Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

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Antonio Bonomi
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Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Antonio Bonomi » Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:17 pm

Hello everybody,

as promised here the thread about the missed re-engagement by RearAdm W.F. Wake-Walker solicited by the Admiralty in the afternoon.

The important statement is the point B :

Admiralty_CS1_Re_Engagement_message.jpg
Admiralty_CS1_Re_Engagement_message.jpg (72.56 KiB) Viewed 1747 times
But it is very interesting also to evaluate a message almost forgot by everybody, ... received by the Admiralty on that morning among the many in the War Room, ... just when the battle was going to start, ... sent by the Norfolk, ... just soon after their 05.41 enemy in sight signal :
Norfolk_0550_message.jpg
Norfolk_0550_message.jpg (20.22 KiB) Viewed 1747 times
Here from where I found it, ... because it was not present into the CS1 provided radio message list.
Admiralty_received_messages_morning_24_May_1941.jpg
Admiralty_received_messages_morning_24_May_1941.jpg (81.58 KiB) Viewed 1742 times
Obviously, as we all very well know, the enemy never altered course to port at 05:50 that morning.

So, why that message from the Norfolk ? :think:

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 )

dunmunro
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by dunmunro » Tue Jan 02, 2018 3:50 pm

At 16nm it is easy to misjudge the enemy's movements, although to be fair it is possible that Bismarck did manoeuvre independently of PE and that movement was not recorded in PE's war diary.

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:40 pm

Hi Duncan,
apart from the fact that, at 05:50, the actual distance of Norfolk from enemy was around 14 sm, as geometrically demonstrated by Antonio's reconstruction, and that, at the same time, the only (inappreciable) course change of the faster Bismarck would have possibly been (very slightly) to starboard, in order to overcome the slower Prinz Eugen on the latter's starboard side, the interesting point here is that, after the "enemy in sight" messages from PoW (05:37) and Norfolk (05:41), BOTH British cruisers maneuvered to avoid to close range too fast, at the same identical time (05:41). :think:

Apparently they both got the "uncomfortable" feeling that the enemy was moving toward them, reversing course (Suffolk) or altering course to port (Norfolk).....

Possibly it was the effect of the "tension" accumulated during the "shadowing" night.... :wink:

The "unpleasant" aspect here is however that, after Norfolk had altered course, Wake-Walker sent his 05:50 message, clearly already feeling the need to "explain" (or to "justify"...) his decision not to engage the enemy together with BC1. :oops:


Bye, Alberto
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Herr Nilsson
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Herr Nilsson » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:38 am

Why starboard?
And don't forget the mysterious Admiralty officer who modified Plan 4.
Regards

Marc

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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Cag » Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:10 pm

Hi All

Happy New Year to all. Just to clarify Wake-Walker never faced any question as to why he did not engage Bismarck during the morning action so any supposition that he should is opinion.

PoW salvo chart gives Bismarck's course as 212° I believe? This is an example of misjudged course, Suffolks belief that the enemy were heading toward her is another. Norfolk did not turn away at 05.50 on transmission of this signal but maintained a steady course from 05.41 on until heading toward Bismarck around 05.53.

We cannot say with complete certainty what movements the German ships took relative to each other, use PoW first hit to second hit markers and a course of 220° and it does seem as though Bismarck was moving somewhat.

I would advise anyone if they have the chance to read the biography of Captain Ellis as regards the cruisers role as well as the Norfolk gunnery and RDF report as regards possible flank marking on the 24th. Also read Roskills papers, which has studies from Captain RA Currie of the Royal Naval Staff College and Captain RG Swallow of the RN Tactical School regarding three questions asked by Roskill, one of which being cruiser concentration and participation (These are available from the Churchill archives) and the need for breaking w/t silence to inform CS1 cruisers of Holland's intention for them to participate.

Also there is another message sent from the 1st Sea Lord at 11.26 on the 24th to CS1 which is very interesting in connection with CS1 re engaging after the morning action and the later signal requiring his intentions.

Best wishes
Cag.

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jan 03, 2018 2:12 pm

Cag wrote: "Norfolk did not turn away at 05.50 on transmission of this signal but maintained a steady course from 05.41 on until heading toward Bismarck around 05.53."
Hi Mr.Cag,
as discussed at length, (...please see here: thanks to Antonio's useful recap of relevant links: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8240...), what you say would ONLY be true assuming the Pinchin's Plot (a "doubtful" document anyway) track for Norfolk. This track however does not allow to respect the two key known bearings from Norfolk to BC1 (220°at 05:50 and 230° at 06:00).

The most probable track for Norfolk is instead the one from her Strategical map, showing a course change from 240° to 215° at 5:41, therefore she did turn away at 05:41, moving then to a course 250° at around 05:50 and to 215° at 06:00. The full discussion is here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8231&start=30.

Norfolk sent the 05:50 signal ("Enemy altered course to port") after her own maneuver (05:41) to keep distance from Bismarck.

you wrote: "We cannot say with complete certainty what movements the German ships took relative to each other"
Correct, however we have Prinz Eugen battlemap (showing a straight track on 220° until 6:04, http://www.hmshood.com/history/denmarks ... tlemap.htm) and we have photos and film with Bismarck far behind PG before the battle and much closer at 6:03. With a delta speed of 3 to 4 knots (assuming BS was capable of 30+ knots), we have just the time for her to catch up without ANY significant maneuver.

In the absence of any solid evidence, except some (contradicting among them) estimated enemy courses from British side.... :negative:, I think it's more safe to trust PG battlemap track for the Germans, instead.
Similarly, we should not trust much the German estimated tracks for the British ships....... :wink:



Interesting anyway is that the 05:50 message was NOT included in the final report by Wake-Walker, where no mention to enemy course alteration to port is present...... :think:


Bye, Alberto
"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: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Cag » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:26 pm

Hi All

Hi Alberto happy New year!

I've used PoW plan 4 and Pinchin Norfolk track and both 220 and 230 match ok for me. As discussed at length the strategical map is a small scale map but each person can use what they wish I'm sure you agree.

Again we don't know what movements Bismarck made, we know the ranges of PoW salvos and their approximate spreads which can give us an idea of where approximately a hit occurred and therefore an approximate position. The Norfolk signal does not say a significant move, just an alteration of course to port.

Could you tell me why there being no mention of the signal in the report is significant to the question by the Admiralty of Wake-Walkers future intentions with PoW? Have you looked up the first sea lords 11.26 message?

As discussed before the cruisers were to follow and flank mark and prevent the German squadron an avenue of escape. The staff school and tactical college reports explain quite a lot as regards the cruisers as does Roskill.

He does not ask why they did not engage, he asks why Holland did not signal them that that he intended they would engage Prinz Eugen and if it was possible to carry out. The agreed position was they did not have a significant speed advantage to do so, as well as other valid important reasons.

Best wishes
Cag.

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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:45 pm

Hi Mr.Cag,
Happy New Year as well !
you wrote: "I've used PoW plan 4 and Pinchin Norfolk track and both 220 and 230 match ok for me"
I have not seen yet your complete battlemap to check it. Antonio's one here (almost at the end of the page) viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8231&start=30#p76360 does fit both.....
Would you mind posting your chart respecting all the bearings respected in Antonio's one ? :wink:

you wrote: "The Norfolk signal does not say a significant move, just an alteration of course to port."
An irrelevant alteration of course would not have been transmitted to everybody, I guess...... :think:

you wrote: "Could you tell me why there being no mention of the signal in the report is significant to the question by the Admiralty of Wake-Walkers future intentions with PoW? "
It is very significant regarding Wake-Walker attitude on May 24 morning compared to the official report version. I think Antonio was assuming so in his first post here.... :think:

you wrote: ".......The agreed position was they did not have a significant speed advantage to do so...."
I imagine you refer to the evaluation of the opportunity to instruct the cruiser to engage already at 2:00 in the night.....
Agreed, yes. Correct, NOT AT ALL, as clearly demonstrated by Antonio's reconstruction. Suffolk maneuvered and turned in circle at around 2:20 in the night, but she ended up at 9 sm from Bismarck before her second circle (the mirage one), Norfolk turned away at around 3:00 for 20 minutes in the night but, despite that, she ended up at 12 sm from Bismarck at 6:00..... Both cruisers had enough "speed advantage" to engage, as Germans were sailing 27 knots only and they were maneuvering.

you wrote: "Have you looked up the first sea lords 11.26 message?"
Would you please mind posting it to save time to everybody?


Bye, Alberto
"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: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Cag » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:27 pm

Hi All

You have not yet seen my map as it is not complete and all done by hand. Once completed and looking good I would be happy to post it.

Once BC1 was in sight I would guess any movement would be important?

Again you seem to know the inside workings of Wake-Walkers mind, his tactical role was to follow, flank mark (see the Norfolk gunnery and RDF report) and deny the enemy an avenue of escape which Holland must also have feared may happen. Both cruisers reports state they were awaiting BC1 to engage, Holland's intention for the cruisers to engage was
a) not transmitted to the cruisers
b) for them to engage Prinz Eugen
Should Holland have broken radio silence to inform CS1 of his intention?

Again there is no evidence to show Wake-Walker was expected or questioned as to why he did not engage on the morning of the 24th. At 05.53 he headed toward the enemy all tracks show this.

I'm afraid yourself and Antonio will have to argue this point with the RN tactical and staff training college. The important phrase is significant speed advantage to
a) create a convergence with BC1
b) create an opportunity for Suffolk to converge with CS1 and BC1 leaving the starboard side of the enemy clear.
c) create an opportunity for the cruisers to be in effective gunnery range of Prinz Eugen without receiving gunfire from Bismarck or causing the German fleet to change course.

Continue to shadow BISMARCK even if you run out of fuel in order that C in C may catch up in time. 1st Sea Lord to CS1 11.26B/24

Best wishes
Cag.

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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:27 pm

Cag wrote: "I'm afraid yourself and Antonio will have to argue this point with the RN tactical and staff training college."
Hi Mr.Cag,
I'm not debating their competence, but in 1952 they based their conclusions on the "official version" of the facts, namely the wrong statement from Tovey that the cruisers were shadowing from 15 sm behind the enemy (point 17 of the despatches).....

Actually however, based on the reconstructed battlemap (and waiting for a valid alternative), they were much closer (Suffolk at 9 sm at 02:56) or not behind (Norfolk was just slightly aft of the beam of Bismarck at 02:30).
They both maneuvered (Suffolk circled to open range just after 03:20 and Norfolk sailed on course South-East for 20 minutes at 03:00...) and they could anyway be within range at 05:41 (Suffolk at 9 sm, Norfolk at 13,8 sm) but AGAIN, after the "enemy in sight" messages, they both maneuvered to open range (Suffolk with another circle 14 minutes long :oops: ) or to keep out of effective range (Norfolk with her turn to 215° until 05:50, ending up anyway at around 12 sm from Bismarck at 06:00.... :oops: ). These "maneuvers" have NOTHING to do with Holland "intentions" (communicated or not), they have to do with Wake-Walker own willingness to engage (to answer Antonio's Hamlet-like question).
Capt. Ellis (in his autobiography) explicitly explained that he decided NOT to engage the enemy because of the effectiveness of his fore 8" guns and because his main role was to shadow and to flank mark).

IMHO, the Admiralty correctly decided not to explicitly order to the cruisers to close range and to prepare to engage the enemy during the night, leaving the decision to the officer on the spot,.....Wake-Walker, a "technocrat more than tactician" (G.Rhys-Jones, "The Loss of Bismarck" pag.132) who showed "poor initiative" not sharing "the "spirit of initiative shown by Nelson at Cape St.Vincent :shock: " (M.Santarini, "Bismarck and Hood", pag 44 and 158).

The fact that Holland did not communicate his "intentions" was fully correct (the surprise worked well) but unfortunate (because Wake-Walker felt himself as being a pure "shadower", in absence of "explicit" orders.... :oops: ). I think that Holland intentions, had he guessed that Bismarck was behind, were that the 2 cruisers could have helped his force engaging Bismarck from behind, instead of Prinz Eugen, but this is my speculation..... :think:


Thanks for posting the Admiralty message: "Continue to shadow BISMARCK even if you run out of fuel in order that C in C may catch up in time. 1st Sea Lord to CS1 11.26B/24".
Was Pound already afraid that Wake-Walker might decide to get back in advance to Scapa safety (even before loosing touch) ? :lol:


Bye, Alberto
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Cag » Wed Jan 03, 2018 8:48 pm

Hi All

Hi Alberto, no they based their assessment on the cruiser positions at 02.30 when a cyphered message from Holland would have been received and deciphered.

Again we have no evidence that
a) Wake-Walker was meant to engage, his tactical role seems to have been only to follow and flank mark (as you point out the Ellis biography and also the gunnery and RDF report from Norfolk as well as no official censure).

The staff college as well as Cunninghame in the Roskill papers point out that up to that point German tactics were to avoid action, this was an overriding fear for Holland. The cruisers positioned on the port and starboard quarters of the Bismarck enabled contact to be maintained whatever happened.

b) that if the battle had continued that the 05.53 turn toward Bismarck was not to participate or to be able to flank mark better.

If the message to CS1 was as you suggest it shows another example of ineptitude on the part of the 1st Sea Lord, not only did he send this signal but also the one to Tovey which is described by all as the most stupidest signal ever sent.

But again perhaps we just have evidence of your opinion on the character of Wake-Walker.

The only question faced was as to why Wake-Walker did not re engage Bismarck with PoW after Hood was sunk. We have debated that answer.

Best wishes
Cag.

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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:42 pm

Cag wrote: "no they based their assessment on the cruiser positions at 02.30 when a cyphered message from Holland would have been received and deciphered."
Hi Mr. Cag,
then, assuming they had a precise battlemap showing ALL ships position at 02:30 (I strongly doubt they had any :negative: ..... as we apparently did not have yet one 70 years later, before Antonio has built his reconstruction of the night "shadowing"....) they were clearly wrong as I have demonstrated to you, because actually (and not based on their highly respectable theoretical opinion re. speed advantage.... :wink: ) both cruisers were in range at 05:41, despite their maneuvers..... as simple as that.

Regarding the possible contribution of their 8" guns decisively put into action, I don't need to comment: just look at PG guns at DS and at Norfolk guns on May 27. Quite more than flank-marking only, I would say.

you wrote: "we just have evidence of your opinion on the character of Wake-Walker."
Opinion that I share with G.Rhys-Jones and Adm.M.Santarini..... :lol:


Bye, Alberto
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Cag » Thu Jan 04, 2018 3:08 pm

Hi All

Hi Alberto, you're entitled to your opinion and as I say take it up with the staff college, tactical School and Roskill as if you read the paper he was in agreement (They give Suffolk as 10nm distant and Norfolk 15nm at 02.30?).

Roskills question was if Holland had signalled his intent to CS1 could a concentration have been possible to bring the maximum effect on the enemy. Do you think this implies that He thought that without this signal the cruisers would just continue their tactical role of follow and if possible flank mark?

Why was Suffolk trying to contact Hood on the gunnery channel during the action if not to flank mark? Ellis states it was to flank mark, Norfolks gunnery and RDF report states flank marking would have been possible on the 24th but the crew was unpracticed. The tactical role of the cruisers was to follow, deliver the enemy to heavy forces and flank mark. Unless you have any other evidence.

Also look at Ellis explaining why his firing on the Germans would have only confused the spotting of the Battleships.

The big problem you face is that Wake-Walker did not face question or censure by any official for not engaging on the morning of the 24th. He was congratulated for the shadowing of the enemy. The only threat faced by Wake-Walker was because of the question asked about his intention of re engaging Bismarck with PoW after Hood was sunk.

There was a lengthy discussion (again unresolved) as to the specific reasons why he did not.

You are attempting here on this thread to join your own personal opinion of Wake Walkers character and your opinion as to whether he should have engaged on the morning of the 24th with a threat made about a different operational moment and tactical function of PoW, not the Norfolk, on the afternoon/evening of the 24th.

We all understand your view of Wake-Walker, we all accept it. But it was not the view of the Admiralty or Tovey or their Lordships as regard to his reasons for not re engaging Bismarck with PoW.

Best wishes
Cag.

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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by dunmunro » Thu Jan 04, 2018 4:35 pm

as requested a list of Admiralty signals from the Admiralty War Diary:

Image

(right click on the image to open it in a new tab for better readability)

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: Wake-Walker : To engage or not to engage ?

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Thu Jan 04, 2018 5:50 pm

@Dunmunro,
Hi Duncan, thanks a lot for the list.
Could you please tell me if the full document is available somewhere for downloading ? I mean all the messages from 24, 25, 26 and 27 May, 1941 ?


Cag wrote :"The big problem you face is that Wake-Walker did not face question or censure by any official for not engaging on the morning of the 24th."
Hi Mr.Cag,
of course he did not.... No Court martial was actually held !
In addition, after Tovey incorrect despatches, his position was made "clean" by the misleading point 17, and everybody was convinced (until now...) that the cruisers were too far behind to join the battle......We know now it was NOT the case, due to their position at 05:41. :negative:

However, any inquiry/CM on his decision not to re-engage would have looked carefully to his behavior during the whole operation (including his turns away at 03:00 and 05:41 and the message sent out at 05:50....), don't you think ? :wink:

you wrote: "We all understand your view of Wake-Walker. But it was not the view of the Admiralty or Tovey or their Lordships...."
as well as we all understand your view of Pound, when you speak about his "ineptitude" (your word) and we accept it.....despite it was not the opinion of Alexander, Churchill or... His Majesty..., who did neither criticize nor remove him after he sent the "fuel" messages..... :D


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

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