Friday, October 02, 2009

Fullbore Friday

Lessons and pondering.

What types of ships need to be escorted? What if you don 't have enough escorts to ensure the preservation of your Capital Ships?

We all know the charge of heroes from Taffy 3 - but what would have happened if there were not enough escorts with the small carriers - even those who never thought they would face anything greater than a PT boat.

Ahhhh - there we go. Always look askance at a leader who tells you not to worry about a threat you know is out there. One that tells you that you do not need to worry about that threat. One that will tell you others or "off board" sensors can cover all those other things.

What if a leader tells you other ships will provide security in one dimension - say AAW or ASUW - which makes sense - but the little LT in the back of your brain tells you, "..but we don't have enough of those to go around; and what about the other threats?"

Forget what you think you know about Carrier warfare in WWII. The North Sea and the North Atlantic are not the Pacific. Different theaters have different requirements - they did then, and they do now.
The 22,500-ton carriers Glorious and Courageous had been converted in the 1920s from being heavy cruisers into an aircraft carrier armed with only 4.7in guns. The light armament was justified by the Admiralty in order to save weight and that such ships should have to rely on their screening ships in order to protect them.
HMS Courageous sent out a warning that this would be a tough war for a carrier - even if you had proper escorts.
...Schuhart in U-29 was still searching for the convoy. While running submerged, he spotted a Swordfish biplane instead. A Swordfish 300 miles out in the open sea could only mean one thing – that an aircraft carrier had to be close by. Keeping a sharp watch, at 1800 hours a puff of smoke was spotted on the horizon. It was the carrier Courageous. Schuhart sent his crew to battle stations and adjusted for an interception course.

But he could not mount an attack. Planes were circling over the carrier and the two remaining destroyer escorts were clearly visible. He later wrote in his log “At that time it looked like a hopeless operation. Because of the aircraft, I could not surface and my underwater speed was less than 8 knots while the carrier could do 26. But we were told during our training to always stay close and that is exactly what I did, following him submerged”.

Schuhart trailed on for another one and a half hours, all the while losing distance with the carrier. Then suddenly at 1930 hours, the carrier turned into the wind to launch aircraft, inadvertently placing the ship in perfect position for a torpedo attack. By 1940 hours, U-29 was in position and Schuhart fired all three forward torpedoes from less than 3,000 yards. Schuhart logged “the vast size of the target upset all normal calculations and in any case, I was looking straight into the sun”.
By the next morning of September 18, news of the sinking had been broadcasted worldwide. The sinking of the HMS Courageous was the first U-boat offensive against the Royal Navy, and more importantly, Schuhart’s victory prompted the Admiralty to withdraw all three remaining carriers from the Western Approaches. The first naval engagement turned out to be a resounding victory, as carriers were not to be seen in those waters for another four years.
Ah, you are thinking. This is about ASW .... well ... no. This is about being reactionary.

It is critical that leaders understand the full spectrum of the threat. It does not matter if you are at the Tactical, Operational, or Strategic level - heck, you could even be an Engineering Stud at NAVSEA, natch.

If anyone grew up catching lizards like I did knows a simple but effective trick. If you wiggle you fingers a foot away from one side - you can easily catch him from the other.
By early June 1940, the British position in Norway had become perilous, as was the growing threat to the UK from the success of the German Blitzkrieg that an evacuation of the forces landed in Norway had become a necessity. On 4 June two convoys of troopships were organised and sailed on the 5 June. By the 8 June, all British and Allied troops had been embarked and the two convoys had set sail without being interfered with by the enemy. At this point the carriers HMS Glorious and HMS Ark Royal had been operating north of Andenes Point, Lofoten Islands. Glorious had taken on board some 20 RAF Hurricane and Gladiator fighters, whose pilots had taken the unprecedented step of landing on an aircraft carrier to try and save their valuable aircraft. It also had on board ten fighters and five torpedo bombers of the Fleet Air Arm. Both Ark Royal and Glorious were to have formed part of the escort to one of the convoys but in the early hours of the 8 June, Glorious made a signal to Vice Admiral Aircraft Carriers in Ark Royal asking permission to proceed independently to Scarpa. The request was approved and so Glorious and her two escorting destroyers parted company with Ark Royal at 0253. Meanwhile, the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (both of 32,000 tons, nine 11in and twelve 5.9in guns), along with the heavy cruiser Hipper (of 14,000 tons) and four destroyers had sailed from Kiel on 4 June with orders to bombard the British base at Harstadt near Narvik. On the 7 June news reached the German force that the British were attempting to withdraw and the commander of the group, Admiral Wilhelm Marschall decided to attack the southern most of the two convoys. In the morning of the 8 June, the German force encountered four british ships, the oil tanker, Oil Pioneer, the empty troopship Orama, the escort trawler Juniper and the hospital ship Atlantis. Only the hospital ship was spared. This engagement however minor, had cost the Germans time and fuel, and so the Hipper was ordered back to Trondheim to refuel with the destroyer escort while the two battle cruisers carried on the search.

Shortly after 1600 the two groups of ships sighted each other and action stations was sounded on Glorious and attempts were made to get some of her aircraft ready for action. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau both increased speed to full and both opened fire at 1632 and 1646 respectively. Glorious was hit by Scharnhorst's third salvo at 1638, which penetrated the flight deck and exploded in the upper hanger starting a large fire which disrupted the attempts to get some aircraft airborne. Splinters damaged the boiler casing and smoke entered the air intakes, causing a temporary loss of steam pressure. A second hit was received which killed most of the bridge crew. The escorting destroyers laid smoke to screen Glorious, which was quite effective, forcing the Germans to cease firing, at about 1700 until 1720. At this point any help from other British ships was out of the question as the cruiser Devonshire was 100 miles away, the Ark Royal and its group were 200 miles away and the cruisers Southampton and Coventry were 470 miles away. Devonshire picked up a barely intelligible signal at around 1720 but did not break radio silence to pass it on. On board were the King of Norway and his ministers and breaking radio silence would have involved serious risk in revealing her position. None of the other ships received Glorious' radio signal, neither did nay shore station. Ardent managed to hit the Scharnhorst but received multiple hits from the 5.9in secondary armament and sank at around 1725. Glorious received another hit in the centre engine room just after the Germans had recommenced firing that shook the whole ship, caused a loss of speed and a starboard list. Just after this, Acasta passed ahead of Scharnhorst and manoeuvred to onto its starboard side and fired two salvos of four torpedoes. One hit Scharnhorst below the aft main battery turret that caused significant damage and casualties and forced the ship to sharply reduce speed. Acasta also hit the Scharnhorst with her main guns but came under heavy and accurate fire and was badly damaged. She sank at about 1820. By this time Glorious had already sank at around 1810 and the German ships altered course for Trondheim. No attempt was made to pick up survivors. The only survivors to be picked up were taken on board the Norwegian vessel Borgund, and the thirty-nine were taken to Thorshaven and transferred back to the UK on HMS Veteran.
You can almost see a Taffy-3 like battle ... but numbers, ISR, and luck were not on the side of the British that day. That and from much research, senior leadership was not focused on their primary mission and the threat to it. Sound familiar?

They were also facing the German Navy.

If you have lots of "whats" ... you're not alone.
This incident was a great embarrassment to the Admiralty. Many questions were raised at the time in Parliament, by Richard Stokes and have continued to be asked until the present day. Did Admiral Forbes really know of the movements of Glorious and her destroyer escort, and if not, was he in a position to give assistance if they encountered trouble? Were two small destroyers really enough to protect a valuable asset such as an aircraft carrier when HMS Courageous (Glorious' sister ship) had been torpedoed by U-29 with the loss of 500 men? Why did the Admiralty leave nearly a thousand men to drift for three nights and two days before a mere handful were picked up by chance? Why had Glorious separated from Ark Royal and her group only thirteen hours before? Why were no lookouts posted? Why had she not been warned that enemy ships might be along the route? Why were her urgent signals never heard, or if they were, not acted upon? Why didn't the destroyers send a report of enemy sightings? The answers that have been given, first by the Admiralty and then by the MoD have been questioned right from day one. The official reason given for Glorious' independent departure from Norway was that she was short of fuel and could not wait another 24 hours to come back with Ark Royal. Both Winston Churchill and Captain S Roskill (in 1980 after conducting extensive research) who had written the official history of the Royal Navy in World War II poured scorn on this explanation.

There are three reasons why such an explanation is open to question. The first is that there are no corroborating signals, logs, reports or witnesses. The second lies with the fuel position. Was it more economical to return at 17 or 18 knots (the speed at which she was travelling when she encountered the Scharnhorst or Gneisenau) by herself or return at 13 or 14 knots with the convoy? Of course Glorious would have used more fuel in waiting for the convoy to assemble, but overall, she would have used less fuel by waiting and returning with the other ships. In addition, if a ship is short of fuel and has a number of her boilers shut down, it is more difficult for her to reach full speed and thus outrun the pursuers, which is what happened in Glorious' case. If such a situation arises, isn't it therefore obvious that the ship will be safer in company? Why was Glorious in such a hurry that she ignored these considerations? A hand written note in an Admiralty file provides a clue. The note was from the CO of one of the destroyers in the Ark Royal group, Commander Le Geyt, who noted a signal flashed from Glorious to Ark Royal requesting permission to depart immediately the purpose of which was to make preparations for courts martial. The ship departed 30 minutes later. It was no secret that the Captain of Glorious (a submarine hero from World War One) had been in a state of conflict with his FAA staff. Things had come to a head on a previous trip to Norway, when the FAA officers had expressed doubts over a plan that involved, in their view, a futile and nearly suicidal ground attack. When Glorious returned to refuel, the Commander (A) was put ashore pending court martial. While the Admiralty and more recently the MoD have argued that a court martial would have been an extremely trivial reason to risk a carrier, two destroyers and 1,500 lives, when the story was being researched by Stephen Roskill, he contacted a number of retired naval officers who had served under the CO of Glorious, none of them tried to dissuade him that 'the fuel story is bunkum . . . the problem was the Captain's impatience for a court martial'. (Quoted in Slessor, p. 33) Following on from this why did Vice Admiral Wells in Ark Royal allow the Glorious to return independently? Unfortunately Wells was never interviewed, and so we shall never know for sure. Why didn't the Admiralty pass on the intelligence from Bletchley Park that German surface forces were likely to leave Kiel for the North Sea to the ships out at sea? That the intelligence had reached the Admiralty was indicated in the official history of British Intelligence during the Second World War and supported by Sir Harry Hinsley, who had passed the intelligence onto the Admiralty (and written the official history), but contradicted in a 1997 paper entitled 'HMS Glorious - Points of Controversy' published by the MoD's Naval Historical Branch. It was argued that only one faint and garbled message was heard by the one ship, the Devonshire, which could not take any action, and was carrying the King of Norway and his cabinet in any case. However, five members of the Devonshire's crew maintain that enough of the message was heard that to realise that Glorious had sighted two German warships and was in trouble. If this was the case, why didn't Admiral Cunningham pass on a warning to the troop convoys, as thousands to troops were at risk? The question is made even more difficult as the Devonshire's logs are missing. Why did the Devonshire exercise all four main turrets within minutes of the Glorious sending her first enemy report? Why did the Devonshire increase to 30kts and start zigzagging a few minutes after Glorious' final signal was sent, according to German signals? Finally, why was Glorious flying no air patrols despite a week earlier flying 'safe circle' air patrol through the very same waters? Despite all these questions over the incident and the available evidence to the contrary, the sad fact remains that the MoD remains tied to the excuse that it was the lack of fuel that forced HMS Glorious to leave for Scarpa Flow, even though the sinking of the ship occurred over sixty years ago.
The unanswered "why."

The sea is an interesting place. The enemy gets a vote ... and risk is not to be assumed away. Risks must be taken - but taken with care and for the right reasons.

From the German side: HMS Glorious vs
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

The lessons of 1940 are germane today. What do you take away?

If interested more in this beautiful class, you can see rare color video
here and here.

....and yes, I noticed the amount of water over the bow at flank speed. Quite a "wet" class of ship.

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