Proposed Royal Navy sortie in Baltic 1940

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Proposed Royal Navy sortie in Baltic 1940

Post by Andy H » 20 Aug 2003 19:27

In 1940 Churchill devised a plan for the Royal Navy to sail into the Baltic 8O , any got any further info on this idea.

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Harri
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Post by Harri » 20 Aug 2003 21:52

I don't have any. This is a totally new piece of information to me. But if there have been such plans could they have something to do with the plans to send troops to Finland through Norway and Sweden in spring 1940 or was it just a separate naval act?

I think it wouldn't have worked because Kriegsmarine and Red Bannered Baltic Navy could have closed the straights easily for example using submarines and sea mines. Britain should have sent very strong and fast forces supported by aircraft - perhaps more than two aircraft carriers (HMS Glorious and HMS Courageous would have been suitable) and two battleships or more likely battlecruisers (HMS Hood and HMS Repulse for example). It would have been a real risky business and I think at that stage of war Britain had no change to do it.

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Post by Andy H » 20 Aug 2003 22:22

Hi Harri

I've found out that it was Codenamed Operation Catherine and that special strengthened (Deck Armour & AA arnament) fleet was to seek action against the Germans in the Winter of 1939/1940.

I believe the Royal Sovereign class of Battleships were earmarked for this attention to there decks and AA.

I'll keep digging

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Post by fdewaele » 21 Aug 2003 09:46

Yes, Churchill was a proponent of rebuilding the RS so they could operate under enemy coast to do coastal bombardements.

I think it might be lucky that nothing came of his plan because it could only have ended in disaster... The Luftwaffe would be completely master of the sky and the RN would suffer severe losses...

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Post by Andy H » 21 Aug 2003 10:48

I agree that if the operation had proceeded it would have ended in disaster, though the loss of some of the RS Class battleships wouldn't have been that greater a loss given there state anyway.

I think the greater loss would have been to any escorts which would be surely needed in the up coming U-Boat war.

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Operation Catherine

Post by Jack Nisley » 21 Aug 2003 14:35

References:
Winston Churchill, "The Second World War, Vol I, The Gathering Storm"
Chap. XXV and Appendix G.

D.K. Brown, article in magazine "Warship, Vol. 40"

I greatly admire Churchill, but sometimes his enthusiasm and desire to do something led him astray. Also, he grew up in the late Victorian Era of the 1800's and he didn't always appreciate the impact of technology (even though he was in the forefront of some such as tanks, radar, etc.). As a result, if you read some of the personal histories of Field Marshal Brooke and others in the British High Command and Staff, you will find stories of their exasperation in trying to contain some of Churchill's hairbrained ideas. Operation Catherine is one of these which consumed a great deal of staff time and manpower, but fortunately went nowhere.

The concept was to send a RN battle fleet thru the Danish Sound into the Baltic in the early spring of 1940 to interrupt the iron ore supply from Lulea, Sweden to Germany and somehow bring some of the Scandinavian countries into the alliance against Germany (although how that was to be achieved is unclear!). The fleet was to consist of:
3 QE class BB
3 County class 8" CA
6 Town class 6" CL
2 Antiaircraft cruisers
16-24 destroyers
8 minesweepers/mine bumpers
other support and supply ships

After fighting their way out of the Danish Sound (the body of water between Sweden and the island of Zealand in Denmark which is the main passage into the Baltic), the fleet was to go and somehow establish a base in neutral Sweden, again a very hazy concept.

Churchill developed this idea in the early fall of 1939, and the Admirality Staff beat it around over the fall and winter until the First Sea Lord, ADM Pound, told him it was not a feasable operation of war and it died a natural death as it was overtaken by events.

One of Churchill's proposals was to take the R class battleships, take out two of the 15" turrets, use that weight to increase the deck armor against air attack and also add bulges to the side of the hull as extra defense against torpedos and mines. They would then be used in Catherine in place of the QE's. This didn't happen due to lack of industrial resources.

The Admirality Staff did recognize the problem of lack of air cover. One idea they had to solve this was to load 200 RAF Fighter Command Spitfires on carriers, send the carriers into the North Sea close to the Danish coast, and launch the planes to fly across Denmark to provide air defense for the fleet as they fought their way into the Baltic. Surviving Spitfires were to land in neutral Sweden! If the Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command had heard about this, I'm sure he would have had a heart attack or killed the messenger!

As you can gather from this information, Plan Catherine was a pipedream. It was more appropriate to the age of wooden sailing ships and muzzleloading cannon of the Napoleanic Wars when the British did have a Baltic Fleet or even the Crimean War when the RN attacked Russian bases in the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of Russia.

If Catherine had happened, it would have been a disaster of enormous magnitude. Attacks by mines, shore batteries, motor torpdeo boats, submarines, and aircraft would have sunk or crippled the British Fleet. Any survivors would have been forced by battle damage or lack of supplies to seek internment in a neutral port. Both the material losses and the loss of prestige would have seriously hindered the British war effort.

Jack Nisley

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Post by Andy H » 21 Aug 2003 17:15

Superb Jack, excellent info. As stated just pure fantasy in every stage, though I believe the modifications to some of the BB's was carried out.

As I stated earlier though the loss of 3 BB's would have been tragic it wouldn't be as bad as the loss of the escorts-in this case 16-24 Destroyers.

Maybe this was a case of Churchill have one Port to many before bedtime.

Andy

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Post by fdewaele » 22 Aug 2003 09:22

I think the loss of all these ships would have been disastrous.

I think the loss of 3 BB s would have been disastrous. Certainly if they were QE's. After all if these ships were sunk, they would not be able to lay the important role they later on played in the Mediterannean. (Matapan,...). If they were RS, it would also be a disaster (but somewhat less grave than the loss of QE's) because these ships were used in 40-41 as escorts for convoys (against German raiders à la Hipper, Scharnhorst etc. ) and were used in the Indian Ocean. If these RS were lost, some more modern cpaital ships would have to be detached to replace them, weakening the Home Fleet. Or, if they sailed without BB escort, it would have provided greater opportunity for German raiders to attack convoys.

The loss of the cruisers would also been bad because many of these ships were to play an important role in the Mediterannean and other theatres. Their loss would be felled there...

The loss of destroyers would be particularly felled in the battle of the Atlantic.

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Post by varjag » 22 Aug 2003 12:53

The 'Winston of The Dardanelles' of course devised most of his 'plans' when he was deep into his cups. Which was often! Operation Catherine was obviously another pipe-dream, if not delirium tremens, from the previous century in which Churchill belonged and should have stayed.

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Post by Andy H » 23 Aug 2003 10:41

The modifications to the BB's were to include adding large bulges which would increse the beam to 140ft, thus reduce there draught by some 9ft so that they could navigate some of the shallow waters that were as shallow as 26ft.

These bulges came in 2 parts and could be flooded if needed. This extra bouyancy allowed 4-5inch deck armour to be added. Top speed would have been 16kts.

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Post by Harri » 23 Aug 2003 21:59

Interesting that all these boats designed to operate also on Baltic Sea (the ones I mentioned) are missing. Also extra armour and reduced speed sounds strange to me just like the lack of a/c carriers which would have been necessary especially for finding out the possible submarines.

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Post by Andy H » 24 Aug 2003 10:21

Hi Harri

As Jack mentioned there was a hare brained plan to fly 200 Spitfires from A/C's as the Fleet passed through into the Baltic to provide air cover and any remaining would lad in a neutral country. Thank god it remained a pipedream.

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Post by fdewaele » 24 Aug 2003 14:11

Andy H wrote:Hi Harri

As Jack mentioned there was a hare brained plan to fly 200 Spitfires from A/C's as the Fleet passed through into the Baltic to provide air cover and any remaining would lad in a neutral country.


To achieve this it would have been necessary to use all available A/C's the fleet had. This would also mean there would be no place for other aircraft like Swordfishes or Skuas because there simply would have been no room for them.

This is the room for aircrafts I've found:

Hermes: 16
Eagle: 21
Argus: 20
Furious: 36
Glorious: 48
Ark Royal: 60

This would amount a grand total of 201 planes.

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Post by Harri » 24 Aug 2003 17:28

Sorry I forgot that HMS Courageous was sunk already in September 1939.

Anyway its sister vessel HMS Glorious of the same class was originally a Baltic Sea going fast cruiser suitable for shallow waters. Probably their half-sister HMS Furious would have been the next suitable one. So the capasity of a/c would have been about 84.

I think smaller HMS Hermes, HMS Eagle and HMS Argus were in the Mediterranean and Far East theatres or war and would not have been available for this operation. HMS Ark Royal would have been much too heavy vessel.

Using Spitfires from a/c carriers would for sure have been a suicide. Hurricanes would have been much better choice.

If battlecruisers would not have been used then battleships for that operation would most likely been three of these: HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Warspite (QE class), HMS Royal Sovereign and HMS Ramillies (RS class). But they were too slow vessels.

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Post by Andy H » 24 Aug 2003 18:55

The naval version of the Spitfire-the Seafire didn't come on line till 1942, so I presume that any Spitfires flying from A/C's would be standard Spit's and thus lacking the folding wings to enable carriage below decks.Thus the planes would have to be carried topside and open to the elements.

Andy H

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