The War at Sea

The War Illustrated, Volume 8, No. 182, Page 38, June 9, 1944.

As the day draws nearer the Germans are evincing increasing anxiety concerning the coming invasion of Europe by the Allies. In an effort to conceal their nervousness they have lately adopted a more boastful tone, asserting that they will meet the attack on the beaches and there repel it; whereas previously they had suggested that they were prepared to suffer an Allied penetration of sixty miles or more.

In neutral countries these symptoms of enemy apprehensions are becoming more and more prominent. For the third time a consignment of military maps of Sweden has been discovered in German postal bags in transit through that country to Norway. Naturally this has caused indignation and disquiet in Stockholm, feelings which were scarcely allayed by the curious explanation offered by the German Minister. He declared that it was necessary for the German troops in Norway to be provided with maps of the frontier between the two countries "in view of what might happen in the event of an Allied invasion of Norway."

British naval operations on the Norwegian coast during May have certainly shaken Nazi nerves. Early on May 6, Barracuda aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, protected by fighters, carried out a successful attack on enemy shipping off Kristiansund. This port is about 80 miles from Trondheim, and should not be confused with Kristiansand, on the Skagerrak, much farther to the southward. Ships carrying Swedish iron ore from Narvik must pass Kristiansund on their passage to Germany. The aircraft were flown off from carriers forming part of a force detached from the Home Fleet, under the command of Captain N. V. Grace, R.N., in H.M.S. Berwick, a 10,000-ton cruiser.

In the course of the attack two supply ships were sunk, a large tanker was torpedoed and bombed, and an escort vessel and another ship were damaged. Two enemy planes were shot down; we also lost a couple of aircraft.

This exploit followed ten days after a similar attack by our carrier-borne aircraft on a German convoy off Bodo, in the north of Norway. Hits were scored on four supply ships and an escort vessel, three of the former being set on fire and the largest one grounding. In addition, a large supply ship in Bodo harbour was left blazing. Five of our aircraft were lost. Our submarines in northern waters have also been busy of late; during April one or two tankers and a supply ship were sunk by them and six other vessels more or less severely damaged by torpedoes. The catapult ship Schwabenland was so injured she had to be beached to prevent her sinking.

Elaborate Precautions Against Sudden Descent by the Allies

With all these blows falling one after the other it can well be understood that the enemy are kept in a constant state of alarm. Nor is it only in Norway that such uneasiness is prevalent. A little farther south, in the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, elaborate precautions are being taken to guard against a sudden descent by the Allied forces. It is believed that the Germans have been studying the plans propounded by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher in 1914. These aimed at utilizing British preponderance at sea to strike a blow at the heart of Germany.

Lord Fisher advocated the landing of British troops on the North Frisian Islands and the coast of Schleswig-Holstein (the southern part of Denmark, which the Prussians filched in 1864; they still contrived to retain the greater part of it after 1918, thanks to a cleverly manipulated plebiscite). This sudden invasion under the protection of the British Fleet was to be merely a diversion, intended to withdraw attention from the real attack, which was to be made in the Baltic. By transporting several Russian divisions from Riga to the Pomeranian coast, at a point less than 100 miles from Berlin, the enemy would, it was argued, have been thrown into complete confusion. When Frederick the Great was confronted with a similar peril from Russia at a critical period of the Seven Years' War, he was so upset that he contemplated taking poison. Had not the Russian Empress died at this juncture, it is possible that he might have done so, and the history of Prussia would have been changed.

New ships which Lord Fisher had ordered for use in the project were ultimately expended elsewhere, and the whole scheme was pigeonholed; but the subsequent knowledge that it had been under discussion undoubtedly impressed the Germans deeply. When their withdrawal from the shores of the Gulf of Finland starts, the dread of a landing in the rear of the retreating armies will be accentuated by the recollection of the Fisher proposals.

Marshal Tito is recently reported to have appealed for the transfer to his control of the ships of the Yugoslav Navy which he declared are at present playing a more or less inactive part in the Mediterranean. With their aid he has hopes of gradually expelling the Germans from the many islands that fringe the Dalmatian coast on the eastern side of the Adriatic. As originally constituted, the Royal Yugoslav Navy comprised four modern destroyers, four submarines, six small mine-layers, then motor-torpedo-boats, and aircraft tender, four ex-Austrian torpedo-boats built during the last war, and an ancient cruiser used as a training ship, besides some auxiliaries.

When the country was invaded many of these ships fell into Italian hands, though one destroyer, the Zagreb, was blown up by her officers and men to avoid that fate. A submarine, the British-built Nebojsa, and a motor-torpedo-boat, the Velebit, escaped and joined the Allies, but the latter vessel was afterwards lost. Of the Italian prizes, the destroyers Dubrovnik and Ljubljana were renamed Premuda and Sebenico, respectively. Both are believed to have been recovered by the Allies as the result of the Italian collapse. There is also the corvette Nada, formerly H.M.S. Mallow.

A ship which is reported to have hoisted Tito's flag is the Split. This destroyer was laid down at the Yugoslav port after which she is named in 1939. Presumably she was completed and put into commission by the Italian Navy in 1941-42, and has now been manned by the Yugoslavs again.

In the case of the old cruiser used as a training ship, previously mentioned, there was a curious sequel. Originally this vessel was the German Niobe, launched as far back as 1899. In 1926 she was bought by the Yugoslavs from the German Government and refitted for training duties. Manned by Germans, she was sighted by Allied aircraft aground on one of the islands already mentioned. An attack was made upon her by British motor-torpedo-boats on the night of Dec. 21-22, 1943, and she was thus destroyed.

Articles in the The War at Sea category