The defences – Air detection (II)

RADAR was the acronym for Radio Detection And Ranging, with the first sets being tested by British and Germans at the same time during the early years of the 1900s.

Its combat debut was during Second World War. It was an invaluable air detection aid whenever bad weather, darkness or the enemy’s action made impossible to track and locate an incoming raid. During the next years, RAF and Luftwaffe will play “cat and mouse” in radar procedures in the ensuing Bombenkrieg.

[This picture shows the GEMA complex and buildings, where the German radar was developed located at Berlin. In 1940, more than 6,000 people worked here.]


The birthplace for the German radar was GEMA company (Gesellschaft für elektroakustiche und mechanische Apparate - “Association for Electroacoustic and Mechanical Equipment”), founded by Paul-Günther Erbslöh (1905–2002) and Hans-Karl von Willisen (1906–1966). They worked together and after left Telefunken, developed the first air warning radar system.

The installation was overrun by the Soviets in May 1945. Most of the equipment and many of the people were deported to Russia as part of the war bounty. 

The first radar unit developed by GEMA in 1937 was the FuMG 403 Panoramagerät Stützpunkt (Plan Position Indicator-PPI) display radar, built in 1941 at Tremmen near Berlin (40 km west of the city) at a cost of 500,000 Reich Marks (RM). The 20 m large antenna is located in the top of the concrete tower and it rotates through 360 deg. at 6 rpm. Range is 120-300 km. The radar display station is located in the base of the tower and a PPI display. The tower was linked by landline to the headquarters of the 1st Flak Division in the Zoo’s Turm. The site was blown up after the war by the Russians.  

[One of the rare known views of the Project C Panoramagerät Tower PPI.]

[Photo: Foedrowitz, M. The Flak Towers. Berlin, 2007.]

[A view atop of the Panorama Turm with its 20 m long beam equipped with 16 dipoles.]  

[Photo: Foedrowitz, M. The Flak Towers. Berlin, 2007.]

From the early works on Panorama, GEMA created an advanced and more compact unit, and this would be the start of the radar net of the German defences.

[A Freya RADAR system at one of the thousand radar sites placed all over the German-occupied Europe.]

Named after the Norse Goddess Freyja, the Freya FuMG 450 was the first operational early warning radar defence system. Before the beginning of WWII, in 1938, just eight of these units had been delivered by GEMA and deployed along the German border manned by the Luftwaffe.
The early versions had a range of 60-80 km which was later increased to 120 km. Azimuth accuracy was 1.5 degrees and better. Developed from a Kriegsmarine (Germany’s war navy) radar, its lower frequency range (120-166 MHz vs 368 MHz), longer wavelength (2.5 m vs 50 cm), and longer range. It was more advanced than the British system, but more complex what it means that it was not totally readied and needs improvement when the first raids came.

Freya was first successfully used on December 18, 1939 when two stations detected an approaching daytime raid on Wilhelmshaven by 22 RAF Wellington bombers at a range of 113 km and guided fighter planes toward them via radio, downing half of the enemy’s force. This early success of radar left the Luftwaffe so impressed that Freya network was the chosen one to guard Germany’s western border.

Anyway, these radars were only able to spot and track incoming aircraft, not to determine the exact range and height.

[An RAF photograph of the Freya radar installations at Auderville, France as viewed during 1941.]

[Photo: Wikimedia.]

[An illustration of a German Pole Freya Radar from an US Army study after the war.]

[Photo: US War Department - TM E 11-219 “Directory of German Radar Equipment”.]

[A Dreh-Freya radar and a FuSE 62D ‘Würzburg’ unit of the Versuchsfeld Werneuchen beim Fliegerhorst at Werneuchen-Brandenburg, some 30 km northeast of Berlin.] 

[Photo: Peter Spoden via Deutsches Atlantikwall-Archiv.]


Sources and Bibliography:

  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (1997). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940- 1950. Schiffer Publishing. 
  • Funkmeß(ortungs)stellungen in Deutschland. Deutsches Atlantikwall Archiv  <>
  • Muller W. (1998). Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing.
  • Zaloga, Steven. (2012). Defense of the Third Reich 1941–45. Osprey Publishing.
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    The defences – Air detection (I)

    The Nazis developed a complex net to defend the Reich and occupied Europe from air raids. This superb detection net goes from observation of incoming attacks to the latest and more sophisticated elements of electronic radar and radio to track enemy planes and to assist the AA (anti-aircraft) guns in their role against the Allied ‘Terror-bombers’.

    At the beginning of the war, German air detection was based on primary methods and systems like the observation sites.

    [Here, a Luftwaffe officer (note the shape of the Eagle in the uniform’s chest) teaches young Flakhelfers to use a range finder device and binoculars, the simplest method to know the range and height of incoming bombers from local ground level.]

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    After plotting enemy aircraft the site will pass this essential information to the defence and fighter direction centres to defend the Reich territories. This method was highly successful during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 employed by the British Royal Observer Corps (ROC). At night, it had obviously no usefulness.

    The air-defence instruments also consisted of sound location equipment. The Germans used a complex system, called Horchgerät, during early stages of the war, and revitalized during the Summer and Fall 1943 after their radar defence net failed as a consequence of the introduction of the first electronic countermeasures like ‘Window’ (ERC & ECM) by the British.

    [A Horchgerät viewed on October 1939 at the outskirts of Berlin, more specifically a Ringtrichter-Richtungshörer (RRH) zur Einweisung der schweren Flak.]

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    [Photo: Sammlung Berliner Verlag/Archiv.]

    The system idea was to hear the sound of the engines of the incoming aircraft and track their height, warning the defences of an incoming enemy raid. For typical aircraft speeds of that time, sound location only gave a few minutes of warning.

    It consists of four acoustic horns, a horizontal pair and a vertical pair, connected by rubber tubes
    to stethoscope type earphones worn by the two technicians left and right. The stereo earphones enabled one technician to determine the direction and the other the elevation of the aircraft.

    [A Flakhelferin am Horchgerät poses for the camera in January 1943.]

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    Das Altes Museum

    The Altes Museum, sited in the Museuminsel near the Berliner Dom was built between 1823 and 1830 by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781 – 1841) in the neoclassical style to house the Prussian royal family’s art collection. It was called the Königliches Museum (Royal Museum) until 1845 and it was decided to display only “high” art in the building.

    [The Altes Museum in ruins, view from the other side of the Lustgarten, dated 1950.]

    [Photo: Herbert Donah, Bundesarchiv.]

    Highly bombed during World War Two, the museum resulted destroyed by Allied bombs and by street fighting with Russian troops during May 1945. The Museum was rebuilt from 1951, the first in the insel to undergo reconstruction and restoration.

    [Another shot of the museum, with the Löwenkämpfer statue (´The Lion fighter`), made by Albert Wolff in 1851 in bronze, as view after the war ended. Notice sheltered status of the building.]

    [Photo: Bildarchivpreussischer.]

    [Red Army´s soldiers made an improvised Victory parade in front of the museum in May, 1945.]

    [Photo: German-Russian museum collection Timofei Melnik.]

    [An aerial view of the destroyed and ruined center of the city with the Stadtschloss in the foreground, the Dom at right and the Altes Museum behind, in July, 1945.]

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    During National Socialism, the Altes Museum was used as the backdrop for propaganda, both in the museum itself and upon the parade grounds of the redesigned square Lustgarten.

    [Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and Führer Adolf Hitler speaking at the gates of the Museum in Lustgarten during a Nazi-parade, 1938.]

    [Photo: LIFE.]

    [Photo: LIFE.]

    Today, Berlin has restored its condition as one of the most influential cities in art, mixed with her old classic tradition in architecture and neoclassical culture. Example of this wasALL ART HAS BEEN CONTEMPORARY, as reads a neon by italian-artist Maurizio Nannucci in 2008 at the modern Altes Museum. This bright red neon contrast clearly with the dark and burnt afterwars façade.

    [Close-view of Nannucci’s red neon behind the Ionic order columns. Note the dark shades, consequence of 1945-battle fires and fumes.]

    [Photo by the author, 2008.]

    Victory Graffiti

    May 8th means to European countries V-E day: the victory over Nazi-Germany in 1945.

    To Berlin, it means the start of a new era. From the ashes of the destroyed Third Reich would raise a new-born country that would be the economic and political engine of the European Union together with her old enemy and neighbour, France. 

    No other nation, in Contemporary history has been decimated until annihilation like Germany was in 1945. There was no armistice, no peace, just a total and unconditional surrender. 

    Maybe this unique fact made possible the advent of this second generation country, that marks, firstly the stalemate, and later the rising of the 20th century and the beginning of the project of Europe as a sole and complex unit.

    [A German couple seated in front of the ruined Brandenburger Tor after the end of the war. This is a photomontage, not a real image.]

    [Photo: Pinterest.]

    [Soviet troops celebrating the victory in the ‘Great war for the Fatherland’ aboard their tanks in front of the Siegessäule, the Prussian Victory Column at Berlin Tiergarten, May 1945. During the 1945 Battle of Berlin, Soviet Troops nicknamed the column “the Tall Woman”.]

    [Photo: LIFE.]

    [The destroyed interior of the Reichstag fullfilled with hundreds of hand-made inscriptions by Soviet soldiers.]

    [Photo by William Vandiver, LIFE.]

    After seizing the Reichstag building and raising their Red flag on its roof on 30th April, Soviet soldiers left their marks in other ways, writing their names, feelings, thoughts and hometowns on the walls and columns. Written in Cyrillic script, these victory graffities were made by soldiers from the 380th, 674th and 756th Rifle Regiments, the units that made the final assault against the Reichstag, many of them were Kazakhstan-born men.

    The Graffiti written on the walls were uncovered when the building was converted to house of the German Bundestag. Architect Norman Foster began to remove its inner covering of gypsum fibreboard and asbestos. Paul Baumgarten, the first architect to remodel the building, in the 1960s, had installed the sheets of fibreboard in front of the walls of the original nineteenth-century structure, concealing historical evidence behind new interior surfaces. In an act of what Foster has termed ‘civic vandalism’, Baumgarten had also destroyed the original architectural decoration in many places and removed all traces of history from the walls. By an irony of history, some nineteenth-century decoration and some traces of the battle that raged around the Reichstag building in 1945 survived precisely because they were hidden by the fibreboard.

    [Several other Graffiti remains today at the Reichstag’s rooftop, and can be seen by visitors of the building as a historical evidence and first hand memories of the men who were forced to suffer those terrible days in Human history.]

    [Photo taken by the Author in 2012.]

    The Bitter End

    On 2 May 1945, the last garrison which defended Berlin finally surrendered to superior Soviet troops. Hitler had committed suicide on April 30th.

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    In the photograph, in front of the destroyed Brandenburger Tor and a Soviet IS-2 heavy tank is Yevgeny Khaldei, the Soviet war photographer who took the famous photo of the reenacted flag raising over the Reichstag. The Stalin tank was turret number 414 and belonged to the 7th Independent Guards Heavy Tank Brigade.

    [Photo: from the fonds of the RGAKFD.]

    [Photo: from the fonds of the RGAKFD.]

    [Photo: from the fonds of the RGAKFD.]

    [Three more views from a different angle of the scene above related in front of the Brandenburger Tor; these photographies were probably taken on 7 May 1945. The white band brushed to the tank´s turret was an ID to avoid be attacked by Allied fighter-bombers.]

    The “Thousand-Year Reich” finally only lasted 12 years and the dream/nightmare started by Hitler and the Nazis caused more than 60 million people dead in the greatest war in History. Between 16 April and 6 May, the Soviets had 304,887 killed, wounded and missing, along with the loss of 2,156 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,220 artillery pieces and 527 aircraft, althought the true cost is likely to be higher. It is almost impossible to give an accurate figure of German military and civilians died from this last battle.

    [Photo: Bundesarchiv.]

    [A Soviet soldier walks on Berlin´s already defeated Friedrichstraße with Oranienburger Straße (notice U-bahn Oranienburger Tor entry at left, same spot as today) with a dead German soldier laying on the ground. Note Iron Cross on German´s body chest and the FG-42, a machine-gun usually provided to paratroopers.]

    Les Marins français Bombardaient Berlin

    7 June 1940:

    Actually, the first bombing raid over Berlin was a French affair.

    [Photo: AMMAC du Fumélois.]

    On Monday, June 3, 1940, the Germans launched “Operation Paula” with a Luftwaffe force of some three hundred bombers attacking Paris and causing several hundred civilian casualties. The French decided to retaliate, and although they didn’t have a comparable number of bombers, a psychological blow to the enemy was deemed necessary. 

    On June 7, 1940, a week before The Fall Of Paris, the French Navy went into the offensive attacking Berlin on a night raid. It was made just by one plane, and no other raids will be made again by the French during the rest of the war. Damage to the capital was slight. The only long-range bomber available in 1940 was the Farman F.222, a rather ungainly four-engine aircraft dating back to the mid-1930s based on the French idea of the ‘multiplace de combat’, an outdated concept of air war. The Aéronautique Navale was in possession of three Farman 223.4, former postal aircraft that had been requisitioned by the Navy and given the names Camille Flammarion, Le Verrier, and Jules Verne. The Jules Verne’, formerly Air France’s F-ARIN, was assigned to Capitaine de Corvette Henri Daillière in April 1940.

    [Profile credit: TLM.]

    [The experienced crew of the Jules Verne: C.C. Daillière (commandant, at centre); l’Enseigne de Vaisseau Comet (navigator); Maître Principal Yonnet (pilot); Maître Corneillet (flight engineer); Maître Scour (radioperator) and Second Maître Deschamps (mitrailleur-bombardier).]

    Photo: AMMAC du Fumélois.

    Daillière was given the mission to be the first aviator to attack the Reich capital with ordnance. The ‘Jules’ took off from Merignac airfield near Bordeaux at mid afternoon and set course for Berlin. The crew proceeded over the North Sea at dark, later flying  in over the Baltic Sea before turning south and heading straight for Berlin at high altitude. Daillière says: ‘ I got ready to release the bombs and realized that someone had failed to install our bombsight, so I pressed my nose to the glass of the cockpit’. He wasn’t able to identify natural landmarks, and Berlin was blacked out; but once the city’s searchlights came on, the city was defined. He tried to create the impression of more than one airplane, and then dropped his bomb load over some factories in Berlin’s north end, where some bombs fell in the administrative district of Pankow. 

    Daillière made for Paris in a straighter path back to France, and landed at Orly Airfield. They met no resistance on the return leg, and when the aircraft touched down, it had covered nearly 3,000 miles in 13.5 hours on this epic mission. The French Admiralty released a communique on the next day stating that ‘a squadron of navy aviation bombarded had raided factories in the outskirts of Berlin last night’ highlighting this first raid, the great distance of the target and that all planes had returned safely to their base.

    Hitler -and Berliners too- knew after the French attack that they’re vulnerable at their own home.

    [This is the front cover of the New York newspaper ‘The Sun’ the day after the French raided the Third Reich’s capital, Saturday, 8 June 1940.] 

    Photo: John Frost Newspapers/ Alamy.

    [The first Allied bomber to raid Berlin, a Farman F. 223.4, received a new brown/green/grey colour scheme on top and flat black finish on sides for night operations to cover her aluminium finish. French Tricolores were also added on rudders and the civil registration was kept. Note original nickname Jules Verne has been masked to not overtape it with the new black finish. Daillière oversaw a series of modifications to the aircraft at the Toussus-le-Noble airfield, which included the installment of a 7.5 mm Darne machine-gun in the right rear access door, eight Alkan bomb shackles under the aircraft, a bombsight, extra fuel tanks as well as an autopilot.]

    Photo: AMMAC du Fumélois.]


    Sources and Bibliography:

    • Bertke, Donald, Kindell, Don & Smith, Gordon. (2011). World War II sea war: France falls, Britain stand alone: Day-to-Day Naval Actions April 1940 through September 1940. Lulu.
    • Fernandez, José & Laureau, Patrick. (2019). French Bombers of WWII (White Series). Mushroom Model Publications.

    Berlin LuftTerror

    The city of Berlin was bombed more than 350 times during Second World War (1939-1945). This personal blog tells the history of the German capital and its people before, during and after the Allied bombing campaign, and on the other hand, the war effort made by all those young British RAF and American USAAF crews and their aircraft to defeat Hitler.

    Bremen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Vienna, Berlin… These names were the nightmare for thousands of British and Americans young men who daily had to overfly these cities to do their duty with their country. For millions of German civilians, the nightmare were, on the contrary, those airmen. Some would call them ‘Murderers’, to others would be ‘Liberators’. 

    Air power has been the great weapon in the wars waged in the Twentieth Century, being World War Two the peakest moment of its development and practice. A war that will see, for the first time, the exclusive use of aviation as a means to win the battles; and it will be the skies of Occupied Europe, flying at 25,000 feet high, the stage of the biggest aerial battle ever seen. No other campaign in this war has had such a wide resources (as well as number of people involved) nor as much controversy and doubts as the Bombing Offensive carried out by the Allies against the Third Reich. To carry that destruction to the heart of the Germans was a must for London and Washington, and of course, Moscow.

    Around 26 million of German people lost their home during the war, just in Berlin 600,000 apartments were destroyed, half of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable, as much as 16 km² of the city was simply rubble consequence of the mixed effect of the anglo-american bombs and the Soviet 1945 final offensive. When the war come to an end in May 1945, the ‘Big City’ had become a sea of destruction, death and debris. The Allies’ bombing enterprise was not a costless operation: more than 55,000 Bomber Command and 25,000 US airmen were killed during the air campaign.

     - Berlin LuftTerror -

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