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The Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 Bachstelze

Overview

The Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 Bachstelze (Wagtail) was a gyro kite designed to give U-Boat crews the ability to see further than they could from their conning tower. The prototype began operational tests aboard U-523 in August 1942. Weser-Flugzeugbau produced about 200 Fa 330s.[i]


[i] National Air and Space Museum, Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail), Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail) | Smithsonian Institution (si.edu), last accessed 10/17/22.

Theory and Fact

A Fa 330 could increase the radius of a U-boat’s sight from about 10 to over 50 kilometers (6 to 30 miles).[i] The test results were overall positive but only the Type IX U-boats could use them. Earlier U-boats weren’t fast enough to keep the Fa 330 airborne. Fa 330s would give U-boats the ability to see further but their radar signature would make U-boats easier to find. This restricted its use to the Indian Ocean where merchant vessels didn’t travel in convoys.[ii]

On April 1, 1943 the U-177 departed Bordeaux with an Fa 330 on board. It was the first operational deployment for an Fa 330. On the morning of August 5, the Fa 330 spotted the 4,195 ton steam merchant ship Efthalia Mari. The U-177 sank the Efthalia Mari at 5:45. One of the Efthalia Mari’s 43 crew members died in the sinking.[iii] This was the only known time a Fa 330 assisted in sinking a vessel.[iv] It’s possible Fa 330s were involved in sinking other ships but the details are lost to history because the U-boats and their crew didn’t survive their voyage. The U-177’s Fa 330 spotted another ship but technical difficulties prevented the U-177 from engaging the ship.

Some U-Boat commanders traded Fa 330s to the Japanese in exchange for floatplanes.[v] The first knowledge of the Fa 330 came after RAF Wellingtons heavily damaged the infamous U-852 on May 2, 1944, killing seven of the crew. The crew beached and skuttled U-852. Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Wilhelm Eck and 58 other crew members survived. The Allies captured the U-boat’s Fa 330.[vi]

On March 13, 1944 the U-852 sank the Greek steam merchant ship Peleus. The crew fired on and threw grenades at the ship’s rafts and other debris. Three of the 39 crew members; Chief Officer Antonios Liossis, Greaser Rocco Said, and Able Seaman Dimitrios Argyros, survived to tell of the atrocity.[vii] Heinz Eck, August Hoffmann, and Dr. Walter Weisspfennig were tried and convicted of war crimes by a British court. They were executed on November 30, 1945. Chief Engineer Hans Lenz was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Wolfgang Schwender was sentenced to 15 years in prison.[viii] Lenz was released in 1952 and Schwender was released in 1951. This was the only confirmed case of U-boat crews firing on survivors in the water.


[i] Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Errr…no…The Focke Achgelis Fa 330, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEtSIme0Eig, last accessed 10/21/22/

[ii] National Air and Space Museum, Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail), Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail) | Smithsonian Institution (si.edu), last accessed 10/17/22.

[iii] U-boat Net, Efthalia Mari (Greek Steam merchant) - Ships hit by German U-boats during WWII - uboat.net, last accessed, 10/17/22.

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[iv] Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Errr…no…The Focke Achgelis Fa 330, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEtSIme0Eig, last accessed 10/21/22/

[v] National Air and Space Museum, Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail), Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A-1 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail) | Smithsonian Institution (si.edu), last accessed 10/17/22.

[vi] U-boat Net, The Type IXD2 U-boat U-852 - German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net, last accessed 10/21/22.

[vii] U-boat Net, Peleus (Greek Steam merchant) - Ships hit by German U-boats during WWII - uboat.net, last accessed 10/21/22.

[viii] Erenow.net, Heinz-Wilhelm Eck: Siegerjustiz and the Peleus Affair by Dwight Messimer, Heinz-Wilhelm Eck: Siegerjustiz and the Peleus Affair - Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders Of World War II (erenow.net), last accessed 10/21/22. This page gives a detailed account of the incident, trial, and other related information.

U-Boat model kit with Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 Bachstelze

Aftermath

The U.S. used one Fa 330A-1, Werke Nummer 100404, for trials. The USAAF gave it the designation FE-4618. The USAF changed the designation to T2-4618. T2-4618 was lost at sea near MacDill Air Force Base in September 1948.[i] Technology made the concept behind the Fa 330 obsolete by the end of the ‘40s.

The Smithsonian has an Fa 330 on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The Smithsonian believes it is the one the USAF designated as T2-4616. The National Museum of the United States Air Force has an Fa 330, designated as T2-4617 on display.[ii]


[i] Silverhawkauthor.com, German Warplanes flown by the Luftwaffe 1939-1945: Fieseler to Focke Achgelis (silverhawkauthor.com), last accessed 10/26/22.

[ii] National Museum of the United States Air Force, Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 Sandpiper > National Museum of the United States Air Force™ > Display (af.mil), last accessed 10/26/22.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Robert Sacchi

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