Tag Archives: Whitehead torpedo

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here we see the artillerieschulschiff (artillery school ship)  Bremse of the German Reichsmarine shortly after commissioning in 1931. Roughly equivalent to a small, unarmored, and torpedo-less cruiser or large destroyer leader in size and characteristics, she was a very interesting ship whose war would last two short, often painful, years.

With her German name meaning roughly “horsefly,” she was the third Bremse in the German fleet, following in the footsteps of an 1880s gunboat and a Brummer-class cruiser that was surrendered at Scapa Flow and never left.

With the post-Great War Reichsmarine allowed by the Treaty of Versailles to maintain a gunnery training ship, the old (circa 1907) artillerieschulschiff SMS Drache (800 tons, 4×4″ guns, 11 knots) was soon replaced by a model that offered more bang for the type.

Moving past the simple gunboat style of her predecessor, the vessel that would become Bremse would be light, at just 1,870-tons, run 345-feet in overall length, and have a narrow 31-foot beam, drawing less than 10 feet of water under normal loads. While her secret plans allowed for a set of torpedo tubes in the event of war (which were never fitted) her peacetime main battery was a quartet of low-angle 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28 guns (the first post-WWI naval gun developed by Germany and used by the Type 23/Wolf class torpedo boats) and four 20mm/65 C30 AAA mounts with weight and space reserved for four 37mm SK C/30 mounts as well. She could also carry up to 156 EMA-type mines or smaller numbers of the larger EMC (102) or UMA (132) types. It was thought that she would be able to carry a small floatplane and crane, but this was never fit.

While the Reichsmarine dearly wanted the new “Ersatz Drache” to have a steam turbine plant and make upwards of 30 knots, it was agreed that this would draw too much attention from London and Paris when used on what was supposed to be an auxiliary ship and, instead, it was decided to give Bremse a unique all-diesel plant made up of eight MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Numberg) M8Z 30/44 two-stroke double-acting marine diesel engines with Vulkan gearboxes. Generating 26,800 hp directed down twin shafts, this allowed the new gunnery ship to make 27+ knots (she hit 29.12 on trials) and steam for 8,000 miles at a still very fast for the day clip of 19 knots.

The Reichsmarine, similarly, would use MAN diesels exclusively to power the Deutschland-class panzerschiff large cruisers, with eight very similar M9Z 42/58 engines providing 56,800 hp to push those 14,000-ton pocket battleships to a speed of 26 knots and allow a 10,000 nm range at 20 knots. Essentially, Bremse had this same engineering suite, only scaled down. 

One of the 24 nine-cylinder MAN M9Z 42/58 engines built for installation in Deutschland-class cruisers, eight apiece. Bremse used eight slightly smaller eight-cylinder MAN M8Z 30/44s. Such similarity allowed the vessel to double for engineering training for the pocket battleships.

With a peacetime crew of eight officers and 190 sailors, she could carry another 90 trainees to sea with her. In wartime, with extra armament added, this would swell to 300. Her hull was divided into 15 watertight compartments with a central and two auxiliary damage control centers.

Laid down at Reichsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven in April 1930, she was launched the following January, sponsored by VADM Wilhelm Prentzel– the last commander of the old cruiser SMS Bremse during WWI– and commissioned 14 July 1932.

Soon, after her first training summer, it was decided to modify the design as she was top-heavy. This led to several changes to her superstructure, stern, and masts while her 4-inch guns were replaced with excellent 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 guns, the same that would be mounted on the German navy’s Z1, Z17, and Z35 (Types 1934, 1936 and 1936B) destroyer classes and some T61 class torpedo boats.

Artillery training ship Bremse after her modifications. Note her different guns and changed mast, superstructure

Her peacetime service, assigned to the Schiffsartillerieschule in Kiel, was a proving ground for the rebuilding surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine. Her first five interbellum skippers– Paul Fanger, Bernhard Liebetanz, Erhard Tobye, Wilhelm Matthies, and Eberhard von Goetze– all became senior German admirals during WWII.

Artillerieschulboot Bremse (Artillery training sloop) via M. Dieterle & Sohn, Kiel 1935

In addition, she served as a soft target for the top-secret 48cm Dezimeter-Telegraphie DeTe-Geraet “grey switchboard” marine radar tests before ADM Raeder in the summer of 1935. This led to the development of the first experimental FuMO 22 sets that the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee would carry to sea in late 1937.

Movie Star

Bremse was loaned in the summer of 1939 to support the Max Kimmich (brother-in-law of Joseph Goebbels) propagandistic film, Der letze Appell (The Last Rollcall) which focused on a fictionalized account of the HAPAG resort steamer Königin Luise (2,160 tons) which had been converted just before the outbreak of the Great War to become an auxiliary minelayer (hilfsminenleger), camouflaged in the livery of a British Great Eastern Railway steamer, her topside armament consisting of a pair of obsolete Hotchkiss 37mm revolver cannons.

Leaving Emden on August 4, 1914– the day England entered the war in Belgium’s defense– to lay 200 mines in the Thames estuary, she was predictably intercepted the next day while “throwing things overboard” by the Active-class scout cruiser HMS Amphion (4,000 tons, 10×4″ guns) and the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Lance, Linnet, Landrail, and Lark).

HMS Amphion, note her four stacks. IWM Q 43259

After a brief engagement that amounted to the first Royal Navy shots fired in the war, Königin Luise was sent to the bottom due to a mix of open sea valves and British shells. On 6 August, however, Amphion herself struck one of the German mines and became the Royal Navy’s first casualty.

Bremse, which was a lighter vessel by half due to her lack of armor and reduced armament but was roughly the same overall length, was fitted with two fake stacks to emulate the circa 1911 British warship for the production.

Artillery training ship Bremse as British cruiser Amphion on the set of the never-finished feature film Die Letzte Appell, just weeks before WWII

Alas, although the film sucked up a huge amount of reichsmarks for the time, it was never finished and there are no video references to this Goebbels-era naval epic. The world is likely the better for it. 

WAR!

By the time things went sour in September 1939, Bremse had already landed her Amphion faux stacks and soon got underway on a series of mine-laying missions in the Baltic and escorting coastal convoys while keeping an eye peeled for smugglers.

In March 1940, she was transferred west to Kiel where she was being assembled under Gruppe III (RADM Hubert Schmundt) for Operation Weserubung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

For her role, she would escort some 1,900 troops of the Wehrmacht’s 69. Infanterie-Division and their bicycles to the key Norwegian port of Bergen. Of those, a company of the division’s 159th Infantry regiment was embarked directly aboard Bremse. Gruppe III would also include the sistership light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, the Type 24 torpedo boats Wolf and Leopard, the MTB tender Karl Peters, and two armed trawlers (Schiffs 9 and 18).

Set for the early morning of 9 April, Weserubung had a lot of moving parts and required just about every ship the Germans had to pull off. Gruppe III’s prong to Bergen is circled.

The Germans didn’t think the Norwegians would put up much resistance or that Britain and France would be able to do much in the theater. This would prove wrong.

At 0358, the ~300 Norwegian reservists at Kvarven Fort (augmented by some 80 at Fort Hellen) opened fire with their elderly 8.3-inch Krupp (!) guns and hit Bremse at least one if not two times (accounts vary) along with two very near misses, Karl Peters was also hit once, and Königsberg hit three times. Had Kvarven been able to get their shore-mounted Whitehead torpedo tubes working, it could have proved disastrous for the Gruppe III (see the battle between the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fort and the German heavy cruiser Blücher the same morning).

While the Germans were able to knock out the Norwegian forts through a mix of infantry action and counterbattery fire by 0700, 16 British Blackburn Skua dive bombers of 800 and 803 NAS, launched from RNAS Hatston in the Orkney islands, arrived the next day and sent the already heavily damaged Königsberg to the bottom with hits from at least five 500-pound bombs.

From the ONI’s September 1940’s Information Bulletin Vol. XV111 No. 3, on the German Occupation of Norway:

On 17 April, Skuas of 803 NAS returned to Bergen and bracketed Bremse with a series of bombs that caused minor distress but no serious damage. She would also be hit two days later by a small bomb dropped by one of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s handful of operational Heinkel He 115N seaplanes, but it would fail to detonate. The Norwegians would try again with the same results. 

Special Hobby No. SH48110 1:48 Heinkel He-115B Box Art by Stanislav Hajek. Both the Norwegians and Germans flew these in the same air in 1940, with mixed results.

Sent down the coast to the Herøysund strait on 20 April where the Norwegians were holding out at the seaside canning village of Uskedal, Bremse and the armed trawler Schiff 221, with members of the 69th Infantry aboard, engaged the fearless Norwegian Trygg-class torpedo boat HNoMS Stegg (256 tons, 2x76mm guns, 4x450mm tubes) in a lopsided surface action that left Stegg ablaze with her keel on the bottom of the fjord. In mopping up, the old minelayer HNoMS Tyr (290 tons, 1x 4.72″ gun) was captured by boarding parties before her crew could scuttle her and towed back to Bergen with a German crew.

The scorecard for the Germans at the end of Weserubung, as reported by ONI in Sept. 1940, which incorrectly record Bremse as being sunk. The Kriegsmarine alone would suffer some 5,300 casualties, lose one heavy and two light cruisers along with 10 destroyers and numerous minor vessels, in addition to crippling others. It was a pyrrhic naval campaign that the German surface fleet would struggle to bounce back from.

Bremse spent a period in drydock after her first stint in Norwegian waters

Heading back to Kiel for repairs, Bremse was to take part in Zeelow (Sealion) the planned invasion of Britain post-Dunkirk, but when that fell through, she was again sent to Norwegian waters, arriving in Stavanger in November. However, just a week later she ran aground and required six months’ worth of repair in Bergen to make right again. When she emerged from the yard, she carried the now-classic German “Baltic” camouflage of dark gray with zigzag black and white stripes.

Artillery training ship Bremse in Baltic type camouflage. Kirkenes, August 1941

In support of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, she was escorting coastwise convoys to Kirkenes, the closest occupied Norwegian port to the vital Soviet base at Murmansk, and crossed paths with the British carrier HMS Victorious on 30 July in the Barents Sea, fending off Albacore torpedo bombers of 817 and 827 NAS without damage.

She would continue her hazardous Northern Norway convoy and support duties in the face of an attack from the Soviet Northern Fleet submarine K-2 and another from the British T-class submarine HMS Trident.

Her luck would run out on the early morning of 7 September.

Battle of Cape Nordkinn

The British Fiji-class light cruiser HMS Nigeria (60), along with the Arethusa-class light cruiser HMS Aurora (12), with 30 6- and 4-inch guns and 12 torpedo tubes between them, were involved in operations to Spitzbergen and Bear Island (Operation Gauntlet) to land Canadian troops to demolish mines and evacuate Russian and Norwegian nationals, when they came across one of Bremse’s convoys near Cape Nordkinn just after midnight. Guided by radar in the pre-dawn darkness, the engagement opened at just after 0200 at a range of under 2,000m, and, in the ensuing blackness and smoke, Nigeria apparently rammed Bremse, shearing the front of the cruiser’s bow off.

Nigeria, in drydock at Tyne after the battle. She would spend three months under repair.

By 0430, the battle had ended, with Bremse surviving numerous salvos at point-blank range before slipping under the waves.

It was a tactical win for the Germans, however, as the unprotected convoy of troopships was allowed to slink away over the horizon while Nigeria and Aurora retired to Scapa Flow at a speed of 15 knots, handicapped by Nigeria’s damage. Soon after dawn, German armed trawlers arrived in the debris field left behind and recovered 37 survivors of Bremse’s crew, all enlisted.

Epilogue

The only ship of her kind, Bremse was not survived by any sisters.

The Kriegsmarine named a Minensuchboot 1935-class minesweeper (M 253) after the lost training ship in late 1941. She would survive the war, work for the post-war German Minesweeping Administration under Allied observation, and was then ceded to France in 1947 who kept her around as Vimy for a decade. Sold to the West German Bundesmarine in 1956, she was renamed Bremse (F 208) for use as a coastal escort and finally sold for breaking in 1976, one of the last of that fleet’s WWII-era Kriegsmarine vessels.

Bremse (F 208) in West German service in the early 1960s

Finally, the East German Volksmarine’s sea border guard would name a class of 10 coastal patrol boats after the humble horsefly during the Cold War.

The training ship’s bell and most relics went to the bottom of the Barents Sea with her, but one of her prizes from 1940, the Norwegian minelayer Tyr, survived the war and endures as the coastal ferry Bjørn-West today. Likewise, the Bergen forts, maintained for much of the Cold War, are preserved as museums

Specs: 


Displacement 1,870 tons
Length 345 ft
Beam 31 ft
Draft 9 ft
Propulsion: 8 MAN diesel engines, two shafts, 28,400 shp
Speed 29.1 knots on trials, reportedly 23 by 1941
Range 8,000 nautical miles @19kts on 357 tons of diesel oil
Complement: 192 + 90 trainees (peace), 300 (wartime)
Armament:

(1932)
4 x 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28
4 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Weight saved for 4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
102-156 mines depending on the type

(1941)
4 x 12.7 cm SK C/34 naval guns
4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
8 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Mines

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Bye, Bye, Blücher, Bye, Bye

Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser Blücher on sea trials

Some 80 years ago today the pride of the German Kriegsmarine, the Hipper-class heavy cruiser Blücher, met an unlikely end. Built to raid British shipping and help screen Hiter’s new grand blue water navy, the massive 16,000-ton super cruiser with her eight 203mm guns and up to 3-inches of armor never saw it coming on the morning of 9 April 1940, when she sailed quietly and darked out into neutral Norwegian waters.

Without a declaration of war, Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway had begun with a series of sea and air penetrations of the Scandinavian county, one of which Blucher was leading.

As the flag of K.ADM Oskar Kummetz, she was packed with an 800-man contingent of the 163rd Infantry Division who would be landed in the nation’s capital of Oslo and quickly seize the government.

The German task force was spotted in the dark that morning by the Norwegian Coast Guard at Færder lighthouse and subsequently at Bolærne Fort in the narrow Oslofjord. They flashed a signal of the approaching foreign warships to Oscarsborg Fortress, strategically located at the narrowest point of the fjord. As the ships entered the Drøbak Sound, the commander at Oscarsborg, Col. Birger Eriksen, gave the order to open fire.

Two of the ancient 28 cm MRK L/35 (made by Krupp!) guns– nicknamed “Moses” and “Aron”–  at Oscarsborg Fortress opened fire on the German cruiser at point-blank range, damaging the ship severely and setting it alight.

28_cm_gun_at_Oscarsborg_Fortress

These bad boys…

Blucher German Admiral Hipper heavy cruiser trying to force her way past the Norwegian defenses protecting Oslo– Oscarborg Fortress, April 9, 1940

Then, a from the adjacent island of Northern Kaholmen, a hidden and unknown battery (although it had been installed in 1901!) of shore-based torpedo tubes with 30-year old Whitehead torpedoes made in Austria-Hungary engaged the ship.

Though they had small warheads, the good Austrian tin fish held true and holed Blucher at 04:34.

All that is above ground of the secret Oscarborg torpedo battery. The six tubes themselves are below ground and were manned by reservists that morning that had never fired a live torpedo before!

All that is above ground of the secret Oscarborg torpedo battery is shown above. The six tubes themselves are below ground and were manned by reservists that morning that had never fired a live torpedo before!

Between 1887 and 1913, Norway ordered no less than 377 torpedoes of various marks from Whitehead Di Fiume S.A., with the largest buy (of 100 fish) in 1912. The battery contained nine Whitehead Mk Vd torpedoes on that fateful morning of April 1940, each with a 220-pound warhead.

Blücher rolled over and sank by 0730 in 210 feet, with heavy loss of life. This kept the Norwegian King and government from being taken prisoner, enabling them to escape to the north and eventually Britain. In all, the Blucher had only been in service for six months and 18 days.

A clip from the Norwegian movie “The King’s Choice” showing the interaction between Oscarsborg Fortress and Blücher in stark detail. English subtitles can be turned on for this clip.

The guns, torpedo tubes– and the Blücher for that matter– are still in their respective places as on that fateful morning 80 years ago today. That’s a lesson to never underestimate old but simple gear, especially if you drag your brand new cruisers right in front of it.

As for the Norwegians, they kept Oscarborg in service until 1993, with the torpedo battery the last thing taken offline.

The trace buster, buster, Captain Nemo edition

Ahh, the unlikely scourge of the armored leviathans of the early 20th Century– the plucky torpedo boat as seen by German naval artist Willy Stower, titled “Torpedo boats on maneuver”

Once the spar and locomotive torpedoes claimed their first victims in 1864 (USS Housatonic) and 1878 (the Turkish steamer Intibah), the world’s fleets began to research torpedo nets to be carried by capital ships to protect them from such infernal devices. By the early 20th Century, such an idea was common.

This, of course, led to:

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 84492

Behold, a net cutter fitted to an early MKV Whitehead Torpedo, at the Newport Torpedo Station, R.I., March 1908

In service from 1910 through the mid-1920s, the MKV was cutting edge.

Manufactured under license at Newport, the 1,400-pound fish carried 200-pounds of gun-cotton with a contact exploder in its nose and– a first for Whitehead– was hot-running. It was also variable speed on its 4-cylinder reciprocating engine, capable of being set for a sedate 27-knot clip for 4,000-yards (though the gyroscope keeping it in a straight line for that long was a stretch) or a blistering 40-kt pace for 1,000.

In 1908, Whitehead was the household name in locomotive torpedoes, having made them for over 30 years.

They sold the first to the Royal Navy back in 1877 and didn’t look back.

The early Whitehead: NH 95129 Illustrations of Torpedo Warfare Line engraving Harpers Weekly, 14 July 1877 early Whitehead torpedo

Whiteheads, later versions: Copied from the Journal of Scientific American Coast Defense Supplement, 1898. A widely-used naval torpedo, propelled by compressed air. This cut-away view shows the torpedo’s major components. Description: Catalog #: NH 73951

An improved Mark III Whitehead Torpedo fired from the East Dock, Goat Island, Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, in 1894, torpedo boat destroyer USS Cushing in background

In the end, the Navy went with domestically designed and produced Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes over the Whiteheads, scrapping the latter in all their variants by 1922.

But they did outlive torpedo nets, which were ditched by ships in the early days of WWI, though defended harbor entrances continued to use anti-submarine nets through the 1940s.

Whoops…

German_cruiser_Blücher_sinking

75 Years ago today the pride of the German Kriegsmarine, the Hipper-class heavy cruiser Blücher, met an unlikely end. Built to raid British shipping and help screen Hiter’s new grand blue water navy, the massive 16,000-ton super cruiser with her 8 203mm guns and up to 3-inches of armor never saw it coming on the morning of April 9, 1940, when she sailed quietly and darked out into neutral Norwegian waters.

Without a declaration of war, Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway had begun with a series of sea and air penetrations of the Scandinavian county, one of which Blucher was leading.

As the flag of Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz, she was packed with an 800-man contingent of the 163rd Infantry Division who would be landed in the nation’s capital of Oslo and quickly seize the government. Passing through the Oslofjord in the dark of that morning, two of the ancient 28cm Krupp (!) guns mounted at Oscarsborg Fortress opened fire on the German cruiser at point blank range, damaging the ship severely and setting it alight.

28_cm_gun_at_Oscarsborg_Fortress

Then, a hidden and unknown battery (although it had been installed in 1901!) of shore-based torpedo tubes with 30-year old Whitehead torpedoes made in Austria-Hungary engaged the ship. Though they had but 220-lb warheads, the good Austrian tin fish held true and holed Blucher at 04:34.

All that is above ground of the secret Oscarborg torpedo battery. The six tubes themselves are below ground and were manned by reservists that morning that had never fired a live torpedo before!

All that is above ground of the secret Oscarborg torpedo battery. The six tubes themselves are below ground and were manned by reservists that morning that had never fired a live torpedo before!

Between 1887 and 1913, Norway ordered no less than 377 torpedoes of various marks from Whitehead Di Fiume S.A., with the largest buy (of 100 fish) in 1912.

She rolled over and sank by 0730 in 210 feet, with heavy loss of life. This allowed the Norwegian King and government from being taken a prisoner, enabling them to escape to the north and eventually Britain. In all, the Blucher had only been in service for six months and 18 days.

The guns, torpedo tubes, and the Blucher are still in their respective places as on that fateful morning 75 years ago today. That’s a lesson to never underestimate decades old but simple gear, especially if you park your brand new cruisers right in front of it.

image00078v

She is also remembered at the Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg, where a detailed scale model and one of her practice shells are on display.