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Bismarck, Ramillies, Revenge

Discussion in 'Surface and Air Forces' started by Carronade, Nov 6, 2011.

  1. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    After the loss of Hood, the Royal Navy called in all available ships to locate and engage the Bismarck, including the old R class battleships Ramillies and Revenge. Revenge, sortieing sp? from Halifax was unlikely to encounter the Germans, but Ramillies, breaking off from a convoy in the western Atlantic, might have met Bismarck had she continued south instead of breaking for the French coast. When Ramillies and other ships were ordered into the pursuit, Prince of Wales, Norfolk, and Suffolk were still in contact; another capital ship might have made it feasible to resume the engagement. Still there was the possibility of a one-on-one battle, especially after Bismarck did shake off her pursuers. The Rs were WWI-era ships which had undergone minimal modernization, comparable to Hood in most respects other than speed, most notably the vulnerability to plunging shot at long range. Was the RN really willing to take the chance?
     
  2. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Not sure exactly what the question is...SHe ws probably brought in to help find her, or, if already found, to prevent an escape route or at least report it...After Hood, i dont think an engagement was on the cards, she would have been ordered back to cloak the Bismark not make contact...
     
  3. Fred Wilson

    Fred Wilson "The" Rogue of Rogues

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  4. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Member

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    I think any battleship on battleship engagement,could result in the loss of either ship.The "R"Class ships IMO had a chance didn't they,the guns were enough in size(15inch),anyone got any details about their radar etc.?Cheers,Lee.
     
  5. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Certainly anything could happen; as noted the Rs had main armament comparable to Bismarck's, and their belt armor was actually slightly thicker. At moderate ranges where hits would primarily be on the belt or hit the horizontal protection at an acute angle, it might be a fair match. The problem was getting through the 'danger zone' where plunging shot could penetrate the deck. This was why Hood initially steered towards Bismarck, leaving her after turrets out of action; she was trying to get through the danger zone as quickly as possible and engage at medium range.

    Bismarck vs. Ramillies is one of the rare situations in which speed could have a significant impact. Bismarck could control the range, if she could not avoid action entirely, which would probably be Lutjens' first choice. For the same reason, Ramillies was incapable of trailing Bismarck the way a 32-knot cruiser could.

    Gunnery control is a subject on which IMO not enough information is available, but the Rs had been little modernized since WWI, so Bismarck would have an edge although it is difficult to quantify. Her shooting against Hood and Prince of Wales was excellent, and German capital ships had a reputation for finding the range quickly and scoring hits early in an action.

    Bismarck had radar sets fixed to her three rangefinders, but they were disabled by the concussion of her own guns firing. I'm a bit puzzled that this apparently happened to all three sets. AFAIK the Rs were not fitted with radar at this time.
     
  6. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    There's no doubt the British would be willing to risk the older ships if it meant damaging the Bismark so the other ships could catch up.
     
  7. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    No doubt? England was reeling after the loss of the Hood...
     
  8. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    IIRC Bismark had a significant advantage not onlly in speed but also in range, the "R" had not had the turrets modified to allow shooting beyond 22000m (20 degrees elevation). On paper Bismark could destroy an "R" while staying out of the British ship's gun range but I doubt Lutjens would have risked his already damaged ship on such an engagement, running away was more likely.
     
  9. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    Shocked and angry, but not reeling. The RN could afford the loss of both the Hood and an unmodified R' class if it lead to the destruction of the Bismarck, and there was no question that they were prepared to take that risk.
    Though to be honest, I think there is no way that a Bismarck capable of a avoiding an R Class would seek battle with it, The Bismarck was deep in an ocean on which the RN was dominant so she couldn't afford to take damage as it would leave her highly vulnerable.
     
  10. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Yes you are right cac mate, but I think and it is only my own opinion...That Bismark was to be sunk no matter the cost.
     
  11. ptimms

    ptimms Member

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    The Royal Navy did not run, tradition has that you turn towards your enemy and attack. Jervis Bay, Rawalpindi, Gloworm etc were all vastly more outgunned than a R class would be against the Bismark and they did not hesitate.

    After 36 hours sailing in appalling weather at a paltry 12 knots GNEISENAU and SCHARNHORST were approaching the Northern Patrol area of operations. With the weather masking their movements and with visibility less than a mile, Vice Admiral Marschall, still cautious, ordered both battleships to fly the Royal Navy’s White Ensign in a further attempt to deceive any other ship. As the afternoon was ending, lookouts onboard SCHARNHORST spotted a ship. Captain Hoffman ordered an increase in speed to identify the ship and shortly after signalled VADM Marschall on GNEISENAU: “SCHARNHORST to Fleet Commander. Large steamer sighted on parallel course. Distance plus 25 kilometres. Have altered course to 355º.” SCHARNHORST continues to close on the ship, which Captain Hoffman identifies as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. GNEISENAU increases speed to catch her sister ship.

    RAWALPINDI was heading eastwards as a lookout on the forward crow’s nest informed the bridge that an unknown ship had been sighted on the starboard quarter on the horizon. Captain Kennedy, on sighting the ship through his binoculars came to the conclusion that it was either an enemy battlecruiser or the intelligence reports were correct and the DEUTCHLAND was in the area. "Action Stations!" rang out and the Captain ordered the helm to port.

    On SCHARNHORST Captain Hoffman treats the encounter as he would an unknown warship. He orders a signal sent: “What Ship?”

    Captain Kennedy receives the signal and in a last vain hope that the ship is friendly, sends the ship’s identification code to the German warship. He tries to lay a smokescreen but the chemical canisters used proved to be duds. He then ordered a small increase in speed and a course to port.

    The reply made no sense to Captain Hoffman, but the increase in speed and a course change suggested hostile intent. The distance between the three ships closes quickly. When the range between SCHARNHORST and RAWALPINDI is less than 4½ miles, the battleship uses a signal lamp to flash a signal 'Heave to!' to RAWALPINDI, and to reinforce the message, fires a warning shot that sent up a fountain of spray some two hundred yards in front of the AMC’s bow.

    Captain Kennedy orders a distress signal to Home Fleet HQ stating that a German warship has intercepted RAWALPINDI.

    SCHARNHORST again flashes the signal 'Heave to!’ which is ignored. At that moment RAWALPINDI’s lookout sees a second battleship on the horizon closing fast. As the first battleship came into clear view Captain Kennedy thought it to be the DEUTCHLAND.

    But time for the RAWALPINDI had run out. Kennedy knew the odds. A converted passenger liner with no armour and limited weapons against two battleships with heavy bore guns and armour piercing shells. His ship, which was at its best speed at 17 knots while his adversaries could at least double that. At that moment the Chief Engineer arrived on the bridge. After a quite word, Kennedy shook the Chief's hand, and then said; "We'll fight them both, they'll sink us - and that will be that. Goodbye". Captain Kennedy then began to clear the decks of RAWALPINDI for action.

    After ignoring the 'Heave to!' signals from SCHARNHORST, Captain Hoffman ordered the signal 'Abandon your ship!' Again, there was no reply. Hoffman watched as the RAWALPINDI continued her futile effort to escape and wondered what that captain was thinking? There was no way this ship can escape from him, nor could it outfight SCHARNHORST, let alone the approaching GNEISENAU. Hoffmann ordered the 'Abandon ship!' signal be repeated. Twice the signal was sent, and both times it went unanswered.
    Captain Kennedy ordered a second signal to Home Fleet HQ: “Under Attack By DEUTCHLAND.” Kennedy then ordered RAWALPINDI gun batteries to open fire. It was 1545hrs. RAWALPINDI first salvo of 6-inch shells from the port guns burst harmlessly against GNEISENAU while a second salvo missed SCHARNHORST.

    Captain Hoffman could not believe what he was seeing, the near misses with splashes of water marking how close they came to his ship. There were no more options. At 10,000 yards SCHARNHORST unleased a salvo from her forward 11-inch gun mounts, smashing into RAWALPINDI’s starboard boat deck under the bridge, destroying the radio room and fire control and killing everybody there, and causing damage and injury on the bridge.

    Royal Navy ships and bases heard the distress call from RAWALPINDI, then the second announcing the presence of the DEUTCHLAND. Warships move towards the action, including DUNEDIN, who with her mechanical problems still headed back north at 20 knots. When no more signals came from RAWALPINDI, many throughout the fleet began to fear the worst.

    Onboard RAWALPINDI the bridge crew were recovering from the blast underneath them. Captain Kennedy watched as GNEISENAU manoeuvred aft of his ship. At that moment the second salvo arrived from SCHARNHORST, shells ripped into the engine room, destroying the dynamos that supplied power to the shell hoists in the magazines that were suppling desperately needed ammunition. Every spare man was now used as shell carriers, manhandling 6-inch shells from magazine to gun turrets.

    The SCHARNHORST third salvo crashed into the superstructure, starting fires in unused cabins long since stripped on luxury.

    The SCHARNHORST fourth salvo obliterated the bridge killing everyone there. As the starkness of the situation became clear, some people started heading for lifeboats, while others fought fires in darked parts of the ship, not realising that there was fire everywhere.

    GNEISENAU, now moving parallel to RAWALPINDI on her port side, opened fire, joining with her sister ship in tearing the RAWALPINDI to pieces. The many fires onboard were now joining into one big fire from stem to stern. The ship’s water supply was out; the steering controls were destroyed, and the engines were finished.

    While all of this was happening RAWALPINDI’s guns continued to fire, scoring a hit on SCHARNHORST. But one by one, either by German fire or depleted ammunition stocks, the guns fell silent except one; the brave men manning them were killed. For most of the crew, the battle with the Germans was over. The battle with the sea had begun.

    Both German battleships watched the RAWALPINDI burn, but continued firing. Onboard the crew were loading the wounded into lifeboats. As it was lowered, it capsized, leaving dying men in the freezing water. Other boats were lowered full, but just as they believed that they had made it, at 1600hrs a massive explosion rocked the ship, caused by an 11-inch shell from SCHARNHORST hitting the forward magazine, breaking her back, and she began to sink. SCHARNHORST, which was within 6000 yards reversed course at high speed, the wave it generated unintentionally swamped many of the lifeboats near the RAWALPINDI, capsizing them and more men were in the water.

    Onboard the RAWALPINDI as the last gun fell silent, a lone sailor sent out a message with a hand held signal lamp; ‘Please Send Boats.’ VADM Marschall on GNEISENAU did not hesitate. Germans sailors from SCHARNHORST that were moments ago shooting at the RAWALPINDI’s crew now tried to save those same men.

    As the sun set, rescue operations were underway; the RAWALPINDI slowly went under. Where there was fire, the cold seawater hissed as it put it out. A column of smoke rose from the ship before it disappeared at 1610hrs.

    The sailors of the Kriegmarine pulled 27 sailors from the freezing waters before on GNEISENAU lookout spotted a warship on the northern horizon. It was the cruiser HMS NEWCASTLE, the closest RN warship to the battle. VADM Marschall ordered both battleships to depart the area heading west into the twilight. NEWCASTLE was joined by DELHI, both knowing that they were outgunned; they shadowed both German battleships, reporting back to the Admiralty.

    Wreckage littered the battle site, along with a lifeboat with eleven people aboard. Forced to endure a cold Atlantic night, they were saved by another Armed Merchant Cruiser, the former P&O liner HMS CHITRAL, which took them to Scarpa Flow.

    With NEWCASTLE and DELHI informing the Admiralty of the German battleship’s location, a fleet of warship, along with battleships WARSPITE and the French DUNKERQUE and battlecruisers HOOD and REPULSE, began to converge on that point. But a storm off Greenland moving eastward on 25 November allowed GNEISENAU and SCHARNHORST to escape the hunters, and on 27 November their arrived at Wilhelmshaven was to a hero’s welcome. The 27 survivors that were pulled from the water by the crew of SCHARNHORST spent the rest of the war as POW’s. The admiration by the Germans sailors of the RAWALPINDI and her crew remains today.

    The battle between RAWALPINDI, SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU lasted for 40 minutes, showing the insanity of placing an Armed Merchant Cruiser alone against modern warships. What makes RAWALPINDI unique was the magnificent futility of her last stand. She was a lookout without backup. Also the courage of her crew stands out. Captain Kennedy (His son is BBC TV Legend Ludovic Kennedy) and his men did everything possible in the hope of keeping GNEISENAU and SCHARNHORST in the area so the Royal Navy’s heavy units could finish them off. But due to no fault of theirs, that was not to be. Captain Kennedy’s actions were recognised by the Royal Navy when he was awarded the Victoria Cross (Posthumously), several other crew members were also recognised with honours.
     
  12. Marmat

    Marmat Member

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    Good question Carronade, I don't think anyone can answer with 100% certainty what the Admiralty had in mind, but I'm sure we can make a fair deduction.


    First of all, Ramillies and Revenge were but 2 warships of 19 that received orders to quit what they weredoing to proceed vaguely to the mid-Atlantic to assist Tovey. I wouldn't confuse what amounts to the Admiralty's moving pieces on aboard, with the expectation that each would be expected to tackle the likes of Bismarck one-on-one. In point of fact, when one of those ships faced the possibility of doing so, she was ordered not to.


    Adm. Somerville was similarly ordered to take Force H into the Atlantic, again. Force H had previously been involved in the chase of Scharnhorst & Gneisenau in March, during their Operation Berlin breakout, similarly his first concern was the possibility that the Twins would sortie from France to meet Bismarck & Prinz Eugen. With recon. & assurances that they were still snug in their French ports, Bismarck lost then found to be heading for France, and Force H converging, and no telling exactly what Somerville had in mind, the Admiralty worried about her safety, so much so that their Lordships specifically ordered that Renown (Somerville's Flagship) could not engage Bismarck alone. Renown could only engage Bismarck if KGV or Rodney were already heavily engaged. Somerville ordered Sheffield forward to shadow Bismarck, keeping Renown with Ark Royal, well away, nor did she engage with KGV and Rodney. It has to be pointed out that while Renown had been seriously modernized along the lines of Valiant and Queen Elizabeth; over time her magazines and machinery spaces had received extra horizontal armour, main mounts & turrets configured for 30' elevation ... in large part, the extensive refit that Hood never got, her's was considered the best modernization in the RN. So one has to consider, would the Admiralty run the risk to allow the largely stock and unmodernized Ramillies to engage Bismarck one-on-one, when they expressly forbade Renown to do so???


    In any case, while Revenge was out of the loop, Ramillies was made good use of; she was ordered to escort (and defend) the convoy that Rodney had been forced to abandon; the trooper/liner RMS Britannic. Perhaps this, or something very much like it was what the Admiralty had in mind all along, after all Prinz Eugen had to be considered as well.
     
  13. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    When Ramillies was ordered into the hunt, PofW and cruisers were still in contact, and the Germans were heading slightly west of south. Ramillies was roughly in their path but several hundred miles away and steamed north towards them. Presumably Wake-Walker was broadcasting periodic reports on their position and course. If all continued as was, Bismarck might suddenly find Ramillies right ahead - and closing at almost fifty knots relative, which might solve the range problem. If Lutjens turned to bring his broadside to bear or keep Ramillies at long range, he would give PofW and cruisers a chance to engage, which may be what the Admiralty was hoping for.

    According to charts in Battleship Bismarck, when Bismarck broke contact early on May 25, Ramillies was about 200 miles south of her. Ramillies spent most of that day steaming in an east-west pattern across Bismarck's southward track (of course Bismarck was now steaming SE towards France). PofW and (separately) Tovey with KGV and Repulse searched southwest roughly towards Ramillies, and I expect the hope was that they would be able to intervene if she did make contact. Nonetheless the old ship was lingering in an area where she could meet Bismarck one-on-one, maybe even with Prinz Eugen rejoining. Apparently the Admiralty was willing to take the chance.

    Later on the 25th, radio DF reports (even the erroneously plotted ones) showed Bismarck well to the east, and Ramillies was released.

    Renown IMO was better suited to engage Bismarck due to her deck armor and speed, but as you say the Admiralty was reluctant to try it. We tend to think of Force H as blocking Bismarck's path to Brest, but in fact they crossed her path roughly 100 miles ahead of her about the time she was spotted by the Catalina. Ark Royal then launched a search in a fan to the west which made contact, and Somerville turned to roughly parallel the Germans' course, detaching Sheffield on a slightly diverging course to make visual contact. That is to say, Force H was north of Bismarck on a parallel course to the SE as Ark Royal launched her two strikes.

    Tovey with KGV and Rodney was following Bismarck, and it is a bit curious that Renown of some of Force H's destroyers did not attempt to join him for the final action. Most likely they were concerned with protecting Ark Royal, one of the RN's most vital assets.

    The recent what-if about Bismarck heading for the Mediterranean got me thinking about a matchup with Force H. Again I expect the British would first seek to damage her by air attack, but if they were successful, what would be the prospect of Renown and destroyers finishing her off, probably in a night action?
     
  14. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    I believe that If the R and R captains did not try to engage the Bismark that they would be court martialed. I have read the book Castles of Steel and the author makes a point that captains were expected to engage opponents if there was a reasonable chance of damage.
     
  15. freebird

    freebird Member

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    However Ramillies was built as a battleship, not a battlecruiser as Renown was, and the Admiralty was more willing to risk one of the R's, as they had a bucket of them. Although an engagement might sink Ramillies, it would have a decent chance of damaging Bismarck, and would also allow give rest of the fleet a chance to converge after locating the German battleship.
     
  16. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    On paper Bismark could pound an R at long range without fear of retaliation, she was faster and her guns had a significant range advantage, the downside with that tactic is that she wanted to keep outside of the British ship range she would need to adapt her course to the R, allowing the R to push/lead both ships towards other British forces, I don't think Lutjens would allow that.
    BTW while Renown may have better gun elevation and deck armour her side armour was much inferior to the R and if the engagement dropped to medium range that would tell. IIRC Renown and Repulse were originally to be the 6th and 7th "R" and they sacrificed a turret and a lot of armour for the additional knots. From the British perspective "upping the ante" allowing her to maul a third british Battleship before escaping was a big risk,the loss of HMS Hood was bad enough, what if the Germans could make Brest claiming to have badly damaged PoW and Ramilles as well ?
     
  17. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    It would depend on the damage the Bismark received. Also once in Brest the Bismark was as good as out of the war. After Jutland there was a cry over the escape of the German fleet, once people realized that the German fleet failed in its attempt to whittle losses and that the British still controlled the sea then people accepted the higher losses as the price to pay.
     
  18. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Not that similar to Jutland, at Jutland the RN lost no battleships, and 3 battlecruisers while the Germans lost a pre-dreadnought and a battlecruiser, the ratio of forces remained substantially unchanged as the loss ratio was similar to the the RN's superiority. If Bismark makes it to Brest after damaging Revenge they RN is down 20% of the battlefleet, 2 sunk, including HMS Royal Oak, and two temporarily KO out of 17 , with little to show in return and only 3 anywhere near completion. Add Barham to the losses and the balance of forces begins to look really grim, the axis has 5 Italian BB + two close to completion, and 3 German ones + Tirpitz, that's a 8+3 vs 14+3. Even not allowing for any commitments East of Suez and ships down for maintenance and repairs the axis are likely to get local superiority from a "battleship admiral" perspective that ratio and thinking Bismark could win and survive a 1:3 fight looks really bad.
    With hindsight the true situation in a lot better, Germany has very few light forces left and neither axis navy has carriers but the it's the "morale" element that's going to affect the all important convoy decisions.

    And Bismark at Brest in 1941 is far from "out of the war" she's actually ideally placed to sortie against an Atlantic or Gibraltar convoy, no US Atlantic fleet in the 1941 picture.
     
  19. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Bismarck at Brest would be in the same situation as Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen, a prime target for the RAF. All three of those ships were damaged during their stay; G had been both bombed and torpedoed by the time Bismarck sortied for Rheinubung. Operation Cerberus in Feb 1942 appears to have been the first time all three were seaworthy simultaneously.

    Although Bismarck might make a brief stop in Brest, the first order of business would be to get her into the Normandie Dock at St. Nazaire for repair of her underwater damage. The largest dock at Brest was one meter too short, which may be why the French Richelieu class were three meters shorter than Bismarck.

    When fully operational, Bismarck and the rest were well placed to slip out into the Atlantic. Hipper got in and out of Brest twice between Dec 1940 and March 1941, and the twins slipped in safely also in March. Conditions were getting more hazardous with the proliferation of radar and long-range aircraft however.
     
  20. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    as I said it would depend on the damage to Bismark.
     

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