Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

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RF
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Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby RF » Tue Mar 03, 2015 9:33 am

Late November 1941 - hilfskreuzer Atlantis avoids its rendezvous with U126 following the loss of its seaplane in an accident and thus avoids destruction by HMS Devonshire. Rogge takes his ship northward over the Equator and heads towards Bay of Biscay.

Knowing the British are searching for Atlantis Raeder sends Scharnhorst out to cover the return of Atlantis by seeking to ambush and destroy the British cruisers searching for her on the approaches to the Bay of Biscay.

December 5 1941 - Scharnhorst sights Devonshire and closes to engage. Then Dorsetshire and Cornwall appear on Scharnhorst's opposite flank and attack in support of Devonshire.

What is likely to be the outcome?
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Thorsten Wahl » Tue Mar 03, 2015 10:22 am

3 heavy cruisers were considered as stronger enemy.
Scharnhorst was faster

But if such engagement had to be fought, SH would likely engage at a distance where 8 inchers should be considered as ineffective against SHs protection
if the british cruisers divert a single ship, this qualifies as the primary target
Last edited by Thorsten Wahl on Tue Mar 03, 2015 11:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby alecsandros » Tue Mar 03, 2015 10:34 am

Thorsten Wahl wrote:3 heavy cruisers were considered as stronger enemy.
Scharnhorst was faster

But if such engagement had to be fought, SH would likely engage at a distance where 8 inchers should be considered as ineffective against SHs protection
if the british cruisers divert a single ship qualifies as the primary target

IMHO without some major tactical blunder on the German part, and/or spontaneous breakdown of machinery or other key systems, and in good visibility, Schanrhorst would probably badly damage all 3 cruisers, while suffering extensive topside damage herself.
My estimate is 3-4 x 11" hits required to slow down each enemy cruiser enough so as to not be able to follow Scharnhorst at all.

Scharnhorst's vitals were safe against 8" gunfire, and the main turrets and con tower were practically invulnerable to it. Radars and directors, sensors, secondary and AA artillery, funnels, cranes, etc, were vulnerable and would be probably taken out.

Still the ship would endure, protected by her thick cerapace. The cruisers did not have any sort of immunity against 11" gunfire, and a magazine hit could happen anytime.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby RF » Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:28 pm

This type of action has similarities to the River Plate battle, however Scharnhorst is faster than AGS and I think the action is likely to be fast paced.

However so far only gunnery considerations have been raised. One weapon the three cruisers, working together have and can use very effectively are torpedoes. Using real and dummy torpedo runs can force Scharnhorst to manoeuvre violently and throw off her gunnery - and what if Scharnhorst was hit by a torpedo, as against Acasta?

The performance of the 5.9 inch guns would also be a factor - however if Scharnhorst is hit by two or three torpedoes and its speed impaired then the cruisers can wait for cover of darkness to close for more torpedo attacks.....and if Scharnhorst's radar and gunnery fire control positions are taken out by 8 inch fire ...

Its not simply a question of gunpower but of tactics, using the cruisers like destroyers.
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Steve Crandell » Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:08 pm

The cruisers are not going to get close enough to use torpedoes. There is no reason for Scharnhorst to close the range; quite the contrary. Unless Scharnhorst suffers a hit to the fore top director, I can't see any way the British are going to win this one. If the Germans are smart they keep the range long until none of the British cruisers are still able to follow her and then she disappears over the horizon.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Rick Rather » Wed Mar 04, 2015 2:15 am

Steve Crandell wrote:The cruisers are not going to get close enough to use torpedoes. There is no reason for Scharnhorst to close the range; quite the contrary. Unless Scharnhorst suffers a hit to the fore top director, I can't see any way the British are going to win this one. If the Germans are smart they keep the range long until none of the British cruisers are still able to follow her and then she disappears over the horizon.


According to the OP, evasion and disengagement would not accomplish his mission:

RF wrote: Raeder sends Scharnhorst out to cover the return of Atlantis by seeking to ambush and destroy the British cruisers searching for her on the approaches to the Bay of Biscay.


Also note that Scharnhorst has enemies on either side of him. This complicates the problem of controlling the range:

RF wrote:December 5 1941 - Scharnhorst sights Devonshire and closes to engage. Then Dorsetshire and Cornwall appear on Scharnhorst's opposite flank and attack in support of Devonshire.


On an operational scale, the British might do better to stay at long range but maintain contact while waiting for heavy reinforcements. Note that this would probably allow Atlantis to slip by and make port, at which point Scharnhorst tries to disengage.

If either side is more aggressive, Scharnhorst might go after the single unit (Devonshire). Knocking her out would allow him to control the range better against the pair. Alternatively, if he can knock one of the pair out of the fight, then he would have a single, weaker opponent on either side and can try intimidation to buy time for Atlantis (see above).

If the British accept a fight over a delaying action, they'd do well to go "all-in" and close the range. The "destroyer-tactics" idea above is interesting.
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby alecsandros » Wed Mar 04, 2015 6:47 am

Rick Rather wrote:If the British accept a fight over a delaying action, they'd do well to go "all-in" and close the range. The "destroyer-tactics" idea above is interesting.

... It woudl be a great tactical error for Scharnhorst to fight at close range.
The cruisers would have little chance, if any, to approach close enough for torpedo runs.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:00 pm

I agree with Steve and Alex, only tactical errors by the German OTC would allow the British cruisers to within effective gun range, much less effective torpedo range. By Dec 41 the Scharnhorst had upgraded radars, so it's unlikely that Scharnhorst would be caught by surprise, only sighting the enemy at short range- Unless the OTC made Bey type mistakes.

Historically, German 11" guns made short work of British cruisers even at 20km+. Also, during the second engagement at N Cape the British cruisers failed to hit Scharnhorst at even 1/2 that range. Since the OP states that Scharnhorst's mission is to ambush the cruisers the German OTC will probably do just that instead of avoiding contact or breaking off action early.

The Germans may send out destroyers from France, operating if not directly with the battleship, in coordination with it. They can use Scharnhorst to refuel destroyers and/or arrange for some oilers. It only makes sense to support Scharnhorst with destroyers, especially should the Germans be concerned that the British would shadow with radar.

Dec 41 is, additionally, a couple of months after the captured Enigma keys had expired, used to locate the German supply ships. How extensively and how timely could BP penetrate surface ship Enigma at that time? As far as I know not much.
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby slaterat » Sat Mar 07, 2015 11:37 pm

I don't see how the 8 inch gunned County's could seriously harm the Scharnhorst. Her citadel is immune to their fire, of course they could damage her upper works but they will never slow the Scharnhorst down. Keeping the battle at long range means the 11 inch guns will be able to shoot the cruisers to pieces. Sure the Exeter took up to 7 direct hits from 11 inch shells at River Plate and survived to make it home, a true testiment to her structural design and damage control, but she was a real mess. I've been re-reading my old book "The Battle of River Plate" by Dudley Pope and it has a chapter describing the damage that the 11 inch shells did to the Exeter. The picture of the splinter damage to the Exeter's bridge ,from the hit on B turret, pretty much tells it all. The splinters cut kill and maim everything in their path. The essential systems necessary to operate a warship are severely compromised. Lucky for the Exeter her engine rooms never took a direct hit and were well armoured enough to keep out the splinters, otherwise she would of been most likely sunk with a much greater loss of life.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Tom17 » Sun Mar 08, 2015 5:56 am

What's the weather doing in the Bay of Biscay in early December of '41?
Did RAF and Coastal Command aircraft carry out regular patrols with (or without) ASV equipped radar
Is there visibility to keep the cruisers under fire from long range. The counties were good sea boats, conditions similar to those when the twins were engaged by Renown could benefit the RN greatly.
I've also some other concerns about the scenario setup.
If Scharnhorst decides to disengage, depending on what course, she was on initially, does she have to head west into the Atlantic? Not knowing what (if any) other enemy forces are around and allowing the RN time to mobilise more forces.
And, if they do loose contact, what happens if the patrolling cruisers meet with Atlantis?
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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Dave Saxton » Sun Mar 08, 2015 2:23 pm

Tom17 wrote:Is there visibility to keep the cruisers under fire from long range. The counties were good sea boats, conditions similar to those when the twins were engaged by Renown could benefit the RN greatly.

Bad weather will likely favor a properly lead Scharnhorst here.

By Dec 41, Scharnhorst does not need good visibility to the keep the cruisers under fire at long range, provided it can properly identify them as the enemy. The Germans will have some aids to help them in that. By that time the German Navy already had radar IFF and they will know what they are looking for and approximately where from B-Dienst. During this period it was the German code breakers who had the edge. They had broken the RN ciphers from 1935 and it would not be until March 1944 that the British closed that leak. They could then reasonably judge if radar contacts were indeed the hunted for British cruisers from the course, speed, and number of radar contacts.

Bad weather favors the battleship in other ways as well. Bad weather would curtail air operations. The larger battleship will always be able to cope with heavy seas better than smaller warships. This was a point made by Doenitz when he later evaluated Bey's decision making during N Cape. The best speed the British cruisers could make into the seas was 24 knots and Bey could have just walked off and left them behind by going into the seas with his battleship. The problem of water coming into the turrets through the cartridge ejection scuttles was now known and could be avoided by not turning them back sides to the seas.

Bad weather would likely remove German destroyers from the equation though.
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: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby paul.mercer » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:04 pm

Gentlemen,
I suppose that in the end it comes down to firepower, the British cruisers would have 24 x 8" against 9 x 11". I think that Scharnhorst would have eventually prevailed but would have taken severe damage to her upperworks due to a rain of shells being aimed (and no doubt hitting)her. As has already been pointed out HMS Exeter suffered very badly from the 11" from AGS so it is reasonable to assume that the County class cruisers would fare little better.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Dave Saxton » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:58 pm

Here is an interesting way to look at this scenario: If it was Iowa instead of Scharnhorst would you have a different opinion?
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: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby Steve Crandell » Thu Mar 12, 2015 11:17 pm

Dave Saxton wrote:Here is an interesting way to look at this scenario: If it was Iowa instead of Scharnhorst would you have a different opinion?


I would. I think Scharnhorst might be better equipped to fight three counties than Iowa would be.

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Re: Scharnhorst versus three County Class cruisers

Postby alecsandros » Sat Mar 14, 2015 8:30 pm

Steve Crandell wrote:
Dave Saxton wrote:Here is an interesting way to look at this scenario: If it was Iowa instead of Scharnhorst would you have a different opinion?


I would. I think Scharnhorst might be better equipped to fight three counties than Iowa would be.

How so ?


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