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  • Tirpitz Puts To Sea.

    Dear All,

    Its July 1942 and the German battleship Tirpitz and her accompanying escorts have managed to leave their Norwegian anchorages undetected. Convoy PQ17 remains un-scattered and unaware of what lies over the horizon, the first they know of Tirpitz's arrival are explosions caused by the arrival of her 15" shells.

    Several merchantmen are sunk by the battleship and her companions, together with the destroyers HMS Fury and Ledbury. Heavy cruisers of the First Cruiser Squadron manage to get to the scene to intervene but before Tirpitz retires she sinks HMS London and USS Witchita. U-Boats and the Luftwaffe complete the near destruction of the convoy and Tirpiz's battlegroup return virtually unscathed.

    Well as we know, in reality PQ-17 was scattered without Tirpitz ever slipping anchor but such was her reputation the mere prospect of her presence was enough to order the dispersal of the convoy.

    If Tirpitz had of ventured out to attack PQ-17 with the level of destruction that would have brought about, would the Arctic Convoys have been suspended or at least severely curtailed, and if so what effect would that have had on relations with the Soviet Union on a political level as well as a supply level?

    Potentially just as important, if Tirpitz had of ventured out and did manage to sink an American cruiser, what effect would that have had on future joint operations between the Royal and American Navies? Remember, this was (I think) the first such operation of its type between the two services and losses (as opposed to the ignomonious order to retreat which in reality did sour relations between the two navies), would in all likelihood have had a detrimental effect on future combined operations.

    Lastly, given Tirpiz's role in the destruction would the Allies have stepped up efforts to end her career and what form would that have taken, given that it took Tallboy's dropped by 617 & 9 squadron Lancasters and these wouldn't have been available for another 2 years? Ludovic Kennedy wrote that she "lived an invalid's life and died a cripple's death" - I wonder if she could have barred her teeth a little more effectively before her almost inevitable destruction?

    Whatever your views on this 'What If', I think we can all agree that the Arctic Convoys and those who sailed on them (merchantmen and military alike) served and often died in some of the worst conditions of the war with little gratitude (at the time at least) from the Soviets, let alone their fellow countrymen.
    HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

    "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

  • #2
    I have recently seen a two hour programme on the telly [Jeremy Clarkson fronting it] and came to the conclusion that given the pasting the convoy got anyway, and the perceived importance of continuing them - politically and strategically; that the effort to take out Tirpitz by air or sea would have been redoubled. The truth is that if the Tirpitz had really come out to take on the convoy there would have been intercepted radio chatter and intelligence from the Norwegian Resistance and Coastwatcher sources before and during such deployment. The Royal Navy's foremost analyst's assessment was that Tirpitz was staying at home, and he was spot on.

    It was probably the effects of a cancerous brain tumour that led to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO GBE RN making his disastrous sequence of decisions and messages. Most naval commanders had reservations as to the sense of such orders, Tirpitz or no Tirpitz.

    ps. My uncle Jim was engineer officer on board one of the merchant ships that got sunk - he did not survive, RIP.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Wooden Wonder View Post
      I have recently seen a two hour programme on the telly [Jeremy Clarkson fronting it] and came to the conclusion that given the pasting the convoy got anyway, and the perceived importance of continuing them - politically and strategically; that the effort to take out Tirpitz by air or sea would have been redoubled. The truth is that if the Tirpitz had really come out to take on the convoy there would have been intercepted radio chatter and intelligence from the Norwegian Resistance and Coastwatcher sources before and during such deployment. The Royal Navy's foremost analyst's assessment was that Tirpitz was staying at home, and he was spot on.

      It was probably the effects of a cancerous brain tumour that led to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO GBE RN making his disastrous sequence of decisions and messages. Most naval commanders had reservations as to the sense of such orders, Tirpitz or no Tirpitz.

      ps. My uncle Jim was engineer officer on board one of the merchant ships that got sunk - he did not survive, RIP.
      Yes, I saw that programe over Christmas as well. Love him or loathe him, Clarkson can tell a tale with enthusiasm.

      You are probably right of course, radio chatter would possibly have picked up but there was always the chance that the KM could have got Tirpitz away without letting the cat out of the bag first.

      It took a brave man to sail so far north in a merchantman knowing what was ranged against him.
      HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

      "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

      Comment


      • #4
        Weren't there some Allied battleships at sea that could have easily dealt with Tirpitz? I think the Washington was around? Her 9 16" guns would have been more than enough.
        "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Surrey View Post
          Weren't there some Allied battleships at sea that could have easily dealt with Tirpitz? I think the Washington was around? Her 9 16" guns would have been more than enough.
          'Easily' is not a good word to use. Tirpitz was no pushover, 8 15" and German engineering. It could easily boil down to tactics, conditions, & luck.

          On the other hand, the Washington did do well against a Kongo class.
          Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Dogsbody67 View Post

            It took a brave man to sail so far north in a merchantman knowing what was ranged against him.
            The bravery of these men goes without question but it should be noted that the German navy lost more men in the arctic convoy battles than the Allied navies and merchant marine did.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Surrey View Post
              Weren't there some Allied battleships at sea that could have easily dealt with Tirpitz? I think the Washington was around? Her 9 16" guns would have been more than enough.
              They were providing distant cover, the chances are that if Tirpitz was stealthy enough to approach PQ-17 undetected then the covering battleships would have reached the scene long after Tirpitz & Co had departed.
              HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

              "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by redcoat View Post
                The bravery of these men goes without question but it should be noted that the German navy lost more men in the arctic convoy battles than the Allied navies and merchant marine did.
                Being the agressors they are less deserving of empathy despite the bravery they demonstrated.
                HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

                "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                  'Easily' is not a good word to use. Tirpitz was no pushover, 8 15" and German engineering. It could easily boil down to tactics, conditions, & luck.

                  On the other hand, the Washington did do well against a Kongo class.
                  The Bismark class ships were overrated. They were just an updated version of a Ww1 design. Besides Washington was at sea in company with Duke of York, Wasp plus escorts. If you add the cruiser squadron then there were overwhelming Allied warships in the area.

                  If Pound had held his nerve then Tirpitz could have been sunk.
                  "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Surrey View Post
                    Weren't there some Allied battleships at sea that could have easily dealt with Tirpitz? I think the Washington was around? Her 9 16" guns would have been more than enough.
                    Yes there were, in addition to Hamilton’s CS1 (4 eight inch cruisers, London, Norfolk, Tuscaloosa & Wichita, plus three destroyers) the Home Fleet was providing distant cover north-east of Bear Island. This force, commanded by John Tovey, consisted of Duke of York, Washington, the carrier Victorious, the six inch cruiser Nigeria, the eight inch cruiser Cumberland, and fourteen destroyers.

                    Quite why Pound chose to scatter the convoy will always remain a mystery as he never vouchsafed his reasons, and he appears to have been in a minority of one on the subject of whether Tirpitz was at sea or not.

                    There had been a brief period when Enigma decrypts had been delayed, but at 1900/4 Denning received a decrypt timed at 0740/4 from Grand Admiral Raeder, which read 'Immediate. Arriving Altenfiord 0900. You are to allot anchorage to Tirpitz. Newly arrived destroyers and torpedo boats are to complete with fuel at once.’ At the same time, a Luftwaffe decrypt timed at 0040/4 reported a force of one battleship and three cruisers. This was actually Hamilton’s four cruisers.

                    Aware of the habitual Kriegsmarine nervousness where heavy warships were concerned, Denning was in the process of drafting a signal to Tovey when Pound entered his office. Denning subsequently reported what happened in a conversation with Captain Roskill (source Roskill’s papers, ROSK 5/72.), as follows :-

                    ‘I was immediately asked what I was proposing to say. I gave the gist of the two intercepts and a proposed comment that all indications pointed to Tirpitz and accompanying ships still being in harbour at Altenfiord. Pound apparently considered the comment premature and my proposed ‘Ultra’ was whittled down to the bald facts that Tirpitz had arrived at Altenfiord at 0900 that morning and that Scheer was already there.’

                    Subsequently, about an hour later (2031/4) a further decrypt of a signal from Admiral Commanding Group North to the U-Boats deployed against PQ17 was even more conclusive : ‘No own forces in operational area. Position of heavy enemy group not known at present but is main target for U-Boats when encountered.’ (ROSK 5/72).

                    Denning then began to draft a signal to Tovey & Hamilton stating that it was considered that Tirpitz and accompanying ships were still at Altenfiord at 1200/4. Indications strongly pointed to them not having yet sailed. It was unlikely they would sail until Germans have located and established location and strength of the forces in support of the convoy.

                    Denning, of course, was only a Commander, and decided to clear the signal with Rear Admiral Clayton, head of the Operational Intelligence Centre, who was actually in a meeting with Pound at the time Denning was drafting the signal. Clayton returned at 2130, read Denning’s appreciation, agreed with it and immediately took it to Pound.

                    By then, however, Pound’s signals (withdrawal of the cruisers, dispersal of the convoy, and finally ‘Most Immediate – Convoy is to Scatter’ had been sent (at 2111, 2123, and 2136 respectively).

                    Even then, the situation could have been saved, but Clayton returned with the words ‘Father (i.e., Pound) says he’s made his decision and is not going to change it now.’

                    That, in a nutshell, is what brought about the tragedy that was PQ17. As to what might have happened had Tirpitz and her squadron actually encountered the heavy covering forces, then it is important to remember that, despite the ‘hype,’ the Bismarck class battleships were, in reality, little more than improved Badens, and in design were a generation behind the RNs Nelson class, let alone the U.S. Washington class.

                    Tirpitz’ only advantage was her speed, but against Washington and Duke of York combined, together with Victorious’ torpedo aircraft, five eight inch cruisers, a six inch cruiser, and seventeen destroyers she and her squadron would have been totally outclassed.

                    There is an excellent, and much more detailed, account of PQ17 in Correlli Barnett's 'Engage the Enemy More Closely.' Interestingly, though, he refers to Cumberland as Northumberland, apparently not being aware that Northumberland was a projected Norfolk class cruiser which had been cancelled in 1930!

                    Just goes to show that 'facts' presented by even the most learned authors should be checked for accuracy!!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Tirpitz Puts To Sea.

                      ...then Tirpitz it sunk at sea.

                      Would have been a heck of a lot more exciting than her real-life story, I admit that.
                      The First Amendment applies to SMS, Emails, Blogs, online news, the Fourth applies to your cell phone, computer, and your car, but the Second only applies to muskets?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Since all of the Allied major surface ships, and even most of the destroyers have a surface search radar set on them, and all of the major combatants also have fire control radar, they simply dog the Tirpitz and maneuver until they can gang up and smash her into wreckage.
                        Since Tirpitz has just a seetakt radar or two and these are mounted more for fire control, the result is the same as with Scharnhorst 2 years later. Tirpitz is sunk and nary an Allied warship is heavily damaged with most not even taking a hit.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          As ably laid out by Doveton Sturdee above, there is a difference between having the intelligence and acting on it intelligently.

                          But I will assume for the sake of argument that there is a cock up somewhere and the OP's scenario is played out.

                          This may actually leave the RN's reputation in better shape with their US allies.

                          Picture how the story will be broken. Both The Times and the New York Times will carry the same cover painting: HMS LONDON and USS WITCHITA, their largest national ensigns streaming from their mainmasts charge side by side towards a hulking TIRPITZ silhouetted menacingly on the horizon. The painting is titled Brothers in Arms ...

                          It will go down better than the historical feeling that the RN ran away from shadows.
                          Amateurs study tactics, Professionals study logistics.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Dogsbody67 View Post
                            Dear All,

                            Its July 1942 and the German battleship Tirpitz and her accompanying escorts have managed to leave their Norwegian anchorages undetected. Convoy PQ17 remains un-scattered and unaware of what lies over the horizon, the first they know of Tirpitz's arrival are explosions caused by the arrival of her 15" shells.

                            Several merchantmen are sunk by the battleship and her companions, together with the destroyers HMS Fury and Ledbury. Heavy cruisers of the First Cruiser Squadron manage to get to the scene to intervene but before Tirpitz retires she sinks HMS London and USS Witchita. U-Boats and the Luftwaffe complete the near destruction of the convoy and Tirpiz's battlegroup return virtually unscathed.

                            Well as we know, in reality PQ-17 was scattered without Tirpitz ever slipping anchor but such was her reputation the mere prospect of her presence was enough to order the dispersal of the convoy.

                            If Tirpitz had of ventured out to attack PQ-17 with the level of destruction that would have brought about, would the Arctic Convoys have been suspended or at least severely curtailed, and if so what effect would that have had on relations with the Soviet Union on a political level as well as a supply level?

                            Potentially just as important, if Tirpitz had of ventured out and did manage to sink an American cruiser, what effect would that have had on future joint operations between the Royal and American Navies? Remember, this was (I think) the first such operation of its type between the two services and losses (as opposed to the ignomonious order to retreat which in reality did sour relations between the two navies), would in all likelihood have had a detrimental effect on future combined operations.

                            Lastly, given Tirpiz's role in the destruction would the Allies have stepped up efforts to end her career and what form would that have taken, given that it took Tallboy's dropped by 617 & 9 squadron Lancasters and these wouldn't have been available for another 2 years? Ludovic Kennedy wrote that she "lived an invalid's life and died a cripple's death" - I wonder if she could have barred her teeth a little more effectively before her almost inevitable destruction?

                            Whatever your views on this 'What If', I think we can all agree that the Arctic Convoys and those who sailed on them (merchantmen and military alike) served and often died in some of the worst conditions of the war with little gratitude (at the time at least) from the Soviets, let alone their fellow countrymen.
                            Short answer - it gets hunted and sunk. End of story.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Surrey View Post
                              The Bismark class ships were overrated....
                              Somewhat.
                              The firepower was not all that impressive, but the gunnery was dead-on.

                              Based on the Bismarck, they were so solidly built that they were sea-going tanks. KGV and Rodney hammered away at Bismarck for over an hour w/o sinking it. Depending on who you ask, it was either scuttling charges or a massive spread of torpedoes from Devonshire that finally put it down.

                              The only flaw in the design was a weak stern, something it had in common with the look-alike Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.
                              That, and going with twin turrets instead of triples. But all Axis BBs wasted a lot of tonnage mounting secondaries that could not do AAA work.
                              "Why is the Rum gone?"

                              -Captain Jack

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