T24 in the foreground
This is the continuation of the story of a German sailor as told by his son Willi. His father Wilhelm Küllertz did not talk much about the attack of the Beaufighters who sank the T24 torpedo boat so I went on the Internet to find more information… which I did!
In the estuary of the Gironde, both ships appeared together several times. Because of fuel scarcity and unrepaired damage from different attacks since April 29, 1944, both ships were used to protect against air raids on Royan and Le Verdon region as floating anti-aircraft ships. After the evacuation of Bordeaux in the August 1944, the fortresses of Gironde-North (Royan) and of Gironde-South (Le Verdon) were formed.
On 24 August, 1944, the T24 and the Z24 lay again on stand by in the Gironde estuary. They suffered another serious air strike from two squadrons of Coastal Command, RCAF 404 Squadron, and RAF 236 Squadron. The ships were attacked by a total of 18 Beaufighter combat aircraft. This was one of the first rocket attacks in history.
During this battle T24 received some hits below the waterline and sank immediately. Z24 was still able to reach Le Verdon but later in the night also sank. There were many dead and injured. However the harbour protection flotilla was able to save most of the seamen. Wilhelm Küllertz survived the attack without any major injuries and he was able to escape the sinking boat in time. Despite the rough sea (the strong current of the Gironde) he was able to survive and was saved. According to his own accounts, he was unharmed and he was able to support the rescue work and he helped to save lives. I know that my father got awarded the iron cross (both classes). He never told me for what actions he received the two classes. My guess is that he got the second class with many others of his ship after the fight with the Athabaskan, and possibly they gave him the first class for his efforts to save lives in the Gironde after the sinking of the T24.
I am not the author of the following story originally written in French.
The source is here:
The story of the attack which occured on August 24, 1944 is quite remarkable, and described the sinking of the T24, the ship of Willi Küllertz’s father.
German fleets in Gironde
I’m going to present you with a true story, which my father told me when I was a kid and of which I found traces in my grandfather’s archives. These are historical facts that took place in the Gironde estuary and retrace some of the Kriegsmarine’s feats of arms in the region. The text is quite long and I tried to decorate it with pictures from different periods of the different ships taken on site.
German fleets in Gironde:
The first fleets arrived in Gironde in the summer of 1940. For four years, under the authority of the 4. Sicherungsdivision, these fleets were responsible for escorting convoys along the southwest coast and ensuring the safety of the Gironde estuary.
2. M. Flotille of Korvettenkapitän Kurt Thoma arrived at the end of August 1940 to clear the minefields. The following month came the 4.Vp.Flotilla of K.Kpt. Karl Wilhelm Müssen which was based in Bordeaux. In January 1943, the 2.M.Flotille was transferred to Bénodet, then replaced in Royan by the 8.M.Flotille of K. Kpt Gerhard von Kamptz.
At the beginning of August, the port of Royan was home to the 2. Sperrbrecher-Flotille of K. Kpt Rudolf Kömer. In the spring of 1942, the 8.M.Flotille left the Gironde to join the English Channel and was replaced by the 6.M.Flotille of the K.Kpt Hans John. This one, was joined in March 1943 by the 28.M.Flotille, of the K.Kpt Gerhard Bidlingmaier, which was based in Pauillac. Finally in June, the 6.M.Flotille joined Concarneau and the 8.M.Flotille returned to Royan. In 1944, only the 8. and 28.
The 2 M. Flotillen, the Sperrbrecher-Flotille and the 4.
Vp. Flotille remained in Gironde, all of which were destroyed in August by Allied aircraft.
This patrol fleet, incorporated in Germany on 25 September 1939, is equipped with 19 coded vessels from V404 to V411, V413 to V415, V420 to V422 and V424.
2. Sperrbrecher flottille
This fleet, established in Wessermünde, Germany on 1 July 1940, consists of merchant ships adapted for the dredging of magnetic mines. It lines up 18 buildings. The Tulane was once transformed into a command ship; this fleet, formed in Germany in 1936, has 13 M35 or M39 class vessels.
This fleet was formed on March 14, 1941 in Kiel-Wik, and is assigned to Royan for use in dredging, convoying and protection missions for ships in transit along the coast. It has 14 vessels of types M35, 38, 39 and 40.
This fleet, reconstituted on May 15, 1942, has 14 vessels of class M39.
Constituted on December 1, 1942, with the crews of the former 18. M-Flottille, this fleet has 9 vessels of type M40.
The 8. Zerstorer flotilla
At the beginning of 1943, blockade breakers had increasing difficulty falling through the mesh of the net set by the Anglo-Saxons. The High Command therefore decided to transfer a fleet of destroyers to Gironde in order to protect their movements in the dangerous Bay of Biscay.
Chosen for this mission, the 8.Z. Flotilla left Norway to reach Le Havre on March 6 after a short visit to a German port. In two night stages, the Z23, Z24 and Z32 reach the Gironde, which they reach on the morning of 8 March, after having spent the previous day in Cherbourg. Escorted to the estuary by the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim, they finally arrived in Bordeaux at 8:00 am. The Z37, which remained in Le Havre for damage, will join Royan on the evening of 19 March with the T2.
The destroyers then carried out several escort missions, Operation Sacco to protect the Himalayan blockade breaker, or Operation Arno to meet the Pietro Orseolo arriving from the Far East. On May 3, the Z23, Z24 and Z32 left the Gironde for a series of exercises in the Gulf. On its return on May 6, the Z23 reached La Pallice where it will remain in general overhaul for four months, until August 10. The other two destroyers are returning to Bordeaux. A patrol took them to Brest on June 4, but they returned to Royan five days later. On June 14, they set sail to meet U-564, which had just issued a distress call. But the Z32 had to turn around on mechanical problems and the Z24 arrived too late, the submarine having been sunk by a Whitley of the No. 10 OTU. His crew, rescued by U-185, was transferred to the destroyer that took him to Gironde.
At the beginning of the following month, the Z24 and Z37 left to collect the U-180, U-518 and U-530 returning from operations. They accompanied them to Bordeaux on July 3. Finally, on July 22nd, the Z24, Z32 and Z37 escorted the U-117, U-459 and U-461 departing in operation. In the following months, the fleet’s activity will consist of a few trips to the Bay of Biscay to carry out manoeuvres and firing and torpedoing exercises. On November 5, the fleet was reinforced by the destroyers Z27 and ZH1, which arrived at Le Verdon in the evening. In December the fleet also participates in the escort of blockade breakers returning from the Far East.
On 1 January 1944, the Z24 was transferred to La Pallice to undergo a major overhaul at the Kriegsmarinewerft, which would last four months. On January 29, three destroyers set sail for a series of exercises in the Gulf. But in the night the Z32 violently collided with the Z37 following a false manoeuvre, causing a torpedo to explode aboard the latter. Fires broke out on both destroyers, but they were brought under control. Severely damaged on starboard aft, the Z37 can be towed by the Z23 to the Chantiers de la Gironde, but it will remain unavailable until it is finally scuttled on 25 August. The Z32, with its bow down, will remain unavailable until May 2. Fleet activity will be relatively limited until landing.
However, on March 9, the Z23 and ZH1 departed for the southern Bay of Biscay to meet the Japanese submarine I-29, which they escorted with the T27 and T29 torpedo boats to Lorient.
On May 5, the fleet was joined by the Z24, which had just completed its overhaul.
A final exercise was conducted in the Gulf by the four destroyers between May 17 and 19, then the Z23 moved to La Pallice for a new overhaul.
Thus, it was only with three destroyers that the 8.Z-Flottille, commanded by the Kpt.z.S Theodor Freiherr von Mauchenheim, left the Gironde on June 6 to fight the Allied invasion fleet. Only the Z24 will return from there, to be sunk in front of the Verdon on August 24th in the company of the T24. The Z23, damaged on 12 and 16 August by British heavy bombers targeting the port of La Pallice, will be scuttled on 21 August.
Objective: annihilation of surface forces
At the end of July 1944, the British launched a major offensive (Operation “Kinetic”) against the last ships of the Kriegsmarine on the Bay of Biscay coast. The formidable fighter-bombers of Coastal Command have appeared above the estuary and in one month, they will cause a real slaughter. Their first victim was the auxiliary dredger M4457 ex-C.P. Andersen (423 BRT) which was sunk on 28 July in front of Hourtin. During the same attack, the V410 patrol boat was damaged. Infested with mines and continuously overflown by fighter bombers, the waters of the estuary become extremely dangerous. With the month of August, the descent into hell for the Kriegsmarine’s ships based in Gironde will be fast and irreversible.
Navigation is becoming increasingly difficult, hampered by the many magnetic mines that pose a significant threat. Almost every night, a dozen Halifax from Bomber Command come to drop them off in the estuary. Heavy dredgers and Sperrbrechers do their best to clear mines, but the task is enormous. On August 11, two dredgers from the 8.M-Flottille left Bordeaux with supplies for the fortress of Saint-Nazaire. But at 7:55 pm in front of Pauillac, the M27 of the ObIt.z.S. Christoph Schickel hit a mine and sank. The shipwreck caused forty-one deaths, including the K.Kpt. Arnuif Hoizerkopf, Commander of the flotilla. Damaged on August 17 at 12:20 am, the M363 heavy dredger managed to return to Bordeaux. The next day, the M304 was also damaged. The auxiliary dredger M4207 ex-Les Baleines (253 BRT) is less fortunate. It sank at 18:57 near buoy No. 35, and the main threat to shipping in Gironde came from the sky. On the morning of August 12, thirty-five Mosquitos of No. 235 and 248 Squadrons attacked ships operating at the entrance to the estuary. In front of Royan, they attacked with a bomb and cannon a heavy dragger and three patrol boats. Seriously hit, the M370 must ground at 10:20.
In front of Le Verdon, the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim is only slightly damaged at 10:30 am, but its hours are limited. The patrol boat V410 ex-Germania (427 BRT), burned at 10:45 am, was abandoned by its crew who killed two people. The large Sperrbrechers are one of the favourite prey of hunter-bombers.
On the morning of August 13, at 9:30 am, eighteen Beaufighters from No. 236 and 404 Squadrons led by W-Cdr A. Gadd surprised the Sperrbrecher 5 Schwanheim (5339 BRT) and the Sperrbrecher 6 Magdeburg (6128 BRT) at anchor in front of Royan.
Attacked by rocket and cannon, they retaliated violently but were quickly set on fire. They will sink in the morning of the next day. The crews suffered many casualties, including thirteen deaths on the Schwanheim and eight on the Magdeburg. An aircraft from No. 236 Squadron was shot down.
On August 14, the Mosquitos damaged the Destroyer Z24, which had been spotted the day before without being attacked, and the tanker Schwarzes Meer (3371 BRT) in front of Le Verdon. Just out of repair following the June 9 engagement in Brittany, the destroyer received five rockets and a hundred shells that still caused major damage.
On August 21, after several days of bad weather, the fighter-bombers returned to the estuary. At 5:30 pm, the Mosquitos of No. 235 and 248 Squadrons sank the heavy dredger M292 and damaged the patrol boat V407. Three days later, they sank in front of Royan the patrol boat V473 ex-Ferdinand Niedermeyer (286 BRT). On the same day, August 24, the Beaufighters obtained their greatest victory by destroying the K.Kpt Z24 destroyer. Heinz Birnbacher and the Kptlt’s T24 torpedo boat. Wilhelm Meentzen in front of the Verdon (I will come back to this episode in partculier)
The last victim of the fighter-bombers is the small patrol boat V411 ex-Saarland (435 BRT) which was attacked on 26 August at 17 h 30 in front of Royan and sank following the explosion of his boiler. The next day, the V404 ex-Baden (321 BRT) and the M4206 ex-Picorre (287 BRT) were scuttled at Royan. The surviving crews of all these destroyed or scuttled buildings, especially those of the Sperrbrechers, will train in the Festung Gironde Nord, under the orders of the F.Kpt. Fritz Drevin, the Marine-Battalion Tirpitz, which will be integrated into the fortress’ defensive system (we can talk about all this one of these days, Laurent). From now on, apart from the small Hafenschutzbootts, there is not a single operational ship left in the estuary, the last of which were scuttled in Bordeaux. The destroyed Kriegsmarine has ceased to rule the Gironde.
On August 25, immediately after the departure of the last two U-Boote, the mining of the port of Bordeaux was undertaken. But the destruction of port facilities required by OKW will not happen. Indeed, with the approval of Gen. Lt. Albin Nake, the K. Kpt. Ernst Kûhnemann (Hafenkommandant) only had many ships scuttled in the Garonne during the day to cause a traffic jam. A dam has been set up at Lagrange, about ten kilometres downstream of Bordeaux. By effectively blocking the port, it will prohibit its use. Eighteen vessels, including former blockade breakers, were scuttled in three groups (downstream group: five vessels including Osorno (6951 BRT), Eisa Essberger (6103 BRT), Usaramo (7775 BRT) and Scharlacheberger (2877 BRT); central group : six vessels including Himalaya (6240 BRT), Rastenburg (4479 BRT), Tannenfels (7840 BRT) and Stanasfalt (2 468 BRT); upstream group: seven vessels including Fusijama (6 244 BRT), Nordmeer (5646 BRT) and Schwarzes Meer (3371 BRT). In Bordeaux itself, some twenty ships are sunk on the quays or in the middle of the Garonne, including the Sperrbrecher 3 Belgrad, the heavy dredgers M262, M304, M363 and M463 on the 28.M-Flottille, the auxiliary dredger M4442 ex-Touquet (251 BRT), the patrol boat V407 ex-Dorum (470 BRT), the tender Nordsee, the tanker Frisia (953 BRT), the cargo ships Derindje (3063 BRT), Dresden (5567 BRT) and Merceditta (1162 BRT), and the trawlers Brook (237 BRT) and Sardella (329 BRT). Twenty-two other ships were scuttled at Bassens, including eighteen dredges and the Burano tanker (4450 BRT). At the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde, the Sperrbrecher 14 Bockenheim and the destroyer Z37 are out of service, the last one in the major refit form. In all, nearly 200 boats representing 170,000 BRTs were intentionally sunk. Finally, the submarines U-178, U-188 and ITU-21 were scuttled in the U-Bunker (the Bordeaux submarine base), all of whose interior installations were dynamited.
August 14, 1944, the beginning of the end of Z24 and T24
T24 in the foreground
La 8. Zerstörer flotilla, placed under the command of the Kapitan zur See Freiherr Theodor von Mauchenheim Genannt Bechtolsheim, formed by Z24, Z32, ZH1 and T24, was attacked on June 9, 1944 off Batz Island, by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of Captain B. Jones. As a result of this engagement, the affected Z32 ran aground on the island of Batz, the severely damaged ZH1 sank and sank, while the Z24 and 724 managed to reach Brest.
On July 1, the Z24 and T24 left Brest for Bordeaux under the command of the new “pacha” of the 8. Zerstörer flotilla, the Fregattenkapitan Ritter und Edier Herr George von Berger (ex Kdr of the Z32), who had transferred his staff and fleet leader flag to the Z24.
On August 14 in Verdon, the Z24 was attacked by two British twin engines while it was in hiding. Slightly damaged by rockets and unable to be repaired on site, it reached Bordeaux with the T24. Both were then moored near hangar No. 13 (Sperrwaffenlager).
On August 22, under pressure from the FFI, the order to evacuate the Bordeaux naval base was given by Konteradmiral (Ing) Cari Weber, commander of the Kriegsmarinewerft. A large number of materials, weapons and food were then transferred to the Z24 from neighbouring warehouses. During the manoeuvre, some sailors of Alsatian origin left and joined the resistance. Moreover, it did not remain inactive to hinder the departure of the Germans, because at the end of the afternoon hangar n°13, full of explosives, jumped. The resistance had dug a tunnel under the nearby street to mine it. As a result of the explosion, several German soldiers were killed and many wounded were evacuated to the Z24. After loading, the Korvettenkapitàn Birnbacher gave the order to sail and the Z24 was allowed to drift about a hundred metres, without using the machines, until the Kommando returned from the arsenal that had remained on land to sabotage the remaining installations.
For its part, the T24 of the Kapitänleutnant Meentzen, still under repair, is not ready and remains in port amidst the shipwrecks that the Germans have just sunk to obstruct.
On the morning of August 23rd, the Z24, supported by two U-boats, the U-219 and the U-437, joined Le Verdon. The U-219, of the XB type equipped with a Schnorchel, is placed under the command of the Korvettekapitän Walter Burghagen and belongs to the 12.U-Boot-Flottille de Bordeaux. He joined Jakarta in August 1945. The U-437, type VIIC, is commanded by the Kapitänleutnant Hermann Lamby and belongs to the 6.U-Boot-Flottille of Saint-Nazaire. He will return to Bergen on 21 September 1944.
The Z24 escorted by the U-boats finally reached the Verdon harbour on the evening of the 23rd, but it no longer held on its anchor and had to let its machines run to compensate for the flow, because it was not necessary to be surprised by a possible air attack. For its part, the T24, which can finally go to sea in the afternoon of 24 August, joins it in the harbour and stands 400 metres from the Z24, while the U-Boote rest in shallow water nearby. At around 7pm, the fighting was ordered as Beaufighters from Davidstow Moor’s Wing arrived from the East. These fighter bombers, belonging to Coastal Command, are specialized in attacking surface units. In fact, two squadrons led by the Squadron Leader E.W Tacon will engage the two surface ships, with ten aircraft from N°236 Squadron and eight aircraft from N°404 Squadron. The Beaufighters then dived on both buildings. The T24 is the first to face the assault. At the same time as the ships’ Flak was unleashed, the attackers poured a 25-pound rocket rain and 20 mm shells. In a few minutes the Z24 and T24 were surrounded by a cloud of machine-gun fire from the air.
The T24 was then severely hit and the Z24, although less hit, received enough hits on goal to cause fatal damage.
For its part, the Flak of the ships, having tried to oppose the attack, could not adjust its fire under the pressure of the eighteen Beaufighters. Shortly thereafter, the T24 burned and began to sink following breaches below its waterline by the 25-pound rockets.
The ships of the Hafenschûtz flottille Gironde, anchored in the block port under the direction of the Kapitänleutnant Otto Wild, were then quickly dispatched to the site and collected the crew of the T24, including the Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Meentzen.
The T24 will only deplore eighteen dead or missing, while the Korvettenkapitàn Heinz Birnbacher judges the damage suffered by its ship, which is also severely affected. Two possibilities were then offered to him, either the ship ran aground on a sandbank or he joined the nearby port of call. It is the latter solution that will be adopted. The Z24 then collapsed along the breakwater and the crew evacuated the ship with their thirty wounded. The cranes, installed along the quayside, set to work, the essential equipment and the 2 cm and 3.7 cm Flak parts were unloaded in a hurry, as the Z24 slowly but dangerously lay down on the starboard side, bowing towards the sea. At about midnight, with some of the crew still on board, further explosions from the engine room sounded. The Z24 capsized by breaking its mooring lines connecting it to the breakwater. As he slowly straightened up, the sailors left behind climbed into the superstructures but the place shrank. The men then jumped into the Gironde. Once again, the ships of the Hafenschûtzflottille Gironde were called upon to rescue the personnel. Life belts and buoys were then thrown, but many sailors were swept away by the strong current at this location and it was impossible to swim against it. Unfortunately, many sailors are entangled in anti-torpedo nets before they can be recovered. At one o’clock in the morning on August 25, the Z24 was engulfed by the waves and two sailors, who could not leave the shore, sank with it.
Throughout the night, the two grounded crews were grouped together in the hall of the ferry terminal before being housed with the inhabitants. The next day, some of the technical cadres (officers and mechanics non-commissioned officers) were to be sent to Blaye to join the ground units retreating north from the Bordeaux region. But as the liaison proved impossible, they would remain in place.
On 27 August, on the orders of Kapitän zur See Hans Michahelles (Seekommandant Gascony), See-Battalion-Narvik was formed at Verdon with the crew members of the former Z24 and T24, as well as part of the staff of the 8.The Fregattenkapitän Ritter, an Edler Herr George von Berger, took over the position of Chief of Staff of the fortress. For his part, Korvettekapitän Karl Heinz Birnbacher took over the destiny of the Marine-Battaillon-Narvik with Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Meenzen and Kapitänleutnant Brehnke. This unit, with two infantry companies, was assigned to the light support points of the forward line and fought with the energy of despair against the French forces of the Médoc Brigade.