Battle of the North Cape 1943 – replenishment at sea of the RN ships

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  • #15050
    Malcolm Lewis
    Participant

      The British force which successfully sank the battle-cruiser Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943 comprised a battleship, four cruisers and eight destroyers. The action took place at great distance from their UK bases at high speeds and in heavy weather lasting several days whilst protecting a convoy to Murmansk.
      I am interested to find any reference as to the “replenishment at sea” (RAS) arrangements for an operation of this kind at that time. Did they refuel from tankers accompanying the convoy or, especially for the destroyers, depend upon fuel transfer from the larger warships? It must have been a tricky job to find one another in the permanent Arctic darkness and in very rough weather.
      Reading accounts of the Falklands War a watchkeeping officer aboard one of the frigates remarked “we never seem to stop undertaking RAS operations”.
      Grateful for any leads – many thanks.
      Malcolm Lewis

      #15059
      Nigel Blanchford
      Participant

        This must be a similar problem to that faced by the Arctic convoys, and could it have been solved in a similar manner? Information in naval-history.net states that HMS Scylla (The Toothless Tiger) was detached from PQ18 on 11 September 1942 with the destroyers Marne, Martin, Meteor and Milne to refuel from a tanker in Lowe Sound, Sptizbergen (now named Bellsund), returning to the convoy on completion. I guess that this was done as Scylla, and possibly some of the destroyers picked up a returning convoy (QP14) before they reached a Russian port, so required fuel for a non-stop round trip. A small point – naval-history.net shows that the M’s detached one day later, 12 September.

        #15061
        Malcolm Lewis
        Participant

          Thank you Nigel, for this. Despite the Tirpitz and Scharnhorst shelling and landing troops briefly at Barentsberg on Spitzbergen on 8 September 1943 destroying supply dumps no doubt the RN persisted in stationing a tanker in Bellsund for refuelling North Russian inbound and outbound convoy escorts. This would have provided invaluable support for the task force hunting the Scharnhorst in December of that year.
          Interesting that Spitzbergen played a valuable role in WW2. In WW1 apparently large supplies of coal came from the island for fuelling the Home Fleet at Scapa flow although not much is written about this. (see my Forum post 28/7/16; Scapa Flow- keeping the Grand Fleet fed and fuelled)

          #16647
          Derek N
          Participant

            Spotting this discussion (just a bit) late, I have seen no direct evidence either way. However, the fact that Fraser ordered the ships of both forces to proceed to Murmansk without either forming up on him or returning to guard the convoy (which was still at risk from air and submarine attack) suggests he was seriously worried about the destroyers’ fuel state. With a 6-8M sea running, getting a line across even if there had been a tanker available would have been a tricky proposition. My bet, then, would be no.

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