Intercepting Force H

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Dresden
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Intercepting Force H

Post by Dresden » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:59 pm

Consider that the original intent was for the Twins to sail with Bis & PE.

S's issue seems to be her high-pressure boilers, which did work but not as well as they were supposed to (is this a fair evaluation of the issue?).

G had some modifications going on while some structural damage was repaired. Was this damage really anything more serious than she might have might have received in combat with convoy escorts?

So, if indeed one or both WAS in fact in good enough condition to take a quick jab at Force H (assuming the KM knew it was on the way) and if nothing else at least disrupt Somerville's rush enough to allow Bis to escape?

Were the interception made by only one Twin (say G), would it be reasonable to expect S's main guns to duel Renown while the secondary and tertiary guns peppered Ark Royal (love that name!)? Is G fast enough to be able to dodge Force H's destroyers to enable her to bob-and-weave and thus survive while disrupting Somerville's race to the North?

Now, just suppose both Twins were available...

How about just G but with her already having the 15" upgrade?

Would even news of the Twins suddenly sailing disrupt Somerville's course enough to prevent the fatal blow to Bis? Maybe one or both fire up her boilers and sail, say, 100 miles off-coast just as a feint?

Such are the thoughts one has on a cold winter's night

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by alecsandros » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:39 pm

Hi Dresden,

I guess a lot would depend on intel. If the Brits would not be able to track S&G, but the Germans would be able to track Force H, then a very nice scenario could unfold, with Force H coming under heavy gunfire and probably being forced to fight only the 2 German raiders.

Ark Royal's swordfishes could do some damage (as we know!), but the combined AA weight of both battlecruisers, their superior speed and smaller size (compared to Bismarck), may help them get away unharmed. Moreover, if the attack would be conducted before ARk Royal could launch her planes, the carrier may be hit badly and unable to perform launches.

Renown would be no match for both of them, presuming a head on battle, and the escorting destroyers would have a hell of a time chasing 32kts targets...

All in all, my guess is that, even if the Brits can track the raiders, they would be very concerned over that sortie, and would divert at least some units against them.

An even more daring operation would be sending the 2 battlecruisers with all available escorts, and with orders to engage and destroy any enemy warship on the way, until they would rendezvous with Bismarck.

Such a sortie on the 21st of May would bring the S&G battlegroup in very close vicinity with Bismarck at the time she was under torpedo attack, thus protecting the battleship with much heavier AA support (not to mention puzzling incoming planes over which ship is which - bear in mind they attacked HMS Sheffield earlier, so ship recognition wasn't exactly a strong point :) )

Dresden
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by Dresden » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:10 pm

That's basically what I was thinking. Given the Twins' speed, they might not have to leave port until late on the 24th or early on the 25th, which I think is the scarier option for the RN: they already have all their pieces in motion, and suddenly what is in effect Germany's strongest surface force suddenly sorties. And didn't KM command know that Bis had broken radar contact, even if Bis her(him-)self did not? With the RN already in a borderline panic, THAT might be the idea time to fire up the Twins and send them.

Other, newer thoughts:

Maybe even the THREAT of a sorties - such as cancelling all leaves and firing up the steam plants - would be enough to scare Force H further off-course.

It also just occurred to me that in either case the twins would be on a specific short range "dash" mission, so-to-speak. They might not need more partial fuel load, which could also seriously upgrade their combat performance. Me, if had had both twins I'd set one against Renown and one on AR - which is a rather obvious way to go.

I cannot remember offhand, but didn't the U-boat broadcast the position of Force H after it had passed? That being the case the KM has the course and speed of both Force H and Bis, so plotting a reasonable intercept should be an academic exercise.

And I personally doubt that if the Twins did surprise Force H that AR would be able to launch any planes at all; all she could do run and hope she's not chased.

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by alecsandros » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:16 am

I looked around for info on S&G\s status in May 1941. Unfortunately, none of them was available.
They completed operation Berlin in late March 1941, and were at Brest. Scharnhorst had problems with the machinery, which weren't repaired until July 1941. Gneisenau was repeatedly attacked by the RAF, and received 1 torpedo and 4 AP bomb hits in early April. Repairs lasted for several months.

BUT, in a hypothetical scenario, in which both ships are available, the Royal Navy would have huge problems, with little hope of resolving them.

Force H and Tovey's battleships had been observed by U=Boats, while Bismarck's probable course was well known.
Thus, an intercept of Ark Royal by the 2 raiders (or at least one of them) would be possible, if the ships would exit Brest on the 25th or 26th of May.
Renown would put a good fight, and maybe cause some damage, but her 7" belt would offer no protection against 11"/L54, and she may suffer the same fate as other battlecruisers under 11" gunfire, at Jutland :)

Sheffield and the 6 destroyers could keep S&G at some distance, for fear of torpedo attacks. however, it would be a tricky matter, as the 11" guns and 5.9" guns of the raiders would inflict damage at long range, and the escorts would slowly be forced to withdraw.

Moreover, if force H's location would be correcytly plotted, S&G could make a nice surprise attack, opening fire at 20km or so, concentrating exclusively on Ark Royal. Their radar guided fire was accurate enough against Glorious, and Ark Royal was a larger target.

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by Dresden » Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:30 am

Oh, I'm familiar with the problems that the twins had at the time.

However, were the Scharnhorst's engine problems serious enough to impair her fighting ability for just a quick hit-and-run? Did they absolutely keep her from going to sea, or just limit her ability for an extended merchant raiding cruise?

As for Gneisenau, think of this: Yorktown took a nasty bomb hit from the IJN at Coral Sea, yet around-the-clock repairs had her in "good enough" condition to put to sea in 48 hours so she could participate in Midway. Gneisenau, as I remember, fully completed repairs in July, so could she have been in "good enough" condition in late May??

That, I guess, is really the crux of the historical question: although neither of the twins was fully repaired, was one or both in "good enough" shape to pull this off? This hit-and-run would have been, what, 1000 miles round-trip at most? Was either in good enough shape to pull that off?'

And could just one of the twins cause enough delay to prevent the fatal torp attack on Bis?

(And if it is just a delaying action, could Ark Royal get off a strike against S/G in time? I don't imagine that her Swordfish would have been armed and ready for launch until she got close to Bis.

PS - I didn't notice anything about the six destroyers going the whole way with Force H. Were they able to do so?

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by paulcadogan » Mon Jan 21, 2013 2:19 pm

Just to put a little "rain on the parade".... :wink:

Do not forget that conditions in the Bay of Biscay were very similar to those off Stromvaer a year earlier - high winds, heavy seas, rain (instead of snow). In that situation both German "battlecruisers" were badly handicapped by their wetness and Renown functioned far better than they did - outshooting them both - Renown 240 15-inch, Gneisenau 54, Scharnhorst 195 11-inch respectively - with her 6 heavy guns vs. their 18 (granted most of the time it was their aft turrets bearing only since they were retreating, but then again it was mainly Renown's forward turrets since she was pursuing).

From Scharnhorst's battle report regarding Renown's shooting:
I found astonishing the high rate and continuity of the enemy's fire, which was not impaired by the heavy movements of his ship.
...while Scharnhorst's turrets were flooding...

Plus the Ark could have had aircraft in the air which could spot for Renown's gunners...Swordfish could and did fly under those conditions.

IMHO, regardless of their "theoretical" capabilities, under those conditions and with the fresh memory of Stromvaer, S & G woudn't have dared.... :wink:
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by RNfanDan » Mon Jan 21, 2013 3:24 pm

Let alone, any notion that Somerville would have let another "HMS Glorious" happen to the Ark.... :negative:
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by Thorsten Wahl » Mon Jan 21, 2013 4:36 pm

paulcadogan wrote:Just to put a little "rain on the parade".... :wink:

Do not forget that conditions in the Bay of Biscay were very similar to those off Stromvaer a year earlier - high winds, heavy seas, rain (instead of snow). In that situation both German "battlecruisers" were badly handicapped by their wetness and Renown functioned far better than they did - outshooting them both - Renown 240 15-inch, Gneisenau 54, Scharnhorst 195 11-inch respectively - with her 6 heavy guns vs. their 18 (granted most of the time it was their aft turrets bearing only since they were retreating, but then again it was mainly Renown's forward turrets since she was pursuing).
according to the german KTBs there was a uncertain sighting of a Nelson class BB. Additional there was early damage of firecontrol equipment and radar. At this time Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were the only german BBs available, too valuable to risk them against a potentially superior opponent.
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by alecsandros » Mon Jan 21, 2013 4:45 pm

Well, the storm that was ravaging the area made tracking S&G a big problem, and it would be likely that they would show up against force H undetected.

Ark Royal didn't have the speed to outrun them, and the escorts wouldn't have lasted long, especialy if the twins would bring escorts of their own.

Renown was an old battlecruiser with 7" belt, and, granted the urgency of their mission, S&G wouldn't have withdrawn as at Stromvaer [where they were tasked with sinking merchant ships, while avoiding enemy capital ships]

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by tommy303 » Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:22 pm

I might be mistaken, but I believe in the race to the north to get into a position to intercept Bismarck and bring Ark Royal's planes into striking distance of Bismarck, Ark Royal, Renown, and Sheffield had left their destroyers well behind.

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by paulcadogan » Mon Jan 21, 2013 9:00 pm

alecsandros wrote:especialy if the twins would bring escorts of their own.
What escorts? German destroyers or torpedo boats in those seas? At high speed? If British destroyers were left behind, Germans might have foundered! :shock:
alecsandros wrote:Renown was an old battlecruiser with 7" belt, and, granted the urgency of their mission, S&G wouldn't have withdrawn as at Stromvaer [where they were tasked with sinking merchant ships, while avoiding enemy capital ships]
Er...9-inches (not that it was much better vs. S & G's 11-inch shells :wink: ). But as I said before, in those seas, the Twins would have had serious trouble with their guns as they did off Stromvaer, determined or not, and a few good 15-inch punches and they would have been on their way from their "hit and run".

Calm seas and good visibility and I'd give you your scenario.... :think:
Thorsten Wahl wrote:according to the german KTBs there was a uncertain sighting of a Nelson class BB. Additional there was early damage of firecontrol equipment and radar. At this time Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were the only german BBs available, too valuable to risk them against a potentially superior opponent.
Gneisenau thought it was Nelson, Scharnhorst correctly ID'd Renown. Gneisenau fired based fused HE because of that (I guess they didn't know the "potency" of their AP vs any British BB at that battle range...). But the point is, the sea conditions rendered them unable to fight in a manner that could have overwhelmed Renown, while Renown was able to hammer away at them to a much greater extent, handling the conditions much better.
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by Dave Saxton » Mon Jan 21, 2013 9:02 pm

, S&G wouldn't have withdrawn as at Stromvaer [where they were tasked with sinking merchant ships, while avoiding enemy capital ships]
At Stromvaer the visibility was so poor that Luetjens though he was engaging the Nelson and at least one other enemy battleship. In other words he thought he had ran into the Home Fleet. This explains his actions. furthermore his orders were to screen the invasion forces entering Vestfjord from the enemy and by drawing away the enemy into a chase he was doing just that. He didn't turn away right away though. He only sought to completely disengage after Gneisenau had lost its radar. Without radar he could not fight effectively in the conditions.

This is another example of the untractable problem of IFF. Gneisenau, had located Renown in the pre-dawn hour at 25,000 meters wth radar and turned to investigate. By the time the flagship's look outs (incorrectly) identified the enemy as the HMS Nelson and several other units, the Renown was opening fire. His radar would have told him their were about 10 unidentified warships out there. But radar can not determine that this one is an enemy battlecruiser and these are others are enemy destroyers. There are all the same to radar. Even with a functional IFF system radar only tells you that contacts are not friendly. You still don't know what or who they are.

Another factor as to the heavy seas; Renown also had problems coping with the heavy seas and was forced to cease fire several times because of them.
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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by paul.mercer » Mon Jan 21, 2013 9:58 pm

Gentlemen,
Two questions. Would not the British carrier have had some scouting aircraft aloft to avoid being surprised and would the twins have attemped to engage if it was Nelson instead of Renown? After all, they ran away from Rodney when she was escorting a convoy

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by alecsandros » Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:20 am

tommy303 wrote:I might be mistaken, but I believe in the race to the north to get into a position to intercept Bismarck and bring Ark Royal's planes into striking distance of Bismarck, Ark Royal, Renown, and Sheffield had left their destroyers well behind.
I seem to remember something of this, but IIRC the destroyers were left behind shortly after the first launch of Swordfishes (the raid that attacked Sheffield), so they weren't to far behind.

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Re: Intercepting Force H

Post by alecsandros » Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:27 am

paulcadogan wrote:
What escorts? German destroyers or torpedo boats in those seas? At high speed? If British destroyers were left behind, Germans might have foundered! :shock:
Well, there were several actions off Norway in which German DDs operated in heavy seas...
Er...9-inches (not that it was much better vs. S & G's 11-inch shells :wink: ). But as I said before, in those seas, the Twins would have had serious trouble with their guns as they did off Stromvaer, determined or not, and a few good 15-inch punches and they would have been on their way from their "hit and run".
Aa, ok, but the 11"/L54 gun could perforate 9" of armor out to 22km away anyway...

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