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Archive for the ‘Atlantic’ Category

The thunderstorm that broke out over the southern coast of Spain on September 26, 1942 was not particularly remarkable, despite its relative violence.  After all, at any given time there are hundreds of storms all over the world, scattering rain, hail, lightning, and occasional tornadoes across the landscape.

When we have storms around here, one of the first things I do is go outside to watch them roll in.  I find them to be awesome, mesmerizing displays of the power of weather as it fights for calm and equlibrium.  And as I look down the street, usually one or two of my neighbors seems somewhat captivated as well.  In 1942, people were apparently interested in watching storms as well (there certainly weren’t any emergency weather broadcasts on the TV to watch), because a bunch of people stopped what they were doing to have a look.

But this storm was a bit different than the others…the spectators saw a little bit more than they bargained for.

At 3:30pm, an airplane came crashing from the sky and plowed into the Atlantic Ocean in an explosion of fire and water near the port of Cadiz.  The Catalina flying boat was carrying ten passengers and crew, and all were killed.  Among them was Lieutenant-Paymaster J. H. Turner and Louis Danielou Clamorgan, who was bound for northwest Africa.

What those watching didn’t know was that these two men, Turner in particular, were carrying secrets.  In his book Deathly Deception, Denis Smyth writes that Turner was “carrying on his person documents which seriously threatened to compromise a major forthcoming Allied offensive, if they fell into the wrong hands.  The operation in question, code-named Torch, was to be an amphibious assault of a size and complexity never before attempted in the history of war and for which secrecy was absolutely crucial.”

Fortunately for Allied planners, all the documents and all the bodies were recovered within hours.  Disaster had been averted.

And a seed had been planted.

It was this aircraft accident that, much like lightning itself, sparked the idea in British minds to actually fabricate a duplicate incident.  Put some faked documents on a dead soldier and have him wash ashore.  Let him be “captured” by the enemy and hope they read the documents, which would send them scurrying in the wrong direction.

This was the beginning of what was, in all likelihood, the most successful deception operation of the war:  Operation Mincemeat.

Recommended Reading: Deathly Deception

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Well, we’re putting the closing touches on yet another weekend.  I took a half day off on Friday, which lengthened things out a bit, but weekends always seem too short.  There is a ton of stuff to do, and such a short time to get it done.  Therefore, should I be elected President, I will mandate a two-day work week and a five-day weekend.

In the meantime, let’s head out for a little action on the high seas, shall we?

We talked last fall about the movie U-571 and how it more closely resembled the exploits of another submarine…U-559.  That sub was damaged by the British and, just before it was sunk, they were able to grab some really important encryption information.  You can read the piece if you want the detail.

But it wasn’t the only time this type of incident happened.  After all, the Germans (like the Japanese and the U.S. and most countries fighting in the Second World War) used numerous coding systems.  The army had one, the navy might have another, the maybe the air force a third.  The Germans used various Enigma machines for their different coding systems, so the object was to capture as many of these machines as possible in an attempt to break as many of the various codes.

So along with the actual “guns and ammo” fighting, there was this 2nd-tier war to capture the other guy’s codes.  On May 9, 1940 (as the German army was preparing to invade France and the Low Countries), the German submarine U-110 was (briefly) captured by the British.  She was attacking a convoy and was damaged by depth charges and forced to surface.  The destroyer HMS Bulldog, realizing she had a chance to capture the sub, pulled along side.  The sub’s captain, believing his boat was sinking, ordered everyone out and didn’t bother destroying the Enigma machine nor its codebooks.

Of course, the sub didn’t sink right away, and the British were able to grab the prizes and even succeeded in towing U-110 for a while before she finally sank.  And while this particular capture didn’t result in the major score such as SHARK or TRITON, it did provide valuable information to the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

As I mentioned, this took place the day before the German assault on France.  Tomorrow, we’ll look at one particular event from that massive invasion.

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The sinking of the Hood by the Bismarck caused no small embarassment for the British Admiralty…and no small anger, either.  True, it was a one-in-a-million shot that pierced the Hood just forward of its rear tower, but still, this ship had been the pride of the Navy for two decades.  And it hadn’t just been sunk, it had been obliterated with 99.8% loss of life.

The British response was swift.  Every available ship was dispatched with two orders:  find the Bismarck, and sink the Bismarck.  Fortunately, the “finding” part wasn’t too difficult.  First, the British cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk and the battleship Prince of Wales (already bloodied when the Hood went down) were trailing the ship.  Second, the Bismarck had sustained damage (thanks to the Prince of Wales), was leaking fuel, and had a slight list.  All of this served to slow the battleship down a bit.

Early on the morning of the May 25, 1941, the German fugitive was attacked by torpedo bombers from the carrier Victorious.  Comprised of only seven outdated biplanes (an eighth got lost in the clouds), they managed to hit the Bismarck with one torpedo.  Damage was not severe, but it did require the ship to slow down even more for repairs.  At 3:00am, the Bismarck’s commander (Admiral Gunther Lütjens), knowing he needed to make a run for the safety of Saint-Nazaire in occupied France, looped the Bismarck around, and was lost to her British pursuers…

…until 10:30am the next morning when she was relocated by air patrols.  And the chase was on…again.  The British carrier Ark Royal launched planes early in the afternoon…which unsuccessfully tried to torpedo one of their own ships!  A second attack at 9:00pm gave better results and the Bismarck was hit twice.  The first torpedo was inconsequential because the second one jammed the rudder, forcing the Bismarck into a wide circle.  The gig was up, and the end was near for the Bismarck.

But the German powerhouse would not go quietly.  The British closed in and, at 9:00am on May 27, 1941, the final battle began.  By 10:15am, after hundreds of 15″ and 16″ shells had poured from British main guns into the Bismarck, the firing ceased.  The British cruiser Dorsetshire then moved in and fired three torpedoes, all of which hit the dying battleship but, hanging over the precipice, she still wouldn’t go down.  In the end, the mighty Bismarck’s death blows were dealt by her own hands, as she was scuttled and sank at 10:40am.  Of the ship’s 2,200 sailors, only 115 survived.

The Bismarck’s wartime life lasted less than 10 days, but the aura of that single ship will last for many lifetimes.

Recommended Reading: The Destruction of the Bismarck

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The Battle of the Denmark Strait was, without question, one of the most famous engagements of World War II.  It was also one of the shortest, lasting less than twenty minutes.  While its name may be something of a mystery to you, its combatants certainly are not.  This is the famed meeting of the German battleship Bismarck (shown to the left) and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the British battle cruiser Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales.

The Germans had sent their ships into the North Atlantic as merchant raiders.  Remember that the United States was sending supplies to England which were escorted part of the way by U.S. warships, then picked up by their British counterparts and protected for the rest of the trip.  The Bismarck, with its 15″ main guns, would deal with the escorts, while the Prinz Eugen would wreak havoc with the merchant ships…at least that was the plan.  The British got wind of the operation and sent their ships in response.  Though this was the Bismarck’s first deployment, she already had a solid reputation as being well-gunned, well-armored, and well-manned.  So the British took no chances and sent the Hood, the pride of the fleet.  For years, the Hood had been the largest “capital” ship (if battle cruisers could be called as such) in the world, so the confrontation would be a good one…at least that was the plan.

Before continuing, let’s have a little geography lesson.  The Denmark Strait isn’t anywhere near Denmark.  Get a map and locate Greenland.  Now find Iceland.  See the water between them?  That’s the Denmark Strait and the setting for this legendary encounter.

As the two battlegroups closed early in the morning of May 24, 1941, the Hood fired first at 5:52am at a distance of 25,000 yards, with her companion doing the same just a few seconds later.  The Bismarck returned fired 3 minutes later at 22,000 yards…her shells landed short.  While reloading, a shell from the Prince of Wales struck the Bismarck, causing a fuel leak.  Keeping up?…we’re at 5:56am.  The next salvo from the Bismarck’s partner in crime, the Prinz Eugen, hit the Hood near the mainmast and started a fairly large fire, at which point the Prinz Eugen turned her attention to the Prince of Wales.

At 6:00am, the Bismarck fired her fifth salvo of the engagement from 18,000 yards.  The shell (or shells, no one knows for sure) penetrated the Hood’s armor belt and detonated in the aft ammunition magazine.  To say that the resultant explosion was cataclysmic would be an understatement.  The 48,000-ton vessel was split in two and sank in 3 minutes, killing all but 3 of the 1418 crew members.

The Prince of Wales became the next target, and was pounded until she turned tail and fled in a smokescreen.  By 6:10am, the battleground was quiet again and the Germans had reason to celebrate a tremendous victory.  But in some sense, the Prince of Wales would have the last laugh.  The hit she scored on the Bismarck (which caused the fuel leak) would ultimately lead to the death of the Bismarck just three days later.

Recommended Reading: www.kbismarck.com and www.hmshood.com – Absolutely everything you’d want to know about main combatants.

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