Another Atlantic Fleet battle in Arctic waters!
I have always been something of a fan of the big German destroyers of World War 2, ever since assembling tiny 1/1200 plastic kits of some of them in the early 1960s. These were made by Eagle, part a themed series representing the ships involved in the First and Second Battles of Narvik in April and June 1940. Like this one, of a Leberecht Maas class...or is it Erich Giese?
Maas wasn't actually at Narvik, having been sunk in a disatrous 'friendly fire' incident in the North Sea, bombed at night by an He111 of KG 26 which didn't know the navy had laid on a mine-laying operation in the same area. Another destroyer from the force, Max Schulze, was lost with all hands immediately afterwards, some say from another bomb, others by a mine in the same area.
Atlantic Fleet’s comprehensive set of historical battles doesn’t include the quite well-known actions at Narvik, the reason I believe being that the game’s 3D environments don’t include land – and these battles were fought in the confines of the fjords at Narvik. Which is quite something, especially considering that the second battle involved the Royal Navy hunting down and destroying the German shipping left from the first battle with nine destroyers and a battleship, no less. The photo below shows the battleship, HMS Warspite, in action during the battle, well into Ofotfjord.
Big and powerful as they were, the German destroyers had rather less reliable machinery and being somewhat top-heavy, were less sea-worthy than their British counterparts, though all this seems to have gradually improved as the design was developed. At any rate, these are disadvantages which I don’t think affect them in Atlantic Fleet and having conquered Convoy PQ13 in my previous outing, I looked around for another historical battle featuring these ships. There are several more on offer and from these, I picked another Arctic encounter, one which came just over a month after the earlier battle. This was the German effort to sink HMS Edinburgh, in May 1942.
The historical battle
In late April 1942, Edinburgh left Murmansk as part of the force covering return Convoy QP11. The cruiser was carrying a substantial consignment of gold bullion, payment towards the war material then being convoyed to the Soviet Union. Edinburgh was the sister-ship of the preserved HMS Belfast, a modified Town (or Southampton) Class cruiser, with twelve 6-inch guns. Belfast is seen below on the River Thames in London, before she was repainted in wartime camouflage.
On this outing, Edinburgh was crippled by hits from two torpedoes fired by U-456, and forced to turn back to Murmansk, escorted by destroyers Foresight, Forester and some minelayers. One of the torpedoes had basically demolished Edinburgh's stern, as you can see from this contemporary photograph.
Air attacks by torpedo bombers failed to sink Edinburgh. But on 2 May, she was found and attacked by three destroyers – Z 7 Herman Schoemann and the un-named Z 24 and Z 25, which had earlier sunk a merchantman in an inconclusive tussle with the convoy, before resuming their hunt for Edinburgh.
In the action which followed, the crippled cruiser fought back and severely damaged Schoemann, which was abandoned and scuttled with 8 dead, the rest rescued by her consorts and a U-boat which arrived later. However, Edinburgh was torpedoed again by Z 24 or Z 25 and was abandoned and scuttled in turn, with 58 men lost in all.
Edinburgh's gold bullion was recovered in the early 1980s in a salvage operation as dramatic as many a battle, but that's another story.
How did I get on re-fighting the battle in Atlantic Fleet? It's time to find out!
...to be continued!
Re-fighting the battle for Convoy PQ13 in Atlantic Fleet
Of all the many dramatic photographs taken of the war at sea, some of the most haunting are of the last moments of what maybe minutes before was a fine warship in fighting trim. Pictures like this well-known shot of a Japanese escort sunk by skip-bombing. The crew cling to the capsizing vessel as what appears to be another bomb, dropped by the aircraft from which the photo was taken, splashes across the water towards the stricken ship like a stone skipped on a pond.
Back in the 1990s I coveted but never obtained a rather expensive book from the alas long-departed Military Book Club, War at Sea 1939-45 by Kreigsmarine veteran Jurgen Rohwer. This was a large-format book with a short narrative account written around an excellent series of photographs, many of which I haven't seen before. When, just recently, I picked up this book second-hand, I was just as struck as I had been many years ago by its cover photo, one of a series a wrecked and apparently abandoned German destroyer.
At the time I realised the pictures were indeed of a German destroyer, taken from an enemy ship. But what ship was she, what happened to her crew, and how did she come to be one of the very few ships photographed so very closely by those who had sunk her?
The historical battle
Long before I got the book, I had discovered that the sinking German destroyer was the Z 26, lost during a confused battle in Arctic waters on 29th March 1942. By that time, Royal Navy was running a series of convoys - the PQ series, later changed to JW - to help keep the Soviet Union in the battle against Nazi Germany. The most famous Arctic convoy action is PQ17, which scattered after inaccurate reports that it was about to be intercepted by a force including the battleship Tirpitz and was then devastated by air and U-Boat attack. Other famous Arctic convoy-related actions were the Battle of the Barents Sea in December 1942, where the failure of the German force to get to grips with the convoy had Hitler pushing for the scrapping of the surface fleet; and the Battle of the North Cape a year later, when Scharnhorst was lost in action during an abortive sortie against Convoy JW55B. Throughout, the merchant, naval and aircrews of all sides had to endure exposure to some of the worst weather in any theatre of war, with frequent heavy, freezing seas in which survival time was low indeed.
By the time in early 1942 that Convoy PQ13 sailed for Murmansk, the Kriegsmarine was still in the middle of redeploying its remaining seaworthy heavy units to northern waters, primarily to interdict the Arctic convoys, in co-operation with U-boats and bombers. Just three destroyers participated in the attack on PQ13 - Z 24, Z 25 and Z 26. They were all from a class which had begun to be laid down before the battle by whose name the class was commonly known - Narvik. Not an auspicious name - as one author put it, " 'Lost at Narvik' was the epitath of the Leberecht Mass and Deither von Roeder classes", ten of the big destroyers having been smashed in two fights in Narvik Fjord with the Royal Navy during 1940, like Bernd von Arnim, below.
The Narvik class were big and with 5.9 inch guns, very heavily armed for destroyers, though not all shipped the twin forward turret intended for the class - they all do, in Atlantic Fleet.
PQ13's nineteen merchant ships - most of them US and British Merchant Navy vessels - had already suffered some losses from aircraft. And severe weather had dispersed the ships, two groups re-forming and the rest proceeding independently. At this point, the German destroyers arrived, and after sinking a merchantman, ran into the convoy's close escort, headed by the cruiser HMS Trinidad, supported by RN destroyers and later by one of the Soviet destroyers which had sortied to meet the convoy. Z 26 was hit hard, mainly byTrinidad; Z 24 and Z 25 disengaged after rescuing around 90 of her crew, but about 240 never made it.
The PQ13 action in Atlantic Fleet
You don't need to use Atlantic Fleet's custom battle generator fo fight this one - it's included with the large set of historical battles that come with the game. Here's the intro screen. As usual, there's no 'fog of war' - less relevant anyway, in an historical mission - so you can see exactly who's on each side. You can choose to play for either navy - or to take the turns for both sides, by setting the 'Player 2' option to 'ON'.
I have opted to play for the Kriegsmarine, and we have the initiative (= first turn). As well as the 6-inch gun Fiji (or Crown Colony) Class cruiser Trinidad, we are up against three Royal Navy destroyers - the inter-war types Eclipse and Fury, and the War Emergency Programme Oribi, the latter distinguisable by having just the one funnel, compared to two for the others. Six merchantmen are in the part of the convoy that we have come upon. The weather is poor, cloudy and with rain or snow.
Here's the position at the moment the battle begins. Our three destrovers are, realistically, line abreast, in the sort of formation that would be used to sweep for the enemy. Trinidad herself is the only ship we have been able to identify visually at this stage; the others are just radar contacts.
Clearly, it's time to get busy!
...to be continued!