Clyde shipyards and HMS Sussex bombed

I was ordered to help the firemen by guiding them around the ship and assisting with the hoses. It was a long, dirty and scary night. The plates were buckling with the intense heat and black slippery oil was everywhere.

Quite a few, including Navy men, were sent to the Western Infirmary with severe burns. It was then noticed that the torpedoes in the tubes were getting very hot and would probably explode with the heat. Although we tried to pull them out it was a hopeless task, and all we could do was to spray them with water to keep them cool!

HMS Sussex at anchor in the Clyde.
HMS Sussex at anchor in the Clyde.
HMS-Sussex-bombed-on-the-Clyde
During the night of the 17th/18th H.M.S. Sussex which was completing a refit in the Clyde and was lying alongside at the time, was hit by a bomb during an enemy air attack. A serious fire broke out necessitating the flooding of magazines. She is now resting on the bottom aft and the fire is out. Casualties were 12 wounded, 3 seriously.’ War Cabinet report – TNA CAB 66/12/11

Hitler’s decision to turn to ‘terror’ bombing, after he was frustrated by the failure of the Luftwaffe to subdue the RAF, was not confined to London. The great cities of Britain would soon all see the devastation of the Blitz. There was a mixture of objectives, as well as hoping to bring Britain to the negotiating table, by terrorising her population, there was the intention to destroy strategic targets including aircraft and ship building. The huge Clyde shipbuilding area outside Glasgow was an obvious target.

Peter Petts, a nineteen year old Able Seaman on HMS Sussex describes how the bomb hit:

It went through the lower and platform decks and burst in the engine room near oil fuel tanks. Four members of the crew were killed, and twelve others died later of wounds. The lower deck at that point was destroyed, fire and bilge pumps were put out of action, the fuel tanks caught fire and flames were soon spreading fore and aft. But the worst part was the fact that all the magazines were full of ammunition, torpedoes, shells and depth charges, as well as eight torpedoes in the tubes on the upper deck. If the fire reached the magazines, a large part of Glasgow would have been threatend with death and destruction.

The crew that was on board that night started to fight the fire, but due to the lack of the fire and bilge pumps as well as the thick black oil fuel smoke, we were struggling. However, the Fire Brigade soon arrived and we, the Navy lads, were glad to have some help. We got more than that. They took over and soon had pumps going and water being sprayed just where it was required in the fire.

I was ordered to help the firemen by guiding them around the ship and assisting with the hoses. It was a long, dirty and scary night. The plates were buckling with the intense heat and black slippery oil was everywhere.

Quite a few, including Navy men, were sent to the Western Infirmary with severe burns. It was then noticed that the torpedoes in the tubes were getting very hot and would probably explode with the heat. Although we tried to pull them out it was a hopeless task, and all we could do was to spray them with water to keep them cool!

It was then that the Fire Chief called for the Vehicle Ferry to be used as a fireboat, and they manned it with fire engines. She arrived about 5.30 a.m. on the 19th, and soon had sixteen powerful water jets playing on the “Sussex”.

It was not until the 19th, 23 hours after the bomb had hit, that the fire was brought under control and the ship was sunk alongside the wall so that she was flooded to extinguish the blaze and prevent any explosion of the ammunition.

I believe it was in the early hours of the morning that some of the tenements and a Children’s Hospital were evacuated, but strange to tell, the story of the “Sussex” being nearly destroyed in the heart of Glasgow was kept secret ’til long after the war had ended. Even we Navy Lads were told “not to discuss it”, so we didn’t.

Read his full account at Our Glasgow Story

See also John Milloy’s account at Our Glasgow Story, a schoolboy at the time, he felt compelled to get a closer look – evidently efforts to evacuate the area were not very thorough.

A pattern of contrails (or condensation trails) left by British and German aircraft high up in the sky, 18 September 1940.

British fleet sails into the Mediterranean

‘Operation Hats’ consisted of the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious with the battle cruiser HMS Renown and the battleship HMS Valiant supported by three cruisers and seventeen destroyers. For the first time the fleet was defended by all round radar, based on four ships covering different sectors. Although the fleet was spotted by Italian aircraft, the Italian Navy did not attempt an engagement.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal with Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes from No. 820 Squadron Fleet Air Arm.

The largest Royal Navy fleet yet assembled in the Mediterranean set out from Gibraltar on the 30th August 1940. Force H led by Admiral Somerville was attempting to provoke the Italian fleet into battle, whilst supporting the escort of a convoy to Malta.

‘Operation Hats’ consisted of the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious with the battle cruiser HMS Renown and the battleship HMS Valiant supported by three cruisers and seventeen destroyers. For the first time the fleet was defended by all round radar, based on four ships covering different sectors. Although the fleet was spotted by Italian aircraft, the Italian Navy did not attempt an engagement.

HMS Renown was a 15 inch gun battlecruiser built in 1916

After joint operations with HMS Ark Royal, in which Swordfish aircraft attacked the Italian airfield at Caglieri, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant left the force on 2nd September to join the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria.

HMS Illustrious, newly commissioned in August 1940, with her Swordfish aircraft.
The battleship HMS Valiant, built in 1914

Portsmouth bombed, battleship Bismarck commissioned

In the words of the ancient poets during the wars of liberation: “Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.” Today, we are being endowed and entrusted with a new and awe-inspiring weapon made from steel and iron, our new ship. Today, it will be brought to life by our young crew which is empowered to blend iron and blood into a powerful symphony of iron-willed devotion to duty and conviction, and with red-blooded vigor and fighting spirit the highest military goals shall be achieved.

A view of Portsmouth Harbour (looking to the Portsmouth side) during an air raid of 12th August 1940.
A view of Portsmouth Harbour (looking to the Portsmouth side) during an air raid of 12th August 1940.
Bomb-damaged houses on the corner of Spring Garden Lane and Grove Avenue in Gosport, Hampshire, after a raid on 12 August 1940. The vicarage on the corner itself was completely destroyed.
Bomb-damaged houses on the corner of Spring Garden Lane and Grove Avenue in Gosport, Hampshire, after a raid on 12 August 1940. The vicarage on the corner itself was completely destroyed.

Alongside the RAF airfields the principal German bombing targets included the Royal Navy bases that were expected to play a key part in repulsing any invasion. They had already been the subject of several dive bombing attacks by Ju 87 ‘Stukas’. However, with unsustainable losses of the vulnerable Stukas, the Germans had decided on 19th August to severely limit their use over Britain. RAF Fighter Command were still reserving a proportion of their fighters to deal with them.

David Crook was flying a Spitfire with 609 Squadron:

Certainly it was typical of our English weather that in a normal summer it is quite impossible to get fine weather for one’s holidays, and yet in war time, when every fine day simply plays into the hands of the German bombers, we had week after week of cloudless blue skies.

24th August proved to be no exception to the general rule, and about 4 p.m. we took off with orders to patrol Portsmouth at 10,000 feet. A number of other squadrons were also operating, each at different heights, and on this occasion we were the luckless ones sent low down to deal with any possible dive-bombers.

We hated this – it’s a much more comforting and reassuring feeling to be on top of everything than right underneath. Superior height, as I said before, is the whole secret of success in air fighting.

However, ‘orders is orders’ and so we patrolled Portsmouth. Very soon a terrific A.A. barrage sprang up ahead of us, looking exactly like a large number of dirty cotton-wool puffs in the sky. It was a most impressive barrage; besides all the guns at Portsmouth, all the warships in the harbour and dockyard were firing hard.

A moment later, through the barrage and well above us, we saw a large German formation wheeling above Portsmouth. We were too low to be able to do anything about it, but they were being engaged by the higher squadrons.

They were now releasing their bombs, and I cannot imagine a more flagrant case of indiscriminate bombing. The whole salvo fell right into the middle of Portsmouth, and I could see great spurts of flame and smoke springing up all over the place.

We spent a very unpleasant few minutes right underneath the German formation, praying hard that their fighters would not come down on us.

However, the danger passed and a very disgruntled squadron returned home, having seen so many Huns and yet not having fired a single round.

See David Crook: Spitfire Pilot, one of the classic memoirs of the Battle, published in 1942. D.M. Crook D.F.C. died in 1944 while training for high altitude photographic reconnaissance, it is believed his oxygen failed causing him to crash in the sea off Scotland.

Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour, 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.
Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour, 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.
Sentries on duty near one of the guns on Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.
Sentries on duty near one of the guns on Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.
Other ranks sleeping quarters in Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.
Other ranks sleeping quarters in Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Meanwhile in Germany the Kriegsmarine were commissioning the ship that they hoped would take the fight to the Royal Navy.

The Bismarck starts sea trails following commissioning. The 50,000 tonne ship was the largest battleship ever built at this time.
Captain Lindemann addresses his crew during the commissioning ceremony
‘Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.’

Soldiers of the Bismarck!

The thousand year history of our German nation and Reich were written with iron and blood.

Almost every generation had to reach for the sword to fight for the rights of the survival of the Reich and nation or to defend its existence and its freedom against its hostile surroundings. For us the call has come again to join in the great struggle for freedom and the survival of our nation and the existence of the Greater German Reich that was created by Adolf Hitler.

In the words of the ancient poets during the wars of liberation: “Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.”

Today, we are being endowed and entrusted with a new and awe-inspiring weapon made from steel and iron, our new ship.

Today, it will be brought to life by our young crew which is empowered to blend iron and blood into a powerful symphony of iron-willed devotion to duty and conviction, and with red-blooded vigor and fighting spirit the highest military goals shall be achieved.

Shipyard workers cheeer the hoisting of the ensign signalling the handover of the ship.
The Bismarck had a crew of 103 officers and 1,989 men
A close up view of the gun turrets – four of the eight 380mm guns.

1945: USS Indianapolis torpedoed – 900 men in the water

By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It’s good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn’t have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I’m here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class "flushdeck" destroyers are visible in the background.
The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class “flushdeck” destroyers are visible in the background.

As soon as the Trinity nuclear test had been successfully concluded on the 16th July the USS Indianapolis had been despatched from Mare island, San Francisco to Tinian island in the mid Pacific. The heavy cruiser carried the Uranium that would arm the Little Boy bomb.

By 29th July she was en route back to the Philippines across the remotest reaches of the ocean. Her captain had discretion not to zig-zag and it may have made no difference that she was not.

A new study of the sinking published in 2018 reconstructs the events aboard the Japanese submarine I-58, captained by Hashimoto

I-58’s crew waited, breathless. The black shape on the horizon soon gathered itself into the shape of a triangle suspended in the moon’s silver light. But looking through the night periscope, Hashimoto still could not determine her class. Neither could he see the height of her mast in order to estimate the range. This lack of data opened the door to an array of possible mistakes, and his mind ticked through them all.

Without the range, course, and speed of the target, he could not make the proper calculations to obtain a hit. If the class of ship were known, he could estimate the speed by counting the target’s propeller blade frequency, but the hydrophones remained silent. And with the target pointed directly at him, its hull was masking sonar sounds.

He would have to wait until the target was on a broader line of sight to ferret out its speed. Also, changes in the target’s speed and course could throw off Hashimoto’s aim, especially at night, so the moment of firing had to be determined in advance.

A whole kingdom of errors loomed. But if Hashimoto could keep them small and fire six torpedoes in a fanwise spread, he could ensure a hit. Even if he guessed wrong on one of the variables – or even if the target zigzagged, as it was almost sure to do.

A crisp demand interrupted his calculations: “Send us!” It was the suicide pilots. Hashimoto had been so preoccupied with his Type 95 torpedo calculations that he had not followed up on his earlier order for the kaiten. “Why can’t we be launched?” the pilots clamored.

Hashimoto understood their desire. The kaiten could steer to the target, regardless of its speed or course. But the touch-and-go, obscured visibility would make it difficult for the pilots to home in visually on the target over a period of tens of minutes.

To get a Type 95 torpedo hit, all he needed was a reasonable estimate of speed and range, along with one good bearing, and he could send his fish to their target. That was the better option here, so he decided not to use the kaiten unless the oxygen torpedoes failed to hit their mark.

Hashimoto put his eye to the scope again and saw the top of the triangle resolve into two distinct shapes. He could make out a large mast forward and estimated its height at ninety feet. His heartbeat quickened. She appeared to be a large cruiser, ten thousand tons or bigger. Now I-58’s hydrophones gurgled to life, announcing enemy propeller revolutions that were moderately high. Using visual observations, Hashimoto adjusted and put the target’s speed at twelve knots, course 260, range three thousand yards.

He alone could see all this. Without him, the crew could know nothing. As they awaited his word, straining in the deadly quiet, an exhilarating thought formed in his mind: We’ve got her.

Aboard I-58, a sonarman thought he heard the clinking of dishes.‘ Twenty-seven minutes had passed since I—58’s navigator spotted the enemy ship. It now became apparent that the target was approaching off the starboard bow. He ordered the torpedo director computer set to “green sixty degrees”——the torpedoes would turn sixty degrees starboard after launch.

The target closed the distance: twenty-five hundred yards… two thousand… fifteen hundred. “Stand by…” Hashimoto commanded in a loud voice. “Fire!” At two-second intervals, six torpedoes ejected from tubes carved into the sub’s forward hull, one tube after another until all six were away. A report came from the torpedo room: “All tubes fired and correct.”

It was about five minutes after midnight, and six warheads streaked toward the enemy warship in a lethal fan. Hashimoto snatched a look through the periscope, brought his boat on a course parallel to the target, and waited. Every minute seemed an age.

The Indianapolis was steaming straight ahead when she was hit by three Type 95 torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 at 23:35. Some U.S accounts put the time at 00:14.

USS_Indianapolis-last_voyage_chart

Contrary to US Navy claims during the war and after, the Indianapolis was not observing radio silence because of the secrecy of her mission – she managed to transmit distress signals which were received by three separate US Navy monitoring stations, a matter that has only emerged from later de-classified documents. None of the three stations acted on the information. At 00:27 on 30 July, Indianapolis capsized and sank carrying around 300 men with her. The remainder of her 1,196 crew went into the water, only a limited number of lifeboats had been deployed and a minority of the men had life jackets.

Approximately 900 men now faced a hellish ordeal as they struggled to survive in the warm seas, with little or no water. They faced severe sun burn, dehydration, hypothermia – and sharks. Some have argued that the incident amounts to the largest single shark attack in human history. An account by the surviving Chief Medical Officer on board, Dr Lewis Haynes throws some light on the extent of the shark hazard:

I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn’t have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn’t alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.

I didn’t want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.

Suddenly the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn’t an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over – white eyes and red mouths. You couldn’t tell the doctor from the boat seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.

At that time, I could have hidden but somebody yelled, ‘Is the doctor there?’ And I made myself known. From that point on – and that’s probably why I’m here today — I was kept so busy I had to keep going. But without any equipment, from that point on I became a coroner.

A lot of men were without life jackets. The kapok life jacket is designed with a space in the back. Those who had life jackets that were injured, you could put your arm through that space and pull them up on your hip and keep them out of the water. And the men were very good about doing this. Further more, those with jackets supported men without jackets. They held on the back of them, put their arms through there and held on floating in tandem.

When daylight came we began to get ourselves organized into a group and the leaders began to come out. When first light came we had between three and four hundred men in our group. I would guess that probably seven or eight hundred men made it out of the ship. I began to find the wounded and dead. The only way I could tell they were dead was to put my finger in their eye. If their pupils were dilated and they didn’t blink I assumed they were dead. We would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn’t have jackets. In the beginning I took off their dogtags, said The Lord’s Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dogtags I couldn’t hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord’s Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it.

…The second night, which was Monday night, we had all the men put their arms through the life jacket of the man in front of him and we made a big mass so we could stay together. We kept the wounded and those who were sickest in the center of the pack and that was my territory. Some of the men could doze off and sleep for a few minutes. The next day we found a life ring. I could put one very sick man across it to support him.

There was nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead, save the life jackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the salt water when we drifted out of the fuel oil. When the hot sun came out and we were in this crystal clear water, you were so thirsty you couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men that they shouldn’t drink. The real young ones – you take away their hope, you take away their water and food – they would drink salt water and then would go fast. I can remember striking men who were drinking water to try and stop them. They would get diarrhea, then get more dehydrated, then become very maniacal.

In the beginning, we tried to hold them and support them while they were thrashing around. And then we found we were losing a good man to get rid of one who had been bad and drank. As terrible as it may sound, towards the end when they did this, we shoved them away from the pack because we had to.

The water in that part of the Pacific was warm and good for swimming. But body temperature is over 98 and when you immerse someone up to their chin in that water for a couple of days, you’re going to chill him down. So at night we would tie everyone close together to stay warm. But they still had severe chills which led to fever and delirium.

On Tuesday night some guy began yelling, ‘There’s a Jap here and he’s trying to kill me.’ And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds. A lot of men were killed that night. A lot of men drowned. Overnight everybody untied themselves and got scattered in all directions. But you couldn’t blame the men. It was mass hysteria. You became wary of everyone. Till daylight came, you weren’t sure. When we got back together the next day there were a hell of a lot fewer.

I saw only one shark. I remember reaching out trying to grab hold of him. I thought maybe it would be food. However, when night came, things would bump against you in the dark or brush against your leg and you would wonder what it was. But honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water I did not see a man attacked by a shark. However, the destroyers that picked up the bodies afterwards found a large number of those bodies. In the report I read 56 bodies were mutilated, Maybe the sharks were satisfied with the dead; they didn’t have to bite the living.

Their ordeal had been lengthened because the failure of the Indianapolis to arrive in the Philippines when expected was also not reported, and no search for the ship was ever undertaken. Instead they were spotted by chance at 10:25 on 2 August by a PV-1 Ventura on a routine patrol. They still had to spend the rest of the day in the water before help arrived:

It was Thursday [2 Aug] when the plane spotted us. By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It’s good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn’t have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I’m here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

The plane dropped life jackets with canisters of water but the canisters ruptured. Then a PBY [seaplane] showed up and dropped rubber life rafts. We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side. I found a flask of water with a 1-ounce cup. I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand to hand. Not one man cheated and I know how thirsty they were.

Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making fresh water out of salt water. I tried to read the instructions, but couldn’t make sense of it or get it to work right. My product tasted like salt water and I didn’t want to take a chance so I threw it into the ocean. I then went to
pieces.

I watched the PBY circle and suddenly make an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. It hit, went back up in the air and splashed down again. I thought he’d crashed but he came taxiing back. I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles. If he hadn’t done this, I don’t think we would have survived. He stayed on the water during the night and turned his searchlight up into the sky so the Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) could find us. The ship came right over and began picking us up.

See Lewis L. Haynes, “Survivor of the Indianapolis.” Navy Medicine 86, no.4 (Jul.-Aug. 1995)

I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.
I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.

The British fire on the French at Mers el Kebir

FOXHOUND’s signal, summarising Admiral Gensoul’s reply (vide paragraph 37 above) and indicating the apparent intention of the French ships to put to sea and fight, was received in HOOD at 1227. Orders were then given to mine the entrance to the port and the Admiralty informed that I was preparing to open fire at 1330. A signal was also made to FOXHOUND asking Captain Holland if, in the light of his discussions, he saw any alternative to opening fire with main armament.

The French destroyer Mogador on fire
The French destroyer Mogador on fire at Mers el Kebir

Relations between the French and British radically altered following the French armistice with Germany. Churchill was determined that the French Fleet should not fall into the hands of the Germans. The British Force H was sent from Gibraltar to confront the main French fleet in harbour. Admiral Somerville, commander of Force H, had orders to seek the French Fleet’s surrender at the French North African maritime base of Mers el Kebir at Oran, French Algeria. The terms contained a number of options designed to allow the French an honourable course of action while denying the French fleet to the Germans, these were:

It is impossible for us, your comrades up to now, to allow your fine ships to fall into the power of the German enemy. We are determined to fight on until the end, and if we win, as we think we shall, we shall never forget that France was our Ally, that our interests are the same as hers, and that our common enemy is Germany. Should we conquer we solemnly declare that we shall restore the greatness and territory of France.

For this purpose we must make sure that the best ships of the French Navy are not used against us by the common foe.

In these circumstances, His Majesty’s Government have instructed me to demand that the French Fleet now at Mers el Kebir and Oran shall act in accordance with one of the following alternatives;

(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.

(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment. If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.

(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.

If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours. Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.

Admiral Somerville’s report describes how negotiations continued all day. He despatched Captain Holland to speak with the French Commander, Admiral Gensoul:

49. Whilst this long discussion was taking place in the Admiral’s cabin of DUNKERQUE, Admiralty message 1614/3rd July containing instructions to “settle matters quickly or you will have reinforcements to deal with” was received at 1646 in HOOD. A signal was immediately passed visually and by wireless to Admiral Gensoul, informing him that if the terms were not Accepted, fire would be opened at 1730. Simultaneously, “Preparative ANVIL at 1730” was made to all ships of Force “H”. (see para. 25 of Enclosure 3).

50. The message referred to reached Admiral Gensoul at 1715, whilst the discussion with captain Holland was still proceeding. The latter then drafted a brief signal, which was shewn to the Admiral, stating that the crews were being reduced and the ships would proceed to MARTINIQUE or the United States of America if threatened by the enemy. This was received in HOOD at 1729, but as it did not comply with any of the conditions laid down, air striking forces were ordered to fly off and the battleships stood in to the coast.

51. Captain Holland finally left DUNKERQUE at 1725 and at the same time “Action stations” were sounded in the French ships. Transfer to FOXHOUND’s motorboat was effected at 1735 and the boat proceeded clear of the net defences.

52. Fire was opened at maximum visibility range of 17,500 yards at 1754, employing G.I.C. concentration with aircraft spotting. The line of fire was from the north-west, so that fire from the French ships was to some extent blanked by Mers el Kebir Fort and risk of damage to civilian life and property reduced.

53. Simultaneously with opening fire, an aircraft report was received that the destroyers in Mers el Kebir were under way inside the boom.

54. At 1757, three minutes after opening fire, a very large explosion occurred inside the harbour, followed immediately by an immense column of smoke several hundred feet high. There would appear little doubt that this was caused by the blowing up of a battleship of the BRETAGNE Class. It was followed shortly after by a similar but smaller explosion which was apparently a destroyer blowing up. By this time, the harbour was clothed in smoke from explosions and fires, rendering direct spotting almost impossible and air spotting most difficult.

55. Enemy shore batteries opened fire about a minute after the first British salvo. These were promptly engaged by ARETHUSA but the range was too great for ENTERPRISE’s older guns. Shortly afterwards heavy projectiles commenced to fall near the battleships.

56. Enemy fire was at first very short but improved considerably in accuracy, a number of main armament (probably 13.4 inch) projectiles falling close to all ships and in certain cases, straddling. No hits were incurred, but a number of splinters caused minor superficial damage in HOOD and injuries to one officer and one rating.

57. After firing a total of thirty-six 15-inch salvoes, the fire from the French ships died down but the fire from the forts was becoming increasingly accurate. Course was altered 180 ° to port together and ships ordered to make smoke to avoid damage from the fire of forts. Fire on the French ships ceased at 1804.

See TNA ADM 199-391 for the full report and enclosures.

A French newsreel report of the action:

HM Ships Glorious, Acasta and Ardent sunk

The escorting destroyer [HMS Ardent] on the port side of the battleships continued her torpedo attacks and tried, extremely skilfully, to avoid the effective defensive fire of the battleships’ medium armament by means of constant alterations of course. Finally this destroyer also opened fire on the battleships. She fought with outstanding resolution in a situation that was hopeless for her. The destroyer received numerous hits and finally went down, her bow armament firing to the last and her engines apparently in order and driving her at high speed. The final range was about 5 miles.

world war 2 aircraft carrier at sea - hms glorious
HMS Glorious, seen pre war, a carrier converted from a cruiser

The aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was returning to Scapa Flow from Norway separately from the other ships in the British Force, accompanied by only her destroyer escorts HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent. It was a fine clear day with light wind but HMS Glorious apparently did not have a lookout posted, did not have an aircraft on patrol – which would have given her all round visibility of approximately 40 miles, and did not have any of her aircraft on deck ready for immediate launch.

She was therefore surprised when spotted by the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst at about 1600. Although Acasta and Ardent attempted to lay a smoke screen and engaged the German ships, Glorious was first hit at 1638. The third salvo from the Scharnhorst reached Glorious from 24,175 meters (26,450 yards), possibly the longest gunfire hit on any enemy warship ever achieved. It hit her hangars and made it impossible to launch the aircraft that were on the point of readiness.

HMS Acasta at sea.
HMS Acasta at sea.

After the war Admiral Schubert, who had been First Officer on the Scharnhorst at the time of the battle, was interviewed by the Royal Navy and provided an account of the great fight put up by the two escorting destroyers, HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent:

The escorting destroyer [HMS Ardent] on the port side of the battleships continued her torpedo attacks and tried, extremely skilfully, to avoid the effective defensive fire of the battleships’ medium armament by means of constant alterations of course. Finally this destroyer also opened fire on the battleships. She fought with outstanding resolution in a situation that was hopeless for her. The destroyer received numerous hits and finally went down, her bow armament firing to the last and her engines apparently in order and driving her at high speed. The final range was about 5 miles.

After the battleships had penetrated the smoke screen, the “Glorious” was sighted again at a great range. The main armament opened frontal fire and the carrier very quickly received further hits. The range rapidly decreased, but still remained relatively great. The carrier developed a list to port, and burned until she finally capsized. Only a few aircraft were left on deck.

The destroyer with the carrier [HMS Acasta] turned to the attack on the battleships, who took avoiding action. At this stage of the fight, at about the time of the capsizing of the carrier, The ‘Scharnhorst’ received a torpedo hit on the starboard side level with the after main turret. As was ascertained later, the hole torn in the ships side was of considerable dimensions. The hit immediately affected the main turret magazines, the turret starting to burn. The starboard engine went out of action; the starboard propeller-shaft together with the bearings was torn away from the hull. A great deal of water entered the ship; her position became difficult the more so as the midships engine-room was gradually filling with water.

The ship however continued the fight with the now very severely damaged destroyer. The latter fought on in a hopeless situation with her far inferior armament against the battleships. She achieved, so far as I can remember, one light hit against the centre barrel of No.2 main turret.

The carrier had in the meantime capsized, and the place where she went down lay far astern of the ship. When the destroyer ceased firing on her armament being put out of action, the battleships did so too. The heavily damaged condition of the “Scharnhorst” made it imperative to see to the return of the damaged ship to the nearest Norwegian harbour, and to put the measures necessary for this in hand immediately.

TNA ADM 205/49

The actions of the two destroyers who both went down fighting against vastly superior battleships were no less valiant than that of the destroyer HMS Glowworm, which had taken on the Admiral Hipper on April 9th. There was even a measure of success here, since the Scharnhorst had been torpedoed. But there were no medals for this action, which was a disaster that the Royal Navy would have no wish to advertise, either now or after the war.

HMS Ardent at a buoy on completion. Pennant No H41
HMS Ardent at a buoy on completion. Pennant No H41

At the end of the action Gneisenau and Scharnhorst made off without stopping to look for survivors. At the time the Germans were uncertain whether the Scharnhorst had been torpedoed by a submarine that might remain in the area.

To compound the disaster HMS Glorious had been using the wrong radio channel. Her radio broadcast announcing the engagement was only indistinctly picked up by HMS Devonshire but she was in a state of radio silence as she was carrying the Norwegian Royal family to safety, and the message was never re-broadcast. For unknown reasons neither Acasta nor Ardent made radio signals about the engagement. There were at least 900 men in the water or on floats from the three abandoned ships, including some of the pilots from 46 Squadron who had flown the Hurricanes on board the previous day. But the Royal Navy was unaware of the battle and no immediate rescue plan was put into action.

It was nearly three days later when the first of only 45 survivors were pulled from the sea by a Norwegian boats. Among them was Squadron Leader Cross of 46 Squadron (see [permalink id=6351 text=’7th June’]). In total 1,515 men died. The Glorious, Ardent and Acasta Association has many more details and casualty lists.

Detailed analysis is at scharnhorst-class and warship.org

US planes sink Yamato – world’s largest battleship

The captain is out in the open in the antiaircraft command post overlooking the whole ship. Two ensigns attend him and plot on the maneuver board the torpedoes coming from all directions, indicating them to him with pointers. The navigation officer sits in the captain’s seat on the bridge; acting as one, the two men operate the ship. Coming over the voice tube, the captain’s orders deafen me. His is a terrible and angry voice, biting off the ends of words. Bombs, bullets focus on the bridge.

Dramatic picture of Yamato during sea trials.
Dramatic picture of Yamato during sea trials in 1941.

The Japanese defenders of Okinawa were not quite alone. On the 6th April the Japanese decided to make one more attempt to support them. Intended to be a knockout blow they assembled over 300 planes for an assault on the US Fleet of over 1000 ships assembled off Okinawa. Their targets were the aircraft carriers and battleships – but the main casualties were amongst the destroyers forming a protective picket on the edge of the fleet.

U.S. aircraft, such as this Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver, begin their attacks on Yamato (center left). A Japanese destroyer is in the center right of the picture.
U.S. aircraft, such as this Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver, begin their attacks on Yamato (center left). A Japanese destroyer is in the center right of the picture.
Yamato steering to avoid bombs and aerial torpedoes during Operation Ten-Go.
Yamato steering to avoid bombs and aerial torpedoes during Operation Ten-Go.

At the same time another suicide mission was launched, Operation Ten Go. The battleship Yamato, at 72,800 tonnes with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) main guns, was (with her sister ship Musashi, sunk in October 1944) the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever constructed. She was now given sufficient fuel to reach Okinawa with orders to cause as much havoc as possible.

It had been the Japanese who had demonstrated the vulnerability of capital ships in the age of naval air power with the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in 1941. Now Yamato was despatched without any air cover at all. It was inevitable that she would face assault from the massed planes of the US Fifth Fleet. Despite the fact she had 150 anti-aircraft guns the odds were not in her favour.

Yamato had been spotted by US submarines leaving port on the 6th and planes had begun shadowing her at 1000 on the 7th. At 1200 squadrons of Hellcat and Corsair fighters arrived overhead to deal with any Japanese plans escorting her – there were none. Shortly afterwards the first wave of over 280 Helldiver dive bombers, and Avenger torpedo bombers began their attack.

On board was junior officer Yoshida Mitsuru:

1220 hours: our air search radar picks up three blips, each apparently a large formation.

In his usual guttural voice Petty Officer Hasegawa, chief of the antiaircraft radar room, gives a running commentary on their range and bearing. “Contacts. Three large formations. Approaching.”

On the instant we send out emergency signals to every ship in the task force.

Each ship increases its speed to twenty-five knots. As one, they turn. “100 degrees exact.” (Without changing its shape, the formation turns simultaneously onto a course of 100 degrees.)

Once the P.A. passes on word of the approaching planes, the ship, quiet already, becomes quieter still. As the radar tracks the blips, the data is transmitted to us moment by moment over the voice tube: … range 30,000 meters, bearing 160 degrees … second raid, range 25,000 meters, bearing 85 degrees…

How many times, in target practice, have we conducted such tracking? I am possessed by the illusion that we have already experienced searches under the same conditions, with the same battle positions, even with the same mood.

What is going on before my very eyes, indisputably, is actual combat — but how can I possibly convince myself of that fact?

The blips are not an imagined enemy but an enemy poised for the kill. The location: not our training waters, but hostile waters.

Nevertheless, as I pass the reports along mechanically, I am nonchalant, proceed too much by routine. A battle against aircraft – it is at hand! All the lookouts focus on the bearings of the approaching raids. At this moment a light rain shrouds the ocean like a mist; visibility is now at its worst.

The moment we spot the American planes will probably be the moment they attack. 1232 hours: the gruff voice of the second watch – “Two Grummans, port 25 degrees, elevation 8 degrees, range 4,000 meters. Moving right.”

Quickly I spot them with naked eye. The ceiling is between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

We have spotted them, but conditions are the worst possible: they are already too close; aiming is very difficult. “First raid: five planes … more than ten planes … more than thirty …

A large squadron appears out of a gap in the clouds. Every ten or twelve planes peel off in formation and make a sweeping turn to starboard.

Dead ahead, another large flight. Already entering attack formation.

“More than one hundred enemy planes attacking!” Is it the navigation officer who calls this out?

Inevitable that both torpedoes and bombs will focus on Yamato. The captain orders: “Commence firing.”

Twenty-four antiaircraft guns and 120 machine guns open fire at the same moment. The main guns of the escort destroyers, too, flash in unison. The battle begins.

Here and now we fire the first shots of this desperate, death-inviting battle. My baptism by fire. I feel like puffing out my chest, and my legs want to dance; restraining myself, I measure the weight pressing down on my knees.

As my whole body tingles with excitement, I observe my own exhilaration; as I grit my teeth, I break into a grin. A sailor near me is felled by shrapnel. In the midst of the overwhelming noise, I distinguish the sound of his skull striking the bulkhead; amid the smell of gunpowder all around, I smell blood.

A shrill voice: “The enemy is using both torpedoes and bombs!”

On the left outer edge of the formation, Hdmakaze all of a sudden seems to expose her crimson belly, then lifts her stern up into the air.

In almost no time thereafter bombs landed one after another on the disabled ship. She was enveloped in columns of water, pillars of fire.

The tracks of the torpedoes are a beautiful white against the water, as if someone were drawing a needle through the water; they come pressing in, aimed at Yamato from a dozen different directions and intersecting silently. Estimating by sight their distance and angle on the plotting board, we shift course to run parallel to the torpedoes and barely succeed in dodging them.

We deal first with the closest, most urgent one; when we get to a point far enough away from it that we can be sure we have dodged it, we turn to the next. Dealing with them calls for vigilance, calculation, and decision.

The captain is out in the open in the antiaircraft command post overlooking the whole ship. Two ensigns attend him and plot on the maneuver board the torpedoes coming from all directions, indicating them to him with pointers. The navigation officer sits in the captain’s seat on the bridge; acting as one, the two men operate the ship. Coming over the voice tube, the captain’s orders deafen me. His is a terrible and angry voice, biting off the ends of words. Bombs, bullets focus on the bridge.

Opening her engines with their 150,000 horsepower to full throttle, straining at her top battle speed of twenty-seven knots, and turning her rudders hard to either side, Yamato continues her desperate evasive maneuvers. This ship boasts of being as stable on open sea as on tetra firma; even so she experiences extreme listing and vibration. The creaking of her hull and the grating of her fittings make a din.

See Yoshida Mitsuru: Requiem for Battleship Yamato .

Yamato under attack. A large fire burns aft of her superstructure and she is low in the water from torpedo damage.
Yamato under attack. A large fire burns aft of her superstructure and she is low in the water from torpedo damage.

By 1402 it was over. Dead in the water and sinking after having been hit by a series of bombs and torpedoes, Admiral Ito ordered the crew to abandon ship. Some men got off but at 1423 she was ripped apart by a massive explosion when fire reached her magazines, the water pumps designed to prevent this having already been put out of action.

Around 3,700–4,250 men from Yamato and her escort ships were dead. The US Navy had lost 12 planes and ten men. The six US Navy battleships, seven cruisers and twenty-one destroyers that were lined up to deal with the Yamato, in case the planes somehow failed, were not needed.

Yamato photographed during the battle by an aircraft from USS Yorktown (CV-10). The battleship is on fire and visibly listing to port.
Yamato photographed during the battle by an aircraft from USS Yorktown (CV-10). The battleship is on fire and visibly listing to port.
Yamato's magazine explodes bringing a sudden violent end to the ship.
Yamato’s magazine explodes bringing a sudden violent end to the ship.

USS Sealion attacks and sinks battleship Kongo

0406: Tracking indicates the target group now zigzagging. We are holding true bearing, maybe gaining a little. Called for maximum speed from engineers – they gave us 25% overload for about thirty minutes, then commenced growling about sparking commutators, hot motors, et al , forced to slow to flank. Sea and wind increasing all the time – now about force 5 or 6 – taking solid water over bridge, with plenty coming down the conning tower hatch.

The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-bilit as a battleship as seen here in 1929-30.
The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-built as a battleship, as seen here in 1929-30.She was further modified in the 1930s to become a ‘fast battleship’.
The first USS-Sealion-(SS-195) had been sunk while in dock on the Philippines on 10th December 1941.
The first USS-Sealion-(SS-195) had been sunk while in dock on the Philippines on 10th December 1941.
The launch of the USS Sealion in October 1943, with Comamnder Eli Reich at right.
The launch of the USS Sealion in October 1943, with Commander Eli Reich at right.

The original USS Sealion had been sunk by Japanese during their initial assaults on US ships in December 1941. Less than two years later USS Sealion was reborn, launched on 31st October 1943. Exactly a year later she set off on her third war patrol, her commander, Eli Reich, having already been awarded Navy Crosses for “aggressive and well executed torpedo attacks” on each of the two earlier patrols. In September she had been responsible for the unfortunate sinking of the Rakuyo Maru, with 1300 POWs aboard.

Early on 21st November off Formosa, now Taiwan, the USS Sealion picked up such strong radar signals that at first they were thought to be bouncing off land. They were then revealed to be a group of Japanese battleships and battle cruisers, including, as it turned out, the IJN “Indestructible” Kongo.

Commander Eli Reich’s original patrol report tells the whole story:

21 NOVEMBER 1944

0020: Radar contact at 44,000 yards, on our starboard quarter, (Ship contact #3) three pips, very clear and distinct. Came to normal approach, went ahead flank on four engines, and commenced tracking. Overcast sky, no soon, visibility about 1500 yards, calm sea.

0043: Two large pips and two smaller pips now outlined on radar screen at a range of 35,000 yards. These are the greatest ranges we have ever obtained on our radar. Pips so large, at so great a range, we first suspected land. It was possible to lobe switch on the larger targets at 32,000 yards – we now realized we probably had two targets of battleship proportions and two of larger cruiser size as our targets. They were in a column with a cruiser ahead followed by two battleships, and a cruiser astern, course 060 T, speed 16 knots. not zigging.

0146: Three escorts now visible on the radar, at a range of 20,000 yards. One on. either beam on the formation, and one on the starboard far quarter. We are pining bearing slowly but surely. The formation is now on our starboard beam. Seas and wind increasing.

0245: Ahead of task force. Turned in and slowed for attack, keeping our bow pointed at the now destroyer who is now 1800 yards on the port bow of our target. the second ship in column. Able to make out shape of near destroyer from bridge. Kept swinging left with our bow directly on the destroyer, and at

0256: Fired six torpedoes, depth set at 8 feet, at the second ship in column, range 3000 yards, believed to be a battleship. Came right with full rudder to bring the stern tubes to bear.

0259-30: Stopped and fired three torpedoes, depth set at 8 feet, from the stern tubes at the third ship in column (ie the second battleship). Range 3100 yards. Range to near destroyer at the time of firing stern tubes about 1800 yards. While firing stern tubes, O.O.D. reported he could make out outline of the near cruiser on our port quarter. During the firing of the bow tubes the bridge quartermaster reported he could make out outline of a very high superstructure on target, he said it looked to him like the pagoda build of the Jap battleships.

0300: Saw and heard three hits on the first battleship – several small mushrooms of explosions noted in the darkness.

0304: Saw and heard at least one hit on the second battleship – this gave a large violent explosion with a sudden rise of flames at the target, but it quickly subsided.

The Japnese destroyer Urakaze which blew up and was lost with all hands.
The Japnese destroyer Urakaze which blew up and was lost with all hands.

In fact two torpedoes from the first salvo had hit Kongo and a third torpedo had passed beyond her and hit the destroyer IJN “Wind on the Sea” Urakaze, causing a catastrophic explosion which sunk her with all hands. With two compartments flooded the Kongo began to lose speed.

Eli Reich thought he had lost his opportunity, believing that he had set his torpedoes at the wrong depth for a battleship. His patrol report continues:

0304-07: Went ahead flank, opening to westward from target group. Noted several small explosions, flames, and probably lights in vicinity of target group.

0308: Heard a long series of heavy depth charge explosions from vicinity of enemy force – we are about 5000 yards from group. P.P.I. shows one escort opening and rapidly to east of target group. Continued tracking.

0330: Chagrined at this point to find subsequent tracking enemy group still making 16 knots, still on course 060T. I feel that in setting depth at 8 feet, in order to hit a destroyer if overlapping our main target. I’ve made a bust – looks like we only dented the armor belt on the battleships.

0406: Tracking indicates the target group now zigzagging. We are holding true bearing, maybe gaining a little. Called for maximum speed from engineers – they gave us 25% overload for about thirty minutes, then commenced growling about sparking commutators, hot motors, et al , forced to slow to flank. Sea and wind increasing all the time – now about force 5 or 6 – taking solid water over bridge, with plenty coming down the conning tower hatch. SEALION making about 16.8 to 17 knots with safety tank dry and using low pressure blower often to keep ballast tanks dry. Engine rooms taking much water through main induction.

0430: Sent SEALION Serial Number TWO. [?]

0450: Noted enemy formation breaking up into two groups – one group dropping astern. Now P.P.I. showed:(a) one group up ahead to consist of three large ships in column – cruiser. battleship, cruiser with a destroyer just being lost to radar view up ahead. Range to this group about 17000 yards. (b) Second group dropping astern of first to consist of a battleship, with two destroyers on far side. Close aboard – range to this group about 15000 yards and closing.

0451: Shifted target designation, decided to attack second group, which contains 1 battleship, hit with three torpedoes on our first attack. Tracking shows target to have slowed to 11 knots. Things beginning to took rosy again.

0512: In position ahead of target, slowed and turned in for attack.

0518: Solutions on T.D.C. and plot is getting sour – target must be changing speed.

0520: Plot and T.D.C. report target must be stopped, radar says target pip seems to be getting a little smaller. Range to target now about 17000 yards.

0524: Tremendous explosion dead ahead – sky brilliantly illuminated, it looked like a sunset at midnight, radar reports battleship pip getting smaller – that it has disappeared -leaving only two smaller pips of the destroyers. Destroyers seem to be milling around vicinity of target. Battleship sunk – the sun set.

0525: Total darkness again.

Before Sealion had a chance to make another attack Kongo had blown up. There were just 237 survivors from a crew of over 1400.

Reich had earned a third Navy Cross on his third patrol. Not only was this the only occasion when an Allied submarine successfully sank a battleship during the war but it was the only occasion an audio recording was made of a live attack.

USS Sealion (SS315) later in the war flying her victory pennants.
USS Sealion (SS315) later in the war flying her victory pennants.

Operation Catechism – the Tirpitz is finally sunk

Just then Flying Officer Eric Giersch the rear gunner called out, ‘I think she is turning over.’ I turned back to port to have a look and sure enough she was, so back we went again. This time we flew in at 50 feet and watched with baited breath as Tirpitz heeled over to port, ever so slowly and gracefully.

The wake of a fast moving motor boat as she hurries away from the battered TIRPITZ can be seen as a huge cloud rises from an early bomb hit on the German battleship.
The wake of a fast moving motor boat as she hurries away from the battered TIRPITZ can be seen as a huge cloud rises from an early bomb hit on the German battleship.
A Royal Navy photograph taken during an earlier attack.

On 12th November thirty two RAF and RAAF Lancaster bombers left England in the early hours of the morning, arriving over Norway at low level. All the aircraft had been modified to accommodate the the Tallboy bombs that they carried, and all had the specialist Stabilized Automatic Bomb Sight that enabled them to aim the bombs with pinpoint accuracy from the altitude that the bombs needed.

It was the ninth attempt by the RAF to sink the German battleship Tirpitz, the twenty-fifth by British forces – including actions by Royal Navy aircraft and midget submarines. The ship had been hit by bombs before – but they had not been able to penetrate the four inch thick deck armour.

At 0930 the Lancasters began to rise to bombing height, 14,000 feet, and in doing so revealed themselves to German radar. German fighters at Bardufoss should have been in a good position to intervene but for some reason they did not appear. One factor was that the Luftwaffe had not been informed that the Tirpitz had recently been moved to a new location.

Wing Commander Willy Tait led the attack:

She was a black shape clearly seen against the clear waters of the fjord, surrounded by the snow-covered hills, which were glowing pink in the low Arctic sun. A plume of smoke rose slowly from the big ship’s funnel.

When the force was about ten miles away the peaceful scene changed suddenly; the ship opened fire with her main armament and billows of orange-brown smoke, shot through by the flashes of the guns, hid her for a moment and then drifted away.

At 0941 the first of 29 Tallboy bombs was released, from 14,000 feet they accelerated to 750 mph (1,210 km/h), approaching the speed of sound, for maximum damage on impact. Eight minutes later it was all over.

One 12,000 pounder apparently hit the Tirpitz amidships, another in the bows and a third towards the stern and there were also two very near misses which must themselves have done serious underwater damage. These displaced sandbanks that had been dredged to prevent the ship keeling over.

The last significant German naval threat to arctic convoys had at last been conclusively neutralised. Around a thousand German sailors were trapped below decks, doomed to a watery grave.

A special 463 Squadron RAAF movie-Lancaster captained by Flight Lieutenant Bruce Buckham DFC RAAF was the last aircraft on the scene, they went in low, despite the shore batteries which remained in action after the Tirpitz herself had ceased firing:

We flew over it, around it, all about it and still it sat there with dignity under a huge mushroom of smoke which plumed up a few thousand feet in the air.

There were fires and more explosions on board; a huge gaping hole existed on the port side where a section had been blown out. We had now been flying close around Tirpitz for 30 minutes or so and decided to call it a day, so we headed out towards the mouth of the fjord.

Just then Flying Officer Eric Giersch the rear gunner called out, ‘I think she is turning over.’ I turned back to port to have a look and sure enough she was, so back we went again. This time we flew in at 50 feet and watched with baited breath as Tirpitz heeled over to port, ever so slowly and gracefully.

We could see German sailors swimming, diving, jumping and by the time she was over to 85° and subsiding slowly into the water of Tromso Fjord, there must have been the best part of 60 men on her side as we skimmed over for the last pass.

That was the final glimpse we had as we flew out of the fjord and over the North Sea. After a 14-hour flight we landed back at Waddington where the interrogation was conducted by Air Vice Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane. When asked how it went, my one remark was, ‘Well we won’t have to go back after this one; Tirpitz is finished’

These account appears in Martin Bowman: Bomber Command: Armageddon (27 September 1944 – May 1945) v. 5: Reflections of War .

Low-level oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial taken from De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI, NS637, of No. 544 Squadron RAF, showing the capsized German battleship TIRPITZ, lying in in Tromso fjord, attended by salvage vessels. Dodd F L (Sqn Ldr), and Hill A (Plt Off): No. 544 Squadron RAF
Low-level oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial taken from De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI, NS637, of No. 544 Squadron RAF, showing the capsized German battleship TIRPITZ, lying in in Tromso fjord, attended by salvage vessels.
Dodd F L (Sqn Ldr), and Hill A (Plt Off): No. 544 Squadron RAF

Contemporary newsreel:

Wing Commander J B Tait, Commanding Officer of No. 617 Squadron RAF (fifth from left), standing with his crew by the tail of their Avro Lancaster B Mark I (Special), EE146 'KC-D', at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, on returning from Lossiemouth, the day after the successful raid on the German battleship TIRPITZ in Tromso Fjord, Norway,
Wing Commander J B Tait, Commanding Officer of No. 617 Squadron RAF (fifth from left), standing with his crew by the tail of their Avro Lancaster B Mark I (Special), EE146 ‘KC-D’, at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, on returning from Lossiemouth, the day after the successful raid on the German battleship TIRPITZ in Tromso Fjord, Norway,
The German battleship TIRPITZ, lying capsized in in Tromso fjord, attended by a salvage vessel. The already damaged ship was finally sunk in a combined daylight attack by Nos. 9 and 617 Squadrons RAF on 12 November 1944, (Operation CATECHISM). The hole in the hull by the starboard propeller shaft was cut by the Germans to allow access to salvage crews.
The German battleship TIRPITZ, lying capsized in in Tromso fjord, attended by a salvage vessel. The already damaged ship was finally sunk in a combined daylight attack by Nos. 9 and 617 Squadrons RAF on 12 November 1944, (Operation CATECHISM). The hole in the hull by the starboard propeller shaft was cut by the Germans to allow access to salvage crews.

One Day in a Very Long War

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest
Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest

World War II Today examines aspects of the war on a daily basis. In many cases the background to any individual incident featured here could form the basis of a whole book, and in many cases they have been written. John Ellis took an alternative approach when he wrote One Day in a Very Long War – he looked at the entirety of the war through a wide variety of different incidents happening on one day, 25th October 1944.

To illustrate his approach three different short extracts are reproduced here, illustrating just a few off the diverse perspectives on the war that illustrate the impact of a truly global war.

The personal experience of the infantrymen who were on the front line of the conflict in western Europe. Here he examines:

the relentlessly grim day—to—day existence all along First U.S. Army’s front. In 28 Infantry Division, for example, there was a growing number of non—battle casualties. Many were trench-foot cases, also known as immersion foot, a term of First World War vintage and describing a condition very akin to frost-bite.

It was the result of getting one’s feet wet and not being able to dry them for hours, even days on end. The feet went numb, turned purple and in extreme cases the nerves died and gangrene set in. In such circumstances toes and sometimes the whole foot had to be amputated.

The only effective way to keep trench—foot at bay was to wash and vigorously massage the feet twice daily, apply liberal amounts of talcum powder and, above all, change into dry socks. It was a cause of particular frustration, therefore, that at this time socks were one of several items of winter clothing in short supply.

Behind the divisional lines the dressing stations and field hospitals were full of such cases.

“If they were lucky the medics caught the complaint in time and they would be put to bed in long lines of cots on which lay soldier after soldier, their feet sticking out from under the blankets, with a little ball of cotton wool separating each toe.”

One such rifleman spent fully ninety days in hospital in the autumn of 1944 after taking his boots off for the first time in two weeks. His feet appeared blue and frozen as soon as he removed his socks but he simply fell asleep while trying to rub them back to life.

The next morning “my feet were like balloons, so red and swollen I couldn’t put my shoes on. Some guys had big black blisters and a couple of guys had to get their feet cut off. The doc says you get that from not changing your socks when your feet are wet. Christ, what the hell you gonna do when you’re living in a hole for two weeks and the water’s up to here and Jerries are shooting at you so you can’t go no place? Christ, I’m lucky I’m here at all.”

U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.
U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.

The strategic perspective of two great forces of the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy as they clashed off the Philippines during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. The two surface fleets met at the Battle of Samar on the 25th October:

Admiral Kurita had spotted the Americans at almost exactly the same moment that he was discovered. He reacted to the sighting just as quickly as Sprague and gave immediate orders for ‘General Attack’.

Unfortunately the order came only a few minutes after an earlier one to deploy from a five—column cruising formation to a circular one on a more easterly heading. ‘General Attack’ was very much a free-for-all manoeuvre, leaving direction and choice of targets to individual captains, and coming in the middle of another change of formation it caused considerable confusion.

Even before battle was joined, in fact, Kurita had already made his most serious mistake, attributable, no doubt, to the fact that he had now gone 72 hours without sleep and was still not recovered from his bout of dengue fever.

No historian of the battle has seriously quarrelled with S. E. Morison’s judgement that the order was “a fatal error. Kurita should have formed battle-line with his . . . battleships and . . . heavy cruisers, which would have allowed his superior firepower to count, and he should have committed [destroyers] immediately for torpedo attack. But complete surprise seems to have deprived the Admiral of all power of decision, and the result was a helter—skelter battle. His ships . . . were committed piece- meal and so defeated.”

A B-29 Superfortress in flight.
A B-29 Superfortress in flight.

Also considered are the technological achievements that were winning the war for the Allies, not least the extraordinary developments in aeronautical engineering that had taken place in just a few years. Now from some of the remotest parts of the world the US was able to launch devastating firepower against Japan itself:

On this bright morning, at each of the nine bases around the Kwangchan—Likiang—Kumming triangle, some fearsome aircraft were taxiing forward for take—off. They were carrying 500—lb M—64 general-purpose bombs and M-67 incendiary bombs, at a ratio of two to one, and fully loaded each aircraft weighed 65 tons.

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

A major consideration on the 25th October mission, as on any long- range sortie, was fuel efficiency.

After take-off the planes levelled out at about 5,000 feet and the pilots eased back the throttles and settled down to a ‘lean burn’ cruising speed of around 200 m.p.h. Greater speed could have been achieved at 20,000 feet, in the more rarefied atmosphere, but the climb would consume lots of fuel as the aircraft was still very heavy with well over 6,000 gallons of aviation gasoline in the tanks.

So wherever possible the climb was delayed until they neared the target area and the enemy defences, by which time climb would consume probably 20 per cent less fuel.

The planes remained at high altitude over the target itself and each man donned his flight suit and oxygen mask as the planes were depressurised to prevent explosive decompression if the hull should be punctured by enemy fighters or flak.

See John Ellis: One Day in a Very Long War