Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve 1942

and the Battle of the Barents Sea

Here's hoping that you all are enjoying a happier, healthier, and, above, all, WARMER runup to 2013 than the guys were at the fringe of the Arctic on this day seventy years ago!


  1. Hey Chief,

    I know this is an indecisive battle so not under your purview, but I'd like to see your take on the bombardment from mainland China on Matsu and Jinmen Islands from the 1950's ( a subset of the Korean war). You are pure genius for making the battles come alive.

    If you want want some more ideas I'd like to see something on Gona-Sananda-Buna in regards to the defeat of the Japanese South Seas Detachment in relating to their consequent defeat at Guadalcanal.


  2. Can I edit here? Not Matsu the Sea deity but Quimoy the island, Bag over head.

  3. cross-posted
    FDChief – Good to see you doing more maritime battles lately. I like your conclusions on the lessons of the Barents Sea battle. In September 39 when England and Germany went to war, the German Navy had only 57 U-boats of which more than half were small, short range boats only fit for duty in the Baltic or for coastal defense. When questioned in June 45, Donitz said bitterly: ”The war was lost before it began…Germany was never prepared for a naval war against England…A realistic policy would have given Germany a thousand U-boats at the beginning.” The geographic point you make is well taken also. What the Germans did to the Soviet Baltic Fleet is reminiscent of the Royal Navy bottling up the Kriegsmarine. I read somewhere in the past (Seaton?) that the Germans and Finns effectively cooped up the Soviet Baltic Fleet in the Gulf of Finland. Supposedly they laid down a submarine net across the mouth of that Gulf running from Estonia to the coast of Finland and supplemented it with three massive mine barrages – end of problem. And when Soviet ships were icebound the Finns attacked them with white clad infantry across the ice.

    And you have to also ask, where was the Luftwaffe during this time? They had been devastating against convoy PQ-17 during the summer of that same year sinking 15 of the 24 ships while the U-boats only sank nine. Of course at that latitude in the summer they had 24 hours of daylight. And on 31 December 42 they had how many daylight hours - maybe two or three if that, and no nightfighters? I don’t think they were all sent off to Stalingrad. According to wiki entry on Jagdgeschwader 5 Eismeer they still had at least six (+) squadrons in northern Norway and only sent part of one Gruppe down to Trondheim due to Allied air pressure in southern Norway.

    Those long hours of darkness in the polar winters probably also contributed to the Lutzow’s horrible gunnery that you mention. The Kriegsmarine had shipborne ‘Seektat’ radars at that time but I understood they were used primarily for ranging and were not well suited for gun laying. Since the Lutzow was commissioned in 33 did she even have radar? Or if she did I assume it was a recent refit so how much training did the crew have and how much confidence did the officers have in it? That plus the Lutzow crew’s two previous battles where she was heavily damaged - by Norwegian coastal artillery at the Battle of Drobak Sound and then torpedoed by a Brit submarine – probably had something to do with the lack of aggressiveness.

  4. Also I second with James on his recommendation of something in the future on Gona-Sananda-Buna. But if you do please do not neglect General Kenney and the magnificent contribution of the 5th Air Force in the lead-up to those battles.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the battle, Chief.

    The German navy radar was piss-poor at the start of the war, and to the best of my knowledge, was never improved as the Germans had lots of other priorities.

    I suspect a large part of the Lutzow's terrible record is that the German navy had very little ammo with which to practice after 1940. Military power, but seapower in particular, must be constantly exercised for it to be at all effective.

    The US Army has a similar problem today for anything larger than a 50 cal sniper rifle.

  6. Nearly forgot, the Buna-Gona battles are incredibly impressive for stories of human endurance and accomplishment.

    As tactical exercises, they are amazingly dull.

    Short version: The Japanese established a very strong point in a really horrible place and the Allies attacked until they won.

  7. James: Quemoy/Matsu was an interesting and bizarre little bit of military history, and I will look into whether I can add anything to the record. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Pluto and mike: Here's what I responded to mike's comment at GFT, it addresses the Kriegsmarine radar issues and confirms your observation, Pluto, that the German Navy never really did solve it's radar fire direction problems.

    mike: I did wonder about the comment on the Kriegsmarine page about how German airstrikes on the Arctic convoys were a winter thing. It would seem the other way around, but I suspect that maybe it was a combination of the opening of the sea routes north of Bear Island, the location of the airbases in the southern part of Norway, and the relatively short range of the DO-17/JU-88 shipkillers...

    But, you do wonder why, if winter was such a great time for the Luftwaffe how come the Hipper-Lutzow sortie didn't have any air assets laid on. Here again the whole issue of German WW2 inter-service rivalry comes up; was the problem the weather (which does seem to have been pretty bad) or was it some sort of breakdown between the Navy and Air Force chains involved?

    Whatever it was it seems to have been a problem that the Wehrmacht never did solve; there never seems to have been any prolonged examples of really close coordination between the German Navy and AF during WW2.

    And the radar thing seems, oddly, to have been a recurring problem for the Axis. I noted the failure of the Japanese to do anything about the radar gunnery failure that was crippling their capital ships as early as 1942 - by 1944 and Surigao Strait Nishimura's force was practically blind compared to the USN vessels.

    Germany was more technically capable but seems to have had some odd blind spots and naval radar was one of them. Their air defense radar systems were outstanding, and you'd think that it wouldn't have been a big problem to mount something on a capital ship capable of rangefinding/fire control.

    The NavWeaps page for the Deutschland class claims that these pocket battleships were the first to be fitted with radar sets. The Wiki entry for the FMG 39 (GgO) Seetakt sets claims that this system had "...a range accuracy of about 50 m. This was considerably more accurate than the guns they ranged for, which typically had spreads of over 100 m"

    Lutzow is also stated to have shipped a FuMO 22-type radar, which is described as direction finding and ranging, so this appears to have been at least in theory a useful gun-direction system.

    But as a general note I observe that Friedman and Baker in their book Naval Firepower observe that "German wartime radars were primitive by Allied standards and they never attained sufficient precision in bearing to make blind fire possible."

    Odd, but apparently true, that for all their technical sophistication the German naval fire-direction radars just weren't all that...

    Also, I noted that on one of the sources I used for the post that the author made the observation that the German 8" naval projectiles apparently had a history of fuse problems and were known (at least by the Allies) to fail to detonate. This may have been a factor in the Hipper's failure to mop the ocean with a handful of small destroyers...

  8. FDChief – Regarding the comment on the Kriegsmarine page about how ?German airstrikes on the Arctic convoys were a winter thing”: I do not know how to reconcile that with the 200 sorties they flew against convoy PQ-17 in late June – early July 42. And I understood those sorties were flown out of far northern airfields at Norway’s tip far above the arctic circle at Kirkenes, and even from the Petsamo airfield which at that time was part of Finland.

    Even PQ-16 in May and PQ-18 in September were attacked by aircraft of Jagdgeschwader 5. They sank some Allied merchant ships anchored in Murmansk harbor. That Kriegsmarine page also says: "...materiel from the west which could be supplied only through a treacherous sea route through the Barents Sea into Murmansk". This was clearly not true as a large chunk of the aid to the Soviets was funneled through Iran. My daughter’s father-in-law set up a US radio station in the port of Bushehr during the war to coordinate many of those shipments. And there was a Pacific route also to the Soviet Far East from Seattle and from your fair city – no American merchant ships though, the Japanese only let Russian flagged ships through.

    I cannot see that the FuMO-22 (which BTW was also known as the FMG 39 (GgO) Seetakt) would have been used for fire control. Maybe a radar guy could check in as my knowledge on radar characteristics is rusty and was always shallow even years ago. But that FuMO you cite is listed as having an extremely low pulse repetition frequency (PRF) of 500Hz. I believe you need a much higher PRF for fire control, something up in the 3 to 10KHz range. Perhaps Andy knows.

  9. Mike,
    Yes, the Allies tried supplying the Russians via Iran and the Pacific but not as substantial as the arctic convoys.

    The two big issues were the terrain (the land between Russia and Iran is notoriously craggy, so are the people) and railroad networks. Murmansk had substantial railroad connections prior to the war to Moscow (and then to the rest of Russia) these were built during WWI for to send supplies from Britain to Imperial Russia, funny how history repeats itself some times.

    The rail connections from Moscow to Iran and to the Pacific were considerably smaller and the Allies had abandoned both routes by late 1944.

    Here's a good Wikipedia article on the Persian Corridor:

  10. If anyone can enlighten me: Why didn't the Germans march through Spain and take out Gibraltar, our go through Turkey to get to the oil fields of the ME? I know they were neutral or friendly countries but that didn't seem to deter the Germans in other areas.

    Pluto, I was thinking that delving into why the Japanese could not or would not resupply their garrison in northern PNG would be the crux of the article. Were they stuck on the horns of a dilemma with regard to Guadalcanal? In the shallow waters off PNG they had some advantages (better torpedoes, superior gunnery), along with interior lines.

    Mike, I have a picture of a b-25 strafer with TEN! forward firing machine guns. The pilots said when firing that the plane would actually slow down due to recoil. They also fitted one with a 75mm gun but it was not successful. I think Pappy Gunn was the guy behind this.

    Chief, nice article. I remember borrowing a book about one of these convoys from the school library. Must have sucked going into battle knowing that if you ended up in the water you would be dead in minutes. At least in the South Pacific the water was warm and there were friendly tribesmen about. Why didn't the Germans build ships in France after they conquered it?


  11. mike: I'm still scratching my head over the "winter = fun airstrikes time" thing. I think that the Kriegsmarine guy may have just got it wrong, period. It looks to me like the Luftwaffe operations were, as all air operations are, weather-dependent, and therefore were more likely to get to their targets in times when the weather was good, i.e., summer...

    And re: the alternatives to the Arctic, well, what Pluto said; the Murmansk/Archangelsk route had short, reliable rail routes directly to the fighting fronts. Iran/Vladivostok forced the Sovs to transship the goods to long, poorly maintained rail or road routes. For all their risks, the Arctic route really was the most practical.

    James: The bottom line was that Hitler had real problems with Spain. He kept hoping that Franco would come in on his side, and Franco kept flirting with him just enough to keep Hitler from really considering anything like that, even assuming that he had the troop strength. Which he didn't - first he had to keep his forces along the Channel in hopes of an invasion of England, then Barbarossa sucked up every available guy.

    Same-same w/ Turkey. Just too far for even Hitler to contemplate that stretch. His Abwehr did intrigue with the Levantine Arabs to try and produce some sort of uprising there but, as usual, ineptly and without success...

    I think he also hoped that between his navy and the Italians he would gain control of the Med, and then Rommel could grab the Suez.

    One thing to remember is that in the Forties what we think of as the "Middle Eastern oilfields" were just in the initial stages of production. The U.S., believe it or not, was one of the biggest oil producing countries in 1941; that's why the oil embargo caused Japan to move to war - their military depended on U.S. petroleum!

    The German war plans called for seizing the Soviet oilfields in the Caucausus as well as depending on the Romanian oilfields. Had they managed to secure those in 1942 they might have made a better run at it.

    And I think that by 1940 the Germans realized that building ships anywhere was a mug's game. They needed the steel for making tanks and guns, the aluminum for aircraft, and the petrol and propellants to power the above. Mind you, had they been laying down subs like madmen in 1938 things might have gone worse for Britain, but by 1940 it was just too late. Add to that Hitler's chaotic economic controls; his services fought over everything, he allotted resources based on his goofy whims, and the result was a mad diversity and poor allocation of resources that helped (fortunately!) Germany lose the war...

    I think he hoped, too, that his and the Italian Navy would be capable of

  12. Thanks Chief, I guess Franco was a pretty damn good diplomat! He survived the war and kept power for many decades to come. It still seems to me that Hitler could have blitskreiged his way through Spain, seize Gibraltar, set up artillery and close off the Med. to the English. It probably would have been a matter of weeks.

    I get your point on the ME oil fields but at least as crucial was the Suez Canal. Having Gibraltar would have gone a long way to closing down the former especially in regards to Rommel's campaign in Libya, etc... How would the Brits have supplied Egypt?

    A little known fact is that the Brits predated the Japanese on carrier tactics by damaging the Italian Navy at Taranto. With Swordfish biplane open cockpit torpedo planes!

    There is an interesting author, Peter Hopkirk, who writes Great Stuff about the great game and Germany's attempt to meddle in the same. Recommended reading.

    Just to stir the pot. The Caucuases were probably further away than the ME and I don't think the Russian development was all that great either. Trivia question. When did the British invade Iran? My Pommie friends love to say how they were saving the free world but forgot this little bit of aggression.

    Mike, regarding WW II radars. I am stunned that you can even name them let alone admit you have forgotten stuff about them. I bow in your general direction! I don't dare get in the arena.

    Apologies for the disjointed post, but haven't had my coffee yet.


  13. James - regarding WW II radars: FDChief gets the credit for digging up the names. I simply googled up their specifications and applied (badly) some remembrances from a very short and superficial EW course I attended 40 years ago. And those may be wrong. I simply threw them out there in the hope that someone smarter in that subject would weigh in and correct the record.

    FDChief and Paul - According to Wikipedia the Arctic route only constituted some 23% of the total aid to the USSR during the war, the Persian Corridor was 27% of the total, and the Pacific Route was 50% of the total.


    I realize that transCaucasus roads and railroads were a tough go, but not that bad if you stuck close to the shores of the Caspian. And a lot of equipment went instead by barge across the Caspian and later up the Volga and its extensive canal system. Plus much of the aid was aircraft P40, A20, and B25 assembled in Iran and flown directly to Soviet front line airfields by Soviet pilots.

    The port of Murmansk was under constant attack by German aviation. The Murmansk railroad system was also subjected to German air raids and Finnish ground attack. And while Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were closer to the fronts in Leningrad and Moscow, they were further away from Stalingrad than the Persian Gulf. A major benefit of the Iran route was the ability to set up assembly factories and therefore double or triple the capacity of the ocean leg of the trip as the shipping only had to carry crates instead of fully assembled aircraft and trucks. General Motors established two assembly plants in Iran. While the German Army was using horse carts (if they had not yet eaten the horses) for supply, the Soviets were using American trucks forged, machined, and crated in Detroit and assembled in Khorramshar and Andimeshk. It has been estimated that American deliveries through the Persian Corridor to the USSR were sufficient, by U.S. Army standards, to maintain sixty combat divisions in the line (per Maj. Gen. Donald H. Connolly in an address before the National War College, 18 January 1948).

    The shipments from Seattle, Portland and others were under Russian flag but many of those ships were American built. And although they carried no war materiel (supposedly), all that grain, canned salmon, chipped beef, and beans fed a lot of Soviet armies. Much of the tonnage was rail locomotives and rolling stock, and trucks also. And then there was the air corridor from Fairbanks to Siberia- over 8000 combat aircraft plus C47s with high priority cargo.

    1. I didn't know about the volume that went through Vladivostok, mike - interesting! Still, it sounds like that was probably largely foodstuffs and things like clothing, ostensibly "non-military" tho it clothed and fed the soldiers and the folks in the Red war plants...

      So it sounds like the honors other than that are pretty evenly divided between the southern and northern routes; I can see how the Iran route would have been preferable, too, and have to tremble a little at the brass-faced balls of the leaders of the free world putting the boot to little Iran when they needed to.

      Say what you want about the "noble Allies", when dirty deeds needed to be done they did 'em.

  14. Chief, I think you are trying to say "Dirty deeds done dirt cheap!" but Jim at RAW is much better at lyrics than I.

    ANOTHER trivia question that you brought to my mind with "brass faced balls." is where did the term "It is so cold it could freeze the balls of a brass monkey." come from. No cheating, no wicki. Any takers?


  15. Should read "... balls OFF a brass monkey."

  16. FDChief - Here is a link to an official US Army history of the Persian Corridor. Interesting read. What amazed me from this was that the corridor led not just to the Soviets, but a similar chunk of American materiel shipped to Iran went to the Brits in the Middle East and in the CBI theater.

    The following is a partial list of the American contribution provided to the Soviets during the war (from all routes):
    92% of all railroad locomotives, rolling stock and rails.
    88% of all radio equipment.
    80% of all canned meat.
    74% of all truck transport.
    74% of all vehicle tires.
    60+% of all automotive fuel.
    57% of all aviation fuel.
    56% of all aluminum.
    53% of all explosives.
    53% of all copper.
    14% of all combat aircraft.
    12% of all armored vehicles.
    I cannot verify its authenticity but it feels right. The list also included a high percentage of high grade rolled steel (for T-34 factories), communications cable, canned foods of all types, powdered milk, powdered cocoa, tea (?did we take that in trade from the British Raj in exchange for lendlease to England?), medical supplies, and virtually every modern machine tool used by Soviet industry. Not to mention the "know-how required to use and maintain this equipment. Somewhere else (lend lease museum?) I read that the buttons on Red Army uniforms were made in Chicago.

    And finally here is a quote from General Zhukov: ”In an analysis of all facets of the war, one must not leave this out of one's reckoning. We would have been in a serious condition without American gunpowder, and could not have turned out the quantity of ammunition which we needed. Without American `Studebekkers' [sic], we could have dragged our artillery nowhere. Yes, in general, to a considerable degree they provided our front transport. The output of special steel, necessary for the most diverse necessities of war, were also connected to a series of American deliveries."

    An amazing time that was! Talk about soft power! I would guess only China has the logistical muscle and sinew to duplicate that feat today.

  17. James - Something to do with cannon balls I suspect. But speaking of 'cold', here is another trivia for you: can you define 'Blue Flujin'?

  18. FDChief - Ooops - here is the link:

    or got to for a pdf version

  19. Your close Mike. so what is a brass monkey! Let me think about blue flujin

  20. James - I finally cheated by looking up brass monkey on wikipedia, and it is not what I thought at all. they claim the cannonball thing is an urban legend:

    The blue flujin was a term in one of Herman Melville's books, White Jacket. He says the old sailors used it when sailing in Antartic waters and referred to it as the place where fire freezes.

    In any case I say thank God for PolarTec, Thinsulate, Polar Fleece and any other wonder fabrics in modern cold weather clothing. Those Brit and German sailors in the Barents sea could have used them.

  21. Mike,

    Correct me I am wrong but the the brass monkey was what they piled the cannon balls on. When it froze the brass base and iron cannon balls would expand or contract at different rates. Thus the brass monkey would get so cold that the cannon balls would fall off.

    I was thinking blue was cold but had no idea what a flujin was. Thinking it was a whaling term with flukes.

    I love Melville, Read Moby Dick at least four times, but also love Bartelby the Scrivner and Billy Budd.

    Back at you where does the term POSH come from? I'll give you a hint its an acronym.

    If you can get this one I think I have an ace in the hole regarding trivia. Always a pleasure hearing your thoughts Mike.

    Chief sorry for hijacking the thread.
    And PS get busy with the Northern PNG campaign. I might be able to send you some pictures of some ordinance that is still there. I've got a good picture of a Japanese knee mortar.