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Sonderkommando Blaich

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(English: Special detail Blaich) was a German special unit consisting of one Heinkel He 111 medium bomber supported by an Italian Savoia SM.81. In January 1942 it raided the Free French–controlled Fort Lamy in the Chad region of French Equatorial Africa.Oliver, Chapter 4Moore, pp. 142–143Aircraft profile: He 111 Profile Publications, page: 6, accessed: 18 June 2011
The raid against a target located from the German-Italian bases in North Africa was a success but on its return flight the Heinkel ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing; the crew and aircraft were rescued a week later.

Background

Chad and Fort Lamy came under control of the Free French Forces in 1940 and was a major staging post for the Battle of Kufra, operations against the Kufra oasis group as well as a supply point for the RAF on the route from Takoradi in Ghana to Egypt.
Theo Blaich—a German adventurer and plantation owner who had joined the in 1939, arriving in his own Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun—recognised the importance of Fort Lamy as a way point in the overland transport and communication route from the west coast of Africa to the Nile, as well as an assembly point for Allied operations. Blaich proposed the capture of Fort Lamy to safeguard the southern border of Libya. When his suggestions were dismissed by Berlin, he proposed that he should at least carry out a bombing mission.
Blaich found a more interested audience in Erwin Rommel, who approved the idea and forwarded it to the . The date for the operation was set as 21 January 1942, to coincide with Rommel's offensive against the British defences at El Agheila. Blaich's consisting of German and Italian soldier, an He 111, a and Blaich's Taifun left the oasis of Hun on 20 January. The following six of the group were to go on the air raid, while the Italian crew, minus their pilot, stayed behind:
  • Captain Theo Blaich, pilot of the Taifun
  • Lieutenant Franz Bohnsack, pilot of the He 111
  • Sergeant Major Heinrich Geissler, engineer
  • Sergeant Wolfgang Wichmann, wireless operator
  • Lieutenant Fritz Dettmann, war correspondent
  • Major Roberto Count Vimercati-San Severino, desert expert of the Italian Army and pilot of the Savoia
The small group flew to a remote natural airstrip in southern Libya, called , discovered by Roberto Count Vimercati-San Severino in 1935 when he landed there during a safari. He had surveyed and marked out the site later but it lacked facilities. The used the Savoia as their supply base.

Operation

The Heinkel He 111 took off from at 08:00 on 21 January but experienced bad weather, contrary to the weather forecast. The aircraft had been loaded with but the supply had been carefully calculated and the weather increased fuel consumption. The Heinkel reached Lake Chad by midday, after which navigation became easier despite the storm intensifying and at 14:30 reached Fort Lamy. No air defence was organised at Fort Lamy and they were able to drop their 16 bombs, of explosives, unhindered. The French forces were too surprised to organise any air defence and of fuel and the complete oil supply were destroyed and up to ten aircraft.
Undamaged, the plane returned northward but the crew found it hard to navigate. As darkness approached, almost all of the fuel had been exhausted and the crew was aware that it would not be able to find its way back to . As the Heinkel carried a trailing antenna, which it could unfold if needed, it released the aerial and sent an SOS but received no reply. Eventually, the crew made an emergency landing. Bohnsack was able to land without damage and the crew attempted to contact the headquarters at Agedabia at the arranged time, without success. The crew had provisions for six days. After two days at their landing location, presumed to be from , the crew was able to make contact with the German headquarters.
On 27 January, almost out of water, the stranded crew was discovered by an Italian Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli reconnaissance aircraft, which delivered food and water. The following day, a Junkers 52 transport aircraft brought fuel from Agedabia, having left for an unauthorised search of Blaich's missing commando and the Heinkel and crew were able to return to .

Aftermath

The attack on Fort Lamy caused only minor damage to installations and light casualties but did destroy vital fuel supplies, despite strenuous efforts to save them. It reduced the supplies for the Free French Forces and the RAF in the region by half. The raid caused the French general Philippe Leclerc to strengthen the anti-aircraft defences at Fort Lamy and to start hit-and-run operations against the Italian forces in Fezzan region.
Blaich and his continued operations against the Long Range Desert Group throughout the first half of 1942. In June 1942 the unit's Heinkel bomber crashed near Kufra after an engine failure, the crew being rescued four days later, putting an end to the operations.

Bibliography

Further reading


  • Category:Conflicts in 1942
    Category:1942 in Africa
    Category:Military operations of World War II involving Germany
    Category:Battles and operations of World War II involving France
    Category:North African campaign
    Category:N'Djamena
    Category:History of Chad
    Category:Airstrikes conducted by Germany
     
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