Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

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northcape
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Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by northcape » Fri May 31, 2013 5:09 am

We all know that after the rudder hit on the evening of 26th, Tovey decided not to start a night battle for several reasons: The danger of coming under friendly fire in the pitch darkness, his tactical advantages of the rising sun on the morning of 27th, and probably most important, an utterly exhausted Bismarck crew after the chase and continuous night hassle by Vian's destroyers.
But still, I think it was a very risky and cold-blooded decision. Tovey could only assume that Bismarck was damaged beyond repair. By no means he could exclude that the steering gear got repaired, and that Bismarck could sneak out to Brest in the night. I'm wondering if, beyond faith, Tovey could have any additional information or educated guesses that made him so confident to firmly believe in Bismarck falling into his hands on the morning of the 27th.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by alecsandros » Fri May 31, 2013 7:01 am

northcape wrote:I'm wondering if, beyond faith, Tovey could have any additional information or educated guesses that made him so confident to firmly believe in Bismarck falling into his hands on the morning of the 27th.
Well, the destroyers kept Bismarck under observation throughout the night, and they noticed her very low speed.
Even with the steering gear repaired, Bismarck couldn't do more than 12-15kts at the most [due to the 3 torpedo hits and the 2x14" shell hits below the waterline], and in that kind of storm, no more than 10kts - so she could be intercepted without great difficulties...
Of course, Tovey didn't know how many hits Bismarck received, but he did know that she was moving very slowly in the night of 26/27th of May. Moreover, the destroyers reported several torpedo hits of their own, so, for all Tovey knew, Bismarck's speed could only decrease.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Vic Dale » Fri May 31, 2013 11:04 am

Hi Northcape.

You make an excellent point.

Nothing was certain that night and had Bismarck been able to repair the damage to her rudders, as far as Tovey will have been aware, she could have been off at anything up to 28 knots and maybe even more as she got nearer to France. There was no intelligence as to how badly damaged Bismarck was after the Torpedo attack, nor even after the Denmark Strait. All he knew was she had been losing oil after the action with Hood and PoW.

I often have the feeling that we don't know as much as we could about the pressures which might bear on a Commanding Officer when shaping his decisions nor the weight each consideration might add to his calculations.

One might compare Tovey's decision to delay the battle with the outcome at North Cape in December 1943. Of course, the battle was forced upon Adm. Fraser, because Scharnhorst was trying to escape and had her speed and there were only about four hours of murky daylight in those latitudes at that time of year anyway, but even so, his ships did manage to sink the enemy and as far as I am aware, no friendly ship was fired upon - in the dark.

At 2200 on the 26th, it might have been worthwhile to try to position KGV between Bismarck and her base, then Tovey would have had insurance in the event that Bismarck managed to repair her damage. Rodney would still be able to join the battle at 0800, in the event that repair was not possible.

It is hard to understand why Tovey settled for 22 knots at 1705 on the 26th. Bismarck was making 28 knots or thereabouts and as he signaled other units of the fleet; he could not catch Bismarck unless she was slowed. Had he become fatalistic about his chances of catching her? Certainly he had decided that KGV would leave the chase at 2400 on the 26th if she was not slowed (see Tovey's report para. 64 - last sentence).

KGV never made more than 22 knots for the whole of the time between 1705 and 2200 - about the time that Tovey learned that Bismarck had been damaged. It sounds very much as though Tovey had given up on Bismarck and was simply marking time whilst other units and even other services took her on. At that time he was probably wondering how he would look in a bowler hat.

We should remind ourselves that he decided to delay the battle until after first light, so as to be sure of clear target identification and so as to have the best light. He will also have been aware of the possibility that KGV might take heavy damage. Bismarck was perfectly capable of putting up a good fight and might even come out on top in a one-on-one slugging match. It begins to sound as though the loss of HMS Hood had heavily impacted Tovey himself. He was well aware that Hood was armoured as well as any of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships, yet she had gone to the bottom in short order and consequently the order had gone out that Repulse, Renown and battleships of the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign class should not engage Bismarck alone. After Hood was lost, rapid and accurate fire was shifted immediately to PoW.

I get the impression that Tovey thought that KGV would be a poor match for Bismarck, considering her rapid and accurate gunnery against Hood and PoW, reinforced no doubt by known problems with KGVs own guns. Engaging without Rodney in company would be fraught with risks. That is most probably the reason he slowed and maintained a speed which Rodney could match. Bismarck was slipping from his grasp but it appears he was not going to risk battle without Rodney.

Had Tovey chosen to engage alone and been forced to withdraw or been disabled, sunk even, that could have had a disastrous impact on the nation's morale, and raised Germany's morale in inverse proportion. This is a major consideration in time of war, because as Napoleon observed, "The moral is to the physical as three is to one."

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by alecsandros » Fri May 31, 2013 11:20 am

:ok: :ok: :ok:

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Wordy » Fri May 31, 2013 1:23 pm

I don't doubt for one second that Tovey would've engaged with just KGV on her own if the Bismarck was heading for home at speed, if that's what it took. I also don't doubt that the pilots on Ark Royal wouldn't have wanted to deliver another airstrike, weather be dammed.

I've also noticed that sinking a KGV class battleship is talked about by some on here as it all the Bismarck would have to do it fart in her general direction, yet take execption when people pick other ships (apart from Yamato) over him.
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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Dave Saxton » Fri May 31, 2013 2:38 pm

It may reflect upon the RN's relative night fighting capabilities in mid 1941. Some ships had radar for ranging, but all were still largely dependent upon optics and star shell at night. This would dictate relatively short battle ranges. Closing to short ranges against a helpless opponant is one thing but against only a wounded and desperate opponant is quite another.

Tovey would know that German battleships had excellent night optics. He doubtless would be informed that German coastal radar had already demonstrated blind fire capability and he can't assume that the Bismarck does not have the same capability.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Vic Dale » Fri May 31, 2013 2:58 pm

Hi Wordy. and thanks for your input Dave.

Good points from both of you, but don't you think it odd that Tovey reduced speed to match that of the very slow Rodney, nearly five hours before Bismarck was torpedoed?

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by northcape » Fri May 31, 2013 9:02 pm

alecsandros wrote: Well, the destroyers kept Bismarck under observation throughout the night, and they noticed her very low speed.
Even with the steering gear repaired, Bismarck couldn't do more than 12-15kts at the most [due to the 3 torpedo hits and the 2x14" shell hits below the waterline], and in that kind of storm, no more than 10kts - so she could be intercepted without great difficulties...
Of course, Tovey didn't know how many hits Bismarck received, but he did know that she was moving very slowly in the night of 26/27th of May. Moreover, the destroyers reported several torpedo hits of their own, so, for all Tovey knew, Bismarck's speed could only decrease.
I don't understand why Bismarck should have been only able to 12-15 kts. She was doing something like 28 kts after the 14in/Victorious torpedo hits, and the two Ark Royal torpedo hits would not have reduced the speed that much further. Maybe something down to 25 - but this is a pure guess by me.

My point is that Tovey could not know that for sure, and i doubt that he was totally convinced that the destroyers really made these hits (which they didn't, as we all know). Of course, Tovey had to assume that her steering gear was damaged, since Bismarck was steering NW. But he could have no idea about the degree of the damage, and also not about a possible repair of this damage. And if Bismarck were able to fix her problem, it still would have been difficult to stop her from coming close enough to the Luftwaffe's area of operation, steaming at high speed in the night. Possibly Rodney would not have been able to keep track.

All I'm saying is, that Tovey had to face a very difficult situation, and he had to take a very risky decision. Today we know that his decision was the right one, but still I'm impressed by his courage. No wonder that he was highly respected by his peers and personnel.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by northcape » Fri May 31, 2013 9:08 pm

Wordy wrote:I don't doubt for one second that Tovey would've engaged with just KGV on her own if the Bismarck was heading for home at speed, if that's what it took. I also don't doubt that the pilots on Ark Royal wouldn't have wanted to deliver another airstrike, weather be dammed.

I've also noticed that sinking a KGV class battleship is talked about by some on here as it all the Bismarck would have to do it fart in her general direction, yet take execption when people pick other ships (apart from Yamato) over him.
Agree on your second point. I still think that, in particular with the quadruple turrets problems, KGV was inferior to Bismarck. If they fight it to the end, possibly KGV would go down, but Bismarck would also be very, very badly crippled. Overall, the combination of the 14inch gun (not talking of the quadruple turret) and the firing controls seemed to work very good for the KGV class - POW and DOY, as well as KGV, shoot very effectively on their opponents.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by alecsandros » Sat Jun 01, 2013 7:52 am

northcape wrote:
She was doing something like 28 kts after the 14in/Victorious torpedo hits, and the two Ark Royal torpedo hits would not have reduced the speed that much further. Maybe something down to 25 - but this is a pure guess by me.
I've been thinking about that also.
But from what we know, even after the first torpedo attack (from Victorious), the speed was somewhat compromised. It wasn't only the damage received (which flooded another boiler room), as it was the damage Bismarck done on herself, because of the violent manouvres required to avoid torpedoes: the forward section, already damaged by PoW, suffered damage again. Speed had to be reduced once more, down to 16kts, for emergency repairs to be conducted.
After that, the decision was made to proceed at 20kts to Brest.

Garzke and Dulin estimate that Bismarck's best speed after the 1st torpedo hit was 24-25kts, due to the heavy damage forward and to the loss of a second boiler room.

---
It is not yet certain wether Ark Royal;s aircraft scored 2 or possibly 3 torpedo hits on Bismarck.
The Baron mentioned 3, other survivors - only 2.
Even if they were only 2, the flooding itself would reduce speed even more. Not to mention actual damage.

That's why my bet would be that Bismarck couldn't travel faster than 15kts after Ark Royal's strike, even without jammed rudders.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Vic Dale » Sat Jun 01, 2013 10:48 am

The torpedo strike in the rudders jammed them at 12 degrees to port. All the ship could do was turn to port. In order to give some correction to this jammed rudder it was necessary to put the starboard engine into reverse, and possibly use the other two engines at slow speed so as to maintain headway. There might be a number of different combinations to achieve a steady heading, but something of this sort would be necessary.

It has been suggested that Bismarck could only steer into the wind, but I doubt she had that much weather helm. What I think was happening was as the weather was so heavy it was necessary to steer into the wind so that work could be carried out unjamming the rudders. With the stern now open the the sea, each wave would send water crashing into the rudder rooms, making work there very dangerous if not impossible. Making headway would take the pressure off the stern and the bow would be taking the worst of the weather. This work would continue until the rudders were freed, giving the appearance that Bismarck was locked to heading into the wind.

From the Baron's account it seems that one of the rudders at least was freed during the night. This might mean one of two things, either that it was working again, or could be moved by hand and fixed to a neutral or more favourable position. I tend to think it was the latter, because Bismarck did not make any great improvement in her speed. This is a possibility only, because although the rudder may have been free it may have not been possible to control it. In which case it would drift from side to side according to how the sea was behaving. The other rudder would still be making it's impact on the ability to steer.

Perhaps it was not possible to do anything more than regain control of the ship, but at greatly reduced speed using the engines as best they could. It may be that some freeing operations were still being carried out on the remaining jammed rudder, at the time Tovey's squadron was sighted around 0830 on the 27th.

It is notable that Bismarck was able to turn from an easterly heading to NNE during the battle and on average maintaining it. To me this says she did have some control over her steering but at greatly reduced speed.

Bismarck was not able to make anything like 25-27 knots after that torpedo strike, although her engines could still produce full power. She was reduce to 10 to 12 knots and it was this alone which enabled Tovey to make contact and engage.

It was a stunning piece of luck for Tovey, who had decided that KGV would give up the chase and head for an oiling station at 2400 on the 26th, having reduced speed to 22 knots at 1705 that day. Had Bismarck only been reduced to 20 knots after that torpedo hit, it would have taken Tovey 17 hours to catch and engage Bismarck and I doubt very much if KGV would have had sufficient fuel to do this.

Note. In Dulin and Garzke "Battleships" p.239, they state that the KGV's had to hold a reserve of 710 tons or 35% of the total fuel load to compensate for bad weather and battle damage. KGV was already at 32% at 1500 on the 26th, so very possibly he had given up hope of catching Bismarck in KGV. Joining company with Rodney and thereby accepting a reduced speed of 22 knots, falling to 21 knots, Tovey had more or less given up and was simply waiting to see if anything happened. How that must have felt as the evening wore on is anybody's guess and then to have the report come in at 2240, that Bismarck was slowed and was now heading in his direction - just 1 hour 20 minutes before he was intending to turn away.

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Herr Nilsson » Sat Jun 01, 2013 12:09 pm

Read this:
signal.jpg
signal.jpg (96.38 KiB) Viewed 1438 times
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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by alecsandros » Sat Jun 01, 2013 12:14 pm

Herr Nilsson wrote:Read this:
signal.jpg
I don't understand German, Marc... Can you translate please... ?

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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by Herr Nilsson » Sat Jun 01, 2013 12:59 pm

[to] group west.-Ship is fully intact as machinery and artillery is concerned. But can't be steered with machinery=
Fleet
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Re: Tovey's decision not to attack at the evening of 26th

Post by alecsandros » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:04 pm

Herr Nilsson wrote:[to] group west.-Ship is fully intact as machinery and artillery is concerned. But can't be steered with machinery=
Fleet
I don't understand how the machinery could be intact - weren't 2 boiler rooms lost due to flooding on the 24th and 25th ?

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