Feb 24, 2015

Operation Caesar Kola Inlet 1945

Two Biber midget submarines (one aft of the conning tower the other barely visible forward) are carried into action aboard a modified Type VII U-boat.

As Germany's fortunes faded on all fronts of land, sea and air combat an audacious attempt at attacking Allied shipping within the Kola Inlet was undertaken by men Oberleutnant zur See Fahje's Haaöy based 265.K-Flotilla (comprising 20 Biber midgets) carried into action aboard modified Type VIICs of the 13th U-Flotilla. The 1.Kleinkampfdivision, to which the 265 Flotilla belonged also comprised the 366.K-Flotille equipped with one man Neger human torpedoes and a unit of Linsen explosive motor boats. Commanded by Kapitän zur See Wordmann, this division of volunteers were initially tasked with defense against a suspected Allied invasion of Norway, remaining unemployed for the majority of their existence.

The genesis of this operation began with a teletype sent by Admiral Otto Ciliax (Kommandierender Norwegen) to Admiral Heye, commander of Kleinkampfverbande (Midget submarine) operations. It read in part:

"Action by small units in the Kola Gulf could obtain results against the Soviet battleship Arkhangelsk in Wajenga Bay, where the ship has been observed by reconnaissance. It is possible to take the small combat units into action by U-boat."

The theory behind the operation was agreed upon by Admiral Heye and FdU North Fregattenkapitän Reinhard "Teddy" Suhren. Training began in a small bay north of Harstad with six "Biber" (Beaver) midgets and modified Type VIIs under the guidance of Kapitänleutnants Hans Jürgen Zetzsche and Reinhardt Reche (two ex-combat commanders now attached to FdU North staff).

Three 13th U-Flotilla Type VIIs were chosen to be equipped with carrying equipment - U295, U992 and U716. In theory the Biber midget submarines had were to be released from their deck clamps 40 miles from their targets. As the U-boat submerged beneath them the one man midgets would begin their 12 hour journey into the Soviet harbour inlet. Following a successful attack the Bibers were to lie on the bottom and transmit brief homing signals for the U-boat parent craft to approach. Once above the Biber the midget's pilot would surface abandon and scuttle his Biber and be retrieved by the U-boat for the return to Norway. If anything went awry with this scheme the pilot was ordered to sail to the Fischer Peninsular and make their way to neutral Sweden and probable internment. Zetzsche, while acknowledging that there was some chance of initial success for the operation, later wrote that he had little confidence in the ability to rescue surviving Biber pilots and even less confidence that they would survive for long in the Arctic seas.

H-Hour for the attack was to be 1500hrs on 8th January. All three U-boats and their midget payload departed Harstadt on 5th January. However there were unforeseen problems. After test dives to 20-meteres two Biber fuel lines were found to have been fractured. The crew of the Type VII commenced repair work and the operation continued. However as the Type VIIs surged through winter seas toward their target the heavy vibrations caused by the boats' diesels ruptured delicate fuel lines aboard a second two Bibers. Despite extensive attempts at onboard repairs all four of these midget submarines were damaged beyond salvage. With only two left operational the mission became sure suicide for the remaining two Biber pilots and  Suhren issued orders for Reche to recall the three U-boats and the operation was finally abandoned en-route.