Attacks on Seenotdienst aircraft

German Luftwaffe 1935-1945.
Post Reply
User avatar
Tom Houlihan
Patron
Posts: 4301
Joined: Mon Sep 30, 2002 12:05 pm
Location: MI, USA
Contact:

Attacks on Seenotdienst aircraft

Post by Tom Houlihan » Thu Mar 22, 2007 10:18 pm

Normally a little out of my area, I just finished reading an article on the Luftwaffe's Seenotdienst. Something that struck me as odd was Churchill's order to attack rescue aircraft, so I thought I'd open a discussion.

http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airc ... lford.html

Now, Seenotdienst aircraft were painted white, with Red Cross markings on them. Prima facie, this makes them aerial ambulances, no? According to the article, a Seenotdienst He59 was downed on 11 July 1940. The pilot's log "noted positions and movements of British convoys." The Brits seem to have decided that humanitarian efforts and reconnaissance are mutually exclusive, resulting in Bulletin 1254 of 13 July 1940 stating that as of 20 July, air-sea rescue planes would be shot down.
Sir Winston Churchill presented a somewhat less legalistic and more sanguine interpretation of the issue when he wrote, "We did not recognize this means of rescuing enemy pilots so they could come and bomb our civil population again. . . all German air ambulances were forced down or shot down by our fighters on definite orders approved by the War Cabinet." It was Churchill's contention that since the 1929 Geneva Convention made no specific mention of rescue airplanes, such aircraft were not entitled to its protection.
Now, the footnote in this paragraph cites Churchill in his book Their Finest Hour, p. 332. If someone has this volume, please check it. It would seem that Churchill knew that what he was ordering was technically wrong, but was using semantics to justify it.
The Germans claimed that their rescue aircraft were protected by Articles 3, 6, and 17 of the Convention. According to Article 3, " . . . the belligerent who remains in possession of the field of battle shall take measures to search for the wounded." Article 6 provided that, "Mobile sanitary formations, i.e., those which are intended to accompany armies in the field, and the fixed establishments belonging to the sanitary service shall be protected and respected by the belligerents." Article 17 claimed that, "Vehicles equipped for sanitary evacuation, traveling singly or in convoy, shall be treated as mobile sanitary formations. . . . "
From the German perspective, it would seem that the British were flat out wrong. A clearly marked flying ambulance, which incidentally picked up Allied pilots as well, should be a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.

Now, are recon and air-sea rescue mutually exclusive? If the Germans were using the aerial ambulances specifically for recon missions, then they would be violating the Convention certainly. But, if a pilot is on a mission to rescue a downed flier, of any nation, and notes enemy shipping, what is he to do? Ignore it? Or take note?

My opinion right now is the Churchill screwed the pooch on this one. Shooting up an ambulance is at worst a violation, and just bad form at best. Had the Germans reacted a different way, how many Allied flyers would Churchill's act condemned to drowning if the Germans had decided just to not rescue any enemy aircrew?

I would point out that the author of this article seems to have no dog in the fight either way, and came across as fairly objective. For my own part, I'd just like to hear other people's opinion on this situation.
Discussion?
TLH3
www.mapsatwar.us
Feldgrau für alle und alle für Feldgrau!

Lorenz
Patron
Posts: 1226
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2004 7:10 am

Post by Lorenz » Fri Mar 23, 2007 6:03 am

Tom -

Since the late ‘seventies or so, there has been a flood of books and articles concerning Bletchley Park and the ULTRA decrypts as well as the A.I. 4 “Y” Service intercepts. Some of the really good articles have been in the journals Cryptologia (ISSN 0161-1194) and Intelligence and National Security (ISSN 0268-4527). I recall either seeing an article or two on this specific subject or treatment of the subject in an article of broader scope.

IIRC, Enigma intercepts were decrypted that directed the Seenotdienstführer West to have his He 59 and Do 18 crews actively engage in convoy spotting and tracking. These orders emanated from Berlin and were relayed by Luftflotte 3. Churchill and the War Cabinet could not refer to this means of gathering intelligence, of course, so they had to cook up a plausible rationale for justifying their decision to shoot down these Fühlunghalter that were endangering the convoys in the Channel, the Irish Sea and off the east coast. Were all of the Seenotdienst aircraft engaged in snooping? Undoubtedly not, but the RAF was not able to tell the difference between the time one of these planes was plotted and when it eventually left the search area. All of these aircraft sent frequent radio transmissions, but it took the Brits at that stage of the war (summer 1940) at least a day or two to intercept the transmission, decrypt it, process it and forward it to the decision makers. This is what I recall reading.

You might want to visit a university research library that has the academic data bases and the means to do subject searches in them and see if you can find the articles I am referring to.

--Lorenz

bdennis
Member
Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:48 pm
Location: Sussex

Post by bdennis » Fri Mar 23, 2007 1:39 pm

Lorenz,
Your recollections are correct, plus there were instances of the He59 crews operating in areas where there were not believed to be any airmen to rescue, and radioing reports of convoys/shipping while in the air. If I remember correctly, these reports were in code but were understood by the British Y service personnel based around the Kent coast (I think the operators at the Dover station were the first to record this activity). It caused quite a stir at the time because the role of the He59s and the small Air Sea Rescue surface craft of both sides was respected but, as you have said, the confirmation was via Enigma traffic and was conclusive.

Bruce

User avatar
Kapuziner
Supporter
Posts: 81
Joined: Wed Nov 20, 2002 5:56 pm
Location: Deutschland
Contact:

Resque-Services of the GAF

Post by Kapuziner » Sat Mar 31, 2007 3:44 am

Hello Gents,

first of all; mostly both sides respected resqueunits, water and/or air. And both sides resqued men, what nation they ever had been

second, the Order to shoot them down by Churchill is true; but who cares? (right or wrong - my Country! And "vea victis")

third, the painting of German Requeplanes and -ships is given correct - for the first times! But this was changed to camouflage, due to the attacks.

fourth, during a resquemission it has been ordered to radio open, using the worldwide codes - but this has been changed, too - by the same reasons.

fifth, dear bdennis, You ever worked with an Enigma? Beliefe me, its much to heavy and difficult (and to slow) for being used on an airplane, especially a He 59. At last it was forbidden to use them onboard of airplanes, to avoid them being captored by the enemy.

At last, everybody of You is kindly asked to read following Book:
"Rettung zwischen den Fronten" Seenotdienst der deutschen Luftwaffe 1939-1945 by Karl Bom (who has organized this Duty)
ISBN 3-8132-0756-0

"Rescue between frontlines - SeaResqueService of the GAF 1939-1945"

Post Scriptum:
I DECLARE HEREBY THAT I DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN ANY WAY IN SELLING THIS BOOK !!
But I'm shure, that it is the most interresting Book ever, written for the Men who had done this very special Duty for there Camerads the help them to servive - most of there duties is forgotten - R.I.P.

Kindly Yours
Kapuziner
SUUM CUIQUE

Lorenz
Patron
Posts: 1226
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2004 7:10 am

Post by Lorenz » Sat Mar 31, 2007 5:28 am

Kapuziner wrote:
........dear bdennis, You ever worked with an Enigma? Beliefe me, its much to heavy and difficult (and to slow) for being used on an airplane, especially a He 59. At last it was forbidden to use them onboard of airplanes, to avoid them being captored by the enemy.
I don't believe anyone said Enigma encryptions necessarily came from the aircraft. They used lower level tactical codes to transmit by CW from the Flugzeuge to the Seenotzentrum on the ground, and vice versa. The Seenotzentrum then used Enigma to communicate with higher headquarters (z.B., Fliegerkorps, Luftflotte, Berlin, etc.). At that very early stage of the war in northern France, May, June, July, August 1940, the Luftnachrichtentruppen were busy laying landlines (Drahtverbindung) but most headquarters (Stäbe) and units (Einheiten) still had to use radio communications (Funkverbindung). Hence, the British were able to intercept a lot of Enigma traffic (Nachrichtenverbindung). That is how the instructions came to be learned.

--Lorenz

User avatar
Kapuziner
Supporter
Posts: 81
Joined: Wed Nov 20, 2002 5:56 pm
Location: Deutschland
Contact:

Enigmatraffic

Post by Kapuziner » Sat Mar 31, 2007 6:19 am

Hi Lorenz,

It caused quite a stir at the time because the role of the He59s and the small Air Sea Rescue surface craft of both sides was respected but, as you have said, the confirmation was via Enigma traffic and was conclusive.
...not anyone, but this one...
SUUM CUIQUE

bdennis
Member
Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:48 pm
Location: Sussex

Post by bdennis » Sat Mar 31, 2007 12:21 pm

Hello dear Kapuziner,

I agree with all that you say about the Enigma equipment and please let me clear up any misunderstanding: the British Y service based in Kent listened to radio transmissions of voice and Morse messages. They learned, by meticulous analysis, the meaning of many of the three-letter and four letter codes in German use as well as the voice codes (kirchturm for height etc.). This applies to all of the German services they tuned in to, from the Luftwaffe to the Police. This was the job of the Y service, to listen to and write down the transmissions. If they could not interpret the meaning straight away, they would send the transcript to Cheadle or one of the other stations for decrypting. Y service did not decrypt enigma traffic, in fact very few people in the Y services knew about the Ultra codebreaking success.

When I referred to Enigma as a source of verification, this was entirely separate. There were a number of Enigma messages decoded giving the position and strength of coastal convoys that could only have come from aerial observation, and the only German aircraft in the area had been rescue craft. It was clear the original reports were sent while the aircraft were still in the area and were being updated when the British knew that there were no rescue operations at that place. At this time, July 1940, there was no D/F (direction finding) apparatus working with the Y service listening posts so while the WAAFs listening to the broadcast may have suspected the He59s were not in an area where a rescue was needed, they couldn’t prove it immediately. It was only possible to put the pieces together by taking the position of the convoy and comparing the radar tracks of shadowing aircraft, recorded at another RAF station away from the listening station, and comparing them to the radio transcripts later. All this took time. So the Enigma intercepts were separate confirmation of what had been heard by the RAF Y operators at Hawkinge, Kent, in July 1940.

All of this is much as Lorenz said in his post.

Hope this helps,

Bruce

redcoat
Contributor
Posts: 217
Joined: Tue May 06, 2003 3:32 am
Location: Stockport, England

Post by redcoat » Sat Mar 31, 2007 2:27 pm

The shooting down of Luftwaffe aircraft marked with Red cross markings while engaged in Air-Sea rescue is an interesting subject.

First off, here is the international rules on Red Cross aircraft in place at the time.
From the 1929 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field:

Art. 18 Aircraft used as means of medical transport shall enjoy the protection of the Convention during the period in which they are reserved exclusively for the evacuation of wounded and sick and the transport of medical personnel and material.
They shall be painted white and shall bear, clearly marked, the distinctive emblem prescribed in Article 19, side by side with their national colours, on their lower and upper surfaces.
In the absence of special and express permission, flying over the firing line, and over the zone situated in front of clearing or dressing stations, and generally over all enemy territory or territory occupied by the enemy, is prohibited.
Medical aircraft shall obey every summons to land.
In the event of a landing thus imposed, or of an involuntary landing in enemy territory and territory occupied by the enemy, the wounded and sick, as well as the medical personnel and material, including the aircraft, shall enjoy the privileges of the present Convention.
The pilot, mechanics and wireless telegraph operators captured shall be sent back, on condition that they shall be employed until the close of hostilities in the medical service only.

Next here is the message passed on to the Luftwaffe by the RAF on the use of these aircraft in July 1940

"Enemy aircraft bearing civil markings and marked with the Red Cross have recently flown over British ships at sea and in the vicinity of the British coast, and they are being employed for purposes which His Majesty's Government cannot regard as being consistent with the privileges generally accorded to the Red Cross.
His Majesty's Government desire to accord to ambulance aircraft reasonable facilities for the transportation of the sick and wounded, in accordance with the Red Cross Convention, and aircraft engaged in the direct evacuation of the sick and wounded will be respected, provided that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Convention.
His Majesty's Government are unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea, or approaching British or Allied territory, or territory in British occupation, or British or Allied ships.
Ambulance aircraft which do not comply with the above requirements will do so at their own risk and peril."

As can be see under the terms of the Geneva agreement aircraft flying with Red Cross markings were only protected if they flew over disputed areas with both sides express permission, and that they could only be used to transport the wounded.

Seeing that the Luftwaffe were flying over these disputed areas without British permission, and were engaged in the rescue of unwounded aircrew as well as wounded aircrew, they should not have flown in Red Cross markings.
In doing so, it was the Germans who were committing a war crime, not the British, who were within their rights in shooting down these aircraft.

ps It should be noted that allied aircraft/ships engaged in rescue missions never carried Red Cross markings.

pps. It was Dowding who ordered the attacks on the He 59's, not Churchill
Last edited by redcoat on Sat Mar 31, 2007 2:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
if in doubt, PANIC !!!!

User avatar
Kapuziner
Supporter
Posts: 81
Joined: Wed Nov 20, 2002 5:56 pm
Location: Deutschland
Contact:

Post by Kapuziner » Sat Mar 31, 2007 2:48 pm

Hi bdennis,

well, old fellow, now I can confirm! Well done and carry on!

Servus
Kapu
SUUM CUIQUE

Post Reply