November 27th, 1941
USS North Carolina
Into the first day of the voyage to San Diego everything was routine. All ships held several General Quarter drills to see how well the crews would perform more precisely to see just how fast they could set it, as they were timed on the Bridge. Suffice to say two destroyer’s needed additional practice as their times were not up to par or at least not up to the standards that Admiral Rearson had set. After the drills the ships set down with a normal routine, even high above on the lookout posts it was getting rather boring with virtually little to report. Admiral Rearson in an unusual move decided that he would walk the ship, he’s never done this but he has noticed that Captain Strikes doing it and thought why not it’s a good way to get to know the ship and more importantly get to know the crew. He quickly learned just how proud the men were of the ship and of him.
Right after the midday meal which he took in his quarters he received a message from Naval Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. It read as follows:
DATE: NOVEMBER 27th, 1941
FROM: ADMIRAL KING
TO: ADMIRAL REARSON
RE: BRITISH INTERCEPTION OF GERMAN NAVAL FORCES
1) BRITISH ADMIRALTY REPORTS HOME FLEET INTERCEPTED AND ENGAGED GERMAN NAVAL FORCES.
2) RESULTS OF ENGAGEMENT: THREE BRITISH BATTLESHIPS DAMAGED, ONE CRUISER DAMAGED. TWO CRUISERS SUNK. ONE GERMAN BATTLESHIP DAMAGED TIRPITZ DAMAGED, ONE HEAVY CRUISER STRASSBURG SUNK.
3) ALL BRITISH FORCES RETIRING TO SCAPA FLOW FOR BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT.
1)GERMAN BATTLESHIP ALSO WITHDREW PRESUMABLY TO GERMANY.
5) SUSPECT NUMEROUS GERMAN WARSHIPS EVADED HOME FLEET AND IS CURRENTLY LOOSE SOMEWHERE IN THE ATLANTIC.
6) NO REPORTS FROM TASK FORCE 24 NOR CONVOY CUX-417
7) TASK FORCE 34 WARNED OF POSSIBLE ENCOUNTER.
ANOTHER SMALL TASK FORCE WHICH INCLUDES RENOWN HAS BEEN DISPATCHED TO OPERATE IN THE CARIBBEAN.
After reading the message he was a bit dumbfounded how could the British with a 3-1 advantage in battleships receive as much damage as the message infers yet alone let the Tirpitz get away, it just didn’t make any sense. Now the shipping in the North Atlantic and presumably the South Atlantic and Caribbean as well are in great danger. The U-Boats are one thing sinking 1 or 2 ships at a time. Any one of the raiders can wipe out a convoy by themselves providing they get past the covering force/escort or if the convoy has no escort at all. He needed a second opinion.
Picking up his phone line to the Bridge he contacted Captain Strikes.
“Captain Strikes can you come to my quarters for a moment”
“Yes Admiral at once”
Moments later Captain Strikes knocked on the door to the Admiral’s quarters before entering.
“Yes what is it Admiral, what can I do for you”
“Captain I received a message from headquarters concerning something that you may be interested in plus I need your opinion on the outcome and future consequences”
“What does the message say”
“Read it for yourself” said Reason handing over the message to Captain Strikes.
It didn’t but a minute for him to read it. “I don’t understand how could the British blow such an opportunity, after all we talk on the Bismarck all by ourselves and defeated her, and yet with a 3-1 advantage the British blow it”
“That’s what I said to myself after reading the message Captain”
“What’s more Admiral is now there are 4 unidentified German warships on the prowl right now, we have no idea of what type of ships they are”
“Well for one thing Captain I am certain that they are not any of their cruisers, they simply have the legs to operate in the Atlantic. More than likely they’re probably a pair of their Battles Cruisers, which class we don’t know yet, and the last two Pocket Battleships that they have”
“Christ Admiral if those Battle Cruisers are the Derflinger class we are in a world of hurt. The two ships of that class operate as a pair and they are armed just like the Tirpitz”
“Exactly my thought although if they were to come across the guns of the South Dakota & Indiana they wouldn’t stand a chance. But the Mississippi it would be a different matter altogether. Don’t get me wrong the Captain of the Mississippi is a battleship captain and has been for years, his ship although well armed and protected wouldn’t stand a chance against the German Battle Cruisers. It would be 16 x 15” guns vs. 12 x 14” guns and the Mississippi would have to split her fire between the two of them thus reducing her effectiveness. I don’t think she would be sunk but she could be severely damaged, after all the merchant ships of the convoy would be the Germans primary target”
“I see where you’re coming from Admiral, but what concerns me is this Renown group in the Caribbean. Granted the area has numerous British bases which may include airfields, the area though is filled with unprotected shipping. If the Renown tries to protect this shipping she would be simply outclassed and could conceivably be lost in any type of engagement unless British aircraft intervene”
“You’re quite right Captain, let’s hope none of what we just discussed happens and the damage that these German ships might cause would be minimal and they return home”
“There is another thought that crossed my mind Admiral what if the German ships head for the Indian Ocean. There is virtually no British presence there right now and all our forces are in the eastern part of the Pacific. The Germans would have a field day”
“Again you’re right Captain, but in order for them to operate they would have to have support bases to supply them with food, water, ammunition and especially fuel”
“Suppose though Admiral that the Germans have built a number of supply vessels that could supply the German warships with such essentials, they could easily operate in the Indian Ocean disguised as neutral shipping”
“Damn that’s something I’ve never considered Captain, good thinking. Send a message to Naval headquarters and have them relay it to the British Admiralty”
“Yes Sir at once, by your leave Admiral” with that said Captain Strikes left Admiral Rearson’s quarters and headed over to the Radio Shack to have that message sent.
November 27th, 1941
“Captain we have just received an update from CINCLANT about the German naval force. So far there haven’t been any additional sightings by any of our forces. But he is informing us that with the current weather conditions up north, there is the remote possibility that they may attempt the breakout sometime today under cover of the weather.”
“Very well Commander Jones, inform the Admiral of the message.”
“OOD pass the word to all lookouts to keep a sharp eye out for anything unusual and have radar double its efforts. I don’t want to get caught by surprise by any German ships. This is an important convoy and it has to get through intact. We have been lucky so far with no attacks by u-boats but things could change that fast if several German surface ships arrive on the scene.”
“Yes sir, at once.”
November 27th, 1941
USS South Dakota
“Message from CINCLANT Admiral, still no word on the German ships apparently they have not been sighted since that last report. It appears the weather conditions up north are pretty bad right now.”
“I know I read the meteorologist’s report earlier. It’s that kind of weather though that I would expect something to happen. At least that is what I would do if I were in the German commander’s position. With little chance of being spotted by patrolling aircraft and with small patrol craft confined in port I would make the attempt.”
“Do you think that is what the Germans have in mind?”
“Yes I do, but there is nothing that we will be able to do about it, we are still several days away from joining the Home Fleet. Chances are that they will already have engaged the Germans in battle by the time we are half way there. About the best we can hope for is to engage any ships that make it past them. In any case increase speed to 27 knots.”
“What about the destroyers Admiral they’ll be short of fuel at that rate of speed?”
“I’m fully aware of their fuel status Captain so have four destroyers fall back with the oilier and refuel, once they have topped off their tanks they can rejoin the Task Force. Continue with this evolution until all of the destroyers have refueled.”
“There is one thought that I can’t seem to shake and that is what is going through the mind of Admiral Ramsey right now as his force is steaming closer to the Denmark Strait and the Germans?”
“That’s an interesting question Admiral, wish I could answer it for you.”
“It’s quite alright I think I know what the answer is anyway.”
November 27th, 1941
HMS King George V
“Message from the DOY she reports that she is having a little engine trouble right now requests permission to slow to 18 knots.”
“What kind of trouble Commander?”
“The message states that the chief engineer is feeling some vibration on one of the propeller shafts. He reports that it may be a loose bearing. It would require at least an hour to check out the problem.”
“Alright send a signal to the rest of the fleet, reduce speed to 18 knots. Signal the DOY to make what repairs that she can. Have her inform the flagship if repairs can’t be completed at sea.”
Turning to the CO of the KGV Admiral Ramsey was bit upset at this last report. “Blast Captain we can’t afford to lose the DOY even before the battle even starts. She’s 1/3 our firepower and we are going to need her guns if we are to have any chance of stopping the German squadron from breaking out.”
“Things like this happen Admiral. Remember when the POW set sail originally to assist in the hunt for the Bismarck, she still had hundreds of yard workers on her. And I seem to remember some reports when the Americans commissioned the North Carolina, she seemed to have problems as well.”
“I know something about vibrations from her propellers, I read that report as well. But you would think that after two ships of this class have been built they would have worked out the problems by now, wouldn’t you.”
“Yes your right, but the DOY like the POW was rushed into commission to meet a potential threat. They simply didn’t have enough time to get completely worked up. In fact the POW wasn’t completely worked up until after the damage she had received by the Bismarck was repaired in the states.”
“Yes I know Captain. All right keep me informed of any new messages from the DOY about her repairs or any other problems that she may have. We will maintain this speed until then.”
“Yes Admiral. One more thing Meteorology reports that the current weather conditions are not going to improve within the next 36 to 48 hours, which means that our carrier aircraft are essentially grounded. We cannot even send a scout plane aloft.”
“Alright Captain we will just have to rely on ships radar for now.”
November 27th, 1941
“Excuse me Admiral, here is our latest position report.”
“Thank you Fregattenkapitan Lang, taking the clipboard. After just glancing at the figures he smiled. “This is good news, according to the navigator we are currently just 40 miles from the Faroe Islands. We are making good time and still we have not yet been sighted by any British Forces. Luck is with us perhaps this time Kapitan.”
“Perhaps Admiral but it is still too early to celebrate. We are dangerously close to British airfields in Scotland and we cannot discount the Americans in Iceland either. Not to mention that by now the British Home Fleet is out there searching for us.”
“I realize this Kapitan but we are so close to our goal it seems pointless to even think about these things. And we have the advantage. For one the British doesn’t know our current position, they expect us to transit the Denmark Strait and not the Norwegian Sea. Hopefully our diversionary force will lure them away. Second we have the weather on our side. In this soup the British will find some difficulty in getting any planes up whether from carriers or from land bases. About the only way they may be able to detect us is if one of their u-boats are in the area. And I find this highly unlikely. But in the event that we are spotted we shall proceed on our current course and speed.”
November 27th, 1941
HMS King George V
“Bridge, Communications here. Communication coming in from one of our patrolling trawlers stationed near the Faroe Islands. Message says that it has picked up at least four surface contacts, bearing 225º; speed is estimated to be around 18 knots.”
“Communications, Bridge. Did they report the range?”
“Bridge, Communications, I’m afraid not sir. But knowing what radars are installed on those ships I would guess that the range is no more than 20 miles or so.”
“Communications, Bridge keep us informed of any new messages concerning those contacts.”
“Bridge, Communications, Yes Sir.”
“What are you thinking Admiral?” asked one of his staff officers.
“I’m not sure Commander if I didn’t know any better I would think that perhaps it may be the German naval force. But on the other hand.”
“On the other hand Admiral?”
“Yes on the other hand it may just be a group of our own patrolling vessels in the area.”
“I would think that if it was some of our own ships then the captain of that trawler would have known it. Wouldn’t he?”
“Yes I believe you’re right Commander.”
“Perhaps Admiral it may be a group of fishing vessels out of the Faroe Islands themselves”
“You may be right but I can’t seem to get the notion that they’re German ships trying to get around Home Fleet and past our Scottish defenses. Guess there is only one way to find out. Plot, Admiral Ramsey I want to have that last known set of contacts plotted in relation to our current position.”
“Bridge, Plot here Yes Sir. It will take just a moment.”
A minute later Plot was back on the line. “Bridge, Plot here according to the charts that last set of contacts is due NNE, range about 175 miles. To answer a possible question that you may have it will take us approximately 7 ½ hours to intercept if we alter course to 305º and increase speed to 25 knots.”
“What are you thinking Admiral?”
“I’m not sure right now.”
“Bridge, Communications here. Follow up message from the trawler. Message now reads increase in number of contacts. Radar indicates the number of contacts to be 7, speed is also corrected to be at least 21 perhaps 22 knots.”
“That settles it gentlemen those are no fishing trawlers not are they any of our patrol ships, they are without a doubt German warships. And if I was hazard to guess those are the same group of German ships that we thought intended to transit the Denmark Straits. In fact gentlemen I think that were made fools of. Oh! I don’t doubt that there are some German ships now heading for the Denmark Straits but I think those ships are a ruse. The real group of German ships intends to cross through these waters, and we will be in a position to intercept them. Captain plot a new course towards the German squadron and once it has been plotted order the fleet to change course to this new heading.”
“Yes Sir Admiral and I hope that you are right. Because if you are not there will be hell to pay with the Admiralty.”
“Yes I know and I most likely will be the shortest commander in the history of Home Fleet.”