The date: just past noon, on 12 September 1932. The German Hochseeflotte
has sortied in force, to engage and destroy the Russian fleet. The goal is to secure total control of the Baltic (barring Russian minefields), in preparation of strategic landings along the Baltic state coast.
The German fleet is an imposing sight.
Leading the fleet, with a minimal Zerstörer
escort are the Zähringen
triplets. Admiral Görtz flies his pennant on the Graf
, a small black flag with the stylized head of a shieldmaiden dancing on the breeze right next to it.
The ultra-modern Blücher
, and the obsolete Hindenburg
lead two small destroyer flotillas, playing the role of relays between the scouting force and the main battlefleet.
This is commanded by Michaelis and counts a total of eight capital ships, all of them 'Unsinkables'. Michaelis flies his flag on the Hannover
, which leads a four-ship division of itself and the three Bismarck
sisters. The other two modern 'Unsinkables' (the Wörth
are sailing in a parallel column, followed by the veterans Schwaben
Military Intelligence has complied a list of the Russian forces based in the Baltic. The vodka-drinkers can field a maximum of three dreadnoughts (of about 35-40 tons each) and eight battlecruisers of about 35 tons each. They have no heavy cruisers to match the Blücher
; by herself
, the German hunter-killer is more than enough to engage and destroy the four or five light cruisers that the enemy can bring to bear. Her firepower and speed advantage is simply overwhelming
. And all of this, of course, before we take into account the nineteen
destroyers that the Germans have brought along, each of them a diminutive light cruiser in their own right.
13:35: Görtz reports enemy contact! Two light combatants enter the Graf's
weapons range, approaching from the east.
Both seem to be light cruisers, the northernmost one tentatively identified as a Veliki Knyaz Konstantin-class. The Graf
turns south, to link with the main battleline (if enemy scouting forces are here, their own dreads should not be too far behind) and opens fire at near-maximum range.
Over the course of the following twenty minutes, the 54 German 12-inchers blanket the sea around the Russian ships with fire. Some hits are scored, despite the extended range, and against the enemy light-skinned ships, the effects are gruesome; the Russians turn away in short order and seek to escape the Schlachtkreuzer
But Görtz will not allow them to do so. With Blücher
closing in to reinforce, he turns north again, keeping them both under continuous fire. As the German directors acquire better target solutions, the German batteries become more and more effective. Over the course of five minutes, the triplets score a total of nineteen hits, without suffering any damage in return.
At 14:28, one of the two Russian cruiser dies,her bow dipping beneath the waves, the sea extinguishing her burning superstructure.
The other, however, has reached temporary safety. German lookouts spot smoke approaching from the north-east: the Russian battlecruisers have come to join the dance.
As their silhouettes become more clearly defined, the lookouts identify two Fokshani
-class ships, one Navarin
-class pocket battlecruiser and a Rymnik
, for lack of a better term.
Görtz actually laughs out loud. The force disparity is staggering. There are more enemy ships out there, true, but the Russian battlecruiser force that is currently spotted can field a total of 28 13-inch rifles and 8 12-inchers. Just the triplets alone
(and never mind the 12 9-inchers of the Blücher
or the 10 12-inchers of the Hindenburg
) bring 54 12-inch rifles to the game.
The German scouting force is more than enough to deal with the Russians, but Görtz takes no chances. The triplets make their top speed of 25 knots and pull away, drawing the Russians back towards the waiting arms of the German battle-line. Meanwhile, Michaelis, being in constant contact thanks to his relaying divisions, splits his forces. Division 1 moves to the east, while Division 2 continues her northward approach, ready to join up with the Schlachtkreuzer
, making good use of her staggering, destroyer-like speed of 34 knots, pushes west, ready to drop a hail of 9-inch fire onto to exposed broadsides of the Russian battlecruisers and, if necessary, to cut off their retreat with her escorting Zerstörer
and her own torpedoes.
The pincer maneuver works perfectly
. By 15:30, both flanks of the German fleet are in position and firing on the approaching Russian ships. The effect is immediate. The Russian battlecruiser line dissolves into a gaggle of individual ships, trying to pull out under fire. Enemy fire grows erratic and inaccurate; the German ships redouble their efforts, trying to score as many hits as possible during this moment of confusion.
Very soon, Russian turrets start popping like fire-crackers. Most of the Russian ships present are old, built around antiquated armor schemes and are unable to withstand German 14-inch and 15-inch fire; the old Tsesarevich
-class battlecruiser Sinop
, in particular, loses three turrets in as many minutes.
Fire from the western German flank, in particular, is very effective. The rapid-firing 12-inchers of the Zähringens
are more than enough to defeat the armor of the lighter enemy ships, and their shots fall like hail. The slower 15- and 14-inch guns of the Schlachtschiffe
fire at a more stately pace, but they, in turn, have no trouble penetrating turrets and belts of the more modern Russian capitals.
On the other hand, Michaelis on the eastern flank has run into the enemy battleship force. His lookouts have spotted a Gangut
-class ship, which the Hannover
proceeds to engage and pound mercilessly.
The old russian giant is about the size of the german Wittelsbachs
and only slightly more heavily armed; against the combined fire of four 'Unsinkables', she has no chance. She loses her first turret at around 15:42; the rest will follow shortly.
Her escorts, the Aleksandr II
and the Nikolai I
fare no better under the tender ministrations of the German gunners.
16:00, and the German Schlachtkreuzer
have utterly dominated in the western flank. The Sinop
is sinking; one of the Fokshanis
has lost two of her turrets and is desperately trying to run away. Unfortunately, Blücher
has her flank and has no intention of allowing her to leave. Her guns are firing non-stop, a constant roar of dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka
, pumping armor-piercing shells into the Russian superstructure and waterline.
attempts to disengage and fires back to discourage the cruiser; but her turn gives her full broadside to the Zähringens
, at around five thousand yards. It's the last mistake she'll ever make. As the Zähringens
have proven, time and time again, nobody can expect to survive one of their broadsides fired at short-range.
Scratch one Fokshani
and search for new targets.
Oh look, there's a Gangut
-class battleship at under 10k yards, towards the north-east. She'll do.
The lookouts on the Hannover
spot a fan of torpedo trails closing in on the ship. A desperate maneuver dodges two of them; the third buries itself into the belt of the ship and utterly fails to explode. It will be removed by an ordnance disposal team in Emden, twelve hours later.
Show 'em how it's done, girls.
That'll do, pigs, that'll do.
16:17. The second Fokshani
eats a torp on her aft belt and loses one of her rudders and one of her four props. Meanwhile, the Schlachtkreuzer
have locked onto the Gangut
and are pounding her to scrap.Gangut
less than ten minutes later.
By this time, the Russian fleet has disintegrated completely. All of their battleships are either sinking or crippled; battlecruiser-wise they only have a single crippled Fokshani
and the old Navarin
still operational, and the former has lost all of her aft guns, as the flooding from the torp hit was allowed to reach the magazines.
Correction: they are bringing more ships to the slaughter. The pride of the Russian navy, their new modern Chesma
-class battlecruisers, armed with 10 14-inch rifles each and with a 12-inch belt, have arrived!
Let's see what they can do against the two-decades-old Zähringens
, shall we?
A general view of the battlefield. Note how the Russian force has been completely flanked by the German divisions.
Also note that what seems to be a Russian battle-line running north-to-south is, in fact, only a line of sinking ships, each of them falling behind as the rest of the Russians are running towards the north. The only effective ships they have left are the four northernmost 'dots', which represent the two Chesmas
and their destroyer escort.
Why, hello there, Ms. Chesma
#1. Let us just dial in our rangefinders...Dakka
. Both fore turrets jammed.Dakka
. Aft turret penetrated and destroyed.
And then, night falls, at 18:46; and the Chesma
fades into the gloom. Michaelis curses and orders a retreat - he refuses to risk his battlefleet in a night action against the surviving Russian destroyers. The 'Unsinkables' are tough as nails, but there are limits to everything and he will not
spoil this perfect victory with a ship loss. The Chesma
has escaped and that's that.
...or is it?
The retreating Hindenburg
spots a dark shape to her port side, flashes recognition signals and gets no response. Her old 12-inchers traverse and fire, point-blank, at a range of under a thousand yards.
The carnage is indescribable. The entirety of the enemy ship erupts in flame and thunder, as the German Schlachtkreuzer
scores more than twenty hits in less than four minutes.
Finally, the Hindy
snaps her searchlights on and illuminates the wreck. It's the Chesma
-class, taken completely by surprise and already sinking, her oil bunkers flooding the sea around her with burning fuel.
, a Wittelsbach
-class battlecruiser built in 1910 and the oldest capital ship in service with the German Hochseeflotte
, has just scored a kill on the Arhipelag
, the most modern warship of the Russian navy, a ship more than two decades
her junior. It's a record that remains forever unbroken in the annals of German naval history.
The butcher's bill. The numbers, I believe, speak for themselves. Before the Battle of Finland, the Russians had a total of three dreadnoughts and eight battlecruisers. They are left with two mauled battlecruisers; they also lose three light cruisers and four destroyers.
German casualties are negligible. Their Schlachtschiffe
are barely scratched and only the Graf Spee
(that damned bloodthirsty Valkyrie) has taken any significant damage.
To add insult to injury, the Hochseeflotte
has only lost the S49
: the little ship rammed and killed
the Russian submarine Minoga
that tried to torpedo the retreating German ships.
And then Russia had no fleet.