depth charges at sea (2_15)
naval forces in action, one would primarily think of naval surface vessels
fighting with each otherwith roaring canons in a sea battle with thousands
of fountains of water springing up from the sea due to impact ofshells
hitting the sea surface, and of battleships opting to sinkheroically in
the rough seas alongwith theircommanding
admirals and soldiers. Evena layperson now knowsthat war at sea had
already shownmany other dimensions in the previous century itself. However,
the generalimage of a sea battle demonstrates that fighting at sea can
disturb water layer of quite a large sea area, e.g. Battle of Jutland
(Skagerrak) in May 1916. 250 naval vessels gathered there andoperated
in an area of about 2,500 square miles. But neither WWI, nor WWII saw many
such events. Warfare at sea came to rely more on sea mines, submarines and
counter measures to meet the goals, i.e., the sinking of ships. (A)
details: (A) Concerning WWI, War at sea, 5_13 and Sea mines 5_14.
the start of WWII navies had a fairly new means at hand, i.e.aerial
bombing of floating or submerged vessels and use of depth charges to hit
submarines. The impact of sea mines, bombs and depth charges had a
considerable impact on the status ofseawater in affected areas.
Further, one should not ignore the third activity, i.e. the shooting and
shelling of fighter planes or bombers with all the firepower coastal
batteries and vessels with guns had in their possession, as a preventive
measure againstbeing attacked or bombed. In the course of a war at
sea,millionsand millions ofammunition, ranging from small to big calibre,
would inevitablyhit the sea.
withthe potential above mentioned two means, bombing and shelling, had
developed during the war, their deployment atthe start of warin 1939 was
more restrained. Parties to warwere not very well prepared forusing
airplanes in naval warfare and depth charges to fight submarines when war
commenced. While Britain managed to set up an effective ‘Royal Air Force
Coastal Command’ to go for the German U-boats and to undermine German
merchant shipping in North-West European waters fairly soon after the war
Germans never managed to create an effective aerial wing for theirnavy.
ExistingGerman naval air force was small, poorly equipped and remained
insignificant. German Navy therefore had to depend on the Luftwaffe and
its chief, Hermann Goering, who zealouslyexercised his command over all
Luftwaffe units that might be compelled to support naval operations.
Even though air forces of both warring parties were active from the first
day of war, they did not play anymajor role in naval warfare in 1939. Such
being the case, onemight wonder how much this section of war
machineryactively or passively contributed in ‘stirring’ the seas
during the autumn season of 1939. Similar uncertainties existedwith regard
to the number of depth charges used and their locations. However, one
thing became already very clear during the initial few months of war.
Military forces had grown tremendously since last major war, viz. WWI, as
if a breeze had developed intoa hurricane.
it is common knowledge, there exists a mixed layer of waterat the surface
of the seas, from a few meters up to a maximum of a hundred meters
depth, which is stirred by surface winds, However, military
activities can turn huge sea areas into mixed layers quicker than winds.
caused to seas in a sea battle with bombardments by airplanes and firing
by battle ships and coastal batteries can only be imagined. How
many bombs and shells ‘stirred’ the sea? How much explosives blew up?
How many missions were carried out? None of the above questionscan be
answered here in detail, as suchinformation is rarely available.
The first four months of war can beregarded asa mere ‘military warming
up’ phase. It certainly was, as far as aerial warfare is concerned, even
though aviation had made considerable developments since WWI.
question remains as to what restraints or precautionsshould have been
observed by participants inthe war in order not to drive the winter
weather into arctic condition? The answer is left to everyone’sown
planes usually could carry up to two tonnes of ammunition, which means
that on each mission they carried with them bombs in denominations of: either
twenty numbers of 50 kg each, or eight numbers of 250 kg each, or four
numbers of 500 kg each.
A small anti-aircraft gun of 2 cm could fire about 200 shots per minute.
Guns andmunitions ofup to 20 cm could goon larger naval vessels. During
the first two months of war, German pilots were ordered to attack
only warships, but the order was soonenlargedto includemerchant ships as
well. The ‘Loewengeschwader’ of the Luftwaffe soon claimed to have
attacked more than 200 war and merchant ships, sinking 46 of themwith a
tonnage of70,000 and severely damaging 76 ships with a tonnage of300.000.
The veracity of this claim cannot either be confirmed or refutedhere. But
as the British Admiralty admitted in December 1939, German planes had
attacked 35of its vessels within a period ofthree days, sinking 7
ships. (NYT, 21 December 1939). The totalnumber of bomber attacks against
naval and merchant vessels, ports and near coastal installations
mightamount to many hundreds over the first 3-4 months of war, with
thousands of bombs deployed intheNorth Sea area alone.
Charging of U-boats
charging submarines during WWII actually meant the hunting down of
GermanU-boats, either by air planes, surface vessels or speciallylaid mine
barrages. When the war started, Germany had only 57 boats ready for
service, of which only 23 were fit to operate in the Atlantic. In England
it was reported that 15-18 German submarines could have been out at sea on
September 1st. (NYT, 4 September 1939). Although the number was
small in the beginning, and never more than a dozen boats were in the
Atlantic or on missions elsewhereat any time during the first few months,
the Royal Navy did notfear anything morethan the U-boats. Even with a
modest success of sinking more than 100 ships with a tonnage of100,000,
the Allies felt the threat byU-boats seriouslyand employed all means
available at their command to fight this enemy, whether real or imaginary.
Consequently thousands ofcharges could have been deployed day by day.
Care to be
Events in 1939
Depth charge exploding
details: (A) Northern Europe plunged into arctic conditions, 2_11.
Van Dyke, p.54