German Navy Tactical Orders

(source: Public Record Office ADM 186/55: CB1548 German Navy Tactical Orders)

Commander-in-Chief, High Sea Fleet
13th September 1918
Gg. 4456 A. 1.

Very Secret


Draft Scheme for the Conduct of Naval War.


Forward- (1) The following draft scheme is to serve airship commanders as a general guide for reconnaissance duties. The instructions given in S. A. VI are capable of application in principle to airship reconnaissance. Consequently this draft scheme closely follows the instructions in S. A. VI, and a general knowledge of the latter is necessary for the commanding officers of airships.

(2) Proposed alterations and additions to this draft scheme should be compiled and sent in a completed form by squadrons to the Commander-in-Chief, High Sea Fleet, and to the Senior Officer of Scouting Forces when called for.



I - The Duties of Airships.

1. The following are the duties of airships apart from simple raids against enemy positions and occasional attacks upon his forces:-

(a) To carry out long-distance reconnaissances over sea in favourable weather, and to watch the more distant parts of the North Sea.

(b) To guard against surprised by advanced patrols.

(c) When the German Bight is threatened, to reconnoitre quickly the flank which is not being threatened.

(d) To screen as necessary forces at anchor or under way.

2. When employing airships with Naval units their use as an attacking force must be entirely subjected to the more important function of reconnaissance. Submarines sighted are only to be attacked when this can be done without unduly interfering with reconnaissance duties and without endangering the ship (ie through attack by hostile aircraft).

II - Reconnaissance by Airships.

3. On coming into contact with the enemy in the more distant parts of the North Sea the object of aerial reconnaissance is to report his position, strength and movements, and, further, to maintain touch and provide our own forces with immediate and reliable information, in order that decisions may be quickly made and necessary movements made.

4. When screening forces at anchor or under way, the airship screen is immediately to inform the units being screened of the approach of enemy forces, in order that the necessary counter measures may be taken.

5. In order that full value may be derived from airships, vessels co-operating and in sight should frequently give them a position.

6. Reconnaissance and screening duties overlap to a large extent. It is impossible to differentiate exactly between the two functions.

III. The Airship Command.

7. (a) During Fleet operations the Senior Officer of Airships (F. d. L.) is at Nordholz.

(b) Should the Officer Commanding the Fleet consider it desirable for the Senior Officer of Airships to go afloat for Fleet operations or offensive cruisers, the necessary orders will be issued.

IV. General Remarks on W/T and Signals.

8. For visual signals the searchlight only is to be used. Searchlight signals will be made in P/L or cyphered according to the General W/T Signal Book. Visual signals should be used as much as possible in order to relieve W/T traffic.

9. The airships' principal means of signalling is W/T. For W/T procedure see "Instructions to General W/T Signal Book."

10. W/T Traffic - Procedure.

(a) For routine reconnaissance and screening purposes the Central Station for airship W/T traffic is the German Bight W/T Control Station.

(b) For Fleet operations the Control is undertaken by the German Bight W/T Control Station until an action between the Fleets results. As long as the distance between the Fleet Flagship and an airship is not greater than the distance from the airship to the Control Station, it will be taken for granted that the Fleet Flagship intercepts all messages. When the distance is greater, and in cases of doubt, the messages are to be repeated by the Control Station. On the Fleets coming into action the Fleet Flagship will take over the airship W/T control.

11. The Control Station is responsible at all times for the transmission of all important messages to airships. It is to be remembered in this connection that airships are sometimes temporarily unable to receive on the Fleet Wave during R. S. A (? type of directional W/T - transl.) sending periods.

12. For further instructions re employment of W/T, see "W/T Regulations."

13. A continuous mutual exchange of information must be carried on between the W/T Office and the Airship Command. A knowledge of the situation will be of great assistance to W/T officers in reading our own and enemy W/T messages, while reports from the W/T officer as to nature and frequency of enemy W/t signals may often enable the Airship Command to arrive at valuable conclusions. Should the transmission of a message be delayed by other W/t traffic or by interference, the Airship Command is to be asked at appropriate intervals whether the message is still to be made in its original form.


Procedure for Reconnaissance by Airships.

I. Method of Reconnoitring by Airship.

14. Reconnaissance in given areas, and the screening of moving forces, are usually carried out by airships patrolling fixed lines. the patrol lines are named according to their extreme points (position squares or objects ashore). Their occupation - and the duration of the same - is regulated by the Airship Command. All airships concerned in an operation are to be acquainted with the patrol lines and the fact of their being occupied.

II. Signalling during Reconnaissance.

15. Airships on reconnaissance are to report all important events - all enemy forces sighted - in accordance with paras. 8-12.

16. In order to avoid mistakes in reporting enemy light forces sighted, such general phrases as "Enemy steering..." (Feind steuert...) should be avoided and the following form employed: "Enemy forces not being reported are steering..." (die gemeldeten feindlichen Streitkräfte steuern...), such reports to precede the description of these forces.

17. The airship which first sights enemy forces (the one actually keeping in touch, see para. 23) is to make the following report as soon as possible:-

Nature and approximate strength of enemy force, position square and course (approximate direction of advance), presence of submarines, minelayers, aircraft parent ships, and other important observations.

18. If enemy forces are not observed, airships will report - if other W/T traffic allows - their position about every hour, when at the end of their beat or making a large alteration of course, adding either that it is certain there are no enemy forces in the patrolled area, or that none had been seen on account of clouds or haze.

Such reports should read:-

(1) Position by bearing of Lyngwik Lighthouse. No ships present in whole patrol.


(2) Position by R. S. A. (? type of directional W/T - transl) bearings... nothing seen owing to thick clouds


(3) Estimated position ... Area not guaranteed clear.

19. Impracticability of carrying out a Reconnaissance on account of bad visibility or damage to the ship is to be reported immediately.

III. Concentration on the Enemy.

20. If enemy forces are sighted in the more distant parts of the North Sea, and a reconnaissance is ordered with the object of fixing their position, all airships in the vicinity of the forces sighted, provided they are not taking apart in any other reconnaissance or screening operation, are to concentrate on the enemy for the purpose of keeping touch with him. The remaining airships continue their reconnaissance duties over the outlying areas.

21. It is of especial importance in such cases to ascertain whether the vessels reported are supported by heavier forces. The remaining airships will therefore reconnoitre the areas for which those keeping in touch with the enemy were originally detailed.

22. For this purpose, and also for general efficient co-operation on a reconnaissance, all airships taking part should be acquainted before their ascent with the orders issued to all other airships. If, in such a case, other airships get in touch, the officer in charge of the reconnaissance will issue special orders.

IV. Maintenance of Contact.

23. The position with regard to the enemy of the airship maintaining contact will depend largely on wind and weather conditions. Technically it is most favourable to maintain contact to leeward. It should be borne in mind that it is advantageous to maintain contact in as many places as possible, as the enemy dispositions can be thus best watched, and the difficulty of driving off the "contact-keeping aircraft" is increased.

24. All airships are to report as soon as they effect contact, adding, as soon as the momentary W/T congestions allows, their position with regard to the enemy expressed in bearings, eg "Am in contact, position North, North North East, North East of (eg enemy Main Fleet or enemy forces reported)." In cases where the airship is between our won and the enemy forces, information as to the airship's position with regard to the latter may be of decisive importance, as the forces detailed to attack the enemy will be able, as soon as they sight the airship, to carry out such movements as are necessary to bring the enemy to action, irrespective of any discrepancy between the estimated positions.

25. For this report accuracy to within two points is sufficient. Should the enemy divide his forces, it is important that contact be kept with the greater part, ie with that portion of his forces which seems, according to numbers, composition and direction of advance, to be the greater menace to our own forces. If sufficient airships are available, it is desirable that contact be maintained with the other parts. Which airships shall accompany the various parts will be generally decided by their relative positions with regard to the enemy at the moment of his dividing.

26. The most important part is played by the "contact-keeping airship" ie the airship which first reported having sighted the enemy (para 17). A signal must be made about every 15 minutes, in order that her possible absence may be noted in time. A short signal is sufficient; if necessary, v v and signature may be made.

27. Should the actual "contact-keeping airship" be driven off, or fall out for any other reason, the most suitable airship is to take over the duties of contact-keeping without further orders. If the contact-keeping quarter-hourly W/T signal is not received after a lapse of half an hour since the last signal, it will be considered that she cannot get into communication, or that she is out of action for some other reason. At the end of this time - at the latest - another contact-keeper is to carry on, making the contact-keeping signals.

28. The actual contact-keeper only is to make contact-keeping signals. Other airships are only to make reports when it is clearly evident that the contact-keeper has observed any movement of the enemy wrongly, or not at all, or when fresh enemy forces which could not be seen by the actual contact-keeper are sighted.

29. As a rule, any alteration of the actual contact-keeper should be avoided. The Senior Officer of Airships, however, when taking part in the operation of maintaining contact, has the right to take over the duties of actual contact-keeper. He intimates this intention of approaching the enemy by making a contact-keeping signal with his own signature. The previous contact-keeper is thereby immediately relieved of his duties as such.

Part III.

Functions of Airships during and after a Naval Battle.

30. During action airships have to perform the following duties:-

(a) To ascertain whether the enemy force in sight is supported by further enemy forces which might later take part in the action (compare para 21). (Watching the disengaged flank).

(b) In the absence of heavier-than-air machines, to report important movements of the enemy forces engaged (eg impending torpedo attacks, approach of enemy submarines, laying of mines), and to furnish information re the enemy's losses, serious damage, etc, which would probably not be seen by our own forces.

31. After an action, it is of the greatest importance that airships, in the absence of aeroplanes or seaplanes, keep constant touch with the enemy and immediately report his course, speed, formation, nature of screen, the lagging behind of single ships, and the towing of damaged ships, etc, in order that the question as to the possibility and method of attacking the retreating enemy by our own forces may be decided on the basis of these reports.

Last Updated: 21 November, 1999.

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