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High Command of the Kriegsmarine [OKM]


Memorandum concerning the Report the Commander in Chief, Navy, made to the Führer 12 January 1942 on the Planned Passage of the Brest Group through the Channel.

I. Present:

    1. Armed Forces High Command [OKW]:

    Generalfeldmarschall Keitel.
    General Jodl.
    Oberst Scherf, attached to the General Staff.
    Kapitän zur See (Navy) von Puttkamer.
    Fregattenkapitän Junge.
    Major Christian.
    Major Below, present part of the time.

    2. Kriegsmarine:

    Commander in Chief, Navy [Großadmiral Erich Raeder].
    Chief of Staff, Seekriegsleitung [Vizeadmiral Kurt Fricke].
    Commanding Admiral of Battleships [Vizeadmiral Otto Ciliax].
    Commanding Admiral of Defenses, West.
    Operations Officer to the Commanding Admiral of Battleships.

    3. Luftwaffe:

    General Jeschonnek
    Oberst Galland

II. Minutes of the Conference:

1. The Commander in Chief, Navy opened the session with something like the following remarks:

"The question of the passage of the Brest Group through the Channel has been examined by all agencies concerned. In the light of the Führer's opinion, the German Fleet's primary task is to defend the Norwegian coast and ports and, in so doing, it should use its might unsparingly.

All parties concerned therefore have approached this study with an open mind. Even though, on the basis of this study, I do not believe I should take the initiative in advocating such a breakthrough operation, plans have been worked out that ought to be followed, should the break through the Channel be decided upon.

Since you, my Führer, informed me that you insist upon the return of the heavy units to their home bases, I suggest that Vice Admiral Ciliax report on the details of how this operation is to be prepared and carried out, and that Commodore Huge subsequently report on the necessary security measures, minesweeping measures, etc., to enable you, my Führer, to make the final decision afterwards."

2. Following these introductory remarks, the Führer expressed himself as follows:

The Naval Force (Geschwader) at Brest has, above all, the welcome effect of tying up enemy air forces and diverting them from making attacks upon the German Homeland. This advantage will last exactly as long as the enemy considers himself compelled to attack because the ships are undamaged. With our ships at Brest, enemy sea forces are tied up to no greater extent than would be the case if the ships were stationed in Norway. If he - the Führer - could see any chance that the ships might remain undamaged for four or five months and, thereafter, be employed in operations in the Atlantic, in consequence of a changed over-all situation, he might be more inclined to consider leaving them at Brest. Since in the opinion of the Führer such a development is not to be expected however, he is determined to withdraw the ships from Brest, to avoid exposing them to chance hits day after day.

On the basis of incoming reports and in view of the increasingly unfriendly attitude of Sweden, the Führer, furthermore, fears that there will be a large-scale Norwegian-Russian offensive in Norway. He thinks that if a strong task force of battleships and cruisers, practically the entire German Fleet, were stationed along the Norwegian coast, it could, in conjunction with the German Air Force, make a decisive contribution toward the defense of the area of Norway. He therefore is determined to have the main strength of the German naval forces shifted to that area.

3. Subsequent to these fundamental observations of the Führer, the Commanding Admiral of Battleships [B.d.S] reports on necessary preparations and planning. The following points are given special emphasis in this report:

    a. The demand for a minimum of ship movements prior to the operation. The Führer expresses agreement with the opinions presented by the Commanding Admiral of Battleships.

    b. The necessity of leaving Brest under cover of darkness, taking maximum advantage of the element of surprise, and of passing through the Straits of Dover in the daytime, thus making the most effective use of the means of defense at our disposal. The Führer likewise expresses approval, emphasizing particularly the surprise to be achieved by having the ships leave after dark.

    c. It is stressed very emphatically that a very strong pursuit and fighter cover should be provided on the day of the breakthrough itself from the beginning of dawn to the end of dusk. The demand of the Commanding Admiral of Battleships is for at least ten airplanes for low level defense and ten airplanes for high-altitude defense; other strong pursuit forces should be held in constant readiness.

The Führer is aware of the decisive role to be played by the Luftwaffe in this enterprise. General Jeschonnek does not believe that he will be able to provide constant unfailing protection for the ships with the available two hundred and fifty pursuit planes, which cannot possibly be reinforced. He then promises to draw on the existing night fighter formations for long-range fighter planes, with which to provide dawn fighter protection.

4. Subsequent to this report of the Commanding Admiral of Battleships, the Führer asks for opinions as to the feasibility of using the northern route. He makes it clear that he does not care which route is selected by the Navy, if only it is successful in getting those ships transferred to Norwegian waters.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, the Chief of Staff, Seekriegsleitung, and the Commanding Admiral of Battleships, explain that the northern route is not suitable for several reasons. First of all, due to the training situation at Brest, it has been impossible to train crews for full scale battle maneuvers. The present disposition of enemy forces also is against such a move; there are two or three battleships and two aircraft carriers in the Home Fleet. And lastly, the German air forces would not be able to provide the necessary air cover.

5. Commodore Ruge then reports on defense problems and the mine situation, coming to the conclusion that, while the deepwater channel cannot be called absolutely safe from mines, a relative measure of safety nonetheless does exist.

6. The Führer subsequently points out once more that the success or failure of this undertaking will depend on how well the secret of it is kept. He ponders on methods of deceiving the enemy but changes the subject when warned by the Commanding Admiral of Battleships and the representatives of the Seekriegsleitung against any signs of unusual activity. It is pointed out that, by needlessly arousing the enemy's curiosity, we would jeopardize the very departure of our ships from Brest and add to the danger of their being discovered.

7. The Commander in Chief, Navy, again emphasizes the demands to be made on the Luftwaffe, for:

    a. a very strong fighter cover.
    b. attacks on airfields serving enemy torpedo planes in the early morning of the day of the breakthrough, and possibly a few days earlier.
General Jeschonnek replies to this as follows:

In view of the over-all war situation, reinforcement of our air forces in the West is impossible; however, in compliance with the Führer's orders, the question will be examined once again.

The constant air cover, as demanded by the Commanding Admiral of Battleships, will call for sixty of the two hundred and fifty available pursuit planes, assuming that there are going to be three relays. In the opinion of General Jeschonnek and also of Colonel Galland, the one hundred and ninety remaining pursuits will hardly be sufficient for the heavy air battles that are sure to develop on the day of the breakthrough. We may expect our fighter force to become very inferior in strength, at least during the afternoon. The short distances from the enemy air bases to the target objects will enable the enemy to carry out surprise attacks, while we will not always be able to have additional fighters of our own, over and above the constant air umbrella, ready at the time and place of attack. With at least three hundred enemy fighters in Southeast England, which will accompany the waves of attacking planes, this constant air umbrella of our own, will, moreover, be quite inferior in strength. All of it will become entangled in fights with the enemy fighters, so that in this case the enemy attack planes would hardly be disturbed.

General Jeschonnek also calls attention to the fact that, in the afternoon, our own anti-aircraft personnel is susceptible to fatigue, as experience has shown.

8. The Führer sums up once more:

    a. The ships must not leave port in the daytime because we are dependent on the element of surprise.

    b. This necessarily means that they will have to pass through the Dover Straits in the daytime.

    c. In view of past experience the Führer does not believe the British capable of making and carrying out lightning decisions. This is why he does not believe that they will be as swift as was assumed by the Seekriegsleitung and the Commanding Admiral of Battleships in shifting their bomber and pursuit forces to the southeastern part of England, for an attack on our ships in the Dover Straits. The Führer illustrates his argument by picturing what would happen if the situation were reversed, i.e. if a surprise report came in that British battleships have appeared in the Thames estuary and are heading for the Straits of Dover. In his opinion even we would hardly be able to bring up air pursuit forces and bomber forces swiftly and methodically.

He compares the situation of the Brest Group with that of a patient having cancer, who is surely doomed unless he submits to an operation. An operation, on the other hand, even though it may have to be a drastic one, will offer at least some hope that the patient's life may yet be saved. Passage of our ships through the Channel would be such an operation. It must therefore be attempted.

9. The question of how to divert British air forces by the means of other operations is briefly touched upon, and it is felt that the "Tirpitz" Operation and the stationing of the TIRPITZ at Trondheim would offer certain opportunities in that direction.

10. Colonel Galland then sets forth his views on the tactics of the German Air Force and, unlike General Jeschonnek, stresses the need for offensive tactics, that means rolling attacks by fighter bombers on air bases in the eastern part of England.

Colonel Galland, too, is of the opinion that the strong Spitfire forces at the disposal of the British will render things difficult for the long-range fighters which we are going to employ.

11. In closing, the Commander in Chief, Navy again points out emphatically that success or failure of the enterprise will hinge upon the way in which our air forces are used. He once more asks the Führer for a directive, to the Luftwaffe to do everything in its power that might further the security of the ships.

The Führer directs General Jeschonnek to do so. The latter, however, emphasizes again that unfailing protection cannot be guaranteed because of the lack of needed reinforcements.

12. Tide and daylight will determine the timing of the operation. That is the reason why the date of the operation cannot be changed. The Commander in Chief, Navy, then asks what should be done in case one or several ships are unable to move on the date set.

It is decided that, if two battleships are in a position to move, they are to undertake the operation, if necessary without the cruiser. If only one battleship and the cruiser can move, they are to do likewise. But in no case should the PRINZ EUGEN do so alone.

13. Finally the question of transferring the TIRPITZ is raised by the Chief of Staff, Seekriegsleitung, and the Führer decides that the TIRPITZ is to be transferred at once.

14. Finally the Führer emphasizes once more that nothing can be gained by leaving the ships at Brest. Should the Brest Group manage to escape through the Channel, however, there is a chance that it might be employed to good advantage at a later date.

If, on the other hand, the ships remain at Brest, their "flypaper effect", i.e. their ability to tie up enemy air forces, may not continue for long. As long as the ships remain in battleworthy condition they will constitute worthwhile targets, which the enemy will feel obliged to attack. But the moment they are seriously damaged - and this may happen any day - the enemy will discontinue his attacks. Such a development will nullify the one and only advantage derived from leaving the ships at Brest.

In view of all this the Führer, in accordance with the suggestions of the Commander in Chief, Navy, finally decides that the operation is to be prepared for as proposed.

signed: Raeder

countersigned: Korvettenkapitän Assmann


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