Arctic convoy ambushed by German cruisers

HMS Bramble underway.

HMS Bramble underway. The 1300 ton minesweeper went into the attack when confronted by the eight inch guns of the 16,000 ton Admiral Hipper and was sunk with all hands.

Low-level oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in dry dock at Brest, France. Obtained on a 'dicing' sortie by a Supermarine Spitfire PR Mark IG of No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit Detachment flying from St Eval, Cornwall.

Low-level oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in dry dock at Brest, France. Obtained on a ‘dicing’ sortie by a Supermarine Spitfire PR Mark IG of No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit Detachment flying from St Eval, Cornwall.

German Naval intelligence learnt from U Boat U 354 on 30th December that an arctic convoy, which appeared to be lightly escorted, was headed for Russia. They despatched the pocket battleship Lutzow and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper with a force of destroyers to ambush the fourteen merchantmen in the convoy.

It should have been an unequal battle but the Royal Navy escorting destroyers turned towards the larger German ships with a view to torpedoing them. The Germans, being under orders to avoid risk, withdrew. This manoeuvre was repeated several times, allowing the merchantmen to get away.

It was not without cost to the British forces. In the polar twilight the minesweeper HMS Bramble stumbled into the Admiral Hipper and was sunk with all hands. It was not the first time that the Hipper had been attacked by a much smaller Royal Navy ship, famously HMS Glowworm had taken her on in April 1940.

The destroyer HMS Achates was also sunk and the other destroyers hit before the cruisers of Force ‘R’, the long distance escort ships HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica, arrived to see the German ships off.

Robert St Vincent Sherbrooke, awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the destroyers at the battle of the Barents Sea.

Robert St Vincent Sherbrooke, awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the destroyers at the battle of the Barents Sea.

The commander of the destroyer escorts, Captain Robert Sherbrooke on HMS Onslow, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership during the action:

Captain Sherbrooke, as Senior Officer of four destroyers which comprised the (striking force) protecting a convoy, without hesitation led the ships under his command into action against a superior enemy force consisting of a cruiser and two or three destroyers which endeavouring to attack the Convoy.

He split his force to allow one sub-division to engage the destroyers while he led the other sub-division against the heavier ship. During the ensuing action, on four occasions he forced the superior enemy force to retire under cover of smoke to avoid the threat of his torpedoes.

Each time the enemy gave ground he closed in, forcing him outside gun-range of the convoy and towards our own cruiser covering force. After 40 minutes ONSLOW was hit forward and Captain Sherbrooke was severely wounded in the face by shrapnel, losing the sight of one eye.

Despite this he continued to direct the ships under his command until he was compelled to disengage as a result of further damage from enemy gunfire, but not until he was satisfied that the next Senior Officer had assumed control. It was only then that he left the bridge for medical assistance.

During the time the convoy was endangered, he insisted On being kept fully informed of the situation in his smoke-filled sea-cabin. His bravery, coolness and prompt decisions both before and after being wounded, inspired all in touch with him.

By his leadership and inspiration the ships under his command saved the convoy which was successfully brought to its destination without loss or damage.

Read more of this story on including one of the after action reports at BBC People’s War

HMS Sheffield underway

HMS Sheffield underway

HMS SHEFFIELD, AT Greenock, 10 January 1943. after the battle off the North Cape, 31 December 1942.

HMS SHEFFIELD, AT Greenock, 10 January 1943. after the battle off the North Cape, 31 December 1942.

Inside one of the gunhouses for the triple mounted 6 inch gun aboard HMS SHEFFIELD. Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines sleep on the floor of the gunhouse. Others stand or sit whilst reading. 6 inch armour-piercing shells sit in the gun cradles ready for immediate action.

Inside one of the gunhouses for the triple mounted 6 inch gun aboard HMS SHEFFIELD. Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines sleep on the floor of the gunhouse. Others stand or sit whilst reading. 6 inch armour-piercing shells sit in the gun cradles ready for immediate action.

Some of the gun's crew of the HMS SHEFFIELD which took part in the battle off the North Cape, 31 December 1942.

Some of the gun’s crew of the HMS SHEFFIELD which took part in the battle off the North Cape, 31 December 1942.

Heavy seas seen astern of HMS SHEFFIELD during a voyage in northern waters.

Heavy seas seen astern of HMS SHEFFIELD during a voyage in northern waters.

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