The Canal Raids

The German Defences

The canals were very important to the war effort and were protected accordingly. The Germans were aware of the likely targets and several hundred flak guns were brought in to defend the canals. There were batteries of large flak positioned near the canals and smaller flak located at locks and safety gates.



The flak used to defend the canals varied in calibre from 20mm through 37mm and 50mm up to the massive 105mm.
 




The heavy flak batteries consisted of four 105mm guns arranged in a quadrilateral with a main fire control centre some 100m away. An auxiliary command centre was positioned centrally between the four guns. The battery was usually protected against low level attacks by two or three troops of light 20mm flak.
 



When the flak batteries pinpointed an aircraft the guns were fired in salvoes designed to burst in a sphere about 50m in diameter. Each gun could fire a shell to 20,000ft and could knock out an aircraft within 25m of a shell burst. Shrapnel could still inflict severe damage on an aircraft at up to 200m from the burst.
 



In Ladbergen there were two heavy 105mm flak locations. Initially, each location had two batteries of four guns which was later increased to five per battery. Guns of this size were usually left to defend major cities. This is a good indication of the importance of the canals to the overall German war effort. This set of guns was positioned in the fields of Ferlemann-Peters to the north of Ladbergen.
Later in the war these flak batteries were manned by locally recruited flak troops. Their reliability however, was suspect and they were quickly replaced by regular flak troops.
 



The battery at Ferlemann-Peters was positioned in these fields (marked with a red circle) to the north of Ladbergen. They occupied the top of slightly elevated ground. Nothing remains today to show that this was once the centre of intense night-time activity.
 



The second battery of heavy flak was positioned in fields well to the east of Ladbergen. These were once again batteries of 105mm flak.
 



Likewise today, nothing remains of the flak battery at the Grotholtmann farm. Here, on the flat ground east of Ladbergen the gun positions would have been well dug in. Locals talk about the shower of flak shrapnel which would fall onto the town during the air-raids.
 



This picture shows the old canal at the time just prior to the outbreak of war. Out of sight to the left of each picture is the new canal. On the "island" that was created between the two channels, batteries of 37mm flak positions were set up.
 



Near to the village there were batteries of 50mm flak manned by Czechoslovakian troops. The area today is covered with new housing but one small patch of open ground remains.
 



Flak helpers (often boys of about 15) were used to assist the regular troops. Although they were not supposed to do any of the heavier work it was considered by them an honour to fetch and carry ammunition for the gunners.

 



Strict regulations were issued regarding the working conditions of these helpers. They were expected to have a "good night's sleep". The image on the right is part of the regulations concerning flak-helpers which was issued in April 1943 by the Reich's Air Ministry in Berlin.
 



There are no records or recollections of flak positions directly protecting the Mittelland Canal at Gravenhorst. However, Bevergern, a few kilometres to the south had a range of flak positions protecting the lock gates. In this picture you can see one of the bunkers (now painted white) which was built to protect the canal workers.
 

 

These "flakturms" (flak towers) were positioned on the canal banks and were designed to support light flak; most likely 20mm. There was some attempt to disguise them as windmills. However, pilots at that time were well aware of what these structures really were and would often target them directly.
 



This drawing shows such a flakturm in action. The drawing shows that the tower was armed with a "Vierling", the famous and feared four barrelled 20mm cannon.
 



The foundations of a flakturm can still be seen today in the woods at Bevergeshövede. Alongside the flakturm was a searchlight installation.
 



37mm flak positions were also dug in on top of the Huckberg. This position commanded a clear view of the Mittelland and Ladbergen target areas.



It was flak from this position that accounted for EE130 with Flt Lt Allsebrook and his crew of 617 Sqn on the night of 16th September 1943.
 



There is little evidence that German nightfighters were active in the target areas although (as will be described later) nightfighters were a real threat en route and returning from a raid.