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Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:19 am
by tnemelckram
Hi all!

For reasons I'll mention later, this scenario assumes that within 24 hours, Tovey's force could have been guided by Holland's shadowing force into position to intercept the German ships from the east or south. I think that Tovey was close enough to do that at the time of the Denmark Strait battle. Although I think this has been discussed before, hopefully I can add something new here. I think this has some interesting implications.

Basically, given that Hood's relative age and flaws and PoW's teething troubles were known, why go with a 2 to 1 advantage when in a short time you can have an overwhelming advantage? 4 battleships to 1, 6 cruisers to 1, and about a dozen destroyers to zero, and an aircraft carrier to boot. Colin Powell would have approved.

One problem with this would be the risk of losing contact; which Holland had experienced about four hours before. However, I think that the predicted weather to the south would not impair daylight sighting unlike the snow storms of the day before and would not be foul enough to impair operations. When Holland's destroyers rejoined from the north, two could have been sent ahead to assist the two cruisers and help assure constant visual contact. At night, the superior radar sets on the two big ships have been added to the Suffolk's so there is a triple-redundant safety net. Finally, it seems that Victorious would have gotten close enough during the day to allow her planes to spot, and that long range aircraft could be used even at night.

The still-undamaged German ships had a speed advantage on the Hood and PoW. But all they have to do is stay within the much-greater range of their radar, and close enough to readily catch up to join the battle. I don't think the German ships could have outrun that radar range and availability distance in 24 hours. The two cruisers and two detached destroyers could keep up.

U-Boats might be the biggest problem - the Germans would also know the positions of Holland's big ships and be able to return the favor by guiding U Boats to Holland while Holland guides Tovey. Holland would retain his four remaining destroyers as a screen. He might not zig zag because that would further slow him and increase the risk of losing radar contact (as shown by later events). Holland knew that radar signals might betray his initial presence and didn't use it for that reason, but a position fix for a U-Boat attack is a much finer thing than mere presence, and Leutjens thought the position of the signal source could be as much as 100 miles from him. Most importantly, PoW actually followed the damaged and slowed German ships for about 24 hours, which suggests that Holland's force didn't think that there was any danger from U-Boats for at least the next 24 hours.

Fuel became a problem for the smaller ships, but as far as I know, for the next 24 hours Holland's 6 destroyers, PoW, Suffolk and Tovey's 4 cruisers and 7 destroyers stayed in the chase.

There would be other advantages. Once they identified the feared Hood as a shadower, the German crews probably would constantly be at action stations because they think that she is faster than she actually was and could get close enough to shoot at them at any time. later, Victorious would be close enough to launch one or two torpedo plane attacks that would further tire the crew before the final battle.

It would be obvious that the Germans are being driven into something even worse. The best thing to do would be to decline the something worse, turn around and try to fight through 2 battleships, two cruisers and six destroyers back up the Strait. The British are not concerned about disclosing their already known positions or attracting U Boats in the near future. They can use radios to coordinate 90 degree turns to cap the German squadron's "T" and gunfire.

Basically what I am saying is that when you have an overwhelming number of ships to use against a single target that you think is more powerful than any one of your ships, it is better to use all of them to destroy it instead of trying to do it quickly with less than half. Using all of them would disperse and dilute the threat from the single more powerful enemy. Using less than half dramatically increases the chance that one or more will be sunk or badly mauled.


Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 3:44 pm
by Bgile
I think that for the British to decline combat and wait for a better chance would have been impossible given Holland's orders and the British philosophy of accepting combat would have ruled out any other orders than what he had.

Assuming the above not to be the case, they would still be taking a terrible risk that the Germans would outrun them and lose them entirely. That might result in having to turn back all the convoys and interrupt the vital supplies coming to England for several weeks even if the Germans ended up returning to port without sinking anything.

Hard to say for sure. It could have worked, but I think to the British not engaging was unthinkable.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 3:54 pm
by Vic Dale
This is a good scenario, but differs little from the situation after Hood sank. Many ships including a carrier were shadowing that night but they still lost her. Simply shadowing leaves too much to chance especially when dealing with a very fast squadron. Concentration of the fleet is easy to say, but the ships have to get to the specific location first. Very difficult.

The best bet is to get in and disable or slow one or both ships, then see how the rest of the day pans out. Concentration would be much easier then.

It may be thought that Hood was no match for Bismarck, but in reality although she was not a good match she could certainly inflict damage and if handled very well could prevail in a fight.

Much has been made of Hood's deck armour and the need to strengthen it, but this assessment was made against the British 15 inch guns. At ranges beyond 13,000 yards their high trajectory would cause shells to fall at an angle which would pentrate. Bismarck however had high velocity weapons which although they could pentrate thicker armour had a very a shallow angle of decent and at the range where Hood blew up that angle made Hood's 5 inches of deck armour as effective as a slab 6 times thicker. So Hood could not only withstand Bismarck's fire, she could reply accurately with every possibility of hitting and causing severe damage. Hood was a battleship with a battleship's armour.

Hood and PoW should have done much better than they did and to my mind most certainly would have done had Hood lasted longer. It seems far more likely that Hood's magazine was pentrated from below water and if that could happen to her, it could also happen to Bismarck.

If the above is correct, then Hood and PoW would have no problem dealing with this single ship, so Holland's decision to go in was in my view the right one.

Vic Dale

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 4:08 pm
by Bgile
As far as I've seen Hood had nothing like 5" of deck armor. She also had a very narrow belt and Bismarck could penetrate easily above or below it. I'd go with the best hypothesis, which is a shell exploding in the after engine room after following the path destribed on the Hood website.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 6:24 pm
by tommy303
To a degree the total amount of horizontal protection depended on where you measured it. Over the 15-in magazine groups the total amount of protective HT plate was actually 7-inches in total thickness; this thinned out somewhat over the 4-inch magazines to 5.5-inches and in way of the boiler and turbine rooms to 4.5--4.75-inches. It should be stated, that this is the total thickness spread over three or more decks, and in some cases the thickness of individual decks was made up of layers of 1-in HT plates. A further caveat is that the protective plating was high tensile steel. HT is a tough steel of uniform hardness, but is not precisely an armour grade steel as was used in the vertical armours.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 8:21 pm
by Dave Saxton
HT has a tensile strength of up to 70k psi. An amour grade material will have a tensile strength of at least 110K psi.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 8:44 pm
by Dave Saxton
tnemelckram wrote:...... At night, the superior radar sets on the two big ships have been added to the Suffolk's so there is a triple-redundant safety net. ........
The still-undamaged German ships had a speed advantage on the Hood and PoW. But all they have to do is stay within the much-greater range of their radar, and close enough to readily catch up to join the battle. I don't think the German ships could have outrun that radar range and availability distance in 24 hours. The two cruisers and two detached destroyers could keep up..........

I don't disagree with this possible different approach by Holland, but I can clarify the actual radar capabilities and limitations of the British at that time.

The Suffolk's Type 284 was really the only one in the area that proved capable of consistantly tracking Bismarck. Capt. Ellis reported that he could track the Bismarck to an absolute max range of 26,000 yards. This seems to have been above average range performance in this particular set. The KGV's 284 could just barely detect Bismarck to an absolute max range just short of 25,000 yards. In tests of the KGV's 284 set it could detect a destroyer to 14,000 yards, and cruiser to 20,000 yards, The 284,282, and 285 sets at that time had to be shut down and rested at intervals. The restart time was also somewhat protracted with a 45 minute warmup period. This made continious tracking using the 50cm sets less than ideal, but the gunnery radars were the best available to use to monitor the Bismarck at that time. The metric radars such as Types 279, and 281, as well as the 286 on Norfolk, were rather limited in range to surface targets by their vertical lobe structures. Maintaining radar contact with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen for extended periods in the dark was rather unlikely.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:05 pm
by tnemelckram
Hi Bgile and VIc. Thanks for the good responses.

A. Risk Of Losing Contact

I agree that shadowing was difficult; as I see it, keeping touch with Bismarck until Holland and Tovey's forces could be concentrated upon her was the most difficult problem the British faced. Historically it turned out to be the biggest problem. Second most difficult was finding her in the first place. Sinking her with such a combined forces would be easy by comparison.

Historically it appears that the British were almost totally reliant on Suffolk's radar to keep track of the German squadron after the Denmark Sraits battle and it turned out that they lost her for a day. My scenario attempts to address this by tripling the number of shadowing radar sets, quadrupling the number of following ships fast enough to keep eyes on her, and limiting the time they had to keep track to 24 hours after Hood and PoW sighted her. I'm really interested in your thoughts on whether all of this additional tracking capability would have made the risk of losing touch negligible or acceptable. I suppose a big factor is the relative degree to which the British and Germans understood the capabilities and limitations of newfangled radar.

I feel out on a limb speculating that that the British knew all along that shadowing ships would not run into a U-Boat trap. Given that they kept shadowing Bismarck anyway, it sure looks like they knew that. They probably figured that they would intercept any radio call that Bismarck made to U Boats and thus be forewarned.

B. Doctrine And Orders

I like Bgile's point about how doctrine and orders based on doctrine limited Holland's choices. I think this is the heart of the matter and it was very perceptive to point it out.

Holland might risk Inquiry or Court Martial for being clever. Tovey's instruction to favor an end on approach and close the range quickly seems to be a modern refinement of the ancient injunction from the sailing days to "engage the enemy more closely". It was so ingrained that Leach's decision to turn away was questioned; under the circumstances Leach faced I find that shocking.

But British naval history is full of innovators who went against doctrine with startling results.
At Quiberon Bay, Hawke chased the French into a hostile, uncharted, rocky and shoaly lee shore during a storm on nothing more than the thought that "where a French ship could go, an English ship could follow".

At The Saints, Rodney turned the doctrine that the fleet should attack with the weather gauge on its head. He understood how the copper bottom innovation made his ships superior sailers in all positions relative to the wind. He and his gunnery commander understood the new carronades. They developed new gunnery techniques that doubled the rate of fire and enabled the cannons to be pointed on an almost 180 degree arc through the gun port. He was sure that he would destroy the enemy with superior gunfire and didn't need the wind to maneuver, so his biggest concern was that the enemy, who would also have the wind if attacked from the weather side, would get away on the wind. So he instead took the downwind position so the wind would blow the enemy into him, saying "When a British fleet takes the lee gauge, the enemy cannot escape".

I realize that Hawke's and Rodney's innovations fostered aggressive and immediate battle, while my under my scenario Holland's and Tovey's actions would be at first passive so as to develop battle later under far better conditions. What they have in common is grasping what had changed and properly adapting to the change.

(a) Three radar ships should allow, for the first time, constant non-visual and (almost?) foolproof

(b) Maritime aircraft are also new and can be used to track and scout wide areas and Taranto had
shown that they could deliver deadly attacks.

(c) Radio intercept technology had developed to the point that the British would be forewarned
by any call for help by the Germans. The British, on the other hand could use radio with
impunity to coordinate. As long as they keep track of Bismarck it doesn't matter whether the
Bismarck or the whole word knows their plan (wehich was basic and obvious - Sink The

(d) Fire control was now done with elementary computers; it was much more deadly, and
Bismarck was the last word in battleship technology. Just like how you cannot have enough
runs in baseball, now you cannot have enough big gun ships because the numerically superior
winning side will sustain greater damage with fewer ships than it will with more ships.

So, on the strength of this, could Holland and Tovey have gotten away with throwing out the old doctrine (or was it now just a slogan) "engage the enemy more closely" and substituting "track an inferior enemy and intercept him with overwhelming force"? Put another way, "fight with brains not balls". WInston Churchill might not like it but perhaps this is one of those occasions where, with all due respect for The Great Man, he should be reminded of Hawke and Rodney to awaken his sense of history. Hopefully that would soften him up enough so that you can then politely ask him to butt out.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:08 pm
by tnemelckram
Thanks Dave Saxton!

If you look at my post just above, that's what I was looking for! And it makes my scenario a lot dicier.

Perhaps with three radars on Suffolk, PoW and Hood, you might be able to have one or two on at all times despite the shutdown and warm up time problem. But I was counting on all three always on for "almost certainty" in tracking. Two always on might be enough for a somewhat less "reasonable degree of certainty".

I'm surprised that the useful radar range was about 25,000 yards. Undamaged Bismarck could probably run out from under the radars on the slightly slower Hood and PoW and you'd still be stuck with only the speedier Suffolk. Which leads to a question.

Leach, Kerr or somebody wanted to turn on the radars an hour or two before the Denmark Straits battle and Holland refused because the outgoing signal might reveal their presence. I estimate that they would be 50,000 to 100,000 yards out at the time and I think they knew from Suffolk that they were about that far away. Why would they want to turn on the radar when it would not be useful at all at that range, only detrimental?

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:55 pm
by Dave Saxton
tnemelckram wrote:....... (a) Three radar ships should allow, for the first time, constant non-visual and (almost?) foolproof tracking. .......(c) Radio intercept technology had developed to the point that the British would be forewarned
by any call for help by the Germans. The British, on the other hand could use radio with
impunity to coordinate..

I kind of disagree with some of these premises. 25,000 yards isn't enough radar range to maintain (almost) fool proof non-visual contact in my opinion. This may have been why the Suffolk lost contact historically. The Bismarck's guns had a range of 36 km or about 39,000 yards. To get within radar range they had to come well inside of gunnery range. The Suffolk dare only get close enough to retain radar contact and hope that it's far enough to not provoke Bismarck to open a more sustained fire. Historically, the Suffolk was operating at the max range that it could, so when the Bismarck jinked right, the Suffolk fell out of radar range and lost contact. Any British warship would have been on the verge of falling out of range of radar contact, if it was also keeping the gunnery range suffciently great. All the Bismarck need do is drive them back far enough with a few scare salvoes. While Luetjens might have tolerated a cruiser to be 25km distant, he most likely would not allow a capital ship to remain that close.

The Bismarck had a team of radio intercept experts embarked call B-Dienst, or B-service. While this was a Huff Duff kind of capability (The British didn't have Huff Duff yet either) they had the capability to monitor British radio communications. These naval communications were far from sucure. In fact B-Diesnt could usually hand them to the German commander totally decyphered within minutes. This was how Luetjens deduced that Suffolk was tracking his ship with radar. B-Dienst informed him everytime the Suffolk would broadcast updates of his ships position, course, and speed. Luetjens did however, misjudge the effective range of the British radar, probably because of these intercepts, assuming it was 35,000 meters.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:12 am
by tnemelckram
Hi Dave!

I kind of disagree with some of these premises.

After I posted those premises I read your following post about the 25000 yard limitation and shut down and warm up time. That post of yours raised real questions so I followed with a post in which I disagreed with my own same premises! However, you will see that I am still trying to salvage something . . . . .

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:38 am
by Vic Dale
Tovey's preference for a direct heading toward the enemy owes nothing to the Nelson theory of naval engangements - get close - but is the result of gunnery exercises, when long range practice shoots in the mid to late 30s showed that bearing was now more difficult to resolve than range especially when using gunnery radar.

Also if a ship presents her bow to incoming fire, the superstructure would likely take most of the hits and shells which passed through to strike the after decks, would probably be de-capped and rendered incapable of penetration. This luxury was not open to Holland as his enemy was moving across ahead of him. He needed to choose a compromise whereby he could head fine toward the enemy, but maintain bearing for interception.

As the range came down, his decks would become more secure and his belt more vulnerable, so he would still, where possible, choose to maintain the angle, either heading toward or away to maximise the resitance of his belt, once his "safe range" had been attained.

This is probably what Lindemann was doing when he turned away at 0600, and then back again later.

Vic Dale

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 1:15 am
by tnemelckram
Hi Vic!

In your earlier post you pointed out that Tovey and Holland were subject to certain pressures that required Holland to engage instead of shadow and Tovey to order Holland to do just that. To me these pressures have a political nature (see Churchill criticizing Leach for disengaging). That made me realize that ultimately Tovey and Leach would need political-type cover for unconventional actions that deviated from doctrine. The best cover is damn good reasons, and I am trying to see whether the reasons I thought up for a deviation are any good. So forgive me if my response to your following quote seems cynical or political:

Tovey's preference for a direct heading toward the enemy owes nothing to the Nelson theory of naval engangements - get close - but is the result of gunnery exercises, when long range practice shoots in the mid to late 30s showed that bearing was now more difficult to resolve than range especially when using gunnery radar.

So the end result of the tests was it was best to approach the enemy bows on and constantly shorten the range. The admirals said Hooray! We can be Just Like Nelson! When we follow these test results we will end up "engaging the enemy more closely"! What??!! These guys Tovey and Holland want to shadow instead of engaging more closely??!! There must be something wrong with them if they don't want to be like Nelson. And that's before the English politicians, many of whom fancy themselves a naval expert, get a hold of it.

I imagine that Tovey and Holland were subject to pressure of that nature.


Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 2:47 am
by Vic Dale
I am not sure exactly to which post you are referring. If I indicated that there were rules or protocols outside gunnery requirements, which conditioned Holland's and Tovey's attitudes to action, that morning, that is clearly wrong and an error on my part.

Tovey did not order Holand to attack, he made his remarks in defence of Holland's decision to attack on a fine heading. He said he would have preferred it if Holland could have attacked head on, to emphasise his support. This implies no criticism of the fact that he did not attack head-on. Tovey was in full knowledge of the tactical situation which Holland faced that morning having received Leach's report.

Cetain rules for gunnery did exist, but they only applied after fire had opened - firing for line only and then firing ranging ladders only after line had been found etc. The decision to attack or wait would be the flag officer's perogative, though in daylight and with no good reason not to attack, especially with the possibility of a shut down of the weather later, holding back would be hard to justify. Holland had to choose the best conditions for his ships and given that it was his job to stop the Germans, he would attack as soon as he felt the moment was right.

His squadron was probably on it's upper limit for speed at 29 knots and as far as he knew the Germans could beat that by a good margin, so his options were limited. He had to attack to make the best of the tactical situation.

Vic Dale

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:54 am
by tnemelckram
I reviewed some original source documents at the HMS Hood Website (After Action Reports by Capt. Leach - PoW, Capt. Ellis- Suffolk, Adm. Wake Walker - Cruiser Squadron 1 Norfolk and Suffolk, and a report on the test of the Hoods Type 279 when it was installed in early 1941). I don't think that my alternate scenario that started this thread has merit. Here's my reasoning:

1. A plan under which instead of engaging Bismarck at Denmark Straits, Holland shadows her with Hood, PoW, Norfolk, Suffolk and the 6 destroyers, and leads Tovey's force to an engagement where both Tovey's and Holland's forces combine to sink Bismarck within 24 hours, would be a radical departure from the traditions and doctrines of the Royal Navy that dictated immediate and aggressive action.

2. Holland and Tovey's new plan would come under intense scrutiny by politicians and the public as well as their peers. If it failed and Bismarck got away, the charges would range from incompetence to cowardice, and the consequence might be Court Martial.

3. As a result, Holland and Tovey better have damn good reasons to justify their plan. I started the thread to list what I thought were justifying reasons for this different plan.

4. Such reasons can only be based on things Holland and Tovey knew or had high confidence in before the time of the Denmark Straits battle.

5. Radar is the lynchpin of my alternate plan. I suggested that three shadowing radars on Hood, PoW and Suffolk would make Tovey and Holland (as I variously expressed it) certain, almost certain, or reasonably certain that Bismarck would be tracked constantly on radar during the 24 hours would take for Holland and Tovey to trap Bismarck between them. Without this it fails.

6. The Denmark Straits was the first time that radar was used in at sea for warfare. While Tovey and Holland knew certain things about it, they did not have know enough about its capabilities, limitations and effective use to enable them to form any opinion on whether it could do item 5 above, let alone quantify the degree of certainty.

7. In early 1941, The Hood's Type 279 detected Nelson at 9 miles in a test under poor conditions. That's about 17,500 yards. That is not long enough for my plan to work. Hood would have to shadow within mutual gunfire range and if, as was likely, Bismarck was faster than Hood, she could outrun its coverage. That takes one of the additional three radars out of the picture.

8. The 25,000 yard range for Type 284 on PoW and Suffolk was a surprise discovered by Suffolk in the Denmark Straits. That was too late for 25,000 yards to form the basis of any alternate plan.

9. 25,000 yards wasn't good enough anyway. Afterward Captain Ellis recommended staying within 3/4 of that distance to provide a cushion against unexpected maneuvers, and then noted that this placed him within gunfire range. This was learned after the battle.

10. 25,000 yards for PoW would present the same problem as Hood in item 7 above. In fact, I guesstimate that the effective range would have to be 50,000 to 100,000 yards to prevent outrunning at say a 2-3 knot differential speed over 24 hours. Scratch additional radar No. 2 as a basis for a plan.

11. Tovey and Holland would know ahead of time that radar was new, so the practices and procedures in place to assure its effective use in combat were incomplete and there was a lot to be learned. Hardly a thing to rely upon. What still needed to be learned is illustrated by Captain Ellis' Report. He notes that returns from several ships in a sweep can be easily confused in future sweeps. So he recommends for the future something basic and obvious - plot all returns from each sweep on a chart so you have them all in the same place at once and can tell one from another with one look.

When my kids did their science projects I always told them that it didn't matter whether their hypothesis was proven or not. What matters is whether the process was sound enough so that you can be sure that you can learn something from either result.