KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

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wadinga
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by wadinga » Sun May 16, 2021 11:29 pm

Hello All,

A factor in Kapitan Meisel's decision making was the chronic unreliability of Hipper's propulsion system. M J Whitley provides considerable detail in his book German Cruisers of WWII (cites Hipper KTB). After spending August 1940 in dockyard hands repairing defects accumulated on the Norwegian invasion and a short Arctic deployment, and after final trials and training through September, Hipper sailed for a raid on the Northern Patrol (Faroes -Shetland gap) on the 24th. The following day the starboard main cooling pump broke down and the ship had to go into Kristiansand for repairs. 24 hours later she was underway again, but the following day in bad weather off the Norwegian coast the starboard turbine lubrication system came adrift and sprayed oil which then caught fire.

Once the fire was out, the turbine could not be run without lubrication and could not even be allowed to "windmill" as this could cause seizure. Unfortunately there was no method to easily decouple the prop from the turbine, without the ship having to lay stopped for some hours. She then proceeded to Bergen but temporary repairs meant she had to head back to Germany. Repairs took the whole of October. Further training and repairs took up most of November.

On the 30th November she sailed again, this time with a mission into the Mid-Atlantic, to attack convoys. Intelligence analysis suggested mid ocean escort might only be an an AMC. Running into very bad weather various systems were damaged by seas breaking across the decks, and on the 10th December the starboard low pressure turbine broke down. It was estimated this would require dockyard repair, but a temporary fix was done.

Another concern was high fuel consumption and the limited transfer capability of the available supply ships, 12 hours being spent on this on the 13th Dec. After more bad weather resulting in some electrical problems with turrets and torpedo tubes, further refuelling periods were necessary on the 16th and on the 20th. On the 22nd the centre engine bearings started to run hot. After another refuelling session, Hipper located WS 5A late on the 24th.

In the prevailing low visibility of the early hours of the 25th, a radar-directed torpedo attack on the convoy in general was launched at a measured range of 4,600m but no hits were scored. Closing in later in the murky conditions it was with dismay that the outline of HMS Berwick was discerned. Not the weak AMC protection anticipated. Once again Meisel decided to engage initially with torpedoes, and unfortunately Whitley gives no range information, but this must have been well inside gun range. However confusion over a changed decision to only use 3 tubes initially followed by gun blast disabling the training mechanism meant no torpedoes were actually fired. Hipper opened 8" fire at 0639/25 and Berwick returned fire a couple of minutes later, with the German cruiser turning away. Conditions were too bad for any accurate gunnery but improved after 0658 and Hipper scored the X turret hit at 0705. By 0714 having scored other hits Hipper was clear and further rain squalls hid both sides. Berwick and the other cruisers' first responsibility was to return to the convoy's protection and with temporary repairs on his starboard engine and a question mark over the centre, Meisel realised Brest was his only sensible option. By 1430/25 Force H had left Gibraltar in response to Berwick's enemy report having been in harbour only about 12 hours, returning from being off Sardinia on the 22nd. German observers in Algeciras of course reported this.

Meisel's success was that WS 5A scattered prematurely and Force H and the escorts spent several days rounding up the merchant ships and reforming the convoy. Another month of dry docking and repairs was necessary for Hipper in Brest.

HMS Berwick was unfortunately a bit of a "bullet magnet", but was operational enough to continue with the rounding up process.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Steve Crandell » Mon May 17, 2021 12:24 am

Sounds like Hipper was a "lemon". The best gunnery dept in the world isn't going to do much if you can't get to where you need to be to deploy it.

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by wadinga » Tue May 18, 2021 5:09 pm

Hi Steve and all,

Hipper's next Atlantic mission was much more successful, the gunnery and torpedo departments excelling themselves, at point blank range, in the slaughter of the unescorted SLS 64 convoy, on 11th-12th February, but more propulsion worries and ammunition shortage took Meisel swiftly back to Brest, despite SKL instructions he should stay at sea. Hipper was feted with a rapturous welcome on the 14th, after the convoy success, although in actuality only 7 ships were sunk, rather than the 14 claimed. Meisel was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 26 February 1941. But some of the gilt had been taken off his gingerbread when Hipper hit an underwater pile of vehicles jettisoned off the quay during the 1940 invasion, which the careless French had "forgotten" :wink: to put on their harbour plan. "Je suis désolé, Capitaine, très désolé." The ship was already on her way into the eastern-most drydock for more engine work and now a replacement propeller was required from Germany. Another month out of action.

With her short endurance and continuing engine problems, a return/retreat to Germany for major work was required (Factory recall?), especially since the RAF had spotted her as a nice static target, and this was done, without looking for any combat opportunities, between 15-28th March 1941. A complete propulsion overhaul followed as part of an extensive refit including Blohm & Voss visit and intermittent trials in the Baltic, lasting through until 2nd March 1942, after another 11 months out of service.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Steve Crandell » Tue May 18, 2021 5:39 pm

It's always intrigued me that Gneisenau didn't seem to have the propulsion problems of Scharnhorst and the CAs, and I can't help but wonder if there was a very good and unheralded engineering officer aboard that ship.

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by RF » Wed May 19, 2021 6:56 am

Neither did the Bismarck (until the torpedo hit on the stern) or Prinz Eugen.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by hans zurbriggen » Wed May 19, 2021 7:33 am

Hello,
neither did Tirpitz despite almost impossible 'refits' in Norway.
On 'Scharnhorsts' main problems came from weak anti-shock supports, from too sensitive safety systems, activating safety valves in case of concussion, hits, vibrations, etc (source: Whitley) and from cramped engine spaces, preventing good maintenance. Whether Gneisenau was just more lucky or better quality than Scharnhorst, I can't say. She got problems too at Terschelling (when almost reaching Germany), detonating mine during Cerberus, with all engines stopped for 30 minutes (despite overall light damages).

hans

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by gflotron » Wed May 19, 2021 3:27 pm

Some ships just seem to hit what they aim at, and I would put Hipper way, way up on that list.
In the worst conditions she was a one ship wrecking machine at Barents Sea.
Even the slaughter of SLS 64 seemed to be brutally efficient.
Every action she was in she did damage.

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by wadinga » Thu May 20, 2021 4:53 pm

Hi Gflotron,

There have been a number of posts over the years which might lead one to think:
In the worst conditions she was a one ship wrecking machine at Barents Sea.
Mostly based on the German account of a hit on the first salvo fired at HMS Achates, and a subsequent Bundesmarine study which apparently accepted this and similar claims in that action at face value. Loftus Peyton-Jones RN who took over command of the vessel actually fired at, after his Captain was killed, but was first charged to assess the damage in this first encounter, said there were no direct hits at all, only splinter damage from later salvoes. Those who are fired at know when hits are made, not those whose reputation depends on their claims of successes in a report mainly full of excuses.

HMS Achates did eventually founder, some hours after a second encounter with Hipper, and a few direct hits were scored at that time. Hipper was driven from the scene, along with Lutzow, by two light cruisers in a defeat so humiliating, the furious Fuhrer ordered the surface ships to be scrapped and their guns given to the Army. This was rescinded after pleading by Raeder, but Hipper was relegated to second line duties after some limited repairs to her damaged and always unreliable machinery.

Dudley Pope's book 73 North (1958) has unfairly been dismissed IMHO as
I don't put much stock in Pope's account. Its not his fault that it is faulty because it was done in the 1950s before many of the documents were de-classified (1972) and especially since the German primary documents were unavailable.
But he did interview many who were actually there and gave first-hand accounts, including Peyton-Jones'. German primary documents were written for consumption by the prevailing regime which had a reputation for rewarding failure with a firing squad. Pope also quotes timings from Hipper's log (KTB). Today our task is surely to attempt to reconcile both sides' accounts equally fairly to derive the most likely and impartial assessment.

Enthusiastic overclaiming by Hipper is most obvious in the SLS 64 attack when she claimed twice as many ships sunk as were actually despatched. She had used a "false flag" and transmissions claiming to be HMS Renown to close in to point blank range of the gullible convoy before revealing her real identity. Still, even after observing things at such close range, her account did not match up with reality.

The action with Berwick is about the only one where a first salvo/straddle isn't claimed- 0639 open fire, first hit 0705.

Hipper's wartime performance was "reasonable" at best, for the limited amount of sea time available not hampered by her machinery problems. The gunnery installation was sophisticated and very effective, her machinery over ambitious and demonstrably unreliable. It certainly wasn't worn out through overuse. Her Commanders and crew obviously did the best they could with what they had, especially under the constant injunction to "take no risks" against superior opposition or even equal opposition.

Ships in a class are not built on a production line and may vary a lot depending on which yard built them. Details of an installation may be left to the yard to complete, with subsequent variation in success. Some batches of steel may be more prone to corrosion than others. Comparison between class mates can help decide on the optimum, but Blucher was an early war loss, and Prinz Eugen was a somewhat revised design.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Byron Angel » Fri May 21, 2021 11:41 pm

B.R. 1886(2) - C.B. 4273 (52)
H. M. SHIPS DAMAGED OR SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
3rd SEPT. 1939 to 2nd SEPT. 1945


H.M.S. Achates
31st Dec., 1942
D.N.C. 4B/R214

Two Direct Hit
Two “Short”
Direct action fuzed Shells

Sunk

ACHATES, while in the Barents Sea, in action with a German cruiser of “Hipper” class was hit by shell fire.

A “Short” abreast the forward magazines, port side, caused flooding through splinter holes which extended to the forward crew space. Type 271 radar was put out of action, and speed was reduced to 15 knots.

Direct Hit on the fore end of the bridge, wrecked the bridge, put ‘B’ gun out of action and caused a minor cordite fire on ‘B’ gun deck.

Direct Hit struck abreast ‘B’ gun in the seamen’s washplace on the port side. The lower deck was now flooded to the forward boiler room and a temporary failure of lighting and power occurred forward. The T.S. and L.P. room (sic) were out of action.

A “Short” abreast the after boiler room caused it to flood and minor controlled flooding took place in the forward boiler room. ACHATES by this time had listed 15 degrees to port and was well down by the bow. The maximum speed was 12 knots. The list increased until the upper deck was awash and the ship finally rolled to port and sank about 3-1/4 hours after the commencement of the action.

Remarks
This incident emphasized the need for the design of magazine hatches to be reviewed.


B

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