Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum

Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum (
-   Luftwaffe and Axis Air Forces (
-   -   Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940 (

Andy Saunders 31st August 2010 20:15

Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
I post the following link without comment:

Nick Beale 31st August 2010 20:55

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
This "revelation" about lack of ASR goes back to what — Francis Mason's "Battle Over Britain", Len Deighton's "Fighter"?

Ruy Horta 31st August 2010 21:38

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
Still interesting to see if North's "The Many" will bring anything new to the subject. Certainly on my scope now.

Ruy Horta 31st August 2010 21:48

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
Is it the same Richard North as in this link?

This "Ministry of Defeat" is even interesting in its own right, but a bit too contemporary for my taste (which goes to the early eighties or the first Gulf War at the most).

Nick Beale 31st August 2010 22:05

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940

Originally Posted by Ruy Horta (Post 112814)
Is it the same Richard North as in this link?

This "Ministry of Defeat" is even interesting in its own right, but a bit too contemporary for my taste (which goes to the early eighties or the first Gulf War at the most).

I thought the name was familiar. I think he's got a blog as well, with a right-wing worldview as I recall.

Andy Saunders 31st August 2010 22:07

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
As Nick rightly said, what's "new" here? Except the white painted Do24s with red crosses, perhaps! Oh....and the (apparently!) unsubstatiated other rubbish.

In fact, in "Convoy Peewit" I looked at the ASR issue insofar as it related to the actions of 8 August 1940 and covered (in a rather different way) the angles North looks at - but they were hardly "new" revelations!

Laurent Rizzotti 1st September 2010 11:39

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
Given my own experience of newspapers, I wonder if Mr North told the journalist it was new information, or if as it was new for the journalist, he wrote it.

Darius 2nd September 2010 11:43

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
Hello freinds,

a huge datebase about ships, boats and seaplanes of the Luftwaffe is here:



Andy Saunders 2nd September 2010 20:15

Re: Luftwaffe Air Sea Rescue in 1940
For what its worth, and should anyone be interested, the following is an extract from one of the Appendices to "Convoy Peewit" where I look at the ASR issues insofar as they relate to the actions of 8 August 1940:

For those who might be interested, the following extract from "Convoy Peewit" deals with ASR issues:

"Air Sea Rescue

The battles of 8 August 1940 saw the first major air fighting over the sea for both the RAF and Luftwaffe and resulted in a good many fliers of both air forces ending up in the water. Inevitably, it tested arrangements for the rescue of downed airmen by both sides and whilst the Luftwaffe system was not perfect there were serious deficiencies in respect of how downed RAF fliers were rescued from the sea. In this respect, there were two key issues; (a) survival equipment for those downed in the sea and, (b), arrangements for actually effecting rescue. Let us first look at the question of survival equipment.

RAF fighter pilots who had the misfortune to land in the water had only a rudimentary life jacket to keep them afloat. This was a cotton outer containing a rubber bladder that could only be inflated by the wearer through a mouthpiece. Clearly, this could be a difficult procedure for a cold, shocked and possibly wounded pilot struggling in the sea and who was almost certainly gasping for breath. If he managed to keep afloat he carried no means by which to attract the attention of ships or aircraft. He was a small blob in a very big ocean. To make matters worse his life jacket (known colloquially as a Mae West) was issued in a dark green colour which was pretty much the same colour as the English Channel or North Sea on an average day. Some pilots sensibly “borrowed” yellow aircraft dope from the stores and painted their lifejackets for increased visibility. Other than that, pilots carried no additional survival aids. Heliograph mirrors, lamps and whistles to attract attention came much later than the Battle of Britain. From the very outset of going into the water the RAF airman of 1940 was at a distinct disadvantage when compared to his German counterpart. The frequent and timeless crie-de-couer from servicemen and the news media of personnel being sent into action with inadequate or inferior kit is hardly a new one.

The Luftwaffe fighter pilot in the same situation was infinitely better equipped and would be supported by a state-of-the-art lifejacket or Schwimmwest. These were of a rubberised yellow canvas that could be automatically inflated by a small CO2 bottle but with an additional mouthpiece to keep the air in the jacket topped-up. (Although by no means fireproof, the German lifejacket was also infinitely more resistant to flame than was the British version. There are plenty of accounts of RAF pilots finding themselves in the sea with a singed lifejacket only to face the depressing sight of long strings of bubbles emerging from the melted bladder when they blew into the inflation tube!) Other lifejackets were also used by the Germans, with some Luftwaffe crews being issued the rather more bulky kapok lifejackets that required no inflation. These had a high collar which helped to keep the wearers head up out of the water. The German flier would also have a pack of bright green fluouroscine dye which stained the sea around him a vivid emerald green colour that was visible for many miles. He also had a yellow skull-cap to place over his flying helmet, carried “survival” chocolate and sometimes a flare pistol that he could use to attract attention. He would also have an issue clasp knife (called a gravity knife) with which he could cut away any entangled parachute shroud lines or harness. In the case of anything more than a single seat aircraft, the German airmen had a bright yellow rubber dinghy (with automatic inflation) equipped with paddles, flares, first aid kit, basic survival rations, compass, rum, cigarettes and matches. Undoubtedly the chances of survival for the Luftwaffe airman, and of being spotted, were significantly better than were those for an RAF flier of the same period.

Significantly, the Fighter Command Operations Record Book for 8 August 1940 makes very specific reference to the failings of survival equipment for RAF pilots:

“It is enquired whether an immediate issue of a smoke producing device cannot be made since the new type of lifejacket is not yet available for trial and it must be some time before a service issue is made (In fact, the “new” pattern was the 1941 lifejacket which did not come into service until much later in 1941; author). Meanwhile a device is necessary to enable MTB’s and other vessels to locate pilots fallen in the sea.”

It was all very timely, and yet in many cases too late. Certainly it was too late for the downed RAF pilots of CW9 Peewit, and generally speaking pilots would have to wait until the marginally improved 1941 version of the lifejacket was issued. Meanwhile, most RAF aircrew downed in the sea during the Battle of Britain had woefully inadequate and inferior kit, and mostly had the English Channel coloured Mae West with no marker dye. However, the request by RAF Fighter Command for the immediate issue of some additional aids to attract attention was not entirely ignored and was at least, in part, being put in place by as early as late August 1940.

Plt Off Jack Rose, a Hurricane pilot with 32 Squadron, recalled that on the morning of 25 August each pilot on the squadron was issued with a pack of fluorescene to sew on their life jacket. While waiting at dispersal for the next scramble, Rose borrowed an outsize needle and passed the time sewing on the pack to his life jacket. Shortly afterwards, his flight was scrambled and six Hurricanes intercepted a formation of twelve Dorniers at 12,000ft. Rose opened fire on a bomber but an escorting Me109 attacked him and his aircraft was hit and became uncontrollable. He was forced to bale out, landing in the English Channel. After floating for two hours a searching aircraft from his squadron spotted the trail left by the coloured dye in the water. A ship was directed to him and he was rescued. A fellow pilot, Plt Off K R Gillman, who was shot down in the same battle had not sewn on his fluorescence pack and also landed in the sea. Unfortunately, he was not found. Rose remained convinced that the pack had saved his life and its absence may well have resulted in his friends death. Whilst Rose’s experience was an impressive demonstration of the value of this marker dye, the packs did not become widely available for the pilots of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and it was not until December of that year that it started to become standard issue equipment. However, the speed of implementation of this equipment from its first suggestion on 8 August 1940 to when it was supplied to 32 Squadron is commendable given the inevitable time taken to develop, test, source and manufacture the materials before actually issuing and placing them in service.
Once they were in the sea, however, it was something of a lottery as to whether RAF or Luftwaffe airmen would be picked up alive. The odds for that lottery were stacked rather more favourably during the Battle of Britain on the German side because of their far superior rescue organisation – although it is important to point out that both sides would clearly rescue aircrew of either nationality and frequently did so. Survival could also sometimes come at a price - captivity!

As we have seen, the Luftwaffe had in place a fleet of Heinkel He59 seaplanes belonging to Seenotflugkommando 1 that operated in the English Channel with the purpose of rescuing downed Luftwaffe aircrew and some of these aircraft were certainly operational on 8 August 1940. Initially painted white overall and bearing the Red Cross emblem and civilian aircraft registration codes it had obviously been hoped by the Germans that these aircraft would be afforded immunity from attack by the enemy. It was not to be. On 9 July one such He59 was intercepted by Spitfires of 54 Squadron over the English Channel and forced down onto the Goodwin Sands, its crew captured. The RAF Air Intelligence report into the downing of the He59 was comprehensive:

“The aircraft, which was unarmed, landed as soon as it was attacked by Spitfires. It suffered no damage apart from a broken petrol feed or tank. It has since been brought ashore near Walmer Lifeboat Station.

The men were unarmed and whatever else they may or may not have been doing they seem to be genuine sea-rescue Red Cross workers. This crew saved Sqn Ldr Doran and his observer from the sea off Stavanger.

The aircraft was equipped with stretchers, a rubber dinghy, oxygen apparatus and other medical stores.

They had ordinary two-way radio equipment which was, they stated, used solely for navigation and receiving messages in connection with their job. The crew stated that they had definite instructions not to report any points of operational significance. They stated that their names were registered with the International Red Cross authorities and they were glad to have an opportunity of explaining their organisation. The crew said that there were between twelve and fifteen of these He59’s and these were moved about fairly considerably. This particular crew have in recent months been to Bergen, Stavanger, Amsterdam, Cherbourg and Boulogne.”

The downing of this rescue seaplane gave cause for some deliberation by the Air Ministry over what should be done if further such craft were encountered. Should they be regarded as operating as ambulance craft and thus given protection under the Geneva Convention? Or should they be treated as hostile like any other Luftwaffe aircraft? It did not take the Air Ministry too long to make up its mind. On 14 July 1940 it issued Air Ministry Order 1254:

“It has come to the notice of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom that enemy aircraft bearing civil markings and marked with the Red Cross have recently flown over British ships at sea and in the vicinity of the British coast, and that they are being employed for purposes which HM Government cannot regard as being consistent with the privileges generally accorded to the Red Cross.

HM Government desires to accord ambulance aircraft reasonable facilities for the transportation of the sick and wounded, in accordance with the Red Cross convention, and aircraft engaged in the direct evacuation of sick and wounded will be respected, provided that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Convention.

HM Government is unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea, or approaching British or Allied territory, or territory in British occupation, or British or Allied ships.

Ambulance aircraft which do not comply with the above requirements will do so at their own risk and peril.”

It was very much at “risk and peril” that the He59 shot at by Sqn Ldr Harold Fenton off the Isle of Wight on 8 August had entered the combat zone to carry out a search and rescue mission. However, from the He59 downed on 9 July being unarmed we certainly had a case of the He59 encountered by Fenton being armed with at least one MG 15 machine gun. Doubtless the Luftwaffe had by now realised that their air-sea-rescue craft would not be granted any form of immunity. Shots from the He59 had, in fact, resulted in Fenton’s ditching although there is some doubt that Fenton actually shot down the He59 as claimed. (See Appendix B)

Whatever the He59 crews may or may not have been doing in addition to rescuing downed aircrew is uncertain, but it is an undeniable fact that the service they gave resulted in a considerable number of airmen, British and German, being plucked from an otherwise watery grave. The RAF had no comparable service and the continual searching along the English Channel by the He59 crews during the Battle of Britain was undoubtedly courageous. On 8 August alone they were responsible for rescuing at least four Luftwaffe airmen from the sea.

In terms of reliance upon marine craft for the rescue of downed RAF fliers, this was very much a hit and miss affair during 1940. On 8 August 1940 there were certainly two RAF High Speed Launches operating in the sea area around the Isle of Wight looking for downed airmen. These were from the Marine Craft Unit at RAF Calshot and although they were at sea for many hours they failed to find either survivors or bodies. However, the formal organisation of an RAF air sea rescue service was not in place until February 1941 and during the Battle of Britain there was a mixed reliance upon a variety of vessels for rescuing downed RAF fliers. These included the RNLI and Royal Navy MTB’s and launches although the RAF did have at its disposal thirteen HSL’s, of which ten covered the North Sea and English Channel and came under naval control. However, as early as 22 July 1940 HSL 100 had arrived at Newhaven and established an Air Sea Rescue Base and on 9 August 1940, just the day after CW9 Peewit, the RAF’s HSL 121 arrived at Newhaven to become part of 28 ASRMCU. (HSL 121 had been one of the two craft engaged off the Isle of Wight during the CW9 Peewit operations).

The lack of any proper formalised air sea rescue service that was properly integrated within the organisation of the RAF was clearly an impediment to the effective rescue of ditched RAF aircrew during the Battle of Britain, and during the official period of the battle (10 July to 30 October) no less than one hundred and seventy nine RAF aircrew were posted as missing and no trace of them was ever found. This was exactly one third of the total casualties sustained by the RAF during the Battle of Britain. The overwhelming majority of these were lost over the sea, although it is impossible to say how many of them might have been saved if they had had better survival kit and an effective and integrated air sea rescue organisation to rely upon.

Aside from the He59 seaplanes operated by the Luftwaffe, the Germans also had in place a high-speed rescue launch service to pluck airmen from the sea and this organisation was operating in the English Channel during the Battle of Britain. Contrasting the differences between the rescue organisations of the two services was the rescue of a He 111 crew from the sea just off the Isle of Wight on 26 August 1940, right from under their enemy’s noses. As it happened, 26 August also saw the highest number of RAF aircrew rescued from the sea around Britain during 1940, with six men being rescued from the water by various means. Not many miles from the successful snatching of the Heinkel crew, Spitfire pilot Sgt Cyril Babbage of 602 Squadron landed by parachute in the sea off Bognor Regis. He too was rescued - by two fishermen and two soldiers in a rowing boat!"

Extract From "Convoy Peewit" (copyright) Andy Saunders

All times are GMT +2. The time now is 17:09.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright ©2004 - 2018,