Damage to German warships in Brest

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Francis Marliere
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Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by Francis Marliere » Tue May 26, 2020 10:26 am

Gentlemen,

In 1941, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen were damaged by British bombers while in Brest. Description of damage, and the duration of repairs is often vague. Do you know when repairs on each of this ships were terminated ?

Thanks for any help,

Francis

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Dave Saxton
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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue May 26, 2020 10:35 pm

Schmalenbach included a drawing detailing the damage to PG in his Under 3 Flags book (pg142).

The bomb hit just inboard of the intersection of the oberdeck and the side plating. A few inches outboard and it would have missed. A few feet inboard and the damage probably would not have been as significant. Where it hit it was deflected by the sloped belt inboard so that it struck the scarp at a right angle, and then into the RPC amplifier room where it burst. Splinters perforated all the surrounding bulkheads. Splinters entered into the central command center through its floor. Splinters entered into main artillery command center through its starboard bulkhead. The gunnery computer room was on the opposite side of the central command center and remained undamaged.

Schmalenbach wrote that the repairs were completed by Nov.
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: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue May 26, 2020 11:24 pm

One book on the Atlantic Ports reports that Scharnhorst completed repairs by Nov, 1, 1941, by bringing in extra technicians from Germany and also the U-boat repair facilities at the Biscay ports.

Another source specifically reads that the Gneisenau was declared fully operational in the OKM briefing on Nov, 5, 1941.
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: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by Francis Marliere » Wed May 27, 2020 7:15 am

Thanks a lot,

Francis

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Wed May 27, 2020 8:32 pm

Fellow Contributors,

There is clearly quite some discontinuity about the extent of original damage and subsequent readiness for operations. This is not surprising because undoubtedly the KM authorities were keeping things secret and possibly putting deceptive, positive spin on at the time.

On another thread following Dave's comprehensive listing of various raids including
Hits were scored on the Scharnhorst at La Pallice. The British were probably aware of the damage, or soon would be, through Ultra. However, the fact that Scharnhorst steamed back to Brest that same night at 27 knots, even fending off a night RAF torpedo bomber attack, indicated that it was hardly crippled as many secondary sources infer.
I contributed
Scharnhorst had "got away" but the the daylight Halifax raid, made with extreme gallantry under heavy fighter attack scored five hits. Three though and throughs went through the double bottom causing thousands of tons of flooding and other sources say only a 20 knot return to Brest and on arrival the stern was flooded down until the after portholes were under water.


This happened in July during trials off La Pallice, after several months of engine room refit, and which being further away from the UK. was imagined to be safer. It wasn't. 15 unescorted Halifaxes, fighting their way through 30 plus fighters put the ship back in drydock for the rest of the year. The bombers paid a heavy price - 5 were lost. Wikipedia lists hits by weight and distribution. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_battleship_Scharnhorst

and details a DFC awarded en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Stanley_James

This happened during April to Gneisenau :
78 dead and 84 wounded B turret jammed and the flak switching and report centre, the forward compass e-gear and part of the command relay system in the command centre were all put out of action, The armour deck was distorted at the site of the blast. The kitchens and bakehouse were destroyed. All accommodation decks forward of compartment XII were uninhabitable owing to the effects of explosion and fire.
This was of course after she had been torpedoed by Campbell VC and his Beaufort crew.

I summarised Prinz Eugen's 2nd July damage thus
but the one hit completely destroyed Prinz Eugen's fire control centre, killed 60 crew members and the splinters penetrated the double bottom causing flooding. Not operational until 1942.
Koop and Schmolke have pictures of the wrecked fire control system, state that the after transmitting room could not take over main armament control, and say that systems were replaced by materials cannibalized from the nearly ready Seydlitz.

Pargeter (Hipper Class cruisers says PG was offshore calibrating her fire control system on 22nd January 1942, and only completed trials off Brest on 4th February.

Fritz-Otto Busch in The Story of the Prince Eugen apparently contradicts Schmalenbach when he says:
The repair work under the brilliant direction of the naval engineer Dr Strobusch and naval staff engineer Flemming, went on until the end of the year and was frequently interrupted by enemy air attacks.
However this photo, apparently taken during the daylight raid mentioned by Dave:

Image

shows both battlecruisers still snugged down side by side under tons of camouflage netting in the drydocks, and seemingly in no way "operational" on 18th December, let alone early November. Apparently the practice was to leave some water in the drydocks so as to allow some cooling systems to operate, but most systems aboard ships "out of water" are inoperable, and dependent on shoreside power. Certainly boilers and main engines will have been inoperable for months, and like a thousand other systems will require a period of trials before they can be relied on.

The photo (South up) also apparently shows Prinz Eugen alongside several hundred metres west having left her own drydock some time earlier, nearly half a Km east of the battlecruisers. Just because she was afloat doesn't mean she was operational on 18th December. Incidentally we should remember bombs missing the ships themselves were destroying shoreside facilities and thus holding up completion of repairs.

I am also stunned that these aircraft apparently couldn't hit their targets, they're so big in this picture! Hmmm! Mr Photogrammetrist? :think:

Today we keep the memory alive of all those who lost their lives 80 years ago in the Denmark Straits and the Bay of Biscay.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Wed May 27, 2020 8:36 pm

Errm

East is east and West is west and South is confusing. Oops!

Atb

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Wed May 27, 2020 8:48 pm

Errm 2

I can't even count either. 80 years since Dunkirk. :lol: 79 years since the other events.

Atb

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by dunmunro » Thu May 28, 2020 7:09 pm

:ok: :ok:

Interesting data.

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Fri May 29, 2020 5:40 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Thanks for cheery response Dunmunro.

Further info on Scharnhorst 24th July 1941 attack. La Pallice is the newer extended harbour of La Rochelle 200 miles south of Brest in the Bay of Biscay. In contrast to dilatory and disorganized response in Cerberus, as soon as RAF got pictures of Scharnhorst alongside at the end of the mole of La Pallice on the 23rd they got attacks planned. Six Stirlings attacked that very evening, and apparently thirty Whitleys had a go later during the night, but no results. The following day the fifteen Halifaxes attacked from seaward but had tripped over a German destroyer offshore and alarmed defences were waiting. Despite fighters and flak, five hits were made but five bombers went down either over the target or on the way home and the rest were pretty badly shot up. The damage caused and lack of facilities at La Pallice/Rochelle meant a depressing return to Brest into the same drydock so recently vacated, for yet more repairs and additional refit items, like torpedo tubes, not installed in the previous lengthy visit.

Since the southern hidey hole had been discovered, it is surprising Scharnhorst did not get out to sea ASAP and gain manouevring room to avoid further RAF level bombing attacks, rather than sit and wait stationary for the inevitable at La Pallice. This smaller port had nothing like the defences of Brest.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Fri May 29, 2020 5:40 pm

Double post
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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by paul.mercer » Sun May 31, 2020 9:08 am

wadinga wrote:
Fri May 29, 2020 5:40 pm
Double post
HI Wadinga,
I was beginning to think that it was only me that can't keep my fingers off the mouse and make double posts, welcome to the club!

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Sun May 31, 2020 12:53 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Yes I do suffer from twitchy fingers occasionally.

Back on the subject, further information on Prinz Eugen. Koop and Schmolke have a photo showing a ceremony with band on PG's starboard quarterdeck, dated 12th Oct 1941. A Tradition Flag of the Austro=Hungarian Empire is hoisted to the masthead after its official presentation to the ship. Apparently, German warships would hoist the Imperial German war flag each May 31st(today) to commemorate the German victory (sic) at the Skaggerakschlacht. In view of the background of Prince Eugene of Savoy PG was given specific permission signed by the Fuhrer to hoist this different flag, and this presentation and ceremony was evidently meant as a morale-booster.

There is no sign in the background in the photo of all the clutter of camouflage nets which covered her in dry dock, suggesting the ship is becoming operational. Interestingly there appears to be snow remnants on parts of the ship which is perhaps surprising for an October date in Brest.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Wed Jun 03, 2020 9:57 am

Fellow Contributors,

Further information:

Hinsley in Vol 2 British Intelligence says Photo recon (PR) says PG was undocked by 16th December, which fits with the raid pictures and Whitley "German Cruisers" who says she came out on the 15th December. Hinsley says by 23rd December Gneisenau was seen on PR to be out of dock and alongside.

Further, he says:
PR, which during January, had shown the ships sometimes in and sometimes out of dock, had established that all three were undocked on 31st January.


Later
On 1st February the OIC concluded that the departure of the ships was "near at hand, and on 2nd February the Admiralty distributed an appreciation of the possible destination of the ships.
They concluded "probable" return via the Channel.

Enigma intercepts indicated gun crews of all three ships were visiting the Scheer and Hipper in the Baltic to practice their rusty skills in December and Scharnhorst people were still there between around 19th-23rd January.

Whitley says PG only got the semi-spherical covers for her forward flak directors, (unavailable for the Bismarck operation) installed in early January.

Cerberus started on the 11th February 1942 because the ships weren't ready before then. Brest was too dangerous for them to "hang around in" when they were sufficiently operational to escape. The Fuhrer's threat to remove and redeploy their valuable guns meant the risks of the Channel Dash were a less unpleasant option for Raeder.



All the best

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Re: Damage to German warships in Brest

Post by wadinga » Sun Jun 07, 2020 4:57 pm

Fellow Contributors,

(Just in case anyone else is still bothered :cool: )
Interestingly there appears to be snow remnants on parts of the ship which is perhaps surprising for an October date in Brest.
A "Warship Issue 49" article Prinz Eugen under Two Flags says the "Tradition" flag in silk was presented to the ship on 12th October 1942, ie when the ship was working up after repair/refit in Kiel. This fits much better with snow on the decks than the balmy latitudes of Brest would, and corresponds better with those sources saying PG did not leave drydock until mid-December 1941. It would appear Koop and Schmolke's caption is incorrect. In November 1942 the bell from the battleship Tegetthoff (sister ship to the Austro-Hungarian Prinz Eugen) was presented in a ceremony to the ship. After the 1945 surrender of the vessel, and many years later, this bell mysteriously turned up in Austria, and the Swastika and Eagle PG bell is in the Washington Naval Museum.

BTW Does anybody else find the the "two Halifaxes" photo as suspicious as me?

All the best

wadinga
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