilean Navy had been quite generous with their experience in refueling, and the first German officers who had observed the complicated series of maneuvers involved immediately noted the kinship to the Chilean dance. Through a complicated series of approaches and breakaways each of the German warships came along side one of the two tankers attached to the task force – first the destroyers, then the cruisers and finally the aircraft carriers themselves. Completion of the task took most of the morning and much of the afternoon. Dithmarschen and Uckermark rode noticeably higher in the water after topping off the task force.

Von Fischel stood on the bridge wing of the Graf Zeppelin observing the final approach of the Peter Strasser to the Uckermark, the last ship to refuel. The great bulk of the carrier obscured the tanker from his view but the lack of confusion on the Peter Strasser’s deck confirmed that the many lessons carried out in the Baltic were paying dividends. After fifteen minutes the aircraft carrier broke contact and the evolution was completed.

“Lindenau,” the Admiral called with a tone of satisfaction in his voice, “signal the squadron to proceed on course 210 according to plan, speed fifteen knots. Adopt standard cruising stations.”

“Yes Herr Admiral,” replied the Graf Zeppelin’s captain.

Von Fischel returned to his flag cabin to update his log, noting successful completion of the Kriegsmarine’s first large-scale fueling exercise under operational conditions.

[Situation Map]


Wednesday, October 26th 2011, 6:48pm

June 27, Vicinity of Rockall
Irish Sunderland RD-202 "E", 750 m altitude, 145 knots airspeed
Weather report: Force Six, clouds at angels 2

Captaen John O'Reilly knew he couldn't actually predict the turbulence, but his stomach always seemed to tense up right before his plane encountered some. Like... now. The big Irish Sunderland twitched then - WHUMP! - as the bottom momentarily fell out of the sky and dropped the flying boat a few dozen meters of altitude.

"Uff!" his copilot muttered.

"We're just about out of it, kid," O'Reilly replied. "The Brits said the Jerries are still operating west of the storm line, about sixty kilos west, so we should be out of this muck soon. How's the temperature on the number three Pegasus?"

"High, but not as high as it was," the copilot replied. "Seems to be within safety margins still."

"It's getting old, like me," O'Reilly commented. "I keep telling the Squadron Boss that-"

"Hey skipper!" the waist gunner interrupted on the intercom. "I saw a wake, bearing... lost it in the muck, sir, but it was bearing four o'clock."

O'Reilly glanced over at his copilot before toggling his microphone. "Confirm that for me, Bill. You saw a wake bearing four o'clock?"

"I did, skipper. Saw it for a few moments. Might have just been a fisherman - really brief glimpse."

"Think we should go take a look?" the copilot asked.

"Might as well. It's probably just some fisherman out for a pleasure-cruise in cod-infested waters," O'Reilly replied. "But we'll give it a go." He advanced the four throttles and adjusted the flaps, then slid the Sunderland into a gentle turn, marred only by one spot of light turbulence.

"Should be coming up on the starboard side..."

The copilot pointed. "There. Right there, trawler at one o'clock. Little fellow, looks to be about two hundred, two fifty tons max."

O'Reilly sat up straighter in his seat to get a good look, and jumped when a streak of light erupted from the trawler's bridge and rose towards the Sunderland, crossing slowly in front of their nose and nearly hitting the plane.

"Jaysus!" O'Reilly barked. "He needs to be more careful with those distress flares, he almost hit us. Okay, I'm taking us around for another run - low and slow. He's signalling distress, so let's look for what's up." He glanced at the copilot. "Pay attention, kid; keep talking to me."

"Sorry sir. Second time out. He looked to have a mess on his deck - a lot of nets."

"Right. There he is again..."

"Signal lamp," the nose gunner reported. "P, A, N, P, A... he's signalling a pan-pan medico, skipper."

"Lovely," O'Reilly said, setting the Sunderland in a slow-and-low orbit around the trawler. "Eoin, break out your lamp and see what he's got to say."

Four wide circles later, the co-pilot presented his notes to O'Reilly. "Signal says the ship's got three men with multiple broken bones; there are two uninjured men aboard - the helmsman and chief engineer. Looks like we're talking with the helmsman, sir. His deck's all a mess, and it looks like part of his mast came down. Ship's Nordish-flagged out of Reykjavik; he's making passable English, but not outstanding. He requests medical help, and says he has no radio."

"Cheapskate trawlermen. What's he doing on the Atlantic with no bloody radio?" O'Reilly replied peevishly, eying the fuel gauges. "We've got enough juice for another two or three hours before we need to head back to Foynes."

"Will we need to set down and help him?" the copilot asked.

"Sea condition is rough enough that I don't want to try that unless it's a mayday emergency. Better to get a ship to respond to this, at least in this weather." O'Reilly considered his options. "All right, I know what we can do. Those German warships are less than a hundred kay-ems west of here, and they've likely got some medical perso-" WHUMP! "Damn turbulence! They've likely got some medical personnel who could be of assistance. Get back to Sparks and get him to repeat the message in the clear; then get back up here and break out your signal lamp."

A half hour later, though, the Sunderland's radio operator poked his head into the cockpit. "Skipper, I've been transmitting this pan-pan can for a half hour now; I've not received any replies."

O'Reilly glanced over his shoulder. "Any reason you can tell, Sparks?"

"Might be atmospherics. I didn't have any issues transmitting when we left Foynes, and the gear all seems to be working okay. But I don't know that anything's going out, and I know I'm not getting anything coming back in."

"Eoin, signal the trawler that we're going to duck out west for a bit," O'Reilly said. "Thanks Sparks - keep trying, and let me know if you get anything."

Once the copilot finished transmitting with the blinker light, O'Reilly leveled out the wings and climbed back to seven hundred meters, adjusting the throttles and flaps for best cruising performance. It only took ten minutes for the weather to break as the aircraft passed through the tail end of the storm front.

"There. Large warship at eleven o'clock," Eoin said. "Large warship at twelve o'clock. Small warships at... wow."

"That is a sight, isn't it," O'Reilly admitted. "Sparks, we can see the German ships; your radio working yet?"

"I'm not sure, sir. I'm still hearing chatter on a channel or two, but I can't seem to talk out on them. No responses to any of my calls."

"Get your blinker light out again, Eoin," O'Reilly instructed. "I'll take us low and slow over the Jerries, and you get the message out."


Wednesday, October 26th 2011, 8:53pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Five

Friday, 27 June 1941

The task force’s course had brought it close to Rockall, with Ireland far to the east. Von Fischel gave thanks that he had completed refueling the day before; during the night a storm front had moved in and while his vessels were, for the moment, clear of it, the dirty weather to their east threatened to close in.

He sat on his chair in the flag plot, observing operations on the flight deck of the Graf Zeppelin. So far training operations had progressed well; this was the first time that the German carrier force had operated beyond the North Sea, and the open Atlantic provided them with many lessons. As he watched the last of the Graf Zeppelin’s combat air patrol was making its final approach; it was now the Peter Strasser’s duty to maintain their protection – not that von Fischel truly expected an attack in time of peace.

The Bf109 fighter was coming in rather faster and higher than warranted, and the landing signals officer was having difficulty getting the pilot to respond quickly enough. At the last moment the pilot of the fighter angled his aircraft down and caught the final landing wire. It thudded onto the deck, promptly collapsing the undercarriage; debris were thrown across the Graf Zeppelin’s flight deck as the aircraft’s propeller chewed into the deck itself and the landing wire, pulled from its housing and whipsawed across the deck.

Von Fischel blanched at the accident but said nothing, allowing Lindenau and the Graf Zeppelin’s damage control officers deal with the fouled deck. Thankfully the aircraft in question had been low on fuel after its patrol, so the small fire that broke out was easily contained. The aircraft was a total loss – undercarriage splattered, the fuselage broken in half by the force of the impact. The pilot, however, appeared unhurt, merely shaken. Von Fischel did not contemplate the dressing down that young man would soon receive.

“But one more reason to replace these with the Fw190,” thought von Fischel. The Bf109 had been forced upon the Marineflieger despite its many handicaps – its delicate, narrow-track undercarriage being one of them. Every officer of the Marineflieger would happily see them gone.

From the midst of directing the recovery operations Lindenau turned. “Seetakt reports an air contact to the east Herr Admiral,” he said with some concern. “It appears to be one aircraft, course 135 relative, at low altitude – seven hundred metres, distance sixty kilometres.”

Von Fischel frowned. One aircraft, approaching low, directly out of the storm. “Vector the combat air patrol in that direction, and launch our own aircraft as soon as the deck is clear!” he ordered.


Anton Kriete led his section eastward in accordance with the fighter director aboard the Peter Strasser. There was an aircraft approaching the task force at low altitude, and his orders were to intercept. He had no idea what to expect – all in all, what would an aircraft be doing out in a storm. As the four fighters neared the edge of the cloud shelf a large four-engined flying boat emerged from it and straightened out directly towards the task force.

“Wurger Leader to Wurger Base”, Kriete reported, “Have sighted one, repeat one, Sunderland-type aircraft. Moving to intercept.” He nosed his Bf109 into a shallow diving turn, followed by his wingman and the other two aircraft of his section.

Captaen John O'Reilly leveled the Sunderland out and set a course directly for the German task force.

"That is a sight, isn't it," O'Reilly admitted. "Sparks, we can see the German ships; your radio working yet?"

"I'm not sure, sir. I'm still hearing chatter on a channel or two, but I can't seem to talk out on them. No responses to any of my calls."

"Get your blinker light out again, Eoin," O'Reilly instructed. "I'll take us low and slow over the Jerries, and you get the message out."

One of the Sunderland’s air gunners cried out, “Skipper, there are four Jerry fighters coming up on us.”


“What is the situation Lindenau,” von Fischel demanded. “Are they deaf and dumb on that aircraft?”

“The wireless officer reports that their signal is extremely weak – he is able to make only a partial message. Our combat air patrol has intercepted them and the Sunderland is communicating by blinker light. Apparently there is a trawler to our east with a medical emergency.”

Now that he knew the cause von Fischel was visibly mollified. “Signal the Graf Spee to launch a search aircraft to find and locate the trawler; have them trail the Sunderland if that can be done. Then direct Kommodore Peters to detach one destroyer to render aid and assistance.”

“Shall we maintain our current course and speed?” Lindenau asked.

“For the time being, yes,” replied von Fischel.


Thursday, October 27th 2011, 8:50pm

June 27, Vicinity of Rockall
Irish Sunderland RD-202 "E"

O'Reilly tensed as the naval fighters crept up abeam of the Sunderland - it would be a really bad business to twitch the wrong way and accidentally mow down a German carrier plane. "Eoin," he instructed the co-pilot, "Shift to portside and contact with those fighters. Tell them we're Irish Coast Guard; apparently having radio difficulties, and explain the situation. And tell them to give me at least sixty meters." The older Sunderlands didn't have much of a margin of power, and O'Reilly preferred to have a bit more open space around him than the fighter jockey apparently was ready to give him. The copilot quickly tapped out his message on the handheld blinker light, and the Bf-109 backed off, to O'Reilly's relief.

"Got it all out," Eoin said. "He looks like he's radioing for instructions."

O'Reilly nodded. "Keep an eye on him. He might want to ask more questions later." He hit the rocker switch to talk on the aircraft's intercom. "Norton, you've got your camera with you, right?"

"Sure I do, skipper. Always do."

"Coming up on your right's a Jerry flattop; you might be interested at getting a few shots. Probably won't be coming out this way again very soon."

"Thanks, skipper."

O'Reilly kept the Sunderland well clear of the German warships; he'd once gotten chewed out for flying a bit too close to an active warship, and he was not eager to repeat the experience without an invite. The Sunderland's aircrew exchanged a few waves with the German fighter pilots in their Bf-109 "Traegers".

"The fighter's signaling back, skipper. He says... wait a minute... asks if we can lead their search plane back to the trawler."

"Confirm," O'Reilly agreed, waggling the Sunderland's wings to show understanding. "Once we've led their search plane back, though, tell them we're returning to Foynes - I'm not comfortable flying this far out of our radio's not working." O'Reilly waited for the search plane to come up before he pointed the Sunderland's nose back south-southeast.


Thursday, October 27th 2011, 11:22pm

Piloting his Arado 196 floatplane Leutnant Georg Triede found flying in formation with the huge Sunderland flying boat difficult; not so much for the inherent differences in the size of the two aircraft but for the dirty weather they had to deal with. Fly too close to the Sunderland and Triede risked the possibility of collision as the winds buffeted them; fly too far away and he risked loosing sight of her in the clouds. But the Irishmen aboard the Sunderland were good pilots, and navigators, for they soon led him to the disabled trawler – a small Nordish craft, likely out of Iceland.

Triede pulled level with the Sunderland and wagged his wings while waving; apparently the Sunderland’s wireless had faults. A blinker light from the flying boat signaled acknowledgement and the Sunderland broke off, heading homeward.

The Arado circled the trawler while Zimmerman, the air gunner, operated the aircraft’s blinker light to communicate with the trawler. A destroyer from the task force was en route, and would arrive on station in two or three hours, depending on the sea state. Triede noted that the deck was covered with nets, downed lines and what certainly looked like mounds of fish.

“Greedy,” he thought. “Overstrained their nets.”

Someone on the trawler operated a light, acknowledging the news that help was on its way. Checking his own fuel gages Triede hoped that the destroyer’s ETA was closer to two than three hours.


Released from escort duties the Zerstörer 256 bounded through the storm-tossed Atlantic. Korvettenkapitän Erich Taube stood on her bridge straining to see the horizon before him. Rain squalls occasionally lashed his ship.

“Herr Kapitän,” the wireless officer reported, “we have received a message from the Graf Spee’s scout aircraft. The condition of the trawler has worsened. Her propeller has fouled and she is drifting. The scout aircraft is maintaining contact.”

“Increase speed to thirty knots,” Taube ordered. “Check with the scout aircraft for any change in location.”


Triede wondered how the crew of the trawler was fairing. Five hands was, at best, a minimal crew for even such a small trawler. With three of them injured and the winch for the nets broken it had proved impossible to clear the nets which hung over the trawler’s side – and now these had fouled its propeller, leaving the boat to drift. They were slowing moving away from their original position, away from the rescuing destroyer.

“Sir!” called the air gunner, “There she is!”

Triede lifted the Arado’s nose and saw the oncoming bulk of the destroyer – Z256. “Thank heaven,” he thought.


Sending out a motor whaleboat in weather such as this was difficult, yet Taube’s crew set to it with alacrity. Not only would they have to render medical assistance to the trawler’s crew but the boarding party would need to receive and rig a towing line from the destroyer – the trawler’s crew could not do this unaided. The small boat bobbed its way across the narrow distance between the two ships – the destroyer dwarfing the trawler by its bulk and somewhat shielding it from the wind.

Boatswain Hans Müller was the first German to step aboard, and found the wheel manned by a youngster trying his best to control a craft with no engine. The medical personnel from Z256 quickly began to treat the injured while several hands went forward to prepare to receive a tow line.

“Herr Müller!” reported one of the German sailors, coming up from below deck. “There is a half-a-meter or more of water in the bilge!”

“Then start the pumps you ninny!” the boatswain ordered.

Having seen the deck party on its way Müller went below-decks to see to the water. Thankfully the hull itself seemed sound enough, but the water pouring across the trawler’s decks had found its way to the bilges and with the pumps knocked out, had begun to collect to a dangerous degree. He heard the whirr of an engine as it coughed to life and then the sound of the pumps catching in a familiar throb.

“At least the tub won’t sink,” he thought. “Unless something else happens.”

Returning to the deck Müller now found himself faced by the trawler’s captain, a grizzled old salt by the name of Oskarson. His arm was splinted and his head bandaged – he must have been really knocked about.

“I no go!” he said in broken German. “Ship mine! I no go!”

“Frugal to the end,” thought Müller. If the crew abandoned the trawler the Nord feared that Müller and his crew would claim salvage.

Müller picked up a blinker light to apprise his commander of the situation.


Aboard the Z256 Taube considered his options. He would have preferred to take the crew aboard his ship and consign the trawler to the deep, but that was not an option he could adopt.

“Signal the Irish fisheries authorities that we are on station and have rendered medical assistance to the crew. Inform them that the trawler is drifting but we are attempting to take it in tow until such time as they can arrive.”

The destroyer circled to more closely approach the trawler. On the Z256’s foredeck a crew fired a line from a Lyle Gun which was quickly caught by the boarding party. They hauled the light line aboard quickly and then took hold of the heavier towing line, attaching it to the trawler. The Z256 had paid out sufficient slack line to allow the boarding party time to do its work, but Müller pushed his men to it.

The towing line took the strain and the trawler ceased to drift. Taube held the Z256 on a steady course and slowed to five knots.


Friday, October 28th 2011, 12:17am

On fisheries patrol off Porcupine Bank, 240nm south; 120nm west of Slyne Head

"Captain to the bridge, please, captain to the bridge."

Leifteanant-Cheannasaí Hugh Jameson took the slip of paper from the signalman's hand. "What's this?"

"Radio transmission from the German destroyer Z-256; they've come to the aid of a disabled trawler near Rockall - estimate 57°28'42"N by 13°57'5"W. They rendered medical assistance to three injured crewmen and took the vessel under tow until we can arrive."

"Is it one of ours?" Jameson asked.

"Nordish-flagged Tarja, out of Reykjavik," the signalman said. "The Nordish Navy has already advised that they have a T31 naval trawler south of Iceland, estimated 36 hours steaming. No response out of the British yet."

"If they've got anything in the region at the moment, they're not passing along weather information. So they've probably got nothing closer, either. T31 naval trawlers also can't tow - the best they can do is take off the crew and wait for a deep-sea tug," Jameson said. He shook his head. "Right. Respond to Z-256 that we'll be there at best possible speed. Officer of the watch, you have the deck and the conn; tell the Chief Engineer to get his babies warmed up to move."


Saturday, October 29th 2011, 10:55pm

South of Rockall

Dawn found the Aoife in sight of the disabled trawler and the German destroyer towing her. Jameson stood in his foul-weather gear on the starboard wing of the sloop's bridge, overseeing the organized chaos on deck as his ship came up from astern, preparing to take up the tow. The weather was still gray and overcast, but fortunately the seas were still moderate enough for Aoife to launch her cutter. Overnight the Nordish Navy had replied to Aoife's query about where to tow the stricken vessel: foul weather was expected off Iceland within a day or less, and with the prospect of rough seas and high winds, Aoife would tow the trawler back to Galway.

The German destroyer looked more than ready to pass off the tow, and Jameson didn't blame them for that. The tow limited them to five knots, a paltry and frustrating speed for such a sleek ship. It took a bit under an hour to pass over the tow, as Aoife maneuvered into position, sent over towlines, and took up the slack before the German destroyer dropped her own lines.

As Z-256 slid away and prepared to collect her men still aboard the trawler, Jameson raised his hand and sent a salute in the direction of the German ship. Their officer on the port rail responded in kind before stepping back into his bridge.

"All right, lads," Jameson said. "It's back to Galway for us."


Saturday, October 29th 2011, 11:17pm

South of Rockall

It was nearly dawn when the lookouts aboard Z-256 made out the denser shape of the Irish fisheries protection ship against the grayness of the storm. Crews on both vessels worked on the decks in foul-weather gear to transfer the towing line that bound the trawler to Z-256. Taube’s principal concern was to keep his vessel, and his tow, on a stable course so that the Irish ship, Aoife, she was called, could maneuver as she needed.

The boarding party from Z-256 had made the crew of the trawler as comfortable as they could in the circumstances, and had cut away much of the netting that had fouled her deck and propeller; the last, alas, was beyond hope of repair in such seas as beset them. After an hour’s maneuvering the Aoife had the trawler in tow, and Taube was able to recall his boarding party. As the motor whaleboat covered the short distance from the trawler to the destroyer Taube stood on the port rail and made certain that his men were brought safe aboard. He could see on the Aoife’s deck what appeared to be an officer superintending the transfer of the tow. The figure raised a hand against the wind and saluted; Taube returned it. As the figure returned to his duties Taube retreated to the bridge of the Z-256.

“Secure the motor whaleboat,” he ordered. “Advise the task force commander that we have transferred the trawler to the hands of the Irish Naval Service and are returning to formation.”

He turned to his chart table and checked the plot of his own position with his best guess for the task force, and ordered a change in course and speed.

Aboard the Aoife Leifteanant-Cheannasaí Hugh Jameson saw the water at the destroyer’s stern churn as her engines put on revolutions. A blinker light aboard the destroyer winked a laconic, “Thank you”, and the she passed into the morning gloom on a southwesterly course.


Sunday, October 30th 2011, 2:28am

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Six

Saturday, 28 June 1941

It was late in the afternoon when the destroyer Z-256 rejoined the task force, having rendered assistance to the unfortunate Nordish trawler. In his cabin Vizeadmiral Hermann von Fischel read the report of the destroyer’s commander and nodded in agreement with her captain’s decision not to sink the trawler; diplomatic complications with Nordmark were not to be sought without very good reason, and this was not one of them. The delay imposed on the task force was not onerous.

Von Fischel continued to read through copies of reports submitted by the ships of his command. The pilot of the Bf109 that had crashed aboard the Graf Zeppelin had been removed from flying status; damage to the aircraft carrier itself was superficial, and the system of arresting wires had been repaired. Von Fischel was more concerned with the injuries to the deck hands – several of them had suffered broken limbs avoiding the broken arresting wire. But the efficiency of the Graf Zeppelin was unimpaired.

Reports from Fleet Command in Berlin indicated that the Bockenheim force was making good progress down the English Channel and expected to rendezvous as planned. Fleet Command had also forwarded the latest intelligence reports from the Abwehr. Apparently units of the Royal Canadian Navy had put to sea several days ago, and air patrols in the vicinity of Halifax had increased.

“The Canadians,” von Fischel thought, “do not appear to trust us.” He made a mental note to advise the task force of the possibility of contact with Canadian vessels, and perhaps their airships, as the task force ventured southwestward towards their exercise area.

[Situation Map]


Sunday, October 30th 2011, 7:24pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Seven

Sunday, 29 June 1941

Kapitän zur See Hans Bütow stood on the bridge wing of the fleet escort F7, watching intently as the last of the merchantmen his ships were escorting took up its position. The merchant captains, as experienced as they were with sailing, were unused to sailing in close formation under naval escort, and he noted that one of the escort ships was blinking instructions to one recalcitrant merchantman. Proper navigation in the confined waters of the English Channel would be essential if they were to complete their mission and play a part in the Kriegsmarine’s exercise.

The eight fleet escorts of Bütow’s command now shepherded six requisitioned merchantmen – two freighters of the Nord Deutscher Lloyd that had sailed with his command from Bremerhaven and four ships, two freighters and two tankers that had sailed from Emden to make a rendezvous in the North Sea. The ships formed up into two columns as they headed westward towards the entrance to the Channel.

In the fading light Bütow could see the reflection of sunlight off the wing of an aircraft – at this point it could be British, Dutch or even German – it made little difference. It would report what it had seen to his base – a convoy headed west. In the morning Bütow expected to find a warship politely watching them, wondering what the Kriegsmarine was up to.


In his cabin aboard the Graf Zeppelin Admiral von Fischel looked up at the knock to see his signals officer bearing a message flimsy.

“A message from Fleet Command,” he reported. “Force Gonsenheim has sailed as scheduled.”

“Excellent,” von Fischel remarked. “Notify all squadron commanders.”

[Situation Map]


Sunday, October 30th 2011, 10:02pm

At the Amiraunté Française in Maintenon (Chartres) - Headquarters of the Marine Nationale
"Well?" Admiral Darlan demanded.

Contre-amiral Guillaume tapped his fingers slowly on the conference table. "FMF/2 agrees with the analysis given by Admiral Tessier. He covered all the salient points I wished to bring up. Only the size of the exercise has been particularly alarming - it's more proof of the substantial improvements in their fleet train capabilities, and has probably been the largest German fleet exercise since... well, 1917."

"Have we heard anything from the British?" Tessier asked.

"Nothing so far, and we've not picked up any word of British naval movements, or increased radio traffic that would imply they have major fleet units at sea."

"Maybe Sir Dudley and his staff are down at Brighton Beach catching some sun," Darlan observed dryly. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "Well then, I'll at least have something amusing for the politicians at tomorrow's meeting of the CSDN. Very well - the politicians will ask me what actions we've taken to address this situation. What suggestions do we have for a response?"

"If I may, sir," Vice-Amiral Rémy Tourret said. As commander of the Flotte de l'Atlantique, he immediately received the group's full attention. "I have two light cruisers - Roland and Oliphant - working up out of Brest; as of this morning they were off Belle Île. It would not be difficult at all to dispatch them westward to shadow one or both of the German squadrons - they have plenty of fuel, and they could use the sea-time. As for this third force in the North Sea, it wouldn't be at all challenging for me to post one of the 2nd Squadron's ships - Waldeck Rousseau most likely - in the approach to the Channel. I don't have any destroyers left, though, or I'd send them out instead."

Darlan nodded, but appeared unsatisfied. "What about the Force de Raid, Amiral Tessier? Can your carriers sail?"

"My carriers could sail within twenty-four hours," Tessier said. "But I think that would be rather pointless, as my airgroups are all ashore undergoing aircraft conversion, and they can't be ready that quickly - though I could maybe have them re-embarked within a week."

"If you want a firmer response, we could send the 4th Battle Squadron to Casablanca," Gensoul suggested. "They're scheduled for a cruise to Atlantis, Dakar and Abidjan next month in any case, and so it wouldn't be an imposition to send them now."

Tessier nodded. "That's restrained enough not to be unduly alarming to anyone, but sufficient enough to show we're not asleep at the switchboard, like the British apparently are. And if the politicians want to make a stink about it, we can say we've done something. It might also be beneficial to have our naval attaches in London and Berlin pay polite visits on their opposites and have some informal discussions - perhaps poke the British back into wakefulness."


Sunday, October 30th 2011, 11:26pm

Unternehmen Rösselsprung - Part Eight

Monday, 30 June 1941

His Highness Franz Joseph, Prince von Thurn and Taxis, ambassador of Germany to the French Republic, alighted from his Mercedes Benz limousine in the forecourt of the Quai d'Orsay and entered the French Foreign Ministry. He came in response from an ‘invitation’ from the Monsieur Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister. Von Thurn guessed what had prompted Bonnet’s ‘invitation’; no doubt the stream of notes advising the French Government of the planned movements of German warships, and the appearance of them in the waters separating France from Britain, had raised the temperature on the teapot that was the norm for French ministerial politics. The usher who greeted him bowed formally, and bade him wait while the minister was informed of his arrival.

Von Thurn did not have long to wait; he studied the portraits of Bonnet’s predecessors in the antechamber – a mere selection rather than its entirety. The usher returned and guided the ambassador to Bonnet’s inner sanctum.

“The German Ambassador,” intoned the usher as they entered.

Bonnet rose from behind his desk and advanced in greeting.

“Your Highness,” he began, “I thank you for coming on such short notice. Please be seated that we may begin.” Bonnet turned to the usher and said quietly, “That will be all.”

Von Thurn did as he was asked and mentally prepared himself for the task of diplomatic sparring. How had one English savant defined the office of ambassador? “A man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country?” Von Thurn was thankful that he would not have to speak a falsehood in this case – or at least he hoped so, if he had read Bonnet correctly.

“Your Highness is aware that there are quite a number of German warships at sea at this moment,” said Bonnet, going straight to the heart of the matter.

“Indeed I do,” responded von Thurn. “The French Government has been advised of every movement in advance.”

Bonnet pursed his lips. “Yes, this is so,” he remarked, “but their number has grown… it is now reported that a convoy of fourteen ships is at sea in La Manche. It is most extraordinary.”

Von Thurn nodded. “It is quite so. However, I assure you on behalf of my Government that no hostile intention is held towards France or any other nation.”

“Then what is the purpose of putting so many ships to sea at once?” Bonnet asked.

“To test the ability of the German Navy to maintain itself at sea should the unwanted and unlikely event of war be forced upon us,” von Thurn replied with all sincerity. “Without the benefit of bases around the globe the German Navy must learn to maintain itself at sea. This requires training in realistic conditions and for extended periods.”

Bonnet knew from the reports of the French naval staff that the German Navy had invested great effort in refurbishing its fleet train, and had been engaging in a wide variety of exercises to test its ability to project power abroad. He also knew that the two nations had moved closer diplomatically and economically – a rapprochement that the German Government would not likely derail without reason.

Von Thurn now played his next card. “Monsieur, I can completely understand the concern of the French Government in this matter; in the past several months the Marine Nationale has shown great courtesy in allowing officers from the German Navy to observe some of its most ambitious exercises. If the Marine Nationale wishes to post several observers aboard vessels participating in the exercise, they would be most welcome.”


Monday, October 31st 2011, 12:08am

Monday, June 30th, afternoon - Meeting of the CSDN (Conseil Superieur de la Defense Nationale)

"On to the next matter at hand... Minister Bonnet? I believe you wished to speak on that."

"Yes," Bonnet said. "It's regarding the large numbers of German naval vessels exercising in the Atlantic at the moment. I spoke with the German ambassador this morning about the-"

"Wait, what?" Admiral Darlan interrupted, sitting bolt upright. "You spoke to the..."

"Prince von Thurn and Taxis," Bonnet said. "I was concerned about the number of German ships at sea, which you mentioned in your daily briefing, and so requested an explanation from him regarding... what's the matter, Admiral?"

Darlan twitched. "I intended to suggest that we keep our response to the German exercises low-key, and play down their exercises so much as possible. The Naval General Staff and FMF/2 unanimously agreed yesterday on a response-"

"You didn't think to clear this with the Foreign Ministry?" Bonnet huffed.

"You didn't discuss this with the Marine National before you summoned the German ambassador!" Darlan retorted. "We've been monitoring the entire exercise through our various means, and we've sent you daily summaries. Did you read them?"

"Of course I did, but you never proposed keeping the response low-key," Bonnet replied. "If you had, well then..."

"I was going to propose that we make contact through one of our naval attaches," Darlan replied. "I've sent the Dunkerque and Strasbourg to Casablanca - they should arrive on Wednesday or Thursday - and we've got two light cruisers out of Brest that are sailing to shadow the German squadron, if they can find them."

Bonnet frowned, and tried to rally. "Well, the German ambassador reassured me that no ill-will was intended towards anyone, and noted that it was an exercise of their fleet train."

"I believe I mentioned that in last week's briefing," Darlan said.

Bonnet barely prevented himself from looking sour. "I know that. However, the Prince of Thurm and Taxis invited us, in response to our own previous gestures, to send a naval observer."

That finally took Darlan aback. "Really? That's... asking for that had not occurred to me. It would be very useful..." The look on his face said Finally the Foreign Ministry did something useful for a change! "Well then, we'd of course want to accept. It seems we have mis-communicated about this issue, Minister - my apologies. If I'd known that you were so concerned about the issue, then I'd have telephoned after the NGS meeting yesterday..."