Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Beaver Attack

In October 1927 a new fast merchant ship was launched from Glasgow. The ship was the first of the Beaver class, and it will come as no surprise that it was ordered by a Canadian company. This ship was called the SS Beaverford. She was soon followed down the slipway by the Beaverdale, Beaverburn, Beaverhill and Beaverbrae. Powered by six Parsons steam turbines which were geared into twin screws, she could manage an impressive (for a merchant) 15.5 knots. The ship was operated by Canadian Pacific.
The mighty warship SS Beaverford
Into this ship we now add the Captain, Master Hugh Pettigrew, son of a Glaswegian family. He had joined Canadian Pacific in 1910 and gone on to serve on their ships at Gallipoli. Late in 1918 he had a ship torpedoed out from under him by a U-Boat. Now approaching his 60's he was commanding the SS Beaverford. Several times during the war he had made successfully journeys between Canada and the UK. For war service the Beaverford was armed with the heady firepower of a single 3" gun on the bow and a single 4" gun on the stern.
The Admiral Scheer
On the 28th of October the Beaverford was part of convoy HX-84 along with another 37 ships. Their destination was Liverpool and the convoy had a pair of destroyers escorting them. After the first day or so these were scheduled to return to port. Royal Navy ships would link up with the convoy around, or just past, the halfway point and escort them into Liverpool. As if by magic, at 1711 on the 5th of November the Royal Navy escort was seen on the horizon. The convoy's only protection up until that point was the HMS Jervis Bay, a cargo ship that had seven 6" guns fitted to it to give it a bit of firepower. Upon seeing the escort arrive the HMS Jervis Bay moved towards the suspected Royal Navy escort transmitting a challenge. As you will most likely guess already, the Royal Navy escort was in fact a German and in this particular case was the Deutschland class Admiral Scheer. She turned broadside on and opened fire on the HMS Jervis Bay.
HMS Jervis Bay
The Jervis Bay charged the Scheer, firing with everything she had. She also fired signal rockets ordering the convoy to scatter. In addition, she began to dump smoke floats, as did several of the fleeing merchants. A merchant ship with light guns against a fully operational warship was only going to end one way. In twenty-two minutes, despite gallant attempts to delay the Scheer longer, the HMS Jervis Bay was ablaze from stern to bow and was sinking. Some reports state that the Jervis Bay never scored a hit, others say that the Scheer's radar was knocked out by one of the few hits HMS Jervis Bay achieved. Either way, with the convoy's only protection dealt with the Scheer began to savage the convoy, sinking three ships in quick order, and setting the tanker San Demetrio on fire. This ship was loaded with 11,200 tons of aviation fuel, and the fires were soon raging out of control, so the captain had no choice but to abandon her to her fate.

The Scheer now turned its attention onto the SS Beaverford. Pettigrew watched and waited for the gun flashes from the Scheer's front guns. When they came, he immediately called for emergency power and threw the ship into a turn as tight as he could manage. The shells whistled past and missed. During this turn the Beaverford had laid smoke. This added to the smoke on the water, with the smoke floats dumped earlier still spewing out clouds and the remains of the other sunk and burning ships adding to the confusion. Finally, night was falling. The Beaverford had now successfully broken contact with the Scheer in the smoke banks. She was also the fastest ship in the convoy and could have disengaged, and slipped away, as the Scheer obliterated the rest of the convoy.

Pettigrew turned the other way, and steamed towards the Scheer. Firing his guns whenever they got an angle, he had no hope of survival as his weapons stood even less chance than the Jervis Bay of hurting the Scheer. All he had on his side was the smoke, darkness and a surprising turn of speed for a merchant ship. The Scheer had classified the Beaverford as Target number 9. Every time they thought they had destroyed it, losing contact in the murk, they would turn to pursue the rest of the convoy, only to find Target 9 emerging from the smoke with its tiny gun blazing. The Scheer would then turn its attention back onto the Beaverford, firing as soon as they could. As the German's fire began to get heavier Pettigrew would use his speed to disappear again. 

The German's fire was not completely ineffective, hits had set fires on board, and soon the Beaverford was burning. It is likely that these hits had caused heavy casualties as well. For five hours the unequal struggle continued. Eventually the damage she had absorbed was just too much for the Beaverford. The Scheer had fired 83 rounds at the Beaverford, hitting with sixteen from its 5.9" guns and three from its 11" guns. By now the Beaverford was crippled and slowing. At 2245 the Scheer sailed past the Beaverford, who was burning fully. The Scheer hit the Beaverford with a single torpedo in the forward hold. This hold was filled with ammunition and blew the Beaverford in two. None of the crew survived. Due to the delay the Scheer was only able to catch one more merchant and sink it, the vast majority of the convoy made it to safety.

For his role the commander of the HMS Jervis Bay received a Victoria Cross. The crew of the Beaverford received no official recognition.

In the grey light of the following morning, one of the lifeboats launched from the San Demetrio saw a burning ship nearby. It was the tanker, still ablaze, and afloat a day later. The sixteen men remained in the lifeboat, due to the dangers of the fire and the bad weather. The next day they found themselves nearby the still burning San Demetrio again, as a fluke of tide and currents pushed them together once again.
The still floating San Demetrio
The crew had a choice to make, re-board the burning tanker, or stay in the lifeboats in the middle of the Atlantic. In the end they re-boarded. They had just sixteen men to fight the fire, but first they had to restart all the engines and generators. Once this was achieved, they tackled the blaze eventually managing to extinguish it. However, nothing remained of the radio, or navigation equipment. Using dead reckoning, and the sun, they managed to sail to the UK. When in home waters they refused the offer of a tug to tow them the final distance. This it turned out was a wise choice. The sixteen men were thus able to claim they had no outside help and were due the cost of salvage of the vessel and her cargo. The Salvage court awarded £14,700 to be split between the crew, with nine of the crew receiving £1,000 or more each. The Chief Engineer and second officer who had led the re-boarding both received £2,000 each.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

It Werfer's Panzers?

A couple of months ago I did a post about Nebelwerfers. In it you'll spot that I failed to mention anything about the Panzerwerfer 42, that is what this follow on article is about.
The Panzerwerfer 42 was created from a Maultier half-track, which in turn, was an Opel Blitz three-ton truck, with the rear wheels replaced by Carden Lloyd style suspension. It was then fitted with an armoured body although the roof of the bed was unarmoured. The cab and sides and rear of the vehicle were 8mm in thickness, and the armour over the engine was just 4-5mm. A rotating base was fitted at the back of the vehicle with one of the three crew in it, on top of this turret sat the multi-barrelled launcher. The launcher fires the usual 15cm ammunition that many Nebelwerfers were able to use.
To those interested in such things, the payload was reduced from 2t to 1t, 1Cwt. Total unladen weight increased from 3t, 17Cwt to 6t, 1Cwt.
All these measurements were taken from a Panzerwerfer 42 captured in France in 1944 by the British. The vehicle had originally been manufactured in 1943 by Adam Opel AG, at the Brandenburg/Havel factory.
The reason for the launcher's creation has been guessed at by several people. Modern thoughts are towards the idea that it was to avoid counter battery fire, which was something that dominated Nebeltruppen's tactics and thoughts, especially in the late war. At the time the British thought that it was to increase the rate of fire, as the crew could remain with their vehicle while it was firing, without having to retreat to a point of safety. This advantage is likely offset, due to there being only three crew compared to six in a normal towed launcher detachment and needing to reload more tubes. The throw weight of a single salvo should however be higher.

The tactical employment of Panzerwerfer 42's depends on their organisation. A normal Werfer battalion has three troops of six launchers. The type of launcher would be uniform across the battalion, presumably to make logistics of ammo supply easier. A Panzerwerfer 42 troop, consisted of the following:
  • Troop commander in lightly armoured command car
  • 1x telephone section.
  • 2x Werfer sections each of four launchers.
  • Ammo section
  • Enough transport for the above. 
Thus, the Panzerwerfer's would have eight launchers. They were often used to bulk out a battalion’s fire by becoming a 4th troop to the battalion. Because of this they would only be employed by units with a supply of 15cm rockets. It should be noted that the battalion would provide the observers, and these would report back to battalion HQ first with fire missions. These would then be passed onto the launcher troops. The result of this meant it could take around ten minutes for the Werfers to fire on a target. This compared poorly with the British practice of the observers reporting direct to the gun units, which meant response times were often 30-60 seconds.
The other role Panzerwerfer's were used in was as an independent unit. The independent unit's roles and activities would depend on what the situation of front line was. On a stabilised front line, multiple firing and observation positions would be provided, and fully scouted out. Firing data would be calculated, and even ammo reloads pre-placed. The Panzerwerfers would occupy a position with weapons loaded, fire their missions from their spotters, re-load and displace to a second position, and then rinse and repeat.

In support of an advancing unit, the Panzerwerfers would pull off the route of march into concealment before firing, and all re-loading was to be done in concealment. This mobile form of warfare stressed the use of concealment as a priority. If enemy surprised the unit with ground forces direct fire was fully expected of the unit.
The final role, and one that would become more common for the Panzerwerfers during the war, was covering a rear guard. In such a role the launchers would fall back from previously reconnoitred position to the next. If an enemy ground forces were encountered, it was suggested to leapfrog the troops two sections ahead to disengage the unit.

The above doctrine seems to imply at first glance the modern idea of avoiding counter battery fire was the aim of the Panzerwerfer. However, as re-loading was done after firing, and before moving then this could not be the case. Of course, that is only 'Doctrine' and in most of the major European armies doctrine was often seen as guidelines by lower tier commanders.

Image credits:
www.worldwarphotos.info

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Bombing with Hope

Imagine if you will, you are a young soldier in September 1944, and you are in a glider bouncing over the North Sea towards Arnhem. Perhaps you are from a land locked state in the US, or an inner-city area in the UK. The only light into your dark cocoon of a glider comes from the windscreen around the cockpit. Suddenly there is a commotion up front from the pilots, along with a 'thunk'. Seconds later as you stare towards the cockpit you see the towing aircraft cross rapidly up the windscreen. Then ahead of you is nothing but the rolling grey waves of the North Sea. Suddenly around everyone is dropping their equipment and weapons in preparation for ditching. Then the shuddering impact, followed by a hectic few seconds of crowded activity and the seeping cold of water trickling into your boots and clothing. You manage to fight your way out of the aircraft and inflate your life vest. But now you are adrift in the North Sea with a few of your mates. All you experience are huge waves and sky, and the taste of saltwater. On the crest of one of these waves you catch a glimpse of an large aircraft in the distance, flying low, heading right for you, salvation? No, it is not a flying boat it cannot land to save you, if you don't get out of the water soon you'll die from the cold. You're dead.
A Vickers Warwick, possibly your view from the sea.
Or at least you would be, if it was not for the yachtsman, and boat designer Uffa Fox. As the war progressed the Air Sea Rescue capabilities of the UK underwent a massive upgrade from the early years of the war. Small floating shelters were being moored along the routes of bombers, fully equipped with food, water, first aid kits, entertainment and signaling equipment. Equally, the planes of Coastal Command would start to carry dinghy's that could be dropped to people in the water. These would, invariably be governed by the tides and winds, and would often end up pushed ashore onto mainland Europe, resulting in eventual capture by the Germans. But what, if one could drop a boat by parachute to a stranded person? This idea was termed the Airborne Lifeboat, or ABL.

One of the rescue floats that were moored in the channel. The colours are actually yellow and red.
The requirements for the boat were tough, it had to be lightweight, but incredibly strong to survive the forces of dropping. Equally, it had to be able to be operable by the most inexperienced, and be all but unsinkable, as well as self-righting. Uffa Fox, along with help from several RAF officers designed the first Airborne Lifeboat after his company was given official sanction on the 8th of January 1942. Built from double skinned mahogany with waterproofed fabric in-between, the first examples tried several different engines, but all turned out to be too heavy. Eventually a pair of lightweight Vincent 2-stroke motorcycle engines were used, these gave a top speed of about six knots. There was a set of sails, and a beginner’s guide to sailing (on waterproof paper) included in the boat was well.

A series of shots showing an ABL in action.
On landing the boat would automatically deploy, including a salvo of rockets which would fire lines out fore and aft to act as a sea anchor, and provide adrift crew something to haul themselves onto the boat with.
Inside an ABL. This is obviously a posed shot, as the rockets have not fired, as well as the crewman looking suspiciously well groomed and not particularly soggy. There were other rockets in the bow and stern as well.
Often the ABL would only be needed for a short time until one of the RAF rescue launches, or another boat picked up the rescuees. On one occasion the bomber crew in an ABL was picked up by a Danish fishing boat, which then set course for home. The Coastal Command bomber that had dropped the boat, had stayed on station to ensure pick up, had scotched this idea by firing a few warning bursts from its gun turrets. The fishing boat heaved too until a short while later an RAF launch arrived to take off the crew. It is claimed that by the end of the war the ABL had saved over 5,000 lives.
Salvation arriving from coastal command for a ditched B-17 crew.
On the 30th of March 1945 a US Catalina flying boat was sent to retrieve a P-51 pilot who had ditched off Schiermonnikoog (one of the islands off the coast of Holland). They eventually spotted him and landed in heavy seas, however, before they could rescue the pilot a wave smashed one of the engines. Despite this the crew continued to attempt to rescue the downed pilot. Unfortunately, it appears the pilot was already dead or unconscious and he did not respond to attempt to save him, and he drifted apart from the Catalina and was lost. A distress call was sent by the Catalina crew, but no one was able to locate the flying boat for the rest of the day, or the missing pilot’s body. The next morning a RAF Warwick, along with an escort of four Mustangs, spent some two hours searching for the Catalina. When they eventually located it, an ABL was dropped. The Catalina crew tried to taxi over to the ABL, however this exposed them to the waves, and the tail was smashed off the plane, which began to sink. As the first ABL had been lost a second Warwick was vectored in and dropped another ABL. As the Catalina crew abandoned their aircraft, they climbed onboard the ABL, which also began to sink, so they abandoned ship once again and returned to the partially submerged Catalina. The final decision to abandon the Catalina was provided by the Germans when a ME262 streaked into the area and strafed the Catalina. So, the crews left the flying boat for the final time on three dinghies. At this point a third ABL was dropped by a US B-17.


The ABL was fitted to a huge number of planes. Here a fairing is being demonstrated for the fit to a B-29. After the war A new, improved, standardised version of the ABL was introduced and fitted to Avro Shackleton's.
The crew boarded and spent the next 36 hours or so heading North-West, until the ABL's fuel supplies ran out. Battling the weather and Germans a Beaufighter managed to enter the area but was lost for unknown reasons. The following day, the 3rd of April, supplies were dropped, including fuel. Despite this the ABL's engines could not be restarted. In the evening another ABL was dropped, but by this time the Catalina crew were too exhausted and made no effort to reach it. RAF launches spent the night of the 3rd looking for the Catalina crew. On the 4th of April several aircraft were searching the area when the news came that the Catalina crew had been recovered by an RAF launch. In total the Catalina crew had spent some 109 hours adrift, but they all survived and were landed on the morning of the 5th.

Image credits:
www.navtechlife.com

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Eden

A couple of weeks ago I had to travel up to Yorkshire. I travelled down the day before, and as I had a few hours spare I visited a Museum called Eden Camp. Consider this  review, if you will.

Eden camp was set up in 1942 as a POW camp, it consists of all the old huts turned into a series of galleries each focusing on one aspect of warfare.
Some of the German POW ID cards that were saved from the camp.
It does focus on other aspects of warfare having a couple of huts turned into regimental museums or focusing on other conflicts, but the vast majority of it is about the Second World War. One thing that is a bit perplexing to me is you have a logical start point (Hut 1), and progress takes you through the following huts in sequence, each covering a later period. Then it offers an alternative start point of Hunt 24, which is proudly entitled 'Museum inside a Museum!'.  This starts at Hut 24, and progress takes you through the following huts in sequence, each covering a later period.
Yes I did just copy and paste, as although the exhibits are different it really is covering the similar ground.
The silly thing is the huts cover similar ground, but don't cover exactly the same items, and their exhibits are sometimes different. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Huts are laid out to conform with GCSE history syllabus as well, but this a logical idea for the museum to make itself sellable. One thing that I really did notice was the cost. I arrived at just after 1500, the museum closed at 1700 (although the staff started their close down routine at about 1600), and it was still full price to get in. That price was pretty steep as well, coming in at £10.50. Some museums are free, or offer reduced costs to enter after 1500.
I got round everything in about 90 minutes, but I wasn't stopping to read I was just ambling around taking the occasional picture of stuff I thought you'd find interesting.

One of the main selling points of the museum is in several huts they've converted the hut to a diorama of the events they are talking about. For example in the Blitz section they have a bombed out house:
Or a house that has just been hit by a incendiary bomb, with ARP types dealing with it:




The dummies involved in these are bloody terrifying! Equally a lot of them are pitch black, especially if moving from bright sunlight (as I was) into a pitch black room. The floors are sometimes uneven as well, although all obstructions have gentle ramps up to them.
They do have somewhat of a sense of humour, in the U-Boat walk-through:

And from the D-day section:
There are some interactive activities to keep the inquisitive mind going:

If you lift up the Friend or Foe tabs it will tell you if you are wrong, or what the plane is.


But these activities are not common.

They did have some larger external exhibits, and this is where the museum felt the cheapest. As several of them seem to have been brought simply because its vaguely militarily themed, even though some of them are not really connected to the subject of the museum.
12-pounder QF naval gun
WE.177B nuclear free fall bomb.. because reasons?
Captioned as a WWII British Bofors 40mm... yeah ok, it is a Bofors 40mm under all that junk, but its not a British one that I can see.
Yeah...? No! Now the museum looks like you don't know what you're talking about, which casts doubt on everything else in your museum. Equally the Museum has this Really irritating habit of sticking 'Eden Camp' on each of their large exhibits. Which again makes the place feel cheap and desperate.

Oddly their best exhibit was hidden out the back of the Admin buildings, mainly because they hadn't had time to 'restore it' and end up calling it a Sherman Firefly or somesuch. As it wasn't 'restored' You're able to get right up to it.

You'll note the engine bay is missing along with all its automotive parts, and you can actually see into the fighting compartment.







Anyway, the following are just some of the fun or interesting stuff they had supporting the diorama's you could walk through.







Their Churchill Crocodile
That's what 6in of armour looks like. The inside is in a terrible condition though, as it is semi-open to the elements.

The following section of pictures are from the Blitz display and I think they're quite interesting. The first shows a 1kg magnesium based incendiary bomb 15 seconds after it was ignited, the second is after 45 seconds.
15 Seconds
45 seconds
Anyway, that's all, next week we're back to normal with an article as usual.




Sunday, June 16, 2019

Panzershreck

Last weekend I was rather busy with a trip, which meant time away. Then the Long Haired CO (the wife) decided we were going to be out all day on Sunday for an exhibition. The trip away will be of benefit to you lot for articles and such forth so its worth it.
It did mean that I didn't get an article done. So here are some documents direct from an archive. What did the British think of the Panzershreck?

'What is it Tim?'
'No idea... some kind of horribly over engineered, but inferior, German version of a PIAT? I'll bet it uses Rockets?'



Page 1:

Page 2:

Page 3:

Drawings:


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Field of Dreams

In the west corner of the Zeppelin field, one of the Nazi Party rally grounds at Nuremberg, German soldiers dug in furiously. Above them were the giant Swastika flags and iconography on the buildings. They laid barbed wire out in front of them, scattered a handful of mines, and sighted their machine guns, for they knew that soon the enemy would arrive. They knew they had some light field guns in support, but nothing else. Heavy artillery began to rain on their positions and the Germans ducked into cover. From the far side of the field the first troops from the 3rd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment began to assault towards the defenders. Covered by heavy machine guns, the assaulting infantry tried to make it through the curtain of fire laid down by their enemies. It's almost like a World War One battle, charging into machine gun fire. The weight of the defender’s fire is just too much, and the troops are pinned in the open.
One side of the Zeppelin Field, pre-war.
 Tanks rumble onto the field and begin to push through the stalled assault, blasting at point blank range into the defender’s positions. As the tanks close a few vehicles are unlucky and strike mines, although disabled they are still able to fire. The tanks continue their assault ripping through the barbed wire, once the way is open the infantry leap up and close in to continue their stalled assault. The German defenders begin to fall back under the unrelenting pressure, retreating out of the field.

There is thunderous applause from the crowd in the stands.
 The year is 1936, and for the last few hours the Wehrmacht has been putting on demonstrations of its might, and mock battles as part of the Nazi Party rally. Earlier the army had demonstrated how effective its cavalry troops were, with a screen of reconnaissance cavalry advancing across the field. When the cavalry spotted enemy tanks, they launched red rockets which gave the main cavalry troops time to unlimber their anti-tank guns. After driving off the enemy tanks with a few well aimed shots the entire force mounted up and galloped off the field.

The show had started, at 0800, with a Luftwaffe air display, followed by a dive-bomber and level bombing attack on the stadium, which was defended by several AA batteries. Nine years later the same design of guns would be in action firing at aircraft, this time for real, and the aircraft were American planes. But first, after the Wehrmacht parades, Hitler was to speak to the crowd.

In April 1945 the US forces were pushing through southern Germany, straight towards the city of Nuremberg. On the Allied side were battle hardened, well equipped and supplied US troops. The defence of the city fell to the fanatical Nazi, Gauleiter Karl Holz. Like most last stand defences, the defenders were a mix of auxiliary troops such as Luftwaffe manpower and Volkssturm. In addition to these, the defenders also had a force from the Russian Liberation Army. This latter force were volunteers fighting for the Germans against the Communists and were in no illusions about their fate. The battle started on the 16th, and the Americans used their superior firepower and blasted the city block by block.
By the 18th the US forces had reached the city centre. Gauleiter Holz and the Mayor Willy Liebel were ensconced in a command bunker. Like in many cities Mayor Liebel was more concerned about protecting his city and its inhabitants, so he wanted to surrender in the face of overwhelming US firepower. Holz shot Liebel sometime between then and the 20th of April. On that date, Hitler’s birthday, the bunker was stormed by the Americans and Holz was shot. With the command knocked out the defence of the city collapsed.
 At the party rally grounds there is a mystery. There are numerous pictures of a lone Sherman sitting burnt out in the Zeppelin field. Some of these shots show a single dead German soldier about 60-70 meters away, and in the direction of the Sherman's gun. Could this be the last die hard German (or Russian?) with a very lucky long range panzerfaust shot?
The units involved in the capture of Nuremberg do not record any fighting in the area, although there are signs of damage to the structure caused by military hardware. The Sherman is a very early production model, with some later additions such as duckbill grousers. It was later dragged outside of the Zeppelin field ground but was certainly in place to witness the iconic demolition of the giant swastika on the roof of the building.
After the surrender of the city the Nazi party rally grounds were turned to the US Army's use. The wide 'Great Street' became a temporary air strip. The Luitpoldarena was used to host entertainments for the troops at first, including, ironically, a jazz band (The Nazi's had tried to outlaw and ban jazz music). It later became a vehicle park. Many features of the rally grounds have been demolished over the years, or otherwise altered, driven mainly by neglect and indifference from the German authorities. However, over recent years the authorities have started spending money to restore these items.