Tag Archives: tokyo bay

Just when DID the Battleship Era End?

In one of the battleship groups that I am a member of on social media, the subject of the “end of the battleship era” came about with the suggestion that, after the Battle of the North Cape in December of 1943, the importance of post-Washington Treaty battleships had diminished so significantly that any WWI vintage battleship would have sufficed for the remainder of the war as battleships became shore bombardment (which the Iowas were still around for as late as Desert Storm) and anti-aircraft platforms rather than meant to kill other battleships in surface warfare.

Of course, this neglected the glaring fact that the October 1944 Battle of Surigao Straits existed.

As far as my take, I’d argue that the end of the “battleship v. battleship era,” in which opposing vessels of the type could have possibly met in combat, was the mid-to-late 1950s.

Between the three Sovetsky Soyuz-class (Project 23) battleships still somewhat under construction until the late 1940s (canceled 47-49), as well as the elderly Great War-era Gangut-class dreadnoughts (Petropavlovsk/Volkov, stricken 1953; Gangut/Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya, stricken 1956; and Sevastopol stricken 1957), and the old Italian Cavour-class battleship Giulio Cesare which was taken over after WWII as Novorossiysk until she blew up in 1955, the Soviets had several kinda operational battlewagons as well as some intermittently on the drawing board.

The Soviet battleship Sevastopol underway, circa 1947-48. Note her much-changed profile from the Great War era she came from

Meanwhile, arrayed against the Red Banner Fleet were a number of active NATO-controlled battleships including the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz (old SMS Goeben, retired 1950, scrapped 1973), two French Richelieu-class battleships (Richelieu and Jean Bart moved to reserve in 1957), the Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard (retired in 1960), USS Mississippi (still in commission as a test ship until 1956 and retaining her No. 4 turret with working 14-inch guns as late as 1952), and the four Iowas (mothballed between 1955 and 1958, although they would make a rapid comeback). Plus, the reformed Italian Marina Militare (which was a NATO fleet from the organization’s first days) still had the ancient Andrea Doria and Caio Dulio on the rolls as late as 1956. Going even further, the U.S. Navy had 11 very recently modernized dreadnoughts (nine with 16-inch guns) of the Tennessee, Colorado, SoDak, and North Carolina classes in mothballs but still on the Naval List as mobilization assets until 1959. 

Jean Bart in true color, anchored at Toulon during the late 1950s after her brief participation in the Suez Crisis and the termination of her short service life

In short, had there been some sort of East vs. West dustup in the early days of the Cold War, especially in the Black Sea/Eastern Med, it could have resulted in a scenario where battleship-on-battleship violence could have occurred as late as 1956 or so.

Or at least that is my take on the debate, anyway. 

Distant Escort

Distant Escort: The cruisers HMS Sheffield (C24) and HMS Jamaica (44) along with the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) on patrol along the Convoy Route to Russia.

Painting by maritime artist John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993), via the Imperial War Museum London (LD7427-001) Courtesy of the Art UK Trust. ‘ 

Just over the horizon from the convoys, such sluggers would be on tap in case German surface raiders sortied out from occupied Norway to ambush passing by on the way to Murmansk, with the idea to bushwack said Kriegsmarine vessels.

Of note, the wrecking crew of Duke of York & Co would deliver Winston Churchill an excellent Boxing Day present in 1943 by utterly smashing KMS Scharnhorst in just such an engagement at what became known as the Battle of North Cape, some 77 years ago today. 

Another of Hamilton’s paintings:

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019: We’ll fight them both

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019: The Under-armed Hero of the Iceland-Faroe Passage

Here we see the P&O R-class steamer SS Rawalpindi, a passenger liner who spent most of her life in the Far East and colonial India but earned everlasting fame with a scratch crew of reservists and naval pensioners during her last 13 minutes in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, 80 years ago this week.

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co Ltd, London which is usually just referred to as P&O, in the 1920s built a series of 16,697-grt R-class liners for the UK to Bombay mail and passenger run. The four sisterships– SS Ranpura, SS Ranchi, SS Rawalpindi and SS Rajputana— were designed by the same people who made the Titanic a decade prior, Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast, with the first two built by R & W Hawthorne Leslie on the Tyne, and the last pair by H&W’s Greenock yard in Scotland.

Using a twin set of reciprocating engines with their aft 2nd funnel a dummy used for ventilation, they had a design speed of 17.8 knots although made 19 on trials. With interiors designed by Lord Inchcape’s daughter Elsie Mackay, they were set up with accommodation for 307 first-class and 280 second-class passengers with public lounges, music rooms, dining saloons and smoke rooms separated by class. Capable of carrying large amounts of refrigerated stores, they were popular ships on the run to the Orient.

Laid down at Greenock as Yard No. 660, Rawalpindi was named for the historic Indian (now Pakistani) city and launched 26 March 1925 with Lady Birkenhead as her sponsor. She was delivered to P&O that September and began a quiet 15-year run in regular service uniting the Home Isles with Britain’s colonial Indian Empire.

Rawalpindi notably showed up in Pathe newsreels of the era when she brought the survivors of the lost Parthian-class submarine HMS Poseidon (P99) home from China in 1931.

Once the balloon went up in 1939, the Admiralty called in their markers with London shipping lines and requisitioned more than 50 fast passenger liners for conversion to armed merchant cruisers for patrol and convoy use. Typically outfitted with surplus six-inch guns that had been removed from the casemates of old battlewagons and cruisers, the liners landed much of their finery and art, received a coat of grey paint, and were rushed into service with a crew largely composed of their former civilian mariners who volunteered for active duty in the RNR.

For Rawalpindi, her transformation amounted to removing her fake funnel then picking up eight 6″/45 BL Mark VII guns, a pair of QF 3-inch AAA guns, and a half dozen Vickers machine guns– the newest of which dated to 1916. The armament was intended to plug away at enemy armed surface raiders of the type the Kaiser put to sea during the Great War, fight it out on the surface with U-boats, or warning off the occasional Condor long-range patrol bomber.

6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII bow gun on monitor HMS Severn during the Great War. Rawalpindi had eight of these mounts. IWM Q 46247.

Rawalpindi’s conversion was completed on 19 September 1939– just over two weeks after the Germans marched into Poland. Her wartime skipper was CPT Edward Coverley Kennedy, RN, a 60-year-old Great War vet of the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand who had been on the retired list since 1921, a collateral victim of the Washington Naval Treaty. Kennedy, who had first joined the Royal Navy as a 13-year-old cadet in 1892, could have easily sat out WWII but volunteered to return to the colors.

Requisitioned at Tilbury the day the war started, SS Rawalpindi became haze grey His Majesty’s Armed Merchant Cruiser Rawalpindi just 19 days later after conversion by R&H Green & Silley Weir at the Royal Albert Dock, London.

Note her aft funnel, which was vestigial, has been amputated.

Sailing Northwest for patrol duties in the Iceland Gap, our converted liner had a chance to get muscular with the 4,500-ton German tanker Gonzenheim at 63.25N, 12.00W, in the Denmark Strait on 19 October while the latter was trying to run the blockade home from Argentina. With the gig up, the German tanker scuttled as Rawalpindi recovered her crew. A second vessel, a Swedish freighter with a German destination, was stopped and rerouted the next week towards Scotland.

At the time, there were no less than eight British AMCs, backed up by several actual RN cruisers, prowling between Scotland and Iceland and were effective in stopping German blockade runners, typically catching 8 to 10 a week during this early stage of the war. This led to a sortie by the brand-new Kriegsmarine battleship SMS Scharnhorst, in her first operation, accompanied by her sister Gneisenau, to clear out the area.

Gneisenau (foreground), Admiral Hipper (center) and Scharnhorst (background) at Trondheim, Norway June 11, 1940

Sailing from Wilhelmshaven late on 21 November, the lead ship of the strong German task force was observed through the snow at 15,000 yards by lookouts on the Rawalpindi at 1531 on 23 November in the Iceland-Faeroes channel, about 100 miles to the East of Iceland itself.

Steaming alone but with other units nearby (the light cruisers HMS Newcastle, Delhi, Ceres, and Calypso; heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk) Kennedy twice signaled (incorrectly) that Rawalpindi had found the German pocket battleship SMS Deutschland at 63.40N, 12.31W, an alert that drew emergency orders from the Admiralty to Clyde to send the gorilla squad– consisting of the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, along with the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire and seven destroyers– north.

However, stuck with a ship that at the time could only make 14 knots, and outgunned even if confronting a pocket battleship much less a full-grown brawler, Kennedy decided to stand and fight rather than surrender.

The fast-approaching Scharnhorst fired a warning shot across Rawalpindi’s bow at 1603 from a range of 10,000 yards and signaled the Brit to stop transmitting and halt. Soon after, Gneisenau emerged from the fog and made her presence known. The converted liner faced 18 11-inch, 24 5.9-inch, and 28 4.1-inch guns as well as a dozen torpedo tubes between the two German battleships. As they had 13-inch belts, the best the merchant cruiser’s own 6-inch guns could do was scratch their paint.

“We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye,” Kennedy reportedly told his crew and ordered his guns to fire.

The action was over within 13 minutes or so, with the unarmored Rawalpindi pummeled by 11-inch shells from the two German capital ships, causing the death of over 260 of her crew, Kennedy included. The British ship was a burning hulk but had landed shells on Scharnhorst’s foc’sle causing Hitler’s newest battlewagon slight damage.

Norman Wilkinson’s “Rawalpindi’s final action,” a painting that hung in P&O’s main London office for decades.

A final signal came from a morse lamp on the British ship “please send boats,” to which the Germans launched whaleboats. Between the two German battleships, they picked up at least 20 survivors (some reports list numbers as high as 38) from the flaming wreck who went on to become POWs for the duration, largely at Stalag X-B, a merchant lager near Bremervorde.

They Sailed the Seven Seas: The P & O Story — “We’ll Fight Them Both”

German ADM Wilhelm Marschall, aboard Gneisenau, ordered his task force to withdraw into an approaching gale, doubled back towards the Arctic to lose their pursuers, and returned to Wilhelmshaven on 27 November after successfully evading the alerted, and very revenge-minded, British fleet.

The responding 6-inch gun-armed light cruisers Newcastle and Delhi spotted the Germans at a range of 6 miles as they left Rawalpindi’s last location around 1900 on 23 November but chose, wisely, not to engage.

Another P&O passenger ship converted to an armed merchant cruiser, HMS Chitral (F57), moved in to search Rawalpindi’s floating wreckage field for survivors the next morning, in the end rescuing 10 and landing them at Clyde on 24 November where the Second Sea Lord, ADM Sir Charles Little, was on hand to greet them in a special parade in London.

Around the world, the incorrect headline, “Rawalpindi sunk by the Deutschland” flashed.

While there had been a number of warships sunk by aircraft (see= Polish Navy) and significant individual submarine vs. ship actions– for instance between the carrier HMS Courageous and U-29 on 17 September that left British carrier and 518 of her crew in the cold embrace of Poseidon– the often forgotten scrap between Rawalpindi and the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst was the first large surface clash of World War II and the first the British had seen since 1919 when RADM Tich Cowan tossed around the Red Navy in the Baltic during the Russian Civil War.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told Parliament of the Rawalpindi: “These men might have known, as soon as they sighted the enemy, that there was no chance, but they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many went to their deaths in the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to those that come after them.”

On the 6 December 1939, then-First Sea Lord Winston Churchill honored the sacrifice of the Rawalpindi in Parliament, “Whose glorious fight against overwhelming odds deserves the respect and honor of the House (of Commons) and of the nation.”

Of Rawalpindi’s sisters, Ranchi served on East Indies Station and in the Pacific during the war as an armed merchant cruiser and was returned successfully to P&O in 1947. She was then used on 15 lengthy emigrant voyages from Portsmouth to Australia carrying thousands of “Ten Pound Poms” to Oz on one-way trips before she was broken up in 1953.

Rajputana was likewise transformed into an armed merchant cruiser during WWII and was torpedoed and sunk off Iceland on 13 April 1941 by U-108, after escorting convoy HX 117 across the North Atlantic. In all, the British lost 15 out of 57 of their armed merchant cruisers in WWII: 10 to U-boats, three to German surface raiders, one (the converted A. Holt & Co liner HMS Hector) to Japanese carrier aircraft and one (the converted P&O liner HMS Comorin) to fire.

HMS Ranpura (F93) was used as an armed cruiser in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean during WWII and notably moved Britain’s gold reserves to Canada in 1940 for safekeeping. She finished the war as a repair and depot ship in Malta and was retained by the RN through the 1950s in such a role, participating in the Suez Crisis, before she was finally scrapped in 1961, the last of her class.

Rawalpindi is remembered extensively in maritime art by the likes of Jack Spurling, William McDowell, and Norman Wilkinson.

HMS Rawalpindi by William McDowell incorrectly shows her with two stacks

The original 1:48 scale (2155 x 4045 x 900 mm) P&O builder’s model of SS Rawalpindi, complete with its ornately carved mahogany display case, is on display at the Maritime Museum Greenwich, London.

As for P&O, they went defunct in 2006 with their assets spun off to Maersk and Carnival.

“Bulldog” Kennedy is remembered in a memorial at High Wycombe, Bucks, on a panel in Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, at the Plymouth memorial, and on an altar rail at All Saints Church, Farringdon, as well as wherever old sea dogs gather to tell stories.

The Admiralty mentioned him in dispatches, but he was not posthumously decorated. Perhaps a VC would have been appropriate or, alternatively, the entire crew of Rawalpindi collectively could have been recognized with the George Cross, much like the population of Malta was in 1942.

Kennedy’s son, Ludovic, went on to be a noted journalist and BBC broadcaster. In 1971 he hosted an hour-long documentary entitled “The Life and Death of the Scharnhorst.”

Notably, he spoke with eloquence of the stand of the Rawalpindi saying, “In Britain, this action caught the imagination in a way that it might not have done later. For it was the first naval action of the war and it showed people that they could still rely on the Navy and that, even in a ship manned by pensioners and reservists, the Navy was going to fight this war’s battles as it had in the past, whatever the outcome, whatever the cost.”

Specs

Model of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi MOD 381 IWM

Displacement: 16,697 grt / 9,459 nrt
Length: 547.7 ft
Beam: 71.3 ft
Draft: 25.9 ft
Engines: 2- Screw 2 shaft 2xQ4cyl (33, 47, 67.5, 97 x 60in) Harland & Wolff engines, 2478nhp, 15000ihp, 17.8 knots
Crew: (1939) 276
Armament: (1939)
8 x 6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII guns
2 x QF 3 in (76 mm) 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns

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The eerie quiet before the end, 74 years ago

Pre-Surrender Nocturne Tokyo Bay.”

Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Standish Backus; 1945. Depicting the old forts at Futtsu Saki, a narrow point of land jutting into the eastern side of Uraga Strait at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, a burnt-out Japanese destroyer, and the eeriness of the moonlight:

(NHHC: 88-186-Z)

The artist’s notes:

The forts at Futtsu Saki had to be approached and demobilized early on the morning of 30 August 1945. No landings from the sea had yet occurred and we did not know what sort of reception we would receive from the Japanese. From past experience, it was not expected to be healthy in all respects. Was there a division of troops in those forts waiting to mow us down as we hit the beach? Its very silence, the haunted quantity of the burnt-out Japanese destroyer, and the eeriness of the moonlight gave us all a foreboding.

The forts were, in fact, well-defended, by a full regiment but the artillery on hand was old. One of the first coastal defense forts in the country, the batteries used 15cm Krupp guns in steel cupolas and several emplaced Model 1890 Osaka-made (Armstrong-Whitworth designed) 28cm howitzers that the Japanese had at least twice dismounted and used as siege guns (at both Port Arthur and Tsingtao) back when they were still relevant.

Japan coast defense 280mm L/10 howitzers nicknamed “Osaka Babies” by the Japanese and “Roaring Trains” by the Russians when they were dismounted and used as siege artillery at Port Arthur in 1904. While dated, these beasts could still ruin a ship that came within their reach. 

It was a pucker factor for sure.

As related by Backus in his painting “The First Wave on Japan”

Watercolor on Paper; by Standish Backus; 1945; Unframed Dimensions 16H X 23W. (NHHC: 88-186-B)
“Futtsu Peninsula, Tokyo Bay: Seal-like Higgins boats create their own heavy seas as they carry Marines of the 2nd Battalion 4th Regiment ashore for the first test of whether the Japanese will resist or abide by negotiated surrender terms. It is tense for the next five minutes. The Japanese would logically wait until the Marines were at the shoreline to open a withering fire that could be a massacre. Since there could be no preparatory bombing or bombardment, it had to be done the hard way by head-on assault. The main group of boats landed here at Fort #2 while a small group landed at Fort #1 at the end of the spit beyond the hulk of a burned-out Japanese destroyer. The setting moon, which stood watch over the landing of the boats from the transport, is now relieved by the misty rays of the early sun.”

But the Forts were captured with no bloodshed on either side.

The first landing craft carrying Marines of 2/4 touched the south shore of Futtsu Saki at 0558; two minutes later, the first transport plane rolled to a stop on the runway at Atsugi, and the occupation of Japan was underway. In both areas, the Japanese had followed their instructions to the letter. On Futtsu Saki the coastal guns and mortars had been rendered useless, and only the bare minimum of maintenance personnel, 22 men, remained to make a peaceful turnover of the forts and batteries. By 0845, the battalion had accomplished its mission and was reembarking for the Yokosuka landing, now scheduled for 0930.

Members of the Yokosuka Occupation Force, 2/4 Marines, inspect a Japanese fortification on Futtsu Saki. [USMC 134741]. Besides the Marines, the landing force was accompanied by 10 U.S. Navy gunners mates familiar with large naval pieces to disable the captured guns. 

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018: Churchill’s best Boxing Day gift

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018: Churchill’s best Boxing Day gift

National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Lot-3478-38 (2407×1750)

Here we see the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) in heavy seas, often captioned as firing her 14-inch guns at the distant German battleship Scharnhorst during the Battle of the North Cape, some 75 years ago today– Boxing Day, 1943. Her broadside of 10 BL 14-inch Mk VII naval guns could throw almost eight tons of shells at once.

Part of a class of five mighty battleships whistled up as Hitler was girding a resurgent Germany, Duke of York was ordered 16 November 1936, just eight months after the Austrian corporal-turned-Fuhrer violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact by reoccupying the demilitarized Rhineland. Built at John Brown and Company, Clydebank (all five KGVs were constructed at different yards to speed up their delivery), she commissioned 19 August 1941– as Great Britain remained the only country in Western Europe still fighting the Blitzkrieg. What a difference a few years can make!

Some 42,000-tons, these 745-foot long ships were bruisers. Capable of breaking 28-knots, they were faster than all but a handful of battleships on the drawing board while still sporting nearly 15-inches of armor plate at their thickest. Armed with 10 14-inch and 16 5.25-inch guns, they could slug it out with the biggest of the dreadnoughts of their day, possibly only outclassed by the American fast battleships (Washington, SoDak, Iowa-classes) with their 16-inch guns and the Japanese Yamatos, which carried 18-inchers.

HMS Duke of York, one of five King George V-class battleships

HMS Duke of York in drydock at Rosyth, Scotland.

HMS Duke of York (17), showing off her unusual quadruple turret as she departs Rosyth, 1942

Her first assignment, once she was commissioned, was to carry Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to the United States in mid-December 1941 to confer with London’s new ally, President Roosevelt.

HMS Duke of York visits America to transport Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to the United States, mid-December 1941. Note the Anti-Aircraft pom-pom guns in the drill. The photograph released January 27, 1942.

HMS Duke of York puffing a smoking “O” from her Y turret during exercises off Scapa Flow. This photo was taken aboard HMS Bedouin on 27 February 1942 and if you ask me is from the same set that the first image in this post is. The next day, Duke of York would cut short her work upon a sighting by HMS Trident of the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugene steering for Trondheim in Norway. Trident winged the latter, sending her running for Lofjorden. At 1830 hours on 28 Feb, Duke of York, the light cruiser Kenya, and destroyers Faulknor, Eskimo, Punjabi and Eclipse sailed from Scapa for Hvalfjord, Iceland, to join the Home Fleet and carry out her first operational sortie. IWM A 7549

By March 1942, she was active in the Battle of the Atlantic, sailing from Hvalfjord northwards around Iceland to provide distant cover for convoy PQ 12 against the threat posed by German heavy cruisers (Hipper, Prinz Eugen, Scheer), and battleships (Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau) possibly operating from Norway.

Battleship HMS Duke of York in heavy seas on a convoy escort operation to Russia, March 1942. In all, she would screen 16 convoys from March 1942 to December 1943, with breaks to cover landings in North Africa and Sicily and escort the Italian fleet to captivity.

Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen, USN, Commander, Task Force 99 Visits with a British Vice Admiral on board HMS Duke of York, probably at Scapa Flow. The photo is dated 22 April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the right background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-21027

With the planned Torch landings in North Africa, in October 1942, Duke of York was sent to Gibraltar as the new flagship of Force H, from where she would lend her might to the Allied effort in the Med.

Force H warships HMS Duke of York, Nelson, Renown, Formidable, and Argonaut underway off North Africa, November 1942.

From there, she was later involved in the Operation Husky landings in Sicily in July 1943, again as flagship. She would end up escorting the Italian fleet to Alexandria, Egypt after their surrender in September.

HMS Duke of York leading the Italian Fleet to Alexandria for surrender left to right Italia, Vittorio Veneto, Cadorna, Montecuccoli, Da Recco, Eugenio Di Savoia, and Duca d’Aosta – 14 September 1943

With no rest for the weary, Duke of York was then again off Norway, this time screening the carrier Ranger on her raids there— the only time American carrier aircraft would strike Europe during the War.

Royal Navy battleship, HMS Duke of York, underway astern of USS Ranger (CV 4), September 1943. Note the TBM Avengers on deck. #80-G-88048 (2048×1641)

Remaining on-call for convoy escort, Duke of York would be screening JW 55B on the Russian run past Norway when she would meet her biggest boogeyman.

The German battleship Scharnhorst at the time was the only serious naval asset the Kriegsmarine had at the time as Bismarck had been sunk in May 1941, the pocket battleship Graf Spee run to ground in 1939, Scharnhorst‘s sister Gneisenau crippled by a British air raid in 1942, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer in Wilhelmshaven for major overhaul, Tirpitz left nearly condemned after a British X-Craft mini-submarine raid in Sept 1943, and the pocket battleship Lutzow in Kiel under repair until after the new year. The two remaining Hipper-class heavy cruisers were likewise deployed to the Baltic in support of operations against the Soviets.

With that, the epic 11-hour running fight that was the Battle of North Cape stretched out between the guardians of JW 55B (Duke of York along with heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk, light cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica, and the destroyers HMS Savage, Scorpion, Saumarez, Opportune, Virago, Musketeer, Matchless, and HNoMS Stord) and the unescorted Scharnhorst.

The 38,000-ton Scharnhorst, with her 13-inch armor belt and battery of nine 11-inch guns, was no match for Duke of York, however, she could make 31-knots, which gave her a slight advantage in speed during the running fight. Nevertheless, the British radar sets mounted on their ships meant she could never shake her pursuers. Almost her entire crew, including KAdm. Erich Bey, would be lost in the cold sea off North Cape, Norway.

While the German battlewagon parted Duke of York‘s hair so to speak with her own 11-inch guns– passing shells through her masts, severing wireless aerials– the British battleship, in turn, used her own radar-controlled guns to get deadly serious with 52 salvos on her opponent, straddling her on 31 of them and inflicting terrific damage.

Sinking of the Scharnhorst, 26 December 1943 by Charles Pears via Greenwich RMS. The action began at 0900 and went to nearly 2000. Duke of York is seen to the left, Scharnhorst over the central horizon. Illum shells light the final scene. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/12177.html

In the end, it was too much for any ship and Scharnhorst, crippled, blind, burning, and outnumbered 13-to-1, was sunk by a brace of 19 torpedoes fired by the British destroyers Opportune, Virago, Musketeer, and Matchless at near point-blank range. Just 36 of her nearly 2,000-man crew was saved. As far as I can tell, it would be the last significant British surface action to involve battleships.

Cobb, Charles David; The Sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943; absorbing torpedoes from British and Norwegian destroyers National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-sinking-of-the-scharnhorst-26-december-1943-25967

“The last moments of the ‘Scharnhorst’ are recorded in this painting as fire takes hold of her and she is listing to starboard. Her guns are trained to port and her bridge tower glows in the light of the flames that rage through most of her length. In the right background are three destroyers and in the left background is a cruiser, probably the ‘Jamaica’. This painting was commissioned by the artist for publication in the ‘Illustrated London News’.” http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13726.html Object ID BHC2250 from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The artist is Charles Eddowes Turner

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Gun crews of HMS DUKE OF YORK under the ship’s 14-inch guns at Scapa Flow after the sinking of the German warship, the SCHARNHORST on 26 December 1943.

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

Moving on…

Given a refit for service in the Pacific, Duke of York would sail in April 1945 for the Far East, arriving in Sydney on 29 July.

Forward turrets of Duke of York during a refit at Rosyth in 1945. Note the 2pdr on “B” turret and the 20 mm Oerlikon guns at left. This would be her configuration for the Pacific Theatre. IWM Photograph A20166.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser waving his telescope in greeting as HMS Duke of York entered Sydney Harbor. July 1945

She would move to Japanese Home waters for the final push and helped screen Allied carrier task forces in the weeks before VJ Day.

HMS Duke of York in Guam Harbor, August 1945. She was there to allow Adm. Sir Bruce Fraser, RN, C-in-C British Pacific Fleet, to present the order of Knights Grand Cross of the Bath (GCB) awarded by King George VI to Adm. Chester Nimitz.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser with Admiral Nimitz after the investiture on board the DUKE OF YORK at Guam. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161320

In the end, she was one of 10 Allied battleships— eight American and her sister HMS King George V (41)— in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender ceremony, 2 September 1945.

HMS Duke of York and King George V silhouetted against Mount Fuji 1945 IWM

WITH THE BRITISH NAVY IN THE FAR EAST. AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER 1945, ON BOARD HMS EURYALUS AND HMS DUKE OF YORK, AND ASHORE WITH THE BRITISH NAVY IN THE FAR EAST. (A 30576) Naval air might on parade when more than 1,000 Allied naval aircraft flew over HMS DUKE OF YORK as she proceeded on her way to Tokyo. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161681

Warships of the U.S. Third Fleet and the British Pacific Fleet in Sagami Wan, 28 August 1945, preparing for the formal Japanese surrender a few days later. Mount Fujiyama is in the background. Nearest ship is USS Missouri (BB-63), flying Admiral William F. Halsey’s four-star flag. British battleship Duke of York is just beyond her, with HMS King George V further in. USS Colorado (BB-45) is in the far center distance. Also, present are U.S. and British cruisers and U.S. destroyers. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-339360, now in the collections of the National Archives.

The above photo was immortalised by martime artist Charles David Cobb

Cobb, Charles David, 1921-2014; Japanese Surrender, Tokyo Bay

Japanese Surrender, Tokyo Bay USS Missouri HMS Duke of York HMS King George V Mount Fuji Tokyo Bay Charles David Cobb via National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth

Retiring to Hong Kong, she was present there for the reoccupation of the colony from Japanese forces.

View of Hong Kong harbor from Mount Victoria. The battleship at anchor is the HMS Duke of York.

 

The flagship of the British Pacific Fleet, HMS Duke of York. Pictured at Woolloomooloo Wharf November 23, 1945. At this point, she was just four years old and had fought the Italians, Japanese and Germans (2222×1700)

HMS Duke of York at Hobart, Tasmania, 1945

Returning to the UK, Duke of York deployed as Home Fleet Flagship until 1949 then became Flagship of the Reserve Fleet for two years until reduced to Reserve status in November 1951.

HMS DUKE OF YORK AT MADEIRA. APRIL 1947, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL. HMS DUKE OF YORK, FLAGSHIP OF THE HOME FLEET VISITED MADEIRA DURING THE SPRING CRUISE OF THE HOME FLEET. (A 31304) The Commander in Chief, Admiral Sir Neville Syfret, KCB, KBE, inspecting Portuguese troops at Madeira. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162328

Laid-up in the Gareloch, she was placed on the Disposal List and sold to BISCO for scrapping, arriving at Faslane on 18 February 1958, less than 22 years after she was ordered. Her three surviving sisters (sister Prince of Wales was sunk by the Japanese in December 1941 in the South China Sea) were likewise disposed of at the same time.

Specs:
Displacement:42,076 long tons (42,751 t) deep load
Length:
745 ft 1 in (overall) 740 ft 1 in (waterline), Beam: 103 ft 2 in
Draught: 34 ft 4 in
Installed power: 110,000 shp (82,000 kW)
Propulsion:
8 Admiralty 3-drum small-tube boilers
4 sets Parsons geared turbines
Speed: 28.3 knots
Range: 15,600 nmi at 10 knots
Complement: 1,556 (1945)
Radars:
(1942)
1 x Type 273/M/P Surface search
1 x Type 281 Long range air warning
6 x Type 282 Pom-pom directors
1 x Type 284/M/P Main armament director
4 x Type 285/M/P/Q HA directors
( Radars added between 1944–1945)
Type 281B
2 × Types 277, 282 and 293 radars added.
Armament:
10 × BL 14 in (360 mm) Mark VII guns
16 × QF 5.25 in (133 mm) Mk. I DP guns
48 × QF 2 pdr 40 mm (1.6 in) Mk.VIII AA guns
6 × 20 mm (0.8 in) Oerlikon AA guns
Armor:
Main Belt: 14.7 inches
Lower belt: 5.4 inches
Deck: 5–6 inches
Main turrets: 12.75 inches
Barbettes: 12.75 inches
Bulkheads: 10–12 inches
Conning tower: 3–4 inches
Aircraft carried: 4 × Supermarine Walrus seaplanes, 1 catapult

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