During World War II, Germany tried to destroy Allied merchant fleet and interrupt Britain’s supply lines, seeing this as an opportunity to win the war by collapsing the opponent’s economic potential. At the beginning of 1940, Kriegsmarine’s command turned their eyes on the Dogger Bank, a place abundant in fish aggregations in the North Sea, where at that time on average 60 British fishing trawlers stayed every day.
On 19 February 1940, the German fleet decided to send six destroyers to this area to take over enemy fishing vessels and at the same time force Royal Navy to send some vessels to protect fishermen, which would scatter their forces. At the same time, Luftwaffe operated there on the same day, and as it later turned out, neither the navy nor the air forces coordinated their actions.
The Vikinger operation started on February 22 and its comic course is best described in the following points: (history below is not a joke):
- The German Heinkel He 111 bomber flew over the Dogger Bank for exploratory purposes. Kriegsmarine was not informed about it, so the crews of six destroyers did not know whether it was their own or the enemy. Similarly, Heinkel’s pilot was not aware of the presence of the German navy in that area.
- The bomber disappeared and started to observe the flotilla. At the same time, three German captains recognized the Luftwaffe machine, but another three recognized that it was the enemy and their destroyers started to fire Heinkel. The attacked pilot decided to repay himself by bombing “enemy” ships and during the second flight the destroyer “Leberecht Maass” was shot. The explosion on the midship broke through the ship, which immediately began to sink.
- Another flotilla ship,”Max Schultz” turned to help “Leberecht Maass”, but she hit a mine and started to sink.
- The other captains were sure that “Max Schultz” was attacked by an enemy submarine, so they started to drop around some depth charges, which only caused more chaos.
- As a result of this madness, the destroyer “Theodor Riedel” destroyed her rudder and started to swim around.
- In order to help the sailors of the destroyed ships, “Erich Koellner” captain ordered to send a motorboat to start rescuing people from the icy water. However, the ship itself increased its speed too fast and killed the entire motorboat’s crew.
Without any contact with Royal Navy (and even without contact with British fishermen) two destroyers were lost, one was seriously damaged and 590 German seamen were killed. Although it was supposed to be a piece of cake, Operation “Wikinger” was one of the greatest embarrassments of German armed forces during World War II.
The subsequent investigation revealed a lack of coordination between Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. The official guilty party was declared Heinkel pilot, and despite the development of procedures for the future, commanding the joint actions of the German navy and air forces was far from perfect by the end of the war.