Knouterer wrote: ↑
01 Dec 2019 10:29
Some notes about the RN at the same point in time:
The Royal Navy’s ships comfortably outnumbered the Kriegsmarine, which had suffered severe losses in the Norway campaign, but air power had added a new factor to the equation. Strong forces had to be kept in the Mediterranean to keep the Italian navy in check, and many ships were needed to escort convoys and to hunt German disguised merchant raiders or Hilfskreuzer, several of which were at large in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. During September strong naval forces, including the Home Fleet's only modern aircraft carrier Ark Royal, were away on the unsuccessful expedition against Dakar (Operation Menace). As of 30 September, the RN worldwide numbered 28,143 officers and 239,037 men. The Royal Marines had 974 officers and 27,256 men; the two recently formed RM brigades were also assigned to Operation Menace. In addition, there were 1,820 Royal Marine Police (to guard naval installations, recruited from RM veterans) and 7,855 members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens). The navies of the Commonwealth countries came under command of the British Admiralty.
A good part of the Home Fleet had been moved south to be closer to the expected scene of the action. Of the available battleships and battlecruisers only Repulse was at Scapa Flow, with the aircraft carrier Furious, four cruisers and four destroyers, while Nelson, Rodney and Hood were further south at Rosyth. The old Revenge was at Plymouth. Of the roughly 20 cruisers and 120 destroyers in home waters, including vessels refitting and under repair, 5 cruisers and 24 destroyers were in Nore Command (the Humber/Harwich/Sheerness/Chatham), 1 cruiser and 16 destroyers in Portsmouth Command, and 2 cruisers and 16 destroyers in Western Approaches Command (Plymouth/Milford Haven/Liverpool). After losses to air attack, and because it was within range of the recently installed German cross-channel guns near Cap Gris Nez, no destroyers were based at Dover, although it still was home to several dozen minesweeping trawlers and a few MTBs. The first of the fifty old American destroyers transferred to Britain arrived in British ports towards the end of September; RN crews had taken them over at Halifax but they still needed a lot of work done, such as the fitting of asdic and depth charge throwers.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Charles Forbes, considered it excessively cautious to keep so many destroyers in readiness to defeat invasion, considering that there would be ample advance warning and that in any case no invasion could be attempted as long as the RAF remained undefeated, and wanted to free a number of them for more offensive action and convoy escort. Churchill and the Admiralty did not agree.
Many other vessels such as sloops and corvettes would also be thrown into the fray. Commander William Donald, at that time second in command or “Number One” of the sloop Black Swan, based at Rosyth, remembered the orders they received, under the heading of “Operation Purge”: “Briefly, the idea was that every available ship was to put to sea at once, continue firing till their ammunition was expended, and then sink the invasion craft by ramming them.” The corresponding orders of Portsmouth Command (Operation J.F.) specified that only ships with “strong bows” (such as larger minesweepers perhaps) should resort to ramming, but destroyers, being lightly built, should not. RN ships on convoy duty were to abandon their charges, directing them to the nearest port, and hurry to the sound of the guns.
Work on naval radar (RDF) had begun in 1935 and the first operational set, Type 79Y, was installed on the cruiser Sheffield in August 1938. The first production set, Type 79Z, was installed on the anti-aircraft cruiser Curlew a year later, and about a hundred were made. This was an aircraft warning set, but with some surface warning capability as well. Destroyers were (gradually) equipped with the Type 286 from mid-1940 (HMS Cossack had one installed in May), which had a fixed masthead antenna that scanned only forward of the ship and had a limited detection range of about 20 miles for aircraft and less than half that for surface targets. It was replaced by improved versions from 1941. Destroyers also had powerful searchlights and star shells (illuminating rounds) for their main guns. In the 1930s the Navy had spent much time training in night fighting, and this training paid off during nocturnal engagements with the Italian navy later in the war, such as the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941.
Coastal waters were patrolled by the Auxiliary Patrol, consisting of more than seven hundred requisitioned motor boats, yachts and other small vessels, with crews drawn from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and armed with whatever could be found. Coastal forces, which would later fight many spectacular actions in the Narrow Seas, were still in an embryonal stage and consisted of about two dozen MTBs of various models, plus some fifty MASBs (anti-submarine motor boats, half of which were being converted to Motor Gun Boats) and armed motor launches or MLs. Most of the available MTBs were based at Harwich from where they could have intercepted the invasion convoys moving along the Dutch and Belgian coast.
The Submarine Service had about three dozen subs in in home waters (including four brand-new Dutch ones) and maintained patrol lines with a dozen boats in the North Sea, concentrating off the exits between known minefields. Other subs were watching the Channel ports. Their orders were that reporting was their most important task and that, if at all possible, they should send a sighting report immediately and attack afterwards.
Various allied navies also contributed ships. The Free French Naval Forces, as of 21 September, consisted of 121 officers, 40 “aspirants” (midshipmen) and 2,171 ratings. Some 30 French officers and 600 ratings were serving in the Royal Navy, and were encouraged to transfer to the FF, which many were reluctant to do. In July, at the time of the attack on the French fleet at Mers el-Kébir, French navy vessels in British ports had been boarded and seized but many of these were not yet in service with the RN. The most immediately useful ships were six fast and modern torpilleurs of 610 tons, comparable to the German Torpedoboote, based at Portsmouth. Four or five were operational with French, Dutch and British crews. The major part of the Royal Netherlands Navy was in the East Indies, but it did contribute, apart from the abovementioned submarines, a few useful vessels to the defence of Britain, such as minelayers, which the RN was short of. The contribution of the Polish Navy consisted of two submarines plus the destroyers Blyskawica and Burza, which were already acquiring a reputation for aggressive action. In addition, the destroyer Garland had been transferred from the RN.
Several squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm equipped with Swordfishes, Albacores and Skuas were based on land and available to repel invasion.
The fuel situation posed no problem. Like the other services, the Navy had been building up strategic fuel stocks for some time. In addition, since the start of the war, and even more so since May, many tankers bound for various European countries had been diverted to Britain. The arrival of petroleum products (mostly refined) jumped from a weekly average of 221,300 tons in April 1940 to 286,200 tons in May and 326,500 tons in June, after which it leveled off again. Storage tanks were full to the brim; the Navy had reserves of 2.3 million tons of fuel oil at home in June, which would be sufficient for more than a year at the current rate of operations, even without taking into account that Navy ships could refuel in other parts of the world.