Friday, November 16, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Last week was the story of the HMS JERVIS BAY and her crew during the Battle of Convoy HX84.

When we finished last week, HMS JERVIS BAY was out of the fight and the convoy was scattered - but she did her job.
By the time they realized that the Jervis Bay had been terribly alone, an hour had been lost. The convoy had been given time enough to break up and begin to flee.
...and so the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER, unopposed now, closed in.

However, there was a Canadian ship, the SS BEAVERFORD, armed with one 4 inch & one 3 inch gun who turned towards the SHEER and her six 11 inch, eight 5.9 inch guns and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes. What was the BEAVERFORD?
Beaverford was the first of five Beaver class cargo liners in service with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s fleet. The 10,042 ton twin screw, steam turbine merchant ship had her maiden voyage in 1928 ... designed to carry 10,000 tons of cargo and twelve passengers at 15 knots.
...
Although a Canadian Pacific ship, the company chose to register her in the UK, as was the practice at the time. She carried a crew of seventy-seven sailors and ably mastered by 60-year-old Captain Hugh Pettigrew from Coatbridge, Glasgow. He had been sailing with CP since 1910. Most of her crew came from the UK, except for two Canadians.
...
She was one of 18 ships that sailed in HX-1, the first convoy of the war from Halifax to the UK on 16 September 1939; just six days after Canada declared war on Germany. In early 1940, Beaverford had a 4 inch gun installed on her stern and a three inch gun on her bow, for defense against surfaced U-boats.

By the time HX-84 left Halifax on 28 October 1940, Beaverford had already crossed the Atlantic sixteen times in convoy.
JERVIS BAY was lost, and here is where we pick up the story, wonderfully told by Roger Litwiller;
SCHEER then steamed past the sinking JERVIS BAY, now free to engage the merchant ships of the convoy. With only 22 minutes the convoy was still a smorgasbord of targets for the pocket battleships 11 inch guns with a range of over 19 miles; she could pick and choose her targets unimpeded.

In quick succession she sank the freighter Maiden carrying a mixed cargo and military vehicles, all ninety-one sailors killed, then damaged and set on fire the tanker San Demetrio, followed by sinking the freighters Trewellard, carrying steel and 12 aircraft, killing 16 sailors and Kenbane Head, general cargo, with 23 killed.

Captain Pettigrew had heeded the order to disperse, bringing Beaverford to full speed and turning away from the mighty German warship, as he and his crew watched JERVIS BAY engage ADMIRAL SCHEER. Beaverford’s radio operator sent out a continuous update of the action on the ships wireless.

They watched as the ship closest to them, Kenbane Head, suddenly exploded and sink as the massive German rounds found their mark. Pittigrew gave the order to turn Beaverford about and he raced his ship through the smoke towards the mighty ADMIRAL SHEER.

Beaverford’s radio operator sent one last message on the wireless, “It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford.”

Pettigrew ordered the stokers, manning the boilers to make smoke, laying a dense smoke screen to hide the fleeing ships of the convoy.

At 15 knots the Canadian Pacific ship suddenly broke through the smoke close enough for her 4 and 3 inch guns to register a near miss on SCHEER. The pocket battleship checked her fire and concentrated on the new threat, turning her full might on Beaverford.

With the skill of a master mariner and the courage of his crew, Captain Pittigrew battled ADMIRAL SCHEER, playing a deadly game of “cat and mouse” as she ducked in and out of the smoke screen, harassing the enemy warship.

Beaverford’s superior steam turbines allowed the merchant ship to utilize a burst of speed and with Pettigrew’s skill and exceptional seamanship he would wait for SCHEER’s 11 inch guns to fire and then order an increase in speed and change of course, making his ship a difficult target to hit.

Beaverford’s delaying action allowed the Swedish freighter Stureholm to return and pick up the sixty-five survivors from HMS JERVIS BAY.

The battle between Beaverford and ADMIRAL SCHEER continued into the dead of night. The fleeing ships of HX-84 could see the star shells and illumination rockets lighting the night sky, as SCHEER attempted to find her antagonizer. The merchant ship had many opportunities to turn away and escape in the darkness and the smoke, but she continued on with the fight.

Whenever SCHEER would turn towards the direction of the fleeing merchant ships, Beaverford would break through the smoke and darkness and engage the pocket battleship, then disappear again. Beaverford suffered for her actions, SCHEER fired 83 rounds from her 11 inch guns and 71 rounds from her 5.9 inch guns at the Canadian Pacific ship.


The battle had now lasted over five incredible hours, Beaverford was in trouble, and fires were raging in the ship, making her an easier target for the German gunners. She had by now been struck with twelve 11 inch shells and sixteen 5.9 inch shells. We can only imagine the hardship, destruction and carnage faced by her sailors as they attempted to continue the fight.

With her speed slowing as the steam turbines were damaged, SCHEER fired a torpedo. It found its target in Beaverford’s bow at 2245. With a sudden, fierce explosion, Beaverford disappeared in a mass of flames as the ammunition stowed in her bow detonated.

We do not know how many of Beaverford’s brave crew died during the battle or if anyone survived that final devastating moment as their ship erupted into a massive ball of fire. By the time Beaverford was lost, there were no allied ships in the area to search for survivors. All seventy-seven sailors sacrificed their lives so convoy HX-84 could escape.
What can you say of such men? Such leaders? Such Sailors?

Fullbore.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Revenge as a COA: Approved

Nice bit from France24 in an interview with French journalist and writer Matthieu Suc. It it, the author and interviewer discuss the elimination of the Islamic States terror organizing braintrust in Raqqa responsible for the bloody 2015 attacks in Paris and others.

France was not alone in the fight. This hints at the very international nature of the Long War we don't hear enough about.
The US understood that with the September 11, 2001, attacks, where there were engineers among the terrorists. The 2015 attacks made it clear to French intelligence that the enemy was in fact talented operationally.
... 
The shock of the attacks of November 13, 2015, and July 14, 2016, [the Nice truck attack, which killed 86 people] sparked a collective awareness within the services of the need to work together.
The intelligence services of the different Western countries have overcome the culture of mistrust that prevailed before, and everyone has cooperated in the common mission against the IS group. The hunt for the jihadists was conducted both to avenge the November 2015 attacks as well as to get to the roots of the problem. From 2015, the paradigm shifted, the international community understood that the Islamic State could strike anywhere in the world. Even the Russians and the Chinese cooperated. The British have been very good at infiltrating the terrorist group and [Israel's] Mossad have been too.
Note the Russian play. As I am wont to say - stupid actions by the Russians aside and silly petty politics on our end in response - we have more reasons to work with the Russians than against them in many areas. This is one.
The United States is much less modest than France in speaking openly about the targeted killings of IS leaders. No official French news release announced the death of Oussama Atar on November 17, 2017. That would have meant acknowledging that there are assassinations outside the legal framework. Paris prefers to talk about strikes on geographic locations.

For example, on August 30, 2016, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the IS No. 2 and spokesman for the terrorist organisation, was killed by a US missile. The death notice released by the DGSI, the French spy agency, soberly declared that the death of Adnani marked the end of the terrorist who supervised the attacks of Paris and Brussels [in March 2016, which killed 32 civilians].

But Paris has regularly given detailed information to the Americans on the presence of high-ranking IS figures in the Syria-Iraq zone to be tracked and eliminated. Cooperation between France and the United States has been successful, to the point that France did not target the planners of the November 13, 2015, attacks – they were eliminated by American bombs. Washington sees France as its "external border" – if the attacks were not happening in France, it would probably be in the United States.
Exactly.
Mossad believes that with the 2017 elimination of the head of the caliphate’s "CIA", Oussama Atar, the branch within IS responsible for the Europe attacks has been beheaded. But the Islamic State group is not defeated – it has been pushed back geographically. The amniyat may no longer exist – the means of a state apparatus are no longer available to their terrorist projects – but one shouldn't underestimate its heritage.
This is good as it buys time for the West between attacks as IS rebuilds their ability and has to re-capitalize ... but as we have learned the hard way, they will not be deterred. They will find new people. They will attack again.

Yes, I know, we never seem to "finish" the job - but let's be adults here. The American public would not allow us to "finish" the job, much less the international community, so we do what we can when and where we can.

Mowing the grass? Perhaps, but life is better with a well tended lawn than an overgrown mess.

Hat tip Craig Whiteside.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Arab Lessons of the Arab Spring

I wish it were different, but I think this is the only smart take right now, and the one most in-line with American interests.

Until education, secularism, demographics, and culture in the Arab world return to a sustainable path, I don't think the world wants anything to do with a fully democratic Arab world.

Hasan Hasan has a great read over at The Atlantic;
If the autocrats lost control over the masses in 2011, the thinking goes, that was because they did not go far enough in their repression. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gave some space to the Muslim Brotherhood, political activists, and critical media. Look what happened to him.

As unrest generated by the Arab Spring shifted power away from Arab republics to richer, more stable Gulf monarchies, leaders throughout the region dropped the pretense that they would ever bow, or bend, to the popular will—whether in the direction of more democracy or more extreme religiosity.

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for example, declared in 2017: “We will not waste 30 years trying to deal with extremist ideas; we will eradicate them here and now.” In defense of moderation, he proposed simply stomping out religious radicals. (In American terms: Shock and awe rather than hearts and minds.) And MbS was probably using the term “extremist” conveniently; the Saudis have since designated as terrorist organizations certain religious groups, such as the International Union of Muslim Scholars, broadly perceived as mainstream.

Generally speaking, authoritarian countries seem more willing than ever before to disregard the desires of the Arab street. It is now an open secret that Gulf states have developed ties with Israel, in the absence of formal relations, including trade partnerships and security deals. Just last week, an Israeli minister toured Abu Dhabi, the national Israeli anthem was reportedly sung in Doha, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to Muscat. Such reports along with continued support for President Trump’s “deal of the century,” despite his administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, have enraged Arab populations.
"Enraged Arab populations." We know what that is, we see what that will do.

Would you rather deal with those gaggles, or these?
Of course there is a constituency for such high-handedness. Elites, secular nationalists, and ordinary people exhausted by or fearful of wars were euphoric following the rise of leaders such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and MbS. They are now banking on their success, convinced that any compromise will undo the “gains” made so far.
Speaking of Egypt;
In Egypt, the campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and any form of dissent is the fieriest in nearly 50 years. Most Islamists and critics are either languishing in jail or living in exile. ... To Sisi and his supporters, harsh measures are acceptable because they have stabilized the country. Even Muslim Brotherhood leaders acknowledge that the campaign against it has been effective in the sense that it has been devastating, breaking the organization into multiple pieces. Precisely because crackdowns have worked, the regime and its supporters also back their continuation. Now that a final victory against the Muslim Brotherhood is within reach, why let up?
I wonder who helped give the Muslim Brotherhood a boost in Egypt about a decade ago...
A sign that the Obama administration is willing to publicly challenge Egypt's commitment to parliamentary democracy: various Middle Eastern news sources report that the administration insisted that at least 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's chief opposition party, be allowed to attend his speech in Cairo on Thursday.
The West should be humble in its efforts in that part of the world. Help those modernizing and secularizing leaders who emerge organically. Starve, ignore, and hobble retrograde leaders who promote externalizing their radicalism. Sometimes those can be the same people, but such is a culture that goes back to the dawn of human existence.

Whatever we do, we need to be quiet about it - and not the major player. Young, short-term players - as we are - do not usually come out on top vs. the old long-term players - as they are.

Young, long-term players - such as the Israelis - they are the exception, but you could argue they are only "young" players in the modern context. One could argue they are the oldest playing the longest long-term game of anyone.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Fullbore Friday

You go to war with what you have or what you can quickly patch together, the end result of the decision of others who will not have to fight, not have to command, not have to die.

There is no time to what-if. There is no time to complain. There is only time to get underway.

Duty. Mission. Training.
If confronted by the enemy, Fegen told his officers when he came aboard, “I shall take you in as close as I possibly can.”
You have what you have, but it is what you do with it that matters.

War is not fair. Your enemy will not wait for you to be ready. Time arrives when it want to.
November 1940.

America is over a year from joining the war. The Blitz is in its 2nd month. Liverpool has been bombed over 200 times already. German U-Boats rule the North Atlantic.

In Halifax, a convoy forms. 37 freighters heading to Britain across a hostile sea. They get one escort.
One.

A converted merchant ship armed with a few late-19th Century manually aimed 6" guns that could fire - with a well trained crew - about 8-rounds per minute with a range of 14,600 yards.

She was the HMS JERVIS BAY, and she had a mission.
In November 1940 the Jervis Bay was the sole escort for Convoy HX84 of thirty-seven freighters moving from Halifax to Britain
An extended quote from the HMS JERVIS BAY website
The position of the convoy was known to the Germans. In his book, Kapitän Theodore Krancke certainly makes no secret of expecting to find convoy HX84. ("That was the convoy all right").

As the Jervis Bay repeatedly signalled the challenge "A", the signals officer of the Scheer was commanded to attempt a bluff.

" ... 'She'll give her recognition signal in a moment,' said Krancke. 'Whatever it turns out to be repeat it at once as though we were calling her.'

Krancke was anxious to leave the enemy in doubt as to his real identity for as long as possible in order to get close up to the convoy before opening fire. At the moment the distance between the Scheer and the British auxiliary cruiser was still about fifteen miles.
That is 30,000 yards.

Who was Krancke? The Skipper of the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER. SHEER was armed with 11" guns with a range of 39,000 yards and a secondary armament of 5.9" guns with a range of 25,000 yards.

The Skipper of the HMS JERVIS BAY, Captain Edward Fegen, VC SGM, Royal Navy, knew this.
The auxiliary cruiser's 'A' was now followed by 'M' - 'A' - 'G' in quick succession. The Signals Officer of the Scheer immediately had the 'M.A.G' signal repeated, but the bluff failed. The Captain of the British auxiliary cruiser was not deceived. In any case, he probably knew quite definitely that no friendly warship could possibly be in that quarter, and now sheafs of red rockets began to hiss up from his decks - clearly the pre-arranged signal for the convoy to scatter. At the same time the auxiliary cruiser and most of the other ships in the convoy began to lay down a smoke screen.

The distance between the two ships was considerably less now and when it was about ten miles the Scheer, which up to then had been racing straight towards the convoy, turned to port to bring her broadside to bear. The guns were trained on their targets now - the big guns had been ordered to concentrate on the British auxiliary cruiser while the medium artillery was to take a tanker not far away from her as its target.

The British auxiliary cruiser, which was ahead of the second line of the convoy, had stopped signalling, and by this time the ships were close enough for the British Captain to have realised what he was faced with, for the outlines of the Scheer were now clearly visible against the evening sky and he could plainly see the guns of her triple turrets trained on him. As unlikely as it might seem, he had encountered a German pocket battleship in mid-Atlantic.
Let's pick up Chuck Lyons story over at WarfareHistoryNetwork;
Made aware of the Rangtiki’s sighting, at about 4:45 Captain Fegen sounded action stations and began accelerating his ship out of her convoy position and toward the Admiral Scheer.

Fegen immediately began firing his 6-inch guns even though he was well out of range of the Scheer. He also ordered smoke canisters deployed to hide the convoy, which made a quick turn away from the German ship and scattered. At a distance of about 10 miles, Captain Krancke swung the Scheer to port, bringing both his triple turrets to bear on the convoy and Jervis Bay. He began firing at the oncoming armed merchantman, the second salvo splashing 50 yards off Jervis Bay’s bow with 150-foot spouts of sea water, soaking the Bay’s forward gun crews.

Sam Patience, a quartermaster aboard Jervis Bay, heard what he later described as a “thunk” and turned to see a member of his gun crew slump to the deck, his head severed from his body. Admiral Scheer’s third salvo hit Jervis Bay’s bridge, knocking out her rangefinder, wireless, and fire-control equipment. Several officers and crewmen were killed by the blast, and Captain Fegen’s left arm was mangled.

As Scheer continued to fire, Jervis Bay was hit repeatedly on her superstructure, and her hull was holed in several places. The port bulkhead of the radio shack was gone and a radio operator and two coders were dead.

The remaining radioman climbed to the remnants of the bridge where he saw Captain Fegen“clutching his arm, blood spilling off his sleeve.”

Fires burned uncontrolled.

Wanting to neutralize the escort ship so he was free to attack the convoy, Scheer’s commander continued to train his big guns on Jervis Bay. Darkness was falling, and he knew he needed to sink Jervis Bay quickly so that he would have time to attack the convoy. Each salvo from the Scheer launched two and a half tons of ordnance at the stricken ship. The forward port side of Jervis caught the brunt of the fire and became a mass of twisted girders, bent and jagged plate, dead and wounded sailors, and flames. A shell somehow loosed Jervis’s anchor, and another knocked the white ensign of the Royal Navy off the top of the main mast. Midshipman Ronald Butler later recalled helping an unnamed seaman climb the mast to nail up a replacement ensign.

Jervis Bay continued steaming at Admiral Scheer and firing her guns until her steering gear was knocked out. The petty officer manning the wheel called into the voice tube that the ship’s steering gear was out of action and heard the captain’s pained voice come back ordering him to “man the aft steering position.”

With his ship aflame and sinking, Captain Fegen continued to maintain the unequal fight and stayed in command despite his shattered arm, consciously buying time for the ships of the convoy to escape.

Up to now, Captain Fegen had stayed on the collapsing bridge, which was under continuous hits from Admiral Scheer’s big guns. Shortly after giving the order to man the aft gear, however, he struggled down the starboard side of the bridge and, aided by a signalman, headed aft, stopping to encourage a gunner along the way and ordering more smoke deployed.

After a blast destroyed the after-control compartment just as he arrived there, the captain headed forward again, with “blood running over the four gold stripes on his sleeve,” Midshipman Butler later said.

Captain Fegen never made it. His body and the body of the signalman who was helping him were later seen on the deck. “[Jervis Bay] did not have a chance, and we all knew it,” said Captain Sven Olander, commander of the Swedish freighter Stureholm, one of the convoy ships. “But she rode like a hero and stayed to the last.”

Meanwhile, exploding cordite bags on Jervis Bay’s poop deck had convinced Captain Krancke that the smaller ship was still firing despite the severe damage she had suffered. He didn’t dare concentrate on the convoy until the threat posed by Jervis Bay was eliminated. Any damage to his ship from a lucky hit could seriously affect her ability to escape any hunt for her launched by the Royal Navy.

Krancke continued focusing his big guns on Jervis Bay, but turned some of his smaller ones against ships in the convoy that were still within his range.

After an hour of the unrelenting German fire and with Captain Fegen dead, Lt. Cmdr. George Roe, now in command, ordered the remaining crew of Jervis Bay to abandon ship. All of Jervis Bay’s life boats had been destroyed but rafts, some of which were damaged, and the ship’s 18-foot “jolly boat” had survived the bombardment and were launched. Most of Jervis Bay’s men simply jumped into the icy, sub-Arctic sea, some making it to the rafts and jolly boat. Others made do with what they could find floating in the water.

Shortly after the order was given to abandon ship, Jervis Bay went down. The white ensign Midshipman Butler had helped raise was the last thing to settle beneath the Atlantic waves.
Of the 254 crewmembers of JERVIS BAY, only 68 survived the battle.

The Skipper of JERVIS BAY, 49-yr old Captain Edward Fegen, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross as a result of this action.
"for valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th of November, 1940, in heavy seas, Captain Fegen, in His Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship he at once drew clear of the Convoy, made straight for the Enemy, and brought his ship between the Raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German's fire. So she went down: but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved."
The Battle of Convoy HX-84 was far from over even after the loss of JERVIS BAY.

For that, you'll have to wait for next Friday's FbF.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Sweden's Diverse Answer to ASW in the Littorals

I like the direction Sweden is going. Keeping solid, basic kill ability while incrementally making newer weapons.

I'm reviewing over at USNIBlog.

Come on by!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Just Vote

That is all today. If you have not already, vote.

I won't tell you who to vote for, just to vote for those who best reflect your policy views, or is the candidate of the two who is less corrupt or who leans towards individual liberty more than the other.

If you can vote but choose not to, then shut up.