It had long been a goal of Grossadmiral Prinz Heinrich and his Staff to capture the Baltic Islands, which dominated the entrance to the Riga Gulf. Ever since the break-in to the Gulf in August 1915 the Baltic Command had restated the importance of capturing these islands as a prerequisite to any further operations. When it became apparent that there were insufficient forces available for this task Gr.Adm. Prinz Heinrich had reluctantly agreed to the widespread mining campaigns of 1916 and 1917. Strategically the Islands of Osel and Dago held great significance. With the islands remaining in Russian hands their Navy could still outflank the Germans in the Riga Gulf and had the option of staging a landing on the Kurland coast behind the German lines, or bombarding the German shore positions more or less at will. From their support bases in the Riga Gulf the Russian destroyers and Russian and English submarines could penetrate into the middle and southern Baltic , striking at German trade routes with Sweden. The islands and the Riga Gulf were pivotal for Naval warfare in the Baltic. With the islands in German hands the Riga Gulf and German Army rear would be secure , and the facilities at Riga could be utilized as a supply base to further the German offensive. The continued German offensive and the perceived threat to St Petersburg would increase pressure on the Russian Government to conclude peace, and with the conclusion of a negotiated peace vast resources of German men and equipment would be freed to join the battle against America , France and the British Empire in the west.
With all due consideration the operational orders for the attack on the Baltic Islands were issued on September 18th 1917 , and read : "For the domination of the Riga Gulf and the security of the flank of the East Armee , a combined attack by the land and sea forces is to take the islands of Osel and Moon , and the use of the Great Moon Sound is to be denied to enemy sea forces." The operation was code named Albion, and the following day the troops entrained for Libau. The Army forces consisted of the reinforced 42nd Division , Commanded by General von Estorff , the 2nd Infanterie Cyclist Brigade , and artillery , Pioneers , a wireless section and transport column. In total the Landing Corps consisted around 23,000 men , 5000 horses , 1400 vehicles , 150 machine-guns, 54 guns , 12 mortars and munitions and provisions for 30 days. To convey the Landing Corps from Libau to their assault beaches in Tagga Bay , on the northwest coast of Osel , a transport fleet of nineteen steamers was assembled. It was to be the largest combined operation undertaken by the Germans so far during the war. To support the operation some of the most modern units were detached from the High Sea Fleet and were formed into the "Special Unit of the Baltic", under the Command of the hitherto I Battle squadron Commander , Vizeadmiral Ehrhard Schmidt , who had led the break-in to the Riga Gulf in August 1915.
The composition of the Special Unit was as follows :
Chief of Special Unit : Vizeadmiral Schmidt.
Chief of Staff : Kpt.z.S. Levetzow.
Flagship : Moltke.
Squadron III. Vizeadmiral Behncke.
Konig. Bayern. Grosser Kurfurst. Kronprinz. Markgraf.
Squadron IV. Vizeadmiral Souchon.
Friedrich der Grosser. Konig Albert. Kaiserin. Prinzregent Luitpold. Kaiser.
II Aufklarungsgruppe. ( A.G. )(1) Kontreadmiral Reuter. Konigsberg. Karlsruhe. Nurnberg. Frankfurt. Danzig.
VI Aufklarungsgruppe. Kontreadmiral Hopman.
Kolberg. Strassburg. Augsburg. Blitz. Nautilus.
Torpedoboats : I F.d.T. (2) Kommodore Heinrich.
Flagship : Emden.
II Flottille ( 10 boats )
VIII Flottille ( 11 boats )
VI Flottille ( 11 boats )
X Flottille ( 11 boats )
7th Half-Flottille ( 7 boats )
U-Flottille Kurland ( 6 boats )
Rio Pardo. Lothar. Schwaben. Glatz.
II Minesweeper Flotilla.
3rd, 4th and 8th Half-Flotilla's.
S-Flotilla of the Baltic.
Netbarrier Unit of the Baltic.
The German units were quickly assembled and fitted out so that on September 23rd the heavy units departed Wilhelmshaven for the east. On the following day they quit Kiel and arrived in Putzig Wiek on September 24th. Similarly the transport fleet , II A.G. , and torpedoboats lay in Libau, whilst K.Adm. Hopman's forces lay in Windau. However , now a period of poor weather intervened , so that the German forces could not put to sea again until October 10th. Gale-force westerly winds and storms raged across the Baltic , typical of Autumn weather in the east.
The Russians had long perceived the threat to the Baltic Islands and theoretically the Riga Gulf and Islands were reasonably well protected. Osel was defended by three Infantry Regiments, the 425th , 426th and 472nd with a strength on paper of around 24,000 , although actual numbers were, on average, below this. The Tagga Bay was protected by Battery No45 with four 15.2cm guns at Cape Hundsort and Battery No46, likewise with four 15.2cm guns at Cape Ninnast. On Dago Battery No34 was positioned at Toffri with 4-12cm guns and Cape Tachkona was defended by a further two batteries. The southern entrance to the Moon Sound was well protected by a heavy battery at Woi consisting of 5-25cm guns and 4-15cm guns and at Werder by a battery of 4-15cm guns. The battery at Cape Zerel mounted four 30.5cm guns which could dominate the entire Irben Straits. In addition, the dense minefields of the Irben Straits were legend. Since the beginning of the war the Russians alone had laid over 10,000 mines there, let alone the German mineshield, whilst the southern Moon Sound was protected by around 1300 mines. The Russian naval forces in the Riga Gulf were also considerable and consisted of the following :
Riga Bay Operations Group, Commander Admiral Bachirev.
Bayan. Admiral Makarov. Diana.
Chrabry. Grozyashchi. Chivinetz.
Destroyers : Admiral Stark.
XI Destroyer Div.
XII Destroyer Div.
XIII Destroyer Div.
IV Destroyer Div.
V Destroyer Div.
VI Destroyer Div.
Submarines : C26. C27. C32.
Guard Ship Division of the Baltic.
VIII Torpedoboat Div.
XI Torpedoboat Div.
Pripyat. Amur. Wolga.
Five Divisions of Minesweepers.
The air stations at Lebara, Kielkond and Arensburg could field around 50 seaplanes and flying boats and 10 land based Nieuport types. The Russian forces were well balanced and their ships had all had combat experience and had proved themselves tough adversaries.
Nevertheless, the foul weather at the end of September had forced the postponement of the operation. The weather also influenced activity in the air and many of the preparatory air attacks could not be carried out. Only at the beginning of October could the air offensive continue and during the nights of October 1st, 5th, 9th and 10th a total of 5900kg of bombs were dropped on Zerel, Hainasch and Pernau. During the night of September 30th-October 1st a bombing raid was conducted against the 30.5cm battery at Zerel. The Russian battery Commander, Captain Knupfer, later related that a splinter penetrated the oak door of a still incomplete concrete magazine and had detonated loose cartridges lying there. A second bomb landed nearby. Later, the entire battery crew were set to work unloading the magazine when suddenly an unexplained fire flashed in the magazine and detonated it. Four officers and 70 men died immediately and a further three officers and 40 men died later of wounds. Another 60 men were wounded but survived. These losses were said to have greatly reduced the effectiveness of the battery. A further bombing raid on Zerel during the night of October 8th-9th caused little additional damage, but three bombs badly damaged the steamer General Zimmermann, which was lying off Mento.
On October 8th German aerial reconnaissance reported two steamers laying off Zerel, which were thought to be minelayers. The first, of approximately 800 BRT gross, lay off Zerel, whilst the other, of around 1500 BRT, lay off Mento. The I Torpedo Flugzeug Staffel at Windau were ordered to attack with there five torpedo carrying aircraft. Each torpedo-plane would be accompanied by a single seat escort fighter seaplane, whilst other seaplanes would fly at high altitude overhead to attempt to distract the anticipated heavy anti-aircraft fire. The targets lay about 1000 metres from shore, in a water depth of 5 metres, but with a firing range of 1500 to 2000 metres the aircraft would be launching their torpedoes in a depth of approximately 10 to 11 metres, according to the charts, and the Torpedo Trial Command stated that although a greater depth was desirable, torpedoes could be launched normally in this depth water. At this critical phase of preparations for operation Albion the destruction of two minelayers had great military importance, and Kptlt. Mans, Commander of the Windau Air Station, did not hesitate to order the attack, even though it would expend half the Staffel's available supply of ten aerial torpedoes.
Towards 1330hrs the five torpedo-bombers lumbered into the air, led by Lt.z.S. Stinsky in aircraft 1378. Following close behind were aircraft 1372, 1377, 1374 and 1376. Although visibility was good, there was a strong wind and swell, and the weather threatened to turn bad. The port squad, comprising aircraft 1372 and 1374, took course N.N.W. towards the lighthouse at Zerel, initially at an altitude of 600 feet but later reducing to 300 feet. The smaller steamer lay on a N.N.W. heading and therefore the Staffel took up an attack course of N.E., further reducing altitude to avoid anti-aircraft gun fire from the battery near Zerel. About 1427hrs Lt.z.S. Tornau in aircraft 1372 launched his torpedo at a range of 1700 metres. It broke surface twice and then appeared to run normally. Briefly after Lt.d.R. (M.A.) Esser launched his torpedo but the track of this torpedo could not be seen. The aircraft flying high above the scene observed one torpedo pass behind the stern of the steamer, whilst the track of the other was not sighted.
Meanwhile, Lt.z.S. Stinsky led the other aircraft in the attack on the larger steamer off Mento. This vessel lay on a E.S.E. heading. The torpedo-bombers reduced their altitude to just 30 to 60 feet, flying en-echelon to starboard, and began their attack run. At about 1430hrs the lead aircraft launched her torpedo at a range of 1700 metres. The torpedo went straight to the bottom. Next Lt.z.S.d.R. Schurer in aircraft 1377 launched his torpedo. After breaking surface several times it ran normally, but after travelling just 800 metres it suddenly veered off to port. At around 1432hrs Lt.z.S.d.R. Rowehl, flying the last aircraft, dropped his torpedo. According to observation aircraft this missile passed 10 metres behind the stern of the steamer and later detonated on the bottom. After launching their torpedoes and whilst flying away the Staffel were subjected to a violent anti-aircraft fire from guns ranging from 15cm to machine-guns, however, without success. By 1530hrs all aircraft had safely landed in Windau.
The attack had failed completely, due mainly to the erratic performance of the torpedoes, which was thought due to the unfavourable water depth. Half the available aerial torpedoes had been expended without result. This poor outcome caused V.Adm. Schmidt, Chief of the Special Unit, to order that the Torpedo Staffel be used primarily for bombing attacks and to conduct torpedo attacks only on especially rewarding targets and under favourable conditions.
After the failure of the torpedo-bombers it was decided to dispatch the Hydroglider, under the Command of Oblt.z.S. Peytsch, to attack one of the steamers. On August 24th he had sunk the transport Penelope with a torpedo in almost the same position. On October 10th, at 1500hrs, the Hydroglider put to sea from Windau and took course northeast along the coast, intending to conduct the attack in the evening twilight. The boat steered to Michaelsturm and from there took course through the mined area toward the roadstead off Mento. About 1718hrs the battery at Michaelsturm observed the boat travelling on a northeast course, but just a few moments later, at 1727hrs, the battery at Gross Irben observed a heavy detonation and bright flash, where just previously the Hydroglider had been. The boat did not return and was probably destroyed by either a shallow positioned mine or an internal explosion.
The airships were also active during the preparations for operation Albion. In addition to reconnaissance missions they also conducted bombing raids. During the night of September 24th-25th at about 0245hrs the LZ120, Kptlt. von Lossnitzer, dropped 3700kg of bombs on the Zerel battery and was followed up by LZ113, Kptlt. Zaeschmar, with 200kg of bombs. The bombs were reported to have been dropped accurately. On the evening of October 1st L30, Oblt.z.S. Vermehren, L37, Kptlt. Paul Gartner and LZ120 attacked Salis and Salismunde and the surrounding areas, dropping a total of 8000kg of bombs. This area was poorly defended and L30 bombed from just 4000 feet. The results of the attack remain unknown.
The operational plans for Albion called for a surprise landing by Pioneer troops at dawn in the Tagga Bay, on the northwest of Osel, and simultaneously near Pamerort a little further to the east. The Germans did not consider a breakthrough the Irben Straits to mount a landing somewhere inside the Gulf because the mine defences and the battery at Zerel were simply too strong. Nevertheless, minesweeping work would be undertaken in the Straits in preparation for the later phases of the operation. The Tagga Bay was not so well protected by mine barriers, although the approach route would have to be swept, and it offered a secure, protected shelter inside which troops could be landed and which could be sealed off with net barriers as protection against submarines for the transport fleet. The first wave ashore, the Pioneers, would be landed by torpedoboats and small steamers, which would provide supporting gunfire, and after the beaches were secure, more troops and heavier equipment would be landed from the larger ships and transports.
The forces to be landed in the Tagga Bay were the 131 Infanterie Regiment, Oberstleunant Fischer, the 255 Inf. Regt., Oberst Berring and the 65 Brigade, Oberst Matthiass, consisting of the 138 and 17 Inf. Regt's. The four Regiments were to be landed on the first operational day and spread out to the east and south; their bold objective was to capture the entire Russian garrison. The 131 Regt. was strike south and capture the Sworbe Peninsula, including the Zerel battery, and therefore facilitate the forcing of the Irben Straits by the Naval forces. The 255 Regt. were to strike S.E. towards Arensburg, and capture the town. The 65 Brigade would move to the east and cut off any Russians trying to escape towards the east and Moon Island. In consideration of this it was clear that the Island of Moon and it's connection to Osel by a 4 to 5 metre wide, 3 ½ kilometre long stone dam were of vital importance, particularly to the defenders of Osel. Reinforcements could come across the dam from Moon and the mainland and the garrison also had a secure line of retreat. With this in mind the Russians had constructed bridgeheads at both ends of the stone dam; on Osel a 6 to 7 kilometre bow from Masik to Saika to Neuenhof. It consisted of field fortifications and barbed wire. The stone dam was also important to the Germans, as to possess it not only prevented the defenders from retreating, but also isolated them. The earthwork defences were permanently occupied by the Russians, so the German Leadership determined on a plan to land some mobile forces, Cyclists, on the northern tip of Osel, near Pamerort. They would immediately race across the north of Osel through Orrisar to the stone dam in an effort to beat the Russians there, and cut off their retreat. The forces allocated to this task were the I and II Cyclist Battalions and the Sturmkompanie of Hauptmann von Winterfeld, together with a Half Battery of guns. Hopefully they would be able to hold the stone dam, or at least delay the Russian retreat.
In preparation for the operation the II M.S.Flottille, Kptlt. Max Doflein, began preparatory minesweeping in the Irben Straits in early October. However, the work did not proceed without loss. On October 6th the T54 struck a mine N.N.W. of Lyserort and sank with the loss of seven lives. The following day the M31, formerly of the Merchant Protection Flotilla but now part of the 8th M.S.H.F., struck a mine S.W. of Lyserort and sank with the loss of one life. The next day, October 8th, was a particularly bad one, with three minesweepers, M75, T85 and the auxiliary Cladow all being damaged, but luckily all were towed safely in. Kapitanleutnant Doflein later wrote: "Sleep came only after coal was replenished and engines and arms for the coming day were repaired and made serviceable. House high water spouts and explosive clouds, bound with the thunderous crash of the exploding mines, gave news of the advance of the work. Four of my boats were blown up in the course of the pioneer work and many brave Officers, Deck officers and men perished with them."
Finally, after a delay of around two weeks, the weather improved enough to allow the commencement of the operation. On the evening of October 10th the III and IV Squadrons departed Putzig Wiek and took course northwards. At 0715hrs the following morning they rendezvoused with the unit from Libau and V.Adm. Schmidt and General der Infanterie von Kathen and their Staff's boarded S.M.S. Moltke. Later in the day the forces from Windau joined the unit so that by early afternoon the invasion fleet was complete and travelling north at 9 knots in four sections. The first section consisted of light forces ; trawlers and torpedoboats of the S-Flotillas fitted for minesweeping and anti-submarine work.
Then came the second section comprised of the II M.S.F., the II T.B.F., with II Pioneers aboard, three small steamers with III Pioneers aboard and then the tender Ammon with the II M.S.Div. the third section was the III Squadron, Moltke, Emden, and the IV Squadron. Finally came the fourth section, the transports and Fleet Train, escorted by the II A.G. the entire force was screened against submarines by the Torpedoboat Flotillas, whilst overhead it was covered by seaplanes from the Libau Air Station. Ironically the English submarine E1, stationed in an observation cum ambush position off Libau did sight some of the Libau units putting to sea but neither carried out an attack nor realized the significance of what she had observed. On October 12th E1 set course back to Hango.
During the afternoon of October 11th the Special Unit slowly progressed northwards, the first section, preceded by the trawlers of the S-Flottille of the Baltic, with broken out sweeper gear, and the second section preceded by the II M.S.F., likewise with sweeper gear set. No mines were so far encountered. Towards late afternoon the S-Flottille of the Baltic handed over the minesweeping duties to the other trawlers and Frgkpt. Rosenberg hurried ahead to lay out the light vessels along the foreseen route at the nominated points, S, Epsilon, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and White, some of which were already indicated by U-Boats.
Meanwhile the minesweeping trawlers continued their difficult work, however, due to the increasing swell and the clinkering of their fires their speed reduced to 5 ½ knots and then 4 knots. They began to fall behind schedule. At point Gamma there was a ninety degree course alteration to almost due east and in the darkness the 1 ½ nautical mile wide sweeper formation fell into complete disarray. A further delay of two hours was incurred before the confusion was unravelled and the trawlers could continue their advance. Fregattenkapitan von Rosenberg realized something was amiss and therefore made the wireless signal: "Clear the Fleet area by 0200hrs," to the trawlers. Nevertheless, towards midnight, the II M.S.F. caught up with the trawlers and eventually had to bypass them before resuming their minesweeping work. Soon the heavy ships would be approaching from the south.
The third and forth sections of the Special Unit advanced according to schedule. At about 1934hrs the main body passed point S and steered towards Epsilon. At around 2100hrs the 1st Division of Squadron IV detached to take up their allotted bombardment positions off Sworbe. Towards midnight S.M.S. Konig arrived at point Gamma but then had to reduce speed as the II M.S.F. now lay close ahead. The entire German formation was now beginning to bunch up. If the element of surprise was not to be lost, the Pioneers needed to be at the anchorage by 0300hrs at the latest but this was quickly becoming an impossibility. The Chief of the special Unit was now faced with a difficult decision----either renounce the minesweeping or else loose the effect of surprise. Without hesitation V.Adm. Schmidt determined to forgo further minesweeping and gave the order to the Minesweeper units : "Immediately give room for the Fleet. Take on gear."
Ahead of Squadron III were the countless stern lanterns of the M.S. Units and due to those and the dense clouds of funnel smoke it was difficult to discern the lights of the navigational marks. Nonetheless, the battleships were able to anchor at their allotted positions at 0300hrs. By 0340hrs the Pioneers aboard the battleships of Squadron III had disembarked and were on their way towards Tagga Bay, in the wake of Torpedoboote Flottille II and the steamers Blitz, Equity and Corsica, which were carrying the main body of the Pioneers. Moltke followed this unit as support. The battleships then steamed towards their bombardment areas. The three ships of Squadron IV, under the Command of Kommodore Meurer, would take battery Hundsort under fire, whilst the III Squadron would fire on battery Ninnast. To cover the nearby landing at Pamerort S.M.S. Bayern would bombard the battery at Cape Toffri and Emden would fire on the battery at Pamerort. All the ships were to remain within areas swept by the S-Flottille. However, due to a navigational error the light vessel at point Delta was displaced 3 nautical miles from it's intended position, and as the S-Flottille had used this point as a navigational fix this meant that likewise the areas swept for the intended bombardment positions were displaced. It later transpired that all the battleships were actually operating in unswept waters during their bombardments. Therefore, it was only due to providence that there were no serious losses during the landing.
Meanwhile, the progress of the motor launches laden with Pioneers was beginning to fall behind schedule, with the result that the Chief of the II Flottille ordered the torpedoboats to advance and the steamers and launches to follow as quickly as possible. Moltke followed just 1500 metres behind the last steamer, Corsica. Suddenly, at 0535hrs, Corsica ran onto a mine. The detonation was to starboard, aft, beneath the engine room, which quickly filled with water. Moltke came forward and two of her torpedoboat escorts were sent to Corsica to take off the troops, the II Bataillon Infanterie Regiment 138. This was carried out expeditiously and without loss. Later, Corsica was towed to Cape Merris and beached, where repairs were carried out before she returned to Libau. Evidently there was a small Russian mine barrier running eastwards across the entrance to Tagga Bay and this was subsequently swept by II M.S.Flottille.
Just prior to this, at about 0520hrs, the sound of cannon thunder was heard to port. It could only be coming from Bayern, despite the fact that fire was only to be opened on receipt of orders from the Flagship. The Pioneers had already pushed forward into Tagga Bay and were poised to land, therefore V.Adm. Schmidt gave the order "Open Fire" at 0527hrs. At 0544hrs the ships of Squadron IV, Kaiser, Prinz Regent Luitpold and Kaiserin, opened fire on the guns at Hundsort, which were clearly visible. At the same time the Russian battery replied with a salvo, which however, was aimed at Moltke. The Russian firing was accurate, the first salvo fell just 100 metres short of Moltke, the second over and the third 50 metres off the bow. Moltke joined in the firing and she and Squadron IV continued for some time, so that by 0617hrs the battleships lay just 80 hectometres from Hundsort. The firing continued while the landing took place but by 0745hrs squadron IV had anchored.
Meanwhile Squadron III, under Vizeadmiral Behncke, took up their positions to bombard Battery 46 at Ninnast. At 0440hrs Bayern had been detached for her task of silencing Battery No34 at Toffri. When the order to open fire arrived at 0527hrs the III Squadron were still unable to make out their allotted target and initially mistook Cape Pank for Cape Ninnast. It was only at 0545hrs that the Russian battery was sighted and taken under fire with the medium calibre guns at a range of 46 hectometres. Vizeadmiral Behncke had decided to conserve the barrels of his heavy artillery. The Russian battery did not reply so that after nine minutes fire was ceased, only to be reopened shortly after 0600hrs when lively activity around the battery was spotted. With that the Russian gunners finally abandoned their battery and towards 0752hrs Squadron III dropped anchor to conserve coal.
Earlier, whilst still en-route to their bombardment position, the battleship Grosser Kurfurst had run onto a mine at about 0509hrs. The mine struck to starboard forward and the double bottom, wing passage bulkhead, protective and outer bunkers all filled with water, although a total of only 280 tonnes entered the ship. Grosser Kurfurst's draught increased by a third of a metre but she held her place in the line and completed the bombardment. Later in the afternoon she, together with the rest of Squadron III, was detached to Putzig Wiek, and from there to Wilhelmshaven which she reached on October 18th. She was repaired in the Imperial Dockyard and was returned to the Fleet on December 1st.
The landing at Pamerort and the eventual breakthrough into the Soelo Sound were under the direction of the I F.d.T., Kommodore Heinrich, aboard S.M.S. Emden. The battleship Bayern, which mounted 8-38cm guns, was to silence battery Toffri and support the landing, and as mentioned previously had detached from Squadron III at 0440hrs. A short time afterwards, at 0507hrs, a detonation occurred to port forward and a grey-black water column of comparatively small diameter was thrown up 8 to 10 metres. Bayern's draught forward quickly increased by two metres. A Watch-Engineer aboard Bayern, Oblt.(I)d.R. Lorenz, described the situation that followed : "The siren of the engine telegraph howled as the three black indicators hastily jumped into the red part of the scale ...Utmost power astern---stop !" The ship sunk perceptibly deeper by the bow to a new trim position. On the bridge they had seen a grey-black water and smoke column........Announced by shrill whistles many speaking tubes delivered their reports : 'Bow torpedo room and forward torpedo broadside torpedo room full of water, approximately one thousand tonnes of water in the ship, the leak is secure !' Quietly and orderly, just as at battle practice, further reports and confirmations arrived : four large compartments were flooded, their crews ( seven men ) gave no further answer......
"From the damage control centre the I Offizier and Stabsingenieur Loebell undertook the first measures for the security of the ship. The bulkhead door to the flooded compartments, in the large transverse bulkhead near frame 117½, just forward of turret 'Alsen', was quickly shored up........ However water was penetrating the rivets and seam joints and the pumpenmeister personnel worked nimbly at their electric leak pump stations to master the flooding."
Meanwhile, at about 0524hrs, a submarine alarm to port was given. The ship turned away to starboard onto a southerly course. Before endangering the surprise effect of the entire operation the Commander, Kapitan zur See Rohardt, asked for confirmation of the submarine attack. The 3rd and 4th Artillerie Officers irreproachably confirmed they had seen a periscope and torpedo track. Under these circumstances Bayern was forced to open fire; the firing observed by Moltke. Of course there were no allied submarines present.
Nevertheless, Bayern was able to continue her allotted task. By around 0600hrs battery Toffri could be made out clearly and at 0602hrs the heavy calibre guns opened fire, followed briefly after by the medium calibre guns. At ranges varying from 102 to 93 hectometres the battleship fired 24-38cm shells and 70-15cm shells. After a third salvo from Bayern the Russian battery replied, however, they took the boats of the S-Flottille as their targets. As observed from Emden the battleship's fire was landing over the battery, but soon a warehouse and barracks were hit and caught fire, burning for several hours. The cruiser Emden opened fire at 0608hrs at a range of 80hm., but her first and second salvos fell short and landed in the water and on the beach. Meanwhile the boats of the S-Flottille under Fregkpt. von Rosenberg, with men of the Cyclist and Sturm Companies embarked, manoeuvred in Poka Bay, searching for a favourable landing site. The Russian battery took these vessels under fire and quickly obtained a direct hit aft on the torpedoboat A28, but the shell failed to detonate. The Emden's third salvo then landed amongst the Russian battery and the gun crews abandoned their guns. At about 0700hrs the Landing Corps began going ashore and landed unopposed. The battery at Pamerort remained silent. Once ashore the Cyclist and Sturm Company immediately began to advance towards the stone dam at Orrissar.
In the meantime, in accordance with the operational plan, a diversion was being conducted to the east of the Sworbe Peninsula. The object was to deceive the Russians into thinking that a landing was imminent on Sworbe. At about 2100hrs the previous evening Vizeadmiral Souchon had led the First Division of the IV Squadron, Friedrich der Grosse and Konig Albert, away from the main body to the southeast, where they anchored out of sight of land. Towards 0400hrs on the morning of October 12th the unit weighed anchor and steered towards the coast, screened against submarines and mines by boats of the 15th T.B.H.F. The torpedoboats were inexperienced in minesweeping and slipped their gear on the bottom twice, delaying the advance sufficiently that the coast was still out of range when the timetable called for them to open fire. Nevertheless, fire was commenced and the first salvos fell short of the beach, although subsequently the shore was taken under fire. The Russian heavy battery at Zerel did not return the fire even though they were within effective range. By 0835hrs the German unit had begun the journey to Tagga Bay, preceded by the 15th Half-Flottille.
Another special purpose was the bombardment of the establishment at Kielkond and the air station at Papensholm. At 0200hrs Kptlt. Zander, with the boats V82, S64 and V74 were detached from the 13th Half-Flottille to fulfill this task. Towards 0500hrs they arrived in Kjurassar Bay, south of Hundsort. Towards 0600hrs fire was opened on Kielkond and the air station and wireless station at Papensholm. A Russian battery northwest of Kielkond and an anti-aircraft battery south of Papensholm returned the German fire. A little later a field battery to the south joined in but all were subsequently silenced. One of the torpedoboats, V82, approached to within 36hm of Papensholm and took deliberate fire on the air station, forcing the Russians to retreat before they could destroy the facilities. Some Russian aircraft had mounted a sortie however, as a German C-type aircraft and a single seat seaplane claimed three Russian flying boats near Papensholm during the morning. Towards midday, part of Infanterie Regt. 131 reached Papensholm, where they discovered a hanger, six aircraft and the wireless station intact. The air station became operational for the Germans the following day. After the infantry arrived a wireless signal from the Special Unit ordered Kptlt. Zander and his boats to hurry to Pamerort and place themselves at the disposal of the I F.d.T. aboard Emden.
Whilst these events were taking place the main landing was being launched in Tagga Bay. As the torpedoboats of Flottille II entered the Bay towards 0500hrs Korvkpt. Heinecke dispatched the 4th Half-Flottille to the east side of the Bay whilst the Leader Boat, B98, took the 3rd Half-Flottille towards the west side. Initially there was no response from ashore and it appeared that surprise was complete. The landing of the Sturm troops and Pioneers from aboard the torpedoboats progressed quickly, the men being put ashore by the torpedoboats cutters. The troops from aboard Blitz and Equity were taken ashore by the motorboats of the II M.S.Division. After the troops had landed a Russian field battery hidden behind some woods on the eastern side of the Bay opened fire. Their targets included the beachhead on the shore, the torpedoboats, Blitz and Equity, however there were no losses or damage. The torpedoboats returned the fire, but at the express wishes of the Brigade Commander, Oberst Matthiass, who was aboard B98, fire was ceased as he thought it endangered the Infanterie Regt. 138, who were landed on the eastern side of the bay. However, under the direction of Inf. Regt. 131, some indirect targets were taken under fire, including Kielkond before it was captured. After the first wave was ashore, the second wave, the motor launches of Squadron III with the troops of Pioneer I aboard, began landing.
Meanwhile, V100 penetrated further into Tagga Bay and took course towards Terwassa, on the eastern lower half of Hundsort. Here she landed a half Company of Sturm Troops. Once ashore they directed the fire of V100 and with this support the company quickly captured the six guns of the 3rd Field Battery of the 107th Division. On interrogation the Commanding officer revealed that the Russians knew of the planned landing, and of the probable landing positions and had adjusted their troop dispositions to suit. Under these circumstances the Germans were amazed that the landing achieved surprise. After capturing Terwasso the Sturm Troops turned on Battery Hundsort, which was taken at 0830hrs.
On the eastern side of the Bay the landing was also successful. The boats B109, B110, B111, B97 and B112 landed their Sturm Troops south of Cape Merris without reaction from ashore. After the Sturm Troops were ashore Inf. Regt. 138 began disembarking. Now the Half-Flotilla came under fire from a battery of field guns, located behind a wood, but which could not be made out. The B110 and B111 carried out an indirect bombardment using the cordite smoke of the battery as an aiming point. Leutnant zur see Ruge, II Offizier of the watch aboard B110, later wrote: "At first the shrapnel followed B110 but never quite caught up, while she very slowly steamed parallel to the shore, but then it ceased fire." Towards 0700hrs the six gun field battery was captured by the I Bataillon, Inf. Regt. 138.
The B112 landed Sturm Troops on Cape Merris, but this landing came under heavy machine-gun fire from ashore. Nonetheless the men were thrown ashore, under covering fire from the torpedoboat, and by 1000hrs Battery Ninnast had fallen and the Russians had retreated. The troops were able to report the following about the battery : the fire of Squadron III's medium artillery had been well laid and effective. Of the four 15cm guns, one had suffered a direct hit and had been put out of action, the crew being killed, and the others had all been struck by splinters. Another hit had destroyed the command position.
The landing appeared to be progressing well with the Pioneers meeting only light resistance and making good progress. By around 0800hrs all the Pioneers were ashore and had secured the bridgehead. Earlier V.Adm. Schmidt had ordered Kontreadmiral Reuter, who lay between Point Delta and point White, to quickly bring the Transport Fleet into Tagga Bay so that the disembarking of the main Body could commence. The Transport Fleet was preceded by the II M.S.Flottille and the Sperrbrecher Group and by 0815hrs the Konigsberg and the first Group stood off Tagga Bay. Within half an hour the first transport, Bahia Blanca, anchored and the first troops were put ashore. At 1050hrs Nurnberg and the second transport group arrived. The landing now progressed swiftly ; not only were the infantry disembarking but also the horses, guns and vehicles. It took just three and a half hours to land the main body of the infantry. The landing and unloading work continued after darkness fell, using the searchlights from the two cruisers for illumination, so that by 2000hrs the entire infantry, their wagons and machine-guns were ashore and in addition so were 530 horses and 100 vehicles.
With the initial bombardments over and the arrival of the Transport Fleet it became necessary to secure Tagga Bay as quickly as possible. During the course of the morning it had become clearly evident that there were Russian mine barriers in areas hitherto thought safe, and therefore the Chief of II M.S.Flottille was ordered to immediately begin sweeping work. Before noon the 8th M.S.H.F. initiated a search-sweep of Tagga Bay and simultaneously tackled the barrier where Corsica had been damaged. This barrier consisted of small cylindrical, very rusty mines with three lead horns each. Next the area between Cape Ninnast and Cape Pank was swept. The 3rd M.S.H.F. collected first the III Squadron, and then the IV Squadron, and delivered them safely into Tagga Bay whilst the 4th M.S.H.F. collected Bayern. By 1700hrs all the heavy ships were safely anchored in the Bay.
The security of Tagga Bay against submarines was the responsibility of the Net Barrier Unit of the Baltic, under the Command of Korvkpt. Kaulhausen. It was the first occasion that nets were being used offensively on the enemy coast. It was planned to lay a double net square across the mouth of the Bay from Cape Ninnast, with a total length of 12 kilometres. Two gaps, which would be closed at night, would allow ships to enter and exit the Bay. At 0930hrs on October 12th Rossal began laying the western part of the net whilst one hour later Eskimo began the eastern wing. By 1550hrs, Rossal had concluded her work whilst Eskimo finished her sequence at around 1900hrs.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Gruppe of the 1st S-Half-Flottille were working to secure a route into Soelo Sound, which separates Dago from Osel. Control of the Soelo Sound was particularly important because the Russians could use this passage to mount a destroyer attack on the German flank. Therefore, possession of the Sound was a prime German consideration and already before dawn A28 and her drifters had pressed forward sweeping for mines and taking soundings as they went. When Bayern and Emden opened fire on Battery Toffri, the Russians responded by taking A28 and her boats under fire. Seven salvos landed amongst the S-Half-Flottille and A28 was hit, as mentioned, however after that fire was ceased. The small torpedoboat and drifters resumed their advance and succeeded in locating the narrow, buoyed channel. Whilst conducting this work, at 0812hrs, Battery No34 at Toffri reopened fire for a short time, but was again silenced by Bayern. With that the I F.d.T. dispatched S61 and S63 to silence the battery permanently, which they did during the course of the morning by landing a Commando with demolition explosives.
After the channel through Soelo Sound had been located the Lead boat of the 2nd S-Half-Flottille, T130, and three sweeper boats pushed forward into the Kasser Wiek, to bombard the wireless station at Pawasterort. The passage through Soelo Sound was particularly treacherous, with many uncharted rocks and strong, difficult currents. Nevertheless, the small unit penetrated the Kasser Wiek, which aerial reconnaissance had reported clear of Russian ships, but soon a smoke cloud became conspicuous to the east. It emanated from the Russian destroyers General Kondratenko and Pogranitschnik, which Admiral Bachirev had dispatched to reconnoitre upon receipt of the report about a landing in Tagga Bay. The Russians quickly opened fire and forced the Germans to retire back into Soelo Sound. The two destroyers followed the Germans but were, in turn, taken under fire by Emden at a range of 158 hectometres. The Russians prudently withdrew outside the cruisers' range.
Ashore the Germans were making rapid progress. The Cyclist Kompanie under Hauptmann von Winterfeld were nearing Orissar by noon and support for them from inside the Kassar Wiek was assuming greater importance. For the time being the I F.d.T. only had Fregkpt. von Rosenberg's T144 and six A-Boats available to support the Infantry, he therefore determined to postpone any thrusts until after Kptlt. Zander arrived with the remainder of the 13th Half-Flottille. This occurred at 1330hrs and Kptlt. Zander was immediately ordered to push the Russian destroyers east to allow Fregkpt. von Rosenberg to push through the southern Kassar Wiek towards Keinast, the westerly part of Moon.
Towards 1430hrs the five torpedoboats of the 13th Half-Flottille passed into Soelo Sound. The Russians meanwhile, had been reinforced by the large, modern destroyer Desna and the armoured gunboat Grozyashchi, and now the latter opened fire on the German boats as they manoeuvred in the narrow channel at low speed. The Half-Flotilla returned the fire and with this the Russians turned onto an easterly course and a running fight began. Towards 1500hrs a further five Russian destroyers arrived, including Novik, but the Russian group continued towards the east. The 13th Half-Flottille now pushed into the eastern part of the Kassar Wiek, followed by T144 and six A-Boats, so that in spite of being materially inferior to their Russian counterparts the German unit must have looked impressive. When the 13th Half-Flottille arrived to the north of Kumora Bank they sighted an armoured cruiser in Moon Sound. It was Admiral Makarov, which Admiral Bachirev had dispatched forward to cover his destroyers and prevent any further German advance. At about 1520hrs Grozyashchi, the last ship in the Russian line, was hit three times quickly in succession. Then at 1525hrs the Russians entered Moon Sound on a southeasterly course, leaving two destroyers to guard the northwest exit of the so called 'Strumpf' channel, the narrow deep passage that connected the Kassar Wiek and Moon Sound. With that the action was over, with the Germans being left in command of the Kassar Wiek, but for the time being Haupt. von Winterfeld did not require immediate support and the I F.d.T. had ordered that the German boats should return to the west with nightfall. Therefore, towards 1605hrs, Fregkpt. von Rosenberg ordered his boats to return to Soelo Sound, whilst the 13th Half-Flottille followed just behind. The Germans safely negotiated the narrow channel and by nightfall were lying safely at anchor in Poka Bay, not far from Emden. The I F.d.T. knew that the Russians would return in strength the following day and requested reinforcements in the form of the large boats of the 4th Torpedoboot Half-Flottille.
During the afternoon of October 12th V.Adm. Schmidt received a message from the Intelligence Department in Libau stating that a deciphered Russian wireless message indicated four submarines had departed Hango at about 1300hrs. With that, the battleships not required in Tagga Bay were immediately detached to supplement their fuel stocks. At 1630hrs Squadron III, with the exception of Markgraf, were detached to Putzig Wiek, from where Grosser Kurfurst and Bayern would be dispatched to Kiel for repairs. The 15th Half-Flottille would escort them. The Markgraf would remain with the Special Unit and anchored in Tagga Bay. The IV Squadron were likewise to remain in Tagga Bay and towards 1930hrs passed through the net barrier and anchored.
Meanwhile the III Squadron began their journey at around 1700hrs but proceeded at slow speed to allow Bayern to catch up. Towards 1820hrs she joined her Squadron at a speed of 11 knots but soon had to reduce speed as her bulkheads were beginning suffer. Further speed reductions followed and finally at 2000hrs she had to stop near point Gamma for an hour while her collapsing bulkheads were shored up. Bayern's situation was becoming serious and V.Adm. Behncke decided to detach her back to the Tagga Bay. This message was passed by searchlight and Kronprinz and three torpedoboats were dispatched as escort. Towards 2230hrs V.Adm. Schmidt sent a recovery group consisting of the 3rd Half-Flottille to point Gamma to assist. By 2100hrs Bayern was making just 4 knots and only at 0130hrs on October 13th did she reach point White. Now Bayern was again forced to stop and only recommenced her journey at 0530hrs. The whole time torpedoboats circled her as an anti-submarine screen. Finally the stricken battleship entered Tagga Bay and at 0930hrs dropped anchor, whereon the difficult and time consuming temporary repair work was began. On October 17th minesweepers found the Russian mine barrier onto which Bayern had run. It consisted of spherical, lead-capped mines with an explosive charge of 100 to 120kgs . In consideration of this charge and the resulting damage it seemed likely that the compressed air accumulators in cell 12, which were used to launch torpedoes, had exploded with the detonation of the mine, and added to it's destructive effect.
As day gave way to dusk on the evening of October 12th the following situation revealed itself: the surprise landings at Tagga Bay and Pamerort had been successful at comparatively low cost ; the coastal fortifications at Hundsort, Ninnast and Toffri had been neutralized or captured ; the Transport fleet had entered Tagga Bay without loss and was engaged in disembarkation, whilst the anchorage was secure against submarines. The Soelo Sound had been reconnoitred and marked with buoys and good progress was being made with minesweeping in the Irben Straits. The air station at Papensholm had been captured intact. The Infanterie Regiment 131, reinforced by Inf. Regt. 17 and Inf. Regt. 255R., had captured the northwestern corner of Osel with a bridgehead that was deep enough to protect Tagga Bay against attack. The Cyclist Battalion that had landed at Poka was advancing southwards towards Arensburg and Tikka whilst Section Winterfeld and part of Sturm Kompanie 18 had pushed eastwards along the coast and had only been halted in the Orissar-Thomal area. Patrols had pushed onto the stone dam towards Moon but had retreated under heavy Russian fire. Overall the Russian resistance was not strong, except for that being encountered by Section Winterfeld, whose situation was becoming dangerous. It was important for them to hold out as they were threatening the Russian escape route to Moon, however assistance for them would have to come from the sea. Therefore, the control of the Kassar Wiek was becoming increasingly important.
1. A.G. or Reconnaissance Group.
2. Fuhrer der Torpedobootes or Leader of Torpedoboats.
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