Monday, December 10, 2007

Today In History: Force Z.

On this date in 1941, hidebound admirals the world over received notice that naval warfare had forever changed.

The cluebat that vindicated disgraced General Billy Mitchell came when the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales, both of them modern warships maneuvering vigorously and shooting back like mad, were sent to the bottom of the South China Sea by Japanese aircraft. It was the first time in history that a capital ship under way and defending itself had been sunk solely by airpower. It would not be the last.

9 comments:

Divemedic said...

General Mitchell, proving that it is dangerous indeed to be correct when those who are in power are wrong.

Oldsmoblogger said...

Force Z was supposed to have air cover, but when it wasn't available, the British command chose to press on anyway. The only viable alternative, considering the speed with which the airfields on the Malay Peninsula fell, was not showing up at all. That was politically unthinkable, at least before the fall of Singapore (Bastion of Empire and all that).

Jeff the Baptist said...

While this doesn't change anything, the Repulse wasn't a "modern warship". She was a WWI era battlecruiser. Battlecruisers had been discredited since Jutland.

Anonymous said...

Hey I think I shot seismic over this! That was a couple of years back working out of Singapore.

You can actually see the ships on the outer streamers during the turns (as I remember it was less then 100 m of water) so clean data. I do remember there are some buoys out there. I know that we had to steer around them but I cannot remember much else about buoys. I do remember it showed up on Google Earth on our vessel tracking system.

On the outer streamer data you can see they boats are on their sides or partially turtled. It is hard to make out since you are seeing a sidescan type reflection on conventional streamer data using a small gun. I remember thinking they were in reasonably good shape in general and not chewed up like some of the ships we have found in with the high res sidescan sonar.

Max said...

Tam,
Sorry to disagree with you but, there were many factors that led to the sinking of the two ships.
1. Admiral Phillips R.N. had no understanding of anti air warfare.
2. The Royal Navy had very poor anti air control sighting systems for controlling what high angle weaponry that they possessed on their ships early in the war and unfortunately they never did have quite as good of anti air control systems that the U.S. Navy incorporated into their ships as the war went on.
The VT fused shells that the U.S. invented made air attacks alot more dangerous to carry out as time went on.
5. The old maxim- a hail of lead - the ships being much more heavily armed as far as heavy, medium and light anti air gunnery also took away some of the advantage that aircraft had. As time goes by anti air technology tends to catch up and the only way to defeat it so far is saturation attack and that is very costly.
The best anti ship weapon has been and always will be the submarine, not the aircraft.

Tam said...

Max,

How is anything you said disagreeing with anything I said?

The only way you could disagree with what I wrote is if you said that the Repulse and Prince of Wales weren't sunk.

Anonymous said...

Well, the torpedo is the anti-ship weapon, whether delivered by submarine, boat or aircraft. But the RN's stunning failure of admiralship was the death of the battleship, to the trump of all other factors. The columnist Jim Bishop wrote a memoir called "Battleship Sailor" (NLA) in which he told of being mocked by seconded limeys at Pearl early in 1941 for having "not half enough ack-ack." The Brits knew, having sunk the italian fleet at Taranto in 1940 with string-bags. Yet in the event, on steamed Phillips, because he did not approve of air doctrine.

"Something wrong with our bloody ships today." That, and many other days. The battleship has its uses, even today, and we mothball ours at our peril. But Max is right: you can't just lay down and spread them. Sooner or later, somebody will notice.

Oldsmoblogger said...

Warming up the paddles...clear! bzzzt ;-)

Sorry to be a day and a half behind. With respect to the most recent comment, indeed there are missions that the Iowas could perform admirably even today. I'm pretty sure, though, that the reason they went back on the shelf is that their 60-year-old high-pressure steam plants have become impractical and cost-ineffective to maintain. Parts would be hard to come by, and the drawings might not even exist any more.

Will said...

I recall reading that the Navy decided that they would rather spend the upgrade/refurb dollars on hi-tech gee-whiz flash type stuff, than boring old gun barges. They need to make sure they have some sort of after-navy rewards jobs to keep the wife in sparklies and do-dads.

Frankly, I like the idea of an off shore mobile gun that can throw the equivalent of a vw bug 23 miles! With sabot type rounds, this can be increased to around 50 miles, I think. With today's guidance gear, their remarkable accuracy can be increased to the point of deciding which rooftop grease stain you hit. A huge portion of the worlds important stuff is within reach of this platform's 16inch guns.
Maybe if they were offered to the army, this might motivate the brass to do something.