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More naval stuff

1 Mar

Schoutbynacht has a maritime theme, and once it caught my attention, I couldn´t let it go, and then I started to think about all the stuff I have read about naval life, and it´s a lot and goes all the way back to my childhood. The recurrent, strong theme seems to be the tragic and dramatic, and surely that is why the sea is so appealing – from HMS Ulysses by Maclean, all the way to Taifun and Lord Jim by Conrad, via books like “Jutland 1916”, various sinkings of the Bismarck, the Tirpitz and the Scharnhorst, Trafalgar, the Italian Navy in WWII, the story of Stord and the other Norwegian destroyers in the Royal Navy, MTBs and subs operating out of Shetland, the British midget subs attacking Tirpitz.. The sinking of the “Najaden” at Lyngør in 1812!

Schoutbynacht is a part of me. I have also taken my turn at the wheel of a vessel and sat under the odd wet sail – but that´s about it. Nothing to brag about. No no. Not at all. And who doesn´t go sailing, anyway?

So I am an armchair sailor.

From my armchair I can follow the sailors as they prepare for the floating slaughterhouse at Trafalgar, where Nelson was shot by a musket at close range, and thousands of sailors, mainly French and Spanish, were killed by cannon fire and flying splinters of wood.  I can imagine the mayhem at Aboukir bay when the gunpowder magazine on the French flag ship “L´Orient” blew up at the Battle of the Nile. Black gunpowder is very explosive and burns much faster than the later, smokeless gunpowder known from long-barrelled guns.

Spooling forward to 1916, some 200.000 sailors were in action in what was the largest naval battle ever – there will never be a battle like that again. The battle was won  – numerically – by the German side, but strategically, it sealed the fate of the German navy, by proving that it could not achieve any of its goals. The Germans had the better gunsights, the better artillery, and better ships, but were numerically inferior, and locked in by the British Isles, which meant that the Atlantic was out of reach. This repeated itself on a smaller scale in the second world war. The Bismarck was a fantastic ship, but she operated alone, with support from only one ship, the Prinz Eugen, and you cannot wage war against the Royal Navy with two ships, however brilliant they may be. And so she went down on her maiden voyage, in May 1941. With hindsight, it was bound to end that way.

You cannot but admire German engineering, though 🙂

One thing I realised while reading “Battleship Bismarck” by Burkard Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg was what any architect of battleships knows , namely that such a ship is always a compromise. You need armor to protect against enemy shells, and by 1916, and indeed 1941, the main armor was thick enough to deflect a direct hit from the enemy´s main guns – at least under favourable circumstances. But you can´t have armor everywhere, and so the vessel is vulnerable. The superstructure, the fire guidance systems, all of this is high up on the vessel and cannot be heavily armored. So if a vessel is subjected to a sufficient amount of fire, it will be incapacitated.

And sometimes the main armor is not strong enough to protect the vitals, like the gunpowder magazines – Santabarbara in Italian, named after the patron saint of naval gunners. This is what caused the end of three British battlecruisers at Jutland and the HMS Hood in May 1941 (The Hood was a WWI design), in a short battle with Bismarck. The end of HMS Hood may have looked a bit like the end of the HMS Barham, whose demise in the Mediterranean was filmed. Look it up on Youtube.

After WWII I lose interest in naval warfare. It will never be the same again, with missiles and torpedoes and aircraft carriers.