Zimm postulates that Harwood, as a former member of the faculty at the Royal Naval College' Senior Officer's War Course from 1934 to 1936, would have been familiar with the tactics to be used when encountering one of the panserschiffes. Extensive war games were simulated and a set of rules, C.B.3011, were formulated that showed a positive outcome would be probable. Not only would it be proper to split his force, which he did, the two light cruisers were to have closed the range to take advantage of their far superior rate of fire to overwhelm the Graf Spee, which he didn't until late in the action. Once he did close the range, the Graf Spee began to take a beating, forcing Langsdorf to flee. Harwood then received an erroneous report that his flagships main battery was down to 20 percent ammunition (440 rounds), so he slipped back to shadow the Graf Spee. Zimm believes that had Harwood pressed the action, even with the remaining rounds, the Graf Spee would have been beaten. All this is from Zimm's article, and as some have said, he wasn't sitting in Harwood's chair.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I'm sure Mr Zimm has studied this closely and is knowledgeable about his specialist subject, but the sentence in bold is the key for me.
Yes, I'm quite sure that could have happened. It is also true that Graf Spee's 11-inch shells could have blown the light cruisers out of the water in the process.
Charging into action all 'Light Brigade stylee' was one option - but so was a more measured approach. You've mentioned the British withdrawing to shadow Graf Spee, but the intention was to launch a torpedo strike at night. I wonder if Zimm makes mention of the issues the light cruisers were having in landing their shells on target. Harwood wasn't to know that would happen. So it is entirely possible that a 'better' result could have been achieved had this not happened (but with the tactics actually adopted) - it is also entirely possible that a 'worse' outcome could have happened had Graf Spee's forward turret not been playing up.
It's right that battles should be re-appraised - I have no problem with that - and there is usually more than one way of looking at things but I wonder how balanced this article is (no way of knowing without reading it unfortunately) and I wonder, in this piece that seeks to criticise the victor of the battle, Zimm makes any critical commentary on the man who - against explicit orders - initiated the battle?
Let's be clear, Langsdorff was 11,000 miles from home. He spotted an enemy cruiser force and it was he who chose to engage. He chose to engage knowing he would have to sink all three ships in short order with minimum damage to his own ship. If not he would run the risk of being shadowed, he would also have 11,000 miles to sail home potentially crippled and/or with reduced speed, and/or low on ammunition.(Note: I can't recall if Langsdorff was aware of the turret issue before deciding on battle).
This was some gamble. And being an admiral, general or air marshall is a results based business. Captain Langsdorff - seemingly a decent man - took a gamble that had a better than even chance of failing - and lost.
And let's be clear, although Graf Spee was scuttled, she was scuttled for a reason. After the engagement with Harwood's cruisers, she was in no fit state to participate in further battle. With her speed about halved, with holes in the side (one at waterline) and other damage, had she not retreated to Montevideo she would have likely been finished off - either by torpedo attack by the cruisers or by the heavy units on their way south.
Damage to Graf Spee reported at Montevideo:
- The forward 11-inch gun was behaving erratically (as it had for most of the battle)
- To compound this problem, the main rangefinder was broken
- 11-inch shell supply was enough for a further 40 minutes of action
- The port ammunition hoists for the 5.9-inch guns were out of action
- The forward Anti-Aircraft director was no longer working
- Starboard 4.1-inch gun out of action
- One barrel of the port 4.1-inch gun out of action
- Starboard chain hoist for the 4.1-inch shells no longer operable
- She no longer had the ability to fire torpedoes
- A large hole in the bows made sea-keeping in rough waters hazardous if not impossible
- Her engines were limited to a top speed of 17 knots
- Key auxiliary boiler that supplied steam to the distilling plant for fresh water was broken
- Fuel and lubricating oil purifier was broken
- The level of useable fuel was limited to 16 hours [this I have not been able to confirm]
- Main galley and baking facilities out of action
- Flour store contaminated with sea water
She was beaten.
< Message edited by warspite1 -- 7/11/2019 6:15:46 AM >
England expects that every man will do his duty. Horatio Nelson October 1805