Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

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Vic Dale
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Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby Vic Dale » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:20 pm

In another thread a rather hot discussion has developed over the question of whether or not British cruisers carried depth charges. The simple fact is they did carry them and there are examples where they were thought to have scored successes, though these are anecdotal and to date no one has been able to produce documentary evidence to support the claims.

U-Boats were often hunted and sunk by aircraft carrying depth charges. Many cruisers carried the Walrus Flying boat which in turn could carry bombs or depth charges. If a cruiser sent it's Walrus hunting and it sank a U-Boat the cruiser could justifiably claim the kill. There is anecdotal evidence of HMS Dorsetshire doing just that, though no record of this event has yet surfaced.

Almost all British cruisers were fitted with depth charge (DC) racks and Asdic Type 123 with which to hunt. This may come as a surprise to some as it did to me. At the Battle of the River Plate, one of the first actions on opening fire was jettisoning the depth charges, so there is further proof that Cruisers carried depth charges even at that early date.

In the British Royal Navy, no weapon is ever issued unless the holder is able to use it offensively and effectively. Cruisers were fitted with Asdic and a single DC rack of the same type as that fitted in destroyers and other properly designated A/S units. So they had the same capability to hunt as these other vessels though carrying fewer DC racks. They had capacity to drop two patterns of three or four charges and very possibly they had reloads waiting in the magazine below. Belfast had her torpedo warhead magazine aft near the steering compartment, so I think they would have been stored there.

With Asdic up to snuff and with a ready supply of depth charges there would be little difference between a cruiser and a destroyer engaging in the hunt for a U-Boat. The disadvantage for cruisers would no doubt be lack of experience. Destroyers would be regularly tasked to hunt for U-Boats whilst cruisers would not. That did not stop Captain Pegram of HMS Glasgow in company with HMS Southampton having a go at a U-Boat, though without success.

Many destroyers carried the High angle Low angle 4" twin mounting. The Hunt Class for example was very heavily armed for their size. The 4" was their main armament. Most cruisers also carried the same 4" mounting. It was not their main armament, but was no less offensive as an air or surface weapon for all that.

The Mark 2 depth Charge as carried by HM ships could spit the hull of a U-Boat if it exploded within 20 feet and render the U-boat unlikely to reach port at twice that distance. So a miss at 60 feet might well cause considerable damage to a submerged U-boat. If the boat had already been damaged in a previous attack, that could well tip the scales. Apart from that it could render the U-Boat incapable of making further torpedo attacks due to damaged equipment.

The type 123 Asdic set was very accurate for bearing, but could not establish the true depth of a target. Very experience operators may have been able to get more out of the set than those less experienced. Escorts in convoy were apparently able to establish the positions of their charges in heavy fog using this device and so effective was it that only a couple of properly functioning sets needed to be switched on at any given time. Possibly too many bouncing echoes might be confusing to ships tuned to the same transponder frequency.

There is much to be learned about this little known aspect of the war and anything which others here may be able to find will be warmly and gratefully welcomed.

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RNfanDan
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby RNfanDan » Sat Jun 01, 2013 2:05 pm

Vic Dale wrote:In the British Royal Navy, no weapon is ever issued unless the holder is able to use it offensively and effectively.

Hence, the fitting of the infamous "UP" mountings, purely defensive weapons which just happened to be virtually ineffective...

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Vic Dale
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby Vic Dale » Sat Jun 01, 2013 11:40 pm

The UP rockets were ineffectual and were eventually considered a danger to the holding vessel.

Depth charges were deadly and accounted for the vast majority of U-Boat kills. No comparison at all.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby RNfanDan » Sun Jun 02, 2013 1:33 am

Vic Dale wrote:The UP rockets were ineffectual and were eventually considered a danger to the holding vessel.

But they were issued, nonetheless; further, they were still aboard Hood and PoW in May of 1941, despite apparently questionable assessments before they were installed. Considerable "politicking" went into their adoption by the RN, at the behest of a certain Winston Churchill, himself. The navy was, furthermore, forced to accept and/or retain other weapons known or later proven to be ineffective, for much of the early 20th century.

Depth charges were deadly and accounted for the vast majority of U-Boat kills. No comparison at all.
No comparison applies....refer to your original assertion:
Vic Dale wrote:no weapon is ever issued unless the holder is able to use it offensively and effectively.
{emphasis mine}. I merely pointed out one of the exceptions to your untenable assertion.

On a separate note, there is no question that depth charges were carried aboard HM cruisers. However, the use of cruisers for hunting down U-boats, to all practical intents and purposes, was undesirable and clearly not prioritised in any but unusual circumstances. They were simply FAR too valuable an asset to risk, at least in an offensive manner; the use of aircraft carriers in offensive U-boat hunts, for example, had already cost the navy dearly re: HMS Courageous.
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby Vic Dale » Sun Jun 02, 2013 9:59 am

HMS Courageous was not sunk because she was hunting U-Boats, but because of two combined incidents. Two of her escorting destroyers had been sent to help a merchant man and all her aircraft had returned from patrols so there was no help available from the air and only half he escort to attack from the surface.

U-29 (Schuhart) had been stalking Courageous for 2 hours and as the carrier was turned into the wind to fly off, it put her right across U-29's bow Schuhart shot three torpedoes at her two of which struck her port side. She rolled over and sank within 20 minutes, before any aircraft could be launched.

This has nothing to do with the effectiveness of depth charges and says nothing about the value of using carrier aircraft for sub-hunting. It was an unfortunate combination of circumstance.

Churchill did manage to stick the armed forces with a load of useless weapons, conjoured up out of his own whimsical mind. He may have developed into a good political leader as the war progressed, but like Hitler he was a terrible military leader. His excesses had to be curtailed by Fm. Allan Brooke. Had Hitler had A Brooke, the war may had had a different outcome.

There simply is no comparison between the depth charge and it's use under all and any circumstances, to the UP rockets. The depth charge was deadly once it entered the water and to my knowledge rarely failed. Any ship could use them, provided it could make sufficient speed to to avoid it's field of disruption when it exploded.

Cruisers were not considered ideal for use against U-Boats, being far more suitable for running down and sinking unarmoured surface raiders. Consequentially they got little in the way of practice in the art of anti submarine work and it is this which accounts for their lack of success against U-Boats and not their technical ability to locate and sink them, when on various occasions they attacked them.

It took some while before destroyer Captains and other escort commanders learned the art of sub hunting and so too would cruiser captains. Given more opportunities they would have learned that art.

To a U-Boat crew there is nothing more offensive than having a pattern of depth charges dropped on them and it would matter not one jot which ship or aircraft dropped them. If they managed to get within 60 feet of the hull, serious damage would be incurred, 40 feet would render them unlikely to reach base and within 20 feet the18mm pressure hull would split.

It would be interesting to learn whether the improved Mk 2 depth charge with half the sink time was issued to cruisers.

No weapon is ever given out unless those receiving it have done the acquaintance course.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby RNfanDan » Sun Jun 02, 2013 3:21 pm

When she was torpedoed, the overarching reason for Courageous' presence in that area, was anti-submarine patrols. She was not the only carrier to have been misemployed in this fashion. She may have been "locally" the victim of two odd circumstances, but she should not have been used in this manner, exposed as she was---destroyers or none.

As to the singular drumbeat of the almighty depth charge at play in this thread: I am not questioning the effectiveness of depth charges at all, in fact I couldn't care less---their record speaks for itself. No argument here, in fact. Furthermore -- and not to put too fine a point on it-- no better wielder of that weapon was to be found, than in Frederick John Walker, whose time was yet to come in the BOTA. Walker developed the art of the U-boat kill using hunter-killer groups and depth charges. He even eschewed the later use of ASW mortar weapons.

It would be interesting to learn his opinion, had such been placed before him, the idea of using cruisers against U-boats...

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby lynn1212 » Sun Jun 02, 2013 3:38 pm

i have a problem with the idea that CVEs should not have been used as an anti Uboat weapon. hunter killer groups built around a CVE managed to kill a lot of boats. the combination of aircraft and escort ships became a boats worse nightmare. aircraft could cover a huge area and once contacting could attack and fix a boat. then it was almost just a wait for a DD or DE to show up to finish the job.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby RNfanDan » Sun Jun 02, 2013 4:14 pm

lynn1212 wrote:i have a problem with the idea that CVEs should not have been used as an anti Uboat weapon. hunter killer groups built around a CVE managed to kill a lot of boats. the combination of aircraft and escort ships became a boats worse nightmare. aircraft could cover a huge area and once contacting could attack and fix a boat. then it was almost just a wait for a DD or DE to show up to finish the job.


To be fair, Escort carriers were another matter altogether, and by the time they began appearing in the BOTA in sufficient numbers, RN aircraft were considerably advanced from those of 1939, when Courageous --a fleet carrier, not an escort-- was lost. Some of these aircraft were of US design (Grumman Martlet, for one). The problem of using aircraft against U-boats was one of application, not one of choice.

Fleet aircraft carriers possessed all the clout (and then some) of escort carriers, but they were totally out of their element and far too valuable to risk---and Courageous paid the price. There were instances of other carriers and large ships operating casually in U-boat infested waters that just managed to escape loss, as well.

Cruisers simply weren't the proper "tools" for anti-submarine operations, and it wasn't as simple as lack of training for cruiser crews and officers. They were fast enough, but speed wasn't the key to combating U-boats in the BOTA, as Walker proved so convincingly. They lacked the turning radius, acceleration, deceleration, and were not equipped (beyond a stern rack or two) with sufficient ASW weaponry to perform as well as a destroyer or even an escort ship, such as minesweeper, frigate, corvette, or sloop.

Aircraft were the scourge of U-boats, once they had the means to accompany convoys and the flight decks to operate from.

Good post, lynn!
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby phil gollin » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:16 am

.

Vic,

You are being disingenuous in misrepresenting your rather "quaint" ideas as expressed elsewhere.

What you were TOLD is the truth, in as much a the depth charges were carried for "scarecrow tactics" ONLY - they were NOT for hunting U-Boats. Likewise asdic sets were only partly fitted as they were originally intended just to use as an early warning sound screen (again NOT for hunting) - throwers were NOT fitted and strictly limited numbers carried.

In addition, depth charges were used as arange and bearing technique for cruisers to locate each other reasonably accurately over large distances.

PLEASE do not imagine the use of cruisers as submarine hunters.

.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby tommy303 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 7:17 pm

On the whole, I should think that depth charges on a cruiser might have had some utility in way of a threat which might force a u-boat to dive deep and thus allow the cruiser or what ever the cruiser was part of a screen, to get out of torpedo range, although a cruiser is hardly an ideal ASW weapon; on the other hand, depth charges might have had some use in dealing with acoustic mines.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby paulcadogan » Wed Jul 24, 2013 4:19 am

Hi guys,

I'm reading the book "Malta Convoy" by Peter Shankland and Anthony Hunter covering the Pedestal convoy in August 1942. In the description of the sinking of the carrier Eagle it states:

Away to the left of the sinking ship, the cruiser Charybdis hit back. Zigzagging over the calm waters she dropped pattern after pattern of depth charges, the sea boiling up behind her in great geysers of white water at half minute intervals.


I checked online to find some corroboration and it is also mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Charybdis with citation given as Moses, "At All Costs", and on the Naval history.net page on her as well:

The whole Fleet took evasive action, and with warning blasts of S - S from Charybdis, the Victorious dodged two torpedo attacks. Clear of the sunken Eagle's position the Charybdis put out her depth charge patterns

http://www.naval-history.net/WW2Ships-Charybdis.htm

So here we have an actual incident of a British cruiser putting her depth charges to use in combat - albeit unsuccessfully. I suppose the Dido-class was small and maneuverable enough to actually make a serious attempt! :think:
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby phil gollin » Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:43 am

.

She didn't have the capacity to carry enough depth charges to drop patternS.

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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby culverin » Sat Aug 22, 2015 6:52 pm

Most British Royal Navy cruisers up to the Improved Dido and Colony classes carried 1 single depth charge rack with 5 charges maximum on the starboard quarter and 15 depth charges. None ever carried any form of D C thrower(s).
Consequently no pattern as such could be launched.

Apparently at the River Plate in Dec 1939 HMS Exeter used some of her charges to simulate misses from the Graf Spee. As they would all have been astern with impessive visual results, with shallow settings this probably did not impress or deceive the Germans.
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Re: Depth Charges Aboard HM cruisers 1939-45

Postby culverin » Thu Oct 01, 2015 8:52 pm

Further evidence of DC's being carried is in the log of HMS Naiad.
22 May 1941, whilst evading extensive bombing which was to last all day, at 1147 Naiad jettisoned her depth charges.

Derived from 'The man around the engine', by Vice-Admiral L Le Bailly, a Lt (E) in Naiad from build to loss.
This tome certainly takes a different tack from the guns and gore authors, very matter of fact and intriguing.
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