Names, lives and individuals are unimportant when Germany's final fate is at stake.
-From the personal notes of Franz von Papen, quoted in Piotr Fiyodorowski The French Matter, Berlin : Hauser Vlg. 1958
Hindenburg is ready to tear his mustache off at the utter incompetence
of his new Chancellor. Germany's wars live and die by preparation
; by having a plan, by communicating and by allowing the military to draw up a satisfactory strategy before pulling the metaphorical trigger. This has not
taken place here. Certainly, war with France was a very real danger, that the military was making preparations against - but nobody expected a war this soon
. The Army is not
fully mobilised; the Navy is still in its harbours.
For a few days, Hindenburg lives in a nightmare
, certain that what he will have to deal with is a reversal of 1870. But the French, surprisingly, seem to be as unprepared as the Germans, and they do not press their advantage. As the regiments reinforce the defensive line against the border, Hindenburg reaches out to the Navy. Out of all the German armed forces, they are at the highest readiness status. They need
to buy him time; they need
to push the French and regain the initiative; keep the enemy's attention focused on them, while the Army gets its act together and prepares for an offensive.
Galster responds by authorising a massive fleet patrol along the Dutch coast. Stresemann backs him by outright declaring that Germany will guarantee Dutch neutrality; and her fleet is on station to block the eastern mouth of the English Channel.
The British Fleet cowers in its harbours, as the Zähringens
...and so do the French. The Netherlands are safe, under the protection of the German Schlachtkreuzergeschwader
. Now for Belgium...
takes advantage of securing the North Sea to sail in several large resupply convoys.
The French do not dare to leave their ports.
This is not enough for Galster. He needs
to draw the attention of the French High Command; he needs
to present them with a challenge that they must
respond to. So, on the 2nd of June, the Zähringen
and the Graf Spee
, escorted by the Bremen
, sail past the French garrisons in Armorique and enter the coastal waters of La Rochelle. It is a flagrant challenge; a contemptuous slap on the face of the French; and the French finally
9:45am, and the Bremen
, approaching the French coastline from the North-West, spots enemy smoke. At least two ships; and one of them is a capital. Behind her, Hipper, on board the Graf Spee,
rouses his crew to action stations; alarms blare loud enough to wake the dead.Bremen
, captained by Fregattenkapitän
Markus Vogler safely identifies the nearest ship as an Epée
-class destroyer. She's laying smoke, to conceal her allies; Vogler opens fire against her with Bremen's
6-inchers, as the Schlachtkreuzer
The French destroyer is driven away, and the German capital ships push through her smoke screen, spotting a French light cruiser and...two more ships (?) in the distance. The lookouts are uncertain; gunnery, for now, focuses on the French cruiser.
But then the Bremen
rejoins the fleet, the Epée
safely driven off, and her veteran lookouts identify the enemy ships as capitals. Specifically, two Marseille-
class 14-inch battlecruisers closing from the south...
And a French Toulouse
-class 36k-ton dreadnought approaching from the north. Holy crap. OK, this thing has only a 9-inch belt, but it carries 12
14-inchers, as many as the Bismarcks
Hipper doesn't give a flying ****. He has charged his ships into British 15-inch fire; it's not the French peashooters that will scare him.SCHLACHTKREUZER RAN AN DEN FEIND!
The German ships turn, to pursue the French battlecruisers. They are slower
than the enemy ships, but the French have, foolishly, allowed themselves to enter the range of the German 12-inchers. Zähringen
scores the first hit, from a range of over 20k yards. The new 15-foot rangefinders work perfectly
moves to the north, in a screening action. She drops smoke, that interferes with the Toulouse's
targeting. Hipper wants his duel with the French battlecruisers to remain uninterrupted; Vogler does his best to oblige him.
He succeeds. Oh God
does he succeed.
Over the course of twenty minutes, and while the French are still trying to find the range on the relentlessly charging German behemoths, the Graf Spee
and the Zähringen
lock on to the two Marseilles
them, mercilessly. Hipper knows that his time is precious, and orders double-time for the loaders; the Schlachtkreuzer
guns bark again and again and again
, a never-ending hail of steel, walking its way to the French ships. German fire control logs at least fourteen
12-inch hits as the enemy tries to open the range. The French only score one hit, before they turn and run in terror; the 14-inch shell bounces harmlessly off the Graf Spee's
B-Turret top armour.
On the other hand, the Bremen
is not so lucky. As she seeks to keep the Toulouse
occupied, the French dreadnought scores a hit on her bows, smashing them to kindling. The ship staggers and falls back, barely responding to the wheel; Zerstörer
close in to lay smoke and cover her escape. She has suffered major casualties, but her crew (veterans one and all) manage to keep her in the fight.
Meanwhile, the two Marseilles
have been mauled. The leading ship has taken one major hit on her center turret, which has smashed through the turret armour and blown the entirety of the mounting off; the ship is trailing smoke and fire.
ship (the one Graf Spee
has been favouring with her attention) is already dead
, all of her turrets blown to smithereens. French sailors are jumping overboard, as the ship develops a list to port and slowly, gracefully, capsizes.
The German Schlachtkreuzer
overtake the enemy from the south and curve around towards the north, to keep the leading Marseille
under fire. Once again, the German ships demonstrate that they are in a class of their own. Zähringen
fires a broadside, at a range of 8k yards. One 12-inch shell strikes the Marseille
on the waterline, just behind her A-Turret...
...and the French ship goes up like a firecracker, her escorts scattering like headless chicken.
At this point, the Toulouse
is out of sight, somewhere behind the smokescreens to the north; and Hipper has no reason to pursue. This is a great victory, that demands
an answer from the French; his mission is accomplished. He turns to the north, leaving La Rochelle behind.
And uses nightfall to sneak past the French patrols near Brest.
What a bloody victory!
Out of all the ships participating in the fight, it is little Bremen
that scored the highest hit percentage, peppering the Toulouse
and enemy destroyers with high-explosive shells. But it is the two Zähringens
that have finally come into their element. Between them, they have scored (wait for it) a hundred and seventy
hits on their opponents, the German 12-inchers firing almost continuously throughout the engagement. In fact, upon her return, Graf Spee
immediately enters drydock, to have her guns re-bored, after the repeated use essentially destroyed their rifling.
The French lose their two Marseilles;
the name ship herself and the Nantes
. The Toulouse
reached the safety of La Rochelle without suffering any significant damage.
But, while von Papen rejoiced and trumpeted Hipper's success from the rooftops, the Admiralität
remained skeptical - and, surprisingly, so did the Kaiser. His Majesty now spent hours in the Admiralität
building, discussing with his officers; and, for the first time, he was actually listening
The situation was critical. The French did not possess the massive capital fleet of the Brits; but they did
have a significant raiding and submarine force; and whereas the Germans had concentrated their fleet in the Northern Atlantic, to make sure that the flow of supplies would continue to reach Germany unimpeded, the French had dispersed their forces around the world, skirmishing with German patrol forces all over the Pacific. This was an unsung war, hardly comparable with the large capital ship battles in the North Sea; but no less desperate and no less brutal. The Piepers
in German Polynesia had their hands full, dealing with French raiders and submarines, not to mention the infamous Aigle
, the two 4k-ton French light cruisers that utterly dominated the Pacific; the Admiralität
was very much aware that the situation there was hanging from a very fine thread indeed.
OK. R & D? We love you, and we very much appreciate your hard work. But we are no longer building light cruisers
. When we want to kill things in the high seas...?
...we send our U-Boote
Now, it is interesting to note that the French do not suffer as much as the British here. Nor do they fail
as much in their counter-raiding. They have a modern force, of both submarines and patrol vessels; and their convoys are fewer and better protected than the British ones (not to mention less important to the country's survival
); but they are inexperienced
. The German Kaleuns,
on the other hand, are both highly skilled and utterly merciless
. And the Pieper
crews do not fool around either.
The question is: the French have been humiliated in La Rochelle. Will they push back?
Yes. Yes they will.
With Hipper's force in drydock, it falls to Scheer to safeguard the home waters. And he does so in his trademark careful fashion, with patrols in force and tireless vigilance.
On the 7th of July, almost a month after the La Rochelle engagement, and with the ground forces preparing for the first large-scale offensive, Scheer is bringing his fleet back from a Long Patrol, trying to reach Helgoland before a summer gale hits. Visibility is minimal; the crews are wet, and tired and miserable.
And, suddenly, there are French ships less than two thousand yards towards the north, closing in fast.
The only appropriate response is 'Da stecken wir ja schön in der Scheisse'.
The northernmost German squadron comprises the Moltke
and the Seydlitz
with their Zerstörer
escorts. The old veteran Schlachtkreuzer
ready to engage enemy capitals; thankfully, their Zerstörers
Falke of the S-22
takes his little tin can on a suicidal run against the enemy ship silhouettes and launches torpedoes from point-blank range. As he turns to escape, his ships is blasted to near-oblivion by heavy-caliber fire; but his torpedo hits;
and it buys enough time for the Moltke
to get to battle stations.
Further to the south, Scheer, from the conning tower of the Bismarck
scans the seas with concern. He has heard the gunfire; and the Bismarck
is sounding battle stations, rushing to the north, to assist the old Schlachtkreuzer
. Visibility is ****
and they must not allow themselves to be-
-ENEMY SHIP TO THE NORTH, RANGE 1500 YARDS! RUDDER HARD STARBOARD; ALL GUNS FIRE AT WILL!
responds to the rudder beautifully. Her wide beam and well-balanced metacentric height make her a very stable gun platform in high seas; and her 14-inchers boom against the silhouetted enemy. Wettin
scores a hit; Bismarck
And, twenty seconds later, three more.Whhooooooooooooomfffff.
The explosion serves as a beacon. Moltke
turn, to approach from the north, while Bismarck
turn to meet them. In the south-west, little Bremen
fights against the waves, to reach her capital wards-
-and eats a torpedo for her trouble; a torpedo that blows her newly-repaired bows clean off.
Scheer takes his superdreads around, to investigate the area of the enemy explosion - and hopefully reach Bremen
for assistance. Unfortunately, with the gale messing up signaling, his escorts fall behind. And he pays for it, when his lookouts make out French destroyers in the area, possibly looking to save survivors themselves. He orders an evasive turn to starboard; but it's too late. A torped hits the Bismarck
amidships, on her starboard side.
And then - a few terrifying moments of fire and thunder, as what seems to be a bloody French battle-line slices right through the German forces. Some capitals are spotted; and the German Zerstörer
loose their fish in a ragged volley, as they bear and as they see
their opponents. At least one hit is scored-
-but the German forces suffer in return. French guns boom from insight the smoke, fog and rain; Seydlitz
are riddled with holes, both on the superstructure and the waterline. Moltke
loses three of her four turrets, in the most horrifying carnage ever to have been inflicted on a German vessel; Seydlitz
does not fare so badly above the waterline, but several underwater hits rob her of almost half her reserve buyoancy. She loses two of her boilers, is listing heavily and can only do 15 knots.Nope
. **** that ****. Scheer is out
His ships limp into Helgoland four hours later. Morale is low. Scheer can only imagine
what the French are going to be crowing from the-
-WHAT THE ****?
HOW THE ****
DID YOU LOSE THREE BATTLECRUISERS, FRENCHIES?
OK, OK, let's count. One went up like a roman candle; one got torpedoed once
and, OK, the Bismarcks may
have scored a couple of underwater hits on a third one. But surely
that's not enough to sink
a capital ship?Um Gottes Willen
, Baguettes, what is your ****ing damcon doctrine like?