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Towing Combination Against Allied Convoys

Romantic Technofreak

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Hi all,

let me present a project to you, whose components were real, but their combination is phantasy. If the Axis countries ever wanted to win, they needed to vanquish Britain, and this was only possible by cutting the communication lines in the Atlantic. The U-boat war proved incapable to do this, especially lacking sufficient help from the air. Especially, the Allies by 1 December 1943 sported a carrier force of not less than 85 vessels. They even did not need to protect the North Atlantic convoys by a greater number of them, but in case of emergency, they could have done so, if necessary at the expense of other theaters.

I mean, had there been any greater threat to the Convoys, e.g. by a big number of Heinkel He 177 bombers equipped with Hs 293 gliding bombs, something else had been needed to knock out the carriers. Giving the complete number of 85 vessels, the Aliies with ease could have gathered 30 ones to protect a single North Atlantic convoy, by this summing up a number of 600 carrier fighter aircraft which would easily repel any German far-range bomber force (had there been any).

So, what to do if you are on the German side? Only the emerging jet aircraft force had been capable to breach the Allied fighter cover. But no German jet aircraft by far had the suiting range to near the convoys. The only chance had been to haul them outward - and tow them back home, if there was a chance to meet again.

I think, the Messerschmitt Me 264 could have been used to tow the "Jet Mistel" combination consisting of Heinkel He 162 and Arado E.377 out into the Atlantic. Approaching a convoy, the jet aircraft are released, and their lonely pilots have to find a convoy-protecting carrier, dive onto it and to notch the E.377 with its explosive charge, then try to flee. Meanwhile, the Me 264s fly circles or other maneuvres outside the range of the carrier fighters, waiting for He 162s trying to find them.
If so, the little Heinkel is latched again by a special mechanism, and the combination heads home.

Had there been any chance to realize this? Well, nobody will ever know exactly. But, I mean, if by early autumn of 1942 a greater change in German strategy had appeared, in best case together with a peace or armistice in the East, it was possible by spring of 1944 to make use of a force like described.

Furthermore, I mean there had been enough voluntary pilots to perform this kind of task, if you consider there was no problem to find ones for suicide missions in the manned version of the Fieseler Fi 103 or for ramming duties. This kind of attack is not meant to be particularly suicidal, although I have to admit it is not very far from this.

So I ask you to only to discuss direct military action against and around the convoys, not side theaters like Allied attacks on the bases (things like these must have been foreseen as well, resulting also in respecting counter measures, but these were different themes).

I like to show drawings of the combination on ground an in air. The components are available on the net, the combinaton is done by myself (the Me 264 with retracted landing gear by is a change of the standing/rolling one done by my humble drawing capabilities).

Regards, RT
 

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riggerrob

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The basic combination is possible, even if a bit far-fetched.
Oh!
Dozens of Notzi Wunder-Waffen were far-fetched.

The biggest challenge would involve re-connecting the He 162 to the tow rope. Nowadays, we would use a USN probe-and-drogue modified from its aerial refuelling role.
How long would it take Notzis to prefect that sort of tow system?

This system would be most valuable more than an hour west of the UK, beyond the range of land-based fighters.

An in-flight refuelling system would also be valuable for ferrying the mothership past Ireland. All the mothership has to do is fly high and wide of the convoy, dodging in and out of clouds to confuse naval interceptor airplanes.
 

Romantic Technofreak

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Hi Rob,

thank you for answering me. I calculate, the mass-production of Me 264s could not start before late 1943, so numbers would be available in 1944. The jet components are smaller and need less time for development, so by 1943/44 execises could be done to train the attacker pilots. Towing itself was not a big deal for the Luftwaffe, they were used to tow cargo gliders. It should also not been too hard to create a mechanism to hook up an aircraft in mid-air.

Yes, I think about Junkers Ju 290 and Blohm & Voss BV 222 as inflight tankers. But I would keep the motherships out of the range of carrier fighters. For detecting and shadowing convoys, confuse the fighter cover and perform the one or other harassment attack I would provide the Messerschmitt Me 261. With a range of approximately 8.000 km and a top speed of about 600 km/h the perfect aircraft to perform this task.

I think the worst thing to be done in this scenario is to find again the motherships when the attack is done. Probably most attacker pilots, so they survive the attack, would need to ditch their little aircraft. And hope some Axis U- or flying boat will pick them up before waves, sharks or Allies do so.

Regards, RT
 

DWG

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The ultimate requirement is to cut the supply of food, fuel and munitions to the UK. But to do that, you have to sink transports faster than the Allies can build them, and by this time you're talking about the US building 3 Liberty ships every two days, and for the last year of the war a Victory ship a day, with UK and Canadian production on top of that.

Your count of Allied carriers is also significantly short, there were around 130 escort carriers alone by the end of the war.

Even assuming Germany could build the bomber force - and that duralumin needs to come from somewhere, so is the Fuhrer happy sacrificing the day and nightfighter force in Germany? - the problem is getting it to the target. Convoys can be routed defensively, keeping them away from the threat, and the UK is positioned astride the direct route to the Atlantic, forcing the bombers to take a southern route over Biscay, or a northern route through the GIUK - and the latter would require developing bomber fields in Norway. The Germans were reliant on u-boats stumbling across convoys for targetting wolf-packs, and a bomber force needs a more precise course report than u-boats because it can't afford to hang-around.

So assume everything has gone right and the bomber stream launches to its calculated meeting point. It has to take off, assemble, then take the long way around to get to the target. Meanwhile the Allies will be watching the bases, and Norway and France had well-developed resistance networks. So even while the bombers are assembling, London is getting word that they're up and aircraft are being despatched to shadow them to provide course reports. And the allied fighter force is being told to warm-up their engines. And that's includes the Coastal Command Strike Wings, and long range fighter is exactly what the Beaufighter was designed as before we hung torpedoes or rockets under them. If need be, adding Air-Intercept radar back into the Beaufighter is positively trivial, because they were used as nightfighters earlier in the war, so the plans already exist.

And if you get through that fighter gauntlet, then the convoy's escorts are waiting, with fighters of their own if there's a significant air threat, and all the AA capability their escorts bring with them. The UK is by this point looking at pivoting production of ASW frigates to AA for operations in the Pacific anyway, and it's not a major change to get from a Loch to a Bay, potentially it's even refittable to existing Lochs and Castles if needed. Japan just couldn't cause severe damage to US carrier groups, even throwing scores of kamikazes at them - the situation was so bad they they actually lost fewer pilots after the switch to kamikazes - and that's essentially the threat here.

And realistically, by this point in the war France had been rendered almost uninhabitable to the Luftwaffe, and the same could have been done to Norway with only slightly more difficulty.

And perhaps the ultimate obstacle is Hermann Goering, who was implacably opposed to using the Luftwaffe to support the Kriegsmarine.
 

Justo Miranda

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The ultimate requirement is to cut the supply of food, fuel and munitions to the UK. But to do that, you have to sink transports faster than the Allies can build them, and by this time you're talking about the US building 3 Liberty ships every two days, and for the last year of the war a Victory ship a day, with UK and Canadian production on top of that.

Your count of Allied carriers is also significantly short, there were around 130 escort carriers alone by the end of the war.

Even assuming Germany could build the bomber force - and that duralumin needs to come from somewhere, so is the Fuhrer happy sacrificing the day and nightfighter force in Germany? - the problem is getting it to the target. Convoys can be routed defensively, keeping them away from the threat, and the UK is positioned astride the direct route to the Atlantic, forcing the bombers to take a southern route over Biscay, or a northern route through the GIUK - and the latter would require developing bomber fields in Norway. The Germans were reliant on u-boats stumbling across convoys for targetting wolf-packs, and a bomber force needs a more precise course report than u-boats because it can't afford to hang-around.

So assume everything has gone right and the bomber stream launches to its calculated meeting point. It has to take off, assemble, then take the long way around to get to the target. Meanwhile the Allies will be watching the bases, and Norway and France had well-developed resistance networks. So even while the bombers are assembling, London is getting word that they're up and aircraft are being despatched to shadow them to provide course reports. And the allied fighter force is being told to warm-up their engines. And that's includes the Coastal Command Strike Wings, and long range fighter is exactly what the Beaufighter was designed as before we hung torpedoes or rockets under them. If need be, adding Air-Intercept radar back into the Beaufighter is positively trivial, because they were used as nightfighters earlier in the war, so the plans already exist.

And if you get through that fighter gauntlet, then the convoy's escorts are waiting, with fighters of their own if there's a significant air threat, and all the AA capability their escorts bring with them. The UK is by this point looking at pivoting production of ASW frigates to AA for operations in the Pacific anyway, and it's not a major change to get from a Loch to a Bay, potentially it's even refittable to existing Lochs and Castles if needed. Japan just couldn't cause severe damage to US carrier groups, even throwing scores of kamikazes at them - the situation was so bad they they actually lost fewer pilots after the switch to kamikazes - and that's essentially the threat here.

And realistically, by this point in the war France had been rendered almost uninhabitable to the Luftwaffe, and the same could have been done to Norway with only slightly more difficulty.

And perhaps the ultimate obstacle is Hermann Goering, who was implacably opposed to using the Luftwaffe to support the Kriegsmarine.
And the fuel shortage
 

Romantic Technofreak

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I asked not to discuss side effects, but this always happens, so OK.

@DWG

Outproduction:
A frequent argument. I hate it to be cruel (although that's one thing war is), but there is one thing you need about 20 years to produce, and this is young men. No other American force suffered losses by percentage more than the merchant marine did. And if this escalated, it would become difficult to man the ships, no matter how fast you produce them. Same for the Allied bomber force.

Number of carriers:
I counted them for 1 Dec. 1943. I quote from memory when I say the escort carrier production was stopped by mid-1944. In reality, there had been enough of them by then.

Numbers of German aircraft in general:
Germany built masses of e.g. Bf 109 and Ju 88, most of them to be sacrificed in the East. A complete change in production program would not automatically cause a need in more raw material.

Allied strikes against German bases:
No single weapon would alone significantly change the war. My combination also would not. But this would be the result of a general change in strategy. Thus, Allied counter measures had to be calculated as well by a new German military leadership. This would mean protection of French/Norwegian air space, e.g. by new jet fighters, and attacks on British bases (please note fighter ace and post-war general Steinhoff demanded attacks on the bomber bases in England, but was turned down).

Comparison with Kamikaze attacks:
Maybe the most interesting argument. But the Kamikazes attacked any ship. There was no selection to destroy the tactically most important targets first. And the Japanese power was in despair and beginning disorder. Contrary to this, German Mistel attacks showed a great accuracy. Of course I don't know exactly, but I assume some number of Ar E.377 would breach the AA fire and hit, thus producing considerable damage and kicking the carrier out of action.

Göring:
The whole scenario only could have taken place with Hitler being toppled by, say, mid-September 1942, and Göring following as the Reich's president, by this giving the Luftwaffe into more suited hands.

@Justo - oil supply:
There was no significant shortage in aircraft fuel until the Allies bombed the hydrogenation plants in mid-1944. Counter argument see above "Allied strikes against German bases" correspondingly.

Thank you for your interest, and regards,
RT
 

Hood

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I must admit I am failing to see the logic behind the idea. Is the idea only a means to destroy the/one of escort carrier(s) in a convoy?
It seems a rather expensive and convoluted way to achieve that and what is the end goal? What does crippling an escort carrier bring? Temporary reduction of ASW air cover locally but if you're not in the mid-Atlantic gap that is less worrying and of course the escort ships can effectively hunt down U-boats without air cover. As to aerial attack, the Luftwaffe needs a bunch of long-range bombers to exploit this situation otherwise its pointless. The Allies just divert a carrier from another convoy or assign more VLR recon planes to cover the gap.

You also have to consider the hunting groups, those were the bigger killers of U-boats. No good depriving a convoy of air cover when there are other dedicated and well armed groups hunting down known plots of U-boats.

Now to the technicals.
You have a considerable mass to tow, an E.377a would be 9,000kg plus the He 162 at 2,800kg - that's 11,280kg of mass lugging behind, the Me 264 was designed to lift 6,000kg, so you're nearly doubling the payload.
A fully loaded Me 264 plus E.377 and He 162 for mid-Atlantic operations would weigh anything up to 67,000kg, that is a cumbersome load for take-off.
The 5-wheel trolley for E.377 was designed with four HWK 501 RATOG to achieve take-off with the He 162 or Ar 234 parent aircraft also contributing thrust from its jet engines. You can't RATOG a trolley behind a bomber being towed (it wasn't designed to be towed anyway), so you need to RATOG the Me 264 in this case to lug all that weight airborne.

You can't use the E.377 or He 162 jets for any length of time for take-off or cruise because then you compromise the already limited combat time for the He 162 and the terminal dive performance of the E.377.
Assuming you got off the ground with whatever thrust you can safely use, you now have two draggy bodies behind with three windmilling turbine engines, the range of the Me 264 is going to be drastically reduced by drag and with a slow climb and ponderous course any long-range fighter or Coastal Command torpedo-strike aircraft off the Biscay or Norway will have an easy kill. And if you haven't got enough fuel to get the Mistel out into the Atlantic beyond the bulk of the reach of Allied airpower then its a waste of resources.

The attack looks easy; detach, the He 162 pilot lines up the carrier, releases the E.377 and it either glides or is guided to the target by the He 162 pilot or an operator aboard the Me 264 assuming they can maintain line of sight to the target. If it hits its a sure kill. If it misses... its a long ride home and a lot of fuel wasted for no result.

The E.377 would be quite fast in the dive, given most escorts had 3 to 4in guns and 40-20mm AA guns optimised for slower aircraft and that convoy AA defence is dispersed around the convoy, I would say the chances of getting through are good, accuracy is so-so at best. But if the Allied ships are using VT fuzes then I think the chances are much lower.

The He 162 pilot could perhaps take care of any interfering fighter if he has the fuel or skill, remember he has few navigational aids and won't want to loose track of the parent to tow him home. If the carrier isn't hit then a scramble of Wildcats/Hellcats/Seafires will overwhelm the He 162 and they can chase down the Me 264. The He 162 can't fly and fight for long periods.

Now the tricky part assuming he makes it back to the parent Me 264. You need a second towrope and one with a drogue stabiliser, as far as I know, no aircraft ever latched onto a trialing rope in this period, the drogue refuelling method not appearing in crude form until 1948. Most 'parasite' aircraft in this period were latched with hooks. Maybe instead the He 162 could latch onto the Me 264 belly and then land separately? Even so its a risky operation, if he can't find the parent, can't hook on or if the hook breaks then its a long swim home.

Not discussing side effects is a big get out clause, without the other effects you can't hope to seriously assess whether a scheme like this is feasible.
So in summary, I would say this is the kind of crazy wunderwaffen that would be dreamt up but there are countless problems to overcome and the resources needed for the outcome seem disproportionate.
Germany had far more easier and effective methods they could have used than to utilise this kind of complicated set up.
 

Romantic Technofreak

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Hi Hood, thanks for your writing.

The "one" carrier:
I speak about 30 or even more carriers which the Allies would or could gather to protect a single convoy. This because before my scenario the Germans would attack convoys with large numbers of bombers equipped with glide bombs. So the Allies need to get a sufficient fighter cover for the convoys, which in reality they did not. The carrier fighters would be able to repel the bomber force. If the carriers are knocked out, the bombers would come again and finish off the merchant ships - that's the plan.

Towing out (and again back):
I chose the Me 264 because it has the longest range and was designed to attack the American mainland. Attacks on convoys would need much less of range. But surely, the combination suffers considerable drag, so it might have been necessary to use even more complicated methods. Like refuelling in mid-air, changing the towing aircraft (maybe the one shift heads home after releasing the attack combination, the other comes to a gathering point to pick up the still flying survivors). The Me 264 itself has to stay out of the range of the carrier fighters, otherwise it would fall victim to them by an unacceptable account.

Latching in mid-air:
The things you need for this are a loop and a hook, then try it in mid-air. I think this had been not too complicated.

VT fuses:
May become a real problem. The next idea would be to launch rockets like a charge-equipped A5. Not as accurate like a mistel, but better than nothing.

Easier and effective methods?
Don't hesitate to tell me!:)

BTW, subchasers could be attacked by Me 261s firing 37mm missiles and rockets... but only when there is no more carrier fighter force...


Regards, RT
 

Hood

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I think the initial premise is flawed, there is no way 30 escort carriers are going to be escorting one convoy. Even on the Arctic convoys which actually faced a credible aerial threat did not have such escorts, even the invasions in Europe were not covered by such forces! For 30 escort carriers that implies a massive escorting force, probably around 40-80 escorts of all types, radar pickets, a couple of cruisers, maybe even a battleship. Even if you only have 6 fighters on each escort carrier that's 180 fighters, chuck in a couple of light fleet carriers and its well over 200 fighters, even for most fleet vs fleet engagements that's a high number. Route the convoys further north and the Allies can easily cover them with even more long-range fighters from Iceland. You are talking so much firepower that the chances of any success are very limited and this scenario is in the realms of fantasy and makes its harder to assess in terms of credibility.

Mistels proved ineffectual, there were few uses of them and only a few hit their targets, the USAAF who tried Operation Aphrodite scored no hits and was a complete failure. Even if you have a 20% hit rate, that's only 6 carriers lost, the convoy still has 24 afloat and 288 aircraft left. Plus each E.377 is wasting two jet engines, for every one built that's one less Ar 234 or Me 262 which could have far better uses as Germany is being pounded into rubble (plus each Me 264 is taking the resources of four Fw 190s).

Me 261s with armament and armour and self-sealing tanks would have much less range and it was designed for high-altitude cruising, not low-level strafing work, its not a Mosquito.

Latching in mid-air is not easy, that is obvious as all experiments with it were just that, none of them made it into any kind of operational use. Even looped refuelling methods were deemed too dangerous until the drogue method came along to save the day, and the USAF soon moved on to the fixed boom for stability.

Easier methods?
The submarine is always the better platform in oceanic waters for destroying shipping, aircraft are best used in littoral environments.
Try ditching Engima or altering the settings more regularly so your U-boats aren't tracked out of harbour. Doubtless some buffoon at Luftwaffe HQ has blabbed your plan over an Engima network too so Bletchley already know all about your tug idea.
Take more credible actions to react to Allied radar sooner so the U-boats have some chance of survivng.
Change U-boat tactics, Donitz got foxed in 1943 and never had a real grasp on the situation after that, he just threw more men and subs into an impossible situation.
 
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EwenS

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Or just have the U-boats stop using their radios so much so that the Y service can’t get so many fixes to allow rerouting.
 

Romantic Technofreak

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Hi Hood,

There is no way?
The Allied had 85 - 130 carriers, didn't they? And which number of them were or could have been underway? Nearly all? If on the expense of other theaters, it could have been managed to gather them.

Arctic convoys
Were stopped for the summer of 1943. The northern route had proven too dangerous in all-time sunlight.

Allied long-range fighters. e.g. from Iceland?
The idea is to attack on a point which is still out of range for a long-range fighter like the P-38, or it is at the utmost edge of its range.
Well, there maybe people who say there is no business like the show business of a BoB 2.0 over the North Channel, where all the ships have to queue and crowd, especially with German long-range fighters like an updated Fw 187 involved. So, all this far-out thing would prove unnecessary. But I would prefer this with an opponent who is already weakend, for missing supply.

Mistel successes
As much as I know, Mistel use was not completely ineffective. I doubt the compatibility to Operation Aphrodite.

Carrier losses
If you calculate a loss of 6 carriers per attack, how long does it take to attrite the carrier force? 6 months? 9 months? Every one or two weekes loss of 6 carriers? I mean this would be disastrous!

(Jet) Fighters over Germany
Do you know that in 1944 Germany produced nearly as much fighters as USA + UK together? But, as we know, to no prevail. For winning a war, one must be offensive. A defensive force, as jet fighters were, could only yield a limited, tactical success. Even if the Allied bomber offensive had failed, IMHO Britain had only given up if the supply route had been cut.

Me 261 redesigned
Me 261s with armament and armour and self-sealing tanks and radio equipment would have much less range. But would be a likewise Mosquito - but still with excess range! This here is the phantasy project section, so it is the right point for to talk about redesigned real aircraft that never were.

Latching in mid-air
I don't know much about this, I mean nobody really tried except the USS Macon and Akron boardplanes, and that was nothing comparable. I think had the need been seen, trials would have been performed and pilots had been able to do this. But ok, this is fictional.

Submarine war
In my eyes, submarine warfare is the maritime version of partisan warfare. This means you fight an opponent who generally has the upper hand. You write: "Change U-boat tactics, Donitz got foxed in 1943 and never had a real grasp on the situation after that, he just threw more men and subs into an impossible situation."
That's exactly why I don't emphasize much on the U-boat war. And yes, EwenS, they could have been less talkative. But I mean, this had not changed too much.
There were possible improvements for the U-boats as well. But I mean, they also had profitted had the Luftwaffe wrought havoc on the convoys.

Regards, RT
 

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