Dealey – The Destroyer Killer I

Sinking of the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze on 25 June 1942 approximately 110 km southwest of Yokohama harbour, Japan, photographed through the periscope of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168).

A curious fact about the United States Navy: many of its greatest heroes and commanders have come from landlocked states or areas far from the ocean. Perhaps the mystery of the sea draws them. Perhaps the ocean provided the adventure the Great Plains and cities of the interior could not. One of these men was Dallas-born Texan Samuel David Dealey. Dealey Plaza of JFK assassination fame was named after his uncle, George Dealey, founder of the Dallas Morning News. Dealey achieved a record of success and bravery rarely matched in the history of the United States Navy, awarded the Silver Star, the Navy Cross with three gold stars (in other words, he won the Navy’s 2nd highest award for bravery four times), the Distinguished Service Cross (for aiding the Army) and the Medal of Honor. His boat was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

Born in 1906, Dealey applied for and was given a slot at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, but washed out due to poor grades. Applying himself, he won reinstatement and graduated Annapolis in 1930. In the years before the war, Dealey attended the Navy’s Submarine School and was posted to a variety of duties, mostly involving training and scientific experimentation. When war broke out, this seemingly, boring set of duties had made Dealey one of the most experienced young submariners in the fleet.

A year after Pearl Harbor, Dealey was given command of the new Gato-class submarine USS Harder (the harder is a type of mullet – subs of the US Navy were once named for fish). Harder’s first action was inauspicious – she had to evade attack by a US patrol plane in the Caribbean as she voyaged to the Panama Canal to cross into the Pacific. (Note: for those of you new to naval terminology, the commander of a ship/submarine is referred to as “captain”, no matter what his/her actual rank. Lieutenant Commander Dealey was Captain of Harder)

After testing and training of the crew, the first war patrol of the Harder began on June 7, 1943. She was ordered to waters off northern Honshu, the largest of the Japanese Home Islands – far from home and far from help. Harder’s first action came two weeks later off the Japanese coast. Sighting two enemy ships, Dealey prepared to attack when her presence became known to the enemy. Dealey fired torpedoes, but before he could see whether they had been effective, an aggressive Japanese escort vessel came after Harder and Dealey was forced to make an emergency dive – and the sub crashed into the bottom. Not the start that Dealey or anyone else on the boat had hoped for. Though it was believed that Harder missed with its first salvo of the war, post-war examination of Japanese records indicates that one merchant vessel was damaged and put out of action for some time.

A 2000+ ton submarine diving into the bottom causes quite an impact, and the risks of damaging the sub, injuring crew members and possibly being trapped in the soft bottom (forever) are very real. Luckily, for Dealey and his crew, they were able to avoid both the Japanese escort and being stuck forever at the bottom of the Pacific.

Two nights later, Dealey attacked another Japanese merchant vessel, causing so much damage that she had to be beached and was eventually turned into scrap. During the coming days, Dealey led Harder on a number of attacks, but only managed to damage one vessel.

Two things about the Pacific War at sea: American submarine commanders were, and were taught to be, hyper-aggressive. Like English fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain in 1940, American sub commanders paid very little attention to odds – their job was to sink Japanese ships, and after Pearl Harbor, they needed no coaxing. Secondly, the Japanese government and the Imperial Navy severely limited information about American or Allied subs in Japanese waters. This was the case before the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942. Japanese citizens believed that they areas around their home islands were safe and that the Imperial Navy would not allow American subs to venture so close to Japan. Japanese merchantmen relied on word of mouth and for much of the war, had to fend for themselves. Admitting the growing success of the Americans would mean that the Navy and the government had made an error, which could not be admitted.

At the beginning of July, one of the Harder’s engines lost power. This was a common flaw in the Gato-class subs, and cost the Navy as a whole and the Harder in particular much time. Taking a mound of spare parts with him for his next war patrol, Dealey left Midway Island for Honshu once again at the end of August 1943. In fourteen days, Dealey attacked nine separate times in Japanese waters and sank five ships totally 15,000 tons. Along with other US submarines, Harder was starting to bring the war home to the Japanese people. Unfortunately, engine problems again caused Dealey to return home, this time to Pearl Harbor, where she stayed until the end of October.

While in Hawaii, Harder and two other subs (Snook and Pargo) formed a small wolfpack and were sent to the Mariana Islands in the central Pacific to help clear the area around Tarawa Atoll of Japanese shipping in advance of the American invasion of Tarawa on November 20.

Though by this time the United States had been in the war for nearly two years, submarine tactics in the US Navy still needed work and equipment (such as the radios on the subs themselves) often failed or did not meet expectations. Though the Harder was supposed to work in tandem with the other two submarines, she managed to stay in contact with Pargo to attack a merchant vessel (with unknown results) and sink a minesweeper on November 12 before becoming separated from the other two American boats and operate on her own.

A week later Harder got on the track of a Japanese convoy of three large freighters and their escorts north of the Mariana Islands. Carefully calculating the distance and time to each target, Dealey fired a spread of ten torpedoes at the Japanese. Two of the freighters were hit and sunk quickly, taking most of their crews with them. The Japanese Navy had proved to be an aggressive force itself, and Japanese destroyer commanders proved tough and enduring. Over the course of the evening of the 19/20 August 1943, Dealey had repeated close calls with the Japanese, though Harder remained undamaged.

Later that night Dealey surfaced and spotted the one freighter that had escaped him earlier and plotted a course to intercept. Over the next hours, the freighter was the target of eleven more torpedoes from Harder, which circled her both submerged and surfaced firing from different angles. All this time the Japanese crew of the freighter engaged her with their deck gun. When Harder ran out of torpedoes, Dealey decided against further engaging the Japanese on the surface and made way for Pearl Harbor to replenish his torpedo supply. Later intelligence informed Dealey and his crew that this last tough Japanese ship too had sunk giving her a total for her third patrol of four ships sunk.

Though she had proven resilient and her skipper deadly, the crew of the Harder must have been quite frustrated with their boat, for on the way back to Pearl Harbor, another of her German designed diesels broke down again. Dealey was ordered to Mare Island in San Francisco Bay at the end of November to have the boat’s engines completely replaced.

Harder was back in action in March 1944, Dealey and the Harder proved themselves on a different sort of mission. On her fourth patrol, the sub was to standby to rescue American pilots shot down in the sea near the Caroline Islands. Just west of Woleai, Navy pilot John Galvin was stranded on a small enemy held island. He had been shot down during an American carrier based strike on the island and was in danger of being taken prisoner or being executed.

Other pilots from Galvin’s carrier kept the Japanese away from their comrade, but night would soon fall and Galvin’s fate would be sealed.

Dealey and Harder were in the vicinity and were ordered to get Galvin off the island whatever the cost. Dealey ordered his sub onto the reef just offshore bow first and to keep the propellers spinning to keep her there while a rubber dinghy with armed sailors raced into shore to get the downed pilot. Crewmen of the Harder paddled into shore under Japanese fire, retrieved Galvin and paddled back to the sub still under fire from shore. For this action, Dealey and his crew were given commendations.



Dealey – The Destroyer Killer II

After depositing Ensign Galvin with his comrades, Dealey continued Harder’s patrol. As he cruised the area north of the western Caroline Islands, Dealey’s sub was spotted by Japanese planes, which called in the destroyer Ikazuchi to hunt the American down. By this time in the conflict the Japanese had themselves developed accurate sonar and the Japanese destroyer sent “ping” (the sound of the sonar’s emission) after “ping” in an attempt to find the US submarine. Destroyers were (and are) fast maneuverable ships, heavily armed and usually commanded by an aggressive captain. Killing an enemy destroyer was not only a feat, it was incredibly dangerous. One of the primary purposes of the destroyer in both WWII and today is that of submarine hunter. This time however, the Ikazuchi met her match.

Diving to avoid the spotter planes, and only coming to periscope depth briefly to chart the course of the Japanese destroyer, Commander Dealey let the Japanese ship get within 900 yards before opening fire. Harder’s torpedoes struck home and the Japanese vessel was torn apart, sinking in five minutes time and taking her crew with her to the bottom of the sea. At Navy Headquarters, Dealey’s after-action notice brought smiles. “Expended four torpedoes ad one Jap destroyer.” The legend of the Destroyer Killer had begun, and on the way the naval base at Fremantle, Australia, Harder added to her luster by sinking another Japanese freighter and bombard the island of Woleai with her deck gun for added measure. After three weeks of rest, resupply and repair in Fremantle, Dealey was ordered to take his sub on her fifth patrol, this time to lurk in the waters off the Japanese base at Tawi Tawi at the very southwest tip of the Philippine Islands.

While the men of the Allied forces were dropping into, landing on and shelling the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944 the war continued in thousands of different actions around the globe. Busy also on the night of June 6th was Harder, which had been ordered to approach northwestern Borneo from her station off Tawi Tawi and pick up friendly guerrilla fighters from the Indonesian island.

As he passed through the Sibutu Strait between the island of Tawi Tawi and Sibutu Island, Dealey spotted three tankers and two destroyers – plum targets. As he was planning his attack, one of the Japanese destroyers noticed Harder and made full steam to attack her. As he had previously, Dealey let the submarine get close – 1,100 yards.

To illustrate how close this really is, imagine a 16-inch shell from a battleship. Just one shell can level an average house and leave a crater 200ft wide and many feet deep. The concussion from the explosion of a 16-inch shell can sometimes be felt for miles. Now realize that the torpedoes carried by most submarines in WWII were 21-inches in diameter, and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives. Any closer than what Dealey had already chanced in his encounters could result in the sub being damaged or even sunk by the explosion or concussion of its own torpedoes.

At flank (full) speed, a Japanese destroyer could cover 1,100 yards in a minute or so. Once a destroyer closed to within one hundred yards or so, she would start to drop or launch her depth charges, and then the submariners were thrown into a nightmare that might end with the ocean rushing into their broken ship and extinguishing their lives far from another living soul.

When the Japanese warship was almost too close, Dealey fired three torpedoes that struck the enemy vessel (IJS Minatsuki) sinking her quickly, and almost losing his boat as the wreckage of the Japanese destroyer passed over his ship. By this time, the convoy and the remaining Japanese destroyer were miles away, and Dealey’s attempt to pursue came to naught.

On the morning of June 7th however, Dealey spotted another Japanese destroyer, IJS Hayanami, which she sank with another salvo of three torpedoes. On June 8th, Harder made the rendezvous with the guerrilla force, and began to head back to base.

As Harder entered the narrowest part of the strait between the islands, Dealey observed two more destroyers who were likely looking for him. Turning the tables on his pursuers, Dealey approached the destroyers undetected. As they passed by each other in his periscope, Dealey fired four torpedoes at the two subs. One destroyer, Tanikaze went shortly to the bottom. Dealey and his crew believed they had sunk the other Japanese ship as well, hearing further explosions, but this was likely the sound of the Tanikaze’s ammunition exploding as she sank.

Harder’s after action report relating this event reads:

Commenced firing the bow tubes. No. 1 appeared to pass just ahead of the first destroyer, No. 2 struck it near the bow, No. 3 hit just under the destroyer’s bridge, and No. 4 passed astern of the near target. The sub was now swung hard right to avoid hitting the first destroyer and fire was withheld on remaining tubes until a new setup could be put into the T.D.C. for an attack on the second destroyer. About thirty seconds after turning, the second destroyer came into view just astern of what was left of the first one, then burning furiously. Just then No. 4 torpedo, which had passed astern of the first target, was heard and observed to hit the second target. – (No more torpedoes were needed for either.)

Meanwhile, a heavy explosion, believed to be caused by an exploding boiler on the first destroyer, went off and the sub (then about 400 yards away) was heeled over by the concussion. At almost the same time a blinding explosion took place on the second destroyer (probably his ammunition going off) and it took a quick nosedive. When last observed, by the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, the tail of the second destroyer was straight in the air and the first destroyer had disappeared. “Sound” now, reported, “No more screws.”

The above listed pandemonium may not be in exact chronological order but is as accurate as the happenings over that eventful few minutes can be remembered.

CDR Dealey wearing the Navy Cross presented to him by Vice Admiral Lockwood 19 October 1943.

On June 10, having deposited his passengers, Dealey returned to station near Tawi Tawi and it was there that she ran across the kind of prize a submarine captain dreams of – a convoy of three battleships, four cruisers and a number of escorting destroyers. A target like this was not going to be easy and unprepared and the Japanese had a number of observation planes aloft, one of which spotted Harder. As one of the screening destroyers steamed toward his position, Dealey sent three torpedoes her way and dove deep. Though they heard explosions of some kind, the Harder did not sink a Japanese ship that day. What did happen was that she had to endure the nightmare described on the preceding page? Two hours of Japanese depth charges and prayers that none of them would crack the Harder in two below the waves, or destroy her engines, in which case the crew would suffocate after their oxygen was depleted.

Luckily, for Dealey and the crew of the Harder, none of the enemy’s depth charges hit home and after two tense hours, Dealey surfaced the boat to find the Japanese vessel gone. On June 21st, Harder reached home. News of her exploits had preceded her and her captain was informally referred to as the “Destroyer Killer”. An indirect effect of Dealey’s success was the decision made by the Japanese Navy to abandon the Tawi Tawi base as untenable – and when the Japanese fleet there left, it was decided by the Japanese High Command to attempt to chase the Americans from the Philippine Sea. The resulting battle of the Philippine Sea and the aerial battle known famously as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” were in a way caused by Dealey and his success in the Sibutu Strait. For his actions in the Tawi Tawi area, Dealey was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

While in Darwin, Dealey had the unenviable job of taking a desk bound admiral out on a short combat patrol so that officer could at least say he had seen some action during the war. In the course of the weeklong sortie, Dealey pursued a number of targets, including a cruiser, but was not able to close within range. He was also forced underwater for close to two days by Japanese observation planes overhead.

When he returned the admiral back to Australia, it was suggested to Dealey that he retire from combat command and allow a younger man to take over his sub. While Dealey knew he was pushing the odds, he asked to take Harder out on one more patrol to train new crewmen who had never seen combat.

Dealey’s sixth war patrol began on August 5, 1944 with Dealey in command of a five submarine wolfpack. The son and namesake of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the great leaders of World War II, commanded one sub, the USS Haddo. At Paluan Bay in the Philippines, Dealey’s wolfpack sank four merchantmen to no losses, but Harder did not score any of the kills herself.

Dealey and Nimitz then split from the other three subs and headed towards Manila Bay, where they picked up three survivors of the convoy they had attacked shortly before. Both commanders racked up one kill each and shared another, sending more ships and supplies to the bottom.

The two commanders then moved north along the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon and were to rendezvous with another sub, the USS Hake, when they ran across the destroyer Asakaze. Nimitz slammed two torpedoes into the Japanese ship and turned for base, out of ammunition. Dealey, met by Hake, remained outside the bay where they believed the destroyer had been towed waiting for it or other Japanese ships to emerge.

The next morning, August 24 1944, a Japanese destroyer and minesweeper emerged from the bay. As Dealey’s comrades on the Hake pursued her as she turned back into the bay (and escaped), Harder was left to deal with the minesweeper that was unusually aggressive and was pinging her sonar madly in apparent pursuit of Harder. The Commander Frank Haylor and the crew of the Hake heard the sonar pings as the Japanese ship moved out of the bay towards Dealey and his boat. At 6.47am, Haylor caught sight of Harder’s periscope – the last trace anyone ever saw of Dealey and his crew. A bit more than a half hour later, Hake heard fifteen explosions as the minesweeper dropped depth charges near where Harder had last been seen. Evading Japanese ships through the day Hake stayed in the area and surfaced at night to look for any trace of the Harder or its crew and found none. Over the next two weeks, Hake patrolled the area, hoping that somehow members of Harder’s crew had made it to shore, but no one was ever found. After the war, the report of the Japanese minesweeper was found and her captain reported oil, wood and cork floating in the area where Harder had been.

Captain Dealey and his crew had been lost forever. Harder had been responsible for the sinking of 18 Japanese ships making Captain Dealey the fifth ranking US Navy submarine ace of the war.


Throughout the year of 1946 Air Ministry interest in the Spiteful continued to wane until December when the order was cancelled. As the laminar flow wing was also being used on the Attacker jet fighter for the Royal Navy, test flying continued for a time but all remaining Spiteful aircraft were sold for scrap in July 1948. Although it was obvious that the future lay with jet-powered fighters, the relatively low power of the early jets and their slow response led many to the view that they would be unsuitable for operations from aircraft carriers. The Seafang, a naval equivalent of the Spiteful, had been developed in parallel with the RAF fighter and for a time appeared to have more chances of succeeding. In the event it went the same way as the Spiteful as doubts about operating jet fighters from carriers proved to be somewhat overstated.

The Seafang can be traced back to 7 October 1943 when Supermarine produced Specification 474 for the Type 382 which was a development of the Seafire XV featuring the laminar flow wing and a two-stage Griffon 61 engine. The design was submitted to the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but despite an estimated top speed of 488 mph, an initial rate of climb of 4,900 ft/min and a service ceiling of 41,750 ft, at first little interest was shown in the project. Nothing was heard, in fact, until 21 April 1945 when the Air Ministry issued Specification N.5/45 for a single-seat fighter for the Fleet Air Arm, the performance of which closely matched that of Supermarine’s proposal eighteen months before. Two Seafangs (VB893 and VB895) were requested, but with the cancellation of the order for Spitefuls, came an instruction to proceed with the production of the Seafang to utilise, as far as possible, the materials and components that had already been allocated to the Spiteful order. The serial numbers given to this batch were VG471–505, 540–589, 602–650, 664–679.

The first Seafang was in effect a ‘navalized’ Spiteful F.14 (RB520) fitted with a sting-type arrester hook. This aircraft undertook flight trials with Supermarine during the summer of 1945 but it was already becoming evident that the Navy was lukewarm to the Seafang as RB520 remained with the manufacturers after its test schedule had been completed and was not collected by the service until 1947, whereupon it was immediately struck off charge. In the event only one prototype Seafang was to fly (VB895), however, the next to make it into the air was VG471 which had started life as the sixth production Spiteful. As such it had no wing folding mechanism, a five-bladed propeller and was delivered to the RAE at Farnborough in January 1946 as the Seafang F.31. As the first true Seafang, VB895 (designated F.32) was flown for the first time in early 1946. It was powered by a Griffon 89 driving a contra-rotating propeller and featured wing folding, although on the Seafang only the outer portions of the wings were made to fold.

After abortive attempts to interest the Royal Netherlands Navy in the Seafang in August 1946, VB895 was used for deck landing trials on HMS Illustrious on 21 May 1947. These were carried out by Supermarine test pilot Mike Lithgow who had previously completed a series of ADDL’s at Chilbolton and RNAS Ford. Although only eight landings were made on Illustrious, Lithgow was quite happy with the Seafang which proved to be an excellent deck landing aircraft, the best approach speed being 110 mph IAS (95 knots). The view was relatively good and the aircraft settled easily on to the deck with no float when the throttle was cut. The lack of torque from the Griffon 89 and contra-rotating propellers made the aircraft ideally suited to deck operations.

Although the Seafang had shown great promise, it ultimately lost out to the vast potential offered by the jet engine. The development sequence initiated by Frank Whittle with his series of centrifugal jet engines found its ultimate expression in the Rolls-Royce B.41 Nene which was soon offering around 4,500 lbs thrust. As a result of the research already carried out by Supermarine into the laminar flow wing, Joe Smith and his team were asked to come up with a new fighter to Specification E.1/44, an aircraft that was effectively a ‘Jet Spiteful’. As the Supermarine Type 392, it featured laminar flow wings with the radiators removed and additional fuel tanks in their place. Three prototypes were eventually ordered (TS409, 413 and 416) the last two to be ‘navalized’ (but without any form of wing folding) and Specification E.10/44 was soon drafted around the design. Although the E.10/44 (soon to be named Attacker) at first exhibited many of the handling characteristics of the Spiteful/Seafang, it held the prospect of much improved performance and when fitted with a production Nene of 5,000 lbs thrust., it was capable of a maximum speed of 580 mph at sea level. After a comprehensive development programme to improve low speed handling, the first of 145 Attackers for the Fleet Air Arm was taken into the air on 5 April 1950 and the type remained in front-line service until replaced by Sea Hawks and Sea Venoms in 1954.

Despite the disappointment of the Seafang not being ordered by the Royal Navy, it possessed essentially the same wing as the Attacker and was therefore still of value to the Supermarine company. As part of the research effort to obtain data on the laminar flow wing, Seafang F.32 VG475 was fitted with a vertical pitot comb on a mounting behind the starboard wing trailing edge. To facilitate this arrangement aileron span had to be reduced by 15 in and the cannon armament was also removed. A camera installation was fitted in the fuselage in place of the rear fuel tank. John Derry commenced test flights on 23 June 1947 and reported his findings as follows

‘The aircraft was climbed to 27,000 ft and dived to a speed of 400 mph at 20,000 ft. This speed, Mach 0.77, was attained without any noticeable compressibility or other effects. The Mach meter was reading 0.75 and a film was taken. At that moment and with no warning, the most violent pitching set up. This took the form of a high-frequency phugoid and, owing to the large angle of pitch at this frequency, the amount of positive and negative ‘g’ induced was considerable. The Mach meter was still reading 0.75 during this incident. It was found impossible to check the phugoid, which immediately began to diverge rapidly and it was quite impossible to hold the stick steady. The engine was throttled right back immediately, but recovery from the dive could not be attempted owing to the inadvisability of adding more ‘g’ to the already extreme amount to which the aircraft was being subjected at the bottom of each phugoid. Not until 16,000 ft had been reached did the pitching decrease sufficiently to allow a pull out.’

To demonstrate that this particular characteristic was Mach related Derry carried out a dive in the Seafang to 450 mph from 10,000 ft without any undesirable handling effects. Subsequent modifications to the framework holding the pitot comb and the elevator trailing edge allowed dives to be made up to Mach 0.83 in perfect safety. These experiments unfortunately confirmed that the slightest irregularities in wing surface led to the formation of turbulent flow much further forward than was desired. Debris of only 0.020 in on the surface of the wing was likely to lead to loss of laminar flow at around 10 per cent chord with a significant increase in drag.

Further experiments with the Seafang included a servodyne-assisted aileron system which was fitted to VG474 in late 1947. This led to a significant improvement in the rate of roll at cruising speeds but at limit speeds there was hardly any benefit so that the spring-tab ailerons on the Attacker were retained. Seafire F.32 VB895 was also flown with a 170-gallon under-fuselage tank of ‘airship’ type and undertook the service acceptance trials of the four 20 mm Mark V Hispano cannon, the same installation as used on the Attacker. During testing at Boscombe Down an explosion occurred in the port wing after firing which caused a significant amount of damage. It was discovered that this had been caused by a build up of carbon monoxide gas in the gun bay which required the fitment of ventilators above and below the wing. After this modification had been embodied the rest of the air firing trials were completed without further mishap.

La Bataille De France, Phase Deux: Dunkerque

As the first of the Swallows that herald the English summer arrived, so began “Operation Dynamo”, on 26th May. The beleaguered BEF and surviving allied soldiers had now to be hurriedly evacuated from the beaches and port of Dunkerque and Vice Admiral Ramsay RN, based at Dover in Kent, was the man upon whose shoulders the task had been placed.

At first, the British public were not exactly kept informed of what was happening across the Channel. British newspapers had reported some of the reverses and setbacks suffered by the BEF and their allies during the German offensive of course; but the true picture of just how grave a situation it really was, had been carefully kept from the public, for fear of panic.

Time was now so obviously of the essence, but initially, only naval vessels were employed in ferrying the allied troops back to Britain. It was thought that the speed of the Royal Navy’s destroyers made them the ideal evacuation vessels. This was fine, except for three key points. Point one proved to be that the sleek destroyers simply couldn’t carry a worthwhile number of evacuated troops. Point two was that the destroyers could not get close enough to the beaches without running aground. The third point of course, was that the Germans were not about to sit quietly by, whilst the ships of the Royal Navy went about this herculean task.

It was at this point however that Hitler, in a roundabout way, could almost be said to have come to the aid of the British and French Allies. At first, the German artillery pounded the beaches mercilessly and German troops gradually closed the narrow corridor through which the allied soldiers were retreating to Dunkerque. After consulting with his field commanders, Hitler uncharacteristically allowed himself to be persuaded by the somewhat vainglorious leader of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarschall Herman Goring, to order the German army to halt. Goring, in a monumental display of his own personal bombast, faithfully promised his Fuhrer that the Luftwaffe would be more than capable of destroying the remaining allied armies on the beaches and Hitler took him at his word. To their chagrin, the German army were virtually forced to stand by and watch, as the Luftwaffe went about their self-appointed task.

The respective tasks for both sides, was not easy. From Goring’s self-elected point of view, the Luftwaffe actually had too many important targets spread over too large an area. Should they concentrate on destroying the ships that were trying to evacuate the troops, the troops waiting on the beaches, the troops queuing in the water in lines to be ferried to the destroyers, or port installations and facilities that might enable more rescue ships to come in? The German army continued to close the corridor, thus cutting off the route to the beaches from within France and shrinking the pocket, but they would most certainly have been far better employed in taking the allied beachhead in the first place. But the rotund Reichsmarschall had got his way.

From the point of view of the British, the prospect of trying to evacuate more than half a million men under near constant air attack was proving to be difficult in the extreme. The waiting destroyers were being bombed and sunk because it simply took too long using small rowing boats ferrying a handful of troops out to them, to get anything like a full load. The stationary warships were of course sitting targets for the Luftwaffe’s Stukas, just as the lines of patiently waiting soldiers were sitting targets for the strafing actions of low-flying Me 109’s. Chaos, death and destruction reigned supreme.

RAF Fighter Command, seriously depleted in strength as they were, nevertheless flew countless sorties and patrols in their attempts to cover the evacuation, but despite flying an average of more than 250 fighter sorties per day over the Dunkerque region, they simply couldn’t be everywhere at once. Inevitably, there were sizeable gaps in the RAF’s fighter cover and the Luftwaffe exploited them to the full.

From the point of view of the battle-weary Tommy waiting in the endless line of soldiers for a place in a boat and being constantly strafed by German fighters, the RAF should have been over the beaches at all times. From the point of view of the strained British fighter pilot, he wanted to prevent the German aircraft from reaching the beaches in the first place, so naturally their fighting, for the most part, started inland, behind the constantly changing lines, often at high altitude and out of sight of the troops on the beaches. Whilst a number of British soldiers later berated “the Brylcreem boys” for their perceived absence over the beaches, other soldiers saw in full the fierce dogfights taking place high above them and more than a few witnessed an RAF pilot making the supreme sacrifice on their behalf. In the end, which viewpoint a British soldier eventually took merely depended upon where in the confusion and chaos of the beachhead he was located at the time and what his individual experience of that time was.

Day of the Defiant

On 29th May however, an RAF fighter unit, 264 Squadron, who were equipped with the Boulton-Paul Defiant, that curious retrospectively designed fighter aircraft mentioned somewhat earlier, had an unexpectedly successful day over Dunkerque. Believing the aircraft of 264 Squadron to be Hurricanes, a large formation of Messerschmitt 109’s attacked them from above and behind. For the gunner in the Defiant, this was precisely the type of attack for which his aircraft had been designed and he’d been trained. In that one action, the Luftwaffe lost over thirty 109’s. It was a costly mistake for the Germans, but it was one that they would not repeat. It did not take the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilots long to find and exploit the Defiant’s inherent weakness.

For the British, what was evidently needed if there was to be any hope at all of saving a worthwhile number of men, was a greater number of large ships and a faster means of getting the waiting men out to them; but larger ships could not even get as close to the beaches as the Navy’s destroyers could without running aground.

There were two piers, or moles, at Dunkerque and of course it made sense to use them as boarding points for the troops being evacuated. Unfortunately, the Germans saw this too and repeatedly singled them out for strafing by low flying fighter aircraft. But amazingly, no determined attempt appeared to be made by the Luftwaffe toward bombing them, so the British suffered the innumerable German fighter attacks and continued to embark troops from the moles, but it was still a painfully slow and supremely hazardous operation.

As many of the port’s bombed oil storage tanks discharged the thick, acrid, billowing pall of black smoke that came to symbolise Dunkerque into the sky, Churchill decided that it was time to trust the British public. The lid was lifted off the secrecy pot, the public were told more of the desperate situation in France, and were actively asked for their help in the rescue of the stranded troops from the very jaws of Hell. So was born the legend of the “little ships”.

The Admiralty requested or requisitioned just about anything that would float. The response was immediate. The Southern Railway sent their cross-channel ferries, light cargo ships and their Isle of Wight ferries, as the Navy were of course, particularly interested in large, shallow-draught vessels. Other owners of smaller, shallow-draught vessels could either surrender them to the Royal Navy, or take them over to Dunkerque in person with their own crew and at least one naval rating. All crews who volunteered for the operation would receive naval pay at the appropriate grade, for the duration of the operation; or until said vessel was sunk, of course.

One such “other” vessel was a former Admiralty steam Pinnace. Though fairly small, this customised Bermudan-schooner rigged craft, named Sundowner, was the property of a former First World War naval officer, Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller. Prior to his naval service in the Great War, Lightoller had been a Merchant Navy officer and in 1912, he had in fact been the Second Officer aboard the ill-fated White Star liner RMS Titanic. He was the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster. Upon being told of the desperate situation and of the Admiralty’s intention to requisition his boat, Lightoller unhesitatingly volunteered his vessel, crewed by himself, his eldest son Roger, who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, and a young Sea Scout named Gerald Ashcroft. Although she was now minus her original steam engine and rigged as a Schooner, Sundowner had a modern diesel engine. Also, her owner/skipper was no stranger to action; Lightoller sank a German U-Boat when he was in command of a destroyer during the First World War and he was certainly an expert navigator.

On the morning of 1st June, in company with 5 other little ships, Sundowner set out from Ramsgate across the Channel. Sundowner didn’t stay in company for long though. Being slightly faster than her consorts, she soon left them behind. The outward voyage looked likely to be uneventful at first, but as they gradually neared their objective, Charles spotted something sinister in the water. Realising what it was, he shouted to Roger to put the helm hard over, pointing to starboard. Sundowner’s response was quick because Roger’s had been. The floating mine that Charles had spotted, now bobbed away on Sundowner’s port side, barely a few feet away.

Soon afterwards, they came across a casualty, the small motor cruiser Westerly, which had stopped and was on fire. Moving swiftly alongside, Lightoller quickly took Westerly’s crew and the three naval ratings that Westerly had rescued, aboard his own boat and then proceeded on, toward Dunkerque.

Just as Sundowner left the scene, Westerly’s stock of petrol blew up. The huge fireball drew the attention of two of the Luftwaffe’s Stuka pilots, high above. Seeing Sundowner heading rapidly away from the burning wreckage, both dive-bombers came screaming down toward her. Once again that combination of Charles’ diligent observation and timing, coupled with Roger’s quick responses to his father’s orders, meant that they were able to dodge the bombs that were aimed at them. Sundowner had arrived at the scene of Operation Dynamo.

Lightoller had initially planned to take his vessel right up to the beach to pick up troops, but the chaotic scene presented to him upon his arrival at Dunkerque made it clear to him that to do so would be the utmost folly. The whole area was literally full of vessels of every description, busily to-ing and fro-ing, whilst the waters near the beach itself were strewn with the half-submerged wrecks of bombed warships, other loose wreckage and corpses. Lightoller headed for one of the moles and began embarking troops from there. Loading proved to be the easiest part of the whole trip.

Sundowner embarked 130 men, literally packing them in like sardines. On the way back, with his vessel dangerously low in the water, Lightoller found himself dodging more determined attacks, this time from enemy fighter planes. On arrival back at Ramsgate, Sundowner was nearly capsized by the weight of the troops hurriedly moving to one side of her to disembark. Roger shouted to them all to lie down and not to move. He then organised a more stately disembarkation. Charles and Roger were eager to return to Dunkerque, but by then only ships capable of making 20 knots were permitted to go. However, in that one twelve-hour round trip Charles Lightoller, the 66-year old former Second Officer of the RMS Titanic had, with the help of his son and a sea scout to crew his sixty-foot Sundowner, succeeded in rescuing a total of 133 people under near constant fire. Lightollers it seemed, were born survivors.

Medway Queen at Dunkirk. From a painting by Roy Gargett

The exploits of another of the Dunkerque ships also need to be singled out for attention here. Already serving with the Royal Navy since the Admiralty requisitioned her earlier in the war, was a former Thames and Medway paddle steamer, the Medway Queen. She was based at Dover as part of the Dover Patrol, and was then in service as a minesweeper, commanded by Lieutenant Cook RN. Gone from her now was the gay black, white and yellow paint scheme of the “New Medway Steam Packet Company”. Now she was “battleship grey” all over and bore the number N48 on her bows. She was also armed.

On her first trip over to Dunkerque, her gunners had shot down a German aircraft that was intent upon sinking her. On her first return trip, the heavily laden Medway Queen encountered another former pleasure steamer, the equally overloaded Brighton Belle.

Unfortunately for those aboard the Brighton Belle, she was sinking, having sustained mortal damage in an earlier encounter with the Luftwaffe. Although his own ship was heavily laden with rescued troops, Lieutenant Cook brought Medway Queen alongside the foundering vessel and her entire compliment of rescued troops as well as Brighton Belle’s crew, were swiftly transferred before the stricken steamer sank. Now dangerously low in the water, Medway Queen headed slowly back to Dover, where she arrived safely, offloaded her desperately weary human cargo, and was then refuelled and readied for another return trip to the evacuation scene.

Medway Queen, like Charles and Roger Lightoller, also seemed destined to be a born survivor. As the Germans closed in and the situation at Dunkerque grew more and more desperate, it was decided that 3rd June would be the last day of Operation Dynamo. Over the past few days, daylight evacuations had been curtailed, due to the high loss rate among the ships evacuating the beleaguered troops. The final evacuations were taking place under the cover of darkness.

The evening of 3rd June found Medway Queen moored at one of the moles in Dunkerque harbour, which itself was being subjected to a rather belated bombardment from German artillery. She was in the process of embarking French troops when a destroyer moored astern of her was hit by a shell and thrown forward. With a sickening crunch, the destroyer rammed Medway Queen , badly damaging her starboard paddle-box and the paddle wheel’s outer bearing holder. The starboard paddle wheel was now apparently out of action and so Medway Queen appeared to be trapped.

Not to be defeated, Medway Queen continued with the embarkation whilst her engineering crew worked frantically into the night, cutting the twisted steel and splintered wood away in order to clear the starboard paddle wheel. They then had to make a temporary repair to the bearing holder.

At 01:00 on 4th June, Lieutenant Cook gingerly eased his battered ship away from the mole with just over 400 French soldiers aboard, and a somewhat battle-weary Medway Queen began limping slowly home across the Channel toward Dover, at a greatly reduced speed. On the way home, her crew heard the BBC Home Service list the Medway Queen as being one of the ships that had been lost in the previous day’s action. When she finally limped safely into Dover harbour, it was to a tumultuous welcome from all the other ships in the port. Vice Admiral Ramsay sent her a signal that simply read: “WELL DONE MEDWAY QUEEN!” and the BBC were more than happy to correct their earlier news bulletin.

Thus did Medway Queen well and truly earn for herself the title “The Heroine of Dunkerque” for of all the ships that had taken part in Operation Dynamo, she had in fact rescued the greatest number of allied troops all told; she brought back over 7,000 in her seven return trips, and she had shot down a German aircraft in the process. Bruised and battered from her Dunkerque ordeal, Medway Queen was duly dry-docked for repairs before eventually resuming her role as minesweeper N48 with the Dover Patrol.

Once the rescued troops were safely landed, it fell to the Southern Railway to transport them all away from the ports to whichever destinations the military authorities decided they were subsequently bound for. This inland exodus proved to be almost as monumental a task as the seaborne evacuation was.

Although the Southern Railway was quite used to laying on special services such as those required in peacetime for gala events like the Naval Review, the Schneider Trophy races, the Derby, or Ascot, etcetera; there was simply no precedent for the sheer scale of train services that the Dunkerque evacuation called for.

Anyone looking at such a mammoth logistical problem might well be forgiven for thinking the task would produce nothing but chaos. In the event, all was in fact quite calm and fairly orderly. Initially, organised improvisation seemed to be the way it was largely carried out. At first, Engine drivers were typically given such instructions as “Stop at Guildford (or Ashford, or Paddock Wood, or Tonbridge, or Haywards Heath, or Maidstone, or Strood) and ask where you go next.” This soon stopped as the organisation kicked in.

The managers at Southern had previously set up sub-control offices at all major rail junctions as soon as Operation Dynamo had started. They had to plan a non-stop rotation of trains, all of which had to be cleaned, coaled, lubricated and watered. The rotation was essentially a clockwise loop around the region to the London termini, stopping only at major junctions with other cross-country lines or actual destinations.

The first trains went straight to the major ports, places such as Ramsgate, Dover Marine, Folkestone, Portsmouth, Newhaven, Southampton etc. The other empty trains were held in North Kent at places such as Queenborough, Faversham, Margate and Ramsgate. As the first trains were loaded and began their clockwise journeys, the empty trains were fed into the loop behind them, to take their places at the port stations, whilst other empty trains moved into the holding stations. Eventually the first trains delivered their human traffic and then went back into the holding stations as empties, there to begin again the round the clock rotation that was to last twelve days.

The hub of this rotation was Redhill Junction on the London to Brighton Line, as a lot of the Southern Railway’s network could be easily accessed through there. In fact, an amazing eighty percent of all the Dunkerque evacuation trains from the south coast ports were routed through there. Being a major junction station, it had facilities for coaling, watering, lubrication and locomotive cleaning and changing. Over 300 tons of ashes were accumulated from locomotive cleaning at Redhill Junction alone over the Dynamo period!

It wasn’t just the engines that needed provisioning of course, as there was the human freight these trains were hauling as well as the train crews, station staff, military officials and the army of volunteers who’d turned out by the hundreds to help. Platforms were turned into Army field kitchens supplying thousands of cups of tea, sandwiches and cakes. There were nowhere near enough cups to go round so tea was served in tin cans. On the Mid-Kent main line, as each train came to a halt at Headcorn Junction, there was a four-minute break whilst teas and munchies were quickly served to the soldiers, the Engine driver, fireman and Train Guard. Nobody got off the train during this time. Four minutes later, at the Guard’s whistle, the platform staff shouted “Chuck ‘em out!” and as the train slowly pulled out of the station, the tin cans (and any remaining tea contained therein!) were thrown out of the windows onto the platform, where the station staff and the volunteers quickly gathered them all, washed them up and refilled them, as the next train was due in eighteen minutes.

At Tonbridge (next brief stop after Headcorn), chocolate bars were provided. At Penge East, (not far from Crystal Palace in London), it was music that was provided, by the local Salvation Army Band, as well as further refreshments to help speed the troops on their way and to welcome them home. This same sort of routine was carried out at many of the other junction stations on the Southern’s network. Everybody just wanted to let the returning troops know that they were with them in heart and mind. Such is the indomitable spirit of the British people!

So, after eight days, Goring’s promise to his Fuhrer had proved utterly worthless. His “leave it to my Luftwaffe” stance had permitted a total of 338,226 allied soldiers to be successfully evacuated from the beaches and harbour of Dunkerque alone. For the British, it was nothing short of a miracle of deliverance, though Churchill quite rightly pointed out that whilst offering thanks for the success of the operation was in order, it should in no way be hailed as a victory. Wars, he said, were not won by evacuations.

With the conclusion of the main part of Operation Dynamo, the Allies abandoned Dunkerque. The BEF had also been forced to abandon most of their equipment and nearly all of their wounded. Having finally taken Dunkerque, the Germans pressed on with the Battle of France. Weygand certainly gave the Germans a run for their money, and what remained of the British and French armies on French soil gallantly fought on; but at best it was forlorn hope that kept them going during what inevitably remained a fighting retreat toward a “mini-Dunkerque” situation at other ports such as Cherbourg.

As Dunkerque itself was being abandoned, Winston Churchill made one of his momentous speeches to the British public. He rose in the House and told the nation:

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!

For France however, despite Churchill’s stirring words, the writing was clearly on the wall. Gamelin’s earlier “sit and wait” policy, followed by his indecisive running around in all directions like a headless chicken, had cost his country; literally. It is to their credit that the French fought on in the face of such adversity and Weygand certainly made the Germans fight for every last kilometre of French soil. Their continued actions bought more in the way of extremely valuable time; time during which a further 220,000 British and French troops were ultimately successfully evacuated from the other northern French ports such as Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Dieppe, Brest, and Saint-Nazaire. This brought the final total of Allied troops evacuated from France to just over 558,000; but the success of Operation Dynamo had come at a heavy price.

Throughout the whole of the evacuation, the Luftwaffe had attacked whenever the weather allowed. Luftwaffe bombs had all but reduced the town of Dunkerque to rubble. On the water the Luftwaffe had succeeded in destroying 235 British vessels. The Southern Railway alone had lost seven of their twenty cross-channel ferries, three of their nine light cargo ships and two of their Isle of Wight ferries; twelve out of their fleet of forty-two vessels, to enemy action.

In the air, the German fighters had shot down 106 RAF fighters during the Dunkerque period alone. On the ground, at least 5,000 British and French soldiers had lost their lives on the various beaches and almost one million men were ultimately taken prisoner by the Germans, to face the next four years in captivity.

Q-Ships and Convoys

The Admiralty was obliged to find an effective response to the U-boat menace. This form of economic warfare was proving highly effective with these silent predators being free to strike undetected and at will. It was impossible to provide sufficient warships to patrol the coasts constantly, and even swift destroyers had a limited range of weapons and tactics to deploy. One possible remedy was to find a mongoose to take on the U-boat cobra, and the response was the ‘Q’ ship. Quite simply, this was a trawler or small merchantman, ostensibly too puny to merit the cost of a torpedo, best dealt with by gunfire from the U-boats’ deck-mounted weapons. But this target would not be as defenceless as it appeared. As the submarine surfaced and closed in for the kill, the victim would suddenly sprout an arsenal of its own and take the predator on in a surface gun duel, hunter thus becoming hunted. By the spring and then summer of 1915, a number of such vessels were in operation but without scoring any significant hits. However the armed collier Prince Charles was destined to do rather better.

Prince Charles was part of the vital collier fleet, which performed the necessary but unglamorous role of maintaining coal supplies to the fleet at anchor in Scapa Flow. Lieutenant Mark Wardlaw RN commanded a ten-man naval detachment on the small vessel, armed with a brace of concealed, small calibre guns. On the evening of 24 July 1915, one of those endless days in the Orcadian summer, U-36 had stopped the Danish vessel Louise but decided the collier offered a more tempting prize. As the chase developed, the U-boat opened fire at extreme range with her deck guns. Wardlaw then responded by ordering the civilian crew to heave to and abandon ship as though in panic. U-36 slid in to a range of 600 feet, confident of the kill. She was simply not ready when Wardlaw unmasked his two guns to commence a steady and accurate fire. This vital element of surprise proved crucial. The Germans were badly shot up and, as they attempted to dive, Warlaw’s gunners finished the job, sending U-36 to the bottom and taking 15 survivors prisoner.

This neat little action showed the worth of the Q-ship, and northern waters became a frequent hunting ground. These were, by definition, never proud men-of-war. In fact, the more down-at-heel the Q-ship appeared, the more likely she was to successfully tempt a U-boat into a surface attack. Occasionally, such a craft might carry torpedoes but more typically a number of smaller guns which could be easily hidden, along with machine guns and small arms. Deception was the key; naval crew had to blend perfectly into the less formal regime of a tramp merchantman. A U-boat would stalk her potential victim long before she surfaced, so the sailors had to look scruffy and unmilitary. This façade had to be maintained in port lest enemy agents be vigilant. Such men were in the mould of Drake and Raleigh. One could imagine Sir Andrew Wood or Cochrane fitting into such a role with gusto. The ship itself was an integral part of the ruse. She would be camouflaged and repainted lest her former lines become too familiar and thus suspect.

When a U-boat surfaced and rode in for the kill, deception reached its final theatrical denouement. A portion of the crew, equal in size to what might be expected of a merchant vessel of this class, would run around the decks, giving ample signs of incipient panic. After a decent interval, they would abandon ship with the captain or someone who looked like a captain, ostensibly clutching the tempting lure of her papers. This finely judged performance (as indeed it might be, as the sailors’ lives depended on the reactions of the predator) was intended not only to maintain the deception but to draw the U-boat on, till the range had closed and the Q-ship’s guns were suddenly unmasked.

Memories of the slaughter of Lusitania’s hapless passengers as a consequence of German action were still fresh, when the Q-ship Baralong steamed to the aid of another liner, Nicosian, attacked in the Channel by U-27. The German decided to punish the shabby tramp steamer for her impudence, but suddenly found herself under fire from the Q-ship’s 12-pounders. Lt Commander Herbert, having crippled his opponent, showed no mercy to the desperate survivors. Numbers were shot in the water or as they sought to climb aboard the liner; total war was by no means a one-sided business. As pressure on Germany mounted, the attraction of unrestricted submarine warfare re-emerged as strategic doctrine; the U-boat fleet could put over 130 craft into the water, with technical capability being continuously enhanced.

Typically, a hunter type U-boat now had four tubes forward with two aft and either a pair of 86-mm, or a single 105-mm, deck-mounted guns. These formidable predators had, by the end of 1916, accounted for a staggering 443,000 tonnes of Allied merchantmen. Jellicoe cautioned that, with this rate of loss, Britain would be hard-pressed to maintain the war effort through the following year and on her knees by the summer. It was small wonder that Haig’s plan for a summer offensive in Flanders included the notion of an amphibious assault on the U-boat pens located within the German-held Channel ports. Sensing that the U-boats might yet achieve what German armies had not and break the will of the British Empire, Wilhelm II agreed to the resumption of totally unrestricted submarine warfare. Losses of allied merchantmen continued to spiral.


One response to the U-boat menace was the convoy system. This was a tried and tested expedient, but one which the Admiralty had, initially, resisted, fearing that to concentrate ships in large numbers would provide nothing more than a submarine feeding frenzy as the ‘wolf packs’ circled. It was not until May 1917 that a system was put in place, though convoy sailing was not obligatory for merchantmen. Losses, however, did begin to decline. The new system was complemented by the introduction and laying of improved mines and, critically, by a significant innovation, the D Pattern Mark III depth charge. These ungainly, underwater explosive devices, little more than a container filled with high explosive and set to detonate at a fixed depth, were used first in action during July 1916, though it wasn’t until December of the following year that depth charges sank UC-19.

Improved means of launching projectiles and the hydrophone system of underwater detection, combined with maritime air patrols, began to turn the tide, to nibble at the U-boat’s supremacy and finally chew it to pieces. In May 1918, some 16 U-boats were sunk. Operational life-expectancy of a submarine crew reduced to six weeks, leading to an even greater savagery on the part of U-boat commanders as time ran out. And time was indeed running out. On 22 October 1918, U-boats were ordered to refrain from further attacks on merchantmen, and it was German sailors who responded to Bolshevik calls for an armed revolution. When it was all over, time to count the cost: 5,000 Allied ships had been lost and with them 15,000 lives; the U-boat service had lost 178 craft and almost half its complement of 13,000 sailors. This First Battle of the Atlantic had been a very close run thing indeed.


For all their swashbuckling, the Q-ships proved the least effective of the Allies’ responses. Depth charges and hydrophones, linked to more and more effective mines, and the shepherding of the convoy system, combined to defeat the U-boats. Of the 180 Q-ships deployed, only 10 managed to destroy German submarines, 14 in all. One of the most successful captains was Gordon Campbell who, commanding Farnborough in March 1916, sank U-68. Then, just less than a year later, accounted for U-83, losing his ship in the process but winning a Victoria Cross. On 8 August 1917, he was master of Dunraven, a converted merchantman, which refined the Q-ship concept by carrying some minor but visible armament, her additional firepower concealed. On that summer’s morning, she was engaged by UC-71 and a rather desultory exchange of fire resulted in no damage or loss to either hunter or hunted.

When this opening exchange had spluttered on for half an hour or so, UC-71 motored in for the kill. Her guns were now striking the superstructure, starting a fire in the poop-shack that threatened to spread to a small magazine. It was now 12.10 p.m. and the action had continued for nearly an hour. The ‘panic crew’ had already played their part, but one of the gun crews was horribly exposed if the magazine ignited. Nearly 50 minutes later the inevitable explosion occurred, wreaking carnage on the after decks and killing one of the gunners. Amazingly, the rest survived, though by no means unscathed. An injured lieutenant apologised to Campbell for leaving his post without orders! The captain had already issued instructions for his remaining guns to open fire, but the U-boat dived unscathed. She was still the hunter and the badly damaged Dunraven still the prey. A torpedo struck at 1.30 pm, blowing out a section of hull. The master ordered all but the remaining gunners to abandon ship, but the German commander, Leutnant Saltzwedel, was not disposed to take chances. Over an hour later, as the Q-ship was already settling, UC-71 surfaced astern to conclude matters with gunfire. Campbell described the ensuing bombardment as extremely unpleasant – in the circumstances, something of an understatement!

Dunraven was wallowing, without sufficient power to turn and return fire upon her tormentor, who now dived once more and circled, like a hungry shark. Campbell promptly loosed two torpedoes of his own, but only one came close and that not close enough. Dunraven was clearly doomed. Campbell stayed aboard with only a single volunteer gun crew. But time was also running out for the Germans: UC-71 could not afford to hang around indefinitely to finish the dying ship and most of her ammunition – shells and torpedoes – was now expended. She withdrew, and Campbell might at least claim the fight as a draw. A destroyer took the crippled Dunraven in tow; she eventually foundered, though without further loss of life. The lieutenant and petty officer who’d stuck to their gun even as the magazine smouldered beneath their feet each won a Victoria Cross. If the Q-ships were not a successful measure in terms of the strategy of the Battle for the Atlantic, this was no reflection of the extreme gallantry of their officers and crews.

Japanese Submarines WWII Missed Opportunities?!

The submarines of the Japanese Navy consisted of some of the most capable in the world at the beginning of World War II. All the submarines built from the outset for operations in the war significantly outranged the submarines of the Allies navies. The range advantage provided the ability to operate at extreme distance from home port or maintain a long on-station time in a given area. Subsequently, the Japanese were able to apply their influence further and longer than other submarine forces. Along with the superior operational reach of the submarines, excellent torpedoes were provided that had a long range and powerful warheads.

The Japanese technological advantage did not wane during the course of the war. It diverged to three different branches: large, small, and fast. The Japanese used their skill to build the largest submarines in the world (Sen Toku Type) as well as some of the most capable small submarines (kaiten and other midgets). Most impressive of all of their designs, however, is the Sen Taka Sho Type medium attack submarine that had an acceptable cruising range coupled with outstanding underwater speed. Had more of these submarines reached operational status earlier, the American forces would have had a unique foe on their hands.

Even with the technological advantages of their designs, the Japanese submarines did suffer from a lack of resources that placed limits on the number of submarines that could be built and on the timeliness of the build process. Also, the Japanese did have a significant delay in developing and installing radar on their submarines. While it was a deficiency, it would not have had significant influence if the focus on operational security had been stronger.

The training of Japanese submarine crews was without equal. The submarines spent long periods of time out at sea constantly practicing elements of the plan for a decisive battle. The intense training periods had such a level of realism that three submarines were lost in prewar training accidents. The training was not without fault however. The overarching focus on the submarine role in the “decisive battle” limited the growth of submarine force capabilities. The overall training gave minimal consideration to key aspects of submarine operations: surveillance, commerce raiding, and sea control (area denial).

Based on the mystique of the German Submarine Force and the results of the American Submarine Force, it would be easy to jump to the idea that had the Japanese Submarine Force strictly applied a strategy of commerce raiding it would have had a greater impact on the war in the Pacific. This argument is too simplistic and discounts the enemy that each respective country was targeting. Japan and Britain, as targets of America and Germany respectively, were island countries dependent on long lines of communication for necessary resources and forces to fight the war. These lines were vulnerable to the focus of intense submarine efforts. Both America (in the Pacific) and Germany were also faced with the lack of a strong surface fleet to conduct offensive operations. The Germans were held in port by a combination of factors, and the American Pacific Fleet was attempting to rebuild after Pearl Harbor. As such, commerce raiding against fragile lines of communication was their only recourse.

The Japanese faced a far different situation at the outset of the war. They had built a large fleet focused on a single strategy. They had a single opponent to be concerned with and that same opponent did not have the immediate ability to attack their nation. The Pacific Ocean provided a strategic safety buffer from American forces. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor reduced the effective combat power of the American Fleet and put them immediately in a defensive posture. The American Navy was not altogether prepared to face the Japanese and an early focus on commerce raiding would have not been able to have an influence similar to that which the American submarines achieved. The Japanese, for all of their superiority in submarine technology, would not have been able to influence the American East Coast. While forces could be moved to act against the West Coast, the force size was too small to carry out effective operations to limit commerce or other operations on the East Coast. Further, there was no method to influence the natural resources available in America proper.

While the focus on a single decisive battle that was unattainable was short-sighted, the understanding that the Japanese Navy needed to focus on American military strength was not improper. The submarine force, as well as the rest of the Navy, was constructed for naval engagement not commerce raiding. The true failure of the force was not to focus its efforts on the opportunities that presented themselves. Pearl Harbor, Midway and Guadalcanal all presented themselves as opportunities for potentially decisive actions. In all three actions, the number of American aircraft carriers available in the Pacific was limited and the ability of the American Navy to conduct continued combat operations was at risk. The Japanese submarine force, based on direction from the Navy Staff, scattered its units to various other theaters away from the major battles, mainly the Aleutians and Indian Ocean.

Had the Japanese submarine force maintained the full cordon around Pearl Harbor after the 7 December attack, they could have effectively maintained ten or more submarines on station continuously when based out of Kwajalein. The size of the Japanese submarine force (capitalizing on significant operational range of the large designs) could have significantly slowed the resupply and rebuilding of Pearl Harbor and denied the American Navy its last key strategic outpost in the Pacific forcing them to extend their lines of communication and operation for any effort against the Japanese a few thousand more miles all the way back to the American West Coast. American operations from the West Coast would have been more vulnerable to the Japanese fleet.

An effective blockade of Pearl Harbor had the potential to expose it to an amphibious invasion which would have further challenged the American ability to recover from the initial attacks and generate offensive initiative.

Had the Japanese submarine force applied the principles of mass and unity of effort to their employment of forces at Midway and Guadalcanal, the operational submarine units in the areas of these battles would have been tripled posing a far greater risk to the American forces. The larger number of units at Midway would have increased the opportunity of early detection of American forces, specifically the aircraft carriers, potentially allowing the Japanese carriers to focus their effort against the American task forces prior to attacking Midway proper. This employment would have more closely met the training that the submarine force underwent during the interwar period potentially raising effectiveness as well.

The Japanese submarine force continued to deny the principle of mass in operations during the American invasion of Guadalcanal. Submarines were still deployed to various marginally important areas rather than the area of Guadalcanal. The small number of submarines assigned to the Guadalcanal area was further diverted from the potential decisive battle by being tasked to conduct supply operations instead of attempting to thwart the invasion and buildup. The respect shown by the American forces for the submarine threat could have been taken advantage of by a larger effort focused on them. Instead, the opportunity to stall the American advance in the South Pacific was given little direct attention while effort was applied to meaningless supply operations and Aleutian and Indian Ocean excursions.

Even as the opportunity for the handful of critical battles passed and the Japanese were placed firmly on the defensive, proper employment of the submarines could have still brought considerable results. The Japanese submarine force consistently showed the ability to complete complicated approaches and attack challenging targets. The sinking of Yorktown at Midway and Wasp at Guadalcanal are proof that the prewar training and exercise experience developed a skilled force that could find success in operations against a determined opponent. Had the Japanese focused their effort against the American offensive, the submarine force had the ability to influence operations. Unfortunate choices to hinder the submarines’ tactical freedom limited their influence as the Americans advanced through the Central and Western Pacific.

The final, and most perplexing, failure of the Japanese submarine force was its inability to learn and adapt to the conduct of the war. From Pearl Harbor through the operations in the Marianas in 1944, Japanese submarines were employed in rigid scouting lines and consistently failed to intercept and report on American fleet movements. Not until the force had suffered the loss of even more submarines in the Marianas did the staff shift their employment to patrol areas where the boats would be able to more freely search for targets. That late in the war, the shift was meaningless. Because the force was so decimated, there were not sufficient boats available to mount a solid defense of the Philippines. The employment of scouting lines failed in every instance that it had been used. The lines were not maintained intact around Pearl Harbor to maintain the cordon.

They were late to take station and then moved without an overriding plan or effect at Midway. They were haphazardly strung around the Solomons, Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas and shifted without operational thought. Only late in the war were submarines released to freely stalk for prey. At this point the force size was too small to have any influence. Submarines were regularly removed from offensive or defensive operations to support grandiose airborne reconnaissance or nuisance strike missions. Submarines were committed en masse to both K Operations as well as reconnaissance and strike flights over Ulithi. The bombings had little effect. The support of reconnaissance missions, by acting as refueling platforms or navigational aids, discounted the ability of the submarines to do the jobs themselves. The submarine force had provided the first photographic intelligence of the results of Pearl Harbor as well as prescient intelligence of preparations at Midway, but the opportunity for later use of submarines as the primary operator in this key role was ignored.

The Japanese submarine force was undoubtedly a technologically superior force at the outset of the war. They were highly trained and well organized to support a distinct form of battle. The training and experience gained in interwar exercises provided a force that was ready to directly face the American Navy. The planning and execution of the war strategy failed to capitalize on the specific skill set of the submarines that were available. Had the submarines been employed as anything more than an adjunct force supporting other efforts, they could have exerted a strong influence and produced costly losses for the American Navy opening the Pacific to further Japanese operations.

The Japanese submarine force was uniquely prepared for operations against enemy combatants and did not need to resort to commerce raiding to have an influence. In fact the early successes of the Japanese Navy made commerce raiding unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Japanese did not capitalize on early successes by maintaining their forces forward and massed for further strikes against American forces. Once the paradigm of the Pacific War changed to a protracted conflict with American forces operating on extended lines of communication, the Japanese failed to adjust their employment strategy and shift to concerted commerce raiding efforts. The failure to learn from the experiences of the German and American submarines as the face of war changed left the Japanese unprepared to have any influence as the war came to an end.
Properly employed, the Japanese submarine force could have been the key to a very different war. Instead, their misemployment only aided in allowing the quick rebuilding of American forces due to their industrial dominance. As such, the actions of Japanese submarines only became footnotes to most major naval battles in the Pacific Ocean.

SMS Lützow: The Skagerrak Battle

One of the only photographs extant that clearly shows the shape of Lützow’s fore funnel after it was fully jacketed.

German Battle Cruiser SMS Lützow Hipper’s Flagship badly damaged by British shell fire.

For the sake of consistency, the times from the Lützow war diary have been altered from summer time to MEZ/CET, a difference of one hour, to match the times given in the official history.

At 02.00 on Wednesday, 31 May the weather in Schillig Roads was cloudy and rainy, with the wind in the NNE. Lützow, with the I AG following, ran out to sea in accordance with Operational Order 6, with the IX TBF as an anti-submarine screen. The day passed quietly until at 15.20 a report was received from the small cruiser Elbing about a smoke cloud to the SW. At 15.26 Lützow went onto course WSW at ‘utmost power’. At 16.08 the I AG was running at 23kts on course NW, and at 16.20 speed was increased to 25kts to chase the British light cruisers. Then large warships came in sight to port ahead. At 16.23 they were made out as British battlecruisers and six minutes later the order was given for fire distribution from the right, as Vizeadmiral Hipper intended to fight the enemy on a northerly course, even though this would take him away from the support of the High Sea Fleet. At 16.28 the enemy ships were observed sending the recognition signal ‘PC’, and then two minutes later at 16.30 they made a turn so that Vizeadmiral Hipper also turned and went onto a SE course at 21kts. Then speed was reduced to 18kts to allow the II AG to catch up.

The wind had changed to the SW, force 2–3, it was sunny, and there was a slight haze. Fire distribution was ordered from the left, ship against ship, and at 16.48 Lützow opened fire on the leading British ship, Lion, at a range of 168hm. During the entire battle Kapitän zur See Harder remained outside the conning tower on the unprotected bridge so he could gain a better overview of the battle, and was accompanied by Signal Offizier Leutnant zur See Schönfeld. Half a minute later the British returned fire, with Lion and Princess Royal firing on Lützow. Korvettenkapitän Paschen, the I Artillerie Offizier, wrote:

For the entire battle Lützow fired with turret salvo fire, forward and aft alternating, a method of fire which I cannot praise highly enough. Both guns worked as one, loaded as one and were directed by one man. After loading all was quiet in the turret. The gunnery leader changed the direction, as and when required. The muzzle smoke collected at the end of the ship, which is most unfavourable for observation conditions. [There was a] 22-second flight time. Impact. 12/16 left, ahead of the bow. 12 to the right. Salvo! A shock from turrets C and D. Impact, over, midships. 8 down, salvo! Over! 8 down, salvo! – straddle! A hit near the bridge! A sigh of relief, and then continue.

Lion was hit twice, at 16.51 and 16.52. Then at 16.57 Lützow was finally straddled, but at 17.00 struck Lion with a hit which penetrated Q turret and blew the roof off. The turret was put out of action and twenty-eight minutes later a huge cordite fire erupted with flames going mast-high, and only the fact that the magazine had been previously flooded saved Lion from destruction. At around 17.00 Lützow suffered the first two hits, both on the forecastle deck. A short time later, at 17.05, Lion sheered out of line and disappeared from sight. She had suffered six hits from thirty-one salvos, whilst Lützow had been hit three times. Target was changed to Princess Royal.

At around 17.15 Princess Royal hit Lützow in the forward dressing station, killing or wounding everyone there. Of the four physicians and doctors aboard Lützow during the battle, two were killed and one was wounded. Then, as the British 5 Battle Squadron approached the I AG and opened fire, at 17.44 Vizeadmiral Hipper ordered the battleships to be taken under fire. In the same minute Lützow hit Barham abreast the aft conning tower. However, relief was now at hand as the German main body came in sight and at 17.51 course north was ordered. So far Lützow had hit the enemy ten times, whilst suffering four hits in return. Of the nine shell-hits on Lion, four did not detonate.

After turning to the north Lützow targeted Lion, and obtained three hits between 17.59 and 18.02. When Lion had passed out of range target was changed to Barham. Nevertheless, observation of the target became increasingly more difficult as visibility deteriorated for the Germans. At 18.13 a 15in shell from Barham struck the armoured belt just ahead and below the port I 15cm casemate. At 18.25 another two 15in shells hit Lützow, striking together between the funnels, and destroyed the main and reserve wireless stations, causing heavy loss of life. Vizeadmiral Hipper was instantaneously deprived of his link with his Reconnaissance Groups and with the Flottenchef. Then, at 18.30, the Panzerkreuzer was struck by another 15in shell, this time from Valiant, which hit to port between the IV and V 15cm casemates. At 18.45 a 13.5in shell from Princess Royal struck the superstructure below the conning tower.

Around this time the British 3 Battlecruiser Squadron unexpectedly arrived in the east and the German I AG had to turn towards the east to counter this new threat. However, soon 1 and 3 Battlecruiser Squadrons began to direct heavy fire on the I AG and at 18.59 Vizeadmiral Hipper carried out a battle turn onto the opposite course, to withdraw from this fire and to close on his main body. At 19.05 Lützow hit Lion again and then at 19.10 the I AG turned back to the NE and took position at the head of the German line. Virtually nothing could be seen of the British forces through the smoke and haze.

Then, at 19.16, part of the British 1 Cruiser Squadron, Defence and Warrior, which had been firing on the small cruiser Wiesbaden, suddenly became visible to the I AG. Korvettenkapitän Paschen wrote:

Then something unexpected happens. From right to left a ship passes through the field of view of my periscope, improbably large and near. From the first glance I make out an older English armoured cruiser and give the necessary commands. Someone pulls me by the arm: ‘Don’t shoot, that is the Rostock!’ But I see clearly the turrets on the forecastle and stern. – ‘Passing battle. Armoured cruiser, 4 funnels. Bow left. Left 30. Measurement! 76hm, salvo!’ Five salvos fall in swift succession, of them three straddle, and then what happened to the battlecruisers was repeated, and the ship blew up in full view of both fleets. The English main body also has Defence in sight at this time, although to us they are invisible and remain so.

Defence sank at 19.20.

Whilst fighting the 1 Cruiser Squadron, Lützow was hit twice at 19.19 by Lion. One shell struck far forward above the bow armour. The other went through the port casemate roof deck and passed forward to detonate just aft of B turret. During this time Lützow was also evading torpedoes fired by British destroyers, and in return hit Onslow twice, and Acasta twice.

With the 1 and 3 Battlecruiser Squadrons enveloping the German head of the line, Lützow came under increasingly heavy fire. Korvettenkapitän Paschen described it thus:

the English battlecruisers require our entire attention. They stand to port aft 130hm away, as we have swung onto an easterly course, and for us are barely recognisable. And then it began, which made everything before look like a game. Whilst the target of our guns was hidden from me by smoke, I gave the direction to the aft position, when suddenly a hail of hits struck from port aft and port ahead. There was nothing to see other than red flashes, not the shadow of a ship.

Between 19.26 and 19.34 Lützow was hit eight times, all from Invincible and Inflexible. The most devastating of these hits were two 12in shells that struck the forward broadside torpedo room and two 12in shells that struck the bow torpedo room. One shell struck below the armour in the broadside room, the other struck the lower edge of the 100mm-thick forward belt. Both penetrated the broadside room. The two other shells struck the bow torpedo room below the waterline. The entire forecastle ahead of frame 249 and below the waterline immediately filled with water. Speed was reduced to 15kts and then 12kts to reduce pressure on bulkhead 249, but water quickly leaked from compartment XIV into compartment XIII through the joints of bulkhead 249 and through speaking tubes.

Then at 19.30 one of Lützow’s assailants suddenly became visible. Korvettenkapitän Paschen wrote:

Meanwhile we had turned onto a southerly course, and suddenly an English battlecruiser of the Invincible type appeared out of the haze clearly and relatively near, four points to port astern. I cannot say strongly enough what satisfaction I felt, to finally have this pest presented before my eyes, and as quick as lightning the commands were given out. But already a dark object slides between my periscope and the opponent: the corner of the admiral’s bridge, which limits the angle of vision of my periscope object lens to about 10°. ‘Has the aft position measured?’ – ‘Jawohl! 100hm!’ – ‘Direction aft position!’ Kapitänleutnant Bode gives brief and clear orders, and to the inexpressible joy of the whole ship, 15 seconds later our guns crash out again, with the exception of B turret. I heard everything myself through the headphones; what Bode and the artillery transmitting station said, and now also saw the opponents again. ‘Over! 4 down, salvo! Straddle! Salvo!’ As the sound of the fall of shot indicator screeched, the columns flickered out of the water around the enemy and again the beautiful and unmistakable dark red flares up.

Invincible had been struck on Q turret and the shell had detonated inside, blowing off the turret roof. A great explosion followed almost immediately as the magazine exploded and the ship broke in two and sank within ten to fifteen seconds. The magazine of A turret is also thought to have exploded. The two halves of the ship came to rest on the shallow bottom and were clearly visible above the water for some time. The time of the explosion was 19.32. Derfflinger had also been firing on Invincible and it had taken just two minutes to destroy her, whilst Defence had been sunk in just three minutes.

At 19.45, whilst still under heavy enemy fire, the torpedo boat G39 was called alongside and Vizeadmiral Hipper and his staff disembarked to move to another flagship. Lützow was down by the bows and was unable to maintain speed and the wireless had been destroyed. The heavily damaged cruiser took course at slow speed off to the SW to withdraw from the enemy fire, but at 20.15 she came under a particularly pernicious and destructive fire. The British battleships Monarch and Orion hit Lützow a total of six times between 20.15 and 20.30 at a range of approximately 169hm. One shell struck turret B, putting it out of action, another struck the right gun of turret A, showering the turret in splinters. A further hit struck the starboard belt armour below B barbette. Another struck the casemate armour of the IV starboard casemate. A further hit struck the deck aft of C turret and destroyed the aft dressing station. Stabswachtmeister Behrens wrote:

Then a report arrived that a heavy hit had penetrated the aft dressing station from above and exploded there. Obermaat Meyer, wounded, brought this report forward to me. His wound did not appear too bad, and briefly after his report he sat down and began to smoke. In reality he was badly wounded by a splinter and succumbed to this wound 14 days later.

Now it was frighteningly clear to me that all the doctors and specially trained medical personnel were dead or injured. The vision earlier seen: the commander of the ship, surrounded by the four doctors, came before my eyes, and now the present situation; both dressing stations knocked out or destroyed by heavy artillery hits and connected with that the injuries to doctors and specialist medical personnel, and destruction of the greater part of the medicines and medical equipment.

Because there was no alternative the badly wounded were simply taken to a Zwischendeck compartment and laid out.

The final hit during this period sent the top of the main mast crashing down on deck.

Lützow was veiled in a smoke screen laid by four escorting torpedo boats and at 20.40 the enemy ceased fire as Lützow crept off to the SW at just 3–5kts. At 21.13 it was reported to the bridge that there were 1,038 tonnes of water in the ship. At 21.35 it was attempted to run at a higher speed, but this had to be abandoned because the bulkhead between compartment XII and XIII could not stand the pressure. Then at 22.05 the first enemy destroyer attack against the fleet was observed to port ahead at a range of about 60hm. At 22.15 there were approximately 2,395 tonnes of water in the ship.

By 23.12 Lützow and four escorting torpedo boats were in grid square 018 epsilon, course SSW, speed 13kts. The draught forward was 13m. The ship quickly sank deeper and deeper by the bow and by 00.05 on 1 June water was washing about the barrels of A turret and the draught was approximately 15m. By 01.00 the pumps could no longer hold the port diesel dynamo room drained. The forward group of pumps had failed as the ‘leak’ pump room was flooded and the pipes in the forecastle were shot through. Water began to penetrate boiler room VI. Even though revolutions were maintained for 7kts the speed achieved was just 5kts. As related by Korvettenkapitän Paschen the battle to save the ship was slowly being lost:

I still held out hope for the ship, but at about 2am in the morning the commander called the senior Offiziere to a conference, and the First Offizier reported 7,500 tonnes of water in the ship, and gave his view that at the longest we could remain afloat was until 8am in the morning. The news was a bitter blow. Our beautiful ship! However, it must be so; the forecastle was now 2m under water; through the open casemates the water entered the battery in streams, and poured through the torn deck into the Zwischendeck. The large forward oil boiler room had to be abandoned to save the men.

The last figures from damage control indicated that there were 4,209 tonnes of water below the armoured deck, and 4,142 tonnes above, giving a total of 8,351 tonnes, but this was still increasing and the draught forward was approximately 17m. Shortly after 02.00 an attempt was made to steer the ship stern first, but this failed because the propellers were already too far out of the water. Likewise an attempt to tow the Panzerkreuzer with torpedo boats was abandoned. Kapitän zur See Harder ordered ‘Fires out’ and gave the order to abandon ship. However, tragically, there were some men trapped in an air pocket in the flooded bows. A Leutnant zur See wrote:

I had to think of the six poor stokers that were still alive when the ship sank. They sat in the forward diesel-dynamo switch room, just like a diving bell, and could not get out. They had called me once, as I had a connection with them, and reported that the water was slowly rising in their room. It was held by pumps at a certain height. They maintained their courage and optimism until the last. They were still trapped.

The four torpedo boats that had remained with Lützow – G40, G38, V45 and G37 – were now called alongside. Three at a time, they lay contiguously alongside to starboard to take off the crew. Kapitänleutnant Jung wrote:

The survivors assembled on the quarterdeck. Above them fluttered the battle flag, shot to pieces by the enemy shells. Where there was no longer any Offiziere, the senior Unteroffizier took command. Still it was a black night. Only in the east the hesitating dawn appeared, heralding the new day. The address of the commander was short and concise. He concluded with the request that we be proud of SMS Lützow and her crew today for their selfless and extraordinary service for the Fatherland. Then three cheers were called for the ship and Kaiser.

‘And now go to the boats!’ The last words of the commander were almost paternal, sounding out of the dark. They touched the deepest emotions of all of his subordinates.

Kapitän zur See Harder was the last to leave the ship. Korvettenkapitän Paschen wrote:

The disembarking of the crew was exemplary; first all wounded, then quietly, all the remaining. When we cast off as the last boat, I could see in the first of the morning gloom the ship as follows: turret A under water, B an island. The bridge stood in water to the upper deck. The stern was approximately 2m higher than usual.

On the orders of the commander the torpedo boat G38 fired a torpedo to scuttle the cruiser, but the draught aft was so reduced and the torpedo ran under the sinking ship; a second struck amidships and Lützow lay slowly over to starboard and capsized. The time was 02.47. Her position was 56° 15’ N, 5° 52’ E.

The torpedo boats steered to Horns Reef light vessel. In the grey dawn there was a brief firefight with three enemy destroyers steering to the SW, and soon after with two British light cruisers and about six destroyers, which, however, did not take up the pursuit. G40 received a hit in the starboard turbine and was towed by the other boats, and thereby could only run at 10kts. Upon receiving news of these events the II FdT (Führer der Torpedoboote), Kommodore Heinrich, made a turn at about 09.45, on his own initiative, and took Regensburg and three boats of the IX TBF to meet the tow unit near Graa-Dyb light vessel. Some of the Lützow crew were transferred to Regensburg and reached Wilhelmshaven during the evening. During the battle Lützow is reported to have lost 116 Offiziere and men, but this number climbed subsequently to a final figure of 128, as in the days following the battle other crew, including Stabarzt Gelhaar and Obermaat Meyer, died from their wounds.

Damage Suffered During the Battle

As the Panzerkreuzer Lützow was scuttled and sank on the morning after the battle, the detailed hit descriptions found with the other cruisers are absent, and the order and location of hits must be reconstructed from reports and an excellent hit diagram. This deals with the hits from bow to stern, but we shall look at them in chronological order.

Hit One

At 17.00 a 13.5in shell from Lion struck the forecastle near the capstans and made a large hole. The explosion shook turret A and it rocked from side to side. Three men in the working chamber were knocked out but later recovered. Poisonous gases entered the gun barrels and when the breeches were opened the gases entered the turret and rendered three men unconscious.

Hit Two

Likewise at 17.00, this 13.5in shell-hit from Lion also made a large hole in the forecastle deck, and later these two hits allowed great quantities of water to enter the ship.

Hit Three

A heavy-calibre shell from Princess Royal struck between A and B turrets at 17.15 and destroyed the forward combat dressing station.

Hit Four

Hit number four was also at 17.15 from Princess Royal and struck the belt armour aft at approximately frame 120. The shell did not penetrate the thick armour, but the ship was shaken and vibrated powerfully.

Hit Five

At 18.13 a 15in shell fired from Barham struck the belt armour around frame 210 just below the waterline. The shell shattered on the armour, but the plate was displaced and allowed the two outer wing compartments to fill with water.

Hits Six and Seven

At 18.25 two 15in shells from Barham struck the superstructure between the two funnels and destroyed the main and reserve wireless stations. With this hit the shell hoist to the starboard III 15cm cannon temporarily failed, but was soon re-switched and operating again.

Hit Eight

A 15in shell from Valiant struck at 18.30 between the IV and V port 15cm casemates. The shell burst above the armoured deck without causing serious damage.

Hit Nine

At 18.45 a 13.5in shell from Princess Royal struck the superstructure side to port just below the conning tower, causing minor damage.

Hit Ten

At 19.19 a 13.5in shell from Lion struck the forecastle far forward.

Hit Eleven

Also at 19.19, a second hit from Lion – this time the shell struck the port casemate roof and penetrated before passing forward to detonate just behind turret B. A fire was started amongst the damage-control material stored there, which created a lot of smoke.

Hits Twelve and Thirteen

At 19.26 Lützow was struck by two 12in calibre projectiles, from either Invincible or Inflexible, below the waterline. One shell struck the broadside torpedo room below the armoured belt; the other struck the lower edge of the 100mm-thick armour and likewise penetrated the broadside torpedo room.

Hits Fourteen and Fifteen

At 19.29 two further 12in shells from the same antagonists struck the bow torpedo room below the waterline and bow armour. As a result of these four hits the entire forecastle beneath the armoured deck immediately filled with water. The bulkhead at frame 249 came under huge pressure and speed had to be reduced, first to 15kts, then 12kts and finally just 3kts. Bulkhead 249 was not completely watertight and water penetrated compartment XIII and then XII. Later on water finally penetrated into compartment XI, the forward boiler room. The draught forward quickly increased to 12m.

Hit Sixteen

At 19.27 a 12in projectile from either Invincible or Inflexible struck the upper deck of the forecastle, producing a large hole in the deck.

Hit Seventeen

A 12in shell from either Invincible or Inflexible struck the belt armour near its lower edge to port at approximately frame 165, below the IV 15cm casemate. The projectile penetrated the armour and was found wedged on the Böschung (sloping armour) without detonating. Gas pressure damaged the IV 15cm cannon and rendered it unserviceable.

Hit Eighteen

At 19.30 a 12in shell struck the belt armour above the waterline between the port III and IV casemates and shattered without detonating.

Hit Nineteen

At 19.30 a 12in shell struck the port side net shelf just below the V 15cm cannon and detonated.

Hit Twenty

At 20.07 a heavy shell struck the port casemate and put the port combat signal station out of action. The signal personnel were killed and a fire resulted.

Hit Twenty-one

At 20.15 a 13.5in shell from either Orion or Monarch struck the right barrel of A turret and detonated just outside the gunport. Splinters showered into the turret, the aft hoop was torn off the barrel of the right 30.5cm gun, which was jammed. The left gun was protected by the splinter shield inside the turret and remained serviceable.

Hit Twenty-two

Likewise at 20.15, a 13.5in shell from either Orion or Monarch penetrated the deck between C and D turrets. The aft dressing station was badly hit and there were heavy casualties amongst the wounded and medical personnel. In addition, the electrical cable to D turret, which ran above the armoured deck in this position, was severed so that D turret had to resort to hand training. Nevertheless, before Lützow sank the electrical personnel successfully restored the cable connection.

Hit Twenty-three

At 20.16 a projectile from either Orion or Monarch struck to starboard in the area of B turret barbette, causing the flooding of the starboard I 15cm gun munitions chamber.

Hit Twenty-four

At 20.17 a 13.5in shell from either Orion or Monarch struck the 250mm-thick armour of the starboard side of turret B, which was still traversed to approximately 280° to port. The aft lower right side wall was penetrated, leaving a calibre-sized hole approximately 0.25sq m in size. The shell was kept out but the punched-out piece of armour was found on the right gun carriage cradle. The loading facilities and right upper hoist were destroyed and men to the rear of the gun were killed. A fore charge on the right upper powder hoist burned, but a main charge directly above it did not. The turret Offizier, Kapitänleutnant Fischer, was killed by toxic gas, whilst others escaped, although some suffered burns.

The right hydraulic pump in the powder handling room was destroyed.

Hit Twenty-five

Sometime between 20.15 and 20.30 a heavy shell struck the upper main mast above the observation position. Inside the aft conning tower a deafening impact was heard directly beside the tower as the upper mast fell from a great height.

Below is a copy of Kapitän zur See Harder’s combat report. Not all of his observations and impressions are entirely accurate. (The times used are summer time.)

‘Lützow’ survivors. Wilhelmshaven, 8 June, 1916. B. N°. Gg 14.