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Tuesday, 23 January 1945

Jagdkorps II’s orders for the coming night were issued at 13.30 GMT:

LG 1 with subordinated I./KG 66 will carry out Unternehmen Zeisig, if weather is suitable, in the first half of the night. Target Area A. Intended time for attack is to be reported by 15.00 [GMT].

Warnings passed to Flak and Kriegsmarine units indicated that Ju 88s (probably pathfinders from I./KG 66) were to cross the coast at Zandvoort some time after 16.00 GMT and return by the same route. After 17.00, more Junkers would take-off from the Vechta-Varel area, fly over den Helder and on to Vlissingen, again returning the same way.

NOTES: None of these signals seems to have been deciphered in time to provide warning of the raid.

See here for a map of operations over Holland and Belgium during the evening of 23 January.

On the Allied side, hundreds of anti-aircraft guns were deployed in the target area, mainly to defend against V-1 flying-bombs bombarding Antwerp. Second Tactical Air Force was also active that night: Swordfish biplanes attacked German shipping off the Dutch coast but could not observe the results; a Wellington of No. 69 Squadron went missing on a photo-reconnaissance flight; and defensive patrols were flown by night fighters.

Around 16.00 GMT, eight pathfinders from the I./KG 66 which began taking off off from Dedelstorf. The lead aircraft, flown by an experienced crew of the 3. Staffel, was to place its Lux buoy in the Scheldt Estuary in mid-channel between Vlissingen and Breskens; its canister of ground markers was to be released 3 km ESE of the former town. The remaining seven machines were to follow at two-minute intervals, backing up the markers as required (but bringing home any that were not needed). The last marker aircraft was due over its target at 17.45 and all eight Junkers carried bombs for use against targets of opportunity, especially AA sites. They were to fly at low level from base to Hoek van Holland and thence to Westkapelle on Walcheren before making their run-in. While I./KG 66 had long specialised in electronic systems, dead-reckoning was to be the primary means of navigation on this particular raid.

Ju 88 S-3, Z6+FH of 1./KG 66 came down at 18.30 GMT beside Heiplasstraat in Lede, 30 km NW of Brussels. Its three-man crew bailed out successfully and all were taken prisoner: Ltn. Peter Schulz (pilot), Uffz. Karl-Heinz Struhs (Observer) and Uffz. Karl-Heinz Oldenburg (Wireless Operator). They had left Dedelstorf at 16.00 hrs. as the second pathfinder crew to take off, in addition to sea and ground markers they carried 18 x SD 50 bombs intended for the airfield at Knokke le Zoute or, failing that, any anti-aircraft batteries they encountered.

They arrived early over Westkapelle, so made a wide orbit before running in to place their markers. Intense AA necessitated evasive action which left them off course and having to try a third time. They made another orbit, only to find that the Lux buoy’s release gear was apparently damaged by the gunfire. While positioning themselves for a run using the manual release, AA hits severed their rudder controls. Schulz sought to regain German lines but the gunfire continued, setting an engine on fire, and he ordered his men to bail out. Oldenburg took to his parachute (he landed near Terneuzen), the others following after one further attempt to get the Junkers under control. Apparently Struhs was not captured until the 25th, at Antwerp.

Schulz was interviewed by Belgian researchers Cynrik De Decker and Jean-Louis Roba in 1992. He had flown with KG 54 in Italy including the December 1943 attack on Bari, and from May 1944 with KG 66 against England. On his last flight, he recalled being fired on by an AA position north of Breskens, then finding that his damaged Ju 88 was past saving. According to Schulz, Oldenburg had bailed out over Schoonaarde (37 km south east of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, where the British said he was captured). Struhs went next, followed by his pilot. The crewless bomber kept flying a little longer while Schulz landed on a roof of a farm building on Babbelaarstraat, Hofstade, Belgium. He slid off into a ditch, suffering a minor injury and, after changing his mind about setting off, asked to stay the night in the farmer’s hayloft. It was there that British soldiers found him, after being alerted by a neighbour. Apparently British Intelligence documents note that Struhs was not captured until the 25th, at Antwerp. He landed in a snow-covered field, removed his more conspicuous insignia and walked for two days, hoping to regain German lines. This seemed feasible because he carried a survival kit which included food. In one town, Military Police in a jeep saluted him and drove on but he was apprehended—without drama by the MPs in a second vehicle.

NOTE: Struhs is so named in several documents from his captivity (and, reportedly, in the relevant German Verlustmeldung). His Belgian interviewers use Struss, a more common surname in Germany than Struhs, but it is not clear whether he had always used this or changed to it at some point.

At least one LG 1 aircraft broke off the operation early and was heard returning to Twente. The RAF’s No. 85 Group (which controlled the night fighters defending the area) summed up the night’s events as follows:

12–20 e/a operated in the Scheldt area from 1836 to 1920 hours [GMT+1] on a minelaying sortie. One of these, a Ju 88, was destroyed by 409 Squadron. The Ostend guns shot down a further Ju 88 and AA claim a further six, one of which crashed near Aalst.

According to the Naval Officer in Command at Ostend:

Approx. 20 hostile aircraft operated in [the Ostend] area between 1845 and 1930 today Tuesday. One aircraft shot down at Bredene with mine still intact. This will be investigated tomorrow Wednesday. Track charts suggest probable minelaying in Q.Z.S. 584 and Q.Z.S. 657 between N.F. 13 buoy and N.F. 15 buoy.

The Ju 88 at Bredene was an A-4 (W.Nr. 3538 L1+FN) of 4./LG 1. It was described by investigators as appearing to be an old aircraft and completely destroyed. All four crew were posted missing and pilot Fw. Horst Schimansky is buried in the Lommel military cemetery. Another was shot down by Pilot Officers J. Simpson and M.J. Kent who had taken off at 17.35 GMT and were patrolling off the mouth of the Scheldt under control of WINDSCREEN (Chain Overseas Low station 15093, at Ostend). They were turning on to the southerly leg of their patrol when alerted to some “trade” behind them at 5,000 ft. (1500 m). Kent got a contact at the same altitude, 30 to starboard at 2 miles’ (3.2 km) range. The target aircraft began to descend and make hard turns to port and starboard “as though searching for targets of opportunity.”

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Nick Beale 2020–23

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