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Thread: Air strikes on Munsterland - October 1943

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    hello Allan

    Perhaps I confused you with my post.

    The attack by No. 198 Squadron on the Munsterland in Boulogne harbour was carried out on New Year's Day 1944. 9 Typhoons took off from Manston at 10:50, 7 were only armed with their 20 mm canons and were to attack the Flak positions defending the ship. 2 Typhoons were armed with rockets and directed to attack the ship. This method was devised by S/L Johnny BALDWIN. The anti-Flak typhoons were flown by BALDWIN, F/L NIBLETT and DALL, F/O WILLIAMS, MacKENZIE, MacDONALD and W/O ALLAN. The Rocket Typhoons were flown by F/O CURTIS, F/O ROPER being the back-up.

    Despite a wall of Flak, CURTISS fired his 8 rockets and hit the ship just below the waterline. ROPER's hit the water short of the Munsterland. 5 Typhoon out of 9 had been badly hit, ALLAN crash-landed at Manston on return. The Munsterland tried 20 days later to leave Boulogne and was then definitely sunk.

    On 20th January 1944, during a weather recce, "Dick" CURTISS crashed at Le Parcq, near Hesdin. He's buried since then in Le Parcq cemetery.

    Joss

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    Default Munsterland attacks

    Hello Joss

    No confusion as far as I am concerned - however, we haven't heard anything from Mark with regard to all the responses.

    cheers

    Allan
    Allan Hillman

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    So, I am reviving my interest in the ‘suicide mission’ undertaken by Sqd Ldr Gowers and the Typhoons of 183 , on 24th October 1943, and when I met Gowers widow, - Mrs Joan Wheeler - in Dorset in 2008 she referred to this many times…

    I am still puzzled by the chapter in ‘The Big Show’ where Pierre Klostermann has no dates, whereas the preceding and following chapters are all dated, as if he were transcribing stories straight from his log book. His graphic description of the attack tallies with ORBs for 183, 257 and 263 Squadrons

    But, Klostermann flew with a Spitfire Squadron -602- that was not involved in Operations over Cherbourg that day, but he he devotes a chapter to what he called ‘The Munsterland Business’ where his version of events that day, tally with the 183 & 263 ORBs, and the story as told by Poppa Ambrose of 257 Sqd.

    As responses to my original post showed, Pierre Klostermann flew from Bradwell on 20/10/43 but he is not listed in ops for 23/10/43 or the next day 24/10/43.

    Allan said, ‘Thus it would have been impossible for 602 squadron to attack Cherbourg and the Munsterland on 24 October 1943 as they were operating from Bradwell Bay in Essex against targets in Holland.’

    Could Klostermann have been sent to join 183 Squadron or another squadron involved in the three operations listed that day ? What did he mean when he wrote ,
    ‘A special dispensation of Command..’

    He wrote in ‘The Big Show’ ,
    ‘A special dispensation of Command had bestowed the delightful task of escorting them (the 36 Typhoons) on 602 and 132 squadrons. Our role would consist in neutralising the flak ships with cannon and machine-gun fire and then covering the operation against the important German fighter forces massed in the Cotentin peninsular in case of need.'

    Allan wrote,’From 25 October until 31 October nothing other than local flying was allowed due to the adverse weather conditions, and before that date operations by 132 & 602 squadrons had been in areas other than Cherbourg, in the main operating from Detling, mainly as escorts to USAAF medium bombers.’

    Niall set out the day’s programme or 24th October 1943 :

    The day's programme against the Munsterland was planned from the outset as a three-part attack:
    Ramrod 94, a high-level attack by two squadrons of Mitchells escorted by 90 Spitfires of the Ibsley, Perranporth and Churchstanton Wings (Clostermann presumably among them)
    Roadstead 77 Pt 1, low-level attacks by 263 Squadron’s Whirlwinds (escorted by 257 Sqn)
    Roadstead 77 Pt 2, low-level attacks by 183 Squadron’s Typhoons


    So, Ramrod 94, was a high-level attack by two squadrons of Mitchells escorted by 90 Spitfires from 8 Spitfire squadrons in the 10 Group, (and 602 is not one of these) :
    165, 222, 306, 331, 332, 402, 403 and 421 of the Ibsley, Perranporth and Churchstanton Wings

    In the early evening of 24th October 1943 Gowers led 183 Squadron from Predannack for an attack on the blockade running 6,000 ton motor vessel SS Münsterland carrying vital rare metals and sheltering in Cherbourg Harbour. Heavy flak was encountered and Gowers' Typhoon was seen to go down in flames just outside the mole. Two other 183 Typhoons were also shot down.

    Klostermann’s chapter in his book tallies pretty much exactly with entries for 183 ORB. Here he says ,
    ‘At 08.45 the flying personnel of the Wing were urgently summoned to the Intelligence Room. 602 and 132 were put on immediate readiness. First, Willie Hickson, in a speech improvised for the occasion, reminded us that the Münsterland’s cargo was of vital importance to German industry. The thousands of tons of latex she carried, suitably mixed with synthetic leuna product, would enable no fewer than twelve armoured divisions to be equipped and maintained for two years.’

    ‘Thirty six Typhoons equipped with 1,000lb delayed action bombs were to force an entry into the bay and try to sink the Munsterland or set her on fire. Squadrons 602 and 132 were put at immediate readiness. He adds a special dispensation of Command had bestowed the delightful task of escorting them on 602 and 132 squadrons. Our role would consist in neutralising the flak ships with Canon and machine-gun fire and then covering the operation against the important German fighter forces massed in the Cotentin peninsular in case of need.’

    The ORB of 263 Squadron records, “Flak was fired at our aircraft from more than a hundred guns within range from harbour and ships”,
    Flight Sergeant Beaumont added, “It was like a horizontal hailstorm painted red.”

    Poppa’ Ambrose of 257 Squadron wrote in his log-book adjacent to the operation – ‘Innocents Day’- and the account is reproduced in the book ‘Typhoon Attack’ by Norman Franks, “There was a ship in Cherbourg Harbour, carrying wolfram or tungsten ore. Tungsten was used in specialised armour piercing ammunition. Our intelligence people said it had got through from Japan and had to be hit at all costs. We went out with Reggie Baker’s 263 Whirlwind Squadron with bombs, while we and 183 Squadron were flying with cannon. We were 24 aircraft. When we went for briefing, they said we were going out at nought feet. We said, don’t be silly, only idiots go into Cherbourg Harbour at nought feet – we should dive down, and even that was considered to be virtual suicide. We came back to the Mess and normally most of us remained sensible and drank beer, not spirits, but I remember that afternoon we opened the bar at four o’clock; we were all hacked off. Gus Gowers, the CO of 183, had been lost.

    Klostermann’s account says pretty much the same ,
    Half of dozen belated Typhoons passed to my right like a school of porpoises, bearing down on the hell going on behind the long granite wall of the breakwater. I skimmed over a fort whose very walls seemed to be belching fire - a curious mixture of crenellated towers, modern concrete casements and thirty Years War glacis. We were now in the middle of the roadstead - an inextricable jumble of trawlers masts and rusty wrecks sticking out between the battered quays. The weather seemed to have cleared a little - Look out for the Jerry fighters! The air was criss-crossed with tracers, lit up by flashes, dotted with black and white puffs of smoke. The Münsterland, was there, surrounded by explosions, flames, and debris. Her four masts bristling with derrick and her squat funnel well aft emerging from the smoke. The typhoon attack was in full swing, bombs exploding all the time with colossal bursts of fire and black clouds of smoke, thickening as they drifted away. A Typhoon vanished into thin air in the explosion of a bomb dropped by one in front. One of the enormous harbour cranes came crashing down like a house of cards.

    I have a very interesting story which I will post shortly about the unsuccessful attempts by the request from the Gowers for an exhumation of the grave in a cemetery just outside Cherbourg, where the French authorities buried 'an unknown airmen’ who was in 1943 ‘known only to God’ so badly was he disfigured when his corpse was washed up on the beach.

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    I thought it was well known now that Clostermann was telling (very well) a story of the air war in The Big Show and was not always present at the events he describes. Call it narrative licence if you like. The shooting down of the German recce Bf.109 aircraft over Orkney is perhaps the best-known example, at least to me.

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    Default Re: Munsterland attack - 24 October 1943

    Germany needed to secure the flow of certain critical raw materials, especially rubber, from the Dutch East Indies and Far Eastern territories. In early 1940 there were still 16 German merchant vessels in Chinese, Japanese and Manchurian ports, and a further 6 merchant ships operating on the west coast of South America sailed across the Pacific to join them.

    Admiral Paul Werner Wenneker, the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo, was assigned the task of transferring them into the Kriegsmarine and equipping them as ‘blockade runners.’

    The Münsterland” and her escort vessels, having successfully evaded the American and English fleets in both the Pacific and Atlantic, was sighted approaching the Brittany Coast on 21st October 1943, with full cargo of rubber and tungsten, and precious minerals, all vital supplies needed for the German V1 and V2 rocket technology. In broad daylight “The Münsterland” was trying to make a 'Channel dash.’

    Blockade runners were difficult to catch as they generally moved at night in short hops from base to base. The escort was always strong, consisting of a cover group of between four and six T-Boats and a close escort of minesweepers and protected by fast moving E-boats.

    The War Cabinet ordered Operation Tunnel : the Royal Navy mounting an offensive using destroyers and destroyer escorts off the coast of Brittany. On October 23rd 1943 the Cruiser HMS Charybdis supported by a further six destroyers, including HMS Limbourne, were sent to intercept and destroy the merchantman.

    The ‘Munsterland' was inching its way along the coast, hugging the shoreline, under escort from the fast moving 4th German E-Boat flotilla, with its radar equipped patrol boats, seeking safe haven in Cherbourg Harbour. Minesweepers protected the inland waters, and on the approaches trawlers armed with anti aircraft guns, supported by powerful shore batteries made the harbour all but impenetrable. So it proved and first the cruiser Charybdis was hit by two torpedoes and was soon engulfed in flames and sank within five minutes, then her escort destroyer, Limbourne, was badly damaged, and had to be scuttled. Over 500 men lost their lives in the icy waters.

    The following afternoon, October 24th 1943, the RAF launched an air strike trying to sink the convoy and bombs and rockets fired by Westland Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron and Hawker Typhoons of 257 Squadron hit their target but the Münsterland suffered only superficial damage whereas the RAF suffered heavy casualties from the murderous flak batteries. The Operations Record Book of 263 Squadron records, “Flak was fired at our aircraft from more than a hundred guns within range from harbour and ships”, and Flight Sergeant Beaumont added, “It was like a horizontal hailstorm painted red.”

    Further reconnaissance showed the Münsterland, now berthed in port, to be virtually unassailable, but a low level attack, below mast height, was ordered - possibly by Churchill himself - and eight Typhoons of 183 Squadron led by Gowers set off from Predannick. They claimed two direct hits on the merchantman but the Cherbourg defences proved too strong and downed three Typhoons, including that of Squadron Leader Gowers who was seen to crash in flames outside the Harbour Mole.

    OK - there is general agreement on all the above but some historians argue that it seems the Münsterland was already empty. It had been unloaded, having arrived in Bordeaux from Japan in May 1942. It had been more than a year in Bordeaux. So she was empty when she arrived in Cherbourg.*So why the preoccupation with sinking the vessel ?

    Unusually the Munsterland is frequently named in the operational records at squadron level, when normally the target would remain anonymous just another ‘ Merchant Vessel. ’ ORBs for some fighter squadrons involved in the attacks on Cherbourg name her as a 'blockade-runner'.

    It therefore seems the target was well known within the squadrons. Is this why Pierre Clostermann claims he was involved ? ( Even if he didn't directly participate as he claims to have done !)

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    Default Why carry out air strikes on an empty 'blockade runner ' : Munsterland - October 1943

    Germany needed to secure the flow of certain critical raw materials, especially rubber, from the Dutch East Indies and Far Eastern territories. In early 1940 there were still 16 German merchant vessels in Chinese, Japanese and Manchurian ports, and a further 6 merchant ships operating on the west coast of South America sailed across the Pacific to join them.

    Admiral Paul Werner Wenneker, the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo, was assigned the task of transferring them into the Kriegsmarine and equipping them as ‘blockade runners.’

    The Münsterland” and her escort vessels, having successfully evaded the American and English fleets in both the Pacific and Atlantic, was sighted approaching the Brittany Coast on 21st October 1943, with full cargo of rubber and tungsten, and precious minerals, all vital supplies needed for the German V1 and V2 rocket technology. In broad daylight “The Münsterland” was trying to make a 'Channel dash.’

    Blockade runners were difficult to catch as they generally moved at night in short hops from base to base. The escort was always strong, consisting of a cover group of between four and six T-Boats and a close escort of minesweepers and protected by fast moving E-boats.

    The War Cabinet ordered Operation Tunnel : the Royal Navy mounting an offensive using destroyers and destroyer escorts off the coast of Brittany. On October 23rd 1943 the Cruiser HMS Charybdis supported by a further six destroyers, including HMS Limbourne, were sent to intercept and destroy the merchantman.

    The ‘Munsterland' was inching its way along the coast, hugging the shoreline, under escort from the fast moving 4th German E-Boat flotilla, with its radar equipped patrol boats, seeking safe haven in Cherbourg Harbour. Minesweepers protected the inland waters, and on the approaches trawlers armed with anti aircraft guns, supported by powerful shore batteries made the harbour all but impenetrable. So it proved and first the cruiser Charybdis was hit by two torpedoes and was soon engulfed in flames and sank within five minutes, then her escort destroyer, Limbourne, was badly damaged, and had to be scuttled. Over 500 men lost their lives in the icy waters.

    The following afternoon, October 24th 1943, the RAF launched an air strike trying to sink the convoy and bombs and rockets fired by Westland Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron and Hawker Typhoons of 257 Squadron hit their target but the Münsterland suffered only superficial damage whereas the RAF suffered heavy casualties from the murderous flak batteries. The Operations Record Book of 263 Squadron records, “Flak was fired at our aircraft from more than a hundred guns within range from harbour and ships”, and Flight Sergeant Beaumont added, “It was like a horizontal hailstorm painted red.”

    Further reconnaissance showed the Münsterland, now berthed in port, to be virtually unassailable, but a low level attack, below mast height, was ordered - possibly by Churchill himself - and eight Typhoons of 183 Squadron led by Gowers set off from Predannick. They claimed two direct hits on the merchantman but the Cherbourg defences proved too strong and downed three Typhoons, including that of Squadron Leader Gowers who was seen to crash in flames outside the Harbour Mole.

    OK - there is general agreement on all the above but some historians argue that it seems the Münsterland was already empty -It had been unloaded, having arrived in Bordeaux from Japan in May 1942. It had been more than a year in Bordeaux. So she was empty when she arrived in Cherbourg.*

    Unusually the Munsterland is frequently named in the operational records at squadron level, when normally the target would remain anonymous just another ‘ Merchant Vessel.’ ORBs for some fighter squadrons involved in the attacks on Cherbourg name her as a blockade-runner.

    It therefore seems the target was well known within the squadrons. Is this why Pierre Clostermann claims he was involved ? ( Even if he didn't directly participate as he claims to have done !)

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    Default Re: Air strikes on Munsterland - October 1943

    Hi Mark,

    Just to add to the story, the ‘Munsterland’ came under attack on 15 May 1942 when F/L H G Pockley of 10 Sqn flying a Sunderland in transit to Gibraltar. When north of Cape Villano they spotted a U-Boat astern of a 6,000 ton merchant vessel. The U-Boat submerged and the Sunderland carried out five separate attacks on what was the ‘Munsterland’. A number of depth charges were dropped accurately and twice the bows were lifted out of the water.

    This is covered in the offical history of the RAAF in WWII, there is also a photo of the attack.

    Mark if you would like a scan of the story and the photo please feel free to contact me on harleyDOT158ATbigpondDOTcom replace the DOT & AT with the usual.

    Cheers,

    John.

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    Default Re: Why carry out air strikes on an empty 'blockade runner ' : Munsterland - October

    Hello Mark

    Thanks for the update, however I haven't learned anything new in 2020 compared with my knowledge in 2008.

    As to why Clostermann chose this story, when he clearly wasn't there, I have no idea, any more than I know why he wrote about the Orkneys bf109 shoot down as he did when he wasn't one of the main players, other than to sell book's, as lot's of people accept The Big Show as his memoirs, instead of just a good read, with elements of the truth.

    Cheers

    Allan
    Last edited by allan125; 18th May 2020 at 21:50.
    Allan Hillman

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