Royal Air Force Coastal Command maintains constant vigilance
RAF Coastal Command duties included maritime patrol, and reconnaissance of the seas surrounding Great Britain. This task included attacking U-Boats, protecting Channel convoys, protecting Atlantic convoys, and occasional search and rescue.
A Mosquito of Coastal Command in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945.
A Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing, RAF COASTAL COMMAND, in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945. There the Mosquitos discovered a convoy of seven ships evacuating Germans troops back to the Fatherland. In the ensuing attack, a flak ship, and a trawler were sunk, but one No 235 Squadron Mosquito struck a mast and spun into the sea, killing its crew. Losses among the embarked German troops were heavy. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Below is a map of the waters around Germany. The North Sea is to the left. The Skagerrak on the upper right is where part of the Battle of Jutland was fought in World War One between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. The Germans refer to this epic clash of warships as the “Battle of the Skagerrak.” The Kattegatt (cat’s throat in Danish) is a strait whichruns north-south between Denmark and Sweden and connects the Baltic with the North Sea. Kattegat is 137 miles (220 km) long, varies in width from 37 to 88 miles (approximately 60 to 142 km). (2)
RAF COASTAL COMMAND SANK 25 U-BOATS IN THE KATTEGAT DURING 1945
Average depth of the Kattegat is only 84 feet (26 metres). If you were the kommandant of a U-Boat by the time your lookouts spotted a Coastal Command patrol bomber, it was already too late for you to take evasive action. The bomber’s radar had already acquired your U-Boat. You could not go deep enough in such shallow water to avoid the destrucive power of well aimed depth charges set to explode at optimal depth for the Kattegat.
Attack on U-boats in the Kattegat by Mosquitos of the Banff Wing No 143 Squadron. 19 April 1945.
A Type XXIII U-boat is seen submerging through a hail of rocket and cannon fire. Copyright: © IWM.
Coastal Command patrol bombers often came as low as twenty feet about the water if the sky was overcast and hazing with a low ceiling. U-Boat lookouts had a hard time spotting them in this scenario. As the war continued Coastal Command acquired more effective aircraft as well as depth charges designed to be dropped from aircraft. Because of it’s shallow depth, the Kattegatt beame a deadly body of water for German U-Boats to transit.
Prior to 1944, only one U-Boat was lost to hostile action in the Kattegatt. Subsequently twenty-nine U-Boats went down. A handful sank because of accidents in the boat such as fire. The remainder, approximately twenty-five were sunk in 1945 by Coastal Command. The aircraft which sank the most U-Boats was the Mosquito as seen in the first two photographs. The body and wings of the deHavilland Mosquito were made entirely of wood. (3)
Two Lockheed Hudsons of No. 206 Squadron RAF COASTAL COMMAND flying at low-level over the North Sea during a reconnaissance sortie by five aircraft of the Squadron to observe the movements of German warships in the Heligoland Bight area. © IWM.
Comments Charles McCain: the lower the altitude of the aircraft the greater the danger because both short-range flak and high altitude flak artillery guns could hit them. At higher levels, only certain of the flak guns could fire high enough to hit the aircraft. These included the famous German 88s which was so versatile it served as the best artillery piece of the war, an outstanding anti-gun, and anti-aircraft gun.
CINDERLLA SERVICE HAD TO SCROUNGE FOR AIRCRAFT
RAF Coastal Command was known as the “Cinderella Service” since they mainly flew hand-me-down aircraft from RAF Bomber Command in the first years of the war. The airplanes featured here are Lockheed Hudson’s originally built for Bomber Command, Royal Air Force.
Another viewpoint of two Lockheed Hudsons of No 206 Squadron RAF Coastal Command on a patrol over the North Sea. This aircraft was written off in a landing accident at Bircham Newton on 20 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM.
LOCKHEED HUDSONS VERY SLOW
While useful, the planes were slow, 246 mph or 397 km/h, and range limited, 1,960 miles or 3,150 km. Keep in mind these specifications are for a properly maintained aircraft operating under good conditions. In operational service, I presume they were marked down for a range of 1600 miles. That would be 800 miles out over the ocean and 800 miles back. Even then, in bad weather, that would be pushing it.
The wireless operator/air gunner of a Lockheed Hudson of No. 206 Squadron of RAF Coastal Command signals with an Aldis lamp to four other aircraft of the Squadron to ‘close formation’ while returning from a reconnaissance sortie in the Heligoland Bight area. Copyright: © IWM.
Communications were among aircraft could be difficult especially earlier in the war Given the crewman isn’t on oxygen and is wearing a short sleeve shirt, the plane must be flying low and it must be summer.
The interior of a Lockheed Hudson of No. 206 Squadron RAF Coastal Command, June 1940. Copyright: © IWM.
In the first years of the war the main task of Coastal Command was maritime patrol and reconnaissance of the seas surrounding Great Britain. This task included attacking U-Boats, protecting Channel convoys, protecting Atlantic convoys, and occasional search and rescue.