The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

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northcape
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by northcape » Tue Sep 15, 2015 5:52 pm

Antonio Bonomi wrote:Hello everybody,

@ Northcape,

you asked :
... why should Holland be awarded or should be considered as a great admiral / war hero ...
Simply because when you are ordered to raise your flag on one battleship and taking another one go and engage an enemy, … you are supposed to stay on the lead … and with no fear.

Otherwise it can be considered being a misconduct in presence of the enemy.

http://www.pdavis.nl/NDA1866.htm

Adm Tovey realized this was going to happen, … just as it happened, … obviously.

Any Officer can easily realize this, ... maybe a bit difficult if you have never wear an uniform.

Bye Antonio :D
Taking a document on naval discipline from 1866 is a bold move. I guess you are aware that naval technology has progressed in 75 years?
A sea battle in 1941 is not the right place to demonstrate ones gallantry. Much more it must be fought with rationalism to make the best use of your weaponry. Holland, for what reason ever, made a gross tactical misjudgment (everybody including him of course knew about the inferiority of Hoods armor) and this led to the loss of a capital ship and 1400 well-trained man - grave enough for England in 1941.
Justifying this with an outdated document on naval discipline leaves me speechless. It never hurts to use your own judgment of the situation and act accordingly - exactly this wins battles in mechanized wars, and not sticking to fixed rules and misplaced concepts like personal gallantry. A fleet commander over 3000 people is not a knight fighting on a horse, but must be a cool and well-judging manager of the situation.
Again, I was not there and don't know what made Holland chose his tactics. But for no doubt they were chosen wrongly and led to weakening of the RN.

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:10 pm

@northcape:
I have to respect your judgement even if I (and several people on this forum) have a very different opinion about Holland approach to the battle.

Apparently we have a very different view of the sense of duty and honor for an officer, your approach to military aspects looks a bit too "war-gaming" for me.

However you are wrong defining outdated the Naval Discipline Act from 1866. It was in effect until 1957 and the spirit is still very inspiring, I believe, as well as the original Articles of War, since the XVII century.

Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by paulcadogan » Wed Sep 16, 2015 4:12 am

Hi Northcape!

I really think you and many other critics of Holland's tactics (and I used to think that way too!) really are heavily influenced by hindsight - the reality of the knowledge of Hood's cataclysmic demise. Yes there were concerns in the RN with her horizontal protection, but I am pretty sure that NO ONE in the RN expected what happened to actually happen.

The RN had hitherto been quite happy to deploy their BC's (and unmodernized BB's) in dangerous situations. Renown and Ramillies (if she could catch up) were expected to handle Vittorio Veneto and Guilio Cesare at Spartivento - and Somerville was raked over the coals for breaking off pursuit. Hood herself was deployed all on her own under V-Adm Whitworth at Hvalfiord in anticipation of a breakout by Bismarck in April 1941 - and Whitworth planned his tactics to close end-on to a short range if possible before turning to open A-arcs. Also, the British thought Bismarck was 35,000 tons.

I suspect too that had KGV and Repulse intercepted first, Tovey would have had the latter right in line behind KGV, rather than out of sight until KGV was "heavily engaged". Also, absent Hood's sinking, a possible interception by Force H would have seen a coordinated attack by Renown, Sheffield, destroyers and Ark Royal's aircraft - with the Admiralty's blessing!. Hood's blowing up had a powerful effect on subsequent thinking....

So...looking at Holland, for him, Hood was his flagship, fully worked up and fast after her refit, just off a gunnery trial in which she performed well (according to Ted Briggs). The RN considered her vertical protection quite adequate (not privy to the performance of the German 38 cm shell). PoW had just been declared ready for duty by her captain despite the problems encountered with her turrets - and with civilian techs still aboard - she was suspect.

Now try to erase your knowledge of Hood blowing up and PoW's actual creditable gunnery performance and decide if you would put a incompletely trained battleship with suspect equipment to lead an attack against a presumably fully worked up and efficient enemy. Or would you lead with your fully functional flagship and try to close the range as quickly as is practical to reduce her vulnerability?

Had Hood not been sunk, and the target error not been made - with Bismarck subject to heavy salvos falling down on her every 15 seconds - the action may well have ended differently - with a Gefechtkehrtwendung nach Steuerbord! and a running fight to the north east. Even if the Germans had escaped we would be looking at Holland very differently!

It's been said before that putting PoW in the van was no guarantee that she would have been Bismarck's target. Just as Rodney was made her target in the final battle rather than the modern KGV.

Sure he also could have put greater distance between them with orders to conform to Hood's general movements, but on the other hand, that might have made coordinated time sector firing for that maximal effect on the enemy more difficult. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

So...to conclude...I really don't think it is fair to call Holland's deployment of Hood and PoW as a major "tactical blunder". Without hindsight, he made decisions and things turned out badly (an understatement indeed)! As Wadinga wrote in the title of his article - he was certainly "blighted by Fate"!

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by northcape » Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:24 pm

I disagree with the assumption that "NO ONE in the RN expected what happened to actually happen." I read it was German WW2 doctrine to target the first ship when engaged by a battle fleet in line (however, I don't know if that doctrine was known to the British). The Admiralty learned from Jutland - Hood was scheduled for a refit to increase horizontal protection. Holland himself wanted to close range as quickly as possible to avoid plunging fire. They simply took the risk (or had to take the risk), hoping nothing would happen.
(In that respect, I'm also surprised that Antonio did not immediately object when it is stated that "PoW had turret problems" and was "incompletely trained"...?)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing or blaming anybody. I was born 35 after that battle, and I have interest in, but no real knowledge of naval warfare. I just can't understand how Holland can be praised for his action this morning. And I also disagree that using the best information and subsequently the best tactic can be equalled with "war gaming". Duty and honour are worth nothing, if they contradict with responsibility. Responsibility in that case means applying the best tactics based on the information available. Leading two capital ships with 3000 men into a battle where the fate can be decided in a matter of minutes leaves really no room for gallantry - again, this is not knights fighting on a horse. IMO, there is little place for a romantic view on this war (not that earlier wars are romantic either...)
And by "outdated" I understand the meaning and consequences of this very document. So be it, that it was still in place in 1941, nonetheless it was written in 1866 when the concept of naval battles was completely different! If you are a responsible officer, you must read such a document in its historical context and interpret it accordingly.

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:56 pm

northcape wrote: "Duty and honour are worth nothing, if they contradict with responsibility."
I totally disagree and I have to agree with Antonio who was saying that not having been an officer makes difficult to understand these concepts.

An officer can command only if he leads by example. Holland was ordered to fly his flag on Hood and he did, no question about this. When he had to decide who was going first under enemy fire he had no choice than leading. Had he put PoW in the lead, and had PoW been sunk (even with hindsight, more difficult not impossible), he would have been not only won but also disgraced.

In this sense the Articles of War (even in their 1757 version), will never be "outdated".

BTW, what do you think of the criminal decision of Adm.Lutjens to expose the even less protected Prinz Eugen to Hood fire, not ordering her to leave the line of fire ? He won a battle doing so, therefore for you he was right and Holland was wrong.......I really don't agree with your way to judge a military behavior......

Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by wadinga » Tue Sep 05, 2017 9:28 pm

All,
Hoping that everyone involved in these wrangles is well, and given it is the hurricane season for some, will continue to be so. :D

Much has happened since this specific thread was last visited. It should be clear that it should not be used for arguments about tactics, what is or should have been included on maps or whether in the opinion of any current contributors Leach or Wake-Walker should have been court martialled. There are other threads for such matters. This thread is solely to present evidence whether there ever was any 1941 intention to court martial these officers.

As I have stated often, IMHO, there has never been any actual evidence, prior to the letter received by Kennedy in 1961, that such a threat existed. It is clear no such threat was discussed by Sir Henry Leach and his father when they met shortly before his father's death in Force Z.

As a recent retiree, I now have more time to devote to this matter, and have recently visited the PRO at Kew and viewed the documents which Antonio has kindly reproduced as well as many others on the subject, which he may also have seen. As my web skills improve I hope to make photos of original documents available.

As a summary, I have discovered only one thing to suggest there was the slightest criticism of Leach's and W-W actions. The documents include the minutes of the British Government Cabinet meeting at 17:00 on the 26th May at which Pound gave a description of the action so far, which lead to a request (from someone) for a more detailed report as to why PoW had disengaged. We should realise that this was full membership meeting including Churchill, Eden, Beaverbrook, and the entire wartime Cabinet, ie an inexpert political caucus who merely understood that 2 British battleships and 2 British cruisers had fought one of each category German ships and they wanted to know why they had lost and disengaged, at a time when Bismarck's demise was not certain or even likely. Later, on the 31st July the secretary of the Cabinet (Private Office), responsible for following up on the minutes has pointed out to Pound's office that no such amplification has been received. Pound's assistant observes that since he, Pound, he has discussed this with Churchill, no further action is required. Pound's own note, written in green ink says he will take Tovey's despatch with him next time. A further note, dated 25th September from Pound's office to Churchill offers to make the report requested to Cabinet, since Tovey's despatch is fully understood, but observes that since Churchill has discussed the matter with both Pound and Captain Leach ie during the Placentia Bay voyage (August), there seems little point in such an exercise. It is clearly an irrelevant requirement since Churchill responds tersely through his representative (signed J K Peek) "Leave it!" on 26th September.

This bureaucratic exchange of requests for "outstanding matters" is all I found suggesting there was any question over Leach's and W-W's actions, and then only from a non-expert question raised during as a minor matter in a Cabinet meeting far more concerned with the unfolding disaster in Crete and whether conscription should be introduced in Northern Ireland. It spent far more time and effort on the outraged communication from De Valera Prime Minister of the Irish Free State demanding that no Irishmen should be forced to serve in the British Forces. As far as the Cabinet was concerned, and the Prime Minister as well, Bismarck was just one of several matters discussed and the request for further information on PoW's retreat an extremely minor matter.

There is no evidence here at all that any court martial was contemplated.................

Antonio and Alberto, I know your article is published in Italian, and I apologise for my ignorance, but is it available in English yet? :angel:

All the best
wadinga
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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Sep 06, 2017 9:27 am

Hi Sean,
nice to hear from you after some time !

Congratulation for your retirement: here in Italy, due to the recent modifications introduced by Monti government, we are now compelled to retire at 67+, and, by the time I will be "ready", the minimum age will be 70 years, in 2031...... so still 14 to go.... :(

Also, thanks for the very interesting work you have done in looking at the Cabinet reactions after the Denmark Strait. :clap:

I confirm you that Antonio and I have spoken about publishing the article in English (possibly in an extended version that can include also his reconstruction from 2005), but we had no time to do anything, also because in addition to our job, Antonio is quite busy with his last Tirpitz books and I'm writing another article for "Storia Militare".

If you wish so, I will send you (as to all other frineds here who may be interested) the PDF copy of the "Storia Militare" n.281 published article in Italian and a "decent" translation in English that I have prepared. In case you are interested, please send me a private message with your e-mail address (be aware that the account should be able to receive a file of 10 Mbytes size) and I will be pleased to send you the article and the translation.


Bye, Alberto
Last edited by Alberto Virtuani on Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by Antonio Bonomi » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:25 am

Hello everybody,

@ Wadinga,

first of all I am glad that you, Paul and everybody else is fine and relaxed, ... despite hurricanes, ... :wink:

Second congratulations for your retirement, ... as Alberto wrote you above we have been given a " gift " by our government of some years more to work because of their needs, ... so still 6 and a half years for me before my retirement, ... that was supposed to occur on 2015 ... only few years ago, ... before recent government modifications, ... :evil:

Third I am very happy for your availability now to go on the archives, ... and search for documents too, ... that is a very important additional contribution from your side.

I have read and taken many documents, ... but none from the British Government Cabinet meetings, ... so those ones are new to me and I am looking forward to read and analyze them too as soon as you will make them available to us.

Bottom line currently we have only the Kennedy letter and the BBC interview of McMullen/Tovey reporting the potential Court Martial initial request for Leach and Wake-Walker.

I have read your summary and at first look it seems well in line with what I am telling since the beginning of this all story for main events and their timing sequence.

Alberto will be forwarding you the article translated in English, ... maybe I can evaluate to make it available to everybody here in and on the Hood website were the main article is available too. :wink:

Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by paulcadogan » Wed Sep 06, 2017 8:07 pm

Hi All,

@Wadinga: Wishing you a very happy retirement! Thanks for sharing your findings!

Re: Hurricanes: Jamaica is quite safe from Irma. We may get a bit of rain from the tail end of it maybe on Friday, that's all.

And we should be quite safe from the next one in line...JOSE' (Hello Jose' Rico!! :D )which is out in the Atlantic and expected to just miss the same islands just hit by Irma and steer northwards...

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by wadinga » Fri Sep 08, 2017 12:59 pm

Hello All,

Thank you for best wishes on my retirement. I am fortunate to have achieved 65 years before HM Govt decides similarly to others.

Apologies for a lengthy post but bear with me please.........

Returning to our favourite subject, as I hope was clear, the leisurely and casual enquiries about tidying up the loose ends on the Cabinet report give no indication whatsoever that serious consideration was being given to a Court Martial
Sifting through the material I gathered however, and stored in a different location, was the actual typescript interim report, given by Pound at that Cabinet Meeting, which evidently generated the request. Here is the relevant section, ie after Hood’s demise.

“The Bismarck’s fire had then been concentrated on the Prince of Wales. The PoW had been hit on her bridge, and the main fire controls had been put out of action. She had also been hit in Y turret which had temporarily been put out of action. Later, however, all but one of the guns in the turret had again been in action. The PoW had also been hit on the waterline. A certain amount of water had been taken on board above her steering compartment.
The PoW had then broken off action. Whether or not she had been right in doing so could not be judged on the information so far available.
Our information did not show whether the Prinz Eugen had taken part in the action. “

There are a number of inaccuracies in this interim report, but it is clear Pound is not supportive of Leach, even when he doesn’t apparently know how many German ships were engaged.

This summer, in addition to acquiring and reading the Leach biography which has apparently generated this current campaign against him, I also acquired Stephen Roskill’s 1977 book “Churchill and the Admirals” and Robin Brodhurst’s 2000 book “Churchill’s Anchor:The Biography of Sir Dudley Pound”.

Roskill relates the Tovey-Pound argument over the Court Martial proposal and the Prisoner’s Friend threat and even says in the footnotes “Lord Tovey dilated at length on this regrettable aftermath to the Bismarck chase in several letters to the author.” He mentions the Cabinet papers and attached notes regarding an amplifying report and Churchill’s final “Leave it”. However, all this was published in 1977 and even Roskill references not Tovey’s personal letters but Kennedy’s book for the Court Martial story! When were these letters received? Perhaps after Tovey suddenly remembered the event, when he wrote to Kennedy?

Brodhurst in his book makes his opinion clear that Roskill was unduly critical of Pound especially in later works, and ties this to an incident in Warspite when commissioning after rebuild, when Pound had Roskill, then Gunnery Officer of the ship, disciplined for unauthorised firing of a pom-pom. He also suggests Roskill suffered prejudice due his Jewish background and was “difficult and outspoken” at the Admiralty, but “obtained his revenge on Pound in the Official History.”

What Brodhurst also recounts are some examples of Pound’s irrational tendency to fly into a rage. Brodhurst is very even handed with the subject of his biography. In the late 30’s when Pound was in charge of the Mediterranean Fleet he ordered Sir James Somerville to court martial the Captains of destroyers HMS Gallant and Gypsy because their vessels were unserviceable due to weather damage, “while, according to one eye witness “”frothing at the mouth””. Somerville prevailed upon Pound to order a Board of Inquiry first, which exonerated them. On receipt of the Board’s findings Pound made an en clair signal by radio, which would have been picked up by the whole fleet…”
The signal repeated the findings of the Board and Pound also exonerated the officers personally aboard HMS Galatea.

Brodwell recounts another example of Pound flying off the handle. Commander Norris in command of his despatch vessel HMS Aberdeen was exonerated by a Board of Enquiry when the vessel suffered damage by dragging her anchor during a mistral. However, Pound decided to have him court-martialled anyway. When he was acquitted, he [Norris] “returned to the Aberdeen to be met by Lady Pound on the gangway, and by the C in C below decks clutching a bottle of champagne. He [Pound] told Norris he had had him court-martialled for three reasons:
Firstly because he would be suspected of favouritism if he did not. Secondly, because there had been a number of incidents recently and this would set an example for others. Thirdly, because someone in the Admiralty would always hold it against Norris if he were not thoroughly cleared. “

Does this indicate Pound had a similar rush of blood to the head over Leach and W-W, or being more generous, was he seeking to protect them from service criticism by ensuring they were “thoroughly cleared”. The lack of interest by the Cabinet in follow-up suggests there was no pressure from above, and Pound's meek climbdown when thwarted by Tovey, shows he was not really interested in a putative court martial himself.

It is clear to me Pound may possibly have said something vague to Tovey in 1941, remembered, reported and exaggerated only in 1961, but no serious moves were ever made towards disciplining the officers and instead they were all given acclamation and awards.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by RF » Fri Sep 08, 2017 5:30 pm

The last post does not record a happy state of affairs. The RN is and was supposed to be a professional service, with the cohesion enforced through military discipline.
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by wadinga » Sat Sep 09, 2017 6:54 pm

Hello RF,

The ships may be steel but they are manned and controlled by flesh and blood, which is subject to the vagaries of human psychology. Professionalism cannot preclude the human factor. Very often those who rise to the top in a competitive system have negative qualities, as well as those which are more attractive. One may have to accept the latter to derive the benefit of the former. Being in a war at all is not a very happy state of affairs, and when lives are at stake, people sometimes act unfairly.

But then we all know that anyway. :wink:

The massive pressure on individuals in Govt and Admiralty at that specific time with the loss of Crete and therefore potentially the closing of the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and thus potentially loss of the War before the USA or Russia entered the conflict can hardly be imagined.

To stay on the thread subject: However the lack of interest in follow-up on Leach's actions in the Cabinet Papers makes it clear there was no serious move for Court Martial.

All the best

wadinga
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Antonio Bonomi
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by Antonio Bonomi » Sat Sep 09, 2017 7:40 pm

Hello everybody,

@ Wadinga,

you wrote :
To stay on the thread subject: However the lack of interest in follow-up on Leach's actions in the Cabinet Papers makes it clear there was no serious move for Court Martial.
You are right now with your summary, ... after having carefully evaluated the plus and minus of requesting an inquiry and an obvious subsequent court martial for the 2 involved officers, ... it was decided that there was no more interest on doing it as initially thought, ... and consequently it was decided to give Adm Tovey the responsibility to collect all the reports and to submit a credible overall action report that the board of the Admiralty could receive and mostly accept being the official version of the events.

This is the truth, ...

Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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RF
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by RF » Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:18 am

wadinga wrote:
The massive pressure on individuals in Govt and Admiralty at that specific time with the loss of Crete and therefore potentially the closing of the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and thus potentially loss of the War before the USA or Russia entered the conflict can hardly be imagined.
interesting post.

I believe that it is only the psychology of war as played out by individuals that allows war to happen in the first place.

As in chess a threat is often more dangerous than its implementation.
That could be seen in terms of a latent threat of court martial - though my view is that in this case no court martial is justified - or a lack of cold analysis seeing through what was a phoney risk.
If the Axis was going to over run the Med completely then fascist Italy had the chance in June to August 1940. Apart from Nasi's invasion of British Somaliland there were no aggressive moves by the Italians.
Even with help from the German's the Allied position in the Med after November 1940 was not at really serious risk.

Even if the Med was completely lost the outcome of the war would be the same. Instead of Torch and the invasion of Italy the Allies would have concentrated on D-Day with a much greater concentration of resources. And even if that had been compromised or delayed there was still the prospect of a mushroom cloud over Munich.

But of course I do say that with a hindsight that the generals in WW2 did not have.
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Post by RF » Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:31 am

Antonio Bonomi wrote:
... after having carefully evaluated the plus and minus of requesting an inquiry and an obvious subsequent court martial for the 2 involved officers, ... it was decided that there was no more interest on doing it as initially thought, ... and consequently it was decided to give Adm Tovey the responsibility to collect all the reports and to submit a credible overall action report that the board of the Admiralty could receive and mostly accept being the official version of the events.
They were able to do that because Bismarck was sunk.

Had Bismarck reached Brest then there would have been far more recrimination, though in my opinion a court martial would not have been merited.

Its how things are seen at the time.

Fifty years on, with hindsight - a case could now be argued that Bismarck reaching Brest would actually have been worse for the Germans. Given the efforts and resources the Germans expended on protecting Tirpitz, if Bismarck had to be so heavily protected as well the KM and Nazi Germany would find its other operations heavily compromised, in what economists would understand as the opportunity cost of the extra protection, with the Russians as the main beneficiaries.
However at the time it would certainly not have been seen that way.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

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