US seized Kriegsmarine Sail Training Ship Horst Wessel As a Prize of War
“The Coast Guard Cutter Eagle laying at a shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany being rigged and outfitted for her voyage to the United States. The square-rigged sailing vessel was the former German Training ship ‘Horst Wessel’. The bombed buildings of Bremerhaven are in the background.” Photo dated 16 April 1946. (Official USCG photo)
USCGC Eagle under sail in 2015
derelict sail training ship which was to become USCGC Eagle in Bremerhaven immediately after World War Two.
Horst Wessel was a Nazi thug and a pimp who supposedly was killed in a street fight with Communists in Berlin prior to the Nazi seizure of power. He made his living as a pimp and there is evidence to suggest he was murdered by the brother of one of his prostitutes. The ship is has a steel hull and was outfitted as a barque which is a sailing ship with three masts in which the foremast and mainmast are square-rigged and the mizzenmast is rigged fore-and-aft.
Horst Wessel about to be launched. The original ship was built by the German shipbuilder Blohm and Voss, who also built the Bismarck. You have to give it to them: they certainly built strong ships.
Sailing barque Horst Wessel:
Laid down: 15 February 1936
Launched: 13 June 1936
Commissioned: 17 September 1936
Captured: April 1945
Horst Wessel in front of German Naval Academy Mürwik in Flensburg in 1937.
The construction of the German naval academy began in 1910. The buildings weren’t badly damaged in World War Two and became the last headquarters of the Nazi government under Admiral Doenitz. Repairs were made in the years after the war and the academy reopened in the mid-1950s when West Germany was permitted to begin rearmament.
The Naval Academy Mürwik with the Gorch Fock (sister ship of the USCG Eagle) on the Flensburg Firth, the Northernmost part of Germany.
Major Werner Pluskat, First German to Sight Allied Invasion Fleet, informs his higher echelon headquarters of the German 352nd Infantry Division.
At dawn on 6 June 1944, from this German bunker on a rise above Omaha Beach, Major Werner Pluskat was the first German officer to see the Allied invasion fleet which he described as headed “straight at me.” During the Normandy invasion, he served as the commander of the artillery battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division, a scratch division built around a handful of surviving veterans from the 321 Infantry Division which had been torn to shreds during the Battle of Kursk in July and August of 1943 and the subsequent Soviet offensives. *
German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day, based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan.
(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)
“The Longest Day,” an account of D-Day written by American journalist and narrative historian Cornelius Ryan, Pluskat told him the following in a personal interview.
Dawn of 6 June 1944
From his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach, Major Pluskat rang through to the headquarters of the 352nd Infantry Division to which his artillery battalion was assigned:
“It’s the invasion! There must be ten thousand ships out here!”
Division HQ: “Which way are the ships headed?”
Pluskat: “Right for me!”
Division to Pluskat several minutes later: “What’s the situation?”
“We’re being shelled!”
“Exact location of shelling?”
“For God’s sake, they’re falling all over. What do you want me to do? Go out and measure the holes with a ruler?”
Pluskat obviously survived the war, surrendering to the Allies on 23 April 1945.
German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day.
In this movie still from 20th Century Fox, Major Pluskat is talking to his division command after intense shelling. Most German bunkers were well constructed and survived Allied naval gunfire.
Unfortunately, the naval guns of the era had a relatively flat trajectory. While battleships could, and did, hit German units 30 miles inland, targets as close as Pluskat’s bunker were harder to destroy because naval guns could not generate plunging fire like an army howitzer. So complete was Allied control of the sea, that many battleships assigned to the bombardment force were able to anchor in a long row in the English channel.
On Omaha, for instance, where very few tanks made it ashore, smaller ships such as destroyers and destroyer escorts closed the beach and directly engaged the German artillery firing from bunkers. There were occasions when the Germans were firing over the heads of the GIs on the beach at Allied destroyers who were firing back.
Naval captains took their ships in as close as they could, scraping bottom occasionally. But the invasion had to succeed. There wasn’t a “Plan B.”
Like most accounts of historical events, there is controversy over Pluskat’s whereabouts at dawn on 6 June. Speculation on a number of World War Two discussion boards suggests Pluskat wasn’t at his post at dawn on 6 June and fabricated his entire story which became part of the historical record and has been repeated a thousand times in various books until taken for truth.
Yet Pluskat did command the artillery battalion of the 352nd German Infantry Division. This division was dug in behind Pluskat’s artillery. The task of 352nd was to defend the stretch of beach known as “Omaha” to the Allies.
And Pluskat’s command bunker was on the heights above Omaha and remains there to this day as shown in the first photo of this post. His battalion did not retreat until they had fired all of their ammunition. So we know that he basics are true.
In an article about D-Day in the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, on 3 June 1964, their reporter writes:
“Major Werner Pluskat, commander of four coastal batteries the 352nd Division in the landing section “Omaha” was one of the first who saw the Armada. From his forward command post, he peered through the telescope, when morning dawned and the mist of the night lifted above the sea: The horizon was dotted with ships – ten thousand estimated the Major. The inferno broke out.”
Cornelius Ryan, who wrote the book, The Longest Day, was a well-known journalist of the era and a careful researcher. Born in Ireland (he became an American citizen in 1957) he worked as a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph of London.
Incredibly, he flew 14 bombing missions over Germany as part of his work as a journalist although not required to do so. He also witnessed the D-Day landings as a journalist. It would have been difficult to fool him.
Since Ryan interviewed so many participants in the battle, Allied and German, I find it hard to believe that Pluskat made up the story about himself he told Ryan. Further Pluskat only died in 2002 at age 90 so other German veterans of D-Day from the 352nd Infantry Division had decades to accuse Pluskat of lying. To my knowledge, such accusations were never made.
Ryan’s book is a well-written narrative history of the D-Day. It contains a number of small inaccuracies. However, these are mainly due to his lack of access to records about D-Day which were still classified at the time he wrote the book in 1957 and 1958. But his interview with Pluskat is accurate.
“The Longest Day” was published in 1959.
Sadly, Cornelius Ryan died tragically early in his life at age 54 in 1974 of prostate cancer.
*a fascinating “look behind enemy lines” can be found in the correctly translate reported written for the Allies after the battle by one of the captured regimental commanders of the 352nd German Infantry Division. Historian Stewart Bryant tracked down the original document in German written by the officer. About twenty years ago, historians discovered that hundreds of these documents had been incorrectly translated.
Bryant has translated this German report into English himself and has added valuable commentary and explanations.
Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed ‘Tika IV’, during a bomber escort mission in 1944. (photograph and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
D-Day was not the Second Front.
The Anglo-American Strategic Bombing Offensive against Germany was the second front
d-day was the Third Front.
The First Front was the massive battle on the Eastern front between the Germans and the Soviets.
Graves of German soldiers somewhere in Russia. (Bundesarchiv)
Because the Soviets killed over 80% of German soldiers killed in World War Two, something Stalin frequently pointed out to Churchill and FDR, the most important strategic goal of the Allies (the US and the British Empire) was to keep the Soviets in the war. The P-51 ended up playing an important role in this.
We absolutely had to think of a way to relive the intense German military power being unleashed on the Soviets by the Germans (who had a kill rate of one German soldier to 27 Soviet soldiers). The British had begun a small bombing campaign against Nazi Germany and its allies before America was in the war because there was no other way for the Brits to attack Germany.
Pilots of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF in front of Hawker Hurricane Mk I at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 7 September 1940. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).
Germans Bomb London and Other Cities Throughout the UK
From the late summer of 1940 to the early summer of 1941, the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other major British cities and ports in a savage campaign which killed more than 40,000 people in the UK, half of them in London. More than one million homes were destroyed. So, the British felt little remorse at bombing the Germans.
RAF Bomber Command took unacceptable casualties in daylight bombing and began bombing only at night. The US Army Air Force and the Bomber Barons were convinced that daylight bombing was the best way in spite of the British experience.
Boeing B-17F 42-29513. 346th Bombardment Squadron, 99th Bombardment Group
In our arrogance, the US believed that properly staged formations of B-17 Flying Fortress’s would be self-defending and wouldn’t need fighter cover. This assumption was proven to be completely wrong by the horrifying losses suffered during 1943 and early 1944 by the USAAF 8th Air Force flying from Great Britain.
Unfortunately, no fighter had the range to accompany American bombers all the way to Berlin and points east and then fly all the way back to Great Britain. Someone thought of drop tanks which were easy to make. However, there needed to be a rugged and fast heavy fighter to take on the German fighters over Germany.
What About the P51?
P-51D Mustang at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
American bombers finally accompanied by fighters for the entire flight
The P-51 had been a disappointment. It wasn’t fast enough. Someone thought of putting a Rolls Royce Merlin engine from a Spitfire on the airframe of a P-51. The rest is history. Fitted with drop tanks and the Merlin engine, the P-51 was able to provide fighter cover to American bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This allowed the bombing of Germany to continue and allowed American fighter to destroy the fighter arm of the German Air Force.
Every week, long before D-Day, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, sent Stalin a book of photographs of German cities Americans had bombed. Churchill did likewise. As the Anglo-American bombing offensive took hold, the Russians felt the effects. German aircraft were withdrawn from Russia and most importantly, the famed German 88 artillery piece, anti-tank gun, and anti-aircraft gun were withdrawn in large numbers from the Eastern front to defend German cities.
P-51D cockpit in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
HMS Barham, torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 55 officers and 806 ratings.
This vid clip is one minute and eleven seconds long. In these 71 seconds, the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Barham, rolled over on her beam ends, explodes, and then sinks. At the end of the vid clip, the ship is gone, disappeared beneath the sea.
In the time it takes to watch it, fifty-five officers and eight hundred six ratings died–men who were fighting against “a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime,” as the Nazis were so aptly described in their evil by Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 13 May 1940 in his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister.
Incredibly, the sinking and explosion was caught on film by a news reel cameraman from Gaumont News. The cameraman who caught the sinking and explosion, John Turner, was standing on the deck of the nearby Royal Navy battleship, HMS Valiant, which was on station close to Barham.
You can read accounts by the crew members who survived here:
As I was saying to Nikolai this afternoon, war often leads to fashion items which endure long after the war that spawned them is over.
cardigan: a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front as worn by our spokesmodel, Nickolai.
Take the Cardigan sweater, a fashion item owned by many men and women. The garment itself is defined as a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front.
The man who made this unlikely garment fashionable was none other than the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Is he famous for anything else? Yes, in October of 1854, he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. (1853 to 1856). The causes of the war are boring and complicated. Suffice it to say that the French and British went to the Crimea to fight the Russians and the Ottomans (Turks) over something.
Cardigan was an insecure, arrogant, self-righteous, narcissistic jerk who wore a wool sweater of his own design which opened down the front. Besides having an eye for fashion, he was brave since he personally led the Charge of the Light Brigade into Russian artillery fire.
“Here goes the last of the Brudenell’s,” said Lord James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan…and then Major General Commanding the Light Brigade, a cavalry formation which included his personal regiment, the 11th Hussars, upon receiving the order to charge batteries of Russian artillery. This was part of the Battle of Balaclava which was part of the overall siege of Sevastopol, the key Russian naval base in the Crimea.
Spokesmodel Nickolai modeling a heavy wool balaclava.
Allow me to interrupt myself to call your attention to the Battle of Balaclava (the town itself served as a British supply point). It was so cold in the Crimean winter that women in England knitted wool garments which covered the faces and necks of the English soldiers. The men received these garments when they would go for supplies at the town of Balaclava, hence the name.
The charge of the Light Brigade accomplished nothing and was the result of inaccurate and misleading orders. But it did generate a famous poem. While many are familiar with poem, they don’t know what event inspired the poet. Below is the first stanza.
The Charge Of The Light Brigade
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Half a league half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred: ‘Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns’ he said: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
(A league is an imprecise unit of measurement which fell out of use in the late 19th Century.)
War and fashion unfortunately often go together. The trench coat is exactly that: a coat first made in England in World War One for officers to wear in the trenches of the Western front. And “bomber jackets” are also exactly that–jackets worn by the pilot and copilots of American bombers in World War Two.
(The cockpit and navigator’s area were heated. The rest of the plane was not and other crew members had to wear electrically heated suits. Curiously, they had to clean these with gasoline. The air gunners who fired from the large opening on each side of the aircraft also wore chain mail manufactured by Wilkinson sword to protect them from shrapnel. (Invented by the British Army officer, Captain Shrapnel).
I was able to meet with several of the law students and their professor for an hour and then hear a talk by the general counsel of the Authors Guild.
A week prior to my meeting I had sent them Facebook’s draconian terms of service which are similar to all other social media sites in that they lay claim whatever you post.
I specifically asked how to protect my copyright in this situation since I had become so concerned I had stopped posting to Facebook. They researched this and informed me that if I posted to Facebook from my blog, then I was protected since my blog is copyrighted. If I posted directly to Facebook then I was screwed.
Fortunately, if I post something to Facebook from my blog and Facebook friends repost, then I still retain my copyright.
Fortunately, I mainly post to Facebook via my blog and never directly. So I will begin to post certain things again but I won’t post any of my personal writing about the South or other parts of m life which I plan to later sell to other publications because Facebook can change their terms of service without informing users.
Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Florence Drouin and Mrs. Elizabeth Esty, pond women, use regular logging pikes to bring the logs into place on the slip. (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).
Many social movements including equality of women, equal rights for African-Americans, Hispanics, even gay people, were given new impetus because of dislocations in traditional society caused by the Second World War.
Many young people, especially males, whose parents or grandparents had never left their home county, ended up in foreign countries or huge industrial cities mixed in with Americans from all over. This widened the vistas of tens of millions.
Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Florence Drouin, using a regular logging pike, pushing up onto the slip logs which the pond men have just towed in. (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).
As we would say now, people were “empowered” because of the simple reason that they were needed. Almost 12 million males served in the armed forces of the US during the Second World War along with 400,000 women. To replace these millions of young men and find enough workers to run farms and factories, millions of women began to hold jobs which in the past had been described as “men’s work.”
June 1943. Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Norman Webber, front, and Ruth De Roche taking the finished boards from the conveyor and piling them according to size in the “pit”. (Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).
By doing jobs previously held only by white men, heretofore marginalized groups proved they could do much of the same work. After the war, although life went “back to normal” it actually didn’t. Powerful social movements had been reinvigorated.
June 1943. “Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Ruth DeRoche and Norma Webber, 18-year-old ‘pit-women,’ relaxing after lunch.” (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).
(I think these women could have drunk some of my frat brothers under the table).
Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Mrs. Elizabeth Esty and Florence Drouin, “pond women,” pulling up logs towed in by the men. (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).