The end of Scharnhorst

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Dave Saxton
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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Dec 29, 2013 1:33 am

If Scharnhorst is accompanied by some or all of the German destroyers it changes the whole ball game. The Germans have a much more powerful striking force and Scharnhorst doesn't run as high a risk to carry out its mission of attacking the convoy. The loss of the forward radar is not such a big handicap because the additional radar sets carried by the destroyers can see ahead for the Scharnhorst. It's likely that Duke of York is not able to later bring Scharnhorst to battle, because the destroyer's radar would have given warning of the Duke of York's advance in time for Bey to take evasive action.

Here's a question:

What was Scharnhorst doing running southward at 20 knots for almost 50 minutes from ~0845 hours to 0930 hours?

When the British first made contact the Scharnhorst was on a northeast course then shortly after the radar contact the Scharnhorst changed course toward the south and maintained that course until the British opened fire.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by alecsandros » Sun Dec 29, 2013 8:03 am

I have no idea. Maybe Bey\s ship spotted the British cruisers and wanted to get out of their tracking range ?

The German destroyers would certainly help. I wonder why did Bey choose to separate his forces, knowing all to well how dangerous the Arctic waters were, and how well protected the convoys were... Not to mention the hystorical records of failed capital ship surface attacks on Arctic convoys (Tirpitz raid near Lofoten, Barents Sea) and the hystorical record of German capital ships attacking without escort (Graf Spee, Bismarck)

A pincer attack , with the convoy locked between the DDs and Scharnhorst, would make some sense, if there weren't any British escort vessels around. But in fact, they were present... and in large numbers... As it was, the presence of the escorting warshps could have blocked either part of the pincer quite easily , thus denying access to the convoy...

So I don't realy see why the Germans separated their forces...

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:19 pm

Well the Germans didn’t deliberately separate their force. It was accidental. Moreover, I believe Bey was desperately trying to reassemble his scattered command during the period of 0840 to 0930 hours. He was running toward the south because he believed his destroyers were to his southward in my opinion.

To recap what had happened, at 0700 hours they had arrived at the place where they expected the convoy to be and it wasn’t there. (The British had redirected the convoy to the northward when it was realized that both Fraser and Burnett were very badly positioned) Bey thought the convoy had been slowed by the storm and began a search toward the southwest (from Z29 KTB). The convoy was actually to the northwest of Bey's position. The destroyers fanned out in the lead with Scharnhorst following ten miles behind in search formation.

The separation of the destroyers from Scharnhorst occurred at 0800 hours when Scharnhorst suddenly turned off toward the north, or right toward the convoy's actual location. (did Bey confirm this by 0840 and turned to the south to gather his destroyers first before attacking?)

This turn away by Scharnhorst was not immediately noticed by the destroyers which continued on toward the southwest in search formation. After a short while, the destroyer Z32, and possibly Z38, turned toward the north to follow the Scharnhorst (the operational orders called for Z32 to stay with the battleship should the Germans divide their forces). Z34 continued to the south too far. The other three destroyers under Johannessen’s command continued on toward the southwest. No communications had been received by Johannessen indicating that Scharnhorst had turned off toward the north or the reason why. I believe a signal was most likely sent, probably by signal lamp, but not received by Johannessen on Z29, but possibly by Z32.

We don’t know what Bey was thinking during this time, but I suspect he thought initially the destroyers were following him, and he thought his destroyers were roughly to his southward.

We know that German destroyers started communicating with the Scharnhorst during this time frame using a radio system the British did not detect. Johannessen reported that they had found the convoy to the northward, but corrected this message when what they thought was the convoy turned out to be a false alarm and only Z38. It’s probable that if Bey thought his destroyers were to his south that he thought the destroyers were mistaking the Scharnhorst as being part of the “convoy” initially. But the German destroyers, with the exception of Z32, were not to the south of Scharnhorst but to the west, because Scharnhorst was traveling to the northward and then to southward, while the destroyers continued to the southwest unabated. Ashore KzS Peters (acting Admiral Narvik) thought that Bey knew where his destroyers were.

Giessler was aghast when he learned that the destroyers never received any authorization from Bey to switch on their radars, which in the conditions should have been on the whole time. Johannessen lamented in his KTB: “… the operational orders prohibited the use of radar.” Bey seemed to put too much emphasis on radio and radar silence to the point that it had become counter productive. He could not locate his destroyers and his destroyers could not locate him without it. Furthermore, radio silence at the time that Scharnhorst turned away had cost Bey the cohesion of his battle group at a critical juncture.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by alecsandros » Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:21 pm

Ok, but then Bey should have plotted a course to base immediately at 9:30, when it was clear he was no way near his destroyers. a similar order should have been transmitted to the DDs. Or at least some coded rendez-vous point .... somewhere...
instead he stumbled over the British cruisers twice, and then got caught by the Duke of York and Jamaica...

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Mon Dec 30, 2013 2:46 pm

In hind sight that is probably correct, but Bey didn't have the benefit of hind sight. Looking at what he did know at 0940:
He now knew where Approx. the convoy was positioned.
He didn't know the Duke of York and Jamaica were moving toward a poistion to cut him off from returning to base, or even at sea.
He knew his destroyers could attack the convoy from the south or west, but they were handicapped by the heavy seas.
He knew his battleship was handicapped by the loss of the forward radar, but it still had the aft radar and excellent night optics, and it could steam at high speeds despite the heavy seas.
He knew his mission was to attack the convoy.
He knew that aborting the mission after just a brief enccounter with a few cruisers wasn't feasable, especially in light of the disaster the year before.

He therefore formulated a plan of circling around hitting the convoy from the northeast during the period of Artic twilight, when the British would be silohetted against the brighter southern horizon for his night optics, and allowing time for his destroyers to move into position to make a pincer attack on the convoy from the opposite direction.

Instead Johannessen was given the wrong location of the convoy in a signaling error, but only missed the convoy by eight miles despite this. No authorization was given to Johannessen to use his radars. Only after Bey decided to arbort the mission at around 13:00 hours, and later after Johannessen was released from Bey's direct command did the German destroyers switch on their radars to locate the North Cape and plot a course returning to base.

What Bey should have done, once again in hind sight, was to force his way past Burnett's cruisers using his battleship's superior fighting power, and speed (in heavy seas), and remaining radar set, and make directly for the convoy at 09:40 hours, leading the way for Johannessen and authorizing Johannessen to use his radars -exactly how Doenitz thought he should of done-once again in hind sight.

Duke of York is still more than 10 hours away from this battle arena, and once Bey knows about Duke of York's location he can avoid getting trapped. He can stay at sea for days if need be.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by northcape » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:10 pm

But JW55B was also protected by a strong destroyer escort. Without (or maybe even with) her 5 destroyers, Scharnhorst would have a hard time fighting both the destroyers, the convoy, and any remaining cruisers.
In my point of view, even without Ultra, Operation Ostfront was doomed from the start. Poor planning, very unfavourable sea conditions, and, due to haste and possibly reluctance by Bey and Hintze (because they were aware of the unfavourable conditions), also poor execution.
Dönitz wanted to impress Hitler. He gambled very high, and lost, at the account of 2000 lives. Operation Ostfront proved once more what Raeder postulated at the outbreak of war: Given the superiority of the RN, the only thing the German Navy can accomplish is to go down with dignity.
If Dönitz would have asked for the same determination a year ago, the battle of the Barents sea possibly would have turned out in favour for the Germans. But in December 1943, it was actually suicide to attack a convoy with the small remaining force the German Navy had at hand.

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Mon Dec 30, 2013 7:51 pm

I tend to agree that the German Navy had the odds against them.

However, considering how quickly the Scharnhorst brushed aside Burnett's cruisers and the 36th Destroyer Squadron despite fighting alone and without its forward radar at the second skirmish, it doesn't appear to be such a futile mission.

The RN and the Merchant Marine were very lucky in this case. If Bey would have cleared harbor on time as planned by Schneiwind's staff*, and kept his battle group together, he could have fallen on the convoy with a cohesive battle group, a fully radar equipped Scharnhorst, and got out of there before either Burnett or Fraser could have intervened.

* After things started going badly, and falling behind schedule, and with the weather worsening, Schneiwind tried in vain to pursuade Doenitz to postpone or cancel the operation.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Tom17 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:55 am

Could a 6" shell from Jamaica be the cause when Scharnhorst slowed because of damage to machinery?
Jamaica (and Belfast) were firing at the time, are there any recorded hits from these ships?
I find it hard to believe a 14" shell explosion in a machinery space could be repaired in the time before Scharnhorst resumed speed. But what about a 6" shell hitting something less vital.
Tom

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Wed Jan 01, 2014 5:15 pm

Could a 6" shell from Jamaica be the cause when Scharnhorst slowed because of damage to machinery?
No it couldn't. At 22,000 yards it can niether defeat the deck protection or the belt protection assuming Jamaica would even fire the soft capped AP munition in this situation. It would most likely be firing HE or common which would have no penetration capability. At 22,000 yards, it was getting near the the maximim range of the British 6-inch gun. The angle of fall was ~45* and the danger space was very small. It was not likely to score any hits.

The entire proposition of an artillery hit, which is entirely speclative, causing the slowing hardly works no matter how it is looked at. For a 14"/45 at 22,000 yards the angle of fall is about 19*. If a shell passed through the thin upper "belt" or through the upper armoured deck it would be fused. It would explode before reaching the main armoured deck in any case except it being a dud. A dud 14" could not quite defeat the 80mm panzer deck over the machinery if it reached untirely intact. If a dud had passed through the upper armoured deck it would certainly be de-capped, further decreasing the probability of obtaining penetration.

A shell passing over the main belt through the side and possibly not be de-capped and then skidding up against the boiler hump has also be proposed. Scharnhorst would need to be at a specific target angle and the shell would need to hit in an exact location. Even then I'm not sure the angle of fall would allow a dud to reach the boiler hump intact. The odds are very much against this speculative notion.

Furthermore, we have survivor testimony of the last hits of the chase scored and they do not indicate a dud reaching the panzer deck. One survivor mentions a hit to the forecastle during this period, and another mentions a shell burst on the battery deck, or above the panzer deck in keeping with a fused shell exploding before it reached the panzer deck.

The most plausible explanation for the slowing remains a most untimely mechnical breakdown.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Jan 01, 2014 6:04 pm

Gentlemen,
As usual many thanks for all your informed replies, although I am still puzzled about the lack of hits at that range compared with Rodney v Bismarck at a similar range, so the questions are these,1) Was the sea that much rougher at North Cape and 2) Were the most number of hits actually made when the range closed to around 4000m 3) Was Rodney a more stable firing platform than DoY or 4) Did Rodneys shells have a flatter trajectory at close range?
Thanks again for all your info.

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:09 pm

There were factors which did not apply to the Rodney case:

1) It was a high speed stern chase through rough seas. The ships were almost end on or diagnally to each other and therefore presenting a small target to each other.

2) Scharnhorst and Duke of York were not almost stationary targets, as was Bismarck.

3) In the Schanhorst's case it had little chance of stringing together several staddles in a row of more than three shots. Scharnhorst resorted to turning to the south at intervals to unmask B turret and fire a six gun broadside, but this limited output of greater than 3 shot salvoes, and limited output of total shots fired.

4) It was the Artic night in the middle of a winter storm with high winds and heavy seas. Therefore most of the shooting had to be done by radar. Both sides started the artillery exchange using star shell to spot the fall of shot, and likely to correct bearing track, while using radar to range with. As the range gradually increased to 13,000 yards (11.8km) and greater, star shell was no longer useful. They then required full radar direction and spotting or blind fire from that point on. In the Scharnhorst's case its radar was being jammed from time to time up until the time it knocked out the British jammer apparatus with a mast hit on Duke of York. The periodic jamming of Scharnhorst's aft radar further limited the ability of Scharnhorst to string together several straddles in row. After the British jammer was disabled, Scharnhorst's shooting was noticably more consistently accurate. In the Duke of York's case it was having problems spotting the fall of shot using Type 284M radar, eventually causing the Duke of York to ask for assistance in spotting the fall of shot from other British warships, and then being forced to cease fire at about 22,000 yards.
Last edited by Dave Saxton on Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by northcape » Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:20 pm

paul.mercer wrote:Gentlemen,
As usual many thanks for all your informed replies, although I am still puzzled about the lack of hits at that range compared with Rodney v Bismarck at a similar range, so the questions are these,1) Was the sea that much rougher at North Cape and 2) Were the most number of hits actually made when the range closed to around 4000m 3) Was Rodney a more stable firing platform than DoY or 4) Did Rodneys shells have a flatter trajectory at close range?
Thanks again for all your info.
I would say there are several reasons: It was pitch dark, Scharnhorst could still manoeuvre and actually outrun DoY (almost), and DoY 14inch guns were still partially malfunctioning.

As for the old discussion of the decisive 14inch hit vs. a mechanical breakdown: I like to consider the most original sources - and among those are the survivor's stories in F.O. Busch's book from the 1950ies. What struck me there is that the survivors reported a "tremendous" explosion which at the time of the publication was considered as a torpedo hit. By now, we know that this possibility can be out ruled - no ship fired any torpedoes at this time. As Dave explained, a 14inch hit is unlikely, but I also wonder what kind of mechanical breakdown could be associated with a strong explosion-like event. The explosion of an entire boiler seems unlikely to me since apparently the damage got repaired in a few minutes.

But overall, we also have to consider, that there were only 36 survivors and a pitch dark night, so everything is more speculative than in the case of Bismarck.

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Re: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by Antonio Bonomi » Thu Jan 02, 2014 1:07 pm

Hello everybody,

I think I wrote it already several times so I will not repeat myself.

Scharnhorst had a different "engine" compared to Gneisenau.

When at full speed and having explosions or significant hull shock and vibrations, ... her "engine" frequently stopped and the speed felt down. Just read Operation Cerberus and the Channel Dash or the HMS Glorious sinking.

Her machinery overall maintenance status in Norway was just awful, she was repaired several times.

That is why I think that it was a direct hit from Duke of York causing an explosion aft around the 150 mm twin turret on starboard side, ... with the consequent ship shock and vibration ... that caused a machinery failure on Scharnhorst ... the reason why her speed felt down that day.

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 end of Scharnhorst

Post by Dave Saxton » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:48 pm

The Scharnhorst, indeed, had a long history of mechanical faults which temporarly reduced its speed just as happened at North Cape.

In many of these cases it didn't involve any hits from the enemy. For example, During the encounter with Renown on April 9th 1940 the Scharnhorst encountered temporary loss of speed due to four mechanical defects which occured after running at full speed/over load through heavy seas for sometime. The first three problems occured after Luetjens had decided to disengage after the 15" hit to Gneisenau's foretop disabled GU's radar. GU quickly pulled away but reduced speed to 27 knots, then to 24 knots, and then 20 knots, as it waited on the Scharnhorst. Renown was forced by the heavy seas to reduce speed to 22 knots at 0640 hours. But it was holding steady on the Scharnhorst, indicating that Scharnhorst's speed had fallen to about 22 knots. These defects involved the starboard turbines followed by defects in boilers number 1 and number 3. A few minutes later these problems were partly resolved, and Scharnhorst increased speed to 26 knots. Sound familar? However, another break down once again involving the starboard turbines at about 0700 hours reduced the speed to 15 knots. Renown had come back into visual range by 0715. Then gradually the Scharnhorst's speed was increased until it eventually pulled away from Renown, even as Renown worked up to 29 knots. By 0816 hours the Scharnhorst had pulled out of sight.
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: The end of Scharnhorst

Post by paul.mercer » Sun Jan 05, 2014 11:11 pm

Thanks for your reply Dave,
I agree that at first it was a high speed chase in very bad weather, but surely when DoY closed to about 4000 yards Scharnhorst was almost stationary (as was Bismarck) after being torpedoed and should have been an easy a target as Bismarck even allowing for the rough seas? I know she could'nt have caught her in a chase but if Rodney had been in the same position (at 4000yards) do you think she would have made a better job of it?

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