5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day - We Are The Mighty
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5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.

Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.


5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Hedgehogs forming part of the Pas-de-Calais defenses in 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)

They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.

The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
U.S. troops of Japanese descent fighting in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, one of the most storied units of the war. (Wikimedia Commons)

No one expected it in June 1944.

Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
American troops fighting in the hedgerows of the French countryside. (US Army)

The advance was much faster than expected

German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
German sailors of the Kriegsmarine. (Wikimedia Commons)

How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them

During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.

D-Day surprises
Members of the Maquis several months after the invasion (Wikimedia Commons)

The coordination of the Maquis

The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.


Feature image: US Army photo

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian military tells soldiers ‘no more smartphones on duty’

Russian lawmakers have approved a bill banning the armed forces from carrying smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets capable of recording and keeping information while on duty.

According to the bill, approved in its third and final reading in the lower house on Feb. 19, 2019, only regular phones with no cameras and without an Internet connection are now allowed in the Russian armed forces.


The bill also bans military personnel from sharing information online about their military units, missions, services, colleagues, former colleagues, and their relatives.

The bill says that “information placed on the Internet or mass media by military personnel is … in some cases used to shape a biased assessment of the Russian Federation’s state policies.”

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The bill was approved by 408 lawmakers with no vote against.

The legislation was necessary because military personnel were of “particular interest for the intelligence services of foreign governments, for terrorists, and extremist organizations,” the Duma said.

In recent years, photos and video footage inadvertently posted online via smartphones by members of the Russian military have revealed information about the location and movements of its troops and equipment.

Human rights activists were also sometimes able to obtain from the Internet video and photographic proof of the hazing of young recruits in the Russian military.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germany had laughably bad stealth aircraft in World War I

During World War I, Germany set out to make the first stealth aircraft and successfully did so, creating multiple invisible planes in 1912 that later saw combat deployment in World War I.

Unfortunately for the pilots, though the planes were invisible from the ground, they were often the single-most visible objects in the sky — particularly so when engulfed in flames.


5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

A German plane with see through wings and fuselage. These were found to be nearly invisible from the ground, but easy to spot when sun glanced off the reflective surfaces.

The problem is easy to understand. German engineers wanted the ultimate camouflage, and they went searching for a see-through material that could withstand the rigors of flight. They settled on a translucent cellon acetate, a cellulose product with qualities similar to movie film.

The canvas on early planes was swapped out with this clear material. The engine, pilot, and frame were all still visible, but the target was nearly invisible when viewed from the ground given that the planes were flying at 900 feet or higher. Even at lower altitudes, they were difficult to see and target.

From the sky, however, pilots ran into a very real problem.

The material was highly reflective of direct sunlight. So, when an enemy was approaching from a variety of angles, the sunlight would reflect off the wings and light up the plane like a beacon for anyone paying even minor attention to their surroundings.

Without radar, planes were already essentially invisible at night. So, stealth was supposed to revolutionize the daytime environment — see the issue here? The stealth technology was all but useless if the sun caused it to backfire completely.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

A Fokker 2 plane equipped with invisible skin.

For their part, the Germans knew that they had a problematic technology on their hands, and they largely shelved the invention, returning to a canvas body for most of their planes.

Still, the cellon planes were deployed during World War I and their combat record was even worse than you might expect. That’s largely because it was applied to possibly the worst candidate for cellon imaginable: a massive bomber of the Riesenflugzeug family.

A bomber would likely be the most valuable plane to turn invisible, but cellon shrinks and expands based on humidity and temperature, things that often vary in flight. Because the bomber was massive, that shrinking and expanding greatly affected the way the bomber flew.

The problem was that the plane already ran hot; four large engines mounted on the fuselage filled it with heat. Add to this an intense amount of sunlight passing through the clear fuselage and the result was a plane that was nearly unpilotable.

Something worth mentioning, though it didn’t end up affecting the bomber, is that cellon is highly flammable. So, if anything had gone wrong, it would’ve been a Hindenburg-style conflagration.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

A German Riesenflugzeug bomber with transparent panels. Pilots flew from the third deck at the front and had to deal with the horrendous heat and the shifting control surfaces.

The plane took two flights during the war. During the first, the shifting cellon made the plane controls impossible to work. The pilot tried to land the plane but couldn’t tell just how far the plane extended beneath him. He crashed and the plane was badly damaged.

The second flight went much worse — the plane’s wings just fell off. One crew member was killed.

Cellon stealth was not the wave of the future they wanted it to be — not that it would’ve helped Germany much. By World War II, radar was the new rage, and cellon wouldn’t have helped much, even given perfect conditions.

But that would’ve been great. Convincing the Nazis to fly planes made of highly flammable materials that changed size and shape during flight and sometimes just lost their wings would’ve been the a joy for the Allies.

“Hey, Luftwaffe, congrats on the invisible planes. Please, send as many pilots in as many planes as you can.”

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

These are the 62 best COVID-19 memes on the internet

There’s nothing like government-imposed isolation to bring out the best and the worst in people. It’s time to take a break from the empty shelves, homeschooling, terrifying headlines (and harrowing reality) and the truly unprecedented times we’re currently living in and lighten the load with our favorite memes of COVID-19.

In seriousness, we know these are scary times. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well.

And always wash your hands.


5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

1. The milkshake


5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why there’s no Field Marshal rank in the US military

During the second world war, the size of the U.S. military swelled significantly and became far larger than even during World War I. With technology advancing so significantly in the interwar years and the military growing more diverse, the need arose for a rank higher than four-star general. The U.S. needed an equivalent to the British and Russian Field Marshal.


But they declined. Instead, the five-star “General of the Army” and “Fleet Admiral” for the Navy were created by act of Congress.

The reason was ultimately that the name of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall would have sounded ridiculous with this new rank. Still, the Americans were now the senior partner in the alliance against the Axis and its commanders were technically outranked by British Field Marshals.

 

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
General of the Army George C. Marshall.

Admiral Ernest King was a well-known stickler for things like uniform wear (he even introduced a new Navy uniform during the war), awarding fewer medals so that they meant something when awarded, and – especially – for rank. The longtime officer hated the idea of using British terms like “Admiral of the Fleet.” He suggested other terms, like “Arch Admiral” and “Arch General.” His suggestions were so odd, his contemporaries thought he was joking.

President Franklin Roosevelt thought “Chief General” and “Chief Admiral” would be good names for the new positions. The debate ended when Congress revived the five-star ranks with their new names in 1944.

Only one American officer ever held the title of “Field Marshal.” Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Field Marshal of the Army of the Philippines in 1936 when the island nation achieved a semi-independent status. MacArthur was tasked to create an operational army for the fledgling country and wore a special uniform, complete with a Field Marshal’s baton.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Left to Right – Vice-President Sergio Osmena, Paul V. McNutt, U.S. High Commissioner, President Manuel Quezon, Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, General Paulino Santos, Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army.

popular

This Iranian was the highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever

Jalil Zandi’s Air Force legend almost never made it off the ground. He joined the Iranian Air Force when it was still the Imperial Iranian Air Force, under Shah Reza Pahlavi. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Zandi stayed blue – a risky move at a time when Iranian military officers were being executed for doing their duty to one’s country.


But fighter pilots need to be bold and take risks. Zandi did spend some time in a prison cell, sentenced to 10 years for… whatever. Does it matter? In September 1980 – less than a year after the revolution in Iran – Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops invaded Iran whose military was woefully undermanned.

So, Zandi was back in the pilot’s seat within six months.

 

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Mustaches are always in regs in the Iranian Air Force of the 1980s.

 

It was a good thing too. Then-Major Zandi had some serious skills at the controls of his F-14 Tomcat. Forget what you think about the governments of Iran and Iraq in this time period, you have to admire a pilot who fought Iraqis in the skies for eight straight years to keep them from shooting chemical weapons at playgrounds.

 

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
All those aviator sunglasses… and Top Gun wouldn’t even be released for another five years.

Zandi survived the brutal eight-year-long war, and according to the U.S. Air Force’s intelligence assessments, he took down 11 Iraqi aircraft – four MiG-23s, two Su-22s, two MiG-21s, and three Mirage F-1s. His last engagement of the war saw him go up against eight enemy Mirage F1s over Iraq in 1988. He scored two unconfirmed kills but was badly shot up in the dogfight and had to break off. He was able to fly back to his base in Iran and the war ended that very same year.

He received the Order of Fath 2nd Class for his time in the skies over enemy territory. The Fath Medal is one of the highest awards an Iranian military member can receive and is personally presented by the Supreme Leader. Jalil Zandi’s 11 kills in the F-14 make him the highest-scoring Tomcat pilot ever. Zandi died in a car accident near Tehran in 2001, having reached the rank of Brigadier General.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Brigadier General Jalil Zandi, IRIAF, ca. 2001.

The F-14 was retired from the U.S. military arsenal in 2006 but is still in use in Iran.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Remorse: How British spies conducted economic espionage in China during World War II

Walter Fletcher was deemed unfit to serve in the British Armed Forces during World War II and was such a nuisance to Baker Street that any jobs he had requested that involved physical effort were denied. Colin Mackenzie, the head of Force 136, the Far East branch of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), once referred to Fletcher as “gloriously fat.” All 280 pounds of him requested special aircraft accommodations to be prepared in advance since he took up two seats on a flight’s manifest. His physicality differed from what was typically seen throughout the ranks of Britain’s elite paramilitary unit — but his wit as a snarky businessman was unmatched.

Fletcher was not well liked, but he was resourceful. Hugh Dalton, the Secretary of State for War, called Fletcher a “thug with good commercial contacts.” When he pitched the idea to run a covert economic espionage mission to manipulate exchange rates on the Chinese Black Market, his expertise was worth the risk. Codenamed Operation Mickleham then later Operation Remorse, Fletcher’s program in the initial stages went from sheer failure to among the most successful economic missions of the war, establishing influence in Hong Kong and funding other covert schemes.


5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

A mock “Cigarette Card,” front and back, for Lionel Davis, commander of “Remorse” in the field. Photo courtesy of National Archives UK.

The Bank of England provided Fletcher, who built a reputation as a wealthy rubber trader, with 100,000 pounds on Sept. 15, 1942. His bold moves for the next two years involved smuggling rubber from Japanese-controlled Indo-China, and his calculations were met with considerable losses. Internal reports authored by SOE officers were convinced their early predictions of Fletcher — the “Tragicomedy” — were correct.

As his reputation faltered, the Ministry of Supply demanded results. A lesser man would have given up, but Fletcher, both stubborn and determined, took economic intelligence learned during Operation Mickleham and adapted to the currency exchange rates to make profit.

“Then he went up to China and started negotiating in strategic materials, funny ones like tung oil and things like that,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “Then he went on dealing in diamonds, watches, whatever the warlords wanted.”

Fletcher employed a seasoned team, including Frank Ming Shin Shu, also known as “Mouse,” one of his most trusted contacts. Shu bought £500,000-worth of Indian rupees at a lower official rate only to resell them at an inflated price on the Chinese Black Market.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Mission 204, an unconventional warfare unit comprised of primarily British and Australian soldiers, were tasked with deep penetration operations into China to undermine the Japanese. Screengrab from YouTube.

“We had a very good accountant in London, John Venner, and he helped: even in the early days I had £20,000 of diamonds across my desk in one go,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “One estimate is that the net profit was worth £77 million [£2 billion].”

Not all of the money was invested in back-end deals that filled their pockets. In April 1945, a force of 5,500 French soldiers across eight different locations were low on food and medical supplies and lacked blankets and clothing. Over the next six weeks, some of the funds from Remorse were diverted to purchase 93 tons of aid.

“A better job was done by Mr. Davis’s organisation than could have been achieved by the combined resources of the American and Chinese services of supply,” said a British ambassador in 1945.

B. S. van Deinise, a civilian and advisor of the mission, penned a memo that determined Operation Remorse was the “masterkey” for further intelligence actions in China: “I wanted to point out that the Masterkey should be made available to some of those who want to peep in and out of various compartments without attracting undue attention.”

The billion pound endeavor, hidden behind the auspices of bank statements and a covert paper trail, was only revealed to the general public after several intelligence activities from organizations like the SOE were declassified during the 1990s.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ukraine’s Navy: A tale of betrayal, loyalty, and revival

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine’s navy lost nearly all of its ships and most of its sailors quit or defected. Now, with help from its allies, Ukraine is slowly getting its sea legs back. This is the story of those who remained loyal to Ukraine and were forced to choose between family and country when they left Crimea. But, as they rebuild their lives and their nation’s fleet, rough waters lie ahead with Russia flexing its maritime muscle on the Black Sea.


Articles

That time Los Angeles fought off an imaginary Japanese bombing raid

In February 1942, Army units defending Los Angeles launched a devastating barrage of anti-aircraft fire into the sky, sending up 1,433 rounds against targets reported across the city in the “Battle of L.A.”


Fortunately for the occupants (but unfortunately for the egos of everyone involved), the City of Angels wasn’t under attack.

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the American Navy was largely in retreat across the Pacific, and the West Coast was worried that it was the next target of a Japanese attack.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Army gun crews man a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in Algeria in World War II. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In reality, the chances of a Japanese attack on the West Coast were low since the Navy was pulling back from far flung outposts in order to secure ground they knew they had to hold, like California, Oregon, Washington, and vital bases on Pacific islands.

But LA was overtaken by fear and uncertainty in the early months of 1942. Then, on Feb. 23, a city in California was attacked by the Japanese. A long-range submarine surfaced near Santa Barbara, California, and shelled an oil refinery there.

The very next night, a light was spotted over the ocean off the coast, possibly a signal flare sent up to guide Japanese planes or carriers to their target. Then, a few hours later, blinking lights were spotted and an alert was called. When no attack materialized, the alert was called off.

But in the early hours of Feb. 25, radars picked up activity at approximately 12,000-feet. Lookouts reported dozens of aircraft closing on the city. “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid” was on, and the city residents and their Army gun crews knew exactly how to respond.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
American anti-aircraft gun crews firing in World War II. (Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army RDECOM)

Army Air Force crews rushed from their beds to await launch orders and gun crews ran to their stations. Volunteer air wardens fanned across the city to enforce the blackout.

At 3:06 a.m., the first gun crews spotted their targets and began firing into the sky. For the next hour, a fierce barrage lit up the night as searchlights and shells looked for targets. In all, 1,433 rounds would be fired by gun crews.

Citizens drove through the street against orders and caused three auto fatalities while two others were lost to panic-induced heart failure. Fuzes failed to detonate some rounds in the air and they crashed back to earth where they destroyed property while luckily causing no fatalities.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

But the embarrassing reality started to become clear at headquarters. With no reports of bomb damage and few reports of downed aircraft — none of which could be confirmed — either both sides were engaging in the least effective battle in the history of war or there were not actually any Japanese bombers.

The alert was suspended at 4:15 a.m. and later lifted entirely. Soon, the entire country heard that the reported attacks in Los Angeles were actually just a case of the jitters.

A 1983 military investigation of the incident found a possible explanation. A swarm of meteorological balloons had been released that night with small lights attached to aid in tracking. It’s possible that the gun and radar crews saw these balloons and, in the nervous atmosphere, mistook it for an attack.

Humor

6 worst parts about leaving a deployment

All good things must come to an end — including deployments. While getting out-of-country is the only goal, troops have a checklist of tasks that must be completed before they’re finally allowed to reunite with their families back home.


No one likes doing any of these tasks, especially when they’re already checked-out mentally.

6. Training up your replacements.

Meeting the new unit that comes in-country is the first sign that your deployment is almost over.

Getting people who are busy preparing for departure to teach the newbies that are completely lost is never an easy task, but hey, that’s the military.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Yeah, some guys like us and some guys don’t. Good like finding out which is which. We were here 12 months and couldn’t figure it out either. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dustin D. March)

5. Cleaning gear

In the Ancient Greek legend of Sisyphus, the protagonist is cursed with the never-ending task of rolling a boulder up a mountain just for it to roll down the hill when he nears the top.

This is much like the never-ending struggle of troops trying to sweep all of the dirt out of the motor pool in the desert. Sweep as you might, it’ll never end. It’ll get just good enough for inspection until it’s time to finally get out of country.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

4. Sending gear back stateside

All of the troubles of selecting what you need and don’t need happens all over again — but in reverse. You’ll be putting gear away that you won’t see for a few months. It’s a fine idea for the extra parts of your sleeping system, but people who bring or buy video game consoles while deployed now have to worry about bringing it back home.

Of course, if you really wanted to make things easier (and you have the money for it), you could always use the postal service to send a tough box or two with your useful stuff.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
All you have is one duffle bag, one assault bag, your weapon, and the clothes on your back. (U.S. Army Photo by Capt. William Brink, Task Force Patriot PAO)

3. Customs

Traveling through customs in the civilian world is a cinch. Flash your passport, fill out a form, and don’t bring anything that’ll set off any alarms.

Did you know that gunpowder residue trips U.S. Customs’ sensors? Damn near every combat arms troop does, too — all of our gear is covered in gunpowder residue. Even though we’re carrying our weapons with us, they’ll still look at you funny for that gunpowder residue.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
And they never let you keep all of your bootleg DVDs either. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

2. The flight

It’s like being a kid on Christmas Eve again. Just a few more hours and you get what you want. You know you should probably catch some sleep on the plane but your blood is pumping too much.

All of the “whatever amount of days and a wake-up” are now in hours. Minutes. Seconds. You watch the GPS tracker on the plane more than the actual in-flight movies. The anxiety builds; landing can’t come soon enough.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
That, and sleeping on a C-130 is only possible for troops who just really don’t care. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Richard Wrigley)

1. That. Last. Formation. Before. Freedom.

Quick show of hands: Out of the countless times commanders have given a passionate speech to the friends and families of returning troops, how many are remembered by the troops?

Those months kind of fly by, but the last speech — you know, the one that starts with, “these fine gentlemen before you…” — goes in one ear and out the other. The only thing troops are focusing on is if they can find their loved ones in the crowd.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Articles

These ‘Q-ships’ used to fool subs and take torpedoes in both world wars

Appearances, as the saying goes, can be very deceiving.


This happened to be the exact concept behind Q-ships, heavily armed decoy vessels used by Allied navies during the First World War to harass and destroy German submarines, also known as U-boats.

The Germany Navy’s U-boat fleet quickly proved to be a scourge in the Atlantic, hunting down and sinking Allied merchant and combat ships with impunity. Able to sneak up to convoys and warships virtually undetected, U-boats began racking up kills in incredible numbers, quickly becoming a threat that needed to be dealt with immediately.

Allied ships, often loaded with troops, supplies, and materiel to aid the war effort in Europe were being lost at astonishing rates. As sonar was still an emerging technology, submarine detection was often difficult if not downright impossible. However, a solution began to form in the minds of Allied naval commanders.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
An American Q-ship of the Second World War (Photo from U.S. Navy)

U-boats could only remain submerged for short periods of time, and they were often deployed to sea with a limited supply of torpedoes. As such, most U-boat commanders preferred to run their vessels on the surface, utilizing deck guns for the majority of their attacks on enemy vessels.

The British Navy came up with a solution in the form of a thoroughly disguised merchant vessel carrying a crew of sailors dressed like fishers or merchant mariners. With fake boxes of cargo on the decks of the ship, German U-boats would likely assume that what they see in their periscope’s crosshairs was really just a supply ship, transporting munitions and weaponry for Allied soldiers on the front lines.

A juicy and defenseless target, ripe for the taking.

However, these ships were anything but defenseless. Armed with a variety of deck guns in different calibers, and even depth charges in some cases, the crew could open fire after luring the German submarines close enough, sinking, or at least thoroughly disabling, their enemy’s watercraft.

One less U-boat in the fight.

The British Admiralty decided that these decoy ships would be homeported at Queenstown, Ireland, where they would have easy access to the North Atlantic, and a safe harbor to return to. They would soon be nicknamed Q-ships, thanks to their port of origin.

Deployed in growing numbers, Q-ships began hunting down and attacking German submarines using deception and surprise to their advantage. As soon as U-boats closed in, panels were dropped, the Royal Navy’s ensign was raised and deck guns boomed while sending German sailors scrambling for cover.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
HMS Polyanthus, a WWI-era Q-ship with camouflage designed to break up the lines of the ship (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, the plan turned out to be a major dud.

By the war’s end, it was found that throughout 150 reported engagements between Q-ships and U-boats, only 14 submarines were destroyed, while the rest were either damaged or had escaped. The Q-ship program had an even lower success rate than mines, which, given the associated numbers and statistics, was highly embarrassing.

The program, once a closely-kept secret, was shuttered and remained fairly dormant in the years between World Wars, though other navies began exploring similar vessels of their own.

Q-ships would make a reappearance during the Second World War, serving with the German, British, American, and Japanese navies. Oddly enough, German Q-ships wound up racking up higher kill numbers than their Allied counterparts.

In the years since, anti-submarine warfare (ASW for short) has advanced considerably, making sub-hunting something of an art form. Thankfully, the Q-ship concept has been relegated to the history books once and for all, having experienced its trial by fire during the two World Wars, and coming up short.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force is offering a huge bonus to their ‘bomb squad’

The Air Force has been granted an exception to policy enabling it to offer Selective Retention Bonuses to a wider population of Explosive Ordnance Disposal senior noncommissioned officers, if they agree to continue serving in EOD for a minimum of three years.

The Air Force is offering this SRB instead of a Critical Skills Retention Bonus to SNCOs who have completed more than 20 but less than 25 years of active duty and who serve as EOD specialists in Air Force Specialty Code 3E8X1. The bonus amount for a three-year service agreement is $30,000. The amount for four years is $50,000 and a five-year service agreement is $75,000.


“The SRB program is a monetary incentive paid to airmen serving in certain selected critical military skills who reenlist for additional obligated service,” said Edgar Holt, Reenlistments Program Manager at the Air Force’s Personnel Center. “The bonus is intended to encourage qualified enlisted personnel to reenlist in areas where we have retention shortfalls or high training costs.”

U.S. Air Force: Explosive Ordnance Disposal

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Under this new authority, master sergeants who accept an SRB at 20 years of Total Active Federal Military Service or more may have their high year of tenure adjusted up to 25 years. Senior master sergeants who accept an SRB at 20 years TAFMS or more may have their HYT adjusted up to 28 years.

“In order to extend and receive this SRB, airmen must have a service-directed retainability requirement such as Post 9/11 GI Bill transfer, (date estimated return from overseas) extension or permanent change of station, for example,” Holt said.

This bonus is effective Jan. 29, 2019, and retroactive payments are not authorized. For more information regarding the SRB program, visit the myPers website or contact your local Military Personnel Flight Career Development section.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

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The ‘Fork-tailed devil’ terrified Japanese pilots

Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.


Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.

While the XP-38 was a radical design, the Army adopted it anyway because they needed its power and speed to compete with new German and British designs. And it packed a lot of punch with four .50-cal. machine guns and a single 20 mm cannon, all crammed into the nose.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. It had four .50-cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon in its nose. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.

But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.

The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
The last known photograph of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto before he was killed by American P-38s. (Photo: Public Domain)

The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.

A kill team of four P-38s flew with 12 others to an intercept point, dropped their tanks, and attacked the two bombers and six fighters of Yamamoto’s flight and escort. Two Americans had to peal off when their drop tanks failed to disconnect, but the other 14 successfully downed both bombers and the Zeros bugged out. One P-38 was lost in the battle and Yamamoto was killed along with his deputy.

America’s top-scoring fighter ace of all time, Maj. Richard Bong, achieved all of his 40 aerial victories in P-38s and the number two ace, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., achieved most of his 38 kills in the P-38.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, America’s second-highest fighter Ace of all time. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.

In Europe, the plane that dominated over the Pacific became a major liability for pilots because it wasn’t designed to withstand the extreme cold of Europe’s winter air at 20,000 feet and higher, especially in the particularly bitter 1943-1944 winter.

Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.

He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.

And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.

Luckily, the debut of the P-51 gave a viable alternative to the P-38. It didn’t suffer from the cold-weather problems of the P-38 and had comparable or better speed, range, and maneuverability at most altitudes while being easier for rookies to fly. It’s only major shortcoming against the P-38 was that it had only one engine and it was more susceptible to damage than either of the Lightning’s two.

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