German Intelligence Estimates on RN BB Dispositions

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German Intelligence Estimates on RN BB Dispositions

Post by gflotron » Tue Jan 05, 2021 9:27 pm

I believe German Naval Intelligence estimated the BR Home Fleet had 4 BBs/BCs, but that the Prince of Wales was not yet operational.
-Were they aware that the Malaya was under repair in the US, and that the Resolution and Royal Sovereign were refitting?
-What was their latest count on BR BBs at Alexandria? They had to assume at least 3-4 were still present.
-I read in Ian Ballantyne’s book on the Rodney that the crew was unaware they were headed to the US, but was it a secret in expectant US shipyards?
-Was it assumed that at least one BR BB was always working out of Halifax?
It seems to me that if the entire Fleet Staff was onboard, the location of every British battleship would be of the utmost concern and importance.
Any answers to above would be greatly appreciated

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Re: German Intelligence Estimates on RN BB Dispositions

Post by Dave Saxton » Mon Feb 22, 2021 2:37 am

Intel could use three basic tools to retain a fairly good picture of enemy dispositions, especially of major warships; not including the cloak and dagger, and the femme fatale, stuff.

1) Direct observation.
2) Air reconnaissance.
3) Signal Intel.

First, direct observation would be a standard practice for any Intel organization. The Japanese had people observing the comings and goings of warships at Pearl Harbor, and San Diego, and so forth, for example. Norwegian resistance had people watching the fjords, as another example. Aussie coast watchers would observe Japanese shipping and warships passing through the passages into and out of the Solomon Islands area, as another example.

Of course we would not have much of a record of secret agent activity much if at all because, it was secret. How in depth the German espionage networks kept track of warships coming and going to and from ports we don't know, but when American flyers were shot down and taken prisoner they were often astounded by how much information the Germans had on them, right down to their personal lives. However, the head of German Naval Intel was a double agent.

One advantage of Scapa Flow was its remoteness. But the Germans had pretty much daily photo recon flights over such bases. Photo recon Spitfires overflew German bases almost daily as well.

Thirdly, a pillar of Signal Intel is traffic analysis. Traffic analysis involves looking at the volume (or lack there of) and regularity (or lack there of) of communications traffic. One doesn't not need to be able to read the messages to glean much from traffic analysis. Usually, the call signs of particular warships and flag officers could be determined from analysis of their messages overtime, even if the content remains unreadable. Such bits and pieces could be and were combined with radio direction finding, and position fixing.

Being able to read the enemy's mail is even better. The German B-dienst service typically were able to break/read RN codes right into 1944.

We can safely assume, that the Germans had a fairly good picture of British BB dispositions at any given time. A 100% perfect picture is of course an impossibility.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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José M. Rico
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Re: German Intelligence Estimates on RN BB Dispositions

Post by José M. Rico » Tue Feb 23, 2021 4:11 am

gflotron wrote:
Tue Jan 05, 2021 9:27 pm
-Were they aware that the Malaya was under repair in the US, and that the Resolution and Royal Sovereign were refitting?
Yes they were. The following is an excerpt from the War Diary of the "Seekriegsleitung" dated 6 April, where Malaya is mentioned.
  • "Marine Attaché Washington meldet, daß gesamte Presse in großer Aufmachung Einlaufen beschädigten Schlachtschiffs "Malaya" 6.4. in New York bringt. Schiff sei 20.3. von deutschen U-Boot Mitte Atlantik torpediert worden. (Kesselschaden, 5º Schlagseite, an BB in Höhe Blockhaus etwa 25 Fuß langes Leck in der Wasserlinie, mit Lecksegel abgedeckt). Reparaturzeit auf 1 monat geschätzt."
More about "Resolution" from the War Diary of the "Seekriegsleitung" dated 27 April.
  • "Schlachtschiff "Resolution" nach Funkaufklärung am 19.4. von Halifax nach Philadelphia gegangen und soll im dortigen Marinearsenal repariert werden. Damit befinden sich jetzt bereits 2 Schlachtschiffe und zwei leichte Kreuzer zur Überholung ub amerikanischen Werften"
gflotron wrote:
Tue Jan 05, 2021 9:27 pm
It seems to me that if the entire Fleet Staff was onboard, the location of every British battleship would be of the utmost concern and importance.
Both "Group North" and "Group West" as well as the "Seekriegsleitung" provided Lütjens with the latest Intelligence available (see War Diary of the Bismarck). For example, at 1722 hours on 24 May, Lütjens learned from "Group West" that “Renown”, “Ark Royal”, and the Sheffield had left Gibraltar the previous night. The Germans actually kept a very good track of all the warships entering and leaving Gibraltar during the war, since there were German agents in the Spanish town of Algeciras only 5 miles across the bay. A simple pair of binoculars was enough to monitor everything.

Scapa Flow was different, and the Germans had to rely on air reconnaissance. The last successful observation of Scapa was on 20 May, when they identified 3 battleships, 1 carrier, and 4 cruisers. Unfortunately for the Germans, air reconnaissance over Scapa failed on 22-23 May due to bad weather, and they were unaware that the Hood and Prince of Wales had departed. Imagine Lütjens' surprise when he found them in the Denmark Strait!!!

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Re: German Intelligence Estimates on RN BB Dispositions

Post by wadinga » Wed May 12, 2021 1:41 pm

Hi All,

It is interesting to see the real time delay involved in getting messages from intelligence and reconnaissance.

Force H sailed at 02:00 24th May from Gibraltar, and the message to Lutjens informing him of this is timed at 1722/24.

The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea ed D Isby includes a translation of The Operational Use of the Luftwaffe in the War at Sea 1939-43 by the OKL 8th Abteilung January 1944. I would recommend this book of contemporary accounts by German writers. It says
Luftflottencommando 3 received word at 1600/24 from Group Command West that the Bismarck would dock in St Nazaire. The Commander of Luftflotte 3 therefore accordingly reinforced Fliegerfuehrer Atlantic (comprising one long range reconnaissance staffel), one bomber gruppe and two Coastal Command gruppen) on 26th May by two bomber gruppen and on 27th May by three further bomber gruppen.
Long range searches were commenced and:
On 26th May a Fw 200 of I/KG 40 on a twelve hour flight sighted a British battleship at 1545/26 at 50-30N 19-15W- that is almost at the limit of the aircraft's range. This battleship was taken to be either the Rodney or Nelson and it was escorted by four destroyers. The formation was steering 170T.

This course seems suspect.
on 27th May a force of 3 Fw-200s, 8 Ju-88s and 10 He-111s was able to take off on armed reconnaissance beginning at 0307/27, while it was still dark. At 0945/27 two battleships were sighted at 48-20N 17-05W. From the appearance of their funnels they were taken to be the Renown and Repulse. They were accompanied by two destroyers and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, in other words the Gibraltar squadron, steering a course of 040T.
They had obviously misidentified Sheffield as Repulse in the the prevailing heavy weather with a low scudding cloudbase making observation difficult.
At about the same time [1043/27] 5 Ju-88s of the 606th coastal group observed the Bismarck being engaged by two heavy and two light units at 47-25N 15-45W. The aircraft joined battle but a dive-bombing attack on a cruiser was frustrated by the strong defensive action of Gladiator aircraft.

Somerville's report of proceedings mentions Cossack and Norfolk being attacked and aircraft being shot at through gaps in the cloud.

There were no Gladiators or any British fighter aloft in the prevailing wild conditions. A striking force of Swordfish were stooging around in the hope Tovey would cease fire and let them have another go and this must be what the Germans saw. The wasn't the only misidentification. KG V was well aware of a real Luftwaffe threat and blazed away for a time at the dimly observed Swordfish.

Some time during the recovery of the Swordfish commencing 1115/27 either a Heinkel or a Condor dropped a stick of bombs missing Ark Royal astern.

The OKL report describes how 17 He-111s of I/KG 28 and 12 of KG 100 took off at 0548/27 shortly after first light, but only the former found a carrier, a battleship and a destroyer in line ahead, the first of which they attacked without result due to "strong defence". 34 Ju-88s took off at 1537/27 but failed to locate the enemy. Many of these bomber crews would have had no experience of navigating at maximum range over the
featureless grey sea with heavy cloud cover.

Late on the 27th reconnaissance spotted KG V's group heading home, and on the morning of the 28th attacks sank HMS Mashona 100km from the Irish coast.

The presence of attacking Luftwaffe aircraft during the Final Battle is a further reason for the limited time spent by British ships in picking up Bismarck survivors. There was no guarantee of safety from either U-boat or Luftwaffe attack whilst stopped and carrying out such humanitarian work.

The wild weather prevailing and low cloudbase are factors which must always be remembered when considering the action of 27th May 1941.

All the best

"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

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