Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Figure 1: HMS Harvester (H19), date and place unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Royal Navy. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: HMS Harvester (H19), date and place unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Royal Navy. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Painting by M. F. Médard of the Free French Naval Forces ship Aconit. She was one of the nine Flower class corvettes lent by the Royal Navy to the Free French Navy during World War II. During the war, Aconit escorted 116 convoys and spent 728 days at sea. Aconit and HMS Harvester (H19) played key roles in sinking two German U-boats on 11 March 1943. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Free French corvette Aconit attacking German submarine U-432, World War II, 11 March 1943. Aconit sank the U-boat in the North Atlantic with a combination of depth charges, gunfire, and ramming. Courtesy the National Archives/Heritage Images. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: “HMCS Ville de Québec Gets a Sub.” War artist Harold Beament's painting depicts the destruction by the Canadian corvette HMCS Ville de Québec of German U-Boat (submarine) U-224 on 13 January 1943. While helping to escort a convoy in the Mediterranean, Ville de Québec detected a submerged U-Boat on its ASDIC (sonar), and promptly delivered an attack with depth charges that drove U-224 to the surface. Ville de Québec's gunners opened fire on the submarine, and the corvette then rammed it, knocking the U-Boat's one survivor (center) from the conning tower into the water. U-224 sank rapidly, and an underwater explosion a minute later marked its end. HMCS Ville de Québec was a Flower class corvette similar to Aconit (the ship that rammed and sank U-444 and U-432) and shows how extremely dangerous ramming a submarine can be. Fortunately, Aconit and Ville de Québec survived their ramming incidents. HMS Harvester wasn’t so lucky. “HMCS Ville de Québec Gets a Sub” was painted by Harold Beament around 1945. From the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, CWM 19710261-1031. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Captured survivors from German submarine U-432, 11 March 1943. The Free French corvette Aconit sank the U-boat in the North Atlantic with a combination of depth charges, gunfire, and ramming. Twenty of the submarine's crew of 46 survived and were taken aboard the French vessel. Courtesy the National Archives / Heritage Images. Click on photograph for larger image.
Originally laid down as the Jurua for the Brazilian Navy, the ship was requisitioned by the British Royal Navy on 4 September 1939 and renamed HMS Handy (F07), but was renamed once again and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 23 May 1940 as HMS Harvester (H19). Harvester was a 1,340-ton “H” class destroyer that was built by Vickers-Armstrongs at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England. The ship was approximately 323 feet long and 33 feet wide, had a top speed of 36 knots, and had a crew of 145 officers and men. Harvester was armed with three 4.7-inch guns, eight 0.5-inch machine guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, and could carry up to 110 depth charges.
After a shakedown “cruise” that lasted a mere four days, from 24 May to 28 May 1940, Harvester was immediately thrown into battle. These were the desperate days of May 1940, with a large portion of the British Army stranded on the beaches of France. The German Army had pushed the British so far back in France that they now had their backs to the sea, and the situation looked almost hopeless. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British people were not about to abandon their troops. On 28 May 1940, HMS Harvester joined hundreds of other ships, small and large, at Dover, England, for Operation Dynamo, which was the rescue of the British Army in France. These ships braved almost constant German air attacks to rescue British, French, Belgian, and even some Polish troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. After making several trips back and forth to France, Harvester was damaged in an air attack on 1 June. After some quick repairs were made at the Chatham Dockyard, Harvester rejoined rescue operations on 10 June, even though by then most of the troops had already been evacuated from Dunkirk. She pulled British troops off the beaches of St. Valery and Le Havre, and from St. Jean de Luz and Bayonne in the Bay of Biscay, France. Approximately 338,226 British and French troops were rescued by the end of Operation Dynamo, an incredible number and a major achievement by the Royal Navy.
For the rest of her career, Harvester played an important role in the hard-fought Battle of the Atlantic, escorting vulnerable merchant ships and hunting down marauding German U-boats. On 9 July 1940, Harvester and the destroyer HMS Havelock rescued 35 survivors from the British merchant ship Aylesbury that was torpedoed by a German U-boat, U-43, roughly 200 miles southeast of Ireland. But on 30 October, Harvester struck back. While escorting convoy WS3A in the Atlantic, Harvester and the destroyer HMS Highlander sank U-32 using depth charges and gunfire after the submarine tried to surface. The German submarine sank northwest of Ireland, but 33 crewmen from U-32 managed to survive and were rescued by the British warships.
On 7 November 1940, Harvester and the Canadian destroyer HMCS Ottawa sank the Italian submarine Faa di Bruno while escorting Convoy HX64 in the Atlantic. There were no survivors and this was the first Italian submarine to be sunk in the Atlantic. On 3 February 1941, Harvester rescued 121 survivors from the transport Crispin that was sunk in the Atlantic by a U-boat. The destroyer entered the shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, on 18 March for a brief overhaul but was back in service on 26 April. On 4 May, Harvester joined Britain’s famous “Force H” at Gibraltar. At that time, Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the cruiser HMS Sheffield, and several destroyers. After escorting some convoys in the Mediterranean with Force H, Harvester was transferred to St. Johns, Newfoundland, in June 1941 to escort convoys in the mid-Atlantic. On 8 August, Harvester joined the destroyers HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus in escorting the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, which was carrying Prime Minister Winston Churchill to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Newfoundland for the Atlantic Charter Conference.
On 7 December 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Harvester and HMS Hesperus were on patrol in the Atlantic west of Gibraltar. They managed to get a solid sonar contact on a German U-boat and attacked. After making several depth-charge runs, they were able to sink U-208. After that success, Harvester returned to convoy escort duty. From February to March 1942, Harvester underwent a badly needed overhaul at Dundee, Scotland, and in April was given new radar equipment. In May 1942, she returned to convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. Harvester escorted a large number of convoys, mostly between England and Newfoundland, until 23 December, when she steamed to Liverpool for yet another overhaul.
On 11 February 1943, Harvester returned to convoy escort duty. After escorting two convoys in February, Harvester, along with three other destroyers and five corvettes, was attached to convoy HX228 in the Atlantic. Harvester was the flagship of the convoy’s escort group and the skipper of the ship was Commander Arthur Andre Tait, Royal Navy. The escort group was protecting a convoy of 60 merchant ships. On 11 March 1943, the convoy was attacked by several German U-boats in what was called a “wolf pack.” They attacked from several different directions and Tait and his escorts immediately lunged into action. One of the first casualties in this battle was the merchant ship William C. Gorgas, sunk by U-757. Harvester managed to rescue 51 survivors from the ship and then rejoined the hunt for enemy submarines. They didn’t have to wait long. Commander Tait and the crew of Harvester spotted U-444 slithering along the surface. Although Harvester started shooting at the U-boat, Tait didn’t want the enemy to submerge and get away. He pointed his ship at the U-boat, ordered “Full Speed Ahead,” and then gave his next fateful order, “Prepare to ram!” Harvester came closer and closer to the surprised U-boat. Unable to get away in time from the oncoming destroyer, Harvester slammed into the side of the submarine. The forward momentum of the destroyer drove her up and over the U-boat. For a few moments, the submarine became wedged in the destroyer’s propellers and the two ships were locked together. When Harvester finally managed to break free in the heavy seas, the destroyer’s propellers and shafts were badly damaged and were barely working. The Free French Flower class corvette Aconit (K58) arrived on the scene and discovered, much to everyone’s amazement, that U-444 was still afloat. Aconit attacked immediately. She came in, guns blazing, and also rammed the now stationary U-444. The German submarine couldn’t take any more punishment and sank. Fortunately, aside from a crumpled bow, Aconit was still able to function.
This was not the case with Harvester. The collision with the U-boat had severely damaged the ship’s propellers and shafts, although she was able to crawl along for a little while on one shaft. But this cracked shaft soon gave out and the ship came to a halt, unable to move at all. Commander Tait ordered Aconit to rejoin the convoy, which he felt was in greater danger than his own ship. Aconit reluctantly did as ordered and left the now immobile destroyer. A few hours later, though, the commanding officer of Aconit, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Levasseur, received orders to return to Harvester to assist her. But while heading for the destroyer, Levasseur saw a column of smoke on the horizon and intercepted Harvester’s last radio signal, reporting that she was under attack and had just been torpedoed. Aconit raced to the scene and, along the way, made sonar contact with yet another submarine. The corvette started dropping depth charges and soon U-432 was forced to surface. The enraged French crew on board Aconit immediately fired their guns at the German submarine and, for the second time that day, Aconit turned to ram the enemy U-boat. She hit U-432 at full speed and sliced right into the submarine, with her bow receiving yet another punishing blow. It’s a wonder the corvette, a very small ocean escort, was able to endure such punishment and remain afloat. But she did and U-432 sank a few minutes later.
But the loss of life on all sides was heavy that day. After U-432 went down, Aconit picked up survivors. She managed to pull out of the icy waters four survivors from U-444, 20 survivors from U-432, and only 60 survivors from HMS Harvester, which included 12 survivors from the merchant ship William C. Gorgas that were on board Harvester at the start of the battle. One of the men from William C. Gorgas who did not make it was its skipper, Captain J.C. Ellis. After Harvester went down, he was in the icy water holding onto a life raft filled with other men. When a seaman asked Ellis to take his place in the life raft, he replied, “No, son, keep your place.” Shortly after that, Ellis slipped away from the life raft and was never seen again. Commander Tait also did not survive. A total of four merchant ships and one destroyer were sunk, for the loss of two German U-boats. After this battle, Allied commanding officers of all escorts were forbidden to ram enemy submarines. It was determined that, although ramming could sink an enemy submarine, it posed too much of a risk to the Allied warship that did the ramming. Ramming, even if successful, also caused too much damage to the escort and required substantial dockyard repairs at a time when every escort was needed for convoy duty.
The battle for Convoy HX228 is one of many examples of just how bitter the Battle of the Atlantic was. Commander Arthur Andre Tait was willing to sacrifice his life, the life of his crew, and HMS Harvester to sink a German U-boat. The Free French corvette Aconit and her crew were willing to sacrifice themselves, twice, by ramming both U-444 and U-432. It was by sheer luck that Aconit wasn’t lost as well. And the German wolf packs attacked relentlessly, sinking a stunning amount of Allied tonnage and nearly winning the war for Germany. This was a war with no mercy and the pure viciousness of it was on full display in the Atlantic on 11 March 1943.
Posted by Remo at 8:47 AM
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Figure 1: Spanish cruiser of the Infanta Isabel class photographed in US waters, with the river steamer Angler in the background, circa the 1880s or 1890s. This class of small cruisers included the Infanta Isabel (1885-1926), Isabel II (1886-1902), Cristobal Colon (1887-1895), Conde del Venadito (1888-1902), Don Antonio de Ulloa (1887-1898), and Don Juan de Austria (1887-1898). The latter two ships were lost in the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898, along with the Velasco (1881-1898), a ship of similar design. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Don Juan de Austria probably taken while serving with the Michigan State Naval Militia. Photograph from Jane's Fighting Ships 1914. Click on photograph for larger image.
Don Juan de Austria was a 1,160-ton Infanta Isabel class cruiser that was built in 1887 at Cartagena, Spain, for the Spanish Navy. The ship was approximately 215 feet long and 32 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 153 officers and men. As built, Don Juan de Austria was armed with two 4-inch guns, eight 6-pounder guns, and two 1-pounders. This armament, though, was altered slightly in later years.
At the time of the Spanish-American War, Don Juan de Austria was part of the Spanish Squadron based in the Philippines. She was sunk by American warships under Commodore George Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay on 1 May 1898. After the war was over, the US Navy salvaged the ship and, after extensive repairs were made at Hong Kong, commissioned the vessel into the Navy on 11 April 1900. After being commissioned, USS Don Juan de Austria was assigned to the Asiatic Station.
From 5 June to 18 October 1900, Don Juan de Austria was ordered to patrol off the coast of Canton, China. As part of the Asiatic Station, her primary duty was to protect American lives and property in the area. On 25 November, the ship left Hong Kong and arrived at Cavite in the Philippine Islands on 28 November. Don Juan de Austria then played a significant role in assisting US military forces in suppressing the Filipino revolt on the islands. Her primary duties included supporting Army operations against rebel forces, transporting troops and supplies, blockading specific islands to prevent the rebels from receiving supplies and weapons, and searching various towns for contraband. Don Juan de Austria visited Yokohama, Japan, from 1 June to 27 July 1902, but then returned to the Philippines and remained there until 19 April 1903.
Don Juan de Austria underwent an overhaul at Yokohama from 27 April to 1 June 1903. She then steamed along the coast of China and participated in naval exercises with the Asiatic Fleet. The ship left Hong Kong on 16 December 1903 and began a long journey to the United States. Don Juan de Austria visited Singapore, Ceylon, and India, transited the Suez Canal, and stopped at ports in the Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic and reaching the United States. The ship arrived at the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine, on 21 April 1904. She was then decommissioned on 5 May 1904.
After a thorough overhaul, Don Juan de Austria was re-commissioned on 10 December 1905. The ship was assigned to the Third Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet and on 28 February 1906 was sent to the Dominican Republic to protect American interests there. She returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 21 February 1907 and was again decommissioned on 7 March 1907. Don Juan de Austria was then loaned to the Michigan Naval Militia, left Portsmouth on 28 July, and sailed for Detroit via the St. Lawrence River. Once there, she became a training ship for the Michigan Naval Militia and remained there until America entered World War I.
Don Juan de Austria was re-commissioned on 6 April 1917 and left Detroit on 17 July for Newport, Rhode Island. She arrived there on 6 August and was given the task of patrolling the inshore waters and coastline of New England. The gunboat was sent to New York on 7 August 1918 and escorted two tugboats that were towing barges to Bermuda. After completing the mission and reaching Bermuda, Don Juan de Austria returned to Newport on 1 October and towed the SS Charles Whittemore to Charleston, South Carolina. She then went back to Bermuda and escorted a flotilla of American and French submarines to Newport, arriving on 1 November. On 3 April 1919, Don Juan de Austria left Boston and assisted in escorting several transports that were bringing soldiers home from Europe. But with the end of World War I, the US Navy decided that there was no further use for this old gunboat, so on 18 June 1919 USS Don Juan de Austria was decommissioned at Portsmouth for the last time. The ship was sold on 16 October 1919. Although not built for the US Navy, she still managed to give the United States almost 20 years of faithful service.
Posted by Remo at 8:50 AM
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Figure 1: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939-1943) in port when first completed, circa early 1939. Note ship's badge mounted on her bow, and snowy conditions at right. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939-1943) ceremony on the ship's after deck, with the Nazi-era naval ensign flying at the stern, circa early 1939. This may be the ship's commissioning ceremony on 7 January 1939. Note snow on shore in the distance, stern anchor and decoration on the ship. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: German battleships Scharnhorst (left) and Gneisenau in a German port, circa spring or early summer 1939, after Gneisenau had been refitted with a "clipper" bow, but before Scharnhorst had been similarly fitted. Two rowing shells (one with four oarsmen and a coxswain, the other with two oarsmen only) are in the foreground. Fine screen halftone reproduction, published in the contemporary German booklet "Deutsche Seemacht." US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) tied to a mooring buoy in Wilhelmshaven Harbor, circa 1939, as men in a boat push off from her bow. Note anchors, ship's badges on her bow and on the boat, and paired cables running down from her starboard bow chock. In mid-1939, Scharnhorst's bow was greatly modified from the configuration seen here. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 15. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) photographed by A. Klein, Kiel, in the fall of 1939, after completion of her July-August 1939 refit. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 1. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Gneisenau (German battleship, 1938) view of the ship's forward two triple 283-mm (11-inch) gun turrets, with forecastle and capstans in the foreground, circa later 1939 or 1940. The battleship Scharnhorst is in the left distance. She has been refitted with a "clipper" bow. Fine screen halftone reproduction, published in the contemporary German booklet "Deutsche Seemacht." US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: German battleships Scharnhorst (left) and Gneisenau in a German port, circa 1939-41. The photograph was received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation with their letter of 2 October 1941. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: Norway campaign, 1940. German battleship Scharnhorst firing her forward 283-mm (11-inch) guns during the engagement with the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorts, 8 June 1940. Photographed from the battleship Gneisenau. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) view looking aft on the foredeck, with anchor handling gear in the foreground and two triple 283-mm (11-inch) gun turrets beyond. Taken during the winter of 1939-40 at Kiel, Germany. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst,"page 9. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) view from the forward superstructure, looking toward the bow, as the ship throws spray while underway during the winter of 1939-40. Note ice accumulated on her triple 283-mm (11-inch) gun turrets. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 16. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) view of the ship's forward 283-mm (11-inch) triple gun turrets, showing ice accumulated overnight during operations in the winter of 1939-40. Probably taken in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 8. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939) close-up view of the starboard main bow anchor, ice-covered during the winter of 1939-40, probably in January 1940 in the Baltic Sea. Ice also coats the ship's foredeck, lifelines and 11-inch gun turrets. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 7. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: Scharnhorst’s commanding officer, Kapitan zur Zee Kurt Caesar Hoffman, addresses his officers and crew from a platform by the after main battery gun turret, circa winter 1939-40. Part of the aircraft catapult is visible atop the turret. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 18. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: Sailors standing on Scharnhorst's after deck with a Christmas tree, circa December 1939. The ship was then under repair at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 14. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 15: Scharnhorst in the ice in Kiel harbor, Germany, during the winter of 1939-40, probably in late January 1940 when the ship was working up after refit. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 6. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 16: Icy lifelines seen from Scharnhorst's main deck during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 7. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 17: German Naval Memorial at Laboe, near Kiel, Germany. Photographed from on board the battleship Scharnhorst during the winter of 1939-40. This memorial was built in 1927-36 to honor the memory of German sailors lost in the First World War, 1914-1918. Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 8. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 18: A crewman poses on Scharnhorst's deck under ice-coated 11-inch gun barrels during the winter of 1939-40, probably in January 1940 in the Baltic Sea. The original caption translates "Menacing Cold." Copied from the contemporary German photo album "Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst," page 6. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 19: Operation "Cerberus," February 1942. German battleships in the English Channel en route from Brest, France, to Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 12 February 1942. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. The battleship Gneisenau is in the center, with Scharnhorst in the distance, to the left. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with some identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 20: Operation "Cerberus," February 1942. German heavy ships steaming up the English Channel en route from Brest, France, to Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 12 February 1942. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, with the battleship Gneisenau next ahead and the Scharnhorst in the distance. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with some identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 21: Aerial reconnaissance photograph of Kiel, Germany, probably taken by the British Royal Air Force circa February-June 1942. The arrow in upper right center marks the position of the battleship Scharnhorst, which was then under repair at the Kiel navy yard for damage received during the February 1942 "Channel Dash." From contemporary files of the US Office of Naval Intelligence. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 22: Scharnhorst (German battleship, 1939-1943) in the Alta Fjord, Norway, circa March-December 1943. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the famous Prussian General Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (1755-1813), Scharnhorst was a 32,100-ton Gneisenau class battleship (also called at various times a battlecruiser) that was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, and was commissioned on 7 January 1939. The ship was approximately 772 feet long and 98 feet wide, had a top speed of 31 knots, and had a crew of 1,968 officers and men. Scharnhorst was armed with nine 11-inch guns, 12 5.9-inch guns, 14 4.1-inch guns, 16 1.5-inch guns, and six torpedo tubes. She also carried three Arado Ar 196A float planes.
After some initial shakedown cruises, Scharnhorst was modified in mid-1939 and some substantial structural changes were made to the battleship. She was given a new mainmast that was located further aft from the old one and a new “clipper bow” was welded on the ship to improve her performance at sea. Her relatively low freeboard, though, always ensured that she would be very “wet” when sailing in rough weather. While Scharnhorst was still undergoing these modifications in the dockyard, the war in Europe began in September 1939.
Scharnhorst’s first operational mission began on 21 November 1939. Scharnhorst, escorted by her sister battleship Gneisenau, the light cruiser Koln, and nine destroyers, steamed to the area between Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This task force was trying to lure British Royal Navy units away from the German “pocket” battleship Admiral Graf Spee, which at that time was being chased in the South Atlantic by the Royal Navy. On 23 November, the Scharnhorst’s task force stumbled onto the British auxiliary cruiser Rawalpindi that was on patrol in the area. At 17:03, Scharnhorst opened fire with her 11-inch guns and after only three minutes the lightly-armed Rawalpindi was ablaze, with her bridge destroyed and most of her crew dead (including the captain). Rawalpindi sank shortly after the start of the battle, but she did manage to send out a distress signal informing the Royal Navy of her location as well as that of the Scharnhorst and her task force. The British sent four allied capital ships after them, including HMS Hood, HMS Nelson, HMS Rodney, and the French battleship Dunkerque. But the German task force made a clean getaway and returned to Wilhelmshaven on 27 November.
After another overhaul, Scharnhorst entered the Baltic Sea for some gunnery practice. Heavy ice conditions kept her in the Baltic until 5 February 1940, when she returned to Wilhelmshaven. She then participated in Operation Weserubung, which was the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau escorted the German amphibious assault groups invading Narvik and Trondheim, Norway. On 9 April 1940, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau encountered the British battlecruiser HMS Renown, part of the Royal Navy task force sent to intercept the German warships. At great distance, the ships fired shots at each other. Gneisenau was hit twice at the start of the battle, with one British shell knocking out her rear gun turret. Scharnhorst’s radar then malfunctioned, preventing her from shooting accurately at Renown. Renown then fired several shots at Scharnhorst, but missed as the German battleship used her speed to evade the British shell fire. The two German battleships then broke off the engagement and retreated. After making some temporary repairs at sea, they returned to Germany.
Both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau left Wilhelmshaven on 4 June 1940 and returned to Norway. On 8 June, the two German battleships spotted the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, which was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta. Scharnhorst was the first to open fire and after six minutes scored a hit on the carrier at a range of 26,400 yards. The shell hit Glorious on its upper hangar deck and started a large fire. Less than ten minutes later, a shell from Gneisenau hit the carrier’s bridge, killing the captain and his staff. After being pounded relentlessly for nearly an hour, the flame-engulfed HMS Glorious sank. The two small destroyers Ardent and Acasta charged at the two German battleships and were also blown to pieces. It was a heroic effort and the two destroyers kept firing away with their smaller 4.7-inch guns as they were being pounded to death by the gigantic battleships. Incredibly, Acasta managed to fire a torpedo at Scharnhorst during the charge and scored a major hit. The explosion from the torpedo tore a huge hole in Scharnhorst’s hull, causing serious flooding. The battleship’s rear turret was disabled and 48 sailors were killed in the blast. Flooding caused serious damage to much of the ship’s machinery and created a 5-degree list. Also, the ship’s starboard propeller shaft was destroyed. Scharnhorst limped to Trondheim, Norway, for temporary repairs, which were completed by 20 June. The battleship returned to Germany under heavy escort.
Scharnhorst spent the rest of 1940 being repaired. From 22 January to 22 March 1941, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau steamed into the Atlantic and sank several merchant ships. The two German battleships posed an enormous threat to the British trade route to the United States, so a large number of Royal Navy warships were sent to try and hunt the pair down. The two ships eventually made their way to Brest, France, after their foray into the Atlantic ended. But while at Brest, the two German capital ships were the target of numerous Royal Air Force bombing attacks. On 24 July 1941, British bombers scored five hits on Scharnhorst, causing major damage to the warship. The damage kept Scharnhorst non-operational into late 1941. The German Naval Command then decided to concentrate major German surface warships in Norway to attack allied merchant convoys headed for Russia. This decision had an enormous impact on Scharnhorst’s future.
Since it was too risky to attempt to send the German battleships to Norway via the North Atlantic, a bold plan was created to move the ships north. It was called “Operation Cerberus” and on 11 February 1941, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were joined by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the three ships left Brest. They decided to go straight through the English Channel to reach Germany. The three ships had a heavy naval and air escort throughout the journey. The British and the Royal Navy were caught completely off guard by the bold move, which became known as the famous “Channel Dash.” The three German ships hugged the French coast as they sailed right past England at a brisk 27 knots. Several British aircraft tried to attack the ships, but the heavy German air escort prevented them from getting near the German vessels. But Scharnhorst’s luck ran out when she hit two sea mines during the trip, causing substantial damage. Although the ship had to slow down to only 10 knots because of the damage, Scharnhorst made it to Kiel, Germany, on 13 February. Gneisenau was also damaged by a sea mine, but both ships still made it back to Germany by sailing right past the English coast, causing the Royal Navy to be extremely embarrassed by the whole incident.
The damage caused by the mine blasts, along with problems with her steam power plant, kept Scharnhorst in the shipyard until March 1943. She then steamed to northern Norway to join the battleship Tirpitz in raids on allied merchant convoys headed for Russia. After going on several training missions, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz, and nine destroyers went on an offensive mission and bombarded the Norwegian base on the island of Spitzbergen on 8 September 1943. The guns from the two battleships shelled fuel tanks, coal mines, harbor facilities, and military installations on the island. The destroyers landed approximately 1,000 troops on Spitzbergen and silenced the important allied weather station based there. This facility transmitted vital weather information which was used by the Allies to schedule convoys to the Soviet Union. After Tirpitz returned to her base in Norway, though, British mini-submarines attacked her and caused serious damage to the battleship. This incident reduced the German Arctic Task Force to just Scharnhorst and her five escorting destroyers.
With the German Army losing on the Eastern Front, it became even more important to try and disrupt the flow of supplies going to the Soviet Union. Therefore, Hitler and Grossadmiral Karl Donitz (Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy) decided to have Scharnhorst attack the next allied merchant convoy that sailed next to Norway. By now Konteradmiral Erich Bey was given command of the small German task force and on 22 December 1943, Donitz ordered Bey to get ready to go to sea. Later that day, German reconnaissance aircraft located a convoy of 20 transports, escorted by cruisers and destroyers, approximately 460 miles west of Tromso, Norway, and headed for Russia. Donitz ordered Bey to attack the convoy but retreat if confronted by superior forces. Bey planned to attack the convoy on 26 December if the weather was good. At that time of year in the far north, there was only 45 minutes of full daylight and six hours of twilight, making an attack on the convoy in daylight difficult. Since Scharnhorst’s radar capabilities were not as good as those found on British warships, fighting at night could pose much danger for the German warships.
Unfortunately for Konteradmiral Bey, the Royal Navy managed to decode Bey’s orders and knew about the German attack on the convoy ahead of time. Knowing where Scharnhorst was and what she was about to do, the British positioned their forces to intercept the German battleship on 25 December. The cruisers HMS Norfolk, HMS Belfast, and HMS Sheffield were immediately sent to attack Scharnhorst, while the powerful British battleship Duke of York, along with another cruiser and four destroyers, moved in position to prevent Scharnhorst’s escape back to Norway. The Battle of the North Cape was about to begin.
At 09:21 on Christmas day 1943, lookouts on Belfast spotted Scharnhorst. The British cruisers quickly swung into action and opened fire on Scharnhorst. The German battleship was hit twice, with one of the British shells destroying her forward range finders and radar antenna. Seeing that he was outnumbered and now also partially “blind” because of losing the antenna, Bey ordered his five escorting destroyers to return to port and decided to bring Scharnhorst back to her base in Norway as well. But, unknown to Bey, the decision to retreat only drove Scharnhorst right into the guns of the other British task force, the one that had the battleship HMS Duke of York in it.
Scharnhorst did score two significant hits on HMS Norfolk, causing some damage, but the British cruisers continued keeping the German battleship busy until reinforcements arrived. At 16:17, Duke of York finally made radar contact with Scharnhorst and at 16:50 she was within range and opened fire on the German battleship. After five minutes of lobbing shells at Scharnhorst with her 14-inch guns, Duke of York started scoring some hits on the German battleship. Scharnhorst tried to fight back, but her aim was bad due to her damaged radar and the hits that were now crippling the ship. At 18:42, Duke of York ceased fire after firing 52 salvos and hitting Scharnhorst at least 13 times. These hits destroyed most of Scharnhorst’s secondary armament, making her vulnerable to destroyer attacks. This the British did, with the destroyers HMS Scorpion and HMS Stord moving in for the kill. The two destroyers launched a total of eight torpedoes, four of which hit Scharnhorst. The torpedo hits slowed Scharnhorst down to only 10 knots, allowing more British ships to come even closer to the dying German battleship. The cruisers HMS Jamaica and Belfast moved into position and fired more torpedoes at Scharnhorst. After several more hits, Scharnhorst settled further into the water and began to list to starboard. She was hit too many times by too many ships and just couldn’t take it any longer. At 19:45, Scharnhorst went down by the bows, with her propellers still turning slowly. Out of a crew of 1,968 officers and men, only 36 were rescued from the frigid waters by the British warships.
The Battle of the North Cape was a clear victory for the Royal Navy and it helped alleviate some of the embarrassment it sustained after the famous “Channel Dash,” of which Scharnhorst was a prominent member. Like a huge, wounded, beast, Scharnhorst fought until the very end. But, as Konteradmiral Erich Bey and the crew of Scharnhorst discovered, great strength is still no match against a greater number of large warships.
Posted by Remo at 8:57 AM
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Figure 1: Isla de Luzon photographed circa the later 1880s. This small cruiser was lost in the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898, but was salvaged and entered US Navy service under her Spanish name. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: The battle of Manila, 1 May 1898. Contemporary halftone print after an artwork by W.G. Wood, originally reproduced by courtesy of F.A. Munsey. It depicts the Spanish ships at left (left to right): Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon and Reina Cristina. The Cavite batteries are in the center distance. At right are (left to right): USS Boston, USS Baltimore, USS Raleigh, USS Olympia and USS Concord. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898. Wreck of the Spanish cruiser Isla de Luzon, photographed sometime after the battle. This ship was later salvaged and became USS Isla de Luzon. Donation of Lt. C.J. Dutreaux, USNR(Ret), 1947. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Isla de Luzon circa 1905, place unknown. Photograph from US Warships of World War One, by P.H. Silverstone. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.
Second in the Isla de Cuba class of warships, Isla de Luzon was a 1,020-ton cruiser built in 1887 for the Spanish Navy by the British shipbuilder W.G. Armstrong at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. The ship was approximately 195 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a top speed of 13 knots, and had a crew of 137 officers and men. As built, Isla de Luzon was armed with four 4-inch guns, four 6-pounders, and three torpedo tubes. This armament, though, was altered slightly in later years.
At the time of the Spanish-American War, Isla de Luzon was part of the Spanish Squadron based in the Philippines. She was sunk by American warships under Commodore George Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay on 1 May 1898. After the war was over, the US Navy salvaged the ship and, after extensive repairs were made at Hong Kong, commissioned the vessel into the Navy on 31 January 1900. USS Isla de Luzon went on her shakedown cruise off Hong Kong and then was assigned to the Asiatic Station.
Isla de Luzon was based at Zamboanga in the Philippine Islands and was used as a gunboat during the Filipino insurrection that took place shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War. The ship supported both naval and land operations against the Filipino rebels on the island of Samar. As a unit in the US Navy’s “Southern Squadron,” Isla de Luzon assisted in the naval blockade of Samar, which contributed to the final American victory over the Filipino insurgents on that island.
Isla de Luzon was detached from the Asiatic Station on 15 August 1902. She left Cavite in the Philippines and headed east, eventually transiting the Suez Canal and entering the Mediterranean. After visiting several ports in the Mediterranean, Isla de Luzon crossed the Atlantic and arrived at Pensacola, Florida, on 16 March 1903. The gunboat was attached to the Pensacola Navy Yard until 6 December, when she was handed over to the Louisiana Naval Militia as a training ship. After a few years of service with the Louisiana Naval Militia, the ship was transferred to the Illinois Naval Militia on the Great Lakes.
When America entered World War I in April 1917, Isla de Luzon was based at Chicago and was serving as a training ship on the Great Lakes. The ship remained there until 30 September 1918, when she arrived at the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, for use as a training ship for gunners. But the old gunboat only participated in this mission from 13 November to 13 December 1918. After the war ended in November 1918, the American Navy rapidly reduced in size and Isla de Luzon was decommissioned on 15 February 1919. She then functioned briefly as a yard craft for the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport until her name was struck from the Navy List on 23 July 1919. USS Isla de Luzon was sold on 10 March 1920 to the Bahama & West Indies Trading Company of New York City and renamed S.S. Reviver. Her final fate is unknown.
Posted by Remo at 8:59 AM