I think that anyone who Posts an alternate history scenario must specify what point of departure from actual history will be used for the analysis. My original post was defective in this regard. I'd like to specify a point of departure for my OP. Your thoughts on the importance of this specification and/or its impact on the specific scenario will be interesting and appreciated.
Here's my original alternative scenario, edited a bit for this new purpose:
What would happened if Admiral Holland chose to shadow the Germans instead of engaging them at Denmark Straits? 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. 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.
I used this passage from this Site's account of Rheinubung
and the chart showing the British spotted the Germans at 5:37 to arrive at the specific time of my point of departure:
In the early morning of 24 May, the weather improved and the visibility increased. The German battle group maintained a course of 220º and a speed of 28 knots, when at 0525, the Prinz Eugen's hydrophones detected propeller noises of two ships on her port side. At 0537 the Germans sighted what they first thought to be a light cruiser at about 19 miles (35,190 meters / 38,480 yards) on port side. At 0543, another unidentified unit was sighted to port, and thereafter the alarm was given aboard the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Aboard the Bismarck the identification of the enemy ships was uncertain, and they were now both mistakenly thought to be heavy cruisers.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Due to the similar silhouettes of the German ships, at 0549 Holland ordered his ships to both engage the leading German ship (the Prinz Eugen) believing she was the Bismarck. (emphasis added)
. . . . . . . . . . .
Suddenly, at 0552.5, and from a distance of about 12.5 miles (23,150 meters / 25,330 yards), the Hood opened fire, followed by the Prince of Wales half a minute later at 0553. Both ships opened fire with their forward turrets, since their after turrets could not be brought to bear due to the ships' unfavourable angle of approach. Admiral Lütjens immediately signalled to Group North: "Am in a fight with two heavy units".
My specific point of departure is 5:49 AM on May 24, 1941 and the scenario includes the facts in the above passage. I think these facts are important at 5:49:
1) Holland knows the identity of the German ships.
2) Lutjens does not know the identity of the British ships and thinks they are just two more shadowing heavy cruisers.
3) Holland has no way of knowing as to whether or not the Germans are aware of his presence but knows that either is possible.
4) Holland does not know that the German have misidentified his ships as heavy cruisers.
Here's how I think these new facts could affect the excellent analyses by posters
up to now:
[list=]1. I agree that shadowing would give rise to a possible U Boat trap and that Holland had to take this into account. However, Lutjens probably wouldn't take the trouble of arranging that for four cruisers, especially the two additions may just be intended to relieve Norfolk
2. I agree that both sides' perception of the relative speeds of the heavy ships would be a significant factor and that Holland had to take into account the risk that the Germans might outrun Hood
. However, Lutjens probably wouldn't try this if be believed the ships were cruisers, It would be futile because they were faster than Bismarck
so the obvious choice would be to generally maintain a slower pace and save fuel, and only increase it if he chose to try an unexpected burst of speed to shake the shadowers.
3. I agree that shadowing presented tactical difficulties, among them the relative effective range of the radar and Bismarck's
guns. However, the Germans would be surprised by the British heavy main batteries if they slowed or turned to shoot at what they believed to be cruisers. Moreover, the British knew that their 2-1 big gun advantage and 10 forward guns always facing the Germans allowed them to close the radar range and use not 1 but 3 radars with relative safety.
4. I agree that this plan might subject Tovey and Holland to doctrinal and cultural criticism for not being instantly aggressive at Denmark Straits. However, they could argue that in a short time the result would be the same engagement on better terms. With speed unlikely to succeed, it seems far more likely that instead Lutjens would quickly attempt to slow or turn and shoot at cruisers to drive them away. Unlike Denmark Straits, Hood
have a consistent course and range, and much more time, to set firing solutions; with a converging target they are not restricted to an narrow and predictable course to close the range. That would spoil the plan to hound Bismarck into a hopeless trap consisting of 4 capital ships plus carrier aircraft, but it's better than Denmark Straits. [/list]
It is obviously essential for Holland to have some way of finding out that the Germans are either unaware of his presence or that the Germans were reacting to his presence as he would expect to cruisers. Given that he was trying to surprise the Germans anyway, these are definite possibilities. Perhaps the issue is whether there was a practical way for Holland to ascertain and exploit this between 5:37 and 5:49.