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German minesweepers were the mainstay force of the Harbor Security Commands

Harbor security commands of the Kriegsmarine were operational commands controlling waterborne security within German harbors during the years of Nazi Germany, to include during and before World War II. These commands were maintained by a separate chain of command from the traditional shore establishment, and in many cases even bypassed the administrative command of the German ports themselves.

Overview

The security of all harbors in Nazi occupied Europe was under the authority of three senior geographical regions lead by a Befehlshaber der Sicherung (Commander of Security). The first such position was established in 1937 as the Befehlshaber der Sicherung der Nordsee (B.S.N.) (Commander of Security in the North Sea) and was led by Vizeadmiral Otto von Schrader. The North Sea security region originally only oversaw the major port of Wilhelmshaven, as well as some smaller naval stations, but during World War II was greatly expanded under Eberhard Wolfram. The final North Sea security commander, appointed April 1943, was Rear admiral Ernst Lucht.

Baltic sea harbor and water security was overseen by the Befehlshaber der Sicherung der Ostsee (B.S.O.). The command was established in January 1939 under Vice admiral Hermann Mootz. For the majority of the Second World War, Hans Stohwasser served as security commander with the final command, Rear admiral Hans Bütow, appointed in June 1944. In October 1940, the German Navy also established its largest security area covering all harbors and ports in occupied western Europe. The command was known as the Befehlshaber der Sicherung West (B.S.W.) with Hermann Mootz appointed as its first commander in October 1940. Command passed through two other officers in 1941 (Hermann von Fischel and Friedrich Ruge), with the security area commanded by an acting deputy in early 1943. The final western area security commander was Read admiral Erich Alfred Breuning who served from June 1943 until the end of the war.

In 1944, an inland waterways security command was established known as the Führer der Sicherungsstreitkräfte (B.d.Sich.). The command was headquartered in Swinemünde and was the administrative command for waterborne security on the Danube; operationally, units were commanded by a subordinate unit known as the "Sicherungs-Lehr-Division". The command was later transferred to Bergen where it operated one transport flotilla and commanded the U-boat service training school for boats stationed in Norway. The unit's final commander was Rear admiral Ernst Lucht.

Harbor defense flotillas

Harbor defense vessels were operationally controlled by a harbor defense commander while the vessels were administratively grouped into several surface flotillas. The most generic of these was the harbor defense flotilla (Hafenschutz-Flottille) which were often divided into two groups, known as "A-Gruppe" and "B-Gruppe" for patrol boats and minesweepers respectively. Groups of harbor defense flotillas were administratively grouped into geographical regions known as Hafenschutz-Flottillen im Bereich. The harbor defense flotillas were mainly concerned with administrative related issues within particular German ports. Harbor vessels still maintained their own flotillas, based on class of vessel, which answered to a vessel type commander.

Beginning in 1938, a second type of harbor defense unit, known as a "coastal defense unit" (Küstenschutz-Flottillen) began appearing in some of the smaller German ports. These coastal units were also integrated into the sea defense zone system.

A single harbor flotilla for Croatian ports was known as the Küstenschutz-Flottille der Kroatischen Marineabteilung; by 1943, the name had been shortened to simply "Kroatische Küstenschutz-Flottille". In 1942, the German Navy also formed a harbor unit in Bulgaria which was known as the Hafenschutz-Gruppe Varna. By 1944, the Kriegsmarine had further begun to number some coastal defense flotillas in the Greek-Mediterranean area; however, only four such units were ever established.

Numbered Coastal Defense Flotillas

  • 10. Küstenschutz-Flottille (Saloniki)
  • 11. Küstenschutz-Flottille (Mudros)
  • 12. Küstenschutz-Flottille (Piräus)
  • 13. Küstenschutz-Flottille (Suda)

Harbor defense vessels

The security commanders oversaw the tactical operations of various German harbor defense craft, the largest contingent of which were the German minesweepers, followed by the Minesweeper auxiliary craft (known as Räumbooten or "R boats").

Minesweepers

Various commands for German minesweepers had existed since before the First World War; the Kriegsmarine created their own Minesweeper command from an office of the Reichsmarine which had been established in October 1933.

The Kriegsmarine position, known as Führer der Minensuchboote (Leader of Minesweepers) was established in May 1937 under the command of Kapitän zur See Friedrich Ruge. At the start of World War II, the Minesweeper command position was split into two separate regions, east and west, with Rear admiral Hans Stohwasser commanding as Führer der Minensuchboote Ost until the position was re-assumed by Ruge, now with the rank of Kommodore. Stohwasser then assumed command of minesweepers in the Baltic sea under the title Führer der Minensuchboote Ost. In August 1940, Stohwasser's command was expanded to the North Sea and he became the first Führer der Minensuchboote Nord (F.d.M. Nord). His duties in the Baltic were assumed by Rear admiral Kurt Böhmer in March 1942.

Administratively, minesweepers were organized into over forty Minensuchflottille, each containing between six and eight minesweepers, while minesweeper auxiliary ships were stationed in one of over twenty Räumbootsflottille. These vessels were then assigned to various German harbors where they were operationally controlled by the Harbor Security Commanders. By 1944, the minesweepers had been placed under the authority of a new type of unit, the naval security division, with the minesweeper type commander position disestablished.

Minelayers

The operation of minelayers was originally under the Minesweeper type commander until August 1940 when a new command, the Führer der Minenschiffe, was established under the command of Captain Arnold Bentlage. For the first three months of the command's existence, a deputy commander (2. Führer der Minenschiffe) was also posted until the deputy position was disbanded. By the end of 1940, the minelayer command had been divided into two geographical regions with Bentlage commanding the "west group", covering mine layers out of Ostende and Antwerp, while Captain (later Vice admiral) Walter Krastel commanded the east group covering the ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre.

In July 1941 the minelayer type command was disbanded with all minelayers after that point falling under the type commander for special naval craft (Führer der Sonderverbände)

Submarine Chasers

German submarine chasers were organized into ten U-Jagdflottille which were commanded by a flotilla officer who answered to the naval security commanders. The first submarine chaser flotilla was established in August 1939 with the last stood up in August 1944. Individual vessels were converted merchant craft, some of which were only designated by numbers rather than vessel names.

As submarine chasers were considered "auxiliary craft", there was originally no type commander for this class of vessel. In January 1940, all submarine chaser flotillas were placed under a new command known as the Führer der Sonderverbände (Leader of Special Craft), of which two positions were created (east and west) for operations in the Baltic-North Sea and Atlantic-Mediterranean respectively. The position was designated to be commanded by a Kapitän zur See to which the various submarine chaser flotilla commanders would answer. These senior commands were also briefly responsible for the administration of German minelayers, but in 1941 the commands were dissolved and auxiliary craft functions were taken over by the Leader of Patrol Craft (Führer der Vorpostenboote).

Submarine netting ships

During the later years of World War II, units known as Netzsperrflottillen (submarine netting flotillas) were formed under the authority of Navy regional commanders. The groups were further subdivided into smaller Netzsperrgruppe which contained between six to twelve assigned vessels divided into net layers and net tenders. For smaller ports and harbors, submarine net working groups (Arbeitsgebiet) were the smallesty such unit deployed.[1]

Patrol and Sentry Boats

German patrol boats (Vorpostenbooten) were most often converted small civilian craft outfitted for harbor escort and perimeter defense. A type command for patrol boats was first established in September 1939 and was known as the Führung der Vorpostenflottille im Nordseeraum (Command of Patrol Boat Flotillas in the North Sea Region) under the leadership of Rear admiral Eberhard Wolfram. In June 1940, the command relocated to Trouville, and was renamed as the Führer der Vorpostenboote West (F.d.V. West). A Baltic Sea patrol boat command, also established in September 1939 at the start of World War II, was originally known as the Dienststelle des Führers der Vorpostenboote Ost before changing names in October 1940 to Führer der Vorpostenboote Ost (F.d.V. Ost).

In August 1940, the German Navy activated a third command for patrol boats known as the Führer der Vorpostenboote Nord (F.d.V. Nord) which was originally headquartered in Kiel. At the same time, administrative control of some patrol boats shifted to a new type commander, established in January 1940, known as the Führer der Sonderverbände (Leader of Special Craft). Arnold Bentlage commanded "Special Craft Group East" while Kurt Böhmer command the western group overseeing ports in France and along the North Sea. By the end of 1941 most patrol boats, organized into Vorpostengruppe, were now under the administration of the special craft type commanders. Mine layers were then added to the command, which was simply a formality since both Bentlage and Böhmer had been simultaneously serving as mine ship leaders, with submarine chasers briefly transferred to this new command as well.

As the special craft and patrol boat leadership commands existed simultaneously, and were essentially overlapping with the same commanders, in July 1940 the German Navy disestablished the Führer der Sonderverbände position and placed all mine layers, patrol boats, and submarine chasers under the authority of the Führer der Vorpostenboote (mine sweepers were still separate under their own type commander). Beginning in 1941, the Navy then began to disband the special craft type commands and placed all of the aforementioned craft, including the minesweepers, under the authority of the naval security divisions.

Naval security divisions

Beginning in 1941, control of the harbor security forces was gradually switched to new units known as Sicherungs-Divisionen (Security Division). These units grouped all minesweepers, patrol boats, and submarine chasers into combined local commands which answered to the senior security commander for a given geographical region. By 1944, there were eleven security divisions established in order to control security within German Navy ports and harbors.

Security division headquarters

  • 1st Security Division (Feb 1941): The Hague
  • 2nd Security Division (Feb 1941): Boulogne
  • 3rd Security Division (Feb 1941): Brest
  • 4th Security Division (Feb 1941): Lorient
  • 5th Security Division (Mar 1942): Cuxhaven
  • 6th Security Division: Never formed
  • 7th Security Division (May 1943): Livorno
  • 8th Security Division (Apr 1944): Skagerrak
  • 9th Security Division (Jun 1944): Windau
  • 10th Security Division (Jan 1944): Konstanza (disbanded July 1944)
  • 11th Security Division (Feb 1944): Triest

References

  1. Arndt & Schenk, Deutsche Netzsperrverbände, Berlin, Edition Erich Gröner, (2010)

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