Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Three Years Ago, TODAY. Remembering Michael Monsoor, United States Navy. Valour Unequalled.

Today is September 29th, the day three years ago when naval men across the world, and for all time, were made known of an act of courage barely without parallel.

Michael Monsoor died on this day three years ago; in late September, 2006.

"O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy, that we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, and her Dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our Empire may in peace and quietness serve thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance fo thy mercies to praise and glorify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The Naval Prayer is offered by me, your unworthy correspondent, in memory of Master at Arms Michael Monsoor, United States Navy. The naval prayer, you will note, has at it's core, a devotion to the crown of England. This is meant as no disrespect.

On the contrary, The Royal Navy was the principal ruler of the seas for centuries, and though no longer the service of greatest strength upon the Oceans of our world, The Senior Service exists in perpetuity of that, it's greatest legacy; the strength, courage, selflessness and devotion of the men who go down to the sea in ships. Men like Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor.



They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters: these men see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep. For at his word the stormy wind ariseth which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep: their souls melteth away because of the trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, he delivereth them out of their distress. For he maketh the storm to cease so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they are at rest; and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Michael Monsoor, USN. Unimaginable Bravery and Valour; upon Saint Michael's Day. September 29th, 2006

Michael Anthony Monsoor (April 5, 1981 – September 29, 2006) was a U.S. Navy SEAL killed during the Iraq War and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Monsoor enlisted in the United States Navy in 2001 and graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 2004. After further training he was assigned to Delta Platoon, SEAL Team Three.
Delta Platoon was sent to Iraq in April 2006 and assigned to train Iraqi Army soldiers in Ramadi. Over the next five months, Monsoor and his platoon frequently engaged in combat with insurgent forces.

On September 29, 2006 an insurgent threw a grenade onto a rooftop where Monsoor and several other SEAL and Iraqi soldiers were positioned. Monsoor quickly smothered the grenade with his body, absorbing the resulting explosion and most likely saving his comrades from serious injury or death. Monsoor died 30 minutes later from serious wounds caused by the grenade explosion.

On March 31, 2008, the United States Department of Defense confirmed that Michael Monsoor would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor from the President of the United States, George W. Bush. Bush presented the medal to Monsoor's parents on April 8, 2008.

In October 2008, United States Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced that DDG-1001, the second ship in the Zumwalt class of destroyers, would be named Michael Monsoor in honor of Monsoor.

Petty Officer Michael A. Monsoor, United States Navy, distinguished himself through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Combat Advisor and Automatic Weapons Gunner for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Arabian Peninsula in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on 29 September 2006. He displayed great personal courage and exceptional bravery while conducting operations in enemy held territory at Ar Ramadi Iraq.

During Operation Kentucky Jumper, a combined Coalition battalion clearance and isolation operation in southern Ar Ramadi, he served as automatic weapons gunner in a combined SEAL and Iraqi Army (IA) sniper overwatch element positioned on a residential rooftop in a violent sector and historical stronghold for insurgents. In the morning, his team observed four enemy fighters armed with AK-47s reconnoitering from roads in the sector to conduct follow-on attacks. SEAL snipers from his roof engaged two of them which resulted in one enemy wounded in action and one enemy killed in action. A mutually supporting SEAL/IA position also killed an enemy fighter during the morning hours. After the engagements, the local populace blocked off the roads in the area with rocks to keep civilians away and to warn insurgents of the presence of his Coalition sniper element. Additionally, a nearby mosque called insurgents to arms to fight Coalition Forces.

In the early afternoon, enemy fighters attacked his position with automatic weapons fire from a moving vehicle. The SEALs fired back and stood their ground. Shortly thereafter, an enemy fighter shot a rocket-propelled grenade at his building. Though well-acquainted with enemy tactics in Ar Ramadi, and keenly aware that the enemy would continue to attack, the SEALs remained on the battlefield in order to carry out the mission of guarding the western flank of the main effort.

Due to expected enemy action, the officer in charge repositioned him with his automatic heavy machine gun in the direction of the enemy’s most likely avenue of approach. He placed him in a small, confined sniper hide-sight between two SEAL snipers on an outcropping of the roof, which allowed the three SEALs maximum coverage of the area. He was located closest to the egress route out of the sniper hide-sight watching for enemy activity through a tactical periscope over the parapet wall. While vigilantly watching for enemy activity, an enemy fighter hurled a hand grenade onto the roof from an unseen location. The grenade hit him in the chest and bounced onto the deck. He immediately leapt to his feet and yelled “grenade” to alert his teammates of impending danger, but they could not evacuate the sniper hide-sight in time to escape harm. Without hesitation and showing no regard for his own life, he threw himself onto the grenade, smothering it to protect his teammates who were lying in close proximity. The grenade detonated as he came down on top of it, mortally wounding him.

Petty Officer Monsoor’s actions could not have been more selfless or clearly intentional. Of the three SEALs on that rooftop corner, he had the only avenue of escape away from the blast, and if he had so chosen, he could have easily escaped. Instead, Monsoor chose to protect his comrades by the sacrifice of his own life. By his courageous and selfless actions, he saved the lives of his two fellow SEALs and he is the most deserving of the special recognition afforded by awarding the Medal of Honor.




United States Navy and The Devil's Jaw, September 1924.

The United States Navy's greatest navigational tragedy took place in September 1923 at an isolated California coastal headland locally known as Honda Point, or The Devil's Jaw. Officially called Point Pedernales, Honda is a few miles from the northern entrance of the heavily-traveled Santa Barbara Channel. Completely exposed to wind and wave, and often obscured by fog, this rocky shore has claimed many vessels, but never more at one stroke than at about 9 PM on the dark evening of 8 September 1923, when seven nearly new U.S. Navy destroyers and twenty-three lives were lost there.

Just over twelve hours earlier Destroyer Squadron ELEVEN left San Francisco Bay and formed up for a morning of combat manoeuvres. In an important test of engineering efficiency, this was followed by a twenty-knot run south, including a night passage through the Santa Barbara Channel. In late afternoon the fourteen destroyers fell into column formation, led by their flagship, USS Delphy. Poor visibility ensured that squadron commander Captain Edward H. Watson and two other experienced navigators on board Delphy had to work largely by the time-honored, if imprecise, technique of dead reckoning.

Soundings could not be taken at twenty knots, but they checked their chartwork against bearings obtained from the radio direction finding (RDF) station at Point Arguello, a few miles south of Honda. At the time they expected to turn into the Channel, the Point Arguello station reported they were still to the northward. However, RDF was still new and not completely trusted, so this information was discounted, and DesRon 11 was ordered to turn eastward, with each ship following Delphy.

However, the Squadron was actually several miles north, and further east, than Delphy's navigators believed. It was very dark, and almost immediately the ships entered a dense fog. About five minutes after making her turn, the manoeuvre forced the Delphy straight into the jagged rocks of Point Pedernales, known to sailors as the Devil's Jaw. Delphy slammed into the Honda shore and stuck fast. A few hundred yards astern, USS S.P. Lee saw the flagship's sudden stop and turned sharply to port, but quickly struck the hidden coast to the north of Delphy. Following her, USS Young had no time to turn before she ripped her hull open on submerged rocks, came to a stop just south of Delphy and rapidly turned over on her starboard side.

The next two destroyers in line, Woodbury and Nicholas, turned right and left respectively, but also hit the rocks. Steaming behind them, USS Farragut backed away with relatively minor damage, USS Fuller piled up near Woodbury, USS Percival and Somers both narrowly evaded the catastrophe, but USS Chauncey tried to rescue the men clinging to the capsized Young and herself went aground nearby. The last four destroyers, Kennedy, Paul Hamilton, Stoddert and Thompson successfully turned clear of the coast and were unharmed. In the darkness and fog enveloping the seven stranded ships, several hundred crewmen were suddenly thrown into a battle for survival against crashing waves and a hostile shore.

The entire incident took only seven minutes and left hundreds of men stranded on the rocks, exposed to a pounding surf and frigid temperatures in a thick fog. Twenty three men drowned or died of injuries. Of fourteen ships, eight ran aground. A nearby railroad employee heard the collisions and saw the ships run aground. He sent an SOS through the telegraph service, and within a few hours, thousands of civilians from nearby towns descended on the scene, bringing blankets and warm food and drinks to the stranded sailors.

The crews of Delphy, Lee, and Woodbury fought desperately to free their ships from the rocks, but all were too badly damaged. By the next day the seven remaining beached ships had all been abandoned. In total, of the fourteen ships in the squadron, 9 were damaged, 8 beached, and 7 declared lost. What became known as the Honda Point Disaster was the worst peace-time disaster in all the Navy's history.

Several days after the incident, the Navy opened a 19-day series of hearings. Captain Watson and 10 more officers were court-martialed and charged with negligence. Blame was also assigned to each captain, following the tradition that a captain's first responsibility is to his own ship, even when part of a formation.

The lost ships





DD 310 USS S. P. LEE



Of the heroes of Honda, Chief Boatswain's Mate Arthur Peterson, who swam from the Young (DD-312) to the Chauncey (DD-296) to set up a line for his shipmates to ferry themselves across to the Chauncey which was is substantially better condition. Ultimately, 11 trips were made allowing nearly 70 sailors to escape the Young. He was recommended for a citation for his bravery.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Battleship SCHARNHORST

Scharnhorst was a famous World War II capital ship, the lead of her class, referred to as either a battleship or a battlecruiser of the German Kriegsmarine. This 31,500 tonne ship was named after the Prussian general and army reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst and to commemorate the World War I armoured cruiser SMS Scharnhorst that was sunk in the Battle at the Falkland Islands in December 1914. Scharnhorst often sailed into battle accompanied by her sister-ship, Gneisenau. S
he was sunk after being engaged by Allied forces at the Battle of North Cape in December 1943.

The sisters - Scharnhorst and Gneisenau

The ship was built at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, launched on 3 October 1936, and commissioned on 7 January 1939. The first commander was Otto Ciliax (until 23 September 1939). After initial service, she was modified in mid-1939, with a new mainmast located further aft and her straight bow replaced by an "Atlantic bow" to improve her seaworthiness. However, her relatively low freeboard ensured that she was always "wet" when at heavy seas. The gunnery report after the engagement with HMS Renown reports serious flooding in the "A" turret that severely reduced its effectiveness.

Her armour was equal to that of a battleship and if it had not been for her relatively small-calibre guns she would have been classified as a battleship by the British. The German navy always classified Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as Schlachtschiffe (battleships). These two ships, considered handsome and fast (with a top speed of 31.5 knots), were invariably mentioned at the same time, often fondly being referred to as "the ugly sisters" because they prowled together and wrought havoc on British shipping.


Scharnhorst's nine 28 cm (11 inch; in fact 283 mm - 11.1 inch), main guns, though possessing long range and quite good armour-penetration power because of their high muzzle velocity, were no match for the larger calibre guns of most of the battleships of her day, particularly with the flooding and technical problems that were experienced. The choice of armament was a result of their hasty commissioning. If a later proposal to upgrade the main armament to six 38 cm (15-inch) guns in three twin turrets had been implemented, Scharnhorst might have been a very formidable opponent, faster than any British capital ship and nearly as well armoured. But due to priorities and constraints imposed by World War II and later the war situation, she retained her 28 cm (11 inch) guns throughout her career. Both Scharnhorst and her sister were designed for an extended range to allow for commerce raiding.

Operation Ostfront and Battle of North Cape

On Christmas Day 1943, Scharnhorst and several destroyers, under the command of Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Erich Bey, put to sea with the purpose of attacking the Russia-bound Arctic convoys JW 55B and RA 55A north of Norway. Unfortunately for the Germans, their orders had been decoded by the British codebreakers and the Admiralty were able to direct their forces to intercept. The next day, in heavy weather and unable to locate the convoy, Bey detached the destroyers and sent them south, leaving Scharnhorst alone. Less than two hours later, the ship encountered the convoy's escort force of the cruisers HMS Belfast, Norfolk, and Sheffield. Belfast had picked up Scharnhorst at 08:40 and 35,000 yards (32,000 m) using her Type 273 radar and by 09:41, Sheffield had made visual contact.

Under cover of snow, the British cruisers opened fire. Belfast attempted to illuminate Scharnhorst with starshell, but was unsuccessful. Norfolk, however, opened fire using her radar to spot the fall of shot and scored two hits. One of these demolished Scharnhorst's main radar aerial, disabling the set and leaving her unable to return accurate fire in low visibility. Norfolk suffered minor damage.

In order to try to get around the cruisers to the convoy, Bey ordered Scharnhorst to take a southeast course away from the cruisers. In the late afternoon, the convoy's covering force, including the British battleship HMS Duke of York, made contact and opened fire. Despite suffering the loss of its hangar and a turret, Scharnhorst temporarily increased its distance from its pursuers. The Duke of York caught up again and fired again - the second salvo wrecked the "A" turret, detonating the charges in "A" magazine which led to the same in "B" magazine. Partial flooding of the magazines quenched the explosions. No Royal Navy ship received any serious damage, though the flagship was frequently straddled, and one of her masts was smashed by an 11-inch (280 mm) shell.

At 18:00 Scharnhorst's main battery went silent; at 18:20 another round from Duke of York destroyed a boiler room, reducing Scharnhorst's speed to about 22 knots (41 km/h) and leaving her open to attacks from the destroyers. Duke of York fired her 77th salvo at 19:28. Battered and crippled as she was, her secondary armament was still firing wildly as the cruiser HMS Jamaica and the destroyers Musketeer, Matchless, Opportune, and Virago closed and launched torpedoes at 19:32. The last three torpedoes, fired by Jamaica at 19:37 from under two miles (3 km) range, were the final crippling blow.

A total of 55 torpedoes and 2,195 shells had been fired at Scharnhorst.

Oberbootsmannsmaat (Petty Officer) Wilhelm Gödde described the scene:
On the deck, all was calm and orderly. There was hardly any shouting. I saw the way the First Petty Officer helped hundreds of men over the rails. The Captain (Fritz Hintze) checked our life-jackets. Once again before he and the Admiral (Erich Bey) took leave of each other with a handshake. They said to us, "If any of you get out of this alive, say hello to the folks back home, and tell them we did our duty to the last."

Matrosenobergefreiter (Sailor) Helmut Backhaus describes the moment of sinking:
I stopped and turned in the water to get my bearings. It was then that I saw the keel and propellers. She had capsized and was going down stern first.

Blindfolded Scharnhorst survivors come ashore at Scapa Flow on 2 January 1944

Scharnhorst sank at 19:45 hours on 26 December 1943 with her propellers still turning. Of a total complement of 1,968 men, only 36 survivors - none an officer - were rescued from the frigid seas; 30 by HMS Scorpion and 6 by Matchless. Later that evening, Admiral Bruce Fraser briefed his officers on board Duke of York:

"Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today".

The Russian Admiral

Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union
Sergei Georgievich Gorshkov

Called by some the twentieth-century Alfred Thayer Mahan, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei Georgievich Gorshkov managed to survive Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev to become one of the dominant figures in the Soviet military. More than a theorist, he was the architect of a new, assertive Soviet navy. Russians historically considered themselves a land power, with the navy’s primary role that of supporting the army. Gorshkov influenced the army-dominated Kremlin to think in terms of sea power. During the 1950s the Soviet Navy was primarily a coastal defense force, with few major surface combatants. Under the leardership of Gorshkov in the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviets undertoook a major ship construction program, and began deploying their ships around the world.

Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov, commander-in-chief navy USSR, deputy minister of defense USSR, the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, was born on 26 February 1910, in the city Kameneq-Podolskiy (now Khmel'nitskiy region of the Ukraine) in the family of teachers. Russian. He joined the Navy in 1927. In 1931 he graduated from naval school, in 1937 he graduated from courses of the commanders of torpedo boats, in 1941 he graduated from advance courses of executive body with the Naval Academy.

He joined the vKP(b)/KPSS in 1942. During the defense of Odessa S.G. Gorshkov led the first debarkation of the Black Sea Fleet amphibious force in region Grigor6evki (now Kominternovski1. From October 1941 he commanded Azov military flotilla. From August 1942 he was the deputy commander novorossiyskiy defensive region, from November of the same year - commanding of 47-1 army, from February 1943 newly commanding of Azov flotilla, while from April 1944 he led the Danube military flotilla. On 25 September, 1944, Gorshkov was promoted from rear admiral to the service rank of Vice Admiral.

During November 1944 the ships of Danube military flotilla were moved upward on Danube for the participation in the assault of Budapest. Commanding Vice Admiral S. G. Gorshkov considered flotilla that the key component of this operation must become the landing in Ger'ene, since these are an ideal bridgehead for the offensive to the lake Balaton, whose landing force members locked the ring around the capital of Hungary. The landing was delivered to the touchdown point without the losses, and on 01 December, 1944, after the bitter three-hour battle with the Soviet marines, the enemy left Ger'en. This was the last front operation which was led S. G. Gorshkov. During January 1945 Vice Admiral Gorshkov was assigned as the commander by the squadron of Black Sea fleet. In this post he met the victory above Hitlerite Germany.

In 1948-51 years S. G. Gorshkov was chief of staff of the Black Sea fleet and 1951-55 commander of the Black Sea fleet. From July 1955 Admiral Gorshkov was the first deputy of commander-in-chief, and from January 1956 up to 1985 the commander-in-chief of the Navy of the USSR, and the deputy minister of defense of the USSR.

By the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 7 May, 1965, "for skillful management by troops, personal courage, appeared in the fight with the Fascist-German aggressors, and in the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the victory of Soviet people in the World War II" to the Admiral of the Fleet Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov was awarded the Title of Hero of the Soviet Union with the presentation of the Order of Lenin and medal "gold star" (? 10684). On 26 October, 1967, S. G. Gorshkov was awarded the high service rank "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union".

Heading the Soviet navy, he made major contributions to its postwar development and building contemporary ships. It is considered rightfully that the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union S. G. Gorshkov - creator of quite important and powerful fleet during entire history of the fatherland. By the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 21 December, 1982, "for the large contribution to the alert of navy, the equipment with its warships and the skillful management of it" Gorshkov was rewarded with the second medal "gold star". Since 1985 S. G. Gorshkov was in the group of the general inspectors of the Defense Ministry of the USSR. Since 1961 he was a member of the CC CPSU (Cand. since 1956). Deputy to the Supreme Soviet OF THE USSR 4-11- GO of convocations. Laureate of Leninist and the USSR State Prize.

He died on 13 May 1988, and was buried in Moscow at the Novodevich'em cemetery.

"Doomed from the Outset!" The sinking of HMS Repulse.

HMS Repulse was a Renown-class battlecruiser, the second to last battlecruiser built by John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland, for the Royal Navy. She was originally intended to be a unit of the R class battleships, but was ordered to a modified design. She was launched in 1916, too late to take part in the Battle of Jutland, but also too early to incorporate the lessons of that battle. Still in time to take part in the First World War, in September 1916, she joined the Grand Fleet as flagship of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron.

Considered a high-maintenance ship, she was given the unflattering nickname HMS Repair. Her sister, Renown, was nicknamed HMS Refit. Repulse's first re-build took place from 1918 to 1920. The major element of refit was the replacement of her 6 inch (152 mm) armour belt with 9 inches (229 mm) and a further 6 inch (152 mm) section above it protecting what had previously been unarmoured. Together with improved anti-torpedo bulges, this meant an additional 4,300 tons of armour. Her torpedo tubes were moved from underwater to on the deck.

In 1924-1925, the mixture of low angle 4 inch (102 mm) and high angle 3 inch (76 mm) guns were changed to 4 inch (102 mm) high angle guns. Also included were improvements to the anti-aircraft armament, and facilities for a spotter aircraft. From 1929 to 1931, Repulse was commanded by Captain Gerald Charles Dickens.

The last major refit was 1933-1936, when she received more armour, more anti-aircraft guns (2 pdr pom-poms (40 mm) and 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) Vickers machine guns) and an aircraft catapult with two hangars. Initially, the aircraft were Blackburn Shark floatplanes (replaced by 1939 with Fairey Swordfish and again in 1941 by the Supermarine Walrus). After the refit, she went on the Mediterranean, participating in Spanish Neutrality Patrol duties. In July 1938, she was present at Haifa, during the Palestinian uprisings that summer. John Henry Godfrey was her Captain from 1936 until he was appointed Director of Naval Intelligence in 1939.

Second World War

After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Repulse operated in various hunting groups that were formed to hunt down German commerce raiders. However, she did not engage any. In December, she performed escort duty for troop carriers between Canada and Britain. The start of the Allied campaign in Norway saw Repulse covering minelaying by British forces. In July, 1940, when HMS Glowworm was lost attacking Admiral Hipper, Repulse took part in the search, but failed to make contact. Towards the end of the campaign, during the evacuation of British troops, due to concern that an invasion of Iceland was in process, Repulse was detached from protecting Norway convoys to search for the invasion force. In fact, no invasion was under way. Subsequently Repulse returned to convoy protection through early 1941.

In January 1941, Repulse participated in the hunt for the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In May, she took part in the chase of Bismarck. Originally scheduled to escort convoy WS-8B to the Middle East around Africa, Repulse operated as part of the Home Fleet, but was detached from the main body prior to the last engagement due to fears of a repeat of the loss of HMS Hood and to lack of fuel. In August, she was transferred to Cape Town, South Africa, and in October, she was transferred to India, arriving on 28 October.

At the end of 1941, as the threat of war with Japan loomed ever larger, Repulse was detached to the Far East as a deterrent to Japanese aggression. This force, long envisioned in Admiralty strategic planning as a large battle fleet designed to act as a Fleet-in-being and as a counter to Japanese intentions, eventually was dispatched to Singapore as an under-strength squadron. Its inability to act as a deterrent would soon be exposed.

Initially designated as Force G, this squadron was sent without the planned for aircraft carrier to Singapore. Shortly after the outbreak of war in the Pacific on 8 December 1941, Repulse left Singapore in company with the other major element of the Eastern Fleet, the fast battleship HMS Prince of Wales, and four destroyers, to try and intercept Japanese invasion convoys heading towards Malaya. The commander of the fleet (known as Force Z), Admiral Sir Tom Philips, flying his flag in Prince of Wales, knew that British forces could not guarantee to provide air cover for his forces, but elected to proceed anyway because he thought that Japanese forces could not operate so far from land, and he also thought that his ships were relatively immune from fatal damage via air attack, since up to that point, no capital ship at sea had ever been sunk by air attack. The largest unit which had been sunk solely by aircraft up to this time was a heavy cruiser.

However, on 10 December 1941, after failing to find any Japanese invasion forces, and turning south, the Force spotted Japanese aircraft. The fleet was attacked by 86 Japanese aircraft from the 22nd Air Flotilla based in Saigon, which attacked both Prince of Wales and Repulse. In the ensuing attacks, Repulse was ably handled by her Captain, Bill Tennant, who managed to comb several torpedo attacks. However, Repulse's luck was not to hold out and she was caught by a skilfully synchronised Japanese pincer attack and hit by four or even five torpedoes in rapid succession.

Repulse was fatally hit and soon developed a severe list to port over a period of about six minutes. It was clear that she was sinking, and sinking fast, resulting in Tennant ordering abandon ship. Repulse finally rolled over and sank at 12:23. The story of the sinking of Repulse was told in the 1942 book, Suez to Singapore, written by CBS Radio war correspondent Cecil Brown.
Although an older ship than Prince of Wales, Repulse survived a bomb hit and managed to dodge 19 torpedoes before being sunk in 20 minutes after receiving 5 torpedo hits. However unlike Prince of Wales, when Repulse's end came it was far quicker and resulted in a greater loss of life.

Prince of Wales (left, front) and Repulse (left, behind) under Japanese air attack on 10 December 1941. A destroyer, either Electra or Express, is manoeuvring in the foreground.

The destroyers HMS Electra and HMAS Vampire moved in to rescue survivors of Repulse, while Express rescued survivors of Prince of Wales. Even after they were rescued, some survivors of Repulse manned Action Stations on Electra, to free her sailors to rescue more survivors. In particular, Repulse gunners manned the 'X' and 'Y' 4.7 inch mounts, and the ship's dentist of Repulse assisted the Electra's medical teams with the wounded. In total, 1,285 survivors of Repulse were rescued, of which Electra saved 571; 327 died. Electra and the other destroyers then returned to Singapore to drop off the survivors.

The sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales by aerial attack demonstrated that capital ships were vulnerable unless properly protected by aircraft from shore or aircraft carriers. The wreck site was designated as a 'Protected Place' in 2001 under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, just prior to the 60th anniversary of her sinking.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The sinking of the Pocket Battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE.

"Bigger than anything faster. Faster than anything bigger."

Admiral Graf Spee at the 1937 Fleet Review at Spithead. In the background are the battleship HMS Resolution and the battlecruiser HMS Hood.

The Admiral Graf Spee was one of the most famous German naval warships of World War II, along with the Bismarck. Her size was limited to that of a cruiser by the Treaty of Versailles, but she was as heavily armed as a small battleship due to innovative weight-saving techniques employed in her construction.

She was sent to the Atlantic Ocean as a commerce raider in 1939, where she sank nine Allied merchant ships. Numerous British hunting groups were assigned to find her, with three British ships finally tracking her down in December 1939. The Battle of the River Plate ensued, during which the Graf Spee was damaged. She docked for repairs in the neutral port of Montevideo, but was forced by international law to leave within 72 hours. Faced with what he believed to be overwhelming odds, the captain scuttled his ship rather than risk the lives of his crew.

Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class cruiser. Launched in 1934, she was named after the World War I Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee who died, along with two of his sons, in the first Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914. She was the second vessel to be named after him, the first being the uncompleted World War I German battlecruiser SMS Graf Spee.

The launching took place on 30 June 1934 with Admiral Erich Raeder delivering a pre-launch speech, and the christening performed by Grafin Huberta von Spee, daughter of the late Vice Admiral von Spee.
Before Admiral Graf Spee was given her official name, she was referred to as Panzerschiff C and Ersatz Braunschweig, as she would be replacing the old battleship Braunschweig in the fleet inventory. She cost 82 million Reichsmark to build.

After World War I, replacement capital ships for the German Navy were limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 10,000 tons and 11 inch (280 mm) guns. Electric arc welding was used in her construction instead of conventional rivets, thereby saving considerable weight by not requiring overlapping steel plates. Furthermore, Graf Spee’s eight main engines used diesel fuel, an unconventional configuration at the time that also contributed to weight saving. The weight saving allowed her carry a main gun of the same calibre as a battleship, while remaining near the displacement limit of the Treaty of Versailles, hence the classification by the British of her and her two sisters, Deutschland (later renamed Lützow) and Admiral Scheer, as pocket battleships. A year after the Graf Spee’s loss, her sisters were reclassified as heavy cruisers.

Technologically, Admiral Graf Spee was ahead of her time, being the first ship in the Kriegsmarine to be equipped with Seetakt radar. Unlike steam engines, raw low-grade bunker fuel needed treatment before it could be used in her diesel engines. A separating system routinely pre-cleaned the fuel and deposited it in six ready tanks situated close to the engines. The separators used high pressure steam produced in a boiler room lying between decks, aft of the funnel and above the armoured deck.


After commissioning in 1936, Admiral Graf Spee served as fleet flagship until 1938 and performed international maritime control duties off the coast of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Graf Spee's last captain was Hans Langsdorff, a longstanding naval officer who had seen action at the Battle of Jutland, and who assumed command of the ship on 1 November 1938.

Prior to the invasion of Poland plans were made to deploy the Panzerschiffe as raiders in the Atlantic Ocean. Admiral Graf Spee sailed from Wilhelmshaven on 21 August 1939, to act as a commerce raider in the South Atlantic. Langsdorff plotted a course to cross major shipping lanes at night to avoid detection. Supported by her supply ship, the tanker Altmark, her orders were to sink British merchant ships, but to avoid combat with superior enemy forces, thus threatening vital Allied supply lines and drawing British naval units off their stations in other parts of the world. Graf Spee received orders on 26 September 1939 to "commence active participation in the trade war."

On 30 September the 5050-ton British tramp steamer Clement was stopped and sunk off Brazil with twenty thousand cases of kerosene bound from New York to Salvador, Brazil. Graf Spee radioed the location of Clement’s lifeboats and Clement’s captain and first officer were placed aboard the neutral Greek steamer Papalemos a few days later. Graf Spee stopped the 4,650-ton British tramp steamer Newton Beach on 5 October with a cargo of maize. Newton Beach served as a prison ship with a prize crew until 8 October. The 4,222-ton British steamer Ashlea with a cargo of sugar was stopped and sunk on 7 October.

The 8,196-ton British liner Huntsman with a cargo of tea was stopped on 10 October, and became a replacement prison ship. Graf Spee used Huntsman’s radio to transmit a deceptive message indicating Huntsman had been attacked by a submarine at a different location. Huntsman was sunk after transferring the prisoners to Altmark on 17 October. Graf Spee machine-gunned the bridge and upper deck of the 5,299-ton British steamer Trevanion (loaded with ore concentrates) on 22 October when that ship tried to radio a distress message.

Graf Spee moved into the Indian Ocean on 28 October and sank the motor tanker Africa Shell (in ballast) in the Mozambique channel in 15 November. Graf Spee returned to the South Atlantic and sank the 10,086-ton Blue Star liner Doric Star on 2 December with a cargo of meat, dairy products, and wool. Doric Star radioed a distress message; and sabotaged its engines so it could not be taken as a prize. Graf Spee sank Tairoa with a cargo of meat, wool, and lead on 3 December after the 7,983-ton steamer radioed a distress call. The 3,895-ton steamer Streonshalh with a cargo of wheat was sunk on 9 December.

Captain Hans Langsdorff strictly adhered to the rules of mercantile warfare at the time and saved all of the crew members of these ships; not a life was lost in these sinkings. The captured crews were transferred to the tanker Altmark. Later, these 303 crew members were freed by force in neutral Norwegian territorial waters by the British destroyer HMS Cossack.

While deployed as a commerce raider, Graf Spee was often disguised by the ship's carpenters with a fake "B" turret superposed over the forward "A" main turret, a false funnel aft of the float plane catapult and by painting the pyramidal superstructure to appear to be a tripod mast.

Battle of the River Plate

Britain formed eight hunting groups in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean to look for Admiral Graf Spee, totalling three battleships, two battlecruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 16 cruisers (including several French ships). More groups were assembled later. On 13 December 1939, she was located by the British Hunting Group G, consisting of the 8 inch (203 mm) gunned cruiser HMS Exeter and the 6 inch (152 mm) gunned light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles (of the New Zealand Division), and the Battle of the River Plate ensued. During the battle, the Graf Spee inflicted heavy damage upon the Exeter, forcing the latter to break off the engagement. Later in the exchange, one of Graf Spee’s shells caused some casualties on the Achilles. In return, the Graf Spee was hit repeatedly by the 6-inch shells of the light cruisers, which could not penetrate her armour but nonetheless inflicted significant topside damage.

On the other hand, Exeter’s 8-inch hits ran through the armour easily. About 06:38 an 8-inch shell penetrated two decks and exploded in Graf Spee’s funnel area, causing crippling internal damage. Exeter’s early 8-inch hit wrecked the boiler room, shutting down the fuel-separating system. Chief Engineer Commander Klepp advised the captain they could not repair the damage at sea. Klepp estimated the ship had about sixteen hours of running time, using pre-cleaned fuel from the day tanks. They could not replace the rapidly depleting fuel, so the ship was denied the possibility of outrunning her pursuers on the open sea.

Final docking

Admiral Graf Spee entered the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay for repairs. The exterior damage was surveyed by a British observer on 14 December 1939, who reported that the port midship 6" gun was unserviceable, the starboard anti-aircraft guns appeared out of action, rangefinders were out of action, the aircraft was wrecked, there were shell holes in the control tower and two holes below the waterline. In total, there was evidence of 30–60 hits. The most critical damage was the destruction of the desalination unit. Fresh water was essential for the running of diesels. Captain Langsdorff and the Chief Engineer carefully kept this problem secret. Although the specific details were signalled to SKL (Seekriegsleitung: Naval Warfare Command) in January 1940 this vital information lay buried from public knowledge for sixty years.

One of Langsdorff's first actions when he entered Montevideo was to release the 62 crew of the merchant ships he had sunk during her most recent voyage. Out of nine merchant ships sunk, none of the crews had been killed. All of those released spoke highly of their treatment and of Langsdorff, who spoke perfect English and lent them English books to pass the time. Captain Dove of the Africa Shell had already become friends with Langsdorff.

Under the Hague Convention of 1907, the Graf Spee was not entitled to remain in the port for more than 24 hours, without risking internment. In addition, and notwithstanding the rule already mentioned, under the same convention, the Graf Spee had to give British merchant ships 24 hours start if they left port, and the British Consul arranged for the merchant ships in port to sail at 24 hour intervals, effectively locking the Spee in the port whilst at the same time spreading propaganda about the vast fleet of British warships converging on the area. On 14 December, British Minister Millington-Drake officially requested that the Uruguayan government intern the ship if she stayed in port longer than 24 hours, on grounds that she was still seaworthy. The Uruguayan government obliged, announcing that if the Graf Spee did not sail within 72 hours of its arrival, she would be interned.

On 15 December, the ship's 36 dead were buried with full military honours in the German cemetery in Montevideo. At the funeral ceremony, Captain Hans Langsdorff used the naval salute, while all others around him used the Nazi salute. Many officers of the sunk ships attended the burial of those killed in the battle.

A ruse by the British intelligence encouraged the captain to think that he was out-numbered, with aircraft carriers and battleships on their way and that his escape route was cut off. In fact, only the Cumberland arrived in time to reinforce the existing ships. There were three possible channels that the Graf Spee could use in order to escape to the open sea, and the waiting British warships had to cover all of them. Captain Langsdorff had been in discussion with the Kriegsmarine over the various options available to him, which included fighting on, internment at Montevideo or scuttling the ship. Adolf Hitler responded personally, writing the following in his own handwriting...

“Attempt by all means to extend time in neutral waters in order to guarantee freedom of action as long as possible. Fight your way through to Buenos Aires, using remaining ammunition. No internment at Uruguay. Attempt effective destruction of ship if scuttled. ”

Graf Spee wreck in 1940

At 6:15pm on 17 December 1939, the German warship left Montevideo harbour, with the British 6-inch (152 mm) gunned cruisers Ajax, Achilles, and the 8-inch (203 mm) gunned Cumberland waiting nearby in international waters. However, instead of trying to fight through the blockade, the German warship sailed just outside the harbour, and at 7:52, was scuttled in the estuary at 34°58′18″S 56°18′4″W by her crew in order to avoid risking the crew in what Captain Langsdorff expected to be a losing battle. Captain Langsdorff committed suicide three days later by shooting himself, possibly in order to prove he had not acted out of fear for his own life. The fact that he wrapped himself in the Imperial flag before shooting himself may have been a mute admission that he had not fought in the tradition and spirit of the proud commander whose name his ship bore.

Many German commentators considered it to have been an error of judgement to have accepted combat against an arguably equal or superior force: he made a poor showing in the battle (his medium guns scored no hits on the enemy cruisers): his attack on the Doric Star which betrayed his location to Admiral Harwood's squadron had begun from such long range that his judgment was called into question, and most of the crew wanted to attempt the breakout to Buenos Aires where "a change of flag sale" had probably been negotiated with the Argentines.

Crew internment

The majority of the Graf Spee crew were interned in Argentina. Langsdorff feared that the pro-British Uruguayans might hand over his men in breach of neutrality, and upon reporting this to Berlin he was ordered to get the crew out of Uruguay. A ruse was attempted in which the men were set adrift in the international waters of the River Plate and picked up by three Argentine flag vessels under local German ownership. The German naval attaché then argued that since the thousand or so men were "mariners from the wreck of the 'Admiral Graf Spee'" they should not be interned but returned by neutral steamer to Germany as "survivors". Argentina was not satisfied that they fitted into this category and interned them. Between April 1940 and the end of 1941, all but six of the officers, and about 200 technical NCOs, absconded from internment and were back in Germany where the majority served in the U-boat Arm. Argentine naval connivance was suspected but never proved.

Some of the wounded crewmen were retained at Montevideo, and together with internees from the German merchant ship Tacoma, were subsequently transferred to the Cuartel Paso del Rey (English: "Barracks Quarter of the Passage of the King") in Sarandí del Yí, Durazno where the Military District II infantry guarded them. They remained here until transferred back to Montevideo and repatriated to Germany in 1946. Numerous objects pertaining to the Graf Spee remain at the Cuartel Paso del Rey museum in Sarandí del Yí.

The Germans' behaviour during their stay in Montevideo, especially Langsdorff's action when faced with possible defeat at British hands, was held in high regard in Uruguay. Many locals feared that their city could become directly endangered during any hostilities. After the Uruguayan Government turned down the German request for the ship to be allowed two weeks in harbour for repairs, the German diplomats present suggested to Langsdorff that the ship's guns be used to demolish the port installations, the battleship then being sunk across the harbour exit. This would be in retaliation for Uruguayan "favouritism" towards the British which was not entirely without foundation (the Uruguayan Government refused to concede more than 72 hours 'under any circumstances' whereas they had given a British warship fourteen days to repair in the First World War, a clear breach of their own neutrality.)

Langsdorff was opposed to the idea of demolishing the port and his decision to seek international waters to scuttle his ship was seen as partly motivated by a desire not to cause such harm. After the war the British and US Governments insisted that all Admiral Graf Spee crewmen, irrespective of whether they had been recently married to local girls or not, should be repatriated to Germany, and the refrigerator ship Highland Monarch arrived at Buenos Aires and Montevideo on 16 February 1946 to ship them out. There now ensued a total fiasco, again possibly engineered by the Argentine Navy in collusion with the German secret service. By then the total of Admiral Graf Spee crewmen who had not escaped was 811 men at Buenos Aires and 90 or so at Montevideo.

Amongst much lamentation and distress from the women and children ashore, the men plus six wives were paraded at the gangplank five hours before sailing time. At the last moment Argentine Army officers arrived carrying a large bag containing over 900 identity books. It was thus impossible to check the identity of each man against his document as he went aboard, and the British naval attaché watching the pantomime reported his fear that "some substitutions might have occurred".

Since all the men of U-530 and U-977, the two submarines which surrendered to Argentina in 1945, had been given into United States custody and flown out for interrogation before 31 August 1945, there were officially no U-boat men in captivity anywhere in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay. During the voyage of the Highland Monarch northwards it was discovered that 86 U-boat men had been smuggled aboard amidst the Admiral Graf Spee crewmen. Neither the British, US nor Argentine Governments were able to explain subsequently how the 86 U-boat men had got to Argentina in order to be repatriated from there. The most likely explanation is that they arrived aboard U-boats which unloaded on Argentine beaches postwar.

By 1948 all former Admiral Graf Spee men who wanted to emigrate to Argentina to rejoin family there had been allowed to do so. Most of their descendants are to be found in the town of Villa General Belgrano in Córdoba province.