They say that once upon a time, somewhere between Lazu and Agigea, a place called “La Vii” (The Vineyard), it was the location of the 1940′s Tirpitz cannons battery. Now, something’s not right here – “La Vii” is the former name of contemporary Poarta 5 neighbourhood of Constanta. And Tirpitz battery is not located between Agigea and Lazu, nor on “La Vii” area.
This is the REAL story of Tirpitz battery and its factual history, based on hard-to-get official information and unique images from inside the cannon battery.
By early 1940, the German mission in Bucharest established as the prime objective for the German naval forces dislocated in Romania and led by Admiral Tillesen, to provide the defense of key points of the Romanian Black Sea coast. Admiral Fleischer was responsible for the development and implementation of this goal.
Romanian coastal artillery of the time had cannon batteries in Eforie, Mamaia and Sulina, but those guns was obsolete and pretty worn-out. With that equipment, the Romanian Army could not ensure effective protection of the minefield surrounding the port of Constanta, with even less chances to be able to reject a Soviet naval attack.
Thus, in the winter of 1940, were brought in Constanta 6 cannons of 280 mm caliber, spare material from the German battleships of World War One. According to the plans drawn up by the Romanian Royal Navy Command together with the German navy mission in Romania, three of the guns were distributed the Tirpitz battery and the other 3 formed the mobile (railway) battery Bruno Lange, at Mamaia.
In the spring of 1941 it began the construction of the Tirpitz battery, which will be equipped, besides the three 280 mm mega-guns, with anti-aircraft guns caliber 88 mm, 75 mm antitank guns and motorized subunit consisting of a number of anticar guns. Not counting the machine guns and the MPs. The battery was surrounded by two fences of barbed wire and a minefield. No less than 600 German soldiers served on the Tirpitz battery.
Let’s get back to the superstars – three 280 mm cannons. We are talking about huge cannons, with total weight of 40 tons for each cannon. The barrel length was 12 meters. It was able to launch projectiles of 300 kg and 90 cm long at a rate of fire of 3 per minute. It was the largest piece of artillery that ever fired on Romanian soil.
The mission of defending the Romanian coast was held by the 613th coastal artillery battalion, under the command of Korvettenkapitän (lieutenant commander) Fritz Sureth. Both artillery batteries were placed in such a manner that the cannon’s fire covered the entire Constanta harbour minefield.
Both 280 mm batteries were put into use in March 1941, and soon will be used in a real mission. On June 26, 1941, Soviet naval forces attack Constanta, destroyers Moskva and Kharkov (Leningrad class, six 130 mm guns) sending 350 shells on the harbour and Palas railway station. Their shells struck several train tanker-cars and some storage buildings. Agigea coastal battery opened fire immediately in retaliation. Romanian destroyers NMS Regina Maria and NMS Marasti engaged the battle and opened fire targeting the Soviet ships. Tirpitz battery opened fire at 4:22 pm, performing 10 salvo (some sources specify 39 shots) to the enemy ships: first salvo for adjusting the targeting elements, then three salvos with all 3 big guns. Kharkov is lightly damaged by hits from the Romanian and German guns and had to withdrawn. Surrounded by the shells that exploded closer and closer, Moskva launches a smokescreen and attempt to turn the ship and withdraw. Panicked by the shells blast, the crew headed to ship right into the minefield. They’ve hit a mine, exploded and the ship breaks in two. Moscow immediately sunk to 40 meters depth, taking with it 331 of the 400 crew members.
That was the only combat mission of Tirpitz battery. Following the events of 23 August 1944, the battery was alarmed and ready to fire against the city and the port of Constanta. Fortunately was not the case, the 9th Infantry Division commander, General Constantin Ionascu and Rear Admiral Horia Macellariu met with Vice Admiral Brinkman, commander of the regional German Navy and the Tirpitz battery was ordered to cover the safe withdrawal of the German Army.
On 25 August 1944, the hours 5:50 p.m., Captain Alexandru Martec arrived at the Tirpitz battery, asking the Germans to stop everything and leave immediately. Germans answer: “we’ll leave at night and we will handle you the battery”. At 2:30, the Tirpitz staff is leaving by train heading Bulgaria, but not before dynamite and blow up the entire Tirpitz battery. In the Romanian Naval Forces Operations Command log is registered, on 26 august: “at 02 and 30 minutes AM, explosions and fires occur on Tirpitz battery. Battery had blown up. Until this time, the battery was in function, covering the withdrawal of ships in port and of the German ground troops from Constanta to the Bulgarian border area”.
Is Tirpitz battery will turn into a mass of burning rubble. At the end of the war, the Romanian soldiers dismantled what it has left of the twisted pieces of metal and stored until sending them to be melted as scrap. So it ended the story of the Tirpitz battery, everything being blown apart and melted… but something still remain for contemporaneity.
THE TIRPITZ BATTERY, 2012
Somewhere at the entrance of Lazu, in the open field, near a railway that, decades ago, used to be guarded with watching towers from 50 to 50 meters. I was following a “Bing Maps marker”, a little mound that was barely visible on the horizon. I hope to metamorphosis into a concrete foundation with twisted iron grimacing to the sun. I’ve parked my car and I’ll get there by foot just to prolong the moment – it’s like a first date with a nice and bad, bad girl, back on the teenage years.
And here she is! The Tirpitz Battery, this Fata Morgana of the Constanta’s history explorers. Or, better said, what’s left of the Tirpitz battery. It’s just a fraction of what it has been, but it’s more than I’ve expected. Not just a foundation hidden beneath a layer of soil, but a solid, concrete pillbox. With a huge “crater” in a the corner of the bunker. Just right to fit a 280 mm cannon there… but do not rush with assumptions. This place could also held a tobruk for flak guns.
The bunker calls us closer and closer, just like the wolf in the story, it pretends her ears are not so good after all these years guarding the open field … OK, let’s get closer and let’s take her measures. Length 13 m, width 8.5 m, height 3 m – big mama! Here it is, and outer parts of the ventilation system. Two of them!
Once on the roof of the bunker, my first-objective was the large shaft. A 1.7 m diameter and 2 m depth shaft hosted a lethal weapon, that played an important role in Constanta’s defense. Note that slot on the shaft floor, the access to what used to be the gun’s guts.
What we have here… the ventilation system, always there, in any serious pillbox. Here in double exemplary, except for cordite-exhaust pipes, there were another piping for the stove and some fake pipes to deceive enemy.
The first fan with its ventilation system piping, and a close-up of components of the fan.
Here it is the ventilation system # 2, with its associated fan. Number 7966 can be distinguish on the rim, the fan type code. Note that someone has tried to unscrew the rotor’s nut with a chisel and a hammer.
So far, pretty important discoveries. But what’s better, it’s following! On the West side of the building lays something that any WW2 bunker explorer dreams of: an entry in the pillbox!
A last look along the wall to the XXI-th century Romanian sky and I let myself drop into the darkness of the past.
A heavy metal door frame, equipped with 6 massive hinges remembers you’re into a WW2 german bunker. And 70 years ago it would have been too late – the machine gun mount, firing from that front wall would leave no room for discussions.
The walls have a blackish tint – testimony of the hell that broke out when the battery was blown apart. Even auxiliary buildings has been burned and melted away.
A fan, again, the same model as those on the outside. Its rotor remained in place.
Surprises, surprises – this is the famous, standard ceiling type of the WW2 German bunkers. This is the first encounter with this type of ceiling plate, in Romania. This certify that the Tirpitz battery was 100% “Deutsche Werke”.
Immediately to the left we’ll reach a dark passage, a ray of light shinning through another machine-gun mounting. Two rooms are accessible on the right of the passage. It’s pitch black, and I don’t have the flashlight on me, so I have to rely on the fraction of a second when the camera’s flash reveals the surroundings.
Again, pipe flanges, the always-there ventilation fan and the machine-gun mounting, targeting the “back door” for the bunker.
Let’s have a look at his first room on the right. Darkness, I can’t see a thing, only the camera’s blitz (just to use a German word) reveals all types of bolts and clamps hanging from walls and the flanges of the ventilation system.
The top of the wall is blackened by fire. Some garbage on the floor, but many debris resulting from blown up… Halt! A thigh-bone! Fortunately, a cows thigh-bone or some other herbivore… I hope.
The machine gun mounting armored plate and here I am, targeting somewhere outside, getting ready to… replace camera’s batteries.
We’re leaving the room to get inside the next room of the passage. Darkness, pipe flanges, rubble and two boots in a corner. Not German boots, but it’s still OK – no more bones around.
Two twin flanges hang out on the wall. Plaster left the walls on large surfaces, suggesting that an explosion occurred in the room. And when I get into the next room, my assumption became a fact – the heavy door frame was blown away and a pulled out of the wall.
The new room is going in two directions. And to the right (East side) there is “treasure room” – the guns shaft enclosure! The walls seems carved with a huge chisel, but the main attraction is the ceiling and what it reveals: the guns shaft. The room wherefrom the dragon sent his claws of fire.
In the middle of this heavy artillery, a mosquito is caught by camera flying in a reconnaissance mission over the gun shaft. With no respect
Let’s turn back to the room on the opposite side, not before having a look at the massive steel structures that reinforced the pillbox’s walls.
Opposite the cannon room is a hallway which gives access to the second doorway of the bunker, with an arrangement somewhat similar to one I’ve found when I’ve got into the pillbox. The entrance, once fitted with a massive door that closes tightly, was protected by another machine-gun, the gun’ servant was positioned the other side of the wall, at the end of the main corridor bunker.
An overview of machine-gun firing hole and the cordite vapors ventilation fan. 70 years ago, any attempt to force your way into the bunker, was doomed to failure.
The next pic is close-up of the ventilation fan, still having the rotor on place. The rotors of the fans located on inside the bunker could not be removed as they dismantle to the interior of the pipes and the ventilation tubes were inaccessible due to an “pipe elbow”.
Tirpitz battery was devoured in a powerful explosion and the flames that followed – the Germans preferring to destroy the cannon and everything, than to allow it to fall on Russians hands. Inside the bunker, huge temperatures consumed everything. Even the tiny pieces of wood inserted into walls were turned into coal.
This time, the bunker door says “get out”. We’ve quarried enough through its history full of big salvos, flames, rubble and twisted steel. I leave the Tirpitz battery through a “door” similar to the one we found at the “entrance”, with “mixed emotions” Satisfaction, for finding some answers, and also regret. It could have been different. No the Tirpitz battery, but our history …
Auf Wiedersehen, Tirpitz Geschütz. And thank you for not turning your big guns to Constanta city, in the days following August 23, 1944 …
While leaving the ruins of the Tirpitz Battery, I’ve couldn’t have noticed that north of the bunker, there is a mound of earth that is included in the area of the former German military base. Certainly, that mound is covering parts of the battery, maybe another identical bunker or some other weapons and equipment of the base.
From the grass covering the soil around the bunker arise rails segments, that were intended to stop a tank attack. Do not forget that I’m standing in the middle of a minefield, literally. Fortunately, a former minefield.
Our expedition does not end here, the Tirpitz Battery was way larger than what we see today. Do not forget the personnel serving at the base numbered 600 solders.
75 meters NE of bunker, I come across another installation of the Tirpitz base. It is a hexagonal-shaped foundation with another hexagonal shaft inside of it. The distance between the hexagon sides is 1.5 m, the thickness of the walls (at the top) of 85 cm, but increasing towards the base. The building was provided with an access opening for personnel serving the radar. Yes, the radar, because, with help of the Romanian Military History Forum, we’ve identified this as the base of a FuMO 214 radar system. That was a powerful radar system working for the powerful 280 mm guns.
This is how a FuMO 214 radar looked, with its antenna mounted on the concrete socket (that one lacks the control cabin).
The shaft is filled with mud, a phenomenon easily explainable in the middle of the field. Currently the shaft is 1.5 m deep, but I’d rated it 2 m, considering the mud that had gathered inside.
A bundle of 5 pipes used to protect the cables that powered the radar. The radar antenna was strengthened to its base with 6 steel bolts of 38 mm diameter.
An interesting aspect is that this radar had a twin brother, disposed symmetrically, NW of the Tirpitz bunker. Well, after this construction lasted for 70 years, it completely vanished now.
While I was leaving the site, I’ve reached over another “artifact” – a system of valves and pipes large enough to cool big guns. I can’t say if that pipe was intend to supply Tirpitz Battery or it’s just part of the irrigation system installed in the communist era. I just publish the image of the site and its surroundings in order to help building an accurate image of the Tirpitz Battery area.
“The Long And Winding Road” as The Beatles used to say… On the right you can see the railway with its watching towers.
A last glance into the remains of what was called, many decades ago, the Tirpitz Battery.
I conclude the expedition Tirpitz from the roof of the bunker, with a 360 ° panorama that shows the dominance of the former gun battery over the coastline.
(use mouse to navigate image, scroll mouse for zoom)
This post is also available in: Romanian