Monday, 17 February 2014

Fortresses and Zeppelins

History or Dystopian Wars?

I have had a chance today to pursue some further research into the Tannenberg project. What I hadn't appreciated fully before is the extensive use of fortifications by the Germans in the wide open spaces of the east. I was aware of Konigsburg and Danzig but was not conscious of the plethora of fortifications, armed camps and forts that existed in August 1914.

Fortress Boyen
My understanding is that German fortifications were grouped into districts under a District Commander. The relevant districts in the east are:
  • Konigsburg District: Including Konigsburg itself (a first class fortress/fortified camp), Pillau (a star fort, part of the Konigsburg defences on the Vistula Lagoon), Memel (coastal fort), Lotzen (Fort Boyen, a brigade sized armed camp in the Masurian Lakes).
  • Thorn District: Thorn (a major fortified camp), Marienburg (minor fort), Graudenz (minor fort), Dirschau (minor fort); all of these being on the Vistula south of Danzig, except Marienburg on the R. Nogat. These forts represented the final line of defence for Prussia from any incursion from the east.
  • Danzig: A major coastal fortification at the mouth of the Vistula.
  • Posen District:  Posen (fortified camp), Glatz (minor fort), Neisse (fortified camp), Glogau (railroad obstruction fort). 
These were not static defences. While having thick walls, heavy guns and supplies to outlast a siege, each fort had a main infantry and artillery reserve. The purpose of these reserves was to prevent the fort itself becoming invested. In wartime, fortresses in the war zone would come under the control of the appropriate Army commander. The fortresses would give up their main reserves to support that army.

For example, Thorn was a major fortified camp providing a home for the equivalent of a whole Division (35th Reserve Infantry Division). There are some 15 individual forts encircling Thorn and covering both sides of the Vistula. The garrison included:
  • 35 Reserve Division (two Landwehr Brigades plus artillery and cavalry)
  • The equivalent of 14+ heavy artillery batteries (estimated), mainly Landsturm and Reserve;
  • A Landwehr Infantry Regiment plus six Ersatz Battalions;
  • More than one Fortress Machine Gun Battalion;
  • Two armoured trains.
Further details of the garrison can be found in this summary. The 35th Reserve Division was deployed with the field army on the outbreak of hostilities.

What has really spiked my interest is the presence of aviation detachments (aircraft) and Zeppelins as part of these garrisons. Posen, for example, had:

  • 16th Feld Fleiger (Field Aviation) Battalion
  • 4th (Posen) Fortress Aviation Battalion
  • Z-5 (Zeppelin) in Posen (Army Airship: Haupt. Gruener)
A further Zeppelin, Z-4 (Army Airship: Haupt. von Quast), was operated from Konigsburg.

Nice German with aerial toys
Right from the off German air units, including airships, mounted reconnaissance operations as well as bombing enemy targets with improvised weapons. The two Zeppelins conducted the following raids into enemy territory.

10 August: Mlawa Z-4
11 August: Lodz Z-5
22 August: Lager by Gumbinnen Z-4
22 August: Modlin (Novo-Georgievsk) Z-5
25 August: Sierpe-Rypin Z-5
26 August: Lager by Nordenburg Z-4
27 August: Mlawa Z-5
28 August: Lager by Muldszen Z-4
9 September: Lager by Insterburg Z-4
24 September: Bailystok & Lomsha Z-4
25 September: Warsaw Z-4

Note that Z-5 ended its career when it was forced down by the Russians during its last attack on Mlawa.

Another thing that has got me interested is the Baltic Fortress Route. Effectively a tourist trail around the Baltic forts. Great stuff, not sure the wife will let me book it as a holiday!

Pillau, very pretty

Why Dystopian Wars? Well, Germans in pointy hats, airships, aircraft, armoured trains, cossacks? You can't get much more steam punk than that, even without dreadnought type ships and armoured river gunboats. Sometimes real life is richer than even the best created worlds. 

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