KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

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aurora
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KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by aurora » Sun Nov 16, 2014 12:21 pm

On Xmas day 1940 German Admiral Wilhelm Meisel aboard cruiser Admiral Hipper (8x 8" guns) ordered an attack on Allied convoy WS.5 in the morning, taking advantage of mist and rain; the convoy had been detected on the previous day and the ship's crew had been shadowing it through the night, but failing to realize it was heavily escorted including the County Class heavy cruiser Berwick (8 x 8"guns).

At 0808 hours, Admiral Hipper fired on troopship Empire Trooper (16 soldiers killed) and freighter Arabistan, but she was soon chased off by a corvette and three cruisers Berwick, Bonaventure and Dunedin. In retreat, Admiral Hipper fired at her pursuers, striking cruiser HMS Berwick on the rear gun turret, killing 4 crewmen.

Carriers HMS Argus and HMS Furious launched aircraft to hunt for Admiral Hipper as she retreated toward Brest, France for routine repairs, but the German cruiser would not be found. Later on the same day, 150 miles to the east, Admiral Hipper detected and sank the British ship SS Jumna 6078 GRT; 111 survivors in the water were left to drown.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Nov 16, 2014 3:54 pm

To fill in some details: Hipper located the convoy during the late afternoon on Christmas Eve using radar at range of 23km. The weather was poor with driving rain and a strong southeast gale creating whitecaps on a heavy swell, and with the visibility less than 1 mile.

Miesel in accordance with German fighting instructions to not expose major warships to possible torpedo attack at night, decided to wait until the next morning to attack and rely upon radar to maintain contact through the night. Miesel thought since the convoy consisted of few ships and was on south course it may be lightly escorted.

However Miesel, figuring that amid the very poor visibility, a torpedo attack was a reasonably safe risk, and the British unable to see him would ascribe it to a U-boat. At 0153 hours, Hipper fired three torpedoes having closed a radar contact to 6,600 meters. Louis Brown describes what happened:
No hits. Investigation disclosed that the torpedo officer had ignored the radar data and launched at a shadow he was convinced was the convoy.


Morning brought scattered showers and slightly improved but mercurial visibilty. The convoy turned out to be a strongly escorted troop convoy. It contained an aircraft carrier being used ferry RAF aircraft to the middle east and was mostly unable to conduct air operations. Of course given the weather it would not be able to in any case.

Hipper found the closest target was in fact a heavy cruiser! Rather than retire unseen from the scene, Miesel decided to attack the Berwick with torpedoes. However, given the fast rate of closure Berwick was getting too close for Miesel, so he changed his mind and ordered artillery fire opened at 0639, nine minutes after it was first identified. Shock from the first salvo knocked out the torpedo training gear so the torpedo attack had to be scrubbed. The visibility was so poor that the fall of shot could not be seen and Hipper was forced to rely upon radar spotting.

Berwick was caught by surpirze but it was going through the normal dawn call to action stations so was able to respond fairly quickly, returning fire after two minutes. Berwick was only able to fire at intervals because the Hipper remained for the most part unseen amid the poor visibility. Berwick was using Hipper's gun flashes as an aiming point. Most of its salvoes fell well short with two well over.

Miesel then decided to seek disengagement and turned away to avoid exposure to possible torpedo attack. Miesel ordered fire shifted to a possible destroyer unseen behind Berwick's smoke screen using radar fire direction, but shifted fire back to Berwick when radar reported the target turning away. This was probably Bonaventure which took avoidance action when it was suddenly straddled by some salvoes. Hipper's 4.1" DP battery opened fire, at first on Berwick, and then onto one of the merchantmen.

Hipper's AO switched to AP to re-engage Berwick with the aft four gun battery. At 0714 the combat came to a close when all combatants lost visual contact with each other.

Berwick, was hit four times. X turret was hit and knocked out by an 8" HE and the other three hits were 8" AP. One AP hit below the waterline abreast B turret flooding the magazine. It also flooded the lower steering control room forcing the coxswain to order it evacuated. Berwick had to go over to manual steering control which required greatly reduced speed. Another hit the forward starboard 4" turret, knocking it out, and it detonated 18 meters further taking out the air intake for several of the boilers. A third AP was deflected by the belt downward into the bulge space were it detonated, flooding 13 meters of wing tanks. Berwick would spend a long time in dockyard hands to repair the damage. Most of Berwick's salvoes fell well short with two well over.

Hipper also hit the Empire Trooper with 8", so it scored five 8" hits for the expenditure of 174 total rounds of 8". A second merchantmen was also damaged.
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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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by aurora » Sun Nov 16, 2014 4:35 pm

Many thanks Dave for fleshing out the bare bones of my offering; but I must admit that I feel it is sometimes wise to produce an intro- as opposed to putting up the entire story- leaving little for others to comment on.Truth to tell I did not realise that Berwick had got such a mauling-my source gave the one 8" hit on X turret; but the other three were of a lesser calibre ie.4.1" However her repairs lasted until June 1941.
Last edited by aurora on Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by paulcadogan » Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:09 pm

Dave - thank you SO much for this detailed account which really puts the action into perspective for me. I had always wondered why Berwick failed to score and now it all makes sense.

It's also interesting in that Meisel chose to try to take out Berwick with torpedoes instead of retiring immediately on sighting an enemy warship of "equal" strength - which opposes the impression I got from other less detailed accounts that Berwick initiated the engagement and Hipper's actions were purely defensive as she opted to break away.

Interesting too that Berwick's belt kept out Hipper's AP shell! Also, two of Hipper's shells failed to explode - the below-the-waterline and the X turret hits.

Here's a nice series on Berwick's camo schemes with some commentary. In the frame that includes Hipper - again the above "impression" of the action is given.

http://www.world-war.co.uk/Kent/berwick.php3

Paul
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Steve Crandell » Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:15 pm

You don't know the angle at which the 8" shell hit Berwick's belt.

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by RF » Sun Nov 16, 2014 6:13 pm

Going back to the original post, there are some interesting names there.

Wilhelm Meisel I believe had the rank of Kapian zur see at the time, captain of Hipper but not an Admiral, as Hipper's sortie was a single ship operation.

The freighter Arabistan ultimately came to be sunk by the hilfskreuzer Michel in August 1942, with only one survivor.

The Jumna was the namesake of one of the ships sunk by SMS Wolf in WW1. Is there any documentation regarding the matter of the Jumna sunk by Hipper and the fate of its crew? On the wording of the original post leaving survivors to drown is a war crime for which charges were laid against the commander of the Michel, Helmuth von Ruckteschell, but I am not aware of any prosecution brought against Meisel.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by aurora » Sun Nov 16, 2014 6:29 pm

Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 26 February 1941 as Kapitän zur See and commander of the heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" awarded to Wilhelm Meisel but no War Crimes charges.
Ruchtenschel was charged with War Crimes when he captained Widder-he died in Hamburg Fuhlsbuttel prison in June 1948-just before release
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by gflotron » Wed May 05, 2021 3:05 pm

As a newer member to the forum, I love reading old threads, so much detailed information!
One thing I was curious about as I’ve seen no reference on, is what the Hipper reported that day.
Did she ever sight the Furious and/or Argus?
Was she aware that there were troopships?
Thanks!

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by gflotron » Wed May 05, 2021 3:05 pm

As a newer member to the forum, I love reading old threads, so much detailed information!
One thing I was curious about as I’ve seen no reference on, is what the Hipper reported that day.
Did she ever sight the Furious and/or Argus?
Was she aware that there were troopships?
Thanks!

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by wadinga » Wed May 05, 2021 8:28 pm

Hello gflotron,

As suggested the visibility was very poor and Hipper had no idea she was engaging a strongly escorted "Winston Special". Her instructions (as usual) were to avoid action against an "equal opponent". The carriers were transporting aircraft in packing cases to Takoradi.

Naval-history net https://www.naval-history.net/xAH-WSConvoys03-1940.htm records
There followed a period of near farce, although not in the slightest degree amusing. ADMIRAL HIPPER had first engaged and damaged her largest opponent, BERWICK, and had been unaware of the presence of the corvette CLEMATIS who raised the alarm and steamed to intercept! The enemy had mistaken the small cruiser DUNEDIN for a destroyer, and was apparently quite unaware of the presence of BONAVENTURE despite the latter firing a prodigious amount of 5.25in shell at her opponent during the action.

The convoy having scattered, the two carriers turned their whole attention to locating and attacking the enemy; unfortunately their resources were minimal and the weather atrocious. The carriers were cluttered with cased aircraft with only three Skua dive bombers in FURIOUS and two Swordfish torpedo aircraft in ARGUS; worse still, FURIOUS had no bombs, only torpedoes, while the ARGUS had bombs but no torpedoes!

While frantic efforts were made to clear the respective flight decks to cross deck the Swordfish for arming, the carriers searched in the gloom for the cruiser, fortunately not finding her, while the Skuas were flown off unarmed as reconnaissance aircraft. By the time the Swordfish had been flown over to the FURIOUS, armed and readied to fly off, there was no trace of ADMIRAL HIPPER and a thoroughly alarmed Admiralty ordered the carriers to cease their suicidal search. The only beneficiaries of the affair were the Swordfish aircrew, who were provided with an early Christmas lunch in BOTH carriers prior to their expected sortie!
Pargeter says SS Jumna was only 60 kms away from the convoy action, having left a different convoy, and Hipper was suffering some propulsion problems and so would not stop for survivors. It would appear there was no RRR transmission and all 108 aboard were lost. Since Force H was ordered out of Gibraltar after him, he may have been warned to waste no time via German Intelligence. Rounding up all the scattered ships of WS 5A took some time, and it would seem no-one knew Jumna was missing.

All the best

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by RF » Thu May 06, 2021 7:54 am

One can imagine the havoc if the attacker had been Scharnhorst and Gneisenau instead of Hipper, with clearer visibility and calmer seas.....
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by RF » Thu May 06, 2021 7:57 am

As an aside, a ship called Jumna was in 1917 the second victim of SMS Wolf in the Indian Ocean.

Her crew were all captured and after a year in the tween decks of the Wolf arrived in Germany.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by wadinga » Thu May 06, 2021 4:03 pm

Hello RF and others,

If this was an imagining thread, we could also imagine those two Swordfish sneaking in and torpedoing Hipper whilst she is busy destroying Jumna. Then the desperate staggering of the crippled heavy cruiser towards safety with the Avenging Angel of Force H sweeping up from the south west, and Kapitan Meisel's ship going down under a hail of torpedoes and 15" shells, before the Luftwaffe was able to save it.

We could then imagine the Fuhrer prohibiting Lutjens' early 1941 S & G deployment altogether, until Bismarck is ready. This should happen on the hypothetical section.

But this is not an imagining thread.

It would appear Hipper just "bumped into" WS 5A without intelligence on the make up of this Middle East reinforcement of troops and its comparatively strong escort. Having stirred up a Hornet's Nest, and with worries over machinery problems, developed after only a short deployment, Kapitan Meisel circumspectly headed straight for drydock in Brest.

Details of the WWII SS Jumna:
As she withdrew, ADMIRAL HIPPER contacted and sank independent steaming British steamer JUMNA (6078grt) in 44‑51N, 27‑45W.
Steamer JUMNA was from dispersed convoy OB.260 and bore the Commodore of convoy OB.260 Rear Admiral H.B. Maltby Rtd who was lost with the steamer.
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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by dunmunro » Thu May 06, 2021 5:19 pm

aurora wrote:
Sun Nov 16, 2014 4:35 pm
Many thanks Dave for fleshing out the bare bones of my offering; but I must admit that I feel it is sometimes wise to produce an intro- as opposed to putting up the entire story- leaving little for others to comment on.Truth to tell I did not realise that Berwick had got such a mauling-my source gave the one 8" hit on X turret; but the other three were of a lesser calibre ie.4.1" However her repairs lasted until June 1941.
Berwick was due for a major refit and that's why she was docked for so long. The actual battle damage was repaired in a few weeks.

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Re: KMS Admiral Hipper v HMS Berwick-25th Dec.1940

Post by Byron Angel » Fri May 07, 2021 5:30 pm

Shortly before her 25 December 40 encounter with Admiral Hipper, Berwick had on 27 November 40 been involved in a surface action versus the Regia Marina in the Mediterranean in the course of which she suffered two 8in hits aft which disabled Y turret and required 20 days time to effect temporary repairs.

According to CB4273(52) "H. M. Ships Damaged or Sunk by Enemy Action - 3rd Sept 1939 to 2nd Sept 1945" Berwick suffered the followed damage in her 25 December 40 engagement with Admiral Hipper -

quote -

1st Shell struck the starboard side of 'X' turret, perforated the gunhouse deck and revolving structure and emerged through the gun support, post side. and passed overboard without detonating.

2nd Shell struck the side plating starboard at 71 station, it pierced the platform deck, struck 4 inch N.C. longitudinal bulkhead, was deflected through 100deg, perforated No, 7 oil fuel tank and penetrated 81 bulkhead, but did not explode. Immediate flooding of spaced 69-81 lower deck and 7 and 10 oil fuel tanks occurred.

3rd Shell struck the starboard side of S.1 4-inch twin mounting, perforated the superstructure and upper decks and exploded in the central funnel uptake. Minor damage was sustained n the vicinity of the burst.

4th Shell perforated the upper bulge, struck the 4-1/2 inch C side armour, was deflected downwards and exploded in the bulge. Minor structural damage was sustained. Immediate flooding 183 to 201 stations in double bottoms and 195 to 219 stations upper and lower bulge compartments.

Fighting Efficiency - Not seriously impaired.
'X' Turret was jammed and out of action.
The main telephone exchange was put out of action.
A.4 boiler was closed down due to loss of feed water.

Remarks
Ship's report contained the following proposal:-
It is considered necessary that valves with hose connections should be fitted on the ship's side, port and starboard, in all main compartments on the lower deck, to provide a ready discharge for all portable pumps.

Time out of Action
6 months including damage received 27th Nov., 1940.

- - -

FWIW.

B

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