Hitler's Latest Weapon

by Fred Lamoreux

Hitler has many cards up his sleeve, and the time seems to be ripe for the pulling of another — the water-based torpedo plane. Like other weapons, it will be beaten, but it may have momentary possibilities.

There are a number of indications that Germany will use torpedo carrying planes on a large scale this summer for attacks on Allied shipping.

Two recent news dispatches seem of special significance. The first is the British Admiralty report of May 7 on the recent German attack on British convoys, bound for Russian Arctic parts. It reads in part as follows:

"This convoy was subjected to air attack on the evening of May 2. This time the attack was by six torpedo-carrying aircraft. At least one enemy aircraft was destroyed but three ships of the convoy were hit by torpedoes and sank."

Perhaps the heaviest British bombing attacks of the war have been the three raids on Rostock and its environs and on the Heinkel airplane factories there. In the May 2, British United Press report there is this passage:

"Two buildings in the yard where between two and four Heinkel 115 torpedo- or bomb-carrying seaplanes were completed weekly were also damaged."

We see in the one dispatch how effective the torpedo-carrying plane is and we see in the other dispatch the determined British effort to stop the construction of them.

A torpedo plane is a far more efficient weapon than a submarine, except in one particular. The plane can be built in quantity at a fraction of the cost of a submarine. It requires a crew of two or three who are comparatively easy to train. It finds its victims much more quickly and easily and goes back for another torpedo in a matter of hours. It does not have the cruising range of the submarine nor the ability to stay out in all weather for weeks on end.

It is interesting to compare the effectiveness of the different weapons, submarines, destroyers, dive bombers and torpedo planes, all four of which were used in the attack just mentioned on the British convoys. Three destroyers and one or more submarines got the cruiser Edinburgh and one cargo ship with a loss of one destroyer and serious damage to another. Six dive bombers made two attacks on the convoys, lost two planes and did no damage. Six torpedo planes made one attack, lost one plane and sank three cargo ships. Compare the German loss in each case with the return they received for it. It is only fair to say that dive bombers have done better in other cases.

The torpedo plane has also been very successful against warships. With it the British disabled the battleship Bismarck and wrecked part of the Italian fleet at Taranto and with it the Japanese sank the Repulse and Prince of Wales.

With this record, we would expect the Germans to use torpedo planes more than they have. The trouble with them in the past has been their lack of range. The two principal German models are only capable of 1,300- to 1,500-mi round- trip, meaning that starting from a German base they cannot go far beyond the British Isles and get back. Then they are comparatively slow and unwieldy and thus a fairly easy prey to fighter planes.

Because the British Coastal Command has thousands of planes out on patrol daily, because radio locators and other means warn of the approach of planes near Great Britain and because practically all convoys have fighter or other plane protection when they near Great Britain, it has been pure suicide for torpedo planes to attack convoys near England.

Russian Convoys Vulnerable

The picture has now changed with the necessity of sending big convoys to the Russian Arctic ports on Murmansk and Archangel. Nazi torpedo-carrying seaplanes can wait in the bays and fjords of northern Norway and attack these convoys as they go by. We have no place near Northern Norway where we can base fighter planes to protect the convoys. The only effective protection will be fighters based on small aircraft carriers, converted from cargo ships. It is probable that the cargo ships we are now converting to carriers will used for this purpose.

There are two principal models of German torpedo-carrying seaplanes, the He-115, made at the Heinkel factories near Rostock and the Ha-140, made by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg. In addition a number of German land planes can be converted to carry torpedoes and some of the landplanes carry two torpedoes each. The advantage of the seaplanes is that they can take off from any convenient harbor or bay. In places like northern Norway building landing fields in the rocky mountainous country is a real engineering problem, although the Germans have built a number with forced labor.

The probabilities are, then, that we shall have a plague of these torpedo carriers this summer and we may expect them wherever we are not able to provide fighter protection against them.

This article was originally published in the July, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 7, pp 243, 299.
The original article includes 2 photos: He-115 and Caproni 312.
Photos are not credited.