Monday, July 28, 2014

Bf 110 Zerstorer

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Bf 110 Zerstörer

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 (aka "Me 110," and we use both terms interchangeably here) was the Luftwaffe's twin engine heavy fighter. The Bf 110 unfairly acquired a reputation for being a failure, but in fact was a huge asset for the Luftwaffe and a personal favorite of Hermann Goering.

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Nice, clean shot of a Bf 110

It was a true multi-purpose aircraft that served on all fronts for the duration of the conflict and was constantly improved with enhanced capabilities.

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A German twin propelled Messerschmitt BF 110 bomber, nicknamed "Fliegender Haifisch" (Flying Shark), over the English Channel, in August of 1940. (AP Photo)

Germany was re-arming quickly in the mid-1930s, and Hermann Goering's Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) decided that, in addition to the Bf 109 fighter, it also needed a heavy multipurpose heavily armed aircraft to be called the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer), or Zerstörer for short.

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In 1935, the RLM published specifications and requested tenders. While seven companies had the ability to respond to the specifications, only Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Messerschmitt), Focke-Wulf and Henschel submitted proposals.

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Me 110 gunner

Messerschmitt won the competition, making it the supplier of both the light and heavy fighters on which Germany's defense would rest.

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A Bf 110 at Sofia-Vrazdebna Teufelskopf, bearing reconnaisance Luftwaffe staffel camouflage

While the specifications explicitly called for an internal bomb load, Willy Messerschmitt was experienced enough to know that the RLM was always willing to accept non-compliant designs that were of easily demonstrable overall superior design.

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Fooling with the Fug III at Athens

The Bf 110 design provided range, speed and firepower that made it Goering's and RLM procurement boss Ernst Udet's top choice. In fact, it was Udet who saw the promise of the aircraft.

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German Messerschmitt BF.110D-1 belonging to Squadron ZG26 "Eagle" in flight over the coast of North Africa.

He altered the specification requirements so that they more closely resembled the Bf 110's actual capabilities, allowing it to be considered at all.

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Stalino, a pilot and his Bf 110 C waiting for a mission

This was hardly the only time the RLM did this, the Arado 196 seaplane received similar special consideration, and no doubt other aircraft as well.

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Flying low, perhaps over a Norwegian fjord

The first Br 110 prototype flew on 12 May 1936. It was a fast plane, faster, in fact, than the single-engine Bf 109 B-1, and this decided the competition issue between the three choices.

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German Messerschmitt Bf 110 from Zerstörergeschwader 26 (3U+DT) with two 900l drop tanks.

However, with multiple-engine aircraft, competition speeds often bore little resemblance to final, armored and fully equipped versions that are heavier and bulkier.

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Bf 110s in desert camo

The speeds observed in competition thus often are quite fantastic and, in fact, unachievable with production versions. Deliveries of pre-production A-0 versions began in January 1937. The engines were a problem, at first leaving it underpowered and slower than need be, but this was corrected in later versions. Full-scale production began that summer.

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View from gunner's seat

New engines, the Daimler-Benz DB 601 B-1, that were much more suitable for the design became available in late 1938. The DB 601 B-1 was the same engine that was used on the Bf 109E. This became the Bf 110 C series.

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The local Bedouin were often quite helpful

It had a 336 mph (541 km/h) speed and 680 mile (1094 km) range, both of which were excellent pre-war performance marks for any air force. Armament was four 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose and two 20 mm MG FF/M cannons in the lower part of the nose.

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1944- German Luftwaffe ME-110 fighter planes in action against Allied bombers over Alps.

Development progressed rapidly. In late 1939, the twin MG FF nose-mount cannon were removed and a larger 277 gallon (1050 Liter) tank was inserted into the ventral fuselage.

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That Bf 110 hasn't been repainted yet

This modification made the aircraft frame bulkier, but gave the plane greatly extended range and lent it the nickname Dackelbauch (dachshund's belly). It also could accept two 238 gallon (900 liter) drop tanks. Various permutations of the tanks and airframe and cannon led to the different D designations.

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Me-110 Nightfighter (Nachtjager) with FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2

The Bf 110 did a good job, but the Luftwaffe tried an overhaul with the Me 210. The Me 210 was designed as a complete replacement for the Bf 110, and was being worked up even before the war began. Unfortunately, the Bf 210 was a failure that quite simply did not fly very well and saw very limited service.

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Messerschmitt Bf 110 E2’s of Zerstorergeschwader 1 (ZG/1) ‘Wespengeschwader’ move off for another ground attack mission on the Russian front in 1942. Note the distinctive wasp painting on their noses.

The Bf 110, though an older design, was very reliable and always flew well. It also had room for further improvements, so after a period of inactivity due to the imminence of the 210, upgrades on the 110 were resumed in 1941.

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Probably an emergency landing on that field which, as usual, looked so flat and featureless from the air. Oops, didn't see that grass-covered mound.
Two new versions came along in 1940, the Bf 110 E fighter bomber (Jabo) and Bf 110 F, and it was all about the engines and weight. Allied fighters were better armed and faster than ever, and the Bf 110 had to adapt. The Jabo versions could carry 2000 kg (4410 lb) of bombs, which was an awful lot for a Jabo. The nice part about the Jabo version was that, once the bombs were dropped, the plane reverted to a heavy figher. The E version at first had the same DB 601B engine as previous versions, but really was designed for newer engines. Manufacture switched to the more powerful DB 601P as they began arriving at the factory. These planes were in production until January 1942. Compared to earlier models, this version had stronger armor and was heavier, compensated for somewhat by the stronger engines (once they were available). However, even with the new engines the Bf 110 E was underpowered and the pilots did not like it. The F version used powerful DB 601F engines which gave 993 kW, which more than compensated for the added weight of the design improvements. Pilots loved the Bf 110 F, particularly compared to the E model, and the F remained in production from December 1941 through December 1942.

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Bf 110C EG210 armors France 1940. Development work on an improved type to replace the Bf 110, the Messerschmitt Me 210 began before the war started, but its teething troubles resulted in the Bf 110 soldiering on until the end of the war in various roles, alongside its replacements, the Me 210 and the Me 410. Incidentally, this picture clearly shows the ground staff feeding the machine gun ammo into the drums, which are then loaded into those open recesses in the nose.

This could have been the end of the line for the Bf 110, because the Me 201 became available in mid-1941, but the new plane did not perform well and was withdrawn. This led to the Bf 110 G, which had DB 605B engines giving variable 997 kW at cruising speed and 1085 kW maximum power. The armament was upgraded  to two 30 mm machines replacing the lower two 20 mm guns, and the fuselage streamlined. The Bf 110 G-2, G-3 and G-4 collectively became the largest production run and lasted until the end of the war. The 110 G was not the pilots' favorite, but its design changes made it more stable as a night fighter, which had become the Bf 110's most prominent late-war role.

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Me-110 Dackelbauch

Germany was under sustained air assault by the time of the G version, and Bf 110s proved to be capital night fighters. Many were fitted with Schräge Musik (very loosely, "jazz") cannon. These pointed upward at a slant so that the night fighters could cruise under the bomber stream and blast away without having to be at the same altitude as the bombers, which opened them up to more return fire. These were fitted to the back of the cockpit. Another version was the Bf 110 G-2/R1 fitted with a ventral 37 mm Bk 3.7 cannon, similar to the ones on Ju 87 Stukas that were used to attack (in pairs) tanks on the ground. These "Bordkanone" were deadly for Allied bombers.


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Me 100 C

The Bf 110 was ready for the Polish campaign, which was not the case for all the Luftwaffe's promising new aircraft. Many of the Luftwaffe's future leaders cut their teeth in these early combats. The Polish air force was weak, and the Bf 110s could act as escort fighters in attacks on Warsaw. The Bf 110 saw its greatest success during this campaign, which led to all sorts of unrealistic later expectations.


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Me-110 C4

The Bf 110 also contributed to the defense of Germany early in the war against the French air force, which was not very aggressive or formidable. Late 1939 was a sort of "feeling out" period in which the Bf 110 performed well, and it proved very capable in a daylight bomber defense role. In fact, it was so good that its successes helped to convince the British to abandon daylight attacks.

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Me 110 D

The April 1940 invasion of Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung) also heavily committed the Bf 110. Two Zerstörergeschwaders (1 and 76) participated, a total of 64 aircraft. Against the paltry Norwegian air force, this was quite a lot of machines, and they destroyed almost all of the Norwegian aircraft on the ground. They also escorted Ju 52 transports with paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger), defending them against attack by British Gloster Gladiator biplanes. The Bf 110s were dominant against such weak opposition and helped secure vital Oslo-Fornebu airfield despite the fact that ground troops had not yet captured it - the Bf 110 pilots watched the Ju 52s land and face ground attack, then commenced strafing runs to provided intense support that drove off the defenders' ground attacks until men from the Ju 52s and other ground forces could secure the field. It was the ultimate triumph of air power - occupying ground territory with planes - and helped to secure the Luftwaffe's reputation as a devastating instrument of aggression. The long ranges required in Norway led to the Bf 110 D designs with extra fuel tanks - there was no opposition from enemy fighters, so the only limitation on its effectiveness was range. Speed and maneuverability were unimportant in that role, which devolved to patrolling the long, winding, seemingly endless Norwegian coastline.

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Me 110 E

The Bf 110s continued to perform well during the first half of 1940, continuing to serve satisfactorily as fighters during the Battle of France. The Bf 110s were a good match for older British and French bombers of the time and often wiped out in devastating fashion small streams of 10-15 bombers. Everyone began to see the Bf 110 as a more powerful Bf 109 fighter, in addition to all of its other capabilities.

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Me-110 F

Things changed, though, as the British started throwing more of their newer Hurricanes and Spitfires into the mix. They had been keeping those cutting-edge aircraft at home, only committing small numbers on the Continent. Some began appearing late in the Battle of France (German code name Fall Rot). Large numbers of Bf 110s, 32% of those committed, were lost in France, but this disturbing fact was lost in the overall success of the campaign.

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Me-110 G NachtJager

The Bf 110, though, was still considered a front-line fighter as the Battle of Britain began in the summer of 1940. It was far from perfect as a fighter, however. Though fast, it had two problems: it presented a large target; and it lacked nimbleness. The current crop of British fighters had vastly greater armament than their predecessors and could accelerate much faster than the heavy Bf 110. The one advantage that the Bf 110 retained, its long range, did come in handy given the long distances over the English Channel to engage the British. Handled properly, this enabled the Bf 110 to remain in a bomber escort role for a while - it was better than nothing - but the losses started mounting. Goering himself was slow to see the problem develop, and lost his own nephew in a Bf 110 over Portland Harbour. Eventually, the Bf 110s themselves required Bf 109s as escorts. It was a huge come-down for the Zerstörer pilots, who generally were considered the elite of the Luftwaffe.

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Things came to a head on 15 August, Adler Tag (Eagle Day), when the Germans mounted their official opening of the Battle of Britain. The Bf 110s flew over Britain as normal, and the Spitfires and Hurricanes were waiting to pounce. After losing 30 Bf 110s in that one day alone, there weren't enough to continue operations, though the Germans undoubtedly would have thrown more into the battle in subsequent days if they had been available.

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Me-110 G NachtJager

The Bf 110 did continue making occasional appearances in the remaining days of the abortive Battle of Britain. They had a great day on 31 August 1940, for instance, shooting down about a dozen Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters, a very creditable performance for three of their own number shot down. Subsequent operations, though, were catastrophic. Overall, the Luftwaffe lost 223 out of the 237 Zerstörers with which they began the one-month campaign, crippling losses which no air force could long sustain no matter how quickly the factories supplied replacements, because each lost plane also meant a lost pilot and a lost gunner.

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Me-110 E “Fliegender Haifisch”

The Bf 110 remained a favorite of many Luftwaffe pilots despite the losses. It was stable and flew a long ways. Rudolph Hess chose one for his Quixotic flight from Augsburg to Scotland on 10 May 1941, its long range making the flight possible. The Bf 110 proved of great use again in the Balkans in spring 1941, though suffering further losses when faced with the few late-model fighters there. Crete in May 1941 was very hard on the Luftwaffe in general, and another dozen Zerstörers failed to return.

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Me 110 E nose art

The Bf 110 continued in service in North Africa through 1941 and 1942, primarily serving as escorts for the Stukas and as Jabos themselves. It was here that the Bf 110 was first used in a night fighter role on 22-23 May 1941. The North African Bf 110s ultimately were withdrawn to Crete in August 1942. There, they served as convoy protection, their range again coming in handy. They also served as anti-bomber fighters, their heavy armament much better suited to attacking occasional bombers than engaging in dog fights with enemy fighters in hot, dusty Africa.

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Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, kicked off on June 22, 1941. Bf 110s from ZG 26, Schnellkampfgeschwader 210 (redesignated from Erprobungsgruppe 210) and ZG 76 too part. The Soviet air force was large but had a lot of obsolete models against which the Bf 110 was more than a match. The Bf 110 also came in quite handy in a Jabo role because of its long range and heavy armament. Most kills of enemy aircraft in the early months of the war were on the ground, and the Bf 110 with its heavy armament accounted for many of them. As time went on, though, the Bf 110s were recalled or allowed to dwindle away, because there was a much greater need for them elsewhere that was of higher priority, and at which they were better suited than general fighter/jabo operations on the Eastern Front.

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A successfully crash-landed Bf 110

The pressing need for the Bf 110 that caused their de facto withdrawal from the Eastern Front was defense against the growing Allied bomber forces. The British were bombing by night and the Americans by day, and the Bf 110 was ideally suited for night-time operations. In the darkness, agility and acceleration were non-factors and opponents couldn't see their large silhouette anyway. As every combatant was to learn during World War II, sometimes cutting edge aircraft were unnecessary in certain roles and even a hindrance: witness the British sinking the Bismarck with biplane carrier aircraft, the Swordfish, and the Russians using ancient biplanes flown by women to harass German bivouacs as the Germans tried to get some rest (the "Night Witches"). The darkness completely eliminated the Bf 110's vulnerabilities and magnified its strengths, such as strong armament, heavy armored protection to protect against bomber gunners, and long range. Plus, and perhaps most importantly of all, they had enough power and empty space to be fitted with advanced radar sets.

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Schräge Musik

The Bf 110's open nose offered plenty of space for the bulky radar equipment of the day and also a dedicated operator for it. This gave the craft a three-man crew, which added to the weight. The Bf 110 also was used during the day, because range-limited Allied fighters often could not accompany the bombers all the way to their distant targets, but then they presented their usual big targets for bomber gunners. As time went on, they were occasionally jumped in that role by Allied dayfighters and suffered catastrophic losses.

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At night, though the Bf 110 was at its best. Armed with a variety of exotic weaponry, such as the sloping Schräge Musik (see illustrations above) or four 21 cm (8 in) Werfer-Granate 21 (Wfr.Gr. 21) rocket tubes, the Bf 110 was the scourge of the skies. As the Allied night-time air fleets increased in size, successful deployments at night of Me 109 dayfighters ("Wild Boar") were added (operating by the light of the moon) to the custom-built Bf 110 nightfighters ("Tame Boar") to create a defense in layers. One nightfighter ace, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, racked up the incredible total of 121 aerial victories (the Luftwaffe instituted a points system during the war in which aircraft were worth more depending upon how many engines they had). The darkness offered a lot of protection, and you could park silently underneath a bomber far above, let loose with your Schräge Musik at your convenience, and then scoot away without anyone seeing you at all. It was a deadly weapon.

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Schräge Musik did not protrude far from the cabin. You can barely see them in this picture, but they are right in front of the machine gun.

In 1944, the twin-engine Me 410 came along, another attempted replacement for the Bf 110. However, Allied fighter superiority was so great that the Me 410 did no better during the day than the Bf 110 did. The Me 410 was slightly faster but even less agile. By April 1944, when the P-51 Mustang started appearing in numbers and escorted bombers the whole way to Berlin, the Zerstörer was finished in a daytime role, and none of its planned replacements could be used then, either. Only the protection of darkness kept it relevant.

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British Royal Air Force General Arthur "Bomber" Harris was determined to win the war by completely wiping Germany off the map with his bombers. He instituted mass night attacks that had 500, 1000, 1500, and ultimately 2000 four-engine bomber streams attacking targets. He posed the question himself of whether or not it was realistic for bombers to make any difference in the outcome of the war, and answered his own question by replying, "Well, I say in response that it has never been tried." These were massive raids that left cities in ruins, some over 90% destroyed. The old medieval cities with narrow streets and wooden buildings, he found, burned best. The Bf 110 rose to the defense of the screaming women and children and destroyed some 2751 of Harris' bombers in 1943 alone, a claimed 123 over Hamburg in one night, 1,128 in five months over Berlin beginning in November 1943. However, there were always more bombers coming out of the British factories, using materials shipped in by the endless convoys from America, so the attacks continued to grow in intensity. The Junkers Ju 88 fast bomber was converted to night fighter missions as well, but the Bf 110 was the backbone of the fighter defense. The biggest problem for the Luftwaffe was that the need for air protection against the Americans bombing during the day grew as the years passed, so the Luftwaffe high command took to using night fighters during the day. This did not improve the daytime defense much, but resulted in huge losses to the night fighters. When daytime operation were wound down, the night fighters did much better.

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Bf 110 night fighter

However, it was a losing battle for the Germans. As the ground troops were pushed back, the Allied fighters could roam over Germany at will. The night bomber raids became too densely packed for the night fighters to make much difference - even if they shot down 20 bombers, there were still 2000 left. The Zerstörers continued shooting down bombers to the end, but it was not enough, and ultimately their defense of the night skies failed.


2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Birger Dahlerus, International Man of Mystery

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Birger Dahlerus

Johan Birger Essen Dahlerus is one of those men that almost nobody has heard of beyond specialists in the field of international relations. Even rapt students of World War II are apt to draw a blank if you mention his name. A random guess might be, "Oh, did he save some Jews?" or, "Was he a spy?"

Well, in a way he tried to do both of those things, but failed miserably. Birger Dahlerus came as close as any man to preventing World War II, but it was an impossible task. Very close indeed. Or at least that is what he thought, though the reality may have been quite different. In any event, Birger Dahlerus was the first man in history to practice shuttle diplomacy, beating Henry Kissinger by over thirty years. Looking at his activities helps to put all the official diplomatic shouting on the eve of World War II in context.

First things first. The Nuremberg tribunal knew all about Birger Dahlerus. It said in its judgment:
Parallel with these negotiations were the unsuccessful attempts made by Goering to effect the isolation of Poland by persuading Great Britain not to stand by her pledged word, through the services of one Birger Dahlerus, a Swede. Dahlerus, who was called as a witness by Goering, had a considerable knowledge of England and of things English, and in July, 1939, was anxious to bring about a better understanding between England and Germany, in the hope of preventing a war between the two countries. He got into contact with Goering as well as with official circles in London, and during the latter part of August, Goering used him as an unofficial intermediary to try and deter the British Government from their opposition to Germany's intentions towards Poland. Dahlerus, of course, had no knowledge at the time of the decision which Hitler had secretly announced on the 22nd August, nor of the German military directives for the attack on Poland which were already in existence. As he admitted in his evidence, it was not until the 26th September, after the conquest of Poland was virtually complete, that he first realised that Goering's aim all along had been to get Great Britain's consent to Germany's seizure of Poland.

Johan Birger Essen Dahlerus (February 6, 1891–March 8, 1957) was born in Stockholm and became a businessman. Sweden officially was neutral during World War I and World War II, though it tended (under intense pressure both times) to favor the Central Powers in the first war and the Allies in the second (while Sweden maintained business contacts with Germany because doing otherwise would have been interpreted as an act of war, it passed along immensely valuable intelligence to the Allies that, among many other things, helped the British to sink the Bismarck. Hitler often talked of invading Sweden). None of this political stuff interfered too much with Dahlerus' business, and he developed contacts throughout Europe, particularly in England and Germany.

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Carin Goering

Hermann Goering had extensive contacts with Sweden. He had worked for the Swedish airline, Svenska Lufttrafik, in 1919-21 as a pilot, and during that time he had met his first wife, Carin, Swedish Countess von Fock. Carin's brother-in-law, Count Eric von Rosen, who Goering had flown to Rosen's castle, introduced them.


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Goering's private yacht, Carin II

Carin passed away on 17 October 1931, but there is no question that Goering thought of her for the remainder of his life. He named his estate north of Berlin "Carinhall," named his pre-war yacht "Carin II," and he held an elaborate state funeral for her (attended by Hitler, who knew her well) there years after her passing (her remains were found on the grounds there and repatriated to Sweden in 2013). Goering maintained contact with Count von Rosen, who was huge in society circles. At some point during the 1930s, Rosen introduced Goering to prominent businessman Dahlerus. Birger Dahlerus was the CEO of Electrolux, which then as now was a Swedish multinational household and professional appliances manufacturer with headquarters in Stockholm. Electrolux essentially sold vacuum cleaners throughout Europe and America and had no relation to war or war industries, which made Dahlerus ideal for negotiating: a neutral businessman in a neutral business from a neutral country.

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Carinhall

Dahlerus evidently felt that it was good for business to stay in good with Goering, and so he gave the future Reichsmarschall a dishwasher early in 1936, probably as a birthday present (Goering's birthday being 12 January). In the summer of 1939, Dahlerus, who kept copious notes about practically everything, toured England to expand his business contacts. On July 5, 1939, he visited Goering at Carinhall to talk about his experiences with the English people. It was a tense summer politically, and Rosen said that the businessmen he had met wanted Germany and England to work things out because, among other things, war would be bad for business. Dahlerus, who was a take-charge fellow, suggested that he arrange an informal meeting between Goering and some of the English businessmen. Goering also was worried about the prospects for war (it was well known that he was in the "moderate" camp within the Party hierarchy) and agreed.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Axel Wenner-Gren
Axel Wenner-Gren

Dahlerus got right down to business, discussing the idea with some of his newly acquired English contacts, and started setting things up. It seems odd now - private citizens practicing official diplomacy - but it made sense at the time. Goering, though, was in no hurry. He was always worried about being seen as deviating too far from the Party line and damaging his prospects of being Hitler's chosen successor. He hemmed and hawed and worried about the details. Finally, he suggested that Dahlerus ask his boss, Axel Wenner-Gren, who owned Electrolux, to see if they could use Wenner-Gren's luxury yacht for the meeting so that it would be inconspicuous. This Dahlerus did, but Wenner-Gren - who was one of the wealthiest men in the world and friends with the Duke of Windsor - tried to get involved himself and contacted English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain about it. Wenner-Gren told Goering on July 19 that Chamberlain had written him that talks between the two governments now were impossible, as the British people would throw him out of office if they heard about it. Chamberlain also, according to Wenner-Gren, made some sort of comment that Goering was "out of step" with Hitler, which worried Goering.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

The discussions easily could have ended there, but Dahlerus was determined to keep the idea of negotiations alive. He flew to London and talked to someone in the Foreign Office, who (undoubtedly after getting some kind of positive signal from Neville Chamberlain) gave the go-ahead for a strictly informal meeting. Dalherus then flew back and met Goering at the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg, where Goering, who was taking a summer cruise, also agreed. Goering, though, emphasized that he would would only attend a meeting with Hitler's permission.

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The Bredstedt town hall

With everybody on board, Goering and Dahlerus selected a remote farmhouse owned by Dahlerus' wife, located on the northwest coast of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany, for the meeting. Goering met Dahlerus at Bredstedt, the end of the rail line (Goering travelled by private train), and together they drove out to the farmhouse. At the meeting were seven extremely prominent English businessmen:
A. Holden
Charles Spencer
Stanley Rawson (John Brown & Company)
Brian Mountain
Sir Robert Renwick
Charles MacLaren
T. Mensforth
The group talked for several hours, then broke for lunch. Nothing was accomplished, but, according to testimony at the Nuremberg trials, the businessmen emphasizing that England would honor its treaty obligations to Poland and go to war if provoked. If Goering made any kind of offers, they have not been revealed, but his idea most likely was to simply get the ball rolling in talking with Britain.

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Ribbentrop signs the non-aggression pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939

Nothing more happened for a while, but Goering was still interested in talking. Around the time of the non-aggression pact with Stalin on August 23, 1939. Goering sent a secret message to "C," the head of British Intelligence, requesting a private meeting with Chamberlain. The British seemed more interested than the last time, making sure it would have been completely confidential. However, this time Hitler forbade it, saying scornfully, "You won't get anywhere," and the meeting never happened.

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Hitler's Berghof in Berchtesgaden

On the morning of August 23, 1939, with news of the German negotiations with Russia floating about, Dahlerus called Goering's office in Berlin to see if he could still set something up. Goering, who was in Berchtesgaden listening to Hitler's plans for attacking Poland, called him back and arranged a meeting for the next day in Berlin. Goering wasn't the sort to fly across the country to see most folks, but Dahlerus was such a man. Dahlerus met Goering at Carinhall at 1:30 on the afternoon of August 24, 1939. Goering knew all about Hitler's plans to attack Poland within a few days and also about the secret pact with Stalin to divvy up eastern Europe. Goering, however, suggested that the British send a top General for talks and proposed an alliance between the two nations. All Hitler wanted, he insisted, was a corridor to Danzig, everything else was negotiable.

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The Royal Navy mobilized on 24 August 1939

Poland and Great Britain, meanwhile, formally signed a treaty of mutual assistance that day. The British Parliament reconvened to pass the Emergency Powers Act, with PM Chamberlain telling them:
"...The measures that we have taken up to now are of a precautionary and defensive character, and to give effect to our determination to put this country in a state of preparedness to meet any emergency, but I wish emphatically to repudiate any suggestion, if such a suggestion should be made, that these measures imply an act of menace. Nothing that we have done or that we propose to do menaces the legitimate interests of Germany. It is not an act of menace to prepare to help friends to defend themselves against force. If neighbors wishing to live together peacefully in friendly relations find that one of them is contemplating apparently an aggressive act of force against another of them, and is making open preparations for action, it is not a menace for the others to announce their intention of aiding the one who is the subject of this threat..."
Royal Assent was given on the same day and the Royal Navy is ordered to war stations. Soon afterward a general mobilization began. Later that day, Goering met with the Polish ambassador and told him that the problem was Poland's Agreement of Mutual Assistance with the United Kingdom, which provided:
"...Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter against that Contracting Party, the other Contracting Party will at once give the Contracting Party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in its power..."
U.S. President Roosevelt also got involved, sending a telegram to Hitler:
"...The people of the United States are as one in their opposition to policies of military conquest and domination. They are as one in rejecting the thesis that any ruler, or any people, possess the right (to) achieve their ends or objectives through the taking of action which will plunge countless millions of people into war and which will bring distress and suffering to every nation of the world, belligerent and neutral, when such ends and objectives, so far as they are just and reasonable, can be satisfied through processes of peaceful negotiation or by resort to judicial arbitration. I appeal to you in the name of the people of the United States, and I believe in the name of peace-loving men and women everywhere, to agree to the solution of the controversies existing between your Government and that of Poland..."
Goering kept trying to wheel and deal. Late that night, he called Dahlerus and emphasized the significance of the Stalin pact, which had been signed the night before. He asked Dahlerus to fly to London to talk to Chamberlain about it.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Lord Halifax
Lord Halifax

Dahlerus landed in Croyden, England, in Goering's private plane. He personally gives copies of Hitler's proposals for a peaceful settlement of the Danzig problem to Lord Halifax, recalling later:
"...At 8 o'clock in the evening I tried to reach him on the telephone, but only after I had obtained help from the Foreign Office was I able to establish the connection. Goering revealed to me then that the situation had become extremely serious and asked me to do everything in my power to arrange a conference between representatives of England and Germany..."
Hitler, meanwhile, suggested directly to the British ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, that if the British wanted to stay on his good side they would simply conduct a "phony war." He stated bluntly that "Poland's provocation's have become intolerable." Of course, Poland wasn't doing anything. Hitler then ordered Case White, the invasion of Poland, the begin at dawn on August 26, 1939. He immediately shut down all international phone lines and air flights.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Ribbentrop Molotov 1940
Ribbentrop and Molotov, Berlin 1940

Learning that Germany had been shut down, the Italians immediately indicated that they would not support a German war, and France and England quickly reaffirmed their support of Poland publicly. Hitler, who had been fooled by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's assurances that Britain was ready to step aside, immediately halted war preparations so Goering could work on England some more. Hitler also dashed off a letter to Mussolini to get him back in line:
"...I have not kept you informed in detail, Duce, since I did not have an idea of the possible extent of these (German-Russian) conversations, or any assurance of the possibility of their success. The readiness on the part of the Kremlin to arrive at a reorientation of its relations with Germany, which became apparent after the departure of Litvinov, has become ever stronger in the last few weeks and has made it possible for me, after successful preparation, to send my Foreign Minister to Moscow for the conclusion of a treaty which is the most extensive non-aggression pact in existence and whose text will be made public. The pact is unconditional and includes also the obligation for consultation about all questions affecting Russia and Germany. I may tell you, Duce, that through these arrangements the favorable attitude of Russia in case of any conflict is assured, and that the possibility of the entry of Rumania into such a conflict no longer exists..."
Dahlerus returned from London with a message from the British foreign office, which did not contain anything new, but Goering rushed over with it to see Hitler. After talking it over, Hitler himself called in Dahlerus after midnight (Hitler always kept late hours) and explicitly offered an alliance with England on the sole condition that England permit him to have the land corridor to Danzig. Dahlerus immediately flew back to London with the offer. Dahlerus retuned twenty-four hours later with another British foreign office note repeating the determination to stand by Poland but indicating a willingness to talk about the situation. Dahlerus called London at 2 a.m. to say that Hitler wanted to do a deal.

The British note which caused such a stir said in part:
"...A just settlement of these questions between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of better understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict, and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history."
Dahlerus later testified:
"...It was obvious that by that time the British Government had become highly mistrustful, and rather inclined to assume that whatever efforts they might make nothing would now prevent Hitler from declaring war on Poland. The British Government had made the greatest effort. They had expressed the wish through their ambassador in Warsaw that the Polish Government should exert the greatest effort to avoid any border incidents. They explained to me at the same time that it was hardly fair to expect the Polish Government to send delegates to Berlin to negotiate, when it was known what experience other countries had had in in past years..."

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Winston Churchill speech house of commons
Winston Churchill speaks to the House of Commons

It was now the morning of August 28, 1939, and Hitler and Goering now thought they had British cooperation in the bag, apparently interpreting the foreign office note quoted above as indicating a desire to start negotiations. Hitler once again set a start-date for Case White, this time September 1, 1939. Ambassador Henderson showed up later in the day and did not in any way suggest that Britain would stand aside, but Hitler remained optimistic and gave Dahlerus credit for working out the framework of a deal to avoid a general war. Goering told Dahlerus on the morning of 29 August that Hitler was going to pin a medal on the Swede. Elsewhere, Holland ordered a general military mobilization, and British PM Chamberlain gave a speech in the House of Commons, saying "The catastrophe is not yet upon us, but I cannot say that the danger of it has in any way receded." Hitler ordered troops into Slovakia, on Poland's southern border, at Slovak Premier Father Josef Tiso's request.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Danzig 1939
Danzig in 1939

Convinced on very slim evidence indeed that he now held a winning hand, Hitler's goal shifted to widening what he thought was the wedge between Britain and Poland. He handed Henderson a letter demanding that Poland send a representative the next day 30 August 1939, to discuss terms, which Hitler framed as requiring only German possession of the Danzig corridor. Goering told Dahlerus to meet with Chamberlain in person to make sure there was no miscommunication. Just to be absolutely clear, Goering and Hitler drafted up a term sheet of "Sixteen Points" - echoing President Wilson's famous "Fourteen Points" of World War I, and Hitler was always thinking about World War I - on the morning of 30 August for a settlement of the Polish issue.


worldwartwo.filminspector.com Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes
Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes

As Dahlerus recalled at Nuremberg:
I was in my hotel, late in the evening, about 10:30. Forbes [Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, Counselor of the British Embassy] called me up and said he had to see me at once. He came to my hotel and said that Henderson and Hitler had had a meeting on Tuesday evening which had taken a very unsatisfactory course. They had parted after a big quarrel. He asked me what I could suggest under these circumstances. During our conversation I was called on the phone by Goering, and he asked me to come to his house immediately. He told me the same story and seemed very upset at the development. He showed me the German reply to the British note and went through it point by point. He tried to explain to me the reasons for the contents of this note. Finally he told me I should go back to London again immediately and make every effort to explain this unfortunate incident to the British Government. He concluded then by saying that Hitler was busy, and that he was working out a proposal for Poland which should probably be ready the next day..."
Dahlerus spent the day in London acting as an intermediary. He called Goering several times on 30 August to give indications of London's concerns. When Dahlerus naïvely asked why a Polish ambassador with authority to negotiate had to show up in Berlin, Goering lost his patience:
"Because that is where the Reich Chancellor, Herr Hitler, has his residence."
The British wouldn't budge, and if anything were hardening their stance, so Dahlerus flew back to Berlin and boarded Goering's private train Asia at 11 p.m. Meanwhile, Ribbentrop supposedly was giving the 16 points to Ambassador Henderson, but Ribbentrop was clueless and simply read through the points in German without even giving them to Henderson. Goering immediately gave a copy to Dahlerus to give to Henderson, which he did. Henderson dutifully telephoned the Polish Ambassador Józef Lipski just past midnight, early on 31 August 1939, and suggested that they send someone over to talk terms.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Polish Marshal Smigly-Rydz
Polish Marshal Smigly-Rydz

Henderson, in his Final Report, wrote that:
"I suggested that he (Lipski) recommend to his government an interview between Marshal Smigly-Rydz and Goering. I felt obliged to add that I could not conceive of the success of any negotiations if they were conducted by Ribbentrop."

worldwartwo.filminspector.com British Ambassador Nevile Henderson
British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson, who was dying of cancer

The British Government at the same time gave its official response to Hitler's letter of August 29, handed by Ambassador Henderson to von Ribbentrop at midnight:

"...His Majesty's Government repeat that they reciprocate the German Government's desire for improved relations, but it will be recognized that they could not sacrifice the interests of other friends in order to obtain that improvement. They fully understand that the German Government cannot sacrifice Germany's vital interests, but the Polish Government are in the same position and His Majesty's Government believe that the vital interests of the two countries are not incompatible..."
All of this was a Byzantine attempt by Goering and Hitler to peel the British off from supporting Poland. They heartily wished for the Poles to ignore the 16 Points, which in fact the Poles did. Their hope was that the British would see this as the Poles being intransigent, thus lessening the British resolve to go to war with Poland.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Polish Ambassador Josef Lipski
Polish ambassador Josef Lipski speaking at a Party rally, Nürnberg, Germany, 10 Sep 1938; note Himmler, Ribbentrop, Henderson, and Goebbels

The following morning, 31 August 1939, was utter confusion. The Polish government told its ambassador to Germany to make no concessions, while Ambassador Henderson contacted him and London to warn that time was running out. Goering told Dahlerus to go see the Polish Ambassador, but Lipski had his orders. Dahlerus called London to report on matters, who then apparently asked the Poles what was going on. Meanwhile, the Germans were issuing the final orders for Case White, to jump off the following morning. Everybody on the German side wanted the British to stay out of the Polish question, and they hoped they had done enough to ensure that. Angry phone calls ensued between Poland, Britain and France, which was solidly siding with the Poles.


worldwartwo.filminspector.com Geiwitz
The Gleiwitz radio tower and the German in charge of that operation

A telegram to Polish Foreign Minister Beck from Lipski informs the Foreign Minister that

"I have met with von Ribbentrop. I have obeyed instructions received and told him that I was not empowered to negotiate. Mr. von Ribbentrop repeated that he believed I had such powers. He told me that he would report my visit to the Chancellor."
Goering later recalled at Nuremberg:
"...the British Government was informed what demands Germany would make on Poland. This proposal was not entirely understood, and was then unofficially -- but de facto -- made known not only to the British Government but also, to the Polish Ambassador, exactly and precisely, in the unofficial way that Dahlerus has described. It came to naught because the Polish Government did not agree to discuss this proposal. First there was a prolongation for a plenipotentiary to be appointed -- I believe until the 30th or the 31st; but nevertheless we waited even longer for a plenipotentiary. On the intimation that the Polish Ambassador might be this plenipotentiary, circumstances permitting, we waited for a conference with him; when he declared that he was not authorized to accept any terms, the Fuehrer decided on invasion the next day..."
With nothing happening, Hitler did not change his orders. He issued a Directive for the conduct of the war:

  1. Now that all the political possibilities of disposing by peaceful means of a situation which is intolerable for Germany are exhausted, I have determined on a solution by force. 
  2. The attack on Poland is to be carried out. Date of attack: September 1, 1939. Time of attack: 4:45 AM.

Case White then jumped off with the staged Gleiwitz incident and other "provocations" manufactured by the Germans.


worldwartwo.filminspector.com German battleship firing
The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein firing on Polish targets

The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, which was on a "good will" visit to Gdansk, started things off on schedule before dawn by firing on the Polish fortress of Westerplatte; then the stormtroopers took off to seize vital bridges.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hitler declares war 1 September 1939
Hitler declares war on Poland on the morning of 1 September 1939

Goering, who had been talking about peace all week, did not hesitate to send in the Luftwaffe at the earliest moment. At 4:45 a.m., Polish Lieutenant Wladyslaw Gnys of 2 Krakow Air Regiment shot down two Dornier 17 Bombers--the first air kills of the war. The war started off nicely for Germany, with 53 German division ultimately committed. Hitler officially declared war the following morning.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Benito Mussolini speech
Benito Mussolini

Mussolini called for a cease fire and four-party talks, and everyone but Great Britain looked ready to agree. They insisted on a complete German withdrawal first. That afternoon, Goering and Hitler prevailed upon Dahlerus to phone London again, but the British foreign office said flatly that nothing would happen unless the Germans withdrew from Poland. With the Germans refusing, and in fact pressing their assault, Britain waited a day and then sent Ambassador Henderson to see Ribbentrop at 9 a.m. Henderson gave the German Foreign Minister Britain's ultimatum: comply with London's demand for German withdrawal by 11 a.m. or war would be declared.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Goering train
Goering with staff officers in front of his private train (Sonderzug)

Goering and Dahlerus now sat in Goering's train, a special telephone hookup installed to a telephone pole. Goering told Dahlerus to call London and ask for negotiations again. Dahlerus was on the phone to London as the 11 a.m. deadline passed and Prime Minister Chamblerlain went on the radio to declare war.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Whitehall
Whitehall in London

Goering continued using Dahlerus as an intermediary throughout September 1939, though now Dahlerus wisely stayed in Sweden and simply communicated with the British embassy. The British were uninterested by now, but Hitler himself brought Dahlerus to Berlin on September 27 and told Dahlerus to fly to London and find out what they were willing to do. Nothing came of that, either, for the British were getting used to the new state of affairs and wanted "guarantees" that were impossible to give. Dahlerus was given a list of German proposals, but by October London refused to meet with him. Some communications along the line of possible resolutions continued for a while, but it was plain that the British now were losing interest.

worldwartwo.filminspector.com Germans invade Norway
The Germans invading Norway in 1940

Dahlerus wasn't quite done playing middleman, though. In April 1940, the Germans invaded Norway. Goering used Dahlerus as a go-between again, but this time with the Swedes to see where they stood on allowing German supplies to pass through their territory to some trapped German forces at Narvik. He arranged a meeting in Berlin with some Swedish military figures, headed by the commander of the Swedish Navy, on 15 April 1940. The Swedes refused to allow any German transit over their territory.

Nuremberg prisoner dock
Hermann Goering, left, in the dock at Nuremberg

After that, Dahlerus had expended his usefulness. He reappeared at Nuremberg to testify about what he had done during the early days of the war, then, after all the Germans with whom he had dealt had died, lived out his years peacefully in Sweden until his own death on 8 March 1957.





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