The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

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Christian VII.
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The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Christian VII. » Wed Sep 02, 2015 3:33 pm

There seems to be some controversy in regards to what happened during the latter part of the engagement between Scharnhorst and Duke of York. Scharnhorst suddenly lost speed, but was this due to a hit to the engine/boiler compartment (as the legend goes) or was it yet another engine malfunction?

What are your thoughts gentlemen?

pgollin
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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby pgollin » Thu Sep 03, 2015 9:50 am

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The "claim" of a hit to the boiler room was "popular" in the 80s and 90s mainly due to (?????) the book "Battleships: Allied Battleships in World War II" by Garzke and Dulin. Unfortunately they never really gave any evidence to back up their claim of a hit/penetration of the "boiler hump".

This was queried in the early 2000s and as no evidence ever appeared other explanations for the temporary loss of speed have been put forward BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR ANY TO BE CHOSEN OVER THE OTHERS.

Survivor accounts are disjointed and somewhat contradictory (as one would expect) however, most seem to agree on a largish "thump" and then a slow down. (Some people claim the thump was from the engine room area.)

From the British side the official report states that a hit was observed "ABAFT THE REAR TURRET" just before the slow-down.

What does seem to be odd (and which seemed to make the Garzke and Dulin theory disappear) was that the slow-down was temporary and that Scharnhorst managed to regain much (but not all) of her speed.

----------------

From that there have been many theories, none seem to be any more valid than another. The pro-German seem to want to go for a mechanical break-down, but don't explain the hows or whys. The rest go for the "as a result of the battle/firing" but again offer no particular method.

The real problem is that there were so few survivors that the knowledge of what actually happened was lost.

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Christian VII.
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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Christian VII. » Thu Sep 03, 2015 5:51 pm

What's odd is the observed hit, how could they observe a hit in a storm where visibility was below 7 miles?

That the speed was regained strongly suggests that the boiler room was not hit at least.

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby alecsandros » Thu Sep 03, 2015 8:07 pm

Thanks to Phill for a very good post,

I would add, for what it's worth, that Scharnhorst had 6 distinct boiler rooms, each separated from the other by bulkheads.
The ship could mantain her maximum speed of ~ 31kts on 5 boilers, and about 28kts on 4 boilers (in normal sea conditions).

The drop in speed was from ~ 29-30kts in heavy seas down to 10-12kts. She slowly built up speed afterwards, to 22-23kts, but by then, the 4 destroyers were already near launching positions.

It is perhaps interesting to note that during all her major engagements, Scharnhorst suffered machinery breakdowns, which nearly caused her demise. [Breakdown during the battle with HMS Renown; breakdown during the battle with HMS Glorious; breakdown during the Channel Dash... ]

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Christian VII. » Thu Sep 03, 2015 8:34 pm

What type of machinery failures did she suffer from? Could a breakdown have caused some sailors to feel a thump?

There's also the possibility that some other spot was hit of course. But again how was it possible to observe any hits in a snowstorm?

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby pgollin » Fri Sep 04, 2015 10:53 am

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The observation of a "hit" was quite easy when the explosion caused a flash, however small.

----

The search for either a simple mechanical failure, OR a simple shell damage explanation is what drives the issue. The people who TEND to come out with specifics also tend to have a vested interest in trying to put forward an explanation favouring their preferred solution (but why pro-German people would seem to think that machinery failure is "better" than shell damage I have never understood.

I would love to know the truth, but there is simply too little information.

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Christian VII. » Sun Sep 06, 2015 1:23 am

pgollin wrote:.

The observation of a "hit" was quite easy when the explosion caused a flash, however small.
.


But in a snowstorm? Also if they say they saw a flash on her "ab aft" section, then that infers that they could rather clearly see the ship. Seems abit odd to me :think:

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Dave Saxton » Sun Sep 06, 2015 3:53 am

The idea that Scharnhorst was slowed by boiler room penetration gained traction mainly because of the romance of it: Finally after 90 minutes of inconclusive trading of salvos, and just as the Scharnhorst is making good its escape, like a Hail Mary football pass in the last seconds of the game that scores the winning touchdown, the Duke of York scores the fatal blow. What a movie script!

Unfortunately the available evidence may suggest otherwise, although it can never be conclusive. The time line for a boiler room penetration doesn't work. The Duke of York fired its last salvo of the chase phase about 10 minutes before Scharnhorst lost its speed. And what about the likely hood of penetrating to a boiler room at 21,900 yards?

As Alex pointed out the Scharnhorst had a history of just these kinds of speed losses. The kind of speed loss and the re-gaining of the speed fits. It was in the previous cases problems with the turbines rather than the boilers, and some survivors reported that the high pressure steam lines supplying the turbine failed*.

Scharnhorst was equipped with a set of turbines that were very different than the ones installed in Gneisenau. Scharnhorst (along with Tirpitz and Prinz Eugen) had turbines by the Swiss company Brown-Boveri. These turbines could use the combined cruising turbine to bring back a portion of the drive power in the event of a failure of the high pressure supply.

Gneisenau's turbines were built by Deschimag and were significantly different in design and function. They didn't produce quite as much power, but proved to be more durable and more reliable.

Bismarck btw, used a third different design by Blohm und Voss designed in house.

*A 1942 engineering paper identified the main problem of the German high pressure systems as the metal alloys used in the HP steam lines.
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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Antonio Bonomi
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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Sun Sep 06, 2015 7:57 am

Hello everybody,

it may interest you to read thru the same argument we discussed years ago on the Marinearchiv forum.

It is mainly in German language, but when I was writing I used English language :

http://www.forum-marinearchiv.de/smf/in ... 40.15.html

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 supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby pgollin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:04 am

.

Dave,

So what machinery fault fits the described event ?

The machinery explanation fails just as much as the shell, although as it was a battle the shell has to be a possibility, but there just isn't enough information for any sensible decision.

The machinery excuse just seems too similar to the scuttling excuse with the Bismarck as being some sort of fig-leaf - I understand neither as something worth grasping onto.

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby northcape » Sun Sep 06, 2015 12:04 pm

One piece of evidence we may can use to some extent is the first-hand account of survivors described in F.O. Busch's book. There it is described as a torpedo hit (of course we know now, that a torpedo hit is completely out of question as now torpedoes were fired during this time). However, the claim for the torpedo hit comes solely from the description of a "terrific blow which shook the ship". If we trust this to some extent, I wonder if a boiler breakdown would cause such a strong impact (in fact, I don't know and I also don't know if the internal explosion of a shell would cause such an impact).
If we trust the timelines, than of course a shell hit from DoY would be out of question as well. However, again I'm not convinced if the scarce information from the survivors can be regarded as hard facts. Or is the timing of the slowing down of Scharnhorst given by DoY radar operators - and if so, would the temporal resolution of this observation be accurate enough?

Just too many ifs in my opinion - it is one of these questions which possibly can never be answered.

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby pgollin » Mon Sep 07, 2015 10:20 am

.

NO.

Any sort of catastrophic explosion in the boiler plant to create such a "thump" could not have been repaired at sea, let alone in the time that was available.

I do not understand where this idea that the hit was not associated with the speed slowing. The RN report is that there was a hit observed abaft of the rear turret just before the slow-down. There seems to be some sort of policy to ignore the RN's report and somehow invent a long period between shell hit and slow-down. There may be time inconsistencies, but at least the DoY's report is consistent and objective.

There is not sufficient evidence to tie-down the specific cause, but likewise inventing non-existence reasons is no use.

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Dave Saxton
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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby Dave Saxton » Tue Sep 08, 2015 8:26 pm

pgollin wrote:.I do not understand where this idea that the hit was not associated with the speed slowing. The RN report is that there was a hit observed abaft of the rear turret just before the slow-down. There seems to be some sort of policy to ignore the RN's report and somehow invent a long period between shell hit and slow-down. There may be time inconsistencies, but at least the DoY's report is consistent and objective.

But that is also inconsistent with other timeline events from the Duke of York accounts, such as Fraser sending an order to Burnett at 1840 hours; to break off the attack because he can see no hope of catching up to Scharnhorst. It may be reasonable to assume that the admiral was not yet aware that Scharnhorst had lost its speed, but from Howse we know that Fraser had previously left the bridge and climbed up to the type 273 radar office so he could view the PPI presentation directly and was not relying on the narrative of the radar personal to obtain his situational awareness . And then after the message was sent, was when the radar operators began to notice the speed drop. The timeline appears to be:

*1824 hours- Duke of York fires the last salvo of the chase segment
* 1840 hours- Fraser orders a break off of pursuit.
* After Fraser sends the meesage- The Scharnhorst is noticed losing speed.


Associating a hit abaft C Turret to a boiler room penetration makes little sense. The boiler rooms are about 100 meters farther forward of Abaft of C Turret. Furthermore, a shell which entered the ship abaft there would have burst after travelling only about 12 meters, unless it was dud. But we would hardly expect a dud hit to be noticed from 20km away. Actually, any shell bursting deep within the bowls of the ship would not be noticed at all by outside observers.

There is a report by a survivor of a hit well aft (compartment III), but his description of this event appears to be located on the battery deck among a place where potatoes had been stowed. His report is correlated with the last gasp Duke of York hit in many secondary accounts as collaboration. However, there seems to be some confusion about when this described hit happened, and if it was shell hit, or a torpedo hit in the period leading up to 1900 hours. Jacobsen for example, associates this same survivor's report with both a shell hit and a torpedo hit, at different times, at different places in his book. It appears that this hit most likely was the (confirmed by multiple reports from both sides) torpedo hit abaft C Turret which brought about an abrupt slowing of Scharnhorst. There are two slowings to account for: One that dropped speed down to 22 knots and allowed the destroyers to catch up and deliver torpedo attacks, and another later slowing to 7 knots caused by multiple torpedo hits, especially one mighty blow aft. This kind of confusion is of course typical of first hand accounts by men under the stress of combat.
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 supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby alecsandros » Wed Sep 09, 2015 5:51 am

Dave Saxton wrote:.... There are two slowings to account for: One that dropped speed down to 22 knots and allowed the destroyers to catch up and deliver torpedo attacks, and another later slowing to 7 knots caused by multiple torpedo hits, especially one mighty blow aft. This kind of confusion is of course typical of first hand accounts by men under the stress of combat.

IMHO, Scharnhorst's speed dropped to about 10kts or slower at around 18:25-18:30. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for the destroyers to catch up with her and deliver the first set of torpedoes at ~ 18:50 or so...

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Re: The supposed hit to Scharnhorst's boiler room

Postby pgollin » Wed Sep 09, 2015 9:58 am

Dave,

What Boiler hit ?

This is the problem, there are lots of theories (with few facts). We know that there was an observed hit. We know that there was a "thump" (whether it was associated with that hit, another hit or no hit we DON'T know). And we know there was a slow-down.

Almost anything else is supposition.


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