Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Normandy Neger

 In 1943 as the war clearly turned against them the Germans started to look at new ways to attack the enemy. One such means was developed by the Kriegsmarine. One of their formations was the Kommando der Kleinkampfverbände, usually shortened to the K-verbände. This translates as ‘Small Combat Units Command’. The idea seemed to be that of the naval special forces, highly elite people conducting daring attack operations using specialist military craft. Similar to the Italian MAS or the British X-craft.

One other feature of this branch of the Navy was the use of small, and ultimately very cheap craft for its attacks. One such weapon was the Neger attack craft. This was literally a G7e 21in electric torpedo with the warhead replaced by a primitive cockpit, and the engine down rated to give a slower cruising speed of 3 knots. This meant that the total range was about 30 nautical miles. A second, fully functional G7e was then slung underneath the modified torpedo. The cockpit contained the controls and had a Perspex dome on top. The pilot would then sit inside the cockpit, and used a compass strapped to his wrist as his only means of navigation. The torpedo ran just under the surface, and an aiming stalk was added to the nose. The inside of the dome was marked with targeting marks to help judge speed of the target. When the pilot was lined up with his target, he yanked a handle that started the engine on the normal torpedo, and hopefully released it sending it on its way. Should the torpedo fail to release the modified torpedo would be carried along with the live torpedo’s much stronger engine output. If the pilot had aimed correctly and was unable to release the dome in time the entire mass would strike the target ship blowing him up. As the view from the cockpit was at sea level the pilot’s visual range was quite short, thus the distance from the target was correspondingly miniscule. This meant that he would only have a few seconds to react in a hang up. Other threats to the pilot’s life include toxic fumes from the batteries mixing with seawater, and suffocation from CO2 build up. Getting lost or having to abandon ship would also be highly likely to be terminal while at sea. The name Neger came from the colour of the craft, which was painted entirely black. 

Neger being winched into the sea.

Nevertheless about 200 Negers were built. Their first sortie was against the Anzio beachhead in April 1944. Things went very badly. Of the thirty to be used in the attack, thirteen capsized on being launched. The remaining seventeen all proceeded to attack the shipping. None made a successful attack, and only fourteen returned to base. To make matters even worse, a complete Neger with torpedo attached was washed up on the beach and found by the Americans, completely giving the game away. A detailed report was published, and distributed, in an intelligence report on the 9th of June. 

US discovery of the Neger at Anzio.

By this time the K-verbände was sending the Neger units to Normandy to face the Normandy landings. Around the 13th of June K-flotilla 361, with sixty Negers, was being driven by road from Germany to Paris. Here they split into two groups, one setting up at Favrol Woods the other at Pont l’Eveque. At the latter location, the troops commandeered a farm hiding the Negers in stables. At both sites German engineers cleared a path through the beach defences and installed wooden ramps to allow the launching and recovery of the craft by wheeled carriages. The ramps were camouflaged during the day. 

Neger on wheeled launch trolley.

Limited by the tides, as to improve their chances, the Negers needed to be launched in darkness on an ebb tide, the first date for an attack was the night of the 5th/6th of July. Twenty-six craft were launched from Favrol Woods. Two had engine malfunctions and had to abort, of the remaining number 24 managed to make attacks during the early hours of the 6th. It would take two to three hours to reach the fleet, wallowing in the waves, the pilots cockpit would often be submerged by the waves. Even if the pilot saw a target, even the slowest transport was faster than him, so he had a very limited attack envelope. The first torpedo was launched at 0307, it passed under a motor launch but missed the intended target of a Landing Craft Gun. The motor launch had seen the torpedo track and turned towards the Neger at speed, but before they could close up they had to break off as nearby vessels raked the craft with gunfire. Another Neger began to take on water in the rear of the craft, causing the manned torpedo to begin to stand upright in the water. To avoid the combined weight of the water and live torpedo dragging him down, the pilot fired. The live torpedo’s tail struck the Neger, ripping open the hull, causing the pilot to have to bail out. He managed to reach shore by swimming.  Other torpedoes were launched throughout the hours before dawn, and some found their targets. Two ships, HMS Magic and HMS Cato (both minesweepers) were sunk by Neger torpedoes that night. By 0600 the torpedo attacks were over. However, the Negers still had to return to base. One pilot was still afloat at 0930 heading for home when he was spotted by a fighter passing overhead. It appears the Negers were very easy to see from the air during daylight, due in part to the black paint. The fighter attacked, strafing the craft, and the pilot managed to bail and swim to shore, albeit he was exhausted by the time he reached land. Of the craft launched only ten returned. 

Neger under way. You can see the aiming rod on the nose here.

On the night of the 7th/8th another twenty-one Negers were launched at 2225. This time none would return, although a few were successful in launching their torpedoes. The big-name hit was the light cruiser ORP Dragon, which was hit towards the stern. The damage was so severe she was beached for repairs, but later towed and scuttled as a breakwater for the Mulberry harbours. 

ORP Dragon, stripped of her equipment, and serving out her final duty as a breakwater off the Normandy beaches.

During the second attack several Negers are thought to have carried out attacks against HMS Centurion, and old battleship being used as a breakwater. The HMS Centurion was first claimed by a German coastal artillery battery that stated they had sunk it with heavy loss of life. From the gunners position they had been firing at a ship, which had then begun to sink in shallow water. They had also seen only a few crew abandoning the craft, which led to the claim. Part of the problem of determining what the Negers sunk is down to the situation at sea. The Luftwaffe was dropping free floating mines in the area, E-boats would make high speed attack runs lobbing torpedoes into the shipping. Equally, the Negers had only one crewman with no means of recording his location or targets apart from his memory. What was clear was that the Negers were horribly vulnerable and the loss rate was staggering. After this second attack no further attacks were carried out. 


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