HMS Devastation (BB-1938)
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Like so many other battleships that I have drawn, the Devastation will feature reused weaponry. In this case three triple 15" turrets from the Majestic class.
Laid down as soon as the Treaty's expired in 1933, the two ship class, Devastation and Thunderer (what wonderful names for battleships!) was the forerunner of the next King George V class ships. To hasten the building times, six of the twelve triple 15" turrets that were completed and stockpiled from the unfinished Majestic class were used. The first model of the twin 4.5" BD turret mounting was used as the dual purpose armament. This model was an extension of the previous 4.7" AA weapon which featured fixed ammunition. Both of these mounting proved a failure with the fixed ammunition proving useless for sustained AA firing. In 1939 both ships had their 4.5" guns refurbished to be able to use bag and shell ammunition. The light AA weaponry started with seven mountings of the 2 pounder octuple guns. 20mm single mountings began being added in 1939 and then some were replaced with twin mountings then in late 1944 when the remaining ship was being refitted for the British Pacific Fleet service, all of the 2 pounder and 20mm guns were removed and replaced with 40mm weapons.
August 1941, and the Devastation is heading north to join the fleet watching over the straits on either side of Iceland. Aboard the Devastation is the replacement Rear Admiral for the cruiser squadron to replace the previous one who had died of ill health while in command. Speed had been increased twice as the news from the battle of the Denmark Strait is happening. All aboard the Devastation are hoping to arrive in time to help sink German battleships. 28 knots and the Devastation is flying, only 30 miles behind the main fleet and catching up fast. "Contact" is heard over the battle channel as the main fleets come in sight of each other. The Admiral and Captain onboard Devastation look at each other and say "they had better leave one for us". The maneuvering of the two fleets for position allows the Devastation to come into sight of the battle, what is seen is not good.
The British Battle Line has been devastated. (Vanguard, Temeraire (9x16"), King George V, Prince of Wales (9x15"), Majestic, Bulwark (12x15")) The battle line had sailed toward the Germans sure of their superiority. In just ten minutes of thundering salvoes, huge splashes of the misses and the gouts of red explosions and billowing clouds of smoke from the hits, three British ships and one German ship are crippled and out of the fight. One ship, the Vanguard is a smoking hulk ready to sink. The command bridge superstructure is a smoking ruin with the Vice Admiral and Flag Captain dead, the Rear Admiral onboard the Devastation has suddenly found himself in charge of the remainder of the fleet. From 15 miles range Admiral Burnett starts rapping out the orders, Vanguard is lost, the cruiser Lancaster is ordered alongside to take off survivors and sink the wreck. The Captain D aboard the Eskimo is ordered to take one destroyer and try and sink the crippled Bismarck. The other three destroyers are to make a feint attack on the remaining three German battleships to keep them occupied and turned away while Admiral Burnett takes control of the remnants.
So what happened? Airpower happened. The German capital ships had the added advantage of spotters for their fall of shot. The other advantage the Germans had was the size of the shells coming out of the barrels of the 16.5" guns. The British 16" were firing 2020 pound shells. The German 16.5" fired 3050 pound shells. When those big boys hit the British ships they caused chaos. The Vanguard had taken ten hits and just fallen apart. The hit to the bridge superstructure blew it over the side, Admiral Holland did not survive. The Temeraire had received six hits and reeled out of the line with major fires amidships, A and B turrets dismounted and destroyed. The machinery systems had also taken damage and the ship was reduced to 12 knots heading away from the Germans. Prince of Wales, received eight hits and like the Temeraire had to withdraw from the battle line, all of its main armament had been knocked out. If it had remained it would just have been a target. The Majestic had done well, hitting and helping to cripple the Bismarck. But the return fire was devastating. The Majestic had been rebuilt during the wars with an upgrade to the deck armour from 2.5" to 5.5", but this might as well have been paper, the big 16.5" shells just went straight through. The engineering spaces had received two hits that wrecked them. Leaving the Majestic staggering out of the line. Two more hits and the Majestic was in real trouble, the aft superstructure, X and Y turrets were just gone. The King George V had received three hits but had not received serious damage so far. The only effective units in the British line were the King George V and Bulwark which was yet to be hit.
The German line was slightly better off with only one crippled ship, the Bismarck. The line had been, Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau. The British fire orders had been Vanguard and Majestic on the Bismarck, Temeraire and Bulwark on the Tirpitz, the King George V and Prince of Wales had one each of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. All three of the remaining German ships had damage, but they were still effective units. Tirpitz was down to three turrets, Scharnhorst had a fire aft, and only the Gneisenau was relatively undamaged.
The attack on the crippled Bismarck is beaten off by two German light cruisers with the loss of one J-K class destroyer. Captain D and Eskimo are damaged but return to the fleet. The Prinz Eugen is between the retiring three German battleships and the three J-K class destroyers making their attack. The Prinz Eugen is too much for the destroyers that fire a bank of torpedoes each then retire back to the fleet.
Admiral Burnett finally gets the Devastation to the head of the battle line with the King George V and Bulwark at the trail. The three German ships are now guarding the crippled Bismarck as there may be a chance of saving the ship. The Prinz Eugen is tasked with taking the Bismarck in tow. Both sides are outside effective firing range of their main armaments. But like caged tigers both sides are hoping for an opening to rip the throat out of their enemy. The Germans still hold airpower over the battle arena. Anything Admiral Burnett decides has to take that into account.
As long as Admiral Burnett holds his ground with his three battleships, then the Germans cannot pass without taking more damage to their ships. The less effective the German battleships become the more they will be unable to undertake their prime directive "sink convoys". Losing their main fleet units will not achieve that directive. The Germans also know that while they may have sunk one British battleship and damaged three more, there are still plenty more where those ones came from. Already the British had received one battleship reinforcement and the German Admiral was sure there would be more on the way. No matter whether his aircraft shot down all of the British recon aircraft that spotted and radioed in his position, his fleet could not hide. Keeping the crippled Bismarck under tow with the fleet was a calculated risk, but the fleet would take the most direct route back toward Norway.
The German Admiral gathers his fleet together and heads for the Iceland - Faeroes gap. The Germans are shadowed all the way by the British forces until the Germans come within range of land based German bombers. At that point two ocean going tugs take over the towing of the Bismarck.
Just like at Jutland, the German forces have assaulted their jailers but have had to return back to their cells. The Germans claim victory with the sinking of the Vanguard, but the damage to the Bismarck takes over 18 months to repair and it is not till 1943 that the German Fleet could have put to sea a comparable force to take on the British forces. By then the German airpower advantage has evaporated and all the advantages belong to the Allies.
|Displacement||35,000 tons standard, 41,600 tons full load|
|Machinery||4 shaft, steam turbines, 140,000shp|
|Armour||13" belt, 5.5" deck, 13"/9"/5" turrets|
9 x 15” (3x3)
20 x 4.5"” (10x2)
56 x 2pd AA (7x8)
36 x 20mm (36x1)
|Complement||1580 (1700 as flagship)|
|Notes:||HMS Devastation (1939)|
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