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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Germans in Ireland After the War

Otto Skorzeny worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Otto Skorzeny ('Scarface') as a commando in the SS, and as an Irish farmer

Ireland does not figure into World War II as much as other European nations, but that does not mean that it played no role whatsoever. It suffered the occasional errant Luftwaffe bombing, and a lot of submarine activity took place just off its coast. However, by and large, you will not see much about Ireland in a blog like this.

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Hitler greets Skorzeny after the Mussolini rescue

There has been anti-British sentiment in many quarters Ireland for centuries, that is undeniable. This can manifest itself in odd ways, such as the assassination of British World War II hero Louis Mountbatten in 1979. Another World War II impact was the fact that a number of Germans felt more welcome in Ireland after the war than they did in many other countries.

The Big Fish: Otto Skorzeny


Historians of World War II know that Otto Skorzeny was Adolf Hitler's 'special projects' guy. He was a wartime celebrity and well known on both sides. Skorzeny's most famous mission was rescuing dictator Benito Mussolini from his mountaintop prison in September 1943. Even Winston Churchill was impressed by this glider assault, terming the mission 'one of great daring.' Other projects came along, which Skorzeny executed with varying degrees of success. These included the kidnapping of the son of Hungarian Regent Admiral Horthy in October 1944 in order to keep Hungary in the Axis, and Operation Greif against the Americans during the Battle of the Bulge. After undertaking one last project in Vienna during the last days of the Reich, Skorzeny - 'the most dangerous man in Europe' - was captured by the western Allies.

Otto Skorzeny worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Skorzeny flew a light plane onto a mountaintop to rescue Mussolini, who probably regretted being rescued a couple of years later.

However, Skorzeny proved that he was indeed competent at secret missions when he engineered his own escape from an Allied detention center and found his way to Madrid. From there, under the protection of the Spanish government, Skorzeny became involved in more adventures, including becoming the bodyguard of Eva Peron for a while. Ostensibly, he was a simple businessman operating an import/export business. Rumors, of course, ran wild about what he might actually be doing.

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Skorzeny on trial at Dachau

Skorzeny found his way to Ireland only in June 1957, when he accepted an invitation to visit Portmarnrock Country Club Hotel in County Dublin. Encouraged by the friendly reception he received there, Skorzeny bought Martinstown House and its accompanying 160 acres in 1959. He did not try to hide his presence, reportedly driving a white Mercedes into town to pick up supplies. However, he also did not mix much with the locals, which may have been partly due to the fact that he only maintained a part-time residence there.

Otto Skorzeny worldwartwo.filminspector.com


It's a bit unclear exactly how much time he spent there, as he maintained his residence in Madrid, but locals still remember his hulking presence. Eventually, certain members of the parliament (the Dáil) became concerned, they denied Skorzeny a permanent visa and he was barred from England, and Skorzeny ultimately passed away quietly in 1975 at his Spanish residence.


Other Third Reich Germans


An estimated 100-200 other former adherents to the Third Reich also found their way to Ireland. Albert Folens (a suspected Belgian collaborator), Helmut Clissmann (a member of the Brandenburger Regiment who had long ties to Ireland), Andrija Artukovic (Minister of the Interior in Croatia and the man responsible for the deaths of over 1,000,000 men, women and children in concentration camps), Celestine Laine (leader of the Bezen Perrot, a Waffen SS unit responsible for the torture and murder of civilians in occupied Brittany), Louis Feutren (a French member of the Bezen Perrot) and Pieter Menten (allegedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jews in Poland) were among them. Their presence is a little more difficult to explain than that of Skorzeny, who, after all, was invited and was not actually a convicted war criminal.

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Andrija Artuković (third from right). Here he is part of an oath ceremony during the NDH government inauguration in April 1941

As mentioned, there was anti-British sentiment. Some Germans, especially in the days before war crimes and the Holocaust were widely publicized, were seen in a sort of romantic light, as fellow fighters against 'The Man.' Of course, not everybody felt this way, but enough did for some former members of the Third Reich to feel welcome.

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Louis Feutren, on the left 

There is no indication that the Germans who migrated to Ireland caused any problem. By the 1970s, however, attitudes had hardened against the memory of the Third Reich, and if any former Party members remained in Ireland from that point forward, they maintained a very low profile.




2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hans Kammler and German Nukes

Was Hitler Closer to Nuclear Weapons Than We Thought?


German Nuclear Programme: it remains a phantom that has been dismissed by scholars for decades as producing nothing. That common view, however, may be changing.

The story line for the past 70 years has been that the Germans during World War II made only a few preliminary gestures toward the basic science underpinning nuclear power. They did not have the brainpower to get very far after Albert Einstein in March 1933 and other top researchers became émigrés working for the United States government. In addition, targeted Allied interventions such as at Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in the town of Rjukan in the county of Telemark, Norway, where a barge full of heavy water supposedly was sunk and ended the Germans' nuclear program, were said to have played a key role in stopping the research.

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Hans Kammler

Because of Kammler's association with top-secret, cutting edge projects and his apparently clean get-away, he remains the subject of conspiracy theories about what the Germans were really up to with their advanced weapons programs. These theories get quite fantastic, but the evidence for them is non-existent. Still, people love conspiracies and 'secrets,' so the stories likely never will die.

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Advanced weapons facilities were not only plausible during World War II, but reality. This is the main control room at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the Americans developed the atomic bomb.

Hans Kammler, shrouded in mystery and with his hands deep in the most advanced research of his day, invariably turns up as the protagonist in such activities, perhaps pulling off his disappearing act by riding to another century or dimension in 'Die Glocke' (the 'bell'), a mythical advanced transportation device.

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There are odd ring-like structures like this in former areas of German occupation. Because of the peculiar (bell-like) shape, some contend these buildings were used to develop 'Die Glocke,' an advanced weapon built by Hans Kammler. Die Glocke was based upon (apparently) alien technology that travelled between dimensions or along magnetic phase lines or, you know, something like that. However, investigators have established with convincing proof that these structures were used for ordinary gas storage, and in fact similarly shaped structures are still used for that purpose today.

That is the basic story, and it hasn't changed since the war. Until recently, that is. Simply repeating these stories makes you appear to be on the fringe, a nut, but you must understand the theories to discount them - and see if there indeed is any grain of truth to them. And, in this field, there are lots of such grains that taken together are fascinating, but do not add up to much..

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Calutron operators at their panels in the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II. Gladys Owens, the woman seated in the foreground, did not realize what she had been doing until seeing this photo in a public tour of the facility fifty years later. (Ed Westcott/DOE)

Researchers are still trying to piece everything together, but the picture is becoming clearer and a bit more elaborate than the common sketchy (and satisfying) tale of bungling failure. This is a story of a shadowy program which still isn't completely understood, led by that even shadowier figure, Dr. Hans Kammler.

Background


This is a story of a major war criminal who got away. General Dr Ing. Hans (Heinz) Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler was one of the chief architects of German 'special projects.' He was in charge of the ballistic missile and jet aircraft programs. More chillingly, he was in charge of the concentration camps. The infamous gas chambers and crematoria at the camps were as much his doing as anybody's. He was in charge of designing and building the camps across Europe. Many Germans gained notoriety after the war when their crimes were exposed, but Kammler remains largely unknown to this day. And, from some perspectives, Kammler was the biggest fish of them all. Had he been brought to trial, he almost certainly would have received the death sentence at the first Nuremberg tribunal, and it would have been carried out.

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Underground facilities under Hans Kammler's jurisdiction, constructing the He 162 Salamander jet fighter

May 1945 was a chaotic time in Germany, giving anyone with a place to go ample opportunities to get there without being apprehended. And Hans Kammler still had the means even at that late date to get wherever he wanted to go in complete secrecy. Kammler did manage to disappear at the end of the war, which is a bit more difficult to achieve than it sounds, especially for someone as prominent as him. Some perfunctory searches were made for him, but people said he went here, others said he went there; he was supposed to attend a conference in this city or that on certain dates and never showed up - none of which made any sense at all and led nowhere. It was almost as if there were a deliberate, organized campaign to obscure his trail. Kammler simply was there one day and gone the next. He went somewhere - his body never was found and there was absolutely no evidence from any source that he perished. They've been able to ascertain the end of Martin Bormann and Dr. Mengele, but not Kammler. Now, at last, there may be a slender clue as to exactly where he went and what he was worried about in those last frantic days, indeed, a place he never would have been found it that was his destination.

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Entrance to the Mittelwerk facility, where they built the ME 262 jet fighter

What interests us here is that Kammler was in charge of the underground facilities where German war production moved at the end of the war. He was given this authority by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Armaments Minister Albert Speer. Almost all of those underground facilities are well-known and now empty. However, those of us in the field know that there also have been what can best be called 'legends' of vast underground facilities that never were found and may, in addition, have served as a sort of shelter for certain top government officials and their SS guards at the end of the war. There is no use pointing to sources for these tales, as any sources for this are without sources themselves and just uncorroborated stories. The typical location for these 'redoubts' are usually placed deep in Poland, which is a convenient location for such tales because western researchers haven't been able to examine them until recently and the area is vast and often desolate. The stories are often embellished by the presence of skeletons of SS guards at the entrances, still holding their rifles - you get the picture.

Nazi Nuclear Programme worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Bergkristall

Let's take a step back from the tales and return to known reality. The main work of producing planes and other armament was done at the Mittelwerk facility in the Kohnstein, which is fairly well known. However, there were many other underground facilities, developed as the Allied bombardment made surface production hazardous. One of these underground facilities was located in the Bergkristall (literally, 'rock crystal') site in Austria, which is near the mountain town St Georgen an der Gusen. It is a fairly typical small Austrian mountain town, blink and you'll miss it as you drive through. However, it has quite a history.

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Sankt Georgen an der Gusen

Adolf Hitler, of course, was from Austria. St. Georgen an der Gusen is not far from where he grew up. Hitler's bizarre strategy during late 1944 and 1945 of allocating huge forces desperately needed elsewhere to guard that region often has been questioned. Now, researchers may be uncovering a very dark strategic reason for him to switch Panzer Armies in that direction when the Soviets only were 60 miles from Berlin. I don't want to overstate this: there is no evidence yet of anything happening in these mountains of any relevance to the last days of the war. However, the possibility does exist that researchers may uncover something important.

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The German experimental nuclear pile at Haigerloch

The New Discovery


It always has been known that the Germans had a major underground weapons production facility at B8 Bergkristall. It churned out the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter plane, which was operational by late 1944 and proved better in various performance categories than any Allied fighter. It could not turn the tide of the war, but the Me 262 was cutting edge technology and a giant leap beyond what the Allies were fielding at the time (yes, the Allies did have some jets of their own such as the British Gloster Meteor, but no Allied jet saw any action beyond patrolling against V-1 buzz bombs). There was a lot going on just behind the surface of the placid alpine town named Sankt Georgen an der Gusen.

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The Mauthausen concentration camp garage gate

B8 Bergkristall is near the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Mauthausen provided the slave labor that kept the Bergkristall factory humming along. There were a lot of slave laborers - up to 320,000 - and many were killed in various ways. The nearby town was the site of the Gusen 2 sub-camp which supplied the factory laborers.

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Gusen I and II

The B8 Bergkristall - Esche II program was located in a series of caves (some 40 square miles are known) carved out of the mountains near Sankt Georgen an der Gusen. That is a very small town in the middle of the mountains. The census gave it a population of 1,429 in 1939. Even today, it only has a few thousand inhabitants. It remained under German control until the final surrender.

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An intersection in the BergKristall complex (Federal Archive)

The underground plants were so extensive that it was difficult to uncover all of them. The Germans certainly were not forthcoming about them during or after the war. The Soviets were in charge of the area for the decade after the war, until 1955, but they did not seem particularly interested in exploring dusty old caves. They examined what they found, made sure it was harmless, and moved on. They do not appear to have launched any major expeditions to search for caves that weren't already disclosed to them.

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The 11th Armored Division liberated the Mauthausen camp. This photo was staged the next day, 6 May 1945, to celebrate the liberation.

There are unexplained radioactive readings in the area that may be natural phenomena, but also could be man-made. If the latter, they could only come from the German war programme, as no (other) nuclear research has been performed in the area. If so, this would not be the first time that suspected radioactive material from Germany was found, as in June 2011, there was atomic waste - 126,000 barrels of it - found in an abandoned salt mine near Hanover.

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Andreas Sulzer is the researcher who thinks he is on to something at Mauthausen

Some researchers have begun excavating in the area, led by filmmaker Andreas Sulzer of nearby Linz (yes, Hitler's home town). They have found what they believe is a hidden chamber where the nuclear research took place and was purposefully buried at the end of the war - right around the time when Kammler went missing. It is known that the Germans engaged in all sorts of end-times activity to hide and preserve things. There is little question that burying the traces at Sankt Georgen an der Gusen was part of that activity. The only questions remaining are why they bothered, and what might still be found there.

Nazi Nuclear Programme worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Bergkristall

The hidden Bergkristall tunnels that are being examined now can only be entered after removing dirt, concrete and granite plates used to cover up all traces of the project. Filmmaker Sulzer had his team dig through a good six feet of clay at the site of a shooting club, only to find a manufactured granite cap underneath all that dirt. It could be seen to be covering some steep steps leading into the mountain. None of this had been known before. Something - it could be anything - is inside that mountain. A geological survey suggests a large underground cavern. It is easy to say, "Oh, it is nothing, probably just a guard post or SS quarters or something." Perhaps. However, someone went to an awful lot of trouble not only to bury this facility, but to hide it so well that it stayed hidden for 70 years with people literally walking right on top of it on a daily basis. That took some motivation.

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A Waffen SS helmet found by the Sulzer team in preliminary digging at the St Georgen site

Sulzer followed proper procedure and informed the town of his finds, which quickly contacted the Heritage Office. The police ultimately halted excavations, demanding a permit which the researchers did not have. Naturally, this deepens the mystery. However, if there is something there, it ultimately will be found. The prestigious Graz Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences will, together with the province of Upper Austria, continue the excavations, under the auspices of the Environment Councillor Rudi Anschober, at a date to be determined.

There may be nothing there. But why not have a look?



2014



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Heinkel He-219 Uhu ('Owl')


He 219 Uhu Owl worldwartwo.filminspector.com


A consistent theme throughout our review of wartime Luftwaffe aircraft development by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) is that it relied upon older designs past the point at which they maintained superiority over their foes. This is inexplicable given that the German aircraft industry had the best designers in the world.

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An He.219 training aircraft demonstrating the ejection seat.

One obvious reason for this was overconfidence after the easy victories of 1939-1941. Another reason may have been the dangling prospect of jet aircraft, which always were just a little while away from being practical and would provide a quantum leap over the opposition. A third simply may have been that German industry was overwhelmed and there simply weren't enough men left in the factories (of which there weren't enough either) to start building every aircraft that showed promise. However, not devoting more effort and resources to the He.219 earlier in the process clearly was an error.

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Heinkel He 219 Uhu fighter. While the performance of the A-2 was not extraordinary — approximately 580 km/h (360 mph) speed — it was enough of an advance over the Messerschmitt Bf 110Gs and Dornier Do 217Ns to allow the aircraft to chase several bombers in one sortie. In order to combat the Mosquito, the He 219 had all excess weight removed. With some weapon and radio systems deleted, the aircraft was able to attain a speed of 650 km/h (400 mph).

Whatever the reason, that tendency to keep using existing equipment until it became completely ineffective also affected the Ernst Heinkel A.G. development of the He.219 Uhu ('Owl'). This extremely capable aircraft proved to be one of the top night fighters of the conflict on either side, but its production run was stunted by delays and ultimate cancellation due to the war situation.

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A captured He.219 A-5/R1 (2G)

Heinkel designers began work on the plane that turned into the Owl during the summer of 1940. It would be clever to say that they showed incredible foresight regarding the coming Allied bombing campaign, but in fact the He.219 was first intended as a reconnaissance aircraft. The RLM took little interest, and Heinkel was forced to proceed on its own dime, again a fairly common occurrence during those years.

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Owls captured in Denmark

The RLM took notice of the plane, however, and correctly assessed the capabilities of the new design, even if it didn't want to pay for its development. A directive went out to Heinkel to change the Owl into a night fighter, perhaps due to the growing Allied intrusions into Reich airspace. Once this was done, the RLM finally became interested during 1942.

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Heinkel He 219A Uhu (Night Owl) fighter. The A-2 featured an updated, 90 MHz VHF-band Telefunken FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar system, complete with their larger, high-drag 4 x 2-dipole element Hirschgeweih aerials. It initially had less range than the C-1 radar, but improved accuracy and resolution and was also less vulnerable to chaff jamming through the late summer of 1944.

The equipment of the plane evolved over time through the A-1 through A-6 subseries, and ultimately became the definitive A-7/R6 model. This version had two Junkers Jumo 222 A/B engines (which replaced Daimler Benz DB 603 A engines generating 1750 hp), which gave the Owl a fantastic top speed of 434 mph (700 km/hr). This was comparable and even superior in many cases to the fastest fighters of the day.

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 Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum is in the process of restoring an Owl

The Owl had six 30 mm MK 108 cannons and two 20 mm MG 151 cannons, extremely heavy firepower for the day. The glazed cockpit gave the pilot and crew member a clear field of vision, which wasn't always the case in those days, and the crew even had the very first ejection seats. The He-219 also was the first aircraft to come with a steerable nose wheel. While not a jet aircraft, the Owl was a leap ahead of other piston fighters.

Heinkel He.219 Uhu Owl worldwartwo.filminspector.com


Development accelerated during 1942, and the first flight occurred on 14 November of that year, another in December. Evaluations were conducted through March 1943 against the Dornier Do.217 and the Junkers Ju.188, and the Owl was proven to be in a class of its own. An initial production order of 100 aircraft was tripled because of the plane's success during evaluation. The first service version was the A-2.

Heinkel He.219 Uhu Owl worldwartwo.filminspector.com


Meanwhile, the air war was heating up, with the British launching their devastating 1000-bomber raid on Hamburg at the end of May 1943. Pilot Werner Strieb took an evaluation version of the Owl up a week later, on June 11-12, and shot down five bombers in half an hour. Further successes followed in quick order. The Owl, with its fantastic speed, proved particularly adept at eliminating the pesky de Havilland Mosquitos, which the British were using as pathfinders for the growing British bomber command.

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Ultimately, fewer than 300 of the Owls were delivered to the Luftwaffe. They ran into the RLM's halt of bomber production in May 1944 for some reason, so deliveries ceased prematurely. In addition, with the suicide of Hans Jeschonnek in August 1943, the Luftwaffe switched to a strategic orientation that caused it to lose focus on promising projects such as the Owl. However, equipped with FVG 27 radar, the Owls that entered service were extremely useful complements to the Bf.110 night fighter force.

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As with other night fighters, Owls were outfitted with the deadly upward-sloping “Schräge Musik” (Jazz Music) cannon. Given the their great speed, radar and stealth, the Owls were incredibly destructive. Opponents would marvel that once they snuck into a British bomber stream, they could shoot down multiple bombers in one sortie with a little luck.

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Heinkel He 219A2 Uhu fighter,WNr 290013, May 1944.
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2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Romanian Air Force


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Romania played an odd role in World War II. At first, the Kingdom of Romania was pro-British and allied to the Poles. The Soviet Union, contrary to many who think it was an innocent victim during the early war years, aggressively demanded and received a large swathe of Romanian territory in Bessarabia as well as from northern Bukovina pursuant to a 28 June 1940 ultimatum.

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Oil bound for Germany to fuel Hitler's war. Waiting tank cars (labeled w. Essolub and Shell logos) in Rumanian-owned Creditul Minier oil yards near Ploesti. To be fair, the Soviet Union also was supplying the German war machine with raw materials at the same time. Margaret Bourke-White, Romania, 1940.

Everybody talks about the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years earlier, but absolutely nobody talks about this particular blatant land grab. Trying to find any perfect angels amongst the governments of Eastern Europe during this difficult period can be quite taxing. The Soviets' actions during this period go a long way toward explaining what later transpired between the powers.

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Naturally, some of the Romanians were not too thrilled about losing prime real estate to their hulking neighbor, the Soviet Union. Pro-German Prime Minister Ion Antonescu in September 1940 engaged in a complicated series of events that led to the deposition of the rightful king, Carol II, and installation of the young crown prince, Michael, as a figurehead replacement ('Michael I').

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American Bomber, Consolidated B-24 'Liberator' forced to land by Romanian fighters. German officers and civilians are inspecting it. It is possible that this apparently crash-landed bomber was repaired and added to the German fleet of captured Allied planes, which may be why there is so much interest in it.

Ion Antonescu became a de facto dictator with full powers in ruling the state, technically by royal decree, while Michael I effectively disappeared from view. Antonescu joined the Axis as a full partner, but the country soon lost more territory to Hungary as a result of the Vienna Award imposed by their friends the Germans. This resulted in great hostility between Hungary and Romania for many years.

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A Romanian Bf-109 being prepped

Antonescu unwisely threw all his cards in with Hitler in the hopes that Romania would obtain large amounts of Soviet territory via its participation in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1941, it did in fact occupy huge territories in the southern Ukraine that were captured as part of the German Army Group South under Field Marshal von Rundstedt.

Romania claimed territories to its east based on historical precedent.

These were territories that had belonged to Romania centuries before, but long lost to the Ukraine. Romanian nationalists such as Antonescu saw their chance to snatch those ancient territories from the Soviet colossus by joining with Hitler's army. Once recovered, Romania termed the recovered territory 'Transnistria,' for 'beyond the Nistru River.' This appeal to the divisions of his eastern neighbors is how Hitler convinced nations such as Romania - which historically had commonality with the British - to throw their lot in with him to their future detriment.

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Romanian army troops occupy Odessa, summer of 1941

Romania administered these lands, which included the prosperous port city of Odessa, from 1941 until they were ultimately lost in 1944. Hitler knew the importance of Romania to the Axis, which is one reason that he defended his southern conquests such as the Crimea and Transnistria long after they had ceased to have military value. This explains the seeming mystery as to why German forces concentrated their defenses on the perimeters of their southern conquests, while allowing the center to slip.

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The IAR-80

Antonescu ultimately contributed over a million men to the Axis military alliance. The men did not share Antonescu's enthusiasm for the war, however, and, to put it kindly, the country's forces were never an element of strength in the Axis order of battle. The Romanian III and IV armies at Stalingrad guarded the flanks of the German 6th Army, but could not resist the Soviet counterattack there due to their inadequate weapons. In addition, there were repeated reports to the German high command that the Romanians who controlled the railroads in Transnistria and Romania proper were giving German troop trains short shrift while giving Romanian trains priority. These are subtleties lost on the mass media which had very real effects on people. It is common to denigrate the country's military efforts because of such incidents, but upon occasion the Romanian military served quite well, especially when defending the homeland.

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15th United States Air Force, Army Air Corps (1943-45). It never got the glory that went to the 8th Air Force operating out of England . . . but they deserved it. From bases in Foggia, southern Italy, it flew mostly B-24's on missions in south and central Europe (including most of the raids on Ploesti) - and have the casualty lists to prove it.

The conclusion by many observers was that the Romanian common ranks was formed from perfectly capable recruits who fought well. However, the officer class was not motivated to succeed, as it did not believe in the German cause. The Germans believed them to be corrupt and timid. Romanian pilots, almost never mentioned in western sources, performed quite well in defense of their homeland.

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Romanian ace Constantin Cantacuzino (right) with his air mount, August 1944.

Constantin M. “Bâzu” Cantacuzino was a top Romanian ace, with a reported 43 kills, 11 unconfirmed, and a total of 69 'points' (pilots received more credit for shooting down 2- and 4-engine bombers under this system). He also shot down some German planes after the August 1944 change of allegiances (Cantacuzino was a member of a Romanian noble family, and the name may derive ultimately from 14th Century Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos/Cantacuzenus). Linda Grey of "Dallas" is related to him. The men who flew in the 15th USAAF over Romania (one of whom I personally met) greatly respected the air defenses over Ploesti and the other oil fields, particularly the fierce fighter coverage.

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The huge reverses at Stalingrad, the Crimea and closer to home led to complete invasion and massive losses in the Romanian order of battle. With public opinion turning against Antonescu and the war, King Michael realized that the time had come to take action and sprang into action. He had the palace guard arrest Antonescu (much as King Victor Emanuel of Italy had finally arrested Mussolini the year before) on 23 August 1944. It was a very brave act, and set in train a sequence of events that would have far-reaching and unexpected consequences for his country - and himself.



Hitler, making matters worse to no purpose, ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb Bucharest. King Michael and his followers then declared war on Germany and joined the Allies. It was too late to make much difference in terms of how Romania was viewed by the victorious Allies, but at least Romania finally made things right.

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The change of sides had some very direct consequences to Americans. There were many 15th USAAF pilots in captivity in Romania who immediately were set free upon the change of sides. Lt Col James A Gunn III had recently been shot down whilst over Ploesti in mid-August 1944. He was being held in Lager 13 in Bucharest. When Romania changed sides on 23 August, Gunn resolved to return to the 15th with important information that he received from his former Romanian captors about German bombing plans. Captain Cantacuzino personally flew Gunn in his ME-109 (with Gunn tucked away in the fuselage) back to Italy. It was a hazardous flight, as the Germans still held Yugoslavia and Greece. As a reward, Cantacuzino was given a Mustang to fly back to Bucharest.

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Maj. Gen. Nathan F. Twinging, commanding general of the 15th Air Force (foreground), talks to Col. James Gunn III, right, after Gunn's harrowing flight to Italy from Bucharest by Captain Cantacuzino. Gunn was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in helping to free 1,100 POWS from the prison camps (he was brave and a war hero for sure, but the change of sides did the freeing). Gunn's exploits were lauded in the western press - Captain Cantacuzino's were not. 

Romania and its resources had been vital to German aggression, and this was shown by subsequent events. Once Germany lost the Romanian oil fields, it was living on borrowed time. Fuel had always been in short supply, but after the Soviet invasion of Romania Germany had to rely almost solely on exotic chemical processes to produce completely inadequate supplies of oil. The synthetic oil complexes at Politz and elsewhere could not begin to make up the deficit, though they did enable Germany to prolong the war into 1945.

Romanian air force worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A B-24 Liberator called "Sandman" during a bomb run over the Ploiești Astra Romana refinery during Operation Tidal Wave, 1 August 1943.

The Allies commenced Operation Tidal Wave, the attacks on the Romanian oil fields, in mid-1943. In order to combat the incessant bombing raids, the Germans and Romanian fascists built flak towers and other anti-aircraft coastal batteries. Many remain, successfully hidden, and in fact are just being located today. In Romania, flak towers were built to protect the oil fields from the massive Allied bombing raids of 1943 and 1944. One or more of those remain virtually intact, but they are almost unknown. They were smaller than the massive towers in Berlin and Vienna, but still impressive structures. The post-war authorities successfully camouflaged them as residential buildings. They they sit today, innocuous and potentially lethal, military structures in the midst of ordinary neighborhoods.

Flak Towers Flakturm worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Romanian soldiers manning a ZPU 2 anti-aircraft machine gun.

One such flaktower is south of Constanta City in Romania. It was part of the Elisabeth coastal battery. It appears to have had a dual purpose of air defense and also land defense, as a pillbox. I don't know much about it, but it shows why there are so many explorers (just look on youtube!) who seek out World War II structures. There is still a lot there to re-discover, sometimes hidden in plain sight.

Flak Towers Flakturm worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Romanian soldiers marching through Constanta, Romania ca. 1941 (Grund, Federal Archives).

Specific to the Romanian installation, the Germans began constructing the fortification even before Operation Barbarossa commenced in June 1941. In the spring of that year, the German artillery units on the Black Sea coast already included:

  • Tirpitz battery – 3 x 280 mm guns, Southern Constanta City (“La Vii” area);
  • Lange Bruno – a mobile (railway) 3 x 280 guns, in the Northern Constanta City;
  • Breslau / M III battery – 3 x 170 mm guns, installed in “La Vii” area, just 1 km north of Tirpitz battery;
  • 6 batteries of 105 mm guns, located in places like Tuzla, La Vii (yes, another one), Cap Midia, Mamaia Sat, Carmen Sylva (nowadays Eforie Sud), Constanta City.

The Tirpitz battery was commissioned on March 22, 1941. The first salvos were fired in April, in the presence of the Minister of Defense, Iosif Iacobici.

Flak Towers Flakturm worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A German soldier aiming a MG 13 machine gun. Filmmaker Horst Grund is shown operating his camera, Constanta, Romania, circa 1941 (Grund, Federal archive).

The battery is located in the south of Constanta City, in the area known back then as “La Vii” (The Vineyards). That, roughly speaking, is where the disguised flak tower still sits, but I do not have a specific location or pictures for it.

Romanian air force worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Romanian planes over the petrol fields of Ploiesti. The photo was taken in 1941. The Bf 109 with the German cross had not been painted yet in ARR insignias.

The coastal batteries, flak towers and ferocious fighter defense was not enough to protect the refineries. The oil supply was interrupted, and soon the Luftwaffe's planes could seldom even take off. Defeat for the remaining Axis powers swiftly followed. The country claimed to have suffered 170,000 casualties fighting the Germans after the change of allegiance.

Luftwaffe flak units defended the Ploesti oil fields right up to the end. They were the only German troops in the vicinity when Romania switched sides in August 1944.

The Soviets occupied the entire country and established complete dominion over it. Antonescu was tried as a war criminal by the Soviets - he had been supportive of the Holocaust, among other crimes - and the Soviets hung him in 1946. In another murky sequence of events in 1947, King Michael was forced to leave Romania under Communist duress, though he still considers himself king to this day. Romania suffered communist domination for decades thereafter. complete with rigged elections and Soviet military interventions to suppress uprisings.

Romanian air force worldwartwo.filminspector.com


The Romanian air force was small, but capable. It used mostly German equipment, but did have a few aircraft designs of its own. The Romanian-designed airplane that made a contribution to the war effort was the IAR 80 (the 'Romanian Big Broom'). It was a fighter which was powered by a Gnome-Rhone 14k radial engine that was built on license. It was an elegant airframe that loosely resembled the Focke Wulf 190D, but the design was completely Romanian.



The IAR 80 began service in early 1942. It had six machine guns and a top speed of 316 mph, which was about adequate at the start of the war, but completely outclassed by the fighters of 1942. Still, the IAR 80 pilots did not have to contend with US fighters for much of their operational history, and they were plenty fast to take on bombers flying at 150 mph. They shot down many US bombers attacking the oil fields in 1943 and 1944, making the "Ploesti run" extremely hazardous for the 15th USAAF. A total of 137 IAR 80 (some accounts say many more) were built before production switched to building the German Bf 109G fighter under license. The fact that Romania built its own world-class fighter at all is somewhat of an astonishing fact, as generally only the dominant powers achieved this feat.

Romanian air force worldwartwo.filminspector.com


2014