(Special Interest Group Luftwaffe in Norway)
Coastal Command's Strike wings performed many memorable shipping strikes during the last war, many of which are classic examples of this kind of warfare. These attacks on the vital supply lines of the German forces was deeply felt within the German Surpreme headquaters, especially after the invation of continental Europe had begun. But as can be expected, the scarce German naval resources was heavily defended, both by anti-aircraft guns and the aggresive fighters of the Luftwaffe. These effective defences took a heavy toll of the attackers, and the bravery of the young men in their heavily armed flying machines can easily be understood. This is the story of one of the blackest day in the Strike wings' history, the appropriately named "Black Friday", 9. February 1945.
The last two years of the war saw the Strike Wings flying almost daily against targets on Norway's long western coast. The German army in Norway numbered almost 300 000, and these men and their war machninery had to be supplied. Vessels carrying supplies and soldiers were thus frequently encountered, targest were plentiful. And not only freighters and transports used this route, the Kriegsmarine's few remaining major warships were also encountered on this weatherbeaten coastline, providing escort for the convois or just seeking refuge from the ever-increasing allied raids on German naval bases in Germany. These vessels were considered prime targets.
One such vessel was the destroyer Z-33, of the famous Narvik-class. Having seen action at Barentsburg in September 1943, it had subsequently served in nothern waters. It's presence here and subsequent discovery was to be the direct cause of the events of the "Black Friday". On 7. february Z-33 grounded whilst enroute to Bergen from Trondheim, but managed to reach the capital of Western Norway. The next day it was decided to return the vessel to Trondheim and during the night of 8./9. February the destroyer and its escort lay at anchor by Ålen in the Vevringefjord. Early the next morning, 9. February, Z-33 enters the Fordefjord and takes up residence between Mula and Heilevang.
Meanwhile, two Beaufighters from 489 Sqdn. piloted by F/Sgt. Priest and W/O Brightwell had been on an Recce-mission since 08.50. At 10.30 they reached the Norwegian coastline south of Utvær Lighthouse and quickly sighted their first vessel of the day; "similar to R/boat" to quote the original report. More was to come. At the entrance to Vevringefjord they sighted a Narvik destroyer with heavy escort; this was the Z-33. After encountering heavy Flak from the destroyer, the two beaufighters continued their patrol in and out of the numerous fjords. No less than 5 transports were seen in Nord-Gulen , the largest between 4000-5000 tons, very attractive targets indeed. After almost an hour of recce they set course for base at 11.20 and reached their home base at Dallachy on 13.24.
PLANNING THE ATTACK
Even before the two Beaus had landed, the planning of the attack had begun. The 5 merchant ships were an obvious target but the Admirality had other priorities. They were more interested in destroying the few remaining warships of the Kriegsmarine. Coastal Command was still under the control of the Admirality, so the decition was easily taken; the destroyer was the main target. During the subsequent interrogation the pilots reported that the destroyer in Fordefjord and the transports could not be attacked by more than 2-3 aircraft at the same time. It was obviously going to be a tough mission! The nearby Strike Wing base at Banff was alerted as was Peterhead, home of 65. Sqdn flying Mustang Mk IIIs . They would act as escort.
A large strike Force was assembled and consisted of the following forces (se also list of participating crew);
Unit Type and number of aircraft Armament
144.(RAF) Squadron 9 Beaufighters TFX Cannon and MGs only
404. (RCAF) Squadron 11 Beaufighjters TFX Cannon/MGs and rockets
455. (RAAF) Squadron 11 Beaufighters TFX Cannon/MGs and rockets
65. (RAF) Squadron 12 Mustang MK IIIs MGs
279. (RAF) Squadron 2 Warwick MK Is
144. Squadron was in the process of converting from torpedoes to RPs (Rocket Projectiles) and this was the reason for their cannon-only armament. The two Warwicks would perform the very important sea-rescue missons that often was the only way to save a downed crew from a cold and watery grave. Each warwick carried a small boat under their fuselages. Two "Beaus" from 144 and 489 Sqdn. would act as outriders. Another force consisting of Mosquitos from various squadrons was to patrol the area between Ytteroyane and Stord, with special orders to attack the large transports. In the event this strike proved abortive as the vessels were all placed as to make an aerial attack impossible.
The large formation numbering 43 planes are led by Wing Commander Colin Milson, an experienced "Aussie" who have fought in the Mediteranean and the Norwegian theatres. His navigator, F/O Ralph E. Jones, was the oldest member of the strike force with his 35 years, and just as experienced as wilson. He was in charge of navigation.
F/S Stan Butler from 144. Sqdn takes up the story; " Take-off was just before 1400 hours; we formed up and set cource at low level in loose formation vics of three. The weather was not bad; there were rain squalls here and there, but visibility was reasonably good. Everething was going according to plan."
At this time in the war, Coastal Command had a great deal of experience with shipping strikes, having perfected them during three intence years of operations.
Butler explains; "In these fjord attacks, it was usual to fly inland for a while after making a landfall, and then approach the fjord at right angles. You would then turn down the fjord at a height that would allow you both to clear the high ground and to dive in to attack the target when spotted. The aircraft could then break away to seaward on completion of the attack and get a good start for the journy back to base. This type of attack could usually be completed with a minimum amount of time being spent over enemy territory; there was a good chance you*d be on your way home before enemy fighters could reach the target area."
And enemy fighters were still to be reckoned with. On 10. January 1945 the Luftwaffe had only about 45 single-engined fighters in Norway south of Trondheim, barely more than the total number of planes in the strike force! But they were flying high-performance Focke-wulfs or Messerschmitts and most of the pilots were battle-hardened veterans from the nothern front, having fought the russians for over three years. More specifically, 9.and 12. Staffel of the famous "Eismeergechwader" J.G. 5, was stationed at Herdla just outside Bergen. As the only Staffels in Norway at this time, they flew both late and early variants of the Fw 190. And at Gossen near Molde 10. and 11. Staffel had their Bf 109G-6s and G-14s ready. Planes from both bases could reach Fordefjord and effect an interception if alerted in time. There was no way a heavily loaded Beaufighter could stand a chance against those small and nimble German fighters. Good thing the Mustangs were there!
PRELUDE TO DISASTER
Shortly after take-off one of the Mustang had to return to Peterhead because of engine-trouble. Another joined in as an escort, just in case of a forced bail-out. Now they had only 10 escortfighters, but hopefully that would suffice. At 15.40 the formation reached the norwegian coastline west of Sognefjord. At this time the outriders started their search north and south looking for other vessels or even the destroyer. It might just be that the destroyer was heading in one of these directions and if so the outriders would report back to the main force. A German fighter was sighted to the north, but it quickly disappeared. A small convoy was seen to the south, but no trace of the destroyer. It must still be at Fordefjord. The outriders turned back and headed for base after completion of their missions.
The formation headed towards Fordefjord from the south. The German fortress at Furuneset fired a few rounds at the allied aircraft without inflicting any damage. Milson led his planes over Bygstad just south of the fjord. If the boats were still situated at Heilevang they could attack out of the fjord and head for the relative safety of the North Sea. The time was just past 16.00. The formation turned north expecting to see the enemy at the entrance of Fordefjord. Then; a nasty surprise. Butler relates; "But as we turned north with the intention of turning west into the fjord when we reached it, and making our attack "out to sea", we suddenly found ourselves under fire from the ships which were almost underneath us".
The German sailors are quite familiar with the dangers of the Norwegian Coast. They know exactly what the two Beaufighters did, they known they have been spotted and that the probabillity of an atgtack is high, very high. Wisely, the German commander decides to take up residence elsewhere. Further into the fjord, near a place called Bjorkedal, the mountains rise almost vertically from the fjord and this is a near-perfect place to situate some of the ships. It will be very difficult for a 400 km/h plane to hit the vessels with cannon and rockets, that is if he can actually spot them! Two vessels seek the protective cover of these mountains, the others, including the Z-33, place themselves at the other side of the fjord, near Frammarsvik. Yet three others lie in the middel of the fjord, possibly to give their Flak guns a wider arch of fire. These vessels include several converted trawlers used for anti-aircraft duties.
This was indeed an unwelcome surprise. Having been outmanouvred like this, Milson had no other choice but to initiate another attack run. Abandoning the attack was simply not an option. Because of the placement of the enemy vessels, Milson probably decided that it was impossible to launch an attack in the normal way out to sea. They had to get further east to make the attack run out the fjord. As the 40-plane formation turned east, the German sailors prepared for the forthcoming attack; some continued firing their gunds, the officers shouted their quick orders;one vessel ran aground near Frammarsvik and the crew hurridly evacuated as did some from Z-33 itself. This was no place to be when the allies struck! Fortunately, civilians around the fjord was also warned in time to evacuate into their cellars. After having turned east, Wilson led his strike force south toward Forde and then west just south of the fjord. Wilson now realized that an attack out the fjord was virtually impossible if they were to have any chance of success. They would have to continue on a westerly direction and then make a 180 degree turn northeast again to attack into the fjord; just the opposite of the usual practise. The map shows the cource the formation took during this careful manoeuvering. Wilson ordered the beaufighters into echolon port just before the wing turned into the final attack run. Finally they were ready.
At this time things started to rally go wrong for as Butler relates; "All this manoeuvring had taken an awfully long time. A long enough time, in fact, for enemy fighters to appear at the scene".
ALARMSTART AT HERDLA !
The alarm had sounded at Herdla shortly before 15.50. On this fateful day 9. Staffel had 9 Focke-Wulfs on readiness, 12. Staffel had three. The grey and blue painted fighters had white and blue identification numbers painted on their fuselage sides, white signifying 9. Staffel, blue 12. Staffel. The nose rings were also painted in the appropriate Staffelcolour. Feldwebel Rudolf Artner, a very experienced pilot from the Eismeerfront is leading the 9. Staffel in his Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8, "White 10". Having been the favourite wingman of famous Eismeer aces such as Heinrich Erhler and Walter Shuck, he was credited with 17 victories up to this date. Leutnant Rudolf Linz uses his faithful "Blue 4", an A-8 with close to 70 black victory bars on its white rudder, most of them from his time on the northeren front.
A few minutes later the Focke-Wulfs are in the air. Now they hear of their misson; interception of a large enemy formation in Fordefjord. They know this is going to be tough, surely there are allied fighters in the area. 12. Staffel's three fighters are thus placed abowe and behind the other 9 to provide top cover.
THE BATTLE OF FORDEFJORD
Milson made the first attack, behind him others were queing up to make theirs. It was simply not room in the fjord for more than two or three beaus to attack at the same time. Projectiles of all calibres were streaming towards the planes, making the entire fjord look a very dangerous place to be! It is certain that the Flak was very heavy this day as the ships had been placed with the intention of giving such effective cover. The German gun crew were also highly skilled in their profession after more than 5 years of war. This speaks volumes of the courage and bravery of the young men who were to press their attack home, regardless of considerations to chance of survival and other trivial matters! But it was not a one-sided battle. The Beaufighters singled out their targets and according to one of the eyewitnesses "it seemed to us as if it was the boats in the middle of the fjord which got the worst of it". Some planes attacked from south-west, others from a more western direction, the latter used cannon and rockets against the Z-33. If not hit, there were certainly near-misses as the boat "rocked and shaked in the sea".
By 16.10 another factor is about to be brought into the battle. Beaufighter PL-Y of 144. Sqdn. piloted by P/O Smith and P/O "Spike" Holly acting as navigator, was one of the first into the attack. This crew was amongst the most experienced of the squadron, having more than 35 operations behind them. This was going to be their last, they reckoned, though it happened not they way they had imagined! As they dived into the fjord, Smith noticed about 8 small planes coming from the south-west. "Mustangs?", he wondered before he consentrated on his attack again. Having succesfully attacked and evaded the enemy ships, they headed up the vally of Naustdal barely 50 m over the landscape. Holly photograped the chaotic scene behind him and as he looked over the tail, he saw a fighter a couple of hundred yards behind them. He also wondered if this was a Mustang, but his hopes were shattered as he noticed the characteristic broad cowling of a radial-engined Focke-Wulf. It was a Focke-Wulf! A quick message to Smith over the intercom, and then things happended frightfully quickly. The German fighter attacked and he and Holly fired almost simultanously. A cannon shell exploded near Holly, and splinters wounded him in the belly, knocking him unconsiouss. The cockpit and port Hercules was also hit, destroying the intercom and any hopes of regaining base. At very low level they cut off some treetops and headed west, just north of Fordefjord. Smith had trouble comntroling the Beau' and understood that a crashlanding was the only option. But where? This part of Norway is not noted for its flat areas. PL-Y continued to fly some time westwards, and Smith managed to effect a crash-landing on the sea in Hoydalsfjord. Here they were resqued by civilians, but as Holly's wound needed proffesional attention, the Norwegians had no option but to contact a doctor. That was equal to contacting the Germans. Smith and Holly were thus captured later that evening, and eventually transported to Bergen. But they had survived.
Others were not so fortunate. 9. Staffel had attacked directly into the swarm of Beaufighters waiting to attack the ships. Artner wrote the following report after the battle:
"About 50 km north of Sogne-Fjord, we saw the enemy formation which consisted of approximately 30 Beaufighters and 10 Mustang escort fighters. During a combined attack with my Staffel, I managed to gain hits on a Beaufighter which I attacked from behind and above. The beaufighter crashed burning in a flat angle. The crash was noted at 16.10 about 10 km north-west of Forde (Quadrat 06 East LM 1.5) The crew did not leave the plane."
This Beaufighter was seen to loose it's tail and exploded shortly afterwards. A member of the crew, identified as a French-Canadian, was later found in the sea. This indicates that this Beau, possibly the first casualty of the day, was EE-V of 404 (RCAF ) Sqdn. P/O Blunderfield and P/O Jackson were both killed.
At about this time, FD/L Foster in YT-Q, leader of the 10 Mustang MK III of 65. Sqdn. discovered the German fighters too. He could see how they attacked the Beaufighters over Vevring, diving out of the skies from about 4000 feet. Foster alerted his comrades over the radio. Then he saw three more fighters, heading directly for him. He fired a short burst at one of them, obtaining hits in the BMW-engine. Pursuing the Focke-Wulf, he observes how the enemy fighters is trailing black smoke; this is at least a "probable". The German fighter finally crashed into the sea near Heilevang. The pilot, Lt. Karl-Heinz "Charly" Koch took to his parachute and like his plane he ended up in the cold fjord. He was eventually rescued by Norwegians. Koch was flying a Fw 190A-8 coded "Blue 9". These events indicate that the three Focke-Wulfs of 12. Staffel flying top cover attacked some of the Mustangs, whilst the 9. Staffel dealt with the Beaufighters, at least initially.
Another Mustang managed to pick off Fj.Ofw. Otto Leibfried's "White 22", actually an F-8 fighter-bomber, near Gjesneset just opposite to where Z-33 lay. Leibfried managed to bail out despite being wounded, but he landed in very difficult terrain. In the nights following the battle, people could see his flares calling for assisance. There was however, little the Norwegian and German patrols could do. In summer 1945 leibfried's dead body was finally located laying on a small bed of pine branches.
The battle soon spread over a large area in all directions. The Beaufighters suffers heavily at the hands of the Focke-Wulfs. Near Gaular terrified civilians witness how a Beaufighter is pursued by a Focke-Wulf and is hit several times. The Beaufighter tries to land on an elevation, but the terrain makes this an impossibillity. The plane brakes in half during the ensuing crash and the cockpit-section slides down the hillside for more than 500 meters. Sadly, the crew perished in the crash. This was EE-C of the ill-fated 404 Sqdn. The crew, F/O Knight and F/O Lynch was on their first strike.
A single Mustang tried to help out, and attacked the German fighter. A long aerial duel developeed. The Mustang finally caught fire, and made a wide turn out the fjord. Perhaps he will try to get away and make a crashlanding. But then the british pilot turned back. According to eyewitnesses the pilot must have been badly wounded,but instead of bailing out he continued the fight. But to no avail. The Mustang crashed in the green pine forrest being the only Mustang loss of this battle. W/O Cecil Claude Caesar was dead.
The German fighter was in trouble also. The engine had been damaged and this forced the pilot to bail out. A small charge dispensed with the canopy and a small figure detatched itself from the plane. But he was to close to the ground for the chute to open. Fortunately, the snowy hillside enabled the pilot to survive, a small avalanche carried him to the bottom of the valley. During the journy down, the flare gun accidentily went off, causing severe burns on one leg. Still, he can walk, and he found his way into a small barn. After a little while some Norwegians contacted him and made sure he got to hospital. This pilot was Heinz Orlowski. He spent the rest of the war in hospital and reconvalence at Herdla, and did not see further combat. In 1994 he and his newly-restored "Weisse 1" was actually reunited in Texas, survivors of a fierce battle some 49 years before.
Further north, in Naustdal, three fighters followed closely in the tracks of Smith and Holly's damaged Beaufighter. The leading plane had an in-line engine,noticed the civilian witnesses, a british Mustang. The other two were clearly Germans as the Mustang suddenly dived into the valley to emerge below one of the Focke-Wulfs and then fired a short burst of fire at hit. It was a certain "kill" as the Focke-Wulf quickly flicked over and spiralled down with black smoke trailing behind to crash in a ball of flames near Solheimsstolen. The occupant, Leutnant Rudi Linz was probably killed before impact as he made no attempt to evacuate the plane. 28 years of age, he was the most successful German pilot in Norway at this time, having been credited with 70 victories, most of them against Russians.
Artner got his second victory of the day not far from where Linz fell. Coming barely three minutes after the first, Artner wrote the following report detailing his 19. victory of the war:
"As the battle developed I manged to hit another Beaufighter twice during a low-level tailchase. The plane finally turned and crashed straight into the ground after yet another salvo. The crash was noted at 16.13 about 5 km nort-northwest of Naustdal (Quadrat 06 East KM 8,5)."
Beaufighters were shot down over a wide area. The Beaufighter of F/O Savard and P/O Middleton bellied in on the ice, but turned over and trapped to crew. Norwegians tried to help them but turned around as German soldiers fired at them. Middleton was severly wounded and died when he was being transported to land, but Savard survived to spend the rest of the war as a POW.
Another Beaufighter fell at the entrance to Fordefjord. F/L McColl and W/O MacDonald from 455 (RAAF) Sqdn. survived the crashlanding only to be taken in arrest by German soldiers in a nearby civilian house. Much to the german's intence irritation, Norwegians supplied McColl and MacDonald with food rarely seen at this stage of the war.
The last Beaufighters to attack the vessels was PL-O with F/S Stan Butler at the controls. He had just attacked a small vessel with cannon fire and was trying to escape the inferno when a small calibre projectile pierced the cockpit and destroyed a distribution manifold in the hydraulic system at the base of his control column. As Butler was manoeuvering wildly to put the Flak gunners off their aim, the liquid splashed all over him and his canopy, making it very difficult to see out. At that moment the navigator F/S Nicholl discovered " the unmistakable front silhouette of an Fw 190 with little lights sparkling along its wings". Butler used a spesial trick he had learned during his training by a Canadian instructor in Calgary, Alberta. By careful control of the rudder and banking port and starboard, he was giving the impression that he was weaving from side to side. This would make it difficult for any attacker to get a good shot at his target, especially since Butler was constantly changing his altitude. Before the German pilot could figure out what to do about this elusive Englishman, Nicholl had fired a red Verey cartridge which thankfully alerted a Mustang to their problems. The Mustang successfully chased the offending Focke-Wulf away.
Butler and Nicholl continued into Fordefjord for a while before they found a suitable place to climb into the skies. This was not done without some risk, though, as the Beaufighter was damaged and they did not know the extent of these damages. They managed to find the correct cource to Dallachy and after a 3000 ft croissing of the North sea, they finally put down at Dallachy making a perfect wheels-up landing. Butler still recalls how he prerssed hard on his non-efficient brakes during the landing! A ground-crew later found a bullet in one of PL-Os self-sealing fuel tanks.
Photos of the damaged NE 831, PL-O indicate the extent of the damages from Z-33 and the Focke-Wulf. Mark Postlethwaites excellent painting depicts PL-O just after it has been hit by the shell from Z-33, heading into Fordefjord with an agressive Fw 190 in pursuit.
The battle lasted only about 15 minutes. Thus at about 16.30 the last combatants withdrew from the battle and set cource for home. The remaining Beaufighters and Mustangs, many of which were damaged, flew singly or in small groups all the way to Dallachy. Not only the planes had suffered; aboard Beaufighter UB-X of 455. Sqdn. F/O Spink , the pilot, was severely wounded. The navigator, F/O Clifford, had suffered a wound in his arm, but still he was able to assist his pilot. It did not help that the starboard engine had been damaged and was running out of control. At Dallachy they made a wheels-up landing in the dark, quite remarkable in view of the damages on both men and machine. Both received the "Distinguished Flying Cross" for this considerable feat.
F/O Thompson from 455 Sqdn. also made a belly landing with his Beaufighter UB-Q at Dallachy. Many of those that did manage to land in the normal mode had shot up fuel tanks, missing parts of the control surfaces and other damages. The ground crew were obviously in for a lenghty period of repairs.
At 18.45 the last beaufighter landed at Dallachy.
Artner had led his Staffel into combat and landed at Herdla on 16.55, barely more than an hour after take-off.
RESULTS AND CONSEQUENCES
As can be gathered from the crew tables, the allied Strike Wings suffered heavily during this battle. 1 Mustang and 9 Beaufighters were shot down, no less than 6 of the Beaus from the hard-hit 404(RCAF) Sqduadron. This squadron lost 11 men killed on a this day, with another one taken prisoner. Altogether 14 young lifes were lost on the allied side, and at this stage of the war with the end clearly in sight, it must have seemed a heavy price to pay.
The Germans suffered losses also, tough not so appaling. As related above, Otto Leibfried died after the battle was over, and Rudi Linz was probably dead before his Focke-Wulf hit the ground. The two other Germans shot down survived. Thus only two germans fell in aerial combat.
In view of the enormous effort and terrible losses, the result of the attack were very disappointing. Z-33 was not prevented from continuing to Trondheim, even if 4 sailors were killed. Another attack somer days later did nothing to stop it either. On VP-6808, one of the escorts, 3 men were killed and several wounded. It has not proved possible to verify losses aboard the other vessels present, but most probably there were casualties here as well. It is known that wounded sailors were commited to the hospital in Floro on the night of 9./10. February. Damages to the ships were light as well. Z-33 had suffered an explosion after an attack by F/L Powers from 144. Sqdn, and a minesweeper was set afire amidships. But no vessels were sunk, as was the general intention behind the attack.
Remarkably, there were no casualties amongst the civilians during the attacks, despite the fact that some had experienced some frightful near-misses. The long preparation of the attck was in all probabillity the reason for this, giving the civilians time to hide i suitable palces. Some time after the battle when a civilian tried to salvage a Hercules-engine from a Beaufighter wreck, his skin was penetrated by the sharp metal pieces. The man tragically died of blood-poisoning a week after the battle.
The battle was to have important consequences for the conduct of future shipping strikes. It was suggested to alter the target priority, giving surfaced submarines top priority instead of surface warships, as had been the practice up to now. Tankers and troop transports were also to have a hight priority. But whatever the priority, the strike of 9. February 1945 was the last in which heavy attack planes were sent against well-defended warships of the Kriegsmarine.