War at sea
1939 - Facts and events (2_13)
caused the deep fall in winter temperatures and the consequent extreme
weather conditions in Europe within just four months after the start of
WWII? This study concludes that the cause for this must be attributed to
changed seawater conditions in Northern European waters. (A) and the
Eastern Atlantic including the Norwegian coast and the English Channel,
due to war at sea. In these sea areas surface water and the water column
below were most severely affected by ‘turning the sea upside down’
at many places thousands of times every day from the start of the Second
World War on September 1st 1939. Every excessive mixing of
the sea during autumn time has had an adverse impact on heat conditions
of the sea area in question. “Forcing” warm surface water to greater
depths will have its own consequence in the atmosphere. To “stir”
the heat out of seawater earlier than it would otherwise happen
naturally, must inevitably invite cold arctic air to invade earlier,
fiercely and to make it stay longer. The result speaks for itself.
Northern Europe plunged into the coldest winter in 110 years. (B)
For three war winters the ‘axis of cold’ stretched from Stockholm to
details: (A) Baltic Sea, 2_17, and the North Sea (2_16); (B) Europe in
arctic conditions, 2_11; (C) Three-year-package, 3_31.
the first day of WWII sea was ‘abused’ as never before. Something
similar had happened only once before during World War One. Between
August 1914 and November 1918 a modern sea mining and submarine warfare
was waged to cut the enemy off its supply lines. (A) In 1939 the
combatants wanted to achieve a similar effect from day one of the war
itself. Twenty years earlier when the war at sea became fierce in 1915,
war winters of 1915/16, 1916/17 and 1917/18 had turned out to be very
snowy and very cold as far as Britain was concerned. (B) Similarly, as
in the previous World War, when fighting at sea in 1939 started
seriously at hour zero, the winters of 1939/40, 1940/41 and 1941/42 had
been extremely cold and snowy in respect of the British Isles. By
comparison, in WWI, while war at sea took 16 months to provide Britain
with an extreme winter; it took WWII only four months, not only to
provide Britain a similar harsh winter again, but also to drag whole
Northern Europe and the north of Switzerland into the coldest winter for
100 years. This proves beyond doubt the effect tremendous naval
activities set in motion from ‘hour-zero’ with numerically higher,
bigger and powerful equipment under, on and above the sea surface.
details: (A) War at sea 1914-18, 5_13, Sea mines 1914-18, and 5_14. (B)
Europe weather WWI, 5_11.
overview of some of the events will be given here to provide a glimpse
of what happened in Northern European seas during the first four months
of war, i.e. September-December 1939. The focus of attention is on the
‘abuse’ and ‘shaking’ of the seas, consequences of which cannot
be ignored while trying to understand changes that occurred in the
winter weather conditions. This presentation does not in any way attempt
to provide a complete picture of naval events, but will restrict itself
to providing only a very random and small collection of facts and
figures to underline the enormous activities that the seas experienced
during a short time of only a few months.
following text briefly presents a number of topics concerning the impact
of naval activities on sea during the first four months of war in 1939,
to be read together with two additional papers, one, relating to bombing
and depth charging of U-boats, and the other describing the impact of
sea mines on sea (A)
details: (A) Sea mines, 2_14, and Depth charging, 2_15.
these initial four months of war with those that followed the after end
of the year 1939 with continuously accelerating military activities
which caused tremendous stirring of the seas, make it appear that the
role of the initial four months was almost modest. One of the principal
aims of this study will be fulfilled, if it is able to establish that
the war at sea had actually caused inordinate weather developments
within a short period of four months leading to the arctic winter of
1939/40 in Europe.
1st September 1939 the number of main naval ships belonging
to Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Soviet Union and Italy
amounted to more than 1,000 vessels (including submarines, torpedo boats)
with a total tonnage of 2.8 million. Additionally there were about 400
smaller naval vessels (e.g. mine-sweepers) with a total tonnage of
350,000 as mentioned below:
Britain: 250 big naval vessels, (183 destroyers and bigger vessels)
and ca. 57 submarines;
30 big naval vessels (21 destroyers and bigger vessels), and ca 12
torpedo boats and 57 U-boats.
the first six months of war an estimated number of 33 U-boats were
destroyed in about 4,000 depth charge attacks”.
“Once a submarine is located, British naval plans, so far as they were
known before the war, call for attack by familiar methods of an
enclosing diamond pattern of depth bombs”, explains the New York Times
(NYT 16 September 1939) on the procedure for attacking U-boats. Each
attack possibly could mean a few to many dozens of depth charges. The
total number of depth charges dropped per month could easily reach the
figure of 10,000. During the first four war months 20,000 to 40.000
explosions could have occurred below the sea surface. (A)
details: (A) Depth charging, 2_15.
Available and Lost
of British ships available in 1939: ca. 18 million tons, ca. 7,000
vessels, ca. 27% of world tonnage. The German merchant fleet was a
quarter with 4,5 million tons. The world fleet in 1939 comprised 30,000
ships with about 70 million tons.
of British, Allied and neutral ships lost in UK waters:
1939: 33 ships of 85,000 tons
24 ships of 63,000 tons
1939: 43 ships of 156,000 tons
1939: 66 ships of 152,000 tons.
naval vessesl lost
battle ship; three destroyers; one aircraft carrier; one armed merchant
cruiser; ca. 10 trawlers; two U-boats; and others.
Naval “Cavalry” Riding the Sea
sea around Britain was ploughed by a naval flotilla from day one of WWII.
Mr Winston Churchill supported the naval tactic. A group of three to
five naval vessels would systematically search large areas of sea
‘like a cavalry division’ and guard sea-lanes.
Especially the Navy’s few and precious aircraft carriers with an
escort of destroyers were put into action during the early days of the
war. Thus, at any time, thousands and thousands of miles of sea
were criss-crossed by a number of British naval flotillas searching for
enemy U-boats, dropping depth charges whenever a threat was suspected,
real or assumed. The number of depth charges dropped during the four war
months of 1939 was never counted. It could have been many thousands.
search activities to detect and destroy U-boats that “stirred the sea”
around the British island find little mention in naval historical essays.
These activities without any military results were quickly forgotten,
although their impact on the “summer heat storage” position of the
sea remained significant. The work of the ‘Cavalry’ was recorded
only if something happened; either success or doom, both had great
impact on the sea. The following two cases are shown as examples from
the first month of war to illustrate a similar situation.
14th September 1939: U-39 operating off the Hebrides shot its
torpedo at the 22,000-ton aircraft carrier ‘Ark Royal’, but
missed. Escorting destroyers Faulkner, Foxhound and Firedrake
depth-charged U-39 in a series of attacks. U-39 surfaced briefly and
sank. The crew was captured.
the next U-boat attack succeeded. The 22,000-ton British aircraft
carrier ‘Courageous’ was on an enemy hunt along with four
destroyers in the Southwest approaches (Southwest of Ireland), 150
nautical miles WSW of Mizen Head, Ireland, in the early evening of 17th
September 1939. The carrier could travel at a speed of 30.5 knots (56
km/h). But HMS Courageous’ days were numbered. “A German
submarine struck a telling blow at the British Navy last night by
sinking the 22,000-ton aircraft carrier Courageous, with loss of
an unknown number of her complement of 1,100 officers and men. It was
the first real success scored by the German Navy in this war.” (NYT,
19 September 1939).
was attacked by U-29. From a salvo of three torpedoes the Courageous
was hit at portside by two. The destruction was devastating as described
by Sub-Lieutenant Charles Lamb:
were two explosions, a split second apart, the like of which I had never
imagined possible. If the core of the earth exploded, and the universe
split from pole to pole, it could sound no worse… In the sudden
deathly silence which followed I knew the ship had died.’
Courageous turned over and sank within fifteen minutes, with loss
of 519 of her crew.
Lieutenant Wesmacott ‘heard two violent explosions which seemed to
lift the ship’. (NYT, 19 September 1939).
crewmember reported: “Then the order to “Abandon Ship” was given
by the Captain. I waited a few more minutes and then took the last of my
clothes off and dived in. I swam out in the direction of the destroyer.
After about fifty yards I turned and saw the last of the ship as she
went under. After that I was swimming and catching hold of pieces of
wood for about 45 minutes. The water was black with men and oil, of
which I drank mouthfuls!”
ships hurried to the spot where Courageous went down and assisted
in the rescue operation. Survivors reported that destroyers scurried
over the water after the submarine and it was believed that one of the
depth charges they dropped sank the U-boat (NYT, ditto). However,
that was not the case; U29 returned to its home base safely.
night was dark, weather fine and the sea smooth”, survivors said.
Visibility was described as moderate’ (NYT, ditto).
Royal Navy formed small groups of naval vessels to control traffic
(Northern Patrol) and seize enemy vessels. Within the first 6 weeks,
about 300 vessels were controlled and more than 60 brought to the port
New York Times reported in September 1939 on procedures for U-boat
hunting as follows: “Once a submarine is found, British naval
plans, so far as they were known before the war, call for attack by
familiar methods of an enclosing diamond pattern of depth bombs,
supplemented, of course, by shell fire and ramming if the submarine
could be forced to the surface. In the diamond-pattern attack, the
destroyer goes at full speed for the spot where the submarine, slow and
clumsy under water, is thought to be. One depth bomb is let go just
before the spot is reached. A few seconds’ later two more are lobbed
out by a Y-gun so that they land out on either side of the destroyer’s
wake. The forth point of the diamond is another depth bomb dropped over
the stern some distance ahead of where the Y-gun fired. In this way a
large area of the sea is covered by the diamond pattern. The effect is
further increased by the fact that the bombs are timed to go off at
different levels, so that the area is covered not only horizontally but
vertically as well. The bursting area of a modern depth bomb is
considerable”. (NYT, 16 September 1939).
the end of September 1939, Churchill said that 2,000 ships would receive
guns (NYT, 1 October 1939). Within twelve months after the outbreak of
the war 3,000 vessels were armed. The key defence was a 4.7 inch gun.
A story about the heroic act of gun personnel in 1939 reads as follows:
“As Culebra sank ‘in a heavy cloud of smoke and steam’ the
survivors, which included her six gunners, took to the remaining
lifeboat. Sadly, no one survived the gale which sprang up twenty-four
became a pressing issue for the major countries at war. Particularly
Britain needed an effective force for minesweeping operation. The naval
minesweeping branch requisitioned some 800 trawlers, drifters, whalers
and fishing vessels. In December 1939 it was indicated that more than
100,000 men would be engaged in the sweeping of German mines in British
sea-lanes. (NYT, 10 December 1939). By the end of the year the sweeping
force consisted of a searching force with 150 trawlers and 100 drifters,
and a clearing force with 16 fleet sweepers and 32 paddle sweepers.
details: (A) Sea mines 1939, 2_14.
merchantmen in convoys escorted by naval forces had been proved very
successful during WWI. ‘The previous war had proved the sovereign
merits of convoy’, Winston Churchill had acknowledged. Implementation
of the convoy system in 1939 went quite smoothly. The first convoy of
eleven troop transporters sailed on September 5 from Clyde for
Gibraltar, escorted by the battleship Ramillies and eight
destroyers. By December 1939, 5,756 ships had sailed in convoys.
By year’s end only twelve vessels in convoys and five stragglers from
convoys were torpedoed by U-boats and sunk, with a total tonnage of
bombing and mining
the German navy nor the British had a fully operational aerial arm at
the start of the war. The German Navy never got one. British Royal Air
Force Coastal Command became operational sometime in 1940. However,
airplanes for bombing and mining missions were
frequently, the British planes in the Helgoland Bight and the German on
England’s East coast. On September 3, 1939, Britain possessed an
operational strength of 2,600 aircraft;
and the Germans presumably not less. (A)
details: (A) Bombing and depth charge (2_15).
though historical information have been written down abundantly, little
has been said on the impact naval and military activities have had on
seas and estuaries during the first few months of war. The temperature
condition of ocean and seas determine weather and climate. This
paper demonstrates that from the first day of WWII the war at sea had
turned about large areas of Europe’s seas. (A) At least the winter of
1939/40 responded to the changed seawater status in the North and Baltic
Sea and succeeded in bringing arctic conditions to Europe during the
winter 1939-40. (B)
details: (A) On sea-mines, bombing and depth charges, 2_14, and 2_15;
(B) Arctic winter 1939/40, 2_11.