Friday, 22 April 2016

The Battle of Heligoland Bight December 1939

The weather at Mildenhall on the 18th was slightly overcast with a visibility of only four miles when W/Cmdr
Wellington Bombers
Kellett took off at 9.27 a.m. leading the rest of 149 squadron up and awaited the rest of the bomber formation but the delayed 37 sqdn’s Wellingtons were forced to catch up with the others an hour later some 100 miles across the North sea by which time the cloud had cleared allowing visibility of up to fifty miles! It was weather that Oberstleutnant Schumacher, commander of JG. 1, was jubilant to see, it would give his fighters the edge over any British raid, a raid that his adjutant believed the British would be foolish to attempt. Despite the sunshine the crews were aware of the numbing cold and tail gunners registered that the turret’s movements were sluggish as hydraulic fluid started freezing in the tubes combined with drafts blasting through gaps and chilling the crews to the bone.

   Kellett led the formation around the Frisian islands to avoid German early warning messages or unnecessary flak damage. By midday F/lt Duguid was forced to peel off with engine issues with F/Sgt Kelly acting as escort arriving back at Mildenhall some ninety minutes later. By 12:30 p.m. Kellett’s formation sighted Sylt and the dustbin turrets were lowered, their guns tested, and made ready. As they reached 12 miles out from Sylt the Wellingtons wheeled to starboard and made for the coast of Schleswig-Holstein on a detour to come in behind the German defencive lines, hoping to only face the flak line once as they left the area.

    The Germans had already detected their approach with Leutnant Diehl’s Freya radar station at Wangerooge and the Naval Freya on Heligoland itself reporting the British formations. This early warning could have seen the sizable German fighter force take off and engage the British before they approach Wilhelmshaven but a problem arose. The Naval station’s report became lost in the communications network passing from between the two services and arrived twenty minutes later. Diehl’s report was dismissed by an officer at JG. 1’s base at Jever as merely seagulls or interference so instead tried II/ JG. 77’s airfield at Wangerooge only to be told that Major von Bülow was at Jever and no order to scramble could be given. It was not until Naval observers on the ground reported 44 British bombers incoming that action was taken with six of Johannes Steinhoff’s 10/JG 26 taking off but stayed mostly clear despite AFC Coalter claiming a 109 seen spiralling towards the sea billowing black smoke.

   As the Flak grew stronger Kellett ordered the formation to turn for Wilhelmshaven to search for targets with the aid of the Naval observer in his aircraft who had joined them as a resident expert on German battleships. It was in these manoeuvres that problems began to develop with the port side formation losing position and F/Sgt Petts had trouble keeping up with the turn and could not get his formation leader, 9 squadron’s CO Archie Guthrie, to acknowledge his calls all whilst the German land based and naval Flak began to churn up the sky but despite getting the height was trailing behind the formation at first but getting closer. Below them lay the harbour and Germany’s newest battle-cruiser’s KMS Scharnhorst and Gneiesnau were plain to see and orders were passed to open bomb bay doors and prepare for a dive attack by 1000 feet but Kellett called off the attack believing that at the angle of attack there was a severe chance of passing over the warships and hitting civilian targets. With no obvious warships out in the roads or sailing around the Jade estuary the decision was made to turn for home despite one aircraft from 149 sqdn bombing a small group of auxiliaries that were firing at them and 37 Squadron bombing attacking another in Schillig roads.

   The pass over Wilhelmshaven had left 37 and 9 sqdn in a certain amount of disarray whilst Kellett’s 149
Recon picture of Schillig roads and Wilhelmshaven
were still in tight formation. S/ldr Hue-Williams of 37 sqdn, who were flying in a step formation, had accelerated to catch up with Kellett with his formation strung out behind him trying to keep up with him and F/O Lemon’s Wellington even further behind having been involved in an embarrassing accident in which the second pilot’s parachute harness had got caught on the flap leaver and inadvertently deployed them in the down position. Lemon thought he’d been hit by flak and dived for sea level where they were hit by light flak which destroyed the aircraft’s aerials. The formation became easy prey for the Germans with Oberleutnant Gordon Gollob bringing his Bf 110 across the stern of Hue-Williams’ N2904 peppering him with cannon shells sending him spiralling down towards the sea, his starboard wing on fire. The fire on 37 squadron was relentless and F/O Lemon’s crew battled to try and keep the stream of Bf 109s away. Interestingly in his report the following day Lemon makes reference to being attacked by a He 111 bomber but that it was “very probably shot down by the rear gimmer” (Air 27/364). The low altitude of Lemon’s bomber did provide his crew with relief though as two Bf 109s of II/ JG 77 approached firing only for Leutnant Stiegler’s wingtips to graze the surface of the sea and send the hapless German cartwheeling across the water before settling and sinking. Lemon made a break for it at sea level and arrived back at Feltwell at 3:30pm. Lemon would report that:

 When I saw the mass formation heading North, it was intact. One or two of the rear flights , however were straggling behind and would have been an easy target for fighting aircraft.

  Oberstleutnant Schumacher personally shot down F/O Lewis whose N2889 ploughed into the mudflats off Spiekeroog leaving no survivors before moving in on F/O Wimberley and heavily damaging his aircraft too. Leutnant Lent then closed in on F/O Wimberley nd fired a coup d’grace into the stricken N2888 which came down onto the sea and promptly sank with only Wimberley himself being picked from the water. Lent also attacked F/Sgt Ruse missing in his first pass but doing serious injuries to the crew. LAC Jones in the rear turret found his guns frozen up by the cold and unable to return fire and wounded in the foot and back he managed to pull himself away where he was treated by the navigator Corporal Fred Taylor who was quickly killed as Lent fired another burst into the Wellington hitting him in the head and back. Sgt Holley in the “dust bin” was killed by a second burst leaving him slumped half out of the turret. Lent left Ruse’s stricken aircraft to pursue and take down F/O Thompson’s Wellington totally obliterating the tail and LAC Stock’s turret and N2935 crashed into the sea beyond Borkum leaving no survivors but with the Observer, Sgt Tilley’s body being recovered later. Ruse managed to bring his shattered aircraft down on Borkum where the aircraft soon burst into flames. Sgt May climbed out of the aircraft nursing his wounded buttock followed by Ruse carrying the wounded Jones over his shoulder where they were soon picked up by a German patrol. With that 37 Squadron had been left with only one surviving aircraft and of those shot down only four surviving crewmen.

   Kellett’s formation had finally cleared the flak barrage by 1:30 p.m. completely unscathed but as they
Bf 110 Zerstorers
passed from it the cloud of Messerschmitts which had formed up descended upon them. It was an impressive formation consisting of II/ JG 77 (Major von Bülow) and III/JG 77 (Hauptman Seliger), I/ ZG 76 the newly arrived Bf 110 formations under Hauptman Reinecke, Major Reichardt’s Jadgruppe 101 and 10/ JG 26 Oberleutnat Steinhoff’s night fighter force. The German crews were keen to get airborne with Leutnant Lent getting so impatient with ZG 76’s armourer that he opened up his twin throttles and began taxing up the field forcing the unfortunate Schwarzman to slide off the wing and roll away from the tail section to avoid injury. Aircraft from 2/ ZG 76 were out over the sea on a familiarisation flight due to their recent arrival.  
Staffelkapitän Wolfgang Falck was informed by radio and as soon as they saw the black bursts of smoke from the flak batteries led his formations in a charge towards the enemy. The Germans had learnt from their previous engagements and had studied the weak spots of the Wellington including the beam attack and to avoid stern attacks at all costs unless hitting them with cannon shells out of range of the British 303s and pressing attacks once the gunner was silenced. The biggest weakness was the wings which the attack on the 14th had revealed where the lack of self-sealing tanks and armour left the possibility of losing precious fuel or worse case exploding. Unteroffizier Heilmayr of II/JG 77 caught one of the British bombers and was swiftly followed by Steinhoff whilst Falck homed in on 9 Squadron’s formation who were flying at full throttle to catch up with Kellett. Falck and his wingman, Fresia, made short work of P/O Lines and F/o Challis’ aircraft one of which burst into flames and disintegrated in mid-air, before moving on to Guthrie’s bomber. As Falck riddled the hapless leader’s Wellington with his four machine guns and two cannon he received mortal return fire from LAC Josias Key in the rear turret. Key’s fire was accurate and caused Falck serious problems;
My Starboard engine jerked to a standstill. Petrol streamed out from the wing, and it was a miracle the plane didn’t catch fire. As it was, Sergeant Waltz and I were hard put to prevent our ammo going up. The whole cabin was full of smoke. (Luftwaffe diaries p.75)

Falck popped the canopy to clear the dense smoke and turned for Jever on the one engine until that too lost power. Trying to avoid an explosion the remaining fuel was jettisoned and all of his ammunition shot away before turning to Wangerooge where he made a forced landing.

   Guthrie fared a lot worse as his Wellington was seen to crash some 20 miles from the Schillig roads but the surviving aircraft from his formation were certain he had destroyed the attacking Bf 110. F/O Allison who had led the second section of 9 Sqdn fell to Fresia before he too peeled away. In only a few moments the two Zerstörers had accounted for four of the six aircraft in Guthrie’s formation with no survivors but it wasn’t over yet for Macrae and Petts as the rest of 2/ ZG 76 began firing. Macrae’s wing fabric was shredded whilst his rear gunner struggled against the cold that had crippled his fingers and bullet wounds. The Starboard wing tank had been pierced as had rudder control and the roller bracket completely shot away leaving rudder control partially jammed. Pett’s fared little better from the attack and his “dustbin” gunner had to be pulled free and propped onto the rest bunk and then the forward gunner had to be pulled free having been wounded in the foot whilst the pilot attempted a manoeuvre that had been practised in drills with fighter command and closed his throttles down so that the approaching Messerschmitts would overshoot their target however it did give the 110’s tail gunners an opportunity to shoot at him. The worse news came when Sgt Robertson in the tail turret reported he was out of ammunition but thankfully there were no more Messerschmitts around them so Petts immediately turned for England at low altitude giving up hope of catching up with Guthrie and completely unable to defend himself.

   The starboard formation led by S/ldr Harris and formed of 149 and 9 squadron bombers held their formation tightly but unfortunately this made them easy targets for the Germans who sat out of range and poured fire into the formation. F/lt Grant would later remark “There was absolutely nothing we could do except sit there being picked off one by one.” (battle of Heligoland p.74) Both his and Sgt Ramshaw’s bombers had their fuel tanks holed and the latter’s turrets had jammed up. With his tail gunner, 21 year old LAC Walter Lilly mortally wounded Ramshaw turned N2983 for home but would never make it. With the fuel tanks leaking and severely damaged the 18 year old forward gunner, AC1 Charles “Ronnie” Driver manned the fuel pump despite burns to his hands gained when his position’s flooring was shot away and from his successful attempts to put out the flames with his bare hands. N2983 soon ran out of fuel and Ramshaw was forced to put the wounded bird down on the sea where Driver managed to free the bomber’s dingy and help the wounded crew into it except for his friend Walter who had died alone in the rear turret. Ramshaw and LAC Connolly were bruised and shocked whilst Sgt Bob Hewitt, the second pilot, had a bullet in his right arm and they were soon picked up by the trawler Erillas. Both Ramshaw and Driver would receive the DFM.

     Back in the formation S/Ldr Harris was watching his aircraft fall apart before his eyes with fabric being ripped apart and geodetic structuring breaking apart under the constant barrage and probably shared the same helplessness expressed by Grant. He also watched Oberleutnant Fuhrmann’s 109 make continued beam attacks on Kellett’s four bombers only to abandon them and go for a straight line attack. Kellett’s bombers ripped the 109 apart and sent Fuhrmann seaward belching smoke but at the last moment he managed to nurse his fighter into a sea landing and managed to pull himself free into the sea and began swimming the 200 yards towards Spiekeroog but succumbed to either wounds, cold, the weight of his water filled flying uniform or a combination of all of them after making it half way. Another German fighter lanced past Harris to attack Kellett’s formation and despite Harris’ forward gunner giving him a burst the Bf 110’s fire tore into F/O Spier’s Wellington burst into flames as one of the pressurised oxygen tanks exploded and plunged into the sea only to have F/O Riddlesworth take his position on Kellett’s wing and the survivors of these two formations forced their way through the cloud of Germans and out into the North Sea.

   It was a battle that had cost the RAF ten Wellingtons out of a force of twenty-two with the majority of their
Wolfgang Falck as a Major later in the war
crews killed and four captured and a further two ditching in the sea including F/O Briden’s N2961 which landed on the sea and the crew were seen to be in a dingy and despite S/Ldr Harris flypast and DF fix the search and rescue could find no one. The Germans claimed a total of 38 shot down from a force of 44 but eventually settled for 27 confirmed kills. It seriously rocked the RAF’s confidence in their doctrine despite claims that the Wellingtons had taken down twelve fighters, six of which were Bf 110s, of the forty-four German fighters that engaged them. Other than Fuhrmann and Stiegler’s Bf 109s there were five more which were written off on their return including Feldwebel Hans Troitsch’s which crash landed.

   Kellett later reported that “The enemy pressed home their attacks in a splendid manner.”  But it could have been a lot worse. Had the Freya reports been taken seriously and the Germans engaged the formation sooner and had III/ JG 77 been notified of the raid and been airborne then the toll could have been much worse. Captain Reinecke wrote in his report that;
The Me 110 is easily capable of catching and overtaking this English type even with the latter at full boost. This provides cope for a multiple attacks from any quarter, including frontal beam. This attack, can be very effective if the enemy aircraft is allowed to fly into the cone of fire. The Wellington is very inflammable and burns readily. (Luftwaffe diaries p.77)
Whereas Schumacher opined that the Wellington’s tight formation flying and tail defences had caused much damage to his force and been a good defencive tool however that the close proximity had made them easier targets to hit!

   Air Vice Marshal Baldwin, AOC of 3 Group wrote that “Many of our aircraft were observed during and after the combat to have petrol pouring out of their tanks… The vital necessity of fitting self-sealing tanks to all bombers cannot be over emphasised.” (Luftwaffe diaries p.77) something that Bomber Command agreed with and Wellingtons were immediately forbidden from operations over Heligoland until such time as they were fitted and armour plating on all of their fuel tanks. There was also a belated realisation that a beam gun may be required as well as Kellett reporting that the spare ammunition container was not fit for purpose and that the rear facing guns needed fresh clips in their positions.

   Guthrie and Hue-Williams came under criticism for not holding up formation, as Kellett did, which opened up the rest of their formations to attack and Ludlow-Hewitt believed still firmly that “the great and unforgivable crime is for the leader of the formation to fly away from his followers” (Battle of Heligoland p. 97) The warning signs had been there though as 37 Squadron had flown mock battles in November with fighters from Tangmere and the warning had been clear that had the fighters had ammunition they would have decimated the Wellingtons. Neither leader had experience of this sort of raid and the very reason for being over the Bight was to get it. There was also criticism for Kellett for flying to quickly and leaving the other two formations trying to catch up but this was disputed by S/ldr Harris who pointed out that 149 Squadron had kept up.

   The British inexperience was countered by the Germans who had experience of combat flying, engaging Wellingtons and had a well organised defence system in place. Ludlow-Hewiit opined that:

      Up to 14 December our experience was that morale and determination of the fighters in the north – west of Germany was appreciably inferior to that of their fighter units on the Western front. Consequently the vigour and determination of the fighter attacks, particularly on the 18th certainly came as a surprise to us, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was due to strong reinforcements by crack squadrons from elsewhere. Previous to the 14th I had hoped that attacks on German warships would provide us with an easy and inexpensive means of getting war experience for our heavy bombers.

   The report from JG 1 summarise the while event:

   The British seemed to regard a tightly closed formation as the best method of defence, but the greater speed of the Me 109 and Me 110 enabled them to select their position of attack. Rigid retention of course and formation considerably facilitated the attack… It was criminal folly on the part of the enemy to fly at 4000 to 5000 metres in a cloudless sky with perfect visibility as after such losses it is assumed that the enemy will not give the geschwader any more opportunities of practice shooting at Wellingtons.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The fall of Tsingtao

SMS Scharnhorst and HMS Minotaur in Tsingtao early 1914 (IWM HU 64344)
   As the Geopolitical situation deteriorated the situation in Tsingtao grew tense. Orders came through for all gunboats to return to base, and the Yangtze river gunboats Otter, Tsingtao, and Vaterland simply disarmed themselves and the crews hurried back to the Naval base leaving the boats at their moorings where they were taken by the Chinese.

   Searching for a safe port and bearing news from Berlin warning of possible if not probable war, the arrival of Austro-Hungarian cruiser Kaiserin Elizabeth on 21 July prompted the Emden’s Fregattenkapitän, Karl von Müller, to call a council of war as the senior Naval officer in port. Although it was all speculation as to whom they would be fighting, the fleet still had to mobilise, defend the colonies, escort colliers to a rendezvous for squadron manoeuvres, and above all not get blockaded in port. The cruisers of the East Asiatic Squadron and the skill of her crews were more than a match for the Russian forces and could also match the French. The big question lay over England, and how swiftly HMS Minotaur and Triumph could swing into action or Australia and New Zealand to organise their vessels and soldiers for occupation forces. There was the chance that Japan would join her ally England and lend her vast and modern warships to the struggle—her recent aggressive foreign policy and voracious need for fresh territorial gains meant that this would be very likely. There was a prevalent view in Germany that Europeans were superior to Asians, which led to the Kaiser declaring that he would rather surrender Berlin to the Russians than Tsingtao to the Japanese.

   It was obvious that Japan’s involvement could mean a siege sooner rather than later, and with Germany their sole source of coal and ammunition, it would only be a matter of time before Tsingtao would be forced to surrender. Things in the islands would be more cut and dry; with no formal defences, and only a handful of Melanise policemen and army reservists on each island, an organised Allied landing would quickly overpower German resistance. The only plausible defence would be for von Spee to catch the invasion forces unescorted, or for an organised guerrilla war against the Allies. The nearest the Germans came to this was Leutnant Herman Detzner disappearing into the jungles of New Guinea. If the war was restricted to Russia and France, their limited reinforcements in the region and more pressing priorities on the European front would mean attacks on the colonies would be less likely. Only Britain’s involvement would include enough soldiers to occupy all of the scattered islands and their overwhelming sea power could escort invasion transports and hunt the East Asiatic Squadron.

   On 22 July the Cormoran’s captain, Zuckschwerdt, ordered his crew to work around the clock, using spotlights at night. Supplies and ammunition were organised to warehouses by her slip, so they could be loaded quickly when it was fully operational. Although Zuckschwerdt knew that the Cormoran would stand little chances against a modern warship, it was better to be at sea than trapped in port awaiting capture or internment, which was the likely outcome for the inhabitants of Tsingtao. Adalbert Zuckschwerdt had been in the Pacific a long time and was well known throughout the fleet with a reputation for fairness laced with discipline, and a stubborn streak that favoured action rather than wasting time on deep contemplative thought. Even though he avoided harsh personal exchanges and was quiet and conscious of others, with the advent of war he was putting an amount of zeal and strength into getting the Cormoran ready. Throughout the colony the efforts to mobilise the flotilla of gunboats for defence, the colliers for supplying the Kreuzerwaffe, and the creation of auxiliary cruisers moved at pace. Korvettenkapitän Sachse of the Iltis was ordered to mobilise the dockyard to war. Korvettenkapitän Friedrich Luring of the Jaguar was ordered to stay in British Shanghai to reorganise German operations there whilst his vessel fled under Leutnant Fritz Matthias before handing over command of Karl von Bodecker the former commander of the Tiger. The Jaguar along with the Luchs, Tiger, Iltis, and torpedo boat S.90 were charged with protecting the harbour at the direction of Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck.

   Emden was put on a war footing and through July her readiness was increased until 31st, when all her unnecessary equipment, flammable trim, and excess personal effects were stored in a warehouse on the dock. Her ammunition and coal stocks were fully supplied, so when the orders came through, she would be ready to leave immediately. A shore party was also arranged to assist with the receipt of telegraphs and increase the military capability. Von Müller was determined to leave port on the 31st, this was to avoid a blockade that would see his ship wasted and to comply with orders from Berlin—to get as much available coal out of the harbour and delivered to von Spee. After meeting with Zuckschwerdt to hand over command of the naval forces and give directions, he ordered the cruiser to leave port at 7.30 p.m., with the S.90 sailing ahead to clear the way and scout for enemy vessels while the collier Elsbeth sailed behind. When reports came through that Russia had declared war on Germany, von Müller was given permission to carry out his plan; after releasing the Elsbeth to head for Yap the Emden turned towards the Tushima straits hoping to find Russian shipping plying the trade between Nagasaki and Vladivostok, or the Russian cruiser Askold. On 4 August, the lookouts spotted a vessel flying the Russian flag and moved to intercept. When the ship responded to the warning shot by opening up her engines and commencing evasive manoeuvres, as well as sending out a plethora of wireless transmission signals, von Müller loaded his guns and fired a few shots closer to the vessel. On the third passing through the rigging, the Russian vessel came to a stop, still sending SOS signals that the German Captain hoped had been jammed by his vessel’s signals. On inspection the Russian vessel, SS Ryazan, turned out to be a modern German passenger vessel built in Danzig in 1909, with a top speed of 14 knots and decent capacity. Reservist Leutnant Lauterbach led the boarding party over to secure the vessel, almost falling in the sea when his small launch got caught in a swell alongside the ship. The Russian Captain protested that he did not know war had begun, he protested that the Germans were pirates and he protested that he did not speak German. Lauterbach reminded him that he had seen him in Tsingtao and knew he could speak German, he also reminded him that the Russian had tried running, which meant he knew war had begun. On inspection of the cargo manifest, he found that the vessel was carrying tea, iron railings, salted meat, and spirits, as well as some passengers who also protested that they were being kidnapped. Von Müller decided to take the vessel back to Tsingtao for conversion and turned both vessels around operating in blackout and wireless transmission silence; the passengers aboard the Russian vessel were not cooperative and kept turning lights on and, when the bulbs were removed, taking them from other fittings. Lauterbach was kept very much on his toes. The two vessels passed many Japanese fishing vessels and even intercepted a transmission that Britain was now at war with Germany, a very ominous piece of news but he had no wish to run into any of the heavier British vessels.

   On arrival at port, von Müller ordered the immediate resupply of the Emden and took Zuckschwerdt to see Meyer-Waldeck to report his success and future plans. It was decided that the liner Prinz Eitel Friedrich should be fitted with guns and crew from the Tiger and Luchs, and placed under command of Fregattenkapitän Max Thierichsens of the Luchs. All excess sailors were to be assigned to marines, formed into infantry detachments ready for the eventual siege. Though not what they were trained for, it was the best solution that could be hoped for as they needed everyone who could carry a rifle to assist. Zuckschwerdt reported that Cormoran’s engines had been repaired and tested that very morning. However, the haste at which it had been reassembled by tired men, working day and night, meant that the repairs had not been successful and the engine merely shook herself apart, causing the propeller shafts to break. Its completion would take a further few days at least. It was decided to convert the Ryazan into another auxiliary using the crew and Captain of the Cormoran due to her having a good rate of speed and crew capacity. With the older Bussard out of commission it made sense to at least use her guns and crew for something useful. Zuckschwerdt began work immediately, using the large spotlights and twelve-hour shifts that had been in place from his previous command. The new vessel was also to be called Cormoran in honour of the previous vessel—to carry on the legacy. In four days of continual work the vessel was ready for commission, with eight 4-inch guns deployed, two searchlights, ammunition, food provisions to last five months at sea, and 2,000 tons of coal. Due to the small coal bunkers on the new the Cormoran, the crew quarters had to be converted and the crew were assigned to sleep on the decks of the ship. The crew was topped up with reservists, volunteers from the Vaterland and Iltis and the new recruits that had arrived just two months beforehand. The total compliment was twenty-four officers, 218 men, and fifteen helpers, including four Chinese laundrymen.

   Events were beginning to overtake Tsingtao, with news that the Japanese fleet had sailed on 8 August and the German’s worst fears were confirmed by a telegram from Berlin that stated war with Japan was imminent. SMS Emden reacted to von Spee’s summons to Pagan Island by leaving port on 6 August taking the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the collier Markommannia, with a small flotilla of other colliers leaving on separate routes to meet the Admiral. Zuckschwerdt was determined not to get caught and the Cormoran left Tsingtao on 10 August at 2 p.m. amidst a growing chatter of Japanese wireless transmission traffic, with concerns that the vessel may not make it to the open sea. S.90, predominantly used as a scout ship, reported the horizon all clear and with one last look at Tsingtao the Cormoran slipped out to sea. Over the next few days came warnings from command of the Japanese fleet detaching and operating heavily in the area. On the 15 August the Japanese ultimatum arrived; this gave the Germans a month to abandon Tsingtao to the Japanese, and to remove all warships from Chinese waters immediately—they gave the Germans eight days to respond. Obviously this was unacceptable to the Germans and Mayer-Waldeck responded with a letter:

It is a matter of course that we can never consent to surrender Tsingtao to Japan without drawing the sword. The frivolity of the Japanese demand admits but of one reply. But it implies that we must reckon on the opening of hostilities at the expiration of the date fixed. It will be a fight to the finish.
Another German wrote in his diary of the Japanese ultimatum, ‘they can tell this to a Russian but not to a German’.

   A heavy Japanese presence, with a week until hostilities were declared, meant that any operations in the Yellow Sea would be perilous, and so the Kaiser’s newest auxiliary had to head south away from her coaling base. Flying her Russian flag, the Cormoran, tried to slip past islands and Japanese fishing boats at night so as to avoid observation, all the while listening to continued Japanese wireless transmission messages that seemed closer and closer. After four days at sea, and lacking communication from the radio station at Yap, Zuckschwerdt decided to use a general radio call out. Gaining a response from the steamer Ahlers, who reported an English vessel visible on the horizon. The Cormoran rushed towards the scene only to receive a second message that it was in fact another German vessel—the Göttingen of the Deutshe Lloyd steam company. Although Zuckschwerdt ordered his vessels truned about, he received orders the next day from the Scharnhorst to rendezvous with these two ships, and to bring them immediately to him—he required as much news as possible. However, it was not as simply as it initially seemed to be; the Cormoran got caught in a storm knocking her 100 nmi off course, which also damaged the wireless transmitter, smashed a lifeboat, and saw supplies being washed out to sea. It was not until 21 August that they met with the two wayward German vessels and began their journey to von Spee (which took another four days), passing the released Gouverneur Jaschke, which pointed them towards the Majuro Island. Within the lagoon lay the Prinz Eitel Friedrich, Titania, Yorck, Prinz Waldemar, Holsatia, Mark, and Longman, with the Emden and the Nürnberg detached. Zuckschwerdt immediately reported to his Admiral and submitted for inspection.

   In Tsingtao the situation looked bleak. They had amassed a force of 1,500 men in four infantry
Some of the Prinz Heinrich Kompagnie at Tsingtao
companies with 140 cavalry men, six quick-firing 3-inch guns organised into a field artillery battery, two machine gun detachments, and 140 engineers. There was a further 750 men coming from Tientsin, under Oberstleutnant Kuhlo, and a Taube aircraft, flown by the redoubtable Gunther Plüschow. A second Taube had crashed on her maiden test flight, putting pilot Leutnant Müllerkowski in hospital and his aeroplane in pieces. Further reinforcements had come from the Prinz Heinrich Kompagnie, part of the Shanghai Volunteer corps, the elements of this detachment arrived carrying Lee Metford rifles and wearing British cut uniforms and ammunition pouches and were quickly assimilated into 7. Kompangie of III. Seebataillon. The German forces would be no match for a large Allied army and they knew it; however, the British had estimated that it would take five months to organise and deploy an Indian garrison, reliant on favourable conditions. Japan on the other hand would be more than ready as it had no other military commitments. Tsingtao had a tactical advantage of a strong mountainous defence to the north, as well as neutral China; if the Allies were to obey the rules of war and not violate China, they would have to come from the sea. The harbour was well defended with guns, mines, the torpedo boat S.90, and the gunboats all under the Kaiserin Elisabeth. There were also diplomatic channels for Mayer-Walbeck to explore. He tried to get Washington to intervene by making European settlements in China neutral, and also contacted China to say that they would like to terminate the lease and give it back. Washington was not interested and China just terminated the lease refusing to take it back. This only gave legitimacy to the Japanese claim that the Germans were unwanted interlopers in Asia, and they would expel them ‘…for the assurance of peace of the Far East and the preservation of China’s territorial integrity’.

   Martial law had already been declared on 1 August and the German troops had already filed into their trenches, fortifications, and strongpoints preparing for an invasion. The Japanese were likewise anxious to gain the colony, and had already begun massing its troops ready for embarkation and preparing a blockade. While the German government looked at the ultimatum, they would be joined by a subordinate Anglo-British force under Colonel Barnardiston. The force of 23,000 men and 142 guns landed on 2 September to the north of Tsingtao in Chinese territory, setting up a headquarters in the provincial town of Tsinanfu. This was much to the consternation of local British consul John Pratt, who argued this was a violation of Chinese neutrality akin to Germany’s march through Belgium, but he was hushed by his superior in Peking. After the Chinese protested, the Japanese stated they were going to secure the railway network and any Chinese resistance would be seen as friendly to Germany and an act of aggression to Japan. The march was impeded by bad weather and heavy rains that flooded large parts of the plains, but as they marched the Japanese censored all local communications and removed all Europeans from their line of advance to mask their numbers and strategy.

   Mayer-Walbeck was informed of the landing and began preparations to strengthen the northern approaches, sending Kuhlo’s men to the mountains to dig trenches, lay mines, and prepare artillery emplacements using Chinese labourers. There followed several days of inaction, with only two very ineffectual Japanese air raids and one Japanese spy, shot for trying to poison the water supply with Typhus. A third air raid on the Kaiserin Elizabeth and Jaguar was also attempted to no effect. The second Japanese landing came on the 18th, supported by the Anglo-Indian forces shipped in on rented Chinese vessels on the 22nd, in the south of the peninsula. Their advance was slow as the weather had turned the roads into quagmires bogging down the men and their equipment. Relations were strained between the two allies and General Kaimo, though polite and reserved, saw this as a solely Japanese venture of which the British were allowed to tag along. His officers did not think much of the British fighting skills and, on more than one occasion, mistook them for German troops and fired at them. The weather, and Kaimo’s cautious advance, meant that it was the end of September when the naval blockade opened fire for the first time, destroying the Russian cemetery, a pigsty and Bismarck barracks prison.

 As the bombardment, began the German defenders fell back from the front line to protect
SMS S.90
themselves and it was up to the remnants of the East Asiatic Squadron to strike back for Germany. On 28 September the Iltis was damaged by Japanese artillery and along with a toothless and damaged Tiger, Luchs, and Cormoran was towed to deep water and set aflame to stop them falling into enemy hands. The Jaguar remained busy engaging enemy shore batteries and positions as well as causing the destroyer Shirotaye to be grounded on the 3 September. The Jaguar had also engaged in an unsuccessful sortie with the Kaiserin Elisabeth before the cruiser donated her large 6-inch and 2-inch guns forming the 'Batterie Elisabeth'- her excess crew assigned to the garrison. These were not the only victories for the navy, the minesweeper Lauting and torpedo boat S.90, with the support of one of the shore batteries bombarded HMS Kennet on 22 August; S.90 hit Kennet twice forcing her to withdraw. This success was again repeated by Kapitanleunant Brunner's vessel as she ran the Allied blockade on the evening of the moonless 17 October torpedoing the Japanese Cruiser HIJMS Takachiho killing 271 of her crew of 325. This was an outstanding success, but celebration was short lived as at 1:30 a.m. a wireless message was recieved from S.90;

Have attacked enemy cruisers with three torpedoes, registered three hits. Cruiser blew up at once. Am hunted by torpedo-boat destroyers return to Tsingtao cut off, trying to escape south, and if necessary shall explode boat.    BRUNNER.

Brunner was forced to scuttle of the Chinese coast and the crew interned themselves, eventually being held in Nanking. The gunboats continued to shell the Allied vessels, with the minefield around the harbour would claim three Japanese steamers. Despite their limitations the last surface units of the East Asiatic were going down fighting against a much superior force.

   However, the ground forces were becoming more fatalistic knowing that they were outnumbered six to one. One German officer told his men ‘we cannot obtain victory here; only die. Still, before it reaches that point, take as many of the yellow Apes with you as you can’. As they withdrew (to twin lines along the ridges around the settlement) they destroyed bridges over mountain gorges and destroyed the Mecklenberg Inn. The Germans gave a token night attack, but were repulsed. Following this, the allied forces attacked in the middle of the month, pushing the Germans back along the line except at a strong point where the German Cavalry were able to aid in driving off the infantry and take a toll on the enemy. A negotiated ceasefire occurred after this assault, in order to bury the dead. The Japanese were playing a long game, bringing 100 heavy siege guns, with 1,200 rounds each, to the top of Prinz Heinrich Heights. They began shelling on 31 October. The land bombardment was joined by naval guns, up to 11 inches in calibre. Although the Germans did respond at the Japanese land positions, with accurate spotting from the unstoppable Plüschow, they soon ran out of ammunition. Their guns sat silent as the Japanese rained death upon their positions for a whole week, setting coal stocks and petrol tanks on fire and causing the 150-ton docking crane to collapse under the incessant fire.

   The weather still caused massive problems for the attackers, slowing their advance. The hostile weather killed several engineers and eight Welsh soldiers, who were constructing a pontoon bridge across a swollen river, all the while Japanese fire came down upon the Germans.

   On 6 November, Plüschow flew out of the encirclement clutching the last of Meyer-Waldeck’s dispatches. He came down in a rice paddy, though still managed to get the dispatches out and back to Germany. He also began his long journey home, which involved travel via China, Japan, across America by train, and a boat to Italy, which unfortunately for him stopped at Gibraltar, where he was taken prisoner. He eventually escaped from Donnington Hall POW camp in England, working at the London Docks before eventually slipping out to Holland and finally into Germany. On the same day, the Japanese infantry charged in a great wave through the remains of the German lines under the cover of darkness and swept through the tired German defenders, taking 200 prisoners and forcing others from their positions, which the defenders often detonated. Other fortifications were abandoned, left full of bodies and equipment. The Japanese urged the Germans to surrender, while at the same time switching to shrapnel shells to cut down the fleeing infantry. By morning the struggle was over, with the surrender of the remaining forces to the Allies. The Jaguar was scuttled that morning and joined the Kaiserin Elisabeth, which had been scuttled on the 2 November by her commander Richard Makovicz after she had exhausted her ammunition; his final message to his ship was ‘Addio Lisa’. Meyer-Waldeck refused to fight on—some of his officers felt that they should—and sent a message to Kaimo: ‘…my defensive means are exhausted. I am now ready to enter into surrender negotiations for the now open city’. The German marines and sailors of the East Asiatic had put up a spirited defence and held out against Allied forces for three months, a lot longer than anyone had thought possible and caused 727 killed and 1,335 wounded, for the loss of 199 and 504 wounded.

German prisoners from Tsingtao held in Japan © IWM (Q 52827)
   When the Allies marched into the town, the Germans lined the streets in silence to watch the Japanese. The moment the British column arrived they turned their backs in disgust, for their use of Asians to fight their battles instead of fighting them honourably. The surrender documents were signed by the chiefs of staff for the German and Japanese forces and, in yet another snub, the British were left out. The Kaiser was deeply disappointed, but could not be surprised—the best support he had been able to offer were words of encouragement: ‘With me, the entire Germanic nation looks with pride on the heroes of Tsingtao whom, true to the word of the Governor, are fulfilling their duties. You should know all of my appreciation.’

   The garrison laid down its arms and marched into Japanese captivity, to be freed and returned to Germany in 1920.  One British officer described the garrison:

…their dejection was far from pleasant to watch. They were brave men, they had done their best, their clothes were ragged. They seemed amazed to see Britons standing by and, as though with final effort, they raised their heads as they passed and met me eye-to-eye with burning looks.

With the loss of the port the only harbour with a German Imperial grade shipyard in the whole Pacific was lost to von Spee. It was of no consequence to the Admiral as he was an ocean away when it fell.