Defences around the Dortmund Ems Canal
I'm going to begin this section from the viewpoint of Jim Morris, a pilot with 467 Squadron who had to encounter the defences around Ladbergen on more than one occasion:
Jim Morris would have been familiar with this type of map, it shows the main flak defence areas across northern Europe and the areas to avoid if at all possible:
Towards the southern edge lies the deadly triangle of the defences of the Dortmund Ems canal:
I am indebted to Malcolm Brooke and his informative website www.bomberhistory.co.uk for much of the following detail about the flak types and positions around the canal.
The Germans were very aware of the vulnerable target areas along the canal so several hundred flak guns varying in calibre from 20mm through 37mm and 50mm up to the massive 105mm were brought in as a defence.
Batteries of the larger flak guns were positioned near the canals, the smaller ones were located at locks and safety gates.
The heavy flak batteries consisted of four 105mm guns arranged in a square with a main fire control centre some 100m away. An auxiliary command centre was positioned centrally between the four guns.
In Ladbergen there were two heavy 105mm flak locations positioned in the fields of Ferlemann-Peters to the north of Ladbergen on slightly elevated ground.
The second battery of heavy flak was positioned in fields to the east of Ladbergen at the site of
the Grotholtmann farm. Here, on the flat ground, 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.
Initially, each location had two batteries of four guns which was later increased to five per battery. Guns of this size were normally used in the defence of major cities, this is a good indication of the importance of the canals to the overall German war effort.
On the "island" between the two channels of the canal, batteries of 37mm flak positions were set up. Later in the war the flak batteries were manned by locally recruited flak troops, their reliability however was suspect and they were quickly replaced by regular flak troops.
37mm flak positions were also dug in on top of the Huckberg where the Mittelland canal joins the Dortmund Ems. This position commanded a clear view of the Mittelland and Ladbergen target areas.
Some of the batteries of 50mm flak were manned by Czechoslovakian troops. 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.
Young Luftwaffehefler manning guns and searchlights.
Following Churchill's reawakening of interest in the Dortmund Ems aqueduct as a priority target in 1943, an assessment was made of the flak defences at that time:
This was the situation in 1942/3, the last paragraph noting that some military personnel may have been called away for more pressing duties in other war theatres, but the sheer number of guns and searchlights present then gives some idea of how much importance was placed on keeping the vital link to the Ruhr open.
The heavy 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.