Friday, 6 June 2014

Operation Banquet - British bombers over the beaches

Tiger moth Trainers were to carry out Banquet
Desperate times call for desperate measures and never has Great Britain been as desperate as it was in
the summer of 1940.

As 2400 German aircraft bombarded the RAF's fighter command and around 3000 barges were being pooled to transfer the 6th and 9th Armies across the English Channel. The British Military began looking at contingences in case the RAF were unable to overcome the odds.

As the majority of the light and medium bombers would be ear marked for attacking the heavily defended invasion fleet and ports, a new plan had to be organised for attacking the beaches and on the 13th July a survey of available aircraft for operations was ordered. The solution was Operation Banquet.

Banquet was divided into several different phases depending on where the aircraft were coming from be it Banquet Civil (using Civilian aircraft - which was dropped quickly), Banquet 6 (absorption of some of Group 6 units), Banquet 22 (absorbing 22 group army co-operation units), Banquet Alert (Fleet air arm training units under RAF Costal command) and Banquet Training. In all 350 aircraft of various types and quality were thrown together for this last ditch exercise.

Banquet Training and Alert are the most concerning as they consisted of trainee pilots considered to be of "a certain level of ability" and their instructors.

The aircraft they were to be assigned were modified Tiger moth trainer bi-planes which lacked basic defensive armament, self sealing fuel tanks or armour. They also lacked bombsights and only had racks that had been designed for small bombs weighing about 9kg.

The general plan was for the Tiger Moths to fly over the target once to identify it and then turn around and go into a shallow dive and release their bombs. these small bombs would have been very ineffective against enemy armour but could have proved deadly to infantry on the ground.

The problem was that the Tiger Moths would be attacking individually with only a handful of bombs under fire from anything the German's could fire at them and with the lack of armour and slow speed would have meant that even the small arms fire carried by infantrymen could have brought the planes down.

Further to that the inexperienced pilots would have been easy pickings in their trudging bi-planes to the Bf 109 E fighters.

The pilots spent the summer of 1940 practicing bombing but due to shortages the Tiger moths were flown from the front cockpits whilst a second man dropped bricks out of the rear cockpit to simulate the drop.

Paddy Denton, a young Bomber Command trainee had this to say of Banquet.

It was an indication of how ill prepared for war we, as a nation were. When there was some sort of threat of attack, presumably from the sea, some of the more serviceable Tiger moths were fitted with bomb racks and tiny little bombs, about 3lb, I would have thought.
These appalling threats to an invader were rehearsed without the benefit of Bombsight or anything so sophisticated by a neat HEAT Robinson device of little leavers in front of the intrepid aviator.
The experience did make me ponder about the possible outcome of the war.
(Bomber Crew, P. 43)

There was also another branch of Banquet that had Tiger Moths fitted with long metallic blades with the notion that they would fly through clouds of paratroopers and cut their parachute chords or the unfortunate soldiers in half immune from enemy fire as they would be in close proximity to their own troops!

So could Banquet have been pulled off?

In the desperate times of a German invasion of the British Isles there is no doubt that these 350 aircraft would have been thrown at the beaches swarming with German soldiers or concentrations of Paratroopers and a sizable chunk may have actually reached their targets.

The Luftwaffe fielded approximately 600 Bf 109s which had the task of providing escorts to any bomber attacks, sweeping the beaches to protect the infantry and forming an aerial umbrella over the landing craft to protect against the RAF's other bombers. All this over a front stretching from the Isle of Wight to Ramsgate! It would be fair to say they would have been very stretched allowing the aircraft of Banquet to get through.

There is also a good chance that the Tiger moths would have been difficult to intercept due to their slow speed. In the hands of a good pilot a biplane can avoid getting hit by rolling away. By the time the 109 realised they had missed and come around the Biplane would have got away. Sadly these would not be experienced pilots and their unarmoured crates would have broken up after a few rounds.

The biggest risk would have come from ground fire and although the soldiers would have had more pressing issues, like British machine gun posts and hard points, there is no doubt some form of defensive fire would have been thrown up .

Banquet would have been an unpleasant surprise for a German invader and I have no doubt that in Britain's most desperate hour these aircraft would have taken off. It would have been a gallant yet bloody defence of England's shores.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Feldwebel Severloh's stand at Omaha beach

US troops preparing to land at Omaha
Tomorrow (6th June) is the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy. The landings are

the largest seaborne invasion in history with the support of over a thousand Allied aircraft and millions of soldiers, sailors, paratroopers, support staff and airman.

The German army facing them were veterans of the Eastern front but were frightfully out numbered and outgunned. Their lines of communication were severed, their were paratroopers roaming behind the lines and backed up by French resistance fighters. Armoured support was miles away and their advances painfully slow as the Allied airforce severed the railway lines and roved over the countryside with rockets and 20mm cannons shooting up anything that moved.

In a day full of brutality and heroics there were many who deserved the mantle and medals. One such man has been overlooked by many for the service he performed for his country.

The young conscript Corporal who was just shy of 22 years old and already a veteran of two years, found himself at the forefront of action on Omaha beach. As his Lieutenant co-ordinated artillery on the enemy positions he took to a machine gun and defended his position whilst his comrades brought him ammunition  for the heavy machine gun and two rifles. He was at his position for several hours holding up the enemy advance until he ran out of ammunition.

Heinrich Severloh
His name was Heinrich Severloh, though History remembers him as the "Beast of Omaha", he was responsible for the deaths of up to two thousand American soldiers on his own. As the ramps opened on the landing ships he would aim the MG-42 into the mass of tightly packed soldiers cutting them down before they could even get onto the beach. His suppression fire forced the GIs on the beach to cling to the sands and he claims that his shots with the KAR 98 rifles was so accurate that he was killing on one shot every time. He expended 12000 Machine gun rounds and 700 rifle rounds at the enemy whilst Leutnant Freking tried to coordinate the artillery.

As the American advance began to break through they were ordered to abandon Widerstandsnest 62 and taking a small group of prisoners with two other soldiers, withdrew to the nearby village of Colleville-sur-Mer where they surrendered to the Americans on the following day. He was exceptionally lucky as Freking and the survivors of Widerstandsnest 62 were taken prisoner by vengeful American soldiers angered by their heavy casualties on the approach to the bunker and executed on the spot.

It is one of the great problems with history that one man's hero is another man's villain. Servolah is one such man. In an article written in the Daily Mail many years ago wrote of the brave heroism of the Allied soldiers then wrote exceptionally critical description of the Servolah's actions. History will always be written by the victor but when a soldier is fighting for an evil regime their actions, no matter how brave or honourable they may be, will always be considered abhorrent and decried.