KM Admiral Von Roon (BC-1940)
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This is the German version of the standard hull battlecruiser. In this case
the main armament is a pair of quadruple 13.8" turrets mounted fore and aft. Six
twin turrets with the dual purpose 5.1" guns provided a very good secondary
armament when fitted in a lozenge arrangement. The twin 40mm and single 20mm
were the light AA armament. For its raiding duties a cross deck catapult and two
aircraft provided the ship with both search and spotting aircraft when required.
The cruising diesels gave the ship the enormous range required for its raiding
duties. Heavy armour meant that only ships of equal rank need be feared at sea.
Patrol cruisers would not be a problem.
Laid down in 1936, the ship had a normal priority and was expected to be completed in late 1940. The start of the Second World War gave the ship an improved priority to get the ship to sea where it could menace Allied shipping. Completed in June 1940, the ship then spent two months in the Baltic Sea undergoing trials and training for its mission.
August 1940, France has surrendered, the Battle of Britain is raging, and the Roon slips out into the North Atlantic through the Iceland Faeroes gap. The ships latest radar equipment proved superior to that of the British patrol cruiser and the Roon eluded contact. The first the Allies knew that a raider was at large was when HMS Lanconia broadcast an RRR raider report. The Lanconia, an armed merchant cruiser with six old 6" guns as its armament, then gave orders to the twelve ships of the convoy it was escorting to disperse. Sailing directly at the Roon making smoke to try and cover the convoys retreat. One salvo from the main guns and the Lanconia was on fire and stopped dead in the water, heeling further and further to starboard until it finally capsized. The Roon having brushed past the Lanconia settled down to chase and sink 10 out of the 12 ships of the convoy. A fantastic return for its first action. Now is when the ships design paid off. The British thought they were looking for a Deutschland class heavy cruiser with the single triple turret fore and aft. Hunting groups consisting of two to three cruisers were organised to search for the Roon with a couple of heavy groups of capital ships to provide the finishing touches.
Things did not quite work out the way the British intended. Roaring out of the dawn, the Roon surprises the two cruisers Riverina and Carnarvon. While still trying to come to action stations, the Carnarvon receives four 13.8" hits and the speed bleeds away, another salvo at now point blank range from the Roon and the Carnarvon just explodes. The Riverina has turned away and is running for all it is worth. It has made its RRR report but this time correctly identifies the Roon as a battlecruiser. The Riverina is still too close, and despite firing its 8" guns at the Roon, the Roon's return fire is just too much for the Riverina to take. The Riverina is not built to take hits from 13.8" shell fire. Three more hits and the Riverina is reduced to just one 8" turret remaining, A and B have been knocked out and speed is starting to reduce as a pair of near misses has shaken some of the machinery from its mountings. The Riverina turns and fires its last chance, a set of triple torpedo tubes. No hits are obtained but the Roon has had to maneuver to avoid the torpedoes, which has given the Riverina a chance to get away. No such luck. Just one more shell hit aft knocks out the last remaining effective turret and explodes the ready shells. The turret is blasted into the air while fire from the explosion sets off the aft magazine. When the turret lands it hits the sea, the aft end of the ship has broken off and sunk. Twenty minutes later the Riverina goes down by the stern. The cost to the Roon is just two 8" hits from the Riverina, neither of which caused any serious damage.
Sinking the two old heavy cruisers was not much of a victory, but any victory over the British Fleet should be crowed over. Dr Goebbels told the story how easy it had been for one German battlecruiser to beat two British battlecruisers and sink them both. The Roon had gained a notoriety that it could have done without. Every time, from then on, the Roon was chased a little bit harder by the Allied forces. They wanted redemption.
The Roon slipped through the hole in the British search cordon it had created by sinking the cruisers, and headed for the French port of Brest. There it could repair the small amount of damage it had received in the battle and fully refuel and re-supply the ship. Because of Dr Goebbels propaganda the RAF was tasked with damaging and/or sinking the Roon. Any damage that could be inflicted on the ship that would keep it in harbour was fine by the British. The British sent many sorties of aircraft to attack the port of Brest and the Roon, but did no further damage to the Roon. We are now in November 1940 and the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are due to undertake Operation Berlin starting in December. Roon is transferred south to St Nazaire where it can make use of the Normandie dock for a bottom clean and checkup of the shafts and screws. Two raids are tried by the RAF, one day raid and one night raid. These sorties were both carried out without fighter cover due to the range to St Nazaire. Both came to grief at the hands of the German day fighters and then night fighters.
The Roon sails out of St Nazaire heading south for Spanish waters where it passes out into the Atlantic from Cape Finisterre having been escorted some of the way by units of the Spanish Fleet. The British had been flying recon missions over St Nazaire, daily, to keep an eye on the Roon, so were aware the Roon had left port but not to where it was going. Some thought the Roon might return to Brest, and reconnaissance flights over that port were stepped up. Units of the Home fleet were put on notice and hunting groups formed. The drawing of the capital units to the south made it easier for the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (S&G) to break out into the Atlantic.
The Germans now had two sets of raiders in the Atlantic with British forces scattered and unable to concentrate to flush one group out without allowing the other group the chance to take advantage and destroy merchant shipping. The RRR calls started coming in as the Roon started picking off single and small groups of merchant ships heading out of the Strait of Gibraltar. Force H which was chasing the Italians in the Mediterranean are recalled to Gibraltar to refuel and go after the Roon. At that stage Force H is the Furious, Reliant, Warrior, Sheffield and five destroyers. The group is split into two sub groups with the Furious, Sheffield and destroyers in one group and the two battlecruisers forming the second part. The Furious would use its aircraft to search for the Roon and hopefully damage it enough so that Reliant and Warrior can catch and finish it off.
The Roon is spotted by a Skua recon aircraft in the late afternoon. Too late for a sortie to be ranged to attack the Roon before dark. The two British groups head at best speed to the sighting point. With ten hours of darkness to hide in, the Roon can make the search area for the British as large as possible. At 25 knots for ten hours, that is a huge area to search, even for aircraft. Dawn breaks and the recon aircraft are flown off. The Force H Admiral awaits developments, pacing to and fro on the bridge of the Reliant. Contact! 90 minutes of nail biting and there the Roon is. The 'Chase' signal is hauled up the signal halyards and off the fleet goes. The Furious prepares a strike of torpedo bombers, but the Furious still has Swordfish as its strike aircraft and they will take some time to get to the Roon's position. Relays of recon aircraft are sent out. The end for the Roon should be in sight. It will depend if the ship can avoid damage that will slow it down so that the battlecruisers can catch it and sink it. The Swordfish take two hours to catch up to the Roon. They are forced to attack immediately as they are at the limit of their range. The fifteen Swordfish split into three groups of five and attack the Roon from three different directions that should ensure that the Roon must take a torpedo hit. Escorting Griffon fighters go in ahead to try and draw the AA fire off the bombers and strafe the AA positions. The slow Swordfish are getting shot to bits by the AA guns on the Roon. One by one they are being shot down. Finally the remaining eight drop their torpedoes and gratefully turn away, pursued by tracer. It is as if the whole area holds its breath. The command group on the Roon are shouting out helm orders as the ship twists and turns to evade the shoal of torpedoes rushing toward them. Eight torpedoes were just enough. Seven missed, but the eighth hit the hull where the main armour belt stopped. It looked like the hit had done little damage and the Roon was still traveling at 25 knots. Then the excited call came "She's slowing!". Sure enough the Roon had to reduce speed as the two starboard shafts had been knocked out of alignment and to run them further would just burn out the bearings. A bitter pill for the Roon to take. At 25 knots the Roon could have made Spanish waters before Force H could catch up, but now it would be just a few hours short.
A further strike of Griffons and Skuas was organised, but only four Swordfish were undamaged and these were retained around Force H as an anti-submarine force the closer the group got to the Spanish coast. Both U-boats and two Spanish submarines were trying to get to the aid of the Roon but they would also wind up just a few hours short. The Skua strike only achieved one hit which caused little damage but did cost a few more aircraft shot down. The brand new twin 40mm and predictors the Roon had been completed with were real aircraft killers. They had almost proved their worth, with only one torpedo hit and one bomb hit from 32 aircraft sent out to attack the Roon.
Three hours before sunset the radar office sends a report to the bridge, "two ships coming up from the South-West". The Roon was well aware of which ships they would be. The Spanish made sure the Germans were kept appraised of what movements of naval vessels transited through the Gibraltar Strait. Reliant and Warrior. The Roon's Captain knew he could beat either of them on their own but maybe not both together. He had one last ace up his sleeve that he was just about ready to play.
The British were using relays of three Skua's to do the donkey work of keeping in touch with the Roon, so that the British Admiral in command knew exactly where the ship was at all times. Onboard the Roon were two new Arado Ar-196 floatplanes. Used together they should be able to match and shoot down a lone Skua. The Germans had been watching the changeover routines and knew that once the empty of fuel Skua left it would be at least another hour before the next one was due. The Reliant and Warrior are coming close, the changeover is due, now is the time. Both Arado's are readied for launch, the Skua changeover is made, the Reliant and Warrior are 15 miles away. The Arado's are launched and go after the Skua. Why? Because then the Arado's can act as spotters for the Roon's gunnery. There was 20mph and a better handling area for the Skua but the Arado's had 20mm cannons firing forward to the machineguns on the Skua. To make a long dogfight short, the Skua was shot down to one Arado badly damaged but still airworthy. Both Arado's stayed in the air just in case the British ships tried to launch one or more of their spotter aircraft which would be no match for the Arado's. The Arado's were clear to aid the Roon's gunnery.
At 28,000 yards both sides started firing salvoes. The spotter aircraft made a big difference and the Roon's 13.8" started hitting the Reliant without the British ships hitting the Roon in return. The Reliant was a true 1916 British battlecruiser. It should not have been placed in harms way against a modern German capital ship. And so it proved. The Roon kept hitting the Reliant and fires were started, the aft 15" turret knocked out. The Reliant was starting to look very second hand. The end came in much the same way as for previous British battlecruisers, a 13.8" shell went straight through the magazine armour and exploded in the cordite storage area. Boom. The rear of the ship breaks away while the forward end starts going down by the stern. What saves the Warrior is that it is a modern capital ship, armoured to take hits from the likes of the Roon. The arrival of a flight of Griffon fighters that shot down both Arado's didn't hurt either. The Warrior launched a Walrus while it could and while the Roon had been concentrating on the Reliant. The tables had been turned. Airpower even out in the middle of the ocean proved decisive. The Warrior, with spotter assistance, made good shooting, hitting the Roon regularly. At one stroke the Roon's armament was halved as the aft turret receives hits and is put out of action. The end comes quickly when the Warrior lands another set of hits that land around the bridge and fore turret putting the turret out of action and killing the bridge crew including the senior officers. Fires are now glowing all over the ship. The worst being around the hangar where the petrol stowage for the Arado's was. Two further hits amidships and the Roon was a floating hulk. But it was still firing two twin 5.1" turrets at the Warrior, even scoring the odd hit. The British knew that the Spanish had a tug waiting at the 12 mile limit which would be able to tow in the crippled ship if the British forces left it as it was. A destroyer with torpedoes was on its way.
The destroyer made a pass down the side of the Roon firing a bank of four torpedoes, all of which hit along the length of the ship. The Roon shuddered and started falling onto its side. The German flag was still flying so it was not till the ship sunk that the British started rescue of the remaining crew of the Roon.
The Roon is only four months old.
|Displacement||32,500 tons std, 40,800 full load|
|Machinery||4 shaft mixed turbine/diesel propulsion
2 x Steam Turbines 100,000shp (only used for full power)
2 x Diesels 40,000bhp
|Range||14,500 miles at 18 knots|
|Armour||12.6" side, 5.9" deck, 11" turrets|
|Armament||8 x 13.8" (2x4)
12 x 5.1 (6x2)
20 x 40mm (10x2)
6 x 20mm (6x1)
|Notes||KM Admiral Von Roon - Sunk in action with Force H, 12/1940.|
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